Category Archives: Belgium 2012-2013

My 23rd Birthday (Or Why My Personal Francophone is AWESOME <3)

I feel old these days…living overseas and financially supporting yourself through school will do that to you, especially when you turn 23 two days before your final Master’s evaluations. It’s not the calendar age that matters, it’s the sum total of your experience, and since I’ve been supporting myself on my savings, which are worth less in Euros, paying bills, living on my own, learning a new language, finishing a Master’s and a horrible internship for said Master’s, applying for jobs, and balancing job applications with my summer job, I find myself checking for missing teeth and gray hairs… 😉

But that’s not why I’m posting. Before I let you feast on my glut of vacation photos, I am dedicating this post to my 23rd birthday in June, also known as How Awesome is My Personal Francophone Day. Because he might have the annoying habit of liking to quote Charlie Sheen a little too much, and might think Barney from “How I Met” is the coolest character (it’s clearly Robin! Duh! Or maybe Marvin.), but when it comes down to it, he’s amazing.He took my first birthday away from home ever and made it cool instead of lonely (due credit must also be given to my family for singing to me on Skype and blowing out the candle on a cupcake):

This is an AWESOME bar in Antwerp which sells jenever, a uniquely Belgian ancestor of gin. It's dangerously delicious. We went here after midnight on my birthday (after a cocktail...).

This is an AWESOME bar in Antwerp which sells jenever, a uniquely Belgian ancestor of gin. It’s dangerously delicious.


These are our second jenevers. Mine is the purple one (violet), his is Flemish Flemish Flemish (a long and complicated name neither of us remembers).


This was my birthday breakfast! He even cooked! Croissant sandwiches with scrambled egg and cheese! Also waffles and cookies and chocolate…and roses! ❤ The beer and cheese were for lunch.


My very own Leonidas Basket. He’s like the Birthday Bunny.


The bar staff took this one. And I LOVE Belgium…both of those jenevers are different KINDS of speculoos flavor.


So pretty!


We had a coffee at one of our favorite cafes, the Shilling. Guess cooking tires him…


This is why we like the Shilling. It’s like a library.


Then we went to the Stadspark (City Park) in Antwerp for some Flemish beer and Wallonian cheese (I know, the politicians would be having conniptions!). I highly recommend the Grimbergen beer and Chimay cheese combination, as well as the park.


Silly swan, can’t you see there’s food RIGHT BEHIND YOU?


One of the first ladybugs I saw here. We had a lovely time at the park.


And here is my birthday cake at the Italian restaurant he took me to for dinner! I didn’t know Belgium had the birthday restaurant thing too.


This one is pretty shaky but I think you get the idea.

Also this was my birthday present the weekend after (like he didn't spoil me enough on the actual day... :) )

On my birthday, he told me there was also a surprise coming in July…this was it!



IMG_9155 IMG_9157





My very favorite vegetarian dinosaur. Thanks ND for a great birthday present–readers, how will I top it at HIS 24th birthday (haha, he’s older than me!)? Ideas?


We finished seeing the dinosaurs and then, inexplicably, we saw the panini machine. Which means the T-Rex didn't need to eat my Triceratops after all :(

We finished seeing the dinosaurs and then, inexplicably, we saw the panini machine. Which means the T-Rex didn’t need to eat my Triceratops after all 😦 (Photo omitted for obvious graphic and sadness reasons.) STILL AN AWESOME PRESENT. ❤


See what I mean? I am very lucky indeed. Thanks, ND, for a wonderful time. You nerd. ❤


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Adventures Summer 2013

July was quite the month: I passed my postgrad Master’s cum laude, started a summer job in Ghent (about 45 minutes away from Antwerp by train) as a technical writer and editor at a translation technologies company one of my professors works for…and visited three countries!

This was my month more or less:

July 2: Monschaeur, Germany

July 7-13: Madrid and Salamanca, Spain

July 15-24: Work in Ghent (though lucky me, I get to telecommute a few days a week! My job is awesome.)

July 24-27: Warsaw, Poland

July 29-31: Work in Ghent, concluding with a lovely after-work dinner and drinks with My Personal Francophone (though both the places we originally wanted to go are temporarily closed for vacation after the conclusion of the 10-day annual Gentse Feesten–Ghent Party–on Monday at noon. Which explains the drunk man I saw rambling down the street on Monday at 9 A.M., yelling something in Flemish about women.)

I’m going to post select photos from my trips on this blog, since Facebook won’t let me, and some of my friends and family don’t indulge anyway. I’m very lucky to have been able to travel so much, and hope you enjoy sharing a little of it with me!

To get you started, here is a picture of me blowing out the candle on my birthday cake which My Personal Francophone spoiled me with (among so many other things--he made my birthday awesome. <3) Tiramisu!

To get you started, here is a picture of me blowing out the candle on my birthday cake which My Personal Francophone spoiled me with (among so many other things–he made my birthday awesome. <3) Tiramisu!


Filed under Belgium 2012-2013

Open Letter to Obama Regarding Drone Use Against American Citizens Abroad (Please Share)

Dear President Obama,

My name is Emily. I have a family I love very much, love to write, just finished a postgraduate Master’s in translation, am a fan of the Nationals. And I currently keep up with family, team, and literary culture from approximately 4000 miles away. I am one of millions of American citizens living abroad.

I was born and raised on the East Coast, but I have been living in Antwerp, Belgium for almost a year now. And I miss the United States almost every day. But lately, I’ve been forced to consider that the United States I’ve been missing these past months—the democratic nation of freedom, equality, democracy, and justice, the country I love and would die to serve and protect—might not exist anymore.

Why? Because the government, and in particular the executive branch, have acted in secret. It’s true, that’s nothing new. Governments worldwide have always, and probably will always, act without the knowledge or consent of the people they serve, in defense of those people and for the protection of their liberties. But this time, it’s gone too far. This time, government is not acting to protect and serve Americans and defend their rights as citizens. This time, you are acting to take those rights away.

In undergrad, I was one of those laughed-at liberal arts majors, but I’ve learned a few things in the course of my B.A. One of those things is that under the Fourteenth Amendment,”… No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

While Section 1 of the Amendment doesn’t state that those same obligations apply to the federal government, Section 5 makes it clear that “The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.” If Congress has the power to enforce those provisions, doesn’t that mean that Congress also has the obligation to abide by them in its own dealings?

In February, I was angered by the declaration that the government has the authority to carry out targeted drone strikes against American citizens abroad. For obvious reasons, I was frightened, too. And now, in July, I am baffled by the lack of response from my fellow Americans.

Having been away from the US, I can’t hope to answer for or explain the general domestic apathy toward the declaration, or towards the use of surveillance drones on American soil. But I hope that I at least can try to speak for Americans abroad, Democrat, Republican, or independent like me, when I say that this decision, from the man who is supposed to represent this country that I love, who is supposed to speak for us, act for us, defend our liberties as well as our physical nation, horrifies me to my very core.

“Trust us?” Please do not insult the intelligence of your own countrymen. Any American who’s been through the fourth grade knows that the United States was created out of a lack of trust for government, because of an abuse of power and a lack of representation. And that our system of checks and balances is designed to ensure that that abuse of power and lack of representation stay where they belong: in our national memory. To ensure that government is truly “for the people”, not the people for the government. So I am not sorry to say, I don’t trust the government, because it is clearly not acting for Americans like me.

Again, I love this country. I love the United States for her innovation and creativity, for her unflinching bravery in the face of evil, for her commitment to justice, to freedom, to democracy. I am proud to be an American, and would never give that up, no matter how long I remain on foreign soil.

What you are doing is wrong. It stifles those values, those liberties and rights which protect us as Americans, and which make our country the unique, ever-growing nation that she is. Where it doesn’t stifle them, it twists them, turning that amazing creative energy and innovation, which could have been used for good, into a force for oppression, fear, and hatred.

I’d like to close with two questions which clarify my stance on this, and highlight my feeling of not being represented by your administration, and particularly, by you. I hope all Americans will contemplate these questions, because it’s never too late for change.

  1. Does being resident abroad somehow negate a citizen’s Constitutional rights? In other words, should I be afraid that my other rights will be taken away too, simply because I do not reside on U.S. soil? To put it even more clearly: am I less American than you?
  2. Drones are unmanned aircraft. Let me say it again: drones are unmanned machines. And machines, as we all know very well in our own lives, often make mistakes. They can’t reason like humans can. There may be human operators on the other end, but the intelligence they have won’t always be perfect, and drones will make mistakes. As an American living abroad, what would you say to me if you made a mistake? Worse, what would you say to my family?

Thank you for reading. I hope that these questions will give rise to some serious reconsideration, and to some positive change, discussion, and dialogue.


Emily K. Iekel


James Madison University Class of 2012

Katholieke Universiteit Leuven Class of 2013

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Filed under Belgium 2012-2013, US/Belgium 2011-2012

Pope Benedict XVI’s Resignation

Pope Benedict XVI, formerly Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, announced today that as of 8:00 PM (Italian time) on February 28, 2013, he is RESIGNING from his office as pontiff. He feels due to the mental and physical demands of the office, he is no longer capable, at the age of 85, of fulfilling this ministry.

For those who were wondering, this is practically unprecedented. The last pope to resign was Pope Gregory XII in 1415, as part of the Schism.

I find myself saddened and almost frightened by this news. Who can say what lies ahead for the Church now?

But, as Benedict himself Tweeted, in his final post, what happens now must be a question of faith, mercy, and grace. “We must trust in the mighty power of God’s mercy. We are all sinners, but His grace transforms us and makes us new.” It’s hard to believe–a move such as this raises questions, doubts, fears–but maybe this is a beginning for us, and our Church can be also made new.

I have a question: What happens to a retired Pope?

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An Open Letter to Belgium

Dear Belgium,

Since we met in March 2011, you have changed me for the better in so many ways. I now actually enjoy fries, which makes a huge change from the 20 years of my life before you and I discovered each other, where all I did was pine after onion rings. I refuse to settle for inferior beer, and have become accustomed to excellent dark chocolate. Also waffles. I will never see an Eggo the same way again…I even, and I never thought I would say this, enjoy Brussels sprouts.

And yet, lately, you have been troubling me. Oddly, I’ve grown used to your strange linguistic and political divisions and subdivisons. I have accepted the fact that I speak Flemish in the city where I live and then go off to work in another city where I must speak French, and then enter an office where Spanish AND French are the order of the day, and then return home. I am even, God help me, learning that your train engineers have absolutely no idea what a schedule is, let alone how to stick to one, and am in the process of accepting the fact that I may never, ever, ever ever be exactly on time in the morning.

What I cannot accept, dear Belgium, is the far more troubling, and deeply disturbing, aspects of your nature that I have lately seen. And it’s not just your nature, it’s your Nature. I think you know exactly what I’m talking about. I think you see it in my eyes when I wake up with you in the morning, just as you see the hope in my eyes, when I go to sleep with you at night, the hope that maybe, just maybe, tomorrow will be different…

I think you see my pain and refuse to acknowledge it. Every tear ripped from my eyes, every sniffle and aneeze that convulses my nose, the strain on my face from the pain in my sinuses.

Man up, Belgium. Admit that what you did to me yesterday was wrong.

Admit that it was wrong to wake me up with lovely sunny smiles, then dump rain on my head when I was getting off the bus to work, then sleet, then snow, then get sunny until JUST BEFORE it was time for my lunch break, then sleet on me when I went out at lunch, then snow in front of my eyes in the afternoon. Repeatedly.

Shall I stop, or would you like to hear more about how you let all the snow melt because you’re not even man enough to stick to something?

Admit that you were wrong, and maybe we can find some way to fix this. If not, my sinuses and I will have to reevaluate our relationship with you.



P.S. Also, your crocodile sunshine right now isn’t fooling anyone. By the time I post this entry, you’ll be raining again.

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I’m Not Dead Yet (But this Bar Totally Is)

These past few weeks haven’t been less hectic, even though the final papers are, finally, finished…I’m still waiting on my exam grades despite the fact that exams were in December, my internship is nine hours a day, I have to write a report on that internship of 20 pages not including a work portfolio, a work log, and a presentation, and the “freelancing” I’ve been doing (just odd jobs) seems to be really taking off, which is great when you love to write wine reviews and letters and research arts programs, but not so great when you love to do those things and have no time or energy left for them after work…

To top it all off, life with My Personal Francophone has its ups and downs for us both. It was alarming for a bit, but I think that it’s natural when you’re trying to finish what should be a two-year Master’s in one, working 39 hours a week, writing what amounts to a thesis and trying to earn a little extra income, and he’s writing an 80-page thesis on the relationship between Don Quijote and Sancho (Oops! Am I not supposed to tell anyone what your topic is, ND?), while taking classes, while preparing for practicum at not one, but two, different French-speaking schools, at each of which he has two different classes…and the two of you still, somehow, want to have the time and energy to go out occasionally…

I would like to say, on that note, that two exciting things happened last weekend:

1. I saw “Lincoln.” If you haven’t seen it yet do it NOW. There is no doubt in my mind that Lewis will win the Oscar this year. He’s not Daniel Day Lewis playing Lincoln. He IS Lincoln. I completely forget it was him at all…also, John Williams. ❤ Also America. ❤ ❤

2. We went to this mega-awesome bar in Brussels, called Le Cerceuil. For those whose French, like mine, sounds something like this exchange I had at work earlier today:

Me (to my supervisor): “When is it that you wants the text for the client sent? (Other project manager) has told us that we send to the client every Monday but we doesn’t know if it goes to a revisor first?”

Supervisor (stares politely but a little blankly at me for a second): “I’ll…check, and let you know.”

“Le Cerceuil” means “The Coffin”. Which explains why My Personal Francophone never knows what I’m talking about when I say “Let’s go to ‘The Circle” this weekend!” And also explains why I’ve only been there once before last weekend.

It’s every Goth’s deepest desire. The tables are coffins, some closed, and some open to reveal glowing skeletons. Patrons drink out of skull goblets while sitting on red couches over candles, and their drinks are strangely colored and named: Satan’s Aphrodisiac, Demon Sperm, Cadaver Urine. In the back room, it’s red-lit black walls and a painting of a coat rack bearing coats, an umbrella, and a mournful-looking severed head. Words painted in script name the room “The Sepulchre”.

I had Cadaver Urine (rum and amaretto). My Personal Francophone had Demon Liquor. And I kind of wished we had been there on Halloween rather than in Luxembourg. (I did bring it up that day, but since I called it “The Circle” he justifiably had no idea what I was talking about.)

And no, I did not, at all, even remotely consider the applicability, this past weekend,  of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.

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The Video that Explains it All

I am sorry for the radio silence these past few months. Truly, I have been very busy experiencing life, and busier working on my postgrad degree. There will be more blog posts as soon as I am finished with my two final papers for the semester.

At the moment I would like to share this video, which I do not own and did not produce, but which was introduced to me via my Flemish teacher back in September, who is now kind of my friend–weird, right?

Anyway, this video explains everything that doesn’t make sense about life in Belgium. The glorious thing is, after a while it ceases to infuriate and starts to amuse instead, it’s all so absurd.

That, or the waffles and beer are really mellowing me out.


Filed under Belgium 2012-2013