A major component of people’s desire to study abroad rests in the idea of immersing oneself into another culture. By living with a family while studying abroad, you are given an immersion into another culture unparalleled to that of any other study abroad. It has only been a few short weeks, but living with a host family has allowed me to experience Brussels as more than just a traveler; it’s becoming my home.
When traveling to other countries, the excitement of exploring that country’s attractions often outweighs the cultural nuances that can be observed. We spent the first couple of days as a class on bus tours and walking tours learning of the history of Brussels and witnessing what draws the 7.5 million tourists to visit this magnificent capital each year. These whirlwind tours showed us the surface of Brussels, and allowed us the following weeks to delve into the depths of the culture and atmosphere of Brussels on our own. Every morning we meet at different locations around the city, and need to know the city well enough to get around without looking at our phones for every turn. As is human nature, we fall into patterns and routines. I know that if I miss the tram next to my house, I have time to grab a coffee from the cafe right next door as the next tram won’t come for at least 8 minutes. The fresh market at Place Flagey every Sunday morning entices me to wake up early to watch the hustle and bustle of the vendors and customers (and it helps that they have fantastic strawberries). I meet some other students under the Arches in the park after class at least once a week, just because the sun doesn’t set until 9 and we have so much more time in the day here. All of these are things I wouldn’t fully experience as simply a traveler in Brussels.
There is a certain comfort in being able to traverse across a city that was completely foreign to you 3 weeks ago. It becomes ‘your city’, if only temporarily. This is also aided by being able to go home to a family everyday. Having coffee with them each morning. Sitting down and eating dinner and having conversations each evening. Not only are you opening up to them, but they are opening up to you. The other evening, the Duponts had their family over for a wonderful four course meal. I had the fortune of sitting next to Madame Dupont’s mother, and as the dinner progressed, I learned so much about this wonderful lady who I have never seen before and probably will never see again. Though she only spoke French and my French is broken, our conversation didn’t lose any of its depth or value. She told me of her affinity for Americans that stretched back to her childhood when her family hosted American soldiers in their home in Weiler, Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge. As I looked around the table – with Mme Dupont’s mother and the Duponts’ children and grandchildren – it hit me that I was observing four generations of a family deeply rooted in Belgium culture and history. And they have allowed me to, momentarily, be a part of this Belgian culture too. They have been letting Americans do so for generations.
By inviting us into their homes, our hosts families have allowed us to become part of their families, and subsequently a part of Belgian culture.