In Brussels

Brussels Travel Blog

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Belgium is an interesting country. Walloon, Flanders and Brussels are all so different.

Ghent (in Flanders) is gorgeous, the research institute has fantastic facilities for me, and everyone speaks perfect English, yet it seems a lot ... colder? Certainly not unfriendly, everyone is very nice, but there is such a strong cultural boundary between work and life that making friends and social contacts at work just doesn't register. I have to remind myself that even though the Flemish speak perfect English, their culture is extremely distinct from mine. Quite formal and reserved, extremely punctual, they take their beer glasses very seriously (Lieve complained when she thought my beer came out in the wrong glass, it turned out the company just changed their glass design) and probably everything else more seriously.

It is multicultural in that it is tolerant of all cultures, but in itself it is extremely homogenous. I've also been struck at just how few women PIs there are (I haven't actually seen one). When I asked Lieve about it she said that women chose their family life over the hours that a PI must work, still it is surprisingly that Flanders would force people to make that choice, and that it would always be the woman who had to make it.

Brussels, though, is different. More dynamic, more truly multicultural with an actual mix of people, languages, food... Unfortunately, for historic reasons the university there is small – it was actually set up as a protest against the Catholic University of Leuvan (it is the Free University, all Professors have to sign a pledge that they will never let dogma get in the way of their research or teaching) and kept small by the Catholic state (and then split in two when the Flemish gained the right to be educated in their own country). The resources (chiefly the mouse house) would take some work in Brussels, but would I want to live in Brussels and commute to Ghent every day?

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photo by: Vlindeke