I think I speak for everyone when I say our first week in the program flew by. For our first day in Brussels, all that was planned was meeting our host families. My future roommate, Lucy, and I had spent time in London before the start of the program and thus did not take the same flight in as everyone else. As we walked into the cafe where we were meeting everyone it became very clear; half of the table looked up as we came in and used their last bit of strength to smile or wave and the other half just continued sleeping. The upside of this was because we were not jet-lagged we walked around with our host family to see what was close to their house.
The next morning, our first full day in Brussels, Lucy and I made tourist mistake #347, or as we like to call it the laundromat incident. Since we had spent the previous week in London we needed to do our laundry, we went to the nearest Carrefour Express, a grocery store and the only thing open on Sundays, to look for detergent. Lucy insisted on looking for Tide Pods, and soon we found a box of Tide Pod-looking cubes that had the words “laver” and “lave-linge”. After one year of french we bought these “Tide Pods” without hesitation. As Lucy read the instructions clearly written in the wall in French and Dutch, I soon discovered our beloved “Tide Pods” were cubes used to wash the washing machine itself and not to do laundry. Luckily for ourselves, there was a detergent vending machine. This was just the first of our problems, we spent nearly half an hour putting coins into the machine not understanding why it wouldn’t start. Eventually a lady took pity on us and walked in and decided to show us how you are supposed to put the coins into another machine that gives a coin that the washing machine uses. After what felt like an eternity we got our laundry done and decided to call it a day.
The following week flew by, packed with learning both in and out of the class, whether it was touring Brussels on Monday or sitting in lecture the other days. After our afternoon lecture on Tuesday some of us decided to do something together and we decided to go to some of the places we had been to the previous day on our tour. After what seemed hours of walking, and not finding what we were looking for in the first place, we called it a day and headed back to our houses for dinner. Brussels was more confusing to navigate than we had previously expected, but what we didn’t know is that it was only our first day and in the days to come we would become experts on the metro and tram systems.
One week later, filled with more trips to Parc du Cinquantenaire than we should be proud of, our second week began with a visit to the Parlamentarium and a conference on “Brexit or Bremain.” To say there was a lot of out of class learning would definitely be an understatement. I hadn’t known what my expectations for the Parlamentarium were, but they were exceeded. There was constant visual, auditory and hands-on learning which made every type of learner benefit. The Parlamentarium began with a history lesson, covering decades of events all of the EU’s member states witnessed. The lower room focused solely on the European Parliament. One room played a video about the Parliament which helped me visualize how the sessions look. Also in this same room, while the video was playing, each seat had a touch screen for more information and a different presentation.
After the video room, which looked like the Parliament itself, there was an exhibition focusing on the job the parliament does both in Europe and outside. Some of the close projects being developed with Latin America really surprised me because I wasn’t aware of them before, especially seeing as I am Salvadorian.
Finally, the museum had a display of all the MEPs currently elected and a touch screen that gave further information on every member of parliament. After the Parlamentarium, however, our day was far from over. Dr. Birchfield invited us to eat pastries at Le Pain Quotidien.
When we finished our snack, we walked back to our classroom in ULB to listen to a conference on the United Kingdom’s referendum on “Brexit or Bremain.” Points were brought up on both sides but it is safe to say that the panel was definitely hoping the vote on June 23 is to Bremain. An analytic discussion on the advertisement and what is lacking on the Bremain campaign was particularly interesting to me as a foreigner. I just assumed most people knew more than they actually do about the costs of leaving the EU. In conclusion, this day like any other in Europe was full of learning and new experiences.