Being Thankful in Belgium

Thanksgiving at ISA Brussels

Being away from your family, your friends and your familiar home is tough during the holidays. Some of the Americans at my school were noticeably depressed today, thinking of the Thanksgiving celebration they were missing and the classes they were attending instead.

I wasn’t feeling the gloom too much this week. In fact, I basically forgot it was Thanksgiving until I saw my Facebook flooded with comments about home and reunions and happiness. And then I got a wee-bit sad.

But at least I had a Thanksgiving dinner to still look forward to. Our ISA resident director Sabine made sure that we Americans got our fill of gluttony, and it was one of the most adorable and delicious holidays I’ve ever experienced.

Sabine used to be a chef, so the special-ordered turkey was perfectly tender, the fresh cranberries were vibrant and sweet, the stuffing with apples and cranberries tasted like the season, and the mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and red velvet cake were, of course, excellent.

What was especially impressive was the mass of contributions from students and friends. More than 30 of us piled into Time Square, a small cafe underneath our office that closed down for the day for our private party. Cynthia, Sabine’s assistant, made pumpkin pie and Brussels sprouts. Yanni, the kind owner of Time Square, made mushrooms, carrots and salad. I made cornbread. Another student made mushroom crepe casserole and Mexican hot chocolate. Another made deviled eggs. Another made apple cider, and another made truffles. Another made gravy. Another made cookies. And there was freshly brewed espresso to wake us up from our food comas just enough so we could find our ways home.

There was also an ugly sweater contest. I bought my gorgeous, itchy thing from my favorite flea market for one euro. It’s like the sweaters I wear at home, that I was too embarrassed to pack with me for fear of European trendiness and judgment. I was right, of course. The European students here wouldn’t be caught dead in my ensemble, but alas, I no longer care.

My sweater took third prize. The winner was Alex, who sported a woman’s sweater that was unlike anything I had ever seen. A button-down collared shirt, basically, turned sweater, with jewel buttons. The win was well deserved.

It was a lovely meal — a meal I am truly thankful for, with company that I am truly thankful for. The ISA family has really been a family.

The day before, ISA threw another family bonding soiree. A chocolate making workshop.

I had been excited for this day since before I got to Brussels, just from seeing pictures on the program’s Facebook! The whole thing felt a little rushed — 45-minute presentation on chocolate followed by 45 minutes of “making chocolate” — but had plenty of delicious tastings.

Basically, we got to play with chocolate. We got to make designs with the hot, melty form, let them harden and take our shapes home. It was great fun, and naturally, I made cats.

In three mere weeks, this ISA family will be done for. The other 20 students are heading home, one other is transferring to the program in Italy, and I will remain in Brussels with Sabine and Cynthia. A new flock will arrive, and I know I will feel weird about it.

But for now, I will stick to the sap: I am more thankful this year than I have ever been before.

I am thankful for this study abroad experience. I am thankful for my family, for helping me get to where I currently am and supporting me in every way humanly possible. I am thankful for me friends at home, still staying in touch and pretending to keep up with my blog. I am thankful for my new friends, so different from those at home and yet still so wonderful, and probably oblivious to how much I talk about them on the internet. I am thankful for the ISA program, which has been a great mix of cultural exposure and American comfort. I am thankful for my host family, who has been more loving than I ever imagined.

Lastly, I am thankful for just about everything else.

Janelle Bitker
Brussels, Belgium
Academic Year 2011-2012 

Read more about Janelle’s experiences abroad at

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