Category: Un été à Bruxelles, summer 2014

A summer in Brussels, Belgium, (and other European adventures) while studying abroad and interning at New Europe.

Un été à Bruxelles: The edge of things

I need to finish writing a paper and two articles, but my heart is aching at the sheer thought of leaving Brussels so I’m word-dumping onto a blog post.

Things I will miss about Brussels/Belgium/Europe, in no particular order:

  • Frites
  • Neuhaus chocolates
  • Grand Place at any time of day or night
  • Zara/Mango/Pimkie
  • High-functioning public transit
  • Weekend trips to DIFFERENT COUNTRIES
  • My apartment
  • The wacky group of 15 humans who have snuggled their way into my heart forever
  • Celtica. Enough said.
  • Delirium (and its cute bartenders)
  • Work schedule (rather than university schedule)
  • Flower shops
  • Fruit and veg stands
  • European men
  • Australian framboise ice cream
  • Wearing the same six shirts for most of the summer and not feeling judged
  • Drinking beer to enjoy it, not (just) to get trashed
  • Paying for meals/coffee/clothes in all coins
  • Brussels nightlife
  • Megabeds + snuggling
  • Dürüm pitta from Snack Merode
  • The sheer number of man buns
  • Amazing women biking in heels and dresses
  • Free music festivals nearly every weekend
  • Sysmo concerts
  • Wine night + family dinners
  • Cappuccinos from Cremerie de la Vache
  • “Na naaaaaaa”
  • “TIS I”
  • “Wake up – it’s time to party!”
  • and the rest of the weird jargon our program has created

Consider this a primer to the “OH GOD OH GOD I MISS BRUSSELS SEND ME BACK” post I will write when I’m supposed to be moving out of my apartment on August 9th. 

Cheers, friends. Hope your summer is wonderful and you aren’t melting in the humidity like I am.

A large majority of our program snuggled together on Saturday, all with matching demon eyes.
A large majority of our program (and two special guests) snuggled together on Saturday, all with matching demon eyes.

Un été à Bruxelles: Adulthood, routines and other overrated things

(I’ve been rubbish at blogging regularly. I’m sorry.)

I leave Europe in 24 days.
I turn 21 in 25 days.

I am so far from being a real, functioning adult. Right now, my Belgian phone is broken and out of minutes. I have 74 cents to my name right now, scattering in my purse. I ruined two of my favorite shirts because the jäger someone spilled on one at a bar bled into my whole load of laundry. My monthly metro pass expired this morning. I ate frites and ketchup for lunch.

And yet, in this point of not-at-all-having-it-together, I’m the happiest I’ve been in a while for any extended period of time.

That’s weird.

Things are going to change again. I am going to be yanked back out of the comfortable, manageable routine I’ve found for myself: the €1 morning coffee, the metro commute, the park lunch/naps, the Thursday night bar excursions, the Saturday markets. I’m going to be picked up and plopped right back where I started, stressed and under entirely too much pressure and eating way too much Gumby’s pizza.

There is so much to do when I get back to the States: I need to buy a bed for my new apartment. I need to work and study and read more good books. I need to learn how to let go of lost opportunities. I need to curb my crippling to-go coffee addiction.

I also need to live more. Live deeper. Live outside of my apartment. This week, I went out to a bar with friends — on a Tuesday! It’s not something I would have ever done at home. The voices of “Shouldn’t you be doing something else?” a little too loud in mine and my friends’ ears. But it was hysterical fun. We danced to swing music and the boys all took turns jumping and trying to hit a store sign (until Franky got smart and found a stick to hit it with. Cheating, but satisfying.).

We (being the 16 students on the Brussels program) are collectively terrified of the fact that our time in Brussels is rapidly approaching The End, and we’re desperate to spend time with each other in our city. We want to “live it up,” as they say, before we’re back in the drudgery of the school semester. We’re going to markets on weeknights and raiding tiny local bookstores and drinking lattes from cafes tucked into alleyways.

We are so young, dammit. Young enough to go out and have fun before mortgages and kids and jury duty weight us down. Our responsibilities are just enough to keep us humming without giving us a true excuse from not going out to truly experience the beautiful city we’ve been dropped in for the summer.

I feel so good about it, too. I eat lunch outside every day it’s not raining. I wear skirts on the metro. I practice my French when I can. Sometimes when I’m walking down the street, I feel like I should be skipping and singing “I’m Walking on Sunshine” because my heart is so content and happy.

This group has become such a family and brought me out of my shell into the sun.

We’re living in the thick of it.
It’s wonderful, but I don’t know how to bring it home.

If there’s anything I learned about myself last year, it’s that I don’t transition well back to school. Last summer, getting into the groove of Alaska life wasn’t hard at all. I took to the dirt and the rain and sleeping outside as if I had been waiting my whole life to be at camp. Coming back into “regular” society — constant social media, business casual, a lack of mountains — was completely jarring. I spent more time trying to figure out how to act than doing to homework I needed to be doing. It was strange and disappointing, my lack of grace, and I didn’t acclimate well at all.

Shannon (one of my dear, sweet, wonderful Brussels roommates and apparent soul twin) and I sat on our deck for an hour Monday night, reveling in the absence of rain for the first time in a week. We discussed our equally traumatizing experiences in News Reporting class, the stigmas behind mental health disorders and how much we didn’t want to go home to the unavoidable stresses of university life. We wanted to stay, exploring Brussels for all its strange, ragtag, beautiful edges and pockets. We wanted to stay and see every inch of the city that has welcomed us in, the city that feels incredibly like home.

We will have to learn, once more, how to live in the thick of it. And whether that’s getting lost in CoMo, spending Saturdays in Adam’s books or driving out past the suburban bubble, I’m down for the adventure.

Lunchtime views @ Parc du Cinquantenaire


Un été à Bruxelles: A love letter to the metro

We’re one month in, and I’ve kind of decided I don’t want to go home. (Kidding.)(Maybe.)
Brussels has been magnificent. I truly, truly love it here — not just the buildings and cobblestones, but the entire pacing of work, play and life. It’s been incredibly refreshing and rejuvenating to not feel like I’m drowning. Time, turns out, really helps one feel not insane.

I take the metro to work every day. Walk five minutes to Porte de Namur. Hop on the 2 or 6 to Arts-Loi. Chang to the 1 line. Get off at Montgomery. Grab an espresso from my favorite metro café women. Go to work.

It’s a 25-minute process that starts before 9 a.m. And I kid you not when I say my commute is my favorite part of my day.

When I tell people I’m an introvert, they don’t believe me. It’s hard to explain, and I’m not going to try to justify what I know to be absolutely true about myself. All of the intricacies of anxiety, overcompensation and being an INFJ aside, public transit is my happy place. As a both an introvert and a writer, it is my favorite thing to simply watch people. Some may think I’m maliciously staring, but truthfully I’m just watching the way their hands drum on armrests, or the way they chew on their lips. On the metro, I can be in my own head — headphones in, journal in hand — while still taking it all in. It’s truly the best of both worlds.

I fall in love multiple times a day on the metro: the bed-tousled students, clutching notebooks and history books to their chests; mothers holding the sticky hands of toddlers with juice boxes; the old women, cackling and whispering in lightening fast French. I get to ride with all these lives, shuffled through doors, short of thank-god-the-train-hasn’t-left-yet breath. I get to stand directly next to a human who’s story I will never completely know, but who offers up just enough character quirks to let me fill in the blanks in my writer’s mind.

Most of them are in and out of my life in the span of two minutes: I get on the stop before they get off. We walk down the stairs next to each other then scatter the second our feet hit the train platform. They smile at me as their two-year-old babbles in what very well might be Greek while waving around a favorite stuffed rabbit.

The metro is usually dirty. Most stairwells are partially under construction at any given point. Some passages smell like urine and stale sweat. I never go into the station without making sure my pockets are buttoned and my bag is zipped shut. I’ve encountered some definitely leering faces, calling my bluff of being European. I witnessed a heated argument that was one nose-flare shy of a brawl today.

Despite all that, I still want to ride every line. I want to rocket across the capillaries of this city, taking in every face. I want to draw them and write them down and remember that I am so, so very small.

Selfies en route
Selfies en route


Un été à Bruxelles: Running tour

In a more romantic sense of the word, I went exploring today.
In a more realistic sense of the word, I got lost on my run today.

What’s do they saying about losing your way? “You have to be lost to be found.”

It’s not like I had some life-altering, come-to-Jesus moment and “found” myself. After jogging and wandering around, I oriented myself by the bus map and took it two stops to Flagey, which is a five-minute walk from home.

I did get to see parts of Brussels I hadn’t seen before. And I did take get to hang out with myself.
And I did get to buy some delicious strawberries at Saturday market.

All in all, I’m glad I got lost.

Here are some of the photos I took on my run (not included: running selfie. Because if you didn’t document your workout, did it even happen?). It doesn’t have to be a run, but I would recommend getting lost/going exploring in your city. You might just find something extra special.

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Un été à Bruxelles: The Green Week Revival

Things I wouldn’t wish upon anyone: watching a brand new metro pass you spent your last €14 on get yanked out of your hand by the wind, whisked out into traffic and out of view.

Things I would wish upon other: the chance to rekindle your love of journalism.

This week, Adam and I only spent one day in the New Europe newsroom. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday were spent at The Egg for the European Commission Green Week 2014. We were spoiled beyond our wildest dreams in both amenities (free wooden flash drives, free wine with free lunch, endless coffee, a dedicated press room) and speakers (European Commissioner for the Environment Janez Potočnik, UNEP executive director Achim Steiner, WWF director general Marco Lambertini).

Green Week, now in its 14th year, is a three-day-long conference on all thing environmental, with a focus on economic and political change. Of course, there are plenty of day-to-day solutions to be found in expo booths — why biking to work is important, how to start your own compost pile — but the main audience was policy makers, lobbyists and economists. These are people who have already “converted” and want to enact larger changes in their sectors.

Today, I finished a 1,700 word recap of the conference, in which I realized exactly how much I care about environmentalism and going green. It’s one of my favorite things I’ve written ever, let alone abroad, so I celebrated with  macaroons and white wine with lunch (thank you, European Commission, from the bottom of my poor student journalist heart). My boss, Andy, wrote the most magnificent headline, and I’m a little jealous I didn’t come up with it myself. I just sent off a little day-turn on a new reporting on eco-decoupling (the process of separating economic growth from environmental demise), and I have a little downtime until the closing session.

I keep saying that I never want to go back to Mizzou, that I want to stay in Brussels forever. I might be dramatic, but my temper tantrum on having 66 days until I am back in America does have a streak of salient truth: I am not cut out to be a student anymore.

Maybe this is the brick wall everyone hits when they’ve been in school since 1998. Maybe I truly am being whiny and ungrateful. Maybe I need to yank myself up by the bootstraps and finish my Bachelor’s degree.

Or maybe I need to get out of the vicious cycle that has made me so anxious and depressed that I’m often afraid I’ll get kicked out before I remove myself.

Being a student journalist is not a fun time. It is usually more stress than good writing, because, more often than not, you just have too much going on to write the pieces you want to. Staff classes can transform newsrooms into battlegrounds for all the wrong reasons, turning potential collaborations into competitions.

I’ve found that when I get to dedicate myself entirely to reporting, I love it. I’m good at it, even. Even in Brussels, with class three times a week and an 7:30 a.m. alarm, I am not stressed like I am at school. When my job is to go into the newsroom, I look forward to what the day will bring.

When I am going into the newsroom while also taking a full course load, trying to keep a job, going to meetings and actually having conversations with my friends, I don’t want to get out of the bed in the morning. It overloads my system to the point where I am crying in public and trying not to scream at anyone who looks at me wrong.

But here in this hot pressroom, I am happy. I am reminded of why I started onto the path toward journalism, despite naysayers (hi, Dad) and worrywarts (hi, Mom). I am writing and enjoying writing because it is important. Not only in the subject matter I’m covering, but in its place in my life. Journalism isn’t something that fits well into the open spaces in a class schedule, interviews crammed into precious free-time between French lit and a copy desk shift.

It is a profession like any other, and deserves dedication.

Green Week grind
Green Week grind

I know that’s painfully sappy and ridiculous, but it’s how I’m feeling right now. I’m working on honesty and transparency in my emotions and blogging. No putting on faces here.

Un été à Bruxelles: Sunday reflections

I haven’t changed out of my pajamas yet. I’ve had a cup of tea and a banana with peanut butter. I’ve read the news, chatted about Malcolm Gladwell and thought about cleaning my room. Sundays are great, because everyone is quiet, doing their own thing (reading, laundry, Facebook). My apartment is filled with light, and I am still and happy.

Europe is great. It’s weird — every time we go to a bar, we meet some really interesting characters — and wonderful — history and long-standing culture exist in beautiful pockets around the city.

Yesterday, a group of us took the train out to Antwerp and explored a little. It’s a beautiful, bustling city, and I honestly could have spent the whole day staring at the architecture in the train station (which I managed not to get a photo of, but look like this). Also, raspberry ice cream is my true weakness.

Statue of Brabo and the giant's hand, Grote Markt Antwerpen, May 2014
Statue of Brabo and the giant’s hand outside of City Hall, Grote Markt Antwerpen, May 2014
Grote Markt Antwerpen, May 2014
Grote Markt Antwerpen, May 2014

The first week of my internship at New Europe went pretty well. I wrote about Christine Lagarde’s keynote speech at the Inclusive Capitalism conference, as well as some smaller write-ups on Brussels agenda pieces. It’s such a different environment from either of the newsrooms I’ve worked in before, but I rather like the quieter atmosphere of a weekly publication. We sit and talk about political movements, our editors filling in the gaps in our EU knowledge. It’s nice, and I can’t wait to start pitching more stories and truly getting on my reporting grind.

Note: If you’ve been to Europe before, I would love recommendations of places you went to and loved/hated/whatever. Feel free to leave a comment!

Note, part two: I really need to take more photos.