Belgium for those of you who don't know, is a tiny country in the west of Europe with a huge population. In this 30.000 km square country there are 11.4 million people! For me that's mind-blowing considering that my medium size Romania has a population of 19 million people and the social anxiety I sometimes feel in the underground on Monday mornings does not help in adjusting to those numbers. You would think that Belgians are the most united people with a fantastic culture and a strong sense of brotherly love among themselves, no? Well, partly yes, but I don't think you would find a more divided country anywhere in Europe. Not only is Belgium linguistically divided into two major regions, Wallonia and Flanders, but there's also the German speaking community! And yes, they truly exist--I've heard stories and met people who claim that they live there. Let's not forget about my annoyingly new home, Brussels, which is a whole different world entirely. It stands as an isle of Frenchness in the middle of the Flemish speaking part. What a complete mess, I love it! Even though Belgium has so many unique features concerning its geopolitical background and culture, Brussels will always be an exception. Brussels doesn't fit into a pattern; it has its own rules. Here, I do not need French to live or work, I am among expats and friends from all around Europe, it's a bubble. What does that mean for a young person living here? In theory, you have the opportunity of learning 3 languages while living in one country, but in practice if you work in an international environment with many other expats it’s difficult to use any other language than English. Nevertheless, I strongly believe that everything is possible if you have the will to do it. I, for example, am very motivated to learn German (a language not so popular here), and I’m doing my best to practise and learn new vocabulary every single day, without a shadow of doubt step by step progress will be made.
When I arrived here, I was shocked about the diversity of the city, I had no idea what to expect of it, the only thing I knew about Brussels was that here is the European Parliament and that they eat fries, not French, mind you! They get very offended if you get that wrong. I was ready for adventure, I was keen on learning more, of broadening my horizon and discover my adoptive country, and I wasn't disappointed.
The first thing that I've noticed was how beautiful the architecture is, I would often wander the streets and gaze at the marvellous facades of the buildings, admire the Parisian style balconies or get lost in of the many parks of the city. It wouldn't be possible to mention Brussels's architecture without Grand Place, it is by far one of the most beautiful and impressive centres I've seen in my life. The huge square is surrounded by golden buildings made by wealthy merchants from the past centuries and the smell of waffles and fries is omnipresent. If you can ignore the massive amount of tourists, maybe you could be able to enjoy the mannequin piss, a lovely boy with no shame in peeing in front of adults keen on taking photos at all time.
My amazing and lovely mentor made sure to introduce me to the best waffles in town and I believe I've ruined the experience by choosing a Norwegian waffle with salmon, #sorrynotsorry. Other than that, a unique experience is visiting the European Parliament as a tourist, they have free tours every day and the guides are super nice. I feel privileged to go there with my work, working for an NGO in Brussels implies to a certain extent some serious collaboration with the EU institutions, like projects, conferences and many other events.
As a quick sum-up, Belgium is very divided, but Brussels is even more so. You feel like you're in the middle of everything because you really are! It has everything for everyone, nightlife (not that I know anything about it), museums and cafes, festivals and concerts and so much more! For the first time, I think I am in the right place to enjoy my youth.