October 31, 2016

What's so great about Belgium?

What's so great about Belgium?

"Is a personal story really that appropriate?" This is the question I've recently asked myself. You see, I'm considering using this blog to actually, you know, talk about my life. You're probably shaking your head at me, and you probably could have given me the right answer a lot faster than it took me to find on my own: "A personal touch is exactly what you want in a blog!"

Fair enough. But let me warn you, the stuff I've been writing—abstraact thoughts on education, business, politics, creative writing, personal development—these are in fact very personal to me. It's part of what an honest blog of my life should look like. But it's only part.

The other part should look something like this.

I'm an American expat living in Europe; at present I'm in Belgium. Don't worry, I've got philsophical things to say about expat living too, but why not try something more personal, like my favorite things about living in Leuven, Belgium?

1) I'll begin with the best: national variety.
Almost everyone I've known here is from a different country from me. Since this is a very international part of Europe, most are even from outside of Belgium. Many are students, many are living and working here. I know people from both Americas, Africa, a host of European countries, and a few from Asia. Almost everyone speaks my language (I lucked into that one!), but they bring their own oddities to the language. It makes life rich.

2) There's so much, so close!
Paris and Amsterdam are both less than three hours away. That's ridiculous. I once took a long weekend to go backpacking in the Alps. Europe-wide transportation is so inexpensive (for the most part) that for less than 100 euros and a few hours, I can spend a long weekend at any one of dozens, even hundreds, of incredibly lovely places.

My top to-do list: Prague, Czech Republic; backpacking in the Norwegian mountains; Saltzburg, Austria on the trail of the von Trapps; the Swiss Alps; northern Germany, where the Fisher family originated; and Albania (yes, they also have beautiful mountains).

3) Everyone says it: the beer.
I didn't like beer when I moved to Belgium, but Rochefort 10 is, in a word, sublime. (It's also pretty hefty at 13.2% alcohol content.) There aren't many foods or drinks whose extraordinary complexity I appreciate—chocolate, whisky, and coffee; sometimes wine, brandy, and absinthe—but a fine, dark beer is certainly among them.

Even though Rochefort is my beer of choice, it's also worth exploring. That's how I found Black Albert. If you've had Guiness than you have a point of comparison. Black Albert makes Guiness taste like a crisp and clear cider. That may be an exaggeration, but in all seriousness, it's like beer syrup. I wouldn't drink more than one in a sitting, but I would most certainly have more than one sitting.

4) Living abroad makes me appreciate my home country.
I think this is the experience of most people, and if it isn't then you're missing out. No matter where you move to and from, an adopted home will never feel entirely complete. There's always something missing. Christmas markets in Belgium are charming, but it's not home.

Missing home isn't only negative because it helps me see the value of what I miss. That's wonderful. Some people mistake me for a patriot (I'm really not). You couldn't imagine how many times I've come to the defense of America and Americans. I'm usually the first to find fault, but before faulting I like to find a common understanding. It's been my experience that most negative attitudes toward my homeland arise from an inability to understand the culture and situation of the US.

I would add that this seems to be the case inside the US too, between city dwellers and country folk, between Christians and atheists, between black and white. You get the point.

But my primary point is that being here makes me appreciate there more. I'd like to keep liking America, so I guess I'll keep living in Europe.

5) Every day brings the chance of more adventure.
I've been quite a wanderer over the years. That's partly because I get bored with the ordinary. I've found that Belgium, and Europe in general, keeps me off balance. There's always novelty around the corner. That's the nice thing about being a foreigner, about never being able to completely fit in, which is something that I hope will never happen.

I must admit, however, my hope is that no matter where I live—whether it's abroad or in my childhood hometown—that I look for adventure, that I pay attention to the virtues of the place I temporarily call home. Every home is temporary, so it's worth loving where you live now.

Beware! Now that I've let myself be expressive, especially optimistic, I feel the need to redeem myself to the choir of cynics by following this post by the things I dislike. It won't take me as long to think of a top 5.