Did you know that in Belgium, you can’t buy peanut butter in the grocery store? In fact, in most countries in the world, peanut butter is not a common food. I discovered this information from one of the foreign exchange students, Sara Delcour. You may have met Sara in school, or you may have read about her in Libby Shea’s article in The Herd about this year’s foreign exchange students. If you don’t know Sara, she is attending KHS while she is away from her home, Theux, a city in Belgium. In just the quick month that Sara and I have lived together, we have celebrated my sister’s 14th birthday, Christmas, and her own 18th birthday. In such a short amount of time, it feels like she has always been a part of my family. This article is not meant to persuade your family to get an exchange student (although I do suggest it), nor is it to serve as a cultural textbook, as I am still learning so much about life in Belgium; it is simply to share a joyful story and open your mind to the practices of a different country. Also, if you were wondering, Sara tried peanut butter, and let’s just say I have not seen her reaching for it in the refrigerator since.
Since we are on the topic of food, let’s start there. When you think of Belgium, maybe two foods come to mind: Belgian waffles and Brussel sprouts. In case you slacked off during the geography unit, Brussels is the capital of Belgium. My conversation with Sara about waffles was aroused when I offered her a waffle for breakfast. At first, she was super excited and asked where they sell such authentic waffles (Trader Joe’s of course), but then she said something along the lines of, “Why are you eating them for breakfast? They are a dessert!” Americans eat waffles in the morning, but Sara eats them as a snack when she goes on a day trip to Brussels with friends. She told me there are more than 30 types of different waffles in an average Belgium supermarket. Similar to in America, Belgium has McDonald’s, Starbucks, Dominos, and even Pizza Hut. Although she notes that American food is not too much different, she has discovered new foods that she insists on bringing back home with her. These include popcorn and nachos. Now, although they are available to her at home, she has only eaten these foods during her time in the U.S. In the past few weeks, I have consumed more nachos than I have in my whole life, and that’s not even a hyperbole.
One thing both Sara and I share in common is that we are teenagers. Something that interested me when I first was getting to know Sara is what life and school are like for high school students in Belgium. As for school, Sara says that she thinks American school is, “much more relaxed and the teachers are much more understanding and accommodating.” From an outsider’s perspective, I would characterize students in Belgium as being much more independent learners and self-driven students. Another interesting part about Belgium, and much of Europe, is the university system. In the U.S., even after financial aid and scholarships, a good college education can send students into years of debt. This surprised Sara, who had expressed interest in going to school in the U.S. She said that in Belgium, once she is accepted to her university, her education will only cost her parents up to 800 dollars. That seems like a bargain in any language.
You may be more interested in what teenagers do for fun in Belgium. Sara says that she spends most of her time with friends going out to dinner or having a more informal lunch. Similar to the US, parties are very popular amongst Belgian teens. In Belgium, the drinking age is 18, and Sara believes that at home, “drinking is very common amongst young people, and even though the legal age is 18, it is not seen as a big problem for younger kids to drink.” I have also heard this same sentiment expressed from last year’s exchange student from Italy, who told me drinking was not seen as a very big deal for teenagers. This article is certainly not an argument for the U.S. to lower the drinking age, but only to bring up the different privileges turning 18 gives to American vs. Belgian teens. When having the conversation with Sara, she wondered, “in America, why is it okay for an 18-year-old to own a gun, but they can’t have a beer.” I have to say, this is a pretty good question. However, this also brought up the differences in driving age between the U.S. and Belgium. Here, as a 15-year old, I could start driving, but in Belgium, the driving age is 18. Due to the somewhat startlingly low driving age here, it is wise that the drinking age is not 18. In Belgium, teens who are drinking are not allowed to drive, so that takes out a big risk factor for getting into accidents.
Although this is just a brief skim of Belgian culture, I hope you learned something new about the country, or about Sara. With our school community being so fragmented because of hybrid learning, it can be beneficial to learn something about each other.