International students about terrorism in Belgium

During each interview an international student answered a set of seven questions about Belgium and terrorism. This week Spanish student Alex Olivares Martínez, was the special interviewee of 21 Bis.

Alex Olivares Martínez, is an Eramus student from Valencia in Spain. The 23-year-old came to Mechelen to finish his bachelor’s degree in Tourism. Martinez is fond of travelling and discovering new places. His love for the unknown brought him to Belgium. He wanted to learn foreign languages and work with Belgian students. By studying Tourism at Thomas More University College he hopes to change the traditional tourism.

Have you considered to cancel your trip to Belgium ?

It wasn’t my first encounter with a criminal attack. At the time of the Paris bombings I was in the East of France. The news of shootings in the capital quickly spread over the whole country. In that moment I felt vulnerable and powerless. I did not know what to do. The only thing I wanted was to go home and hope that this was just a nightmare. All the flights got cancelled. There was no way out of the country. You then realize that in a matter of time everything can change. I landed in another reality. Eventually I got home. This experience taught me that life is precious and that you can’t run away from death.

The horror scenario of the Paris attack gave me the strength and the nerve to go out and explore new regions. My university offered me the opportunity to be an exchange student in Mechelen. I grabbed that chance and packed my bags for Belgium.

Do you feel safe in Mechelen ?

The presence of policemen and soldiers on the streets of Brussels partially contributed to a feeling of security. But their presence also means that we are not safe yet. The question is when the next attack is going to occur. And to this, I am afraid, nobody has the exact answer.

Belgium is currently in a state of insecurity. The government tries to deploy as many armed forces as possible to ensure the safety of the Belgian citizens and tourists. It is remarkable how the government responded to a crisis.

I would never have imagined that Belgians were so brave. They just continue to live their lives.

Have your parents tried to persuade you to change your mind ?

My mom is very protective. She tried to persuade me to stay in Spain. But I would rather think she wanted me home for other reasons. Most of my family told me to be careful because Belgium was still in alert number three. They wanted me to be safe and sound. But you can never totally avoid a bomb attack. I wanted to show the terrorists that I wasn’t afraid of them. It wasn’t my plan to stay in bed and do nothing for the rest of my life just because I feared a potential attack. The urge to go out and explore a new country was very strong. I simply had to live my life. Terrorists are not going to take this privilege from me.

What was your vision of Belgium before the attacks ?

I don’t feel that Belgium has changed because of the attacks. I just think that the Belgians had to adapt to the constant surveillance of the police. It is nearly impossible to walk through the streets without noticing the police patrolling around. But this doesn’t bother me. I don’t feel like I am in danger.

What would you advise students who hesitate to come to Belgium ?

Don’t be influenced by what other people say. Think by yourself and educate yourself. Create your own opinion by looking up facts and figures. I tried to be as objective as possible when I chose my Erasmus destination. I came here without any expectations and prejudices.

Belgium is an interesting country full of charm. The historical cities, kind-hearted people and stunning nature is going to win you over. Because of its geographical situation it is easy to travel to the neighbouring countries such as France, Germany, Luxembourg and The Netherlands.

Why did you choose Belgium as a part of your exchange programme ?

Thomas More University College has multiple strong programmes. Tourism is one of them. All in all, I hoped to acquire more skills and learn foreign languages.

Initially this wasn’t my first choice. I picked The Netherlands as my all-time favourite destination. Contrary to all expectations I adore being a student at Thomas More. The University College organizes a new trip to a popular location in Belgium every weekend. And I made an amazing group of friends.

Do you think that the media exaggerated the recent bombing attacks in Brussels ?

The media portrayed an opinion and a feeling instead of facts. They weren’t 100 % accurate and objective. The whole industry played a major role in transmitting fear and doubt to the public. News outlets damaged the image of Belgium.

I also believe that the media besieged us with too much information about the attacks. We have seen horrific images of women and men covered in blood. A picture is worth a thousand words. But every time the media showed us a new image or testimony the immediate reaction was to point out that the perpetrators were Muslims.

The general thought was that the Muslim community was to blame for these events.

Valencia is by definition a multicultural city. Our Spanish culture is a mix of African, Chinese, European and Muslim influences. Valencia has various religions and cultures which makes it incredibly interesting. Our history has been coloured by the invasion of Muslims who concurred Spain 600 years ago. In a sense I can say that we always have been living alongside the Muslim community. But that peaceful coexistence has come to an end. Some Spanish inhabitants blame Muslims for the attacks and for spreading fear. I personally think these people only blame them because they try to project their anger and fear onto a particular group. What better way than to project it onto a minority ?

Instead of focussing on the bad news, the media should from time to time publish a heartfelt story. The Pope exemplifies my statement. Our religious leader and spokesman is in my opinion handling the religious tensions in Europe very well. He encouraged Catholics to be a helping hand for refugees and to combat prejudices.

Nowadays, religion is a limitation. I don’t think it has to produce confrontation between two groups. It has to unite people. But all it does is tear apart a society. Our spiritual leader tried to close the gap between Catholics and Muslims. He is truly an example of what a modern Catholic should be.

Text and pictures  ©Morgan Mc Kenzie