Monday, August 6, 2012

Au Revoir Bruxelles...until we meet again

The time has come to end my adventure in Brussels. Today I re-read the journal entry I wrote on February 5th in which I outlined what I wanted to get out of the upcoming 6 months. My objectives were to get knowledge, an internship, a part-time job, friends and exercise.

I definitely gained knowledge and a lot of it. The hole there once was in my bank of legal information under the heading 'international law' is slowly beginning to fill. I found most of my courses very interesting but my favourite by far was international peace and security law. I can literally pick up the newspaper every day and apply what I learnt in that class to the stories that appear within.

Exercise-wise, I didn't join a gym, a squash club or a yoga studio as I might have liked, but signing up for the 1/2 marathon gave me the motivation I needed to get my butt out of the door on many a chilly day. The race went so well that I got a bit carried away by registering for the Montreal marathon in September. I'm afraid I have to report that my training has hit some bumps. I was advised to follow an 18-week training program - the only problem was, my race (at the time) was 10 weeks away. So I fast-forwarded to week 8 and my first run was 22km long! That was followed by 2 shorter runs and a 24km run the following week. That on top of the two hours I had walked to work and back every day had my body shouting STOP! So I did. I'm still waiting to feel back to normal and then I'll see where I stand. I may have to accept defeat this time...we shall see.

Dinner in the African district Matonge - plaintain...yum

My part-time job ended up working out remarkably well. I think it's the best job I will ever have. Cooking, baking and chilling with teenagers during the day, then chatting to their diplomat and lawyer parents in the evening? How am I going to top that? After I cooked the family a farewell feast (roasted tomato, buffalo mozzarella and fresh basil quiche + grilled veggie salad and three choices of dessert: lemon loaf with berry coulis, pavlova and pasteis de nata) they gave me a lovely card and a very well chosen book to read on the plane. I must have done something right. I also became close with the two Filipino women working there. I was touched by the sacrifices they made in order to support their families. It left me wondering whether I would do the same.

Setting the table for the diplomat's official residence dinner

My internship at the Center for International law at l’Université libre de Bruxelles was very challenging. Research is not my passion - I love to learn but I way prefer working with people rather than a computer screen. Plus, it was difficult researching Canadian law in a foreign country with no one to bounce my ideas off of. I owe tremendous thanks to the librarians at l'Université de Montréal who patiently answered my never-ending pesky emails. I spent all day yesterday in my supervisor's office putting the final touches on my work. I am pleased to say it is now online! Check it out here out if you dare... (I wrote the whole 'Au Canada' part)

My last time hosting Sunday supper club

Re: friends; it's funny. I spent my first few months here wishing I could find a kindred-spirit and now that I'm ready to leave, I realize how many great people I have had the fortune of meeting these past 6 months. I loved that everyone came from such different backgrounds - it made our discussions so interesting. For the first time ever, none of my friends were students. On Saturday my housemates threw me a farewell party. They were so sweet. They decorated our living room with a Canada flag and wrote me a card signed by everyone. The following day I bid au revoir to the Sunday supper club crew who know me all too well - as a goodbye gift they got me two dark Green & Black’s chocolate bars :) My favourite.

My farewell party in my house
House mates and friends

Above all, my semester in Brussels has helped me cement a 4-year plan. This coming year I'll study the Common Law in English at l'Université de Montréal (which I am kind of dreading to be honest. I don't fancy going back to subjects like contract law, property law, etc. but I know it's knowledge that I need.) Then in August 2013 I'll start bar school and assuming I pass, I'd like to do my articling at the International Committee for the Red Cross in Geneva. Following that, my sights are set on a two-year bilingual Masters in International Law at the Graduate Institute of Geneva. All of this is far from certain, of course, but at least I know what to aim for.

Mustache party

All in all, I really enjoyed my stint in Brussels. It's a city with a lot to offer and is very well situated. As is my tradition, I'd like to end on the top 5 things I've come to love and love less about the city.


1. How Belgian men (adolescent ones included) give each other a kiss hello/goodbye. It is so endearing!
2. How the second I gracefully step on to a zebra crosswalk the cars immediately come to a halt. It's almost as if they don't want to run me over (which comes as quite a shock to a Montrealer)
3. Being in the center of the action. Often while I'm listening to the CBC news, they dispatch to a reporter in Brussels for the latest on a decision by the EU or the European Commission.
4. How there are statues everywhere! I count 7 on my walk to school - here's my fave

5. The bread. Most of you are aware that in Canada I have to go gluten-free. But for some reason, my tum can digest Belgian bread as long as I don't eat an entire baguette in one sitting (which is challenging when a) it is so delicious and b) you know it will be hard enough to use as a weapon the next day)

What I will not miss:
1. Cobble-stoned sidewalks. They looked quaint when I first arrived until I had to drag two suitcases across them for 30 minutes. I also never forgave them when they once snatched off the heel of one of my boots. Not cool.
2. For some reason Belgians don't believe in putting screens on windows. I could have done without all the insects that crawled their way into my room.
3. How you have to go to 5 grocery stores in order to find all the ingredients you need for a standard dinner party (I shouldn't have to go to an Asian specialty store to get Shitake mushrooms and tofu - come on people)
4. Doing my laundry at a laundromat. Enough said.
5. How you really have to watch where you step - much like in France, no one picks up after their dogs.

Until my next adventure, thanks for reading. I appreciated your comments and support throughout this experience.