Have you ever heard the expression, "running on fumes"? I'm not sure how well it translates into other languages, but the gist is that you're operating on minimal brain power and energy, like a car running out of gas. Well, this week has given that phrase a whole new threshold for me.
This past Tuesday, the students in my program were instructed to meet up on campus at 6.45am to board our bus to Brussels, Belgium. Now for those of you have ever met me even once, you know that mornings are not my thing. In fact, my friend JV and I have a rule that we don't talk before noon bc he is a bundle of joy in the mornings and I am a hater-of-everything until I've had two cups of coffee and complained at least eight times about being awake. This lack of fondness for mornings and my subsequent inability to handle them was evidenced by Amira as she got to watch me try, on two separate occasions within 10 minutes of each other, to get out of her car with my seat belt still buckled. She was amused. Me? Less so. Whatever. Btw, as I left my apartment at 6.15am, Wiebke was leaving to go for a run... just in case you want to feel bad about yourself. To make matters worse, this was the day after we had a massive three-subject exam for which I was (unsurprisingly) drastically under-prepared due to my unwillingness to study for an exam immediately after having just turned in a research paper the week before which I also had not prepared for in advance and had to write in its 13 page entirety over the course of like two and a half afternoons. Clearly my time management skills need some work aaaand I hate myself. Anyway, Amira and I arrived on campus with donuts and croissants in tow for the crew and trudged upstairs to brew a pot of coffee before we rolled out.
We boarded our bus (our own personal bus which was unfortunately not a party bus despite being financed by the thousands of euros we paid into this program) and naturally it happened that Des and I sat at the back of the bus thereby minimizing the number of people we could annoy on the three hour journey from Bonn to Brussels. Of course, that meant getting to focus all of our obnoxious behavior on each other and our neighbor to the front, the poor bastard, Josef. Specifically, this meant sporadically shouting "JOSEF" in the most horrid way possible, followed by any given variation of "Are we there yet?" which was met with (astonishingly) only minimal hatred - granted by the end of the trip I'm fairly certain we had asked about 100x over the course of the four days and it had extended to questions like "What are we doing?" and "Why are we here?" and "Can we go home?". If he wanted to kill us, his poker face didn't give it away. Three hours of blabbering about literally nothing bc we were too tired to form fully developed thoughts about anything of actual substance, we arrived in town. Now just as a side note, in case any of you were planning on going to Brussels: don't. It is not a pretty city. Unless you're moving there for work (valid reasoning considering the city houses the vast majority of super cool EU institutions among a host of other organizations), just don't. There are soooo many beautiful citites in Belgium (like Brugge, where I went in October) but Brussels is not one of them. Just saying. Like, okay, it's still a European city so of course it's a thousand times prettier than most places, but if you're going on a trip, don't feel bad if it doesn't make the cut, ja feel?
We arrived in Brussels earlier than anticipated (meaning I could have slept a little longer but it's fine I'm not even bitter) so we grabbed a coffee and embarrassed Amira as 25 international masters students sang happy birthday at a cafe using a wooden coffee-stirrer-thing as a candle bc we didn't think to bring one. Innovation, people. We are the future of Europe (lol good luck Europe). We soon headed over to the Permanent Representation of the Federal Republic of Germany to the European Union Brussels (Perm Rep for short bc what the hell kind of title is that) where we met up with a ZEI alumni and Brexit expert who tried to maintain our interest as we half-fell asleep at the table due to sheer exhaustion - plus we've talked more about Brexit than anything else ever and if I have to talk about it again I'm going to hurl myself out of a very high window. Oh, did I mention we had to be professionally dressed and ready for the bus at 6.45am bc we wouldn't be getting to the hotel till 7pm? No? Well, there was that too. Following our meeting, we headed to lunch at the European Commission which has a massive cafeteria-style eating area with meh-quality food (my steak was still mooing bc apparently that's how they eat it in Belgium???) and high-quality prices, so that was painful. Lunch did nothing to combat the tiredness, (in fact, it made it worse), so our meetings with three other alumni immediately after did not involve a lot of mental with-it-ness from yours truly, especially when they all mentioned how it was basically impossible to work for the EU without a European passport (ugh) but that's okay bc I want to work for the UN anyway.
It wasn't until our last commission meeting of the day that the deliriousness abated for a bit, and that was a direct result of none other than Ms. Ann Mettler the head of the European Political Strategy Center (basically the think-tank for the Commission). This lady was amazing. I mean, she was a Scandinavian-German, meaning she had the genetic upper-hand from the get-go, but her public speaking skills and overall awesomeness had everyone in the room totally starstruck (especially the girls when she made some badass feminist comments towards the end) and it was all I could do to stop my sleep-deprived brain from asking her to formally adopt me (sorry mom and dad). I didn't ask, though I did speak up (something I rarely do believe it or not when there are so many ridiculously impressive people in the room that I cannot measure up to bc I believe it's better to just keep my mouth shut sometimes than saying whatever dumb thing passes through my brain) to tell her how amazed I was with her accomplishments and thank her for taking the time to show us her casual badassery and give me some level of hope for the future.
We all walked away thoroughly astonished by the super-woman we had just met and headed to find our bus (which took much longer than it should have considering for some reason we always seemed to have to come to the bus rather than it coming to us DESPITE THAT BEING ITS LITERAL AND ONLY JOB) and check into the hotel. It took literally everything we had for Des and I not to curl up into a ball on our tiny hotel beds and pass out, but we had an 8pm social with a bunch of alumni that were living in Brussels, so we exchanged our professional clothes for slightly more casual outfits (none of which was warm enough for the temperatures in Belgium) and tried to put on faces that made us look like we actually enjoyed socializing with other human beings. I won't lie, my face wasn't very convincing, and it was 10pm when Des finally looked at me and asked if I wanted to go home. We were out of there in seconds, let me tell you. Like, I'm all about networking, but with as much sleep as I'd gotten in the last week, I'd sooner accidentally offend someone than make friends with them and develop connections... so leaving was a safer bet. We stopped on our way home at a grocery store for crappy snacks bc it was late and Europe doesn't do open-late places so we figured nothing else would be open, and it wasn't until we were trying to digest our crappy grocery-store-sandwiches that we saw several open fast food places and realized that our sobriety had led us astray bc drunk us would have done so much better finding good food than sober us did. We were very unhappy, let me tell you.
Despite our exhaustion, we went for a walk through the city to wind down and take in the scenery (which was, as mentioned, meh) before stopping in a pretty courtyard to take a deep breath and just feel grateful that we had made it through the last week and a half of paper writing and exam taking. I think it's so important to take a moment every once in awhile just to take stock and be grateful for wherever you are and whatever it took you to get there. Miraculously, Des and I still ended up getting to bed way too late bc we were too busy chatting and eating kettle corn and getting crumbs literally everywhere to actually get some damn sleep, so waking up for checkout the next morning at 5.30am was so not the dream. The only redeeming factor was the bangin' breakfast our hotel was serving which involved self-made waffles (we were informed this would be the highlight of our trip) and naturally I almost broke the waffle machine bc I over-poured the batter and it got stuck but WHATEVER modern-day machinery is more of a challenge for some than it is for others, shut up, I'm just glad I'm not studying to be an engineer.
We spent the rest of our day embarrassing ourselves at the European Council by taking Charlie's Angels-esque pictures in the lobby before heading into the European Parliament to watch a plenary meeting take place, which was pretty much the coolest thing ever. We walked in as the president of the parliament (an Italian) was addressing the parliament in Spanish about the situation in Venezuela and how important it is that the EU step in to help (if you don't know what's going on in Venezuela, Google it, it's important). Anyway the point is we walked into this massive room full of influential people voting and giving dramatic speeches and changing the world and they were speaking some of my languages and it was all I could do just to sit there and appreciate what was happening and how amazing it was. Of course it wasn't long before they switched into other languages I was less familiar with and I had to put the headphones in my ears so that I could listen to the simultaneous translators kicking ass at their jobs and giving me the translated version - I fangirled so hard it was ridiculous. Even crazier was the sign-language interpreter listening to a simultaneous interpreter's translation and signing to one of the hearing-impaired parliamentary members. Like, seriously??? Are languages not the coolest?!
In essence, our time in Belgium was a blur of security checks and removing jackets and scarves and re-putting-on jackets and scarves and perpetual admiration for everything around us and exhaustion and trying not to let our toes fall off as we stood outside of each institution for way longer than necessary bc proper timing isn't our thing. It was such an awesome experience, and it was only the first half of the trip - but I figure I'll give you my words on Luxembourg in the next post bc I've already talked a hell of a lot and I figure it'll be a little less overwhelming that way. You're welcome.
So until next time folx - XOXOX
PS. For those of you who don't know, I had a birthday last week. If you didn't know, that's either bc we're not Facebook friends or bc I actively avoid making a big deal out of my birthday. My friends are not of the same mindset though, which is how I ended up with my friend Lea at my place the night before my actual birthday ready with cake and presents to celebrate at midnight despite our exams being that following Monday, champagne and decorations from Wiebke outside my room when I woke up in the morning, a girls night with Wiebs and Maja resulting in me getting a voucher for a Belgian beer tasting, and last but definitely not least, the most amazing video compilation organized by my friend Luisa and featuring literally all of my best friends which I so did not anticipate and brought me to tears (the good kind) just watching it. Basically, my friends are better than yours and I love them the freaking most.
PPS. I just found out about a super cool search engine called Ecosia and if you use it instead of something like Google, the ad revenue from your searches goes towards planting trees where they're needed the most! I added the link below.
About the Author
Mouth like a sailor, great lacker of empathy, paper cut survivor, avid arguer, harsh critic of people who put clothes on their pets, easily distracte
USA, Mexico, Iceland, Austria, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Morocco, Malta, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Ireland, Denmark, Czech Republic, Hungary, England, Poland, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Scotland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Croatia, Greece
The Baltic countries,
if Covid allows for it (Latvia, Estonia, maybe a stop in Finland)
(in August in the US)