Politics and Policies of the EU: Internship Program in Brussels

Brussels, Belgium

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Well here I am, about to embark on my final week here in Brussels and wondering if I’ve checked everything off of not only my ‘to-do’ list, but also my ‘must-see/do’ list. And if I haven’t, what the repercussions might be for playing hooky from my internship to go finish said list? After all, I believe it to be a vital part of my European education to have some hands on experience before giving a final opinion in the great Belgium vs. Swiss chocolate debate. Others disagree - mainly my supervisor and academic superiors. And thanks to always needing to be “the responsible one in the group”, a fatal flaw I’ve suffered from since I was a young child, I’ve allowed myself to be conformed to expectations. A rebel I am not. In this vein I decided to make a list of the ‘good, bad and ugly’ that I’ve experienced since I’ve been here – so others will know what to look forward to or to avoid. First, the good:
-          - Ease of public transportation. The buses don’t really follow any type of schedule, but at least they are available. The metro runs smoothly though.
-         -  Ability to walk nearly anywhere you need to go – an even bigger plus if public transportation goes on strike
-       -   Being treated like an equal at my internship rather than as free labor. This means being asked for my opinion, being given projects to work on etc…Basically, doing real work vs. making coffee and copies
-        -  The opportunity to experience various types of work, such as research, writing, interacting with MEPs, attending meetings, conferences etc..
-      -    The food – warm waffles, chocolate, speculoos, ok, pretty much all of it
-         - Brussels is well located for seeing other areas of Europe, just a few hrs by train and you can be in a number of different countries
The Bad:
-The weather. Rain isn’t so bad when you are just running between your car and a building, but you get sick of it pretty quickly when you have to walk a total of 3 miles in it between home, the metro and work every day. Throw in the fact that we’ve had about one week of sun total and 5 weeks of rain and you quickly get sick, quite literally in some of our cases, of being wet.
- Being cold. I am told this year is not normal, but I don’t see why that prevents the heat in the house from being turned on. My first two weeks here I was wearing two shirts, two jackets and wrapping up in a blanket while in the house and still couldn’t get warm, I thought that was a little bit unreasonable. But perhaps I am simply the privileged American feeling entitled to certain types of comfort.
-The inability to find a decent salad anywhere. While not a big deal for other people, when you’re a vegetarian it takes on a certain level of significance
The Ugly:
-High winds, marble sized hail, rain, and being completely lost in a city where I can’t speak the language
-The practice of going 7-11 days between laundry days. This was mainly a problem when it was attached to my running clothes. One 45 minute run was about all they could take, even if I did wring the sweat out afterwards, they tended to remain smelly and damp for a few days. It was not something that invited itself to be re-worn. Contrary to what one might think, running in the rain did not improve the situation.
While reviewing my experiences here, I was happy to see that most of what I experienced fell into the ‘good’ column. And that which fell into the ‘bad’ was strongly mitigated by the application of warm waffles and chocolate truffles. So while I may be happy to say goodbye to Belgium’s rain, I will also miss the people and projects I was given the opportunity to work with. In 6 weeks you are just beginning to settle in, figure out what you are supposed to be doing (and how to do it right), and learn all the names of your co-workers when you have to say goodbye. However, I will definitely be collecting email addresses before I go in order to keep in touch with all the wonderful people I have met while over here!

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