Wednesday, July 1, 2009
Well, I’ve been back in DC for two and a half days now and I can’t stop having “Brussels pangs”. I miss everything: my breakfasts (which may or may not have included copious amounts of Belgian chocolate), speaking French on a daily basis, my fabulous internship, all my Brussels friends, who are more or less scattered across Europe for the next few weeks, the dynamic energy of Europe’s capital, and yes, the waffles.
This program was everything I could have asked for and more. I had a lot of fun (see above what I usually ate for breakfast!), and I learned a great deal about Belgium, a tiny country—just the size of Maryland—but, nonetheless, a nation that is unbelievably multifaceted. I also learned about the history and politics of the continent, and about the Europe’s working world. My internship at Liberty TV went above and beyond my expectations. The group I worked with was very talented and supportive, and I left with much more knowledge and many more practical skills than I had when I first arrived.
I am grateful for having had such an amazing opportunity and I strongly encourage others to participate in this program next year…just don’t tell me when you do, because I think I’ll be way too jealous to be able to handle it!
Saturday, June 27, 2009
Well, our program officially ended yesterday (which was an amazingly beautiful day for that matter), and I am here in Brussels alone. Everyone else has either gone back to the U.S. or is off to some other destination in Europe. Meanwhile, I will be here for a couple of days before heading to Hungary, France and Spain, and I wanted to make one last blog post about my experience here. In short, it was amazing!
I have had the time of my life in Brussels. Seven weeks is not such a long time, but I feel like I have been here for much longer. I have learned so much about Belgium and the European Union. I was able to travel throughout much of Belgium, which is truly a beautiful country with pleasant surprises at every turn. Last but not least, I have had an amazing time with friends I had known before (who I now feel much closer to) and new friends I have gotten to know along the way. We have had such a great experience in Brussels together. I will truly miss being here with them, but then again, we are all going back to D.C., and it will be so nice to see everyone there. As for new friends I have met in Brussels, I will definitely be back to visit them!
I am so fortunate and grateful to have been able to participate in this internship program. This has been one of the greatest summers of my life. I have completely fallen in love with Belgium, and I can’t wait to come back! I would also love to work in Brussels at some point in my life because of my growing interest in the EU.
Thank you for a tremendous program!!! I will never forget it!
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
For me, this summer has been about the silver linings to this program!
Bad things have happened. My sister has had her gall bladder removed after having to go to the hospital repeatedly; my dog that I have had since I was 7 may be put down before I get home in a few days; my grandmother, who has just fought off cancer in 7 of her organs, has now sustained damage to her heart from the chemo and is just now out of the hospital; my father got married (without me there); two days after my dad's wedding, we found out he now has retina cancer in addition to breast and bone cancer and that the drugs that he has been taking have not been working. On top of all this, I have stressed and worried over trying to get projects done, trying to coordinate weekend trips, and trying to maintain my sanity when I call my family back home to get an update.
However, in spite of all this, I have had one of the best summers that I can remember. I have been lucky enough to have a great host family. My host mom, Patricia, makes sure that I know exactly where I need to go when I leave the house and my host sisters and I are chatting about the latest movies and music quite a bit. They have been incredibly kind to me. Once, after a very nice trip to the Pita Palace for mitraettes with Travis and Jenna, I got lost (or Travis pointed me in the wrong direction). My host mother and sister figured out where I was and picked me up on the street corner. When I told her how embarrassed I was, she told me it was ok and instead we went out and picked up dinner and treats from the grocery store. In fact, yesterday, my host mom and sister went to the gardens behind the African museum with the dog, Plum, and just walked and chatted. After coming home, we looked at pictures and had dinner. I didn't realize it because I was having a great time, but I did not make it up to my room until midnight. I adore this family and feel that I have been incredibly blessed to be welcomed into someone's home with such ease and friendliness!
Not to brag, but I also have had a fantastic internship with the Royal Military Academy. Some parts are not very fun: Rachel and I have had to write a 45-page paper on military academies in Europe, work 8.5 hours a day, and present our work in front of military officers. On the other hand, we are getting an actual project and we will be a part of the reason why this policy may or may not pass. The people in the office, contrary to popular opinion on military academies, have also been fantastic. Our supervisor, Patrice, stands up for the research we do and makes sure that we know that it is appreciated. He always tries to make jokes and to make us feel comfortable in the academy. The other intern, Marcel, also makes us laugh at his funny stories and at our attempts to speak Dutch words to him. Other people in the office – the Colonel, Pascal, and Jean-Pierre – have been very friendly to us and have tried to speak English to accommodate our (mostly my) inability to understand French or Dutch.
Finally, I have had a brilliant time travelling. I have been to the beach and rode in “kindercarts”, or bicycles built for 6. I have eaten Berliners in Koln, walked up to the top of many cathedrals, tried several different types of Belgian and German beers in pubs, been adventurous enough to eat national dishes, seen so many different parts of Europe and met so many kind and generous people on my travels.
I am ridiculously grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this program this year, especially since I go to UNC and not American University. While some not-very-pleasant things have happened in my life, I am glad to be here and I know that this opportunity will be significant for my future. I will take the experience of the academy, living with a Belgian family, travelling to new places, and meeting new friends on with me as I go. Thanks again!
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
There is nothing better than an authentic Belgian waffle fresh from the waffle iron. They have quickly become my favorite snack and their wide availability makes them a staple in my day. I will miss having the option to grab on on the way out of the metro after work, or walking downtown. Eggo just won't cut it anymore.
So I wasn't an immediate fan. Originally I tried the Speculoos cookies, which I think are pretty meh. I was informed that I should dip them in coffee, which I don't really like, so I decided to abandon the mission of liking Speculoos. I later found out that it also comes in a spread, and I have since developed a taste for Speculoos and Nutella sandwiches (thanks to Rob and Chris). I can't really describe Speculoos, it is just one of those things you have to experience for yourself. I think I may have to smuggle a jar home
You don't realize how nice it is to have the option to sit outside with friends, enjoying a drink and perhaps a meal, and leisurely people watching. Cafes are a European staple it seems, and the landscape in D.C. just won't look right without them. Cafes are a great place to pop in quickly, or spend an afternoon. You can meet with friends or enjoy a little personal time, either way the atmosphere and the experience are something I am really going to miss. Perhaps outdoor cafes will come to D.C.
While most people think "France" when they think of breads, I'm thinking "Belgium." Belgium has an amazing assortment of breads for any meal and any taste. There are bakeries throughout Brussels, all filled with delectable pastries and loaves of soft brown goodness. I don't believe that Adkins would go over very well in Belgium, and I think that's a good thing. I am a big fan of the selection at Kraainem Carrefour, which spans several aisles in the back of the store stocked with tons of options, as well as an automatic slicer, so you have have your bread freshly sliced once you have made you decision.
I pass at least 3 (if not more) chocolate shops on my way to work every morning. There is one in the metro where I change trams, and one within a 5 minute walk from my office. They are beautifully done, with shelves of perfectly aligned confectionery treats, in all kinds of chocolate, with all kinds of fillings. I have discovered a love for dark chocolate and hazelnut, as well as a new found appreciation for marzipan. My host mother gave me a 250 gram box from Leonidas and it was the most amazing gift I have ever received. I will miss popping into one walking down the street for a quick bite, or just to admire the stock. They also make great gifts as they will willingly wrap the boxes in decorative wrapping and ribbons. While leaving Belgium may be better for my diet, I will surely miss the indulgence.
I have a new found love of trams, and I really think they should re institute tram travel in DC. They can access places not serviced by the metro and they give you a chance to see the sights above ground. There is a tram stop at the end of my block and I take at least 2 trams every morning to get to my internship. They are simple, convenient and I just think they're neat. They give you another option besides the bus and the metro and sometimes are a lot easier and quicker than them as well. I fully support bringing back the tram :)
I would love it if the U.S. expanded its train capabilities. The idea of showing up at the station, buying a ticket and an hour or so later being in a completely different country is so much fun to me. So much less hassle than catching a plane, especially with security the way it is, and if you have a fear of flying it gives another option besides making a ridiculously long drive. I love the trains in Belgium, even when the seats are full and you have to sit on the floor between cars. I can leave in the morning, spend the day at the coast, and be back before bedtime for 10 euro. That's a tough deal to beat.
I have spent a lot of time at the Stockel/Stokkel metro station, waiting for metros, waiting for Jenny, shopping at the Match or grabbing a fabulous sandwich. The Stockel metro is particularly endearing due to it's Tintin motif, which I think makes it one of the friendliest, most colorful stations. The walls are covered with Tintin scenes, and every time I glance at the wall I see something I didn't see before. It always puts a smile on my face :)
So the metro is continuously playing music, and in the last 7 weeks I have heard more Pink, Lily Allen, and Katy Perry than I have heard in my life. It's usually the same few songs over and over, except at night a few hours before metro closes when it switches to classical. Then you know it's late and it's time to head home.
So when we first spent 30 euro for our metro passes I was a little taken aback by the cost, but now with how much I use it, I find that is is a far superior deal to the D.C. Smartrip card. I can use trams, buses, the metro, anywhere, all day long and I'm covered. I take at least 4 separate means of transport just to a from my internship every day, and I go from one side of the city to another. That kind of travel would be so expensive on the D.C. metro, and that doesn't include personal travel for meeting friends or sightseeing. I like the value and the freedom the abonnemont brings and I hope maybe one day the concept will make it over the Atlantic.
I have met the most amazing people here and I will miss them terribly when we leave. I've been fortunate enough to have these fantastic people living close by so that seeing them is a breeze and it will be so odd when they are not a part of my everyday life. I'll miss riding the tram with Rob and Chris, meeting up with Jenny, Erica and Rachel for dinner, and meeting Luke, Caroline, Nikki and Lexi downtown. There are no other people that I would rather spend an evening with, or a day riding a kinderkart with at the coast, or even traveling to Paris. My best memories are filled with these people, and these memories are so cherished because these people are a part of them. Of everything, they are the best part of this experience.
Belgium is a small country; roughly the size of Maryland. Due to its size and wealth it has been able to build a rail network that zips you around the country in no time and with relative ease. Early on during the trip, I purchased a Go Pass for 50 Euros that provided me with ten one way trips anywhere in Belgium and have had a great time using it. With a Go Pass you don't need to stand in line at the station, you just fill out your destination on the ticket, hop on the train and go, no reservation required. Brussels to Antwerp in 45 minutes; Brussels to Gent in 35 minutes; Gent to Brugge in 25 minutes; anyway you get the idea. It’s easy to get around, making for endless possibilities for short day trips around the country so that you can make it back to Brussels at night and save on paying for hotels everywhere you go.
Belgium also has a great highway network for those places that don't have easy train access, and renting a car or finding a friend of a friend that has one is a great option for trips around Belgium. Gas is more expensive here than in the US, but you get the feeling you're actually paying what it’s worth. For those with travel ambitions a bit further afield, Brussels' main airport is easily accessible by public transport from multiple places in the city. Getting down to the Charleroi airport, where the budget airlines fly out of, is also relatively easy.
I know this may sound like an infomercial for public transportation in Belgium, but I am impressed and envious of the ease of travel here without having to own a car. As those who live in the DC area without a car know, it can be frustrating relying on infrequent, uncoordinated public transport without even the option of convenient travel to surrounding areas.
Monday, June 22, 2009
Words cannot express how life-changing and life-affirming my time in Brussels has been. It brought me back to life. I was dead in D.C., but Europe brought me back to life. It reminded me of my passions and purpose. It reminded me that all of my wildest dreams can come true. I don't want to go back, I'm thoroughly dreading the plane ride back (what if I turn into anxiety-depression Leila again the moment I touch down in Dulles?), but my one saving grace is that I KNOW that I am living in Europe when I graduate next year. I absolutely did what I came here to do -- I healed, and I layed the foundation for my future life and my future career in Europe. I will be back.
Living in Brussels has allowed me to discover two artists: Emile Claus and René Magritte. I had been vaguely familiar with these two artists before, but didn’t know too much about their work, or that they were Belgian.
Impressionism is one of my favorite styles of art. Between Monet, Renoir and Degas, I had completely overlooked Emile Claus, the most prominent representative of impressionism in Belgium. This was until I visited a special exhibition of Claus’s work at the Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent. The exhibit, titled “Emile Claus and Rural Life,” provided an extensive showcase of Claus’s work throughout his life and showed the artist’s stylistic progression over time. It was very interesting to see how Claus began painting realistic subjects with impressionistic backgrounds, then moved to a more dedicated impressionistic style with less of an emphasis on human subjects and finally, the absence of all human subjects in Claus’s paintings completed towards the end of his life. The exhibit was very nicely done, and I am now a big fan of Emile Claus! Here are images of two of my favorite Claus paintings; the first painting is one of Claus’s most famous works, completed earlier in his life, and the second is part of a series Claus painted during World War I while being in exile in London:
I have also discovered René Magritte, the most prominent Belgian surrealist artist. I have never really liked or fully understood surrealism, but after visiting the brand new Musée Magritte in Brussels, the museum dedicated to the artist, I now have a new appreciation for the movement. The Musée Magritte opened only about three weeks ago to great fanfare and has already taken its place as being at the forefront of knowledge about the artist. Magritte painted highly interesting paintings, challenging the viewer’s perception of reality. Sometimes, I found it impossible to discern the meanings of certain Magritte paintings and would have needed an explanation to better understand them. Here are images of two of my favorite Magritte paintings, both among his most famous works:
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
So I'm going retro here a little with some pics from Brugge's Ascension Day procession on May 21, more specifically--Procession of the Holy Blood. This was a Catholic procession to rival all processions, an endless stream of costumed locals, with no shortage of sheep herds, horses (of unusual size), dogs, camels, leather sandals and orange spray tans. And of course the procession-ee of honor, the Holy Blood itself, said to be brought back trimphantly from the Crusades by the Count of Flanders in 1150.
I was sniffling from a leftover virus through the event, menacing horses and all, but it was completely worth it to experience this local gem court-side.
Sunday, June 14, 2009
In keeping with the recent string of posts about internships, I’ll take some time to blog a bit about my own work experience in Brussels.
I’m interning at Liberty TV a French- and Dutch-language television station that broadcasts travel shows. Of the five organizations at which I had interviewed, this one had been my top choice, because I wanted to learn more about television production and because I wanted to be able to practice my French in a professional setting. I was ecstatic when I found out I had the job, but, I have to admit, once I got to the office on the first day and became submerged not only in a foreign work environment, but also in a foreign language, I began to wonder if I had gotten in over my head.
After the first couple of days however, I not only started to get used to this new setting, but I also started to have a lot of fun! My job entails assisting the television production team, a small group that consists of two anchors, a producer, and two video editors. My tasks generally include finding and writing up short, travel-related news reports for the anchors’ morning news segment, researching travel information about various countries around the world for a set of mini Web guides the team is producing, and helping to come up with a new design and content for the organization’s Web site. I’ve also written interview questions for guests, edited show segments using Final Cut Pro, assisted with filming by working the teleprompter, and participated in a screening during which the team watched and rated potential documentaries for the channel.
Over the past month, I’ve learned a great deal about television production. I’ve also had the opportunity to learn about a Belgian workplace. In a lot of ways, it reminds me of an American workplace. One thing that is different though, at least in my experience, is lunchtime. Generally the whole team will get together to eat and chat. Furthermore, unlike in the places where I have worked or interned at in the States, people take their whole allotted hour for their meal, instead of rushing back to their desks once they’re done with their food. Another workplace custom that is new to me is the way in which people greet one another. In Brussels people kiss each other once on each cheek when they say hello, even in a professional environment. These kisses are called 'bisous'. I’m not used greeting friends in this manner, much less co-workers, and I haven’t quite adjusted to this one yet, but I’m getting there!
So, all in all, my internship with Liberty TV has been wonderful. At times it has been frustrating to be working in a foreign languge, but I've learned a great deal from these challenges. Certainly, I'll never forget this experience, and I know the skills I have gained here will help me for years to come.
Thursday, June 11, 2009
I was very excited when I heard that I would have the opportunity of interning at the European Journalism Centre (EJC)! The EJC was not originally listed in the Brussels program application as a possible place to intern with, and I remember listing it as one of the top organizations I would be interested in for an internship. I have even used the EJC’s work in the past when conducting research for multiple papers!
The EJC is primarily involved in organizing and executing seminars for journalists and Brussels correspondents for media outlets across Europe, but also for journalists from the countries of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) and beyond, such as Turkey, the Balkan countries, Brazil and Canada. The primary goal of the seminars is to expose these journalists to the European Union and provide them with information about the structure and mission of EU institutions, so that the journalists are able to report more accurately about the EU. In addition, the EJC monitors and researches the media landscape across Europe and provides a tremendous amount of news and resources to journalists and members of the media across Europe and around the world.
My colleagues at the EJC are extremely friendly and very diverse, coming from countries such as Italy, France, Denmark, Greece, Belgium, Spain, the UK, Portugal, Sweden and Macedonia, in addition to fellows from Japan and South Korea. Even my name and contact information is up on the EJC web site!
My internship experience so far has been fantastic! Since I am primarily interested in current events and the news media, with a regional interest in Europe, the EJC has been an ideal place to intern. I am primarily involved in helping the EJC implement its activities in various ways, and I am also able to attend many of the EJC’s seminars and events as an EJC observer. So far, I have attended seminar programmes relating to the ENP and issues concerning the Middle East conflict, the global role of the euro currency and how Turkish journalists can better understand the EU. I have also been able to visit the EJC’s headquarters in Maastricht.
During the remaining time of my internship, I will be able to attend additional seminars, a daily press briefing of the European Commission, and I will also have the opportunity to take a tour of the audiovisual production facilities of both the Commission and the European Parliament, which I have been told is state of the art.
Through the completion of my daily tasks, ability to attend various seminars and events, and interaction with such a diverse group of colleagues, this internship has truly broadened my knowledge about how the EU works, issues relating to media reporting about the EU and how Europeans view the EU. I am having a tremendous time so far and look forward to the time I have left here. One of the other interns here at the EJC now was an intern last summer, and one of my colleagues who works in the same room as me got a full-time position at the EJC after interning here, so I am excited about the possibility of working with or at the EJC sometime in the future!