In January of this year, 2012, I went to Belgium with my mom to celebrate my 17th birthday. This trip really changed my life. We only went for three short days, but in those three days I experienced things that really changed me as a person. We arrived and went to our hotel in downtown Brussels on the first day. We walked around downtown and got to eat REAL Belgian waffles…and let me tell you, they make American waffles seem like nothing. It was covered in Belgian chocolate, another thing Belgium is famous for. We went around to all of the chocolate shops and tried all of the different types and flavors, it was so delcious! All of the people who worked in the shops and even the guy who worked in the hotel lobby were so incredibly friendly, it was amazing.
â–º QUARTER FINALIST 2012 TEEN TRAVEL WRITING SCHOLARSHIP
It was really eye opening so see how welcoming people can be. The guy at the hotel even told us all of the good stuff to go see! The next day we took a train to Brugge, a town outside of Brussels, which he recommended. Brugge was very beautiful. It had canals like Venice but had that Belgian feel. Later on that day we took the train back to Brussels and went to see the Atomium at night, which was so amazing since it was all lit up and sparkling.
We saw many different sights in Belgium, but I think the thing that I really felt there that made me fall in love with it so much was the people. There is something so breathtaking and promising in a lifestyle where people aren't afraid to interact with eachother. This is so very different from America where people tend to usually stay to themselves, and I had never really experienced that before. There is just such comfort in such a place where you know almost anyone you meet will be so open to you, expecially when you don't know much of their language. Considering I don't know much French, everyone was so patient and still willing to help us get where we needed to go. I met a few people that were so nice to me that still, after six months of being there, stay in my mind as some of the most wonderful people I ever met on a international trip. And to be able to say that and to remember that will always stay with me.
To be honest, when I found out that the place we were going was Belgium I was happy of course, because how many people get to travel places to celebrate their birthday? But on the other hand, I really didn't think it would have that much to offer. I hadn't ever read or heard much about it, and I didn't know what to expect. I was extremely shocked at what I found once we arrived. I remember the night before we left, we went to a french fry shop in downtown Brussels because, strange enough, fries are really popular in Belgium. It was late, and this place was just a little hole-in-the-wall type of thing. We walked in and there was one man there that was ahead of us. We ordered our fries and the one man working was joking with us, and the man that had ordered before us told us about how he had lived in New York for his whole life practically and then his job got moved to Belgium, and now that he lives there he goes to that fry shop every week and orders from the man and how they have really gotten to know eachother. And the ten minutes it took us to go in and order food felt like a little peice of Belgium, what it would be like to live there.
I am going to be a senior in high school this coming fall, and going on that trip changed my direction in life and how I handle myself. I have a better appreciation for the world because there is so much more to it than sitting in my room and worrying about my math homework. There are serene and beautiful places out there that are waiting for me to see and people in unexpected little food shops and people walking down the street that will change my life forever. After two days that I thought would have no impact, I came home and felt the need to go back. I wanted the comfort that came along with the cobblestone streets and the underground trains and I yearned for one more conversation with each of those people I met, and I was so far away but it felt like I had left home, not arrived home. On the long plane ride home over the Atlantic Ocean, I dreamt of how in a year I could travel abroad and live in Belgium. Maybe in those apartments I saw across the street or maybe in a house out in the country. Of how I could walk the city and try to find those people I met that I want so badly to get to know and meet other kids my age and travel Europe. That's what I want in life. I want to get to know French and talk to the locals in their first tongue, and I want to experience the world. I think the most important thing someone of any age could ever do is travel. No matter how old you are, it will change you.
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