Belgium: The World Is My Oyster
My name is Adeline, I'm 24 and I'm from a village located in the French-speaking part of Belgium. I take the train to go to work (1 hour to go/1 hour to come back), I read a lot, it makes me travel without travelling and when I like a book I hate to finish it. I also enjoy listening music and I often go to concerts or parties and every year in the summer I go to music festivals here in Belgium. The one I prefer is the Dour Festival, where a lot of groups from every kind of music (electro, rock, reggae, ska, hip hop?) perform during four days. This year will be the 20th anniversary of this festival, so I have to be there!
Belgium is a quite small country that has three official languages. In the North people speak Dutch, in the South they speak French and there is also a little part in the East where people speak German, but all Belgians are not trilingual and it can be hard to understand each other. It's a bit strange, when you are on the motorway, the names of the cities change when you arrive in the other part of the country. It's easy for a tourist get lost in Belgium i.e. the city of Mons in French becomes Bergen in Dutch, which is not so obvious. However, in Brussels everything is written in Dutch and French.
Our local specialities are chips (called French fries, but they are from Belgium and we have a secret way of making them), chocolate, beer (that comes in hundreds of varieties and the waffles from Li?ge. Our major tourist attraction is 'Manneken Pis', which is a small statue of a peeing boy on top of a fountain. He is very famous and people come from far away to see him. The legend says he saved Brussels from the fire with his pee. Rain is also something typical in Belgium that is why we have so many woods and green places. My mother's house, for example, is located between a wood and a field and when I was a child, I lived in many different houses, but always in the countryside. I went to secondary school in a small town (Dinant, the town of Adolphe Sax, inventor of the well-known saxophone). When I finished I went to Li?ge (a city in the East of the country, near the Netherlands and Germany) to study anthropology. After the first two years I went to Italy with the European study exchange programme Erasmus. It has been one of the greatest years of my life: to live abroad, being involved in a language and a culture you don't know, meet people from everywhere. Fantastic!
I came back to Li?ge to finish my studies and after I decided to go to Spain for a few months. I wanted to continue to travel and discover new places and new ways of life. I stayed one month in Granada with a grant from the Belgian state and I worked two months for an olive oil producer in Almer?a.
After, I returned to Li?ge again and started looking for a job. It was not so easy, because I didn't know what kind of job I wanted to do or what kind of job I was able to do. After a few months, last year in June, I found the work I'm still doing now. I work for a non-profit organisation called Compagnons B?tisseurs. Its’ activities include organisation of international workcamps in Belgium, sending volunteers from Belgium to workcamps abroad and organising leisure activities with disabled people. A workcamp is a two or three weeks long project, where young people from different countries gather and do some volunteering work for a local community. The work can be manual, social, cultural, etc.: restoring an old castle in France or contributing to the turtles protection in Mexico and there are a lot of other kinds of different projects. There are also medium-term and long-term volunteering projects (from 1 month to 1 year). It's a way of travelling that permit to discover a country from inside, sharing the way of life of the local people.
I enjoy my work because it corresponds to my philosophy, it's open and everybody can contribute new ideas. I think I'm lucky to do that work as a first proper work experience. I don't know for how long I'll stay there, but I know that l want to meet more people, travel and gain more different experiences. The world is definitely my oyster.
Being a young person in Europe is not something so special for me. I know that I'm lucky to live in a place without war and with a level of life more comfortable than in many other countries. These are maybe the facts that I find more interesting in the idea of Europe. Sometimes, when I try to think of the word ‘Europe’ I only think of a big bureaucracy influenced by some people in the shadow. I mean it's difficult to know exactly how this big machine works and to be aware of the decisions made at a European level. I think many people don't really know what happens at a political level and maybe most of them don't care about it.
I also think that Europe should be more active in the social field and less in the economical field. European policies are encouraging the states to open their markets to the big companies and to abandon public services like postal or train services. I have some doubts about the results in the future. The quality of the services will be worsened, because it will be subjected to the laws of the market and competition. To conclude, I would say the idea of Europe is certainly a great thing but we have to build it all together and mainly with civil society. There are still inequalities here in Europe, even if we think we are a ‘developed civilization’, even if some people say we are model for the world, we should keep a critical glance of ourselves.
Adeline Henkes, 24
Images: Belgian waffles
Phothographs by Adeline:
'Manneken Pis' - a statue of a peeing boy on top of a fountain