The Good Life in 5,000 words or less.

So, it’s been a while.

Tracy has been all of those things I know her to be (patient, compassionate, resourceful, and generally wonderful)  in maintaining and updating a blog that we presumably share. She has given you most of the insight and images associated with our travels and I both thank and commend her.

With this in mind, I humbly return to offer a small bit of my perspective. I will proceed as only a graduate student knows how, and try my best to both enlighten and entertain with 5,000 words over the next several weeks.

I suppose that’s as good an intro as any to springboard off of. It is amazing to me that I can now reflect on fully 10 months of life in Belgium. In that time we have traveled extensively, walked extensively, drank extensively (but safely), struggled to learn a bit of French, neglected to learn any Dutch, and succeeded in carving out a home in this, the land of lambics. Specifically, I have immersed myself in my studies and really come to again enjoy what it means to read and think critically. I have successfully produced 30,000 words in 6 essays, and have roughly 30,000 more words to write in the coming 6-8 months. For those of you who have produced graduate thesis or doctoral dissertations this may seem like a wholly average accomplishment, but I am proud nonetheless and have enjoyed the process more than I anticipated I would.

I have thought at length about how I might try to summarize what we’ve experienced and what it’s meant with very little to show for it. As I write this I am trying desperately to decide which of the many things that stick out in my mind as having been particularly impactful or pervasive I should use. I will try to narrow it to three or four topics that I will introduce here and discuss at length in upcoming posts.

(1) It has been clear from day one that we know far too little about Belgium’s intricacies. This is a diverse and incredibly unique place in the world. It is a country that at least in casual conversation owns (or at least acknowledges) many of its problems while still finding it relatively simple to maintain a standard of living that is somewhat remarkable. It has worked hard to overcome the identification of two populations that speak their own languages and relate at times more closely to the countries that border Belgium than with Belgium itself. I was fortunate to attend a Belgian football friendly last fall and can attest that, at least when the national team dawns its colors, Belgians unite and support their own. I am a bit ashamed to admit how quickly I accepted the idea that Belgium is at the center of modern European history because of the European Parliament and Commission. This is a significant oversimplification that doesn’t offer nearly enough credit to Belgium. Belgium, although not always by that name, has been at the center of Europe’s evolution for centuries. I have been pleasantly surprised by the history both new and old at our fingertips here in Brussels and in the surrounding regions.

(2) Belgian beer is wonderful. In 10 months I am certain I have tried no less than 80 beers, and I am still very much a beginner when it comes to picking something off a beer list. I have been overwhelmingly pleased with the diversity and creativity that exists in the spectrum of beers. I guess in this way the Belgian craft reflects the Belgian complexity. Beer culture in Belgium is steeped in respect for how things have been done before, but it is flourishing with creativity and a willingness to include flavors that is unlike anything anywhere else in the world. I have at times been so enamored with the tastes and quality that I have lost sight of the hefty 8, 9, 10, 11, or even 12% alcohol content that many of those beers carry with them. On this point I tip my hat to Belgium and gladly concede that the beer has more often conquered me than I it.

(3) The community of expatriates is dynamic and engaging. I have been so surprised by the close and meaningful relationships we have forged in such a short time. I was accustomed to this type of strong and immediate friendship while I was in the Marine Corps, and while I would never characterize anything exactly like those bonds, it has been a pleasant surprise to find so many friends so quickly here. Through our friends we have been exposed to many things that I am quite certain we could not have found on our own. One of the professors at my school has dedicated most of her research to discerning what the expatriate community is, how it differs from any other brand of immigrant community, and what types of people are choosing to be part of this unique migrant trend. I reference her work only to highlight how unique this community is and illustrate why it has captivated our attention.

(4) We are very, very lucky to be able to travel extensively while we are here. I feel very strongly that most of our fortune is the result of a deliberate plan and some choices requiring sacrifices in life prior to now, but I am no less thankful for the opportunities we have taken advantage of and are looking towards on the horizon. I don’t understand the world or how it works, but I certainly understand more of it by seeing and experiencing a wide range of perspectives. Every so often Tracy and I count how many countries we have visited since arriving in Belgium. That number grows seemingly exponentially with each passing month. I have marveled at the ease with which we can pass across borders, exchange currencies, and transact in our only language.

I think those four ideas will be plenty to write my remaining 4,000 words on, and then, maybe, I will begin to contribute to this space regularly again. I would be remiss if I left some of the other Belgian delicacies (chocolate, waffles, and frites to name a few) off my list entirely, but I might suggest that we can better illustrate those things when you come to visit in person.

That leads me to my final point for today, and one of my absolute favorite things about our time in Belgium so far. It has been fantastic to host and spend time with the many visitors we have had to date. Thanks to everyone who has made the effort and to those already on the calendar in the coming months. Amidst my thousands of words in the next several weeks, be on the lookout for a guest post from our most recent visitors who we tried to give our absolute all star treatment to over a long weekend. Thanks for reading, see you again real soon!