I can still vividly remember my first impression of the city of Brussels. I was taking a cab from the airport, thoroughly exhausted from my trips from JFK - Heathrow - Brussels, and was sitting back as the cab driver navigated to the hotel. The buildings and parks we drove by were beautiful, but all I could think was "How on earth does he know where he's going?!? The streets have no signs!"
Yes, in Brussels most streets don't have clear and obvious signs.
is so hard to imagine that we've been here for almost a month already;
at certain times it feels like we've just arrived, and at other times it
feels like we've been here forever. I honestly did not know what to
expect from Brussels itself but I have been pleasantly surprised. One
completely new experience for me was living with a host family. I was a
little worried at first, but my host family is very friendly. They gave
us (I'm living there with another student from the program) a lot of
information we needed to adjust to life in/around Brussels. Most of us
live outside the main center of the city, which really concerned this
native New Yorker, but it's a nice, refreshing change of pace. I have no
complaints, aside from the mild discomfort I get when my
simple-carbohydrate-obsessed host dog stares at me as I eat breakfast
every morning in the hopes that my clumsy self will drop the bag of
bread or something.
Speaking of breakfast, speculoos. Speculoos.
If you leave Brussels without trying speculoos in one of its myriad
forms (spread, cookie, cake, ice cream, etc.), you have not really
experienced all that Belgian cuisine has to offer.
internship experience is the main component of this program, of course.
The interview process, as Amy described in an earlier post, was pretty
stressful. I only had four interviews but we had a very limited amount
of time to do background research on all our organizations and figure
out how to find our interview locations. Due to the aforementioned lack
of street signs, the directions I got off Google weren't particularly
useful to me and I always got lost. For instance, I had an interview
near the Schuman metro, and the building I was going to was clearly
mentioned on one of the exits, but since I didn't know that and got out
of another exit, I spent 45 minutes wandering around looking for the
Residential Palace. Smart.
The interview process itself was not
dramatically different from the interview process back home, but it had
its quirks. I interviewed at three NGOs and a think tank. I was not
used to being offered coffee or tea at interviews, so I was a bit taken
aback at first. The interviews were much less focused on exploring my
own work experience and qualifications than they were focused on
explaining the goals of each organization and their main projects.
internship is with the International Disability and Development
Consortium. It coordinates the efforts of twenty-three different NGOs
that all work on disability and/or development, so it is exposing me to a
different side of NGO operations that I was not previously familiar
with. I am learning a lot about disability issues, inclusive development
challenges, and especially the role that the EU plays in supporting
development programs. Since my academic coursework has not focused on
development, a lot that I learn here is very new to me, but I feel like I
can draw parallels with a lot of the concepts that I am learning here
and my own academic interests. Working here, I have learned broad
lessons about NGO networks and coalitions, advocacy for marginalized
populations, and the challenges of EU advocacy.
aspect of this program is the policy workshop that we participated in
this past weekend. I really learned a lot from our visits to the
European Parliament, the guest speaker that spoke to us about foreign
policy, and the discussions that we had in class. I definitely got a lot
out of the workshop and feel confident that I can capably write the
policy analysis paper due after the end of the program.
Last but not least, travel! We spent the first full weekend of the
program traveling around Belgium, taking trips to Bruges, Antwerp,
Ghent, and various WWI cemeteries and memorials. With Jerry's
encyclopedic knowledge of all things historical and Belgian, I really
developed an understanding of the country we're spending seven weeks in!