‘The terrorist attacks have brought people closer together’

Vivian Tsai (20) studies Business Management at the Thomas More University College. This Taiwanese student already obtained an undergraduate academic degree in Finance in Taiwan. This is not her first encounter with Belgium. She first followed a crash course of Finance at the University of Leuven.

Taiwanese student Vivian Tsai visits for the second time Belgium . ©Morgane Decuyper

1.Have you considered to cancel your trip to Belgium?

At first I wast a little hesitant about studying in Belgium. My family and friends had been warning me about Brussels. The tragic news made headlines in China and the rest of the world. The country was in the midst of a lockdown back then. There was a lot of chit-chat at home about my decision. My parents evaluated the situation and imagined the worst-case scenario. I saw the anxious face of my mother who tried to dissuade me from going. But we weighted all the pros and cons before I decide to move to Belgium for a semester. Common sense prevailed in the end and my mother could only respect my choice as a responsible grown up.

2.Do you feel safe in Mechelen?

I was counting on the vigilance of municipal authorities to turn Mechelen into a veritable safe haven for students. But in fact there was no need to reinforce the police presence. There is abundant evidence that the city of Mechelen is a secure place. I feel comfortable walking through the streets of the old borough.

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

My parents were acceptive of my choices. They quickly realized it was my choice and not theirs. Even if my parents are tolerant they sometimes can be too protective. They told me not to go out by night, to stay at school and keep myself safe. But of course, I did not follow all these rules. Even if I respect my parents’ authority I still think you should enjoy your life and go out. The first couple of months I was scared to attend classes alone. But my friends were always by my side. They were my biggest support. My friends helped me through this difficult period.

4.What was your vision of Belgium before the attacks?

Frankly, I did not know Belgium quite well. I represented Belgium as a rather small and peculiar country with a dense population.

My first impression was that the whole world stood with Brussels when terrorists attacked the Brussels airport and the subway. We all showed our compassion and solidarity in different ways. In my opinion that made the Belgians realize that they weren’t facing this problem alone.

The world is one big community. Religion, gender and skin colour don’t matter when you stand together.

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

Because Belgium is strategically located in the heart of Europe. This means that I can easily travel to the bordering countries. So far I have visited The Netherlands and Germany a few times.

Thomas More has a certain notoriety abroad especially in China. The excellent programmes such as Interior Design and Architecture measured up to my expectations. These courses add more value to my Curriculum Vitae. I will do everything to have the best education possible.

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

Belgium is a wonderful country with an abundance of magnificent cities, castles and churches. The country’s delicacies are world-renowned for their excellence. More importantly, Belgium established high standards for its educational systems.

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

Western media are much different from Asian media. Chinese news outlets are always objective. They use short sentences to describe a situation or an event. It is nearly a crime to be opinionated.

I could not help to notice that the Belgian media are biased.

They trigger emotions to have more ratings. Everything is more sensational. The news is not a reflection of reality but a reflection of a distorted reality. Western journalists are inclined to misrepresent facts.

The 20-year-old exchange student Annika Hiller lives in Germany near the Austrian and Swiss border. She left her native hometown for a semester abroad in Mechelen. Annika studies Tourism at Thomas More University College.

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1.Have you considered to cancel your trip to Belgium?

Germany was marked by recent attacks too. The small assaults in and near Munich made me realize that this topic concerns me as well. Germans had to cope with the permanent fear of having a new terrorist attack. But the police are very present. You never have the impression that they are working but when you take a peek behind the scenes you notice that they work 24/7 to guarantee your protection. I am sure this is the same for Belgium. I even believe Brussels is now a safer place than before the attacks.

2.Do you feel safe in Mechelen?

Mechelen is a small city sandwiched between Antwerp and Leuven. By this I mean that it is not a metropolis and that terrorists will not easily target Mechelen.

Seeing all the military forces in Brussels reminded me that the bombing blew up the Brussels airport and metro station in Maalbeek. That incident was fresh. You could still see the pain and grief in the city.

It takes some time for a wound to heal.

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

My dad made me go to Belgium. He was the reason why I chose Belgium over Australia. As a child he used to visit his former stepmother in Wallonia a lot. That is why he knows the region like the back of his hand. He even got the chance to explore Brussels a couple of times.

When I announced to my dad that I wanted to go to Australia he immediately freaked out. He joked about only visiting me if I went to Mechelen. I made up my mind and chose Belgium as my new temporary homeland.

My mother was more concerned about practical issues like choosing the right university college or educational programme. But in the end she was quite keen to let me go to Thomas More.

Frankly, I was more worried than they were.

4.What was your vision of Belgium before the attacks?

I knew little about Belgium. I did not have any expectations. But I must say that it is a beautiful country with a fascinating history. The historical buildings in Bruges, the vibrant capital and the culinary specialties have made an indelible impression on me. I used to think that the architecture was the same as in Germany. But I was wrong. Belgium is notable for having the most beautiful cities. Antwerp, Bruges, Mechelen and Ghent are truly my favourite metropolises. I see Brussels as a more cosmopolitan city.

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

I chose Belgium because it is a neighbouring country of Germany. I did not want to be too disoriented and feel homesick. But I would never have thought to go on holiday here. I knew nothing about the capital of Europe. The only thing I knew was that Belgium has the reputation to have the best waffles, fries and chocolate. I would never have experienced the country without going to university college here.

I thought it would be worth going to Mechelen and figure out what kind of neighbour Belgium is to Germany. The only difference with Germany is the mentality. Belgians tend to be more open-minded. And I really appreciate that characteristic.

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

Belgium is a wonderful country located at the heart of Europe. It has numerous student cities like Leuven, Mechelen and Ghent which encourage you to socialize with the locals. The food is scrumptious and the Belgian hospitality is legendary.

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

I don’t think they covered the recent events up. Media in Germany are very accurate and trustworthy. But they are protected by the freedom of speech. Which means that they can write whatever they want.

I didn’t relate to the latest news about the attacks because it was too far away. I live in a traditional, safe and remote region in the South of Germany. I had a lack of interest in it because it did not concern me. I am aware that it sounds selfish but it would actually mean more to me if the assaults happened in Austria or Switzerland. Because I live on the border of three countries.

This monster of prejudices was created by the media.

I have seen numerous Muslims who embrace other cultures. I believe that they are not our foe. Our only enemy is IS which is built by radical Salafists.

Text and pictures  ©Morgan Mc Kenzie