My friends and I arrived in Brussels around 9pm on Monday, March 21st. We walked to our Airbnb in the central part of the city, dropped off our luggage, and JD (a friend of ours who is studying abroad in Brussels this semester) took us through some parts of the city as we searched for food.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that Brussels is an absolutely beautiful city.
After seeing some magnificent sites that night, we were all really excited to explore it in the daylight the following day, and then make a day trip to Bruges and Ghent the day after that.
As many of you know, my friends and I didn’t get the opportunity to do any of of those things. We awoke the next morning to a text from JD asking if we had seen the news with a link to a news article about the airport bombings. Where we were staying was a 20 minute drive from the airport, and everyone was a bit freaked out. JD offered for us to go and stay in his host house on the outskirts of the city in a suburb called Tervuren, so we decided to call an Uber, pack up our stuff, and head over there.
Then the news came about the suicide bombing at the Metro station. That particular metro stop happened to be less than a 10 minute walk from our apartment (I didn’t realize this until we were in Tervuren, which is probably a good thing).
Although it was only about 4am back at home and I had texted my parents telling them that I was safe and not to freak out completely when I found out about the airport, after the news about the metro I called my Mom immediately. She hadn’t seen my text and hadn’t been awake to know what had happened, so I wanted to make sure she heard it from my voice over the phone right then instead of reading a text message from me hours later.
It took us apretty long time to get out of the city that morning. As we were watching the online map for our Uber to tell us how far away it was, the drivers kept canceling on us. JD would call another one, it would make it about 10 minutes out of our Airbnb, and then it would cancel. None of us had internet in Belgium without wifi so we couldn’t go outside while we waited for our Uber, but eventually we gave up on that and all went outside to try to get a taxi big enough to fit the 5 of us that was willing to make a trip to Tervuren. Thankfully we flagged one down after a while, and after what felt like one of the longest mornings I had ever experienced, we made it to JD’s safely.
After we finally got to JD’s, most of us spent the remainder of the morning calling our families to assure them that we were safe outside of the city and trying to keep them from panicking about the fact that we weren’t somewhere they could just drive to come get us. It was hard for me to be away from my parents as this was happening, so I can’t even imagine how they felt about not being able to be with me.
The only thing that kept me from freaking out the whole time was being surrounded by 6 of my best friends and knowing that all of them were safe. I think we were all trying to stay calm, and doing so would have been much more difficult had we not all been together. Now, I’m definitely not saying I wasn’t scared. Not only was I near these attacks, but some of my closest friends were as well, and I think that freaked me out more than anything. I know people say things like “fear makes the terrorists win, because that’s what they want”, but I was pretty damn afraid and I think that’s okay. Feeling afraid when there are bombs exploding around you is not only warranted, but expected. In my opinion, the important thing is to not let that fear prevent you from living. As scary as it truly was, I’m not going to let that experience or that fear keep me from making the most of the rest of my study abroad travels. I definitely wouldn’t say that I’m going to carry on “business as usual”, but I’m not going to cancel trips. I’m not going to stop having fun and exploring. I am going to be more cautious and aware, but not to the point of being paranoid. Although I think all our lives are changed because of what we experienced that day, I am going to continue to travel and thank God for the life I have.
You can be Boston Strong…you can pray for Paris…you can pray for Brussels…and you can also pray for the world. Acts like this are so senseless. Tragedies like the suicide bombings in Brussels that occurred on March 22, 2016 happen in other parts of the world every week. Although the events that occur close to home or close in proximity to where you or loved ones may be at the time always hit the hardest, that doesn’t change the fact that the lives of innocent people are being taken far too early in numerous countries around the world.
I encourage everyone to educate themselves on the reality of the conditions in parts of the world other than just those covered heavily by the news. Yes, the bombings in Brussels are horrifying and of course I’m not making light of how tragic it truly is. It’s just worth pointing out that there are many areas suffering from extreme violence that are receiving much less attention.
After being so close to the bombings in Brussels, there are 5 things I want to say to anyone and everyone:
- Pray for the world and everyone in it, especially those affected by any kind of tragedy, every single day.
- Take time to reach out and keep in touch with loved ones, regardless of how busy you convince yourself you are.
- Think about the world we are living in right now…not only what’s going on in your city, state, or country, but everywhere..and do anything and everything you can to make it a safer, better place.
- Try not to look at Paris or Brussels, or Europe as a whole, and claim that it’s all dangerous. Brussels might not be the safest place in the world right now, but the reality is that attacks like this could happen in New York tomorrow. Or Boston. Or Chicago. Or anywhere else inside or outside of the U.S. It’s easy to point fingers when tragedies occur, but it’s important not to be ignorant about it and to keep in mind that it could happen anywhere.
- Don’t let the potential fear surrounding the reality of the world today prevent you from living the life you want to live.
To end on a bit of a lighter note, Tervuren was a really adorable and nice suburb on the outskirts of the city, and it was nice getting to walk around there a little bit and eat some good food.