Au Revoir Ordinateur, Bonjour Bruxelles
Two years ago, my father came home one May evening and informed us that he was needed at his firm’s office in Brussels and that we were all to go with him for the summer. It was a dream-come-true for my parents, but for me, the idea of spending the entire summer away from my room, friends, and computer was a nightmare. Despite my numerous and frequent temper tantrums, I soon found myself trapped on a British Airways flight bound for Europe. I did what any traumatized child would do. I slept. I slumbered for fourteen straight hours, distancing myself as much as I could from my cruel parents.
Honorable Mention 2010 FTF Teen Travel Writing Scholarship
While my family members spent the next few days fighting jet-lag, I felt remarkably refreshed. As we walked the city of Brussels, all of my senses seemed heightened. My eyes beheld a city filled with both medieval towers and post-modern structures. My ears heard French, Dutch, and English, as well as many other languages. I tasted chocolates, waffles, croissants and Belgian fries. People were friendly and eager to share. Perhaps, I secretly admitted, this place would not be so bad.
We moved into a small, two-bedroom apartment across from the European Union and lived with people from all over the world. Women from Africa wore long tunics in beautiful textiles, and young children played soccer and screamed in Arabic below our balcony. My mother permitted my brothers and me to explore the city without her, provided we remained together. We went to the same military museum in the Parc du Cinquantenaire at least five times, enthralled with the exhibits and fascinated by the European perspective. We stopped at Maison Antoine at the Place Jourdain more times than we will admit to our mother to devour fries that are deep fried not once, but twice. We shopped at the local grocery store to bring home provisions, and befriended a shop-keeper named Stephanie. Stephanie was from Australia, spoke eight languages, and was very attractive. She was happy to speak her native tongue and we enjoyed her attention. As time went on, we became bolder and braver. If language was a barrier, we used hand signals. On the night of the Euro Cup between Spain and Germany, people decked out in colorful soccer shirts and painted faces congregated at the “Place Lux” to watch the game and party. It was exciting to be part of a celebration that included people from every part of the planet.
For many people, travelling means “monuments, museums and madness”. They cram as much in as they can in a very short amount of time and remember very little of it. I could tell you about the beauty of the Grand Place or how the Cathedral St. Michel was built in stages over hundreds of years, and I could tell you about the other excursions we took to France and England, but the sites are not what was unexpectedly wonderful about my European experience. What lives in me is the magic of discovering that the world is not as frightening as I feared, that people are people wherever you go, and that I am more resilient and adaptable than I thought. Of course I tasted foods I found disgusting and I am certain that I made a fool of myself more than once, but any discomfort or embarrassment I felt was a very small price to pay for the realization that discovering your world not only makes you more engaged and interested in your world, it also makes you more interesting.
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