This post is borrowed from the EPA Brussels testimonials blog.
It wasn’t a constant Euro-themed liver-consuming party from some bad summer movie, nor was it, for me at least, some opportunity to hop around to half of Europe’s tourist destinations – financial constraints and a desire to feel integrated within the city prevented that. Rather, what I found in Brussels was a real thing, something of substance, with which to better direct and model my future.
Professionally, I was matched with one of my favorite jobs thus far. Though a painters’ union within a small business union does not sound like the most glamorous or world-changing job possible, it quickly became clear that, so long as I worked hard and well, a lot of trust would be placed on me in my new role. I wrote articles and news briefs in French and English, I organized and helped plan the union’s largest annual event, and I even helped shoot our promotional video. Although that last part may not seem exciting to most of you, I’m a pretty big film geek, so to be able to actually professionally be shooting a short film – even one with a clear business agenda – was pretty huge for me.
One of my major personal goals when going to Brussels was to improve my French. I had been taking the language for a little over a year when I left, and I had foolishly assumed that would be enough to comfortably run through every-day dialogue. While I was proved wrong before I even got off my plane by thoroughly embarrassing myself towards the beautiful French girl seated next to me, my spoken French improved immensely within my first weeks in the city. This didn’t occur automatically, and most people speak or are learning English and will try to switch once they detect difficulty or an accent, but with persistence and polite requests to continue in French I became quite proficient. When I came back home I managed to test into the highest level of French at my university and was and remain one of the stronger speakers in all of my French classes (though I still throw people off with my Belgian numbers).
Brussels proved a truly wonderful experience, and I really fell in love with the city, but it was also one I worked for both academically and in my job. I think that might be what made it so meaningful to me. The experience will only be as good as you make it – you’re not going to have a great internship simply by being matched to it, you’ll really have to work to make good connections – but it can be really fantastic if you work at it. As proof of the impact this experience has had on me, I’m currently looking into graduate programs as ULB and VUB, and I really hope to find a future for myself in Brussels. The experience offered me by and the connections I’ve made through this program are the reasons that future is possible. I can only hope your time will be equally wonderful and pivotal.
Gabriel Robitaille, Drexel University Class of 2017 (Brussels, fall 2014)