No. Really. This past week has been a progression of increasingly rainy days, heavily-used umbrellas, and nigh impossible walks. After getting to Lille and getting the room settled (an affair that required multiple trips to Carrefour for this thing and the other), I’m finally able to just be in Lille.
A micro UN
Orientation week at IESEG School of Management began without a hitch, kicking off two consecutive days of sitting a classroom listening to presentations on the university, its services, housing, transit. But beyond the information, by far the most impactful element of this entire experience has been the people.
The auditorium, a room of about 400 people, was full to the brim with people from every nation imaginable. I met someone from Almaty, Kazakhstan; from Vilnius, Lithuania; from Guayaquil, Equador. In every case, we learned about each others’ languages, cities, cultures, and daily life.
An American ambassador by situation
Being an American in this context was odd. Anytime a person found out I was American, no one needed to know about my culture. They already knew it. Being in that environment was a tremendous wake-up call to the global reality of American dominance.
Everyone knew where I lived.
Everyone knew the culture.
Everyone had an opinion on our politics (up to and including our Trump card).
Everyone asked for an explanation about something to do with American culture and daily life.
My role, then, was two-fold. Being a naturally curious person, I wanted to ask questions and learn about that person’s Kazakh or South Korean or Belgian background. So I did. However, I was at the same time explaining how our primary election and general electoral system worked, about my opinion of President Obama and the wars, and some of the intricacies about our culture.
IESEG School of Management
Recently ranked as the 21st best business school in Europe, IESEG aims to have a multi-culturally aware approach. The campus is located near the Université Catholique de Lille, where I’m also taking classes in French and Spanish. IESEG is a modern campus, with lots of windows to let in natural light and high-efficiency fixtures.
One event was a dinner at a Flammekueche restaurant. Flammekeuche is a typical dish in Nord Pas de Calais, similar to a flat pizza, with cream, cheese, bacon, and onions. If you think that’s delicious, the dessert one had dark chocolate flakes on it.
L’Université Catholique de Lille
“La Catho” is the main campus about a two minute walk from IESEG. I don’t know much about this campus yet, since I haven’t had any orientation yet, but what I can say is that the campus is beautiful.
Friday during lunch someone said: we should go to Brussels tomorrow!
That was all it took, and after buying our TGV tickets, we were on our way to Belgium the next day. You know what? Brussels is a pretty funky city. As the home to Tintin and many other famous comics, Brussels adopted its character well. Everywhere you look in the city are comic characters interwoven between the old buildings.
In the Grand Place, the building are covered in gold leaf (I think is what it is), at the southern end lies the Hotel de Ville: city hall.
Culinarily, the city is rich. Throughout the city are waffle stands selling Belgian waffles for 1€. Top tip: the best single Euro you will ever spend in your life. For a little bit extra, it’s possible to get cream, fruit, chocolate or Nutella, but the happiness is included at no extra charge.
One surprise dish I ended up trying was escargot.
It was near Manneken-Pis, a statue of a little boy…well…peeing…that has become a major symbol of Brussels. There are a couple of legends, one being that he was a little boy who saved the city by peeing on the fuse that was lit by invading forces, the other that he was the son of a member of nobility who got lost during festivities and was found four days later at that street corner doing what he still is.
But back to the escargot; in Belgium, they prepare it in a type of spicy soup with celery and onion and then serve it in a cup of perfection. Escargot has the same consistency as calamari, but that soup…try it.
For a day trip, that really wasn’t bad.