Talking to Belgians

Adam Taylor, Engineering a Craft Brewery Belgium Summer '22

I was really nervous about talking to people in Belgium because I had never been abroad. Plus, I didn’t really know their languages too well. I took four years of French classes in high school, but that wasn’t terribly helpful because we were mostly in the northern part of Belgium that spoke Dutch. However, there wasn’t really anything to be afraid of.
            I was hoping to at least make it to the meeting with my class without having to talk to anyone or make a fool of myself. Sadly, that didn’t even happen. I didn’t even make it to Belgium before it happened. I landed in the Amsterdam airport and found out that I had missed my flight to Brussels while trying to get through customs. I very nervously went up to one of the airport attendants and asked where to go to reschedule my flight. She immediately directed me towards another attendant that rescheduled my flight for me. What I didn’t expect in either of those interactions was how effortlessly the two attendants switched from speaking one language to another. They made it a breeze and were so kind and helpful. I quickly got onto another flight and was able to meet up with my class in Brussels without any other problems.
            But surely it was only that easy because I was in an airport, and they see international travelers every day for work and need to be able to switch languages to be hospitable. Right? Well, absolutely not. Everywhere we went in Belgium, whether the locals spoke primarily Dutch or French, the people kindly talked to us and served us. There were, of course, some awkward moments where someone would start speaking to us in Dutch and then realize we spoke English, but they would quickly switch over and begin helping us. It was all a sigh of relief to me.
            All in all, I don’t think I would have been so surprised to see people effortlessly switch languages and help me if I grew in a more diverse area. Being from a very rural area of Pennsylvania, I grew up with little exposure to different languages and cultures. It wasn’t until I reached college that I met someone who could speak two languages so easily and would do so often. This opportunity gave me the chance to see what it would be like interacting with others abroad, and I am so glad I did.