This has been a dream-come-true experience. Literally. My wildest dreams have all come true in Brussels. And honestly, I don't want to go back. I was pretty miserable in Washington. In fact, I'd been pretty depressed for a couple of years now. But I found my joy again in Brussels. I found my peace again in Brussels. I learned to laugh again in Brussels ... the laugh-until-you-cry laugh. God I had missed that!
Let me take a moment to express all my love and gratitude in the world to my 26 and 27-year-old "host parents," Isabelle and Jeff. They have been amazing "parents" to me! Even though I'm older than both of them, they have taken care of me in every way. Not only have they consistently cooked the greatest meals of my life for me, but Jeff has also been teaching me to cook! We've had great political and philosophical conversations, but they've also let me cry in front of them (I was so sad about leaving Brussels that I literally burst into tears in front of Jeff and Isabelle last week, but they assured me that I would be back, living in Europe, in no time, so there was no reason to be sad... they then handed me some chocolate to make me feel better ... and it worked). These guys are friends FOR LIFE!
Not only do I have the world's great "host parents," but I also have the world's great internship! Today, my boss Sharon said to me, "Leila, if I could, I'd hire you!" I love Sharon. She's the Managing Director of the State of Illinois - West Euopean Office of Trade and Investment. I've done so much at this internship! I've scheduled meetings with multinational organizations at the Paris Air Show. I've scheduled tours and briefings at the EU Commission and the Council of the EU for a visiting delegation from the University of Illinois (not to mention coordinating their hotels, restaurants, and 80-guest reception). Sharon has let me go to EU policy debates and panel discussions hosted by the European Policy Center and the German Marshall Fund. She invited me to the lauch of a new magazine called "WAB (Wallonia and Brussels) Magazine." While I was there I asked the editor if I could write for him, and he said yes! So I wrote an article about that night's launch party, and he wrote back to me today and said, "That was perfect. You set just the right tone. It'll be in this fall's issue." I'm going to be published in Europe!
Let me mention the Paris Air Show briefly. Yes, Sharon bought me a round-trip train ticket to Paris, a one-day pass to the Air Show, and tickets for the metro! I was there to man the "Rockford" booth. The city of Rockford, Illinois, had its own booth at the Paris Air Show to promote itself as a hub of aerospace technology and manufacturing. I also went to the booths of other aerospace companies and gave them information about "Quality Control Corporation," a precision manufacturing company from Illinois. So they definitely put me to work. But it was magical! While I was there I started talking to a gentleman from the UK. I told him that my dream was to live and work in the UK. He asked me what field I was in, and I told him that I was getting my Master's in International Media. He told me that he was a media consultant from the UK, gave me his card, and told me to email him my CV! What a day!
When I left the Paris Air Show, I only had a couple of hours before my train left back to Brussels. But I did have time to take the metro to the Cathedral of Notre Dame. I walked around for about 30 minutes, and then I saw it -- the Eiffel Towel! This was my first time seeing the Eiffel Tower, in person, in my entire life! You know that scene in the second-to-last episode of "Sex and the City," when Carrie sees the Eiffel Tower out of her hotel window, and she clasps her hands and jumps up and down like a kid? Well, that was me. I was elated! I even got a stranger to take a picture of me with the Eiffel Tower in the background. It may be small, but it's there.
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.