Turning in my badge…

 

Looking through my blog posts to date, it might seem like these past four months have been a continuous party, but that’s not the case. I’ve actually spent every Monday through Thursday interning at SWIFT, aka the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications.

Yesterday I celebrate my last official day as a SWIFT intern. Unreal.

If you’re an avid follower of my blog (shoutout to my parents and grandparents) then you may remember my blog post about my first day at SWIFT. It was pretty rough. But since then it’s only gotten better and better, and now I can’t believe I’m leaving.

SWIFT is a strange place. Located about 30 minutes outside of Brussels in La Hulpe, it’s like a mini universe.

I worked directly with the head of internal communications, writing articles about exciting things like BlockChain and cyber security! As dope as that is, the most exciting part of my job is that I have the power to broadcast whatever I please on screens across SWIFT’s 35 international offices. For example, I could send this image to Kuala Lumpur in about 20 seconds:

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That’s power, my friends.

Weirdly enough, the best part about my time here has been the company. While SWIFT has an “open desk” policy that encourages people to sit where they want on the massive campus, I’ve sat at the same desk every single day for the past four months, with the same handful of people.

Not to be cheesy, but spending eight hours a day with people from across the world definitely has widened my horizons. I’m also really used to hearing “Wow that’s sooooo American” and getting laughed at for my French accent. Just for that, here’s a little payback:

If I’m being honest, I’m really going to miss this place. It’s been a crazy semester out here in La Hulpe.

The sun

 

Our Spring Break could not have come at a better time, just four days after terror attacks hit close to home. Brace yourself for 1000+ words about my week on the coast.

Brussels is one of the rainiest cities in the world. We enjoy more rainy days than any other city in Europe, which I did realize bothered me until I jetted off to Barcelona and Lisbon with my friends Sam and Meg.

Following the attacks, we weren’t sure if we would even be able to fly since our flight was supposed to leave out of Zaventem. Luckily we were just moved to another more remote airport. By 7pm on Friday night, we were officially in Barcelona.

We took it easy our first night, staying out until 1am with bottles of wine in Place Catalunya admiring the palm trees.

Food wise, Barcelona is known for two things: tapas y paella. We consumed a lot of both. For a foodie like me, Spanish cuisine is amazing because the ingredients are often hard to distinguish, which makes it almost like a game.

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On Easter Sunday, I got to indulge in one of the things that I’ve missed most since leaving the states: Brunch. My spicy chicken sandwich with guacamole was hardly brunchy, but it came with a mimosa so it counts!

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When you’re 20-years-old in Europe, there are a lot of highs. It’s a blast. But the one constantly looming low is the fact that your bank account, made up of savings from minimum-wage jobs, is crying all. the. time. But my friends and I are a Darwinian bunch, we know how to adapt and find the best deals. For example, we stopped into four different souvenir shops before doubling-back to get the cheapest ceramic elephants and bottle openers.

The best deal of the week was at iTapa, where we indulged in an all you can eat tapas buffet for only 13 euros. Sam and I managed to put away five plates of sausage, bread, croquettes, meatballs, etc., with Meg lagging behind with only three plates.

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I can’t say I think I’ve ever eaten so much. I also can’t say I didn’t have regrets the next day on the beach.

Even though it was late March and only 65 degrees, Sam and I took on the beach the Barcelona way, sans swim tops. It was invigorating, but I probably won’t be taking the trend back to the states.

Our Airbnb was located in the gothic district. While this hip area is bumpin’ until around 8am, our host, Flor, was a 60-something Spanish woman who we nicknamed Abuelita. She was admittedly a little hot and cold with us, congratulating us on a fun night out with “hombres guapos” the first night and then yelling at us at 3am a couple of nights later (on a Tuesday…I see you Flor), but she also fed us breakfast every day so you know she won me over.

The nightlife in Spain is definitely rowdier than it is in Brussels. On Monday night we got to the club a little after midnight and found that there was no one there, but by 1:30 the place was filled.

Barcelona is officially my favorite city in Europe. From the architecture to the food to the beaches, I don’t think you could ever find yourself tired of waking up there every day.

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After five incredible days in Spain, we flew to Lisbon, Portugal. A friend had previously warned me that my legs would meet their match in the city’s hills, but wow there was no way to brace for that kind of topography. It was insane. If you’ve seen my chicken legs, you know they aren’t built for much.

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Taking an Uber from the airport to our Airbnb almost made me feel like I was back in Dallas…until we couldn’t find the house number and the driver stayed back for 20 minutes helping us find it. You don’t get that kind of assistance in Uptown.

I made quite a few friends in Lisbon, especially considering that spoke a language none of us had been exposed to. On two separate occasions we talked to people at bus stops, both in our own native languages pretending to know what the other was saying. One time we got kicked off a bus at the end of its route with an elderly French couple and ended up piling five people into an Uber to get home. We also ran into an American couple at a café and sat drinking sangria, us wanting to hear their stories, them wanting to hear our plans. We’re now pen-pals.

Due to the wallet pressure, we made several meals at our Airbnbs. As you might have guessed, I was the HBIC when it came to cooking. The one time I let Sam step in and help with the rice, it was a disaster. Honestly, I don’t know how that girl feeds herself on a daily basis.

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We also helped out our wallets by buying a 5L box of wine for only €3. Frightened? When dressed up with fruit and juice, it made a pretty decent sangria (cue my parents rolling their eyes because they thought they taught me better).

Perhaps the biggest surprise of Lisboa, nay, of Spring Break, was the fact that yours truly went surfing and actually stood up on the board. Bet you never expected that from Miss Chicken Legs. Look out for my forthcoming GoPro documentation.

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Some cocktail of sun and saltwater has the people of Barcelona and Lisbon happy. The smiles I saw all week were a stark contrast to the tense, tight lips in Brussels.

Now I’m sitting in Belgium having bathed in lotion to soothe my sunburn. We’re back to reality, if you can call it that.

If you’ve been keeping up with this blog, you know that these few months have had some great highs and deep lows. I came to Brussels with a heavy heart and met some of the most incredible ladies on this planet who have stuck by me through truly crazy travel experiences. But the combination of terror attacks and consistent overcast skies threatened to push me back into that dark place. A week on the coast was the perfect prescription for remembering how dang beautiful and big this world is. Yeah, that’s cheesy I know.

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Last night my roommates and I sat in a bar at Place Saint Boniface drinking the Belgian brews we’ve come to love and reminiscing the craziest points of our semester. Somehow we kept coming back to “Holy crap how is it so close to over?!” and a unified groan.

When my parents come pick me up in a few short weeks, they’re going to have their work cut out for them because I don’t ever want to leave.

 

(p.s. half of these photos are from my girl Sam)