The more time I spend here in Europe, the more infinite the world seems. I have been reflecting this past week on how much of the world I have no idea about. One example is that I have spent my whole life in a Mennonite community. I know the Mennonite community in the US really well and love it. However, I come here and nobody has ever heard of a Mennonite. How many other little groups must there be in the world that have their own unique culture and history that we have never heard of? Belgium itself is full of so many different cultures and within Brussels, it is common to hear ten different languages in the metro. Brussels is such an international city that there are literally thousands of different cultural groups. On my block alone exists probably at least 10 ethnicities.
I have really enjoyed observing the different cultures, as well as hearing about the different European stereotypes. The history here is so deep and much more complicated than I had ever realized. Belgians are not nationalistic, but rather find their identity in their different communities. They are tolerant of each other, but do not always seem to like each other. The Dutch and French speaking populations do not normally mix, except in Brussels. This is part of the problem of why Belgium still does not have a government after a year and a half. Even more interesting is that Belgians do not seem to like the actual French or Dutch. This comes from the fact that both countries have invaded Belgium. The Dutch are often viewed as loud and slightly obnoxious, while the French are seen as snobs.
Another interesting observation is to see how recent World War II actually was. I am living right now in what was just 70 years ago was occupied territory. My host dad's father was actually born under occupied Holland and his grandfather fought in the resistance army. Hatred for the Germans still exists, even though it is slowly dying out with the younger generations. I will eventually get to visit some of the battlefields of World War II while I am here, although this weekend holds a class field trip to Antwerp, then a BCA field trip to WWI battlefields and museums.
Last weekend was an amazing trip to Brugge with my art class where we visited many different museums and statues, then Krissy and I stayed later and went on a boat tour and a walk to my internship. Saturday, I went hiking in southern Belgium. It was an absolutely gorgeous day and I was able to see cute villages, Belgium farmland, and even a couple of castles! Yesterday, I had the privilege to listen to a famous Brussels author, Geert Van Istendael, speak of the problems facing Belgium today and tomorrow I hear a lecture from the CEO of Fair Observer, a new multimedia journal. As you can probably tell, I am staying incredibly busy and really trying to make the most of my adventure!