I've recently been asked to write about my experience from my internship in Belgium. I decided to look at it from another angle and here's what I have written. You can view the original post from the AIESEC UPD site here.
We all heard of it. An AIESEC internship will bring you places, introduce new cultures, give your professional career a boost and allow you to meet new people. And after spending two unforgettable years in Belgium, I can confirm that all of them are true. But if there’s one thing that the brochures didn’t include was that there is a good chance that you’ll gain weight.
I left the Philippines for my internship in September 2008 roughly weighing 120 pounds and came back two years after with 40 pounds extra baggage.
It may just be my experience, given that I had my internship in Belgium, a country known for its fries, chocolates and beers. Belgium is a nation divided between the French-speaking region (Wallonia) and the Dutch-speaking region (Flanders). I lived in Brussels, the capital of Belgium , and despite dominated by the French way of life, I never had tasted the cliché French foods like escargot, coq a vin or ratatouille. But then again, it’s Belgium not France.
One lesson that I learned was that fries, actually should never be called “French”. The Belgians claim that it originated from Belgium and would correct you if you call it ‘French fries’. The best frites place in Brussels is in a place called Place Jourdan. The fries are huge and usually placed in a cornet (paper rolled into a cone). Plain frites is already delicious but what makes the frites more special is the sauce. Most fritkots (fries place) offer more than 20 kinds of sauces. There are the classics like ketchup & mayo, the uniquely Belgian sauce like andalouse, tartar, piquant, curry ketchup and the outrageously named yet interesting concoctions like sauce Brazilian and sauce Samurai.
Any good frites won’t be complete without drinks to drown it down. And AIESEC interns, your experience won’t be complete without the crazy nightouts, the never ending AIESEC parties and intern’s drinks. And Belgium’s diversed selection of beers, makes it a great place to be an intern! In the supermarket, there are aisles specifically dedicated for beers – and even a well-known bar in Brussels called Delirium that serves more than 2000+ kinds of beers. There are the fruit beers pêche (peach), kriek (cherry) and framboise (strawberry). There’s also the bière blanche (Hoeegarden), blondes (Duvel, Leffe Blonde), pales (Stella Artois, Jupiler) and the bruin (Triple Westmalle, Orval, Kasteel). Alcohol content level ranges from 4.3% to 12% and each beer has to be drank from its own specific glass. Going out for a drink is staple to most interns’ activity.
Finally, chocolates, the most known Belgian delicacy worldwide, is practically available anywhere. It comes with your coffee, your bread, and even outrageously in your beer (there is a chocolate flavoured beer, never tried it). I did my internship in Microsoft, and aside from the abundance of laptop PCs & Windows paraphernalia – the office pantry also has an overflowing chocolate supply. The Red Cote d’Or milk chocolates were my lifeline on those long meetings & strict project deadlines.
Those three foods plus the never ending social night outs and reliance on frozen food (since you work & party, hardly having time to cook) had made gaining weight fast and easy.
But despite gaining 40 pounds, I look down into my increased waistline not with a sad disposition but a consideration that the food I consumed came with memories. And perhaps a portion of this increased weight was just my mind getting heavier from the global professional mindset, key business learnings and of course the unforgettable internship memories that I have captured from probably the best years of my life. But then again, it may really be the food and alcohol – mais non, je ne regrette rien.