When looking for a study abroad program, I wanted something outside of the typical experience. I knew that I would travel, make new friends, and hopefully better my language skills. These are the general expectations you have for a study abroad semester. Yes classes are important, but I think I can safely talk on behalf of many students when I say that academics are not necessarily the top priority. (Sorry mom). I was immediately drawn to Brussels when I was researching programs. I was thrilled with the possibility of living and interning in such an important city. And I have to say that the political mentality of the city did not disappoint.
I will openly admit that I am a nerd when it comes to politics. I love to talk about it, much to the dismay of some of my friends, sorry guys. I have always found it to be such an important and interesting topic, which is why I have always been perplexed by its designation as an impolite conversation topic. I have always been so overtly frustrate by our inability to calmly and openly discuss issues that can have ever-present ramifications throughout not only our lifetime, but also that of other generations. Somehow in an attempt to prevent arguments we’ve alienated a conversation topic that is deeply important. Or worse yet, we solely surround ourselves with like-minded individuals that allow us to build partisan filters. Our society has built itself up to a point where the only instances where these important issues are discussed erupt into anger-fueled and irrevocable personal attacks. Case-and-point: Trump or Hillary.
I have encountered quite a different phenomenon in Brussels. While I know that I cannot pretend to know the entire culture or all of the people of Belgium, I have found in my little home away from home a much more receptive environment to the discussion of politics. It has been one of the greatest thrills, to openly discuss a current event or topic and know that it can be done in a safe space where you are respected regardless of differing opinions. Yes, topics can be heavy and moments can get heated. Passion is not something people should ever shy away from, but the acceptance of the existence of other ideologies is something everyone should strive for. I have learned so much in my time in Brussels, mostly because I have been able to see and somewhat understand different perspectives. As a student, I cannot begin to explain how helpful discussions can be. For you to rally behind a subject you need to be well versed not only on your side of the argument, but also that of the opposition. Something I hope to take back with me to the states? An open mind.