Well, I am not the girl who enjoys writing blogs - or diaries - or really any type of thing like this. But, seeing as it is the end of the program, I thought I would take a shot at summing up my experience on this trip.
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!