Friday 29 January 2010

The European Mind

As we grow, our minds grow with us. As we age, our eyes see and our ears listen. And when we are mature enough, we understand.

The story of my European mind probably begins in that one single moment when my parents decided to buy me a book with a lot of pictures and words in a foreign language - English - even before I learned that language in school. Weeks later, we had visitors who spoke that language as a mother tongue, and I could actually use these foreign words I had memorised until then, seeing that learning a language was worth the effort.

One year later, we travelled to the UK. First to the big city - London - with the many international tourists, a lot of history, and loads of things I had never seen before. Then we went to another region of the country - Wales - where people also spoke English. But the son of the family where we were staying went to a school where I got to know, going with him one day, that "Bore Da" was another possible way to say "Good morning" in the United Kingdom.

Yet another year later, I stood on top of the Eiffel Tower for the first time and I knew how to order orange juice in French. I had gone there because my school, although situated in a town of less than 10,000 inhabitants in a region quite far away from any border, had a special European profile with a focus on France at that time and I had won a trip together with other pupils from my school.

Two years later, I spoke some basic French and spent the first week in a French family during a school exchange, something I would repeat several times during my school time.

In the same year, we also visited my relatives in the Czech Republic, seeing a different kind of economic situation than I witnessed in France or Germany. Nevertheless, I was always received with arms wide open. And at the end of the year I knew that "attention" and "pozor" meant the same in French and Czech.

In the summer of the following year we were on summer holidays in Bulgaria and also spent an evening with family friends that my mom's parents had made when they lived in the Soviet Union, and they hosted us as if we were part of their family. And yet another year later, I was allowed to go to a French lycée for a trimester, living with a guest family during that time who also took care of me as if I was their son.

After the trimester, I participated with others from my school in a meeting of young people from four cities in France, Germany, Poland and Spain. I still remember that evening when a Spanish girl was explaining a game in French which I was translating into English for the Polish who didn't speak French while next to me one of the French boys was chatting in German with one of my classmates.

After this night I realised that my mind had become a European mind.

I knew it right away, and still remember how sharp it hit me. Everything that has happened afterwards was guided by these school years and especially shaped by that one evening that revealed the full beauty of the European project to me at the right moment in my life to make the right decisions afterwards.

Until then, my parents and my European-profile school had opened my eyes and ears for Europe, and this openness was the right attitude to become a European citizen with a European mind. Since then, I have lived in several European countries and travelled to even more without ever feeling foreign - to the contrary: With every new place I see and with every new person I meet I feel more home everywhere on the continent.

I will thus always be deeply grateful to my parents and thankful to my school for that they made this state of my teenage mind possible - and my school has received a small donation from me these days that they will hopefully use to open the minds of the next generation of European citizens.


Joe Litobarski said...


Nice post. This just reinforces for me how important language-learning is for any "European identity."

Anonymous said...

Thanks a lot for the kind words, Julien!
(Mum and Dad are still watching...)

valery said...

Congratulations to Julien's parents indeed !

belitabrux said...

well your parents did a great job european minds can really make the european dream a reality!

Mathew said...

Thanks for that beautifully personal post. Growing up in Oz, I wasn't lucky enough to have these formative experiences in my youth. But my kids will, and I'm doing my best to catch up ;-)