Politics and Policies of the EU: Internship Program in Brussels

Brussels, Belgium

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Reflections On Brussels

This program has been a great opportunity, full of learning experiences that took place in the classroom setting, internship setting, and even tours around other parts of Belgium. My internship was a very interesting experience.  It took me a long time to get over how it different it was from my perception of my own academic and professional interests, but I definitely learned a lot from working at the International Disability and Development Consortium. It was like an immersion course in the field of development.  I got to attend meetings and events where speakers included: MEPs, members of various directorates of the European Commission, the UN Special Rapporteur for extreme poverty and human rights, development scholars, representatives from civil society organizations, and representatives from UNICEF, the World Bank, and the International Labour Organization. I feel that these experiences have given me a solid foundation for understanding the issues surrounding development and goals of development policy in the European Union. I am very grateful that I got to have these experiences and level of access to actors in the field of development. My internship also gave me clearer insight into the ways that NGOs operate. I observed the IDDC and its member organizations deal with challenges related to project management and cooperation among themselves in terms of establishing common goals.

I really enjoyed the chance to travel during this program. We got to see a lot of Belgium and we did some weekend travelling on our own as well. I wasn’t too crazy about Amsterdam and its overly touristy parts, I was intrigued by a brief trip to Luxembourg where we went to find out what exactly is in Luxembourg, and I fell completely in love with Germany. Berlin is the city that I can’t quite figure out and the place I promise to return to – and hopefully even live in one day. I shed my anti-tourist, jaded New Yorker persona in Germany, abandoning my initial discomfort with the prospect that I would be in a country where I don’t understand the language at all. I was perfectly glad to pose in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin and buy people cologne in Cologne (Speaking of touristy things, I was so emotionally moved by the Beethoven Haus in Bonn that I don’t suspect it will be very pretty when I finally make my Austrian Mozart pilgrimage one day. Then again, I have no doubt I’ll be struggling to stifle a conniption fit the next time I unfortunately find myself on 34th Street or in SoHo). 

Riding on the tram and reflecting on the scenery of the route from Montgomery to Ixelles, I came to realize how strange a city Brussels is. On one side of a tram stop sign, I saw a Dutch name, on the other side, a totally different French name. It made me wonder whether there are two (or more) completely different experiences of living in Brussels. A Dutch-speaking person would have a different perspectives and different landmarks than the Francophone world I’ve been somewhat immersed in. Immigrants and other residents of Brussels might also have a different insight into the way this city works. Given my time living here in Brussels and the affectionately termed “Beek” (a.k.a. Wezembeek-Oppem), I don’t understand this place at all.

I can’t definitively say that there is a Bruxellois way of life – even my use of the French adjective somewhat excludes the Dutch and non-Belgian residents of this city. Brussels is an enigma. It’s complicated and it’s confusing. Every time I came back from a weekend in Germany, I felt an increasing sense of discomfort, even distaste, within the maze-like streets of Brussels. There are so many facets of this city – so many neighborhoods that we’ve never explored – and that’s slightly disorienting to me. I don’t feel the desire to come back to Brussels the way I feel the compulsion to go back to Berlin. I’m just left to wonder: if I saw more of Brussels, would I understand it even less?

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