I don’t know how I ended up here.
Oh sure, I filled out the application, wrote an essay, got signatures, bought my plane ticket online and obsessed about what to bring for over a month, but as I arrive in Brussels, Belgium that is all a blur. Suddenly I am here and there is snow on the ground.
Four weeks later, I’m still in awe that everything fell into place, but I am glad it did.
I have made some good friends, settled into my comfortable room, discovered amazing food and mastered the public transportation. Sure I already have a pile of work to do, am almost constantly cold and I manage to screw up the French language on a daily basis (and there appears to be no hope for Dutch – the other official language of Brussels), but it is still great. The time has gone by so quickly and so much has happened.
Everyone here was excited for the inauguration of President Obama, a few of us went to watch it at an American bar next to the European Union headquarters. We caught the end of Obama’s speech and some of the ceremonies as we ate overpriced hotdogs and chili (we were starving). It was a little surreal to be in Belgium for this major event in American history.
Belgium is known for some of the greatest things your taste buds can experience: fries, mussels, chocolate, waffles and beer. We have been warned against the “Belgian bulge.” Almost everyone here is thin; I don’t know how they do it. A warm, sweet waffle from a van on the street can instantly improve any day. Fries are eaten with a fork, which is a little hard to get used to. I feel like there is chocolate everywhere. Luckily, there are also parks everywhere for exercising or just exploring.
The study abroad group I am with traveled south of Brussels to where the Battle of the Bulge took place. This bulge was not caused by any culinary delights, but was a major German offensive and Allied victory, near the end of WWII. It was chilling to see the ground where so many men fought and lost their lives- their foxholes are even still there. People are finding things left from the battle even today. Our group was freezing and it was not nearly as cold as it was in the winter of 1944 when the battle was fought. We all developed a new respect for the soldiers.
The city of Brussels itself is incredible. Everything comes together here, as the capital of Belgium, the capital of Europe and where the location of NATO. There are people from all over the world here; I pass at least three embassies on my way to school. It is not just the people that are diverse here, but the architecture too; there will be a beautiful art nouveau building next to an ugly cement one next to a brick one. If you are not paying attention, you will miss something. Manneken Pis, the statue of a little boy peeing that has become the unofficial icon of the city, is admittedly underwhelming and I still need to find the female version of the statue, Jeanneke Pis, which was installed in the 1980s.
Brussels is also a great jumping off point to explore the rest of Europe, but I want to make sure I don’t forget the city and country I am actually studying in.
– Lisa Bergquist, junior