THE GOOD LIFE: Two sides to every story

Another stint in Brussels and my love for this city has only grown. It’s a bittersweet one; it’s place that I love to hate. I can learn so much in this city. It all takes place here - politics, parties, poverty, each person has a story that is so different to the ordinary. They upped and left their home town for whatever reason - be it boredom, danger, a poor economic situation. Above all, I adore the inter-cultural atmosphere here.

I love revisiting old places; it gives me the opportunity to look back on how far I’ve come. I went to Leopold Park where I remember completely breaking down in tears because I missed my family and friends at home.

Leopold Park. I remember seeing the ducks and thinking of my brother and father who would be going shooting. This time, as I jogged through, I saw them and smiled.

Meeting up with friends has been amazing, those who I was with daily for the best part of my eight months here. The majority of my friends seem to have got jobs with political parties, ahead of next year’s elections - social media advisors, content creation, think tanks, etc. Belgium currently has a coalition government consisting of seven political parties, known as the De Croo Government. The country has several political parties due to the different French, Dutch and German-speaking regions. Personally, I am delighted for my friends, a new opportunity and another year contract. The elections are recruiting, fuelling up and creating a political storm.

Blessed with amazing weather, we had a BBQ one evening where everyone brought their own food, cooked and shared. Sitting around the table were people from Portugal, Greece, Belgium, Turkey, Croatia, Hungary and myself from Ireland.

Personally, I love these situations. They are always eye-opening and I get to learn a lot about different cultures and my own. The person from Croatia was speaking about the high level of tourists in her home country. She wasn’t singing their praises but more talking about how they come, disrespect the local culture and natives. As she spoke, I could hear the anger in her voice, particularly as she mentioned how people from the west of Europe look down their noses at those from the east. She was outraged by the actions of tourists from the United Kingdom, in particular, to which I was told to take no offence.

I didn’t, on the other hand I was intrigued, and I wanted to hear more about her insights. I decided to take the comments as somebody who likes to travel and wants to do more in the future. I didn’t listen as someone from the west who disrespects people from the east, because personally I don’t see it that way. It was heartbreaking to hear her speak about drunken people shouting, annoying the locals, urinating in the streets, what she felt was an attack on her country.

I hate that this happens, that she is made to feel like this but, as people who travel, I think we need to be aware of the local traditions and have respect.

In Malta I learned quickly to wear a long skirt if I planned on entering basilicas. Would it hurt me to go in in shorts? No. Would it be disrespectful to the locals? Yes. It never hurts to do a bit of research into the 'dos and don’ts' of a country; it could save a lot of upset.

As the evening wore on, we split into smaller groups of conversations. I was chatting to two friends doing internships here, one from Portugal and another from Turkey. Both hoped to get a job in the city afterwards with neither one wanting to return to their home country.

For the Portuguese girl, she said Portugal was too expensive with salaries for people her age too low. She was adamant that she would not go back to Portugal, having already signed a one-year rent agreement on her apartment.

The girl from Turkey also said she would also stay in Belgium afterwards. Although she misses her home country, she said the economic situation wasn’t good and there weren’t many opportunities for her there. Both similar in age, experience, and even character, just trying to make their way. For one it will be easy; for the other visa application and bureaucracy awaits.

In Belgium you see the two sides to everything. In one aspect, it’s eye opening and I love it. In others, the discrimination is surreal.

I was speaking with a friend who used to intern at the commission. She was telling me about an intern page on Facebook, made by the interns for the interns, where they would post the floor where food left over from an event could be found.

They would go with their Tupperware and get dinner for the evening and maybe even lunch for the next day. Around €50,000 was the budget for catering on these events she said, where there was always plenty left over. On the same street, people sleep rough.

Enough said.

* Gemma Good is from Killeshandra and a fourth year journalism student in University of Limerick


It’s all about the journey