By Ann-Sophie Vermeersch
Last week, my boyfriend arrived from Belgium (needless to say I really missed him). He is the first from home to visit me while I am in Boston. So when he was explaining to me the things he found remarkable, it reminded me of my first impressions of Boston. That is why I have decided to tell you how foreigners, two Belgians in particular, experience your city.
First things first: the food. My boyfriend and I were both amazed by the huge number of options you have when grocery shopping. I still recall how I had no idea where I could find regular milk since it’s either with a lower fat percentage, added vitamins, etc. I also found it a challenge to try brands I had never heard of before. When I needed stain remover, I could not find any brands I knew from Belgium. I had to ask an employee at Star Market to give me some advice. During the first weeks after my arrival, I was thus really experimenting, trying to find the things I needed. So you can imagine, I had a lot of fun watching my boyfriend trying to figure out how to buy things I put on our grocery list.
Another challenge I had to overcome during my first weeks in Boston was my transportation habits. Leuven, the city where I study and live most of the time, is so small I am used to walking everywhere. Even after a night out, I just walk home since it never takes me longer than 10 minutes. Many of my fellow students bike to their courses or social activities. When I checked out the distance between Northeastern and my new home (I live in Dorchester, near UMass), I figured it was feasible to bike. However, when I saw the traffic in Boston and the lack of biking accommodations as well as actual bikers, I soon concluded that the biking plan was out the window. I thus had to learn how to use the train system and I can tell you that, even though it is a very logical system once you figure it out, it takes some time to get used to it. I asked my boyfriend how to go from my house to the university and if I had not corrected him, we would have ended up somewhere in Quincy. I also had to explain to him how I always have something to read when I am taking the train because otherwise I’m tempted to stare at all the interesting, eclectic people you see on the train.
One thing I was really curious about before my arrival was how the election fever would be in Boston. I have to admit I was a bit disappointed to discover that most of the Bostonians really just want it to end. I had hoped to see a lot of propaganda, but I had to settle for a few posters, scarcely spread over town. My boyfriend confessed to me that he was also disappointed in the lack of visibility of the upcoming elections. However, when we were in New York City during the weekend (where I got to visit my dad who was in town for a conference) we did get to see a bit of the election action when we walked past the Trump Tower. Folks, both for and against Trump, made their case very clear while we were indulging in all the excitement. I hope to witness a bit more of these events around November 8th since elections in Belgium are very serious and uneventful. I hope you won’t let me down!
The last remark my boyfriend and I shared is the impression that Americans in general, and Bostonians in particular, are very friendly and sociable people. Coming from such a small Belgian city as Leuven, living in a big city like Boston can be very frightening. But when I saw how approachable everybody is and how easy it is to start small talk with people around you (on the train, at the store, in class) that really made me feel more at ease and helped me consider Boston my new home. And you even convinced my boyfriend to consider moving to Boston in the future, so a big thank you for that!
Ann-Sophie Vermeersch is a graduate student in the Master of Public Policy. However, you won’t see her around during the spring semester. She is here as an exchange student, and she'll return to Belgium after the final exams. In Belgium, she obtained a Master’s Degree in History, and she is in the process of obtaining a Master’s in Public Policy, which she is deepening at Northeastern. She's interested in how policy deals with climate change and crises. Within those areas, she is particularly keen on finding out how citizens can be involved in the policy process. In her free time, she likes to go for a run, read some books, or have a drink and meet new people. Ann-Sophie can be reached at email@example.com, or via Facebook.