My wife’s friend G visited us last weekend. She’s Flemish, and she lives in Brussels with her husband and two daughters. The younger one, 19 now, had just returned from the U.S. following a gap year spent at a private school in the South. On Saturday, over dinner, she spoke of the daughter L’s experiences.
L found her classmates racist, G said. Their awareness and worldview were limited to their country. The notion of Europe as a place with different cultures and languages was beyond them. Once L was asked if she liked the freedom she now had in the U.S., in contrast to her home country.
Her classmates were relaxed inside the campus, but when they drove downtown they all carried guns: for protection against the blacks, they said. At meals they dug into their meat with their forks alone, and made fun of L when she used both fork and knife. On hearing that both L’s parents worked, they decided she must be poor — why else should both work? At her foster home the practice of sitting together for meals was alien, which L found hard to understand.
They really don’t have a culture, G said.
Among the courses at school was one L called “Speech”. At the year’s end she’d turned into a confident speaker: name a subject and I can give a speech on it, L said to her parents.
For her daughter’s graduation ceremony G visited the U.S. with her husband. In the graduation roll, L’s place of origin was listed not as Brussels, but Ghent. This was strange, G said; it must have been due to the recent blasts in Brussels: perhaps they wanted no connection with the city. During the visit, the school advised them to avoid talking politics or religion with others. Outside the school, most parked cars wore ‘I support Trump’ stickers.
It was a good year for my daughter, G said. She now knows what she doesn’t want. And she has changed. A shy person once, L is now more assertive and confident: not easy for me as a mother.