The Exchange Corner
Articles by Benjamin Goffin
Posted on 4/17/13
Spring break was even more spectacular than
I had even expected. Each day of the entire week visually
presented to my brother, whom I had not seen for seven months,
and me another portrait of America’s unique and fascinating
origin and history.
My only brother, Antoine, arrived on Friday, March 29th. For a
few days, he explored the city of Bluefield and nearby areas,
where I have lived since last August. We celebrated Easter
together. Then we left to take a trip to Washington, D.C. We
enjoyed discovering the “Federal City”. I will never forget
visiting the Capitol. Seeing the dome, the portraits and the
statues all of which gave me, at one glance, a picture of the
struggle this country endured to preserve its democracy.
Washington’s second plateau of remembrance for young visitors
from Belgium was the Holocaust National Museum. Who can enter
the museum’s doors without emotionally being stung by the
tragedy and suffering the relics of this event portray? Some
rooms contained televisions which played over and over the
atrocities of this never-to-be-forgotten page of history.
As a postlude, I would like to speak about the joy I had in
seeing my brother again. We had planned his visit since
Christmas. Even as his departure plane took off yesterday, April
10th, I will remember forever all the memories and the fun of
two weeks spent together. When will I see him again? I am going
back to my country at least for the summer. I feel more and more
a part of America. Nevertheless, I am looking forward to seeing
my country again!
Posted on 3/8/13
Sometimes, in American schools students get
into physical fights. It is a common thing.
But while parts of America go crazy and violent, I want to have
a thought for victims of violence all around the world. All
these innocents who are injured and killed. All the victims of
war. And all the soldiers. Soldiers who are instruments in the
hands of the democracies.
While students engaged horseplay, citizens of the earth die from
sickness and hunger.
I know some Belgian soldiers are at the moment fighting in Mali
to defend civil populations.
Today, all around the world there are some real wars. Real wars
which are not propagated by the media, but real wars that kill
Pictures by Benjamin Goffin
6 Months in America
Posted on 2/25/13
I have already
enjoyed six months here. Half of a year abroad...
I remember, I arrived in Washington, D.C., after a non-stop 10
hour flight. I took another plane to Beckley, W.V., and I was
here. In West-Virginia. I did not know anything about this
place. Or anybody. John Feuchtenberger and two German kids were
at the airport, waiting for me.
After a few days, I got to know them. John Feuchtenberger was
now my host father, while these two German chaps became my
It was a new world in front of me. I had many surprises, many
comments but also many questions. Conversation was not easy. We
often had already gone on talking about something else when I
got an English-speaking sentence straight in my French-speaking
With the first days at school, I discovered many unusual rules:
security guards in the school, no school bag in the hall, no
knife at lunch. Mic in each classroom, video camera in each
corner of the building. Almost this feeling of omnipresent
government surveillance described by Orwell in 1984.
I also found out about things which were not myths: Americans
like fast-food restaurants, donuts and peanut butter. In the
same way they enjoyed stores (which are huge) day and night. In
them, you can buy yogurt or lettuce and a few shelves further
guns, bullets or whatever.
The weeks were flying. Time flies when you are having fun. I
went to some school games. (Something we don't have over there,
we only play sports after schools, in clubs.) I supported the
Beavers. Then, came the Homecoming Dance.
We were closer to the elections. The political campaign was in
full swing. Even though coal-mining is now only history in
Belgium, here in West-Virginia it was at the center of current
But anyway, who cares about politics? Mountaineers won their
five first games. Now that's important!
However, several weeks later, after four years of presidency,
Barack Obama was re-elected by a majority of American citizens
to head this country for four more years.
I traveled a little bit. In West-Virginia, the mountain state.
And in Virginia, the mother of presidents. Once, in the latter,
I felt something funny. I was hearing country music, was eating
barbecue sandwiches, was looking at the farmland landscape. And
I felt like something warm, something wild, something South.
Like an old-school America.
Thursday, November 22nd, was my first Thanksgiving. Candles on
the table; fire in the fireplace; nice buffet; mouth-watering
turkey; great guests. The winter was getting closer and closer
and American families were united around this dinner to thank
I feasted at Christmas far from my motherland, but I wanted to
make this celebration of joy special, this celebration of
sharing lasting. The English novelist, Charles Dickens, said “I
will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all year.”
It was my frame of mind.
“Do you all know Wiz Khalifa, Snoop Dog, Lil Wayne or Biggie
Smalls? Over there, in your country? – I guess we do.” But it is
here, or more precisely at the Clay Center for the Arts &
Sciences of West-Virginia, Charleston, W.V., that I heard
Mozart’s Requiem Symphony. No rap. Something radically
different. But what are differences? Is it not something scary?
Something different? Like something you don’t know. Something
you can not anticipate. Traveling taught me one thing. Otherness
doesn’t make anything better or worse. Otherness makes one
appreciate fine shades of difference. And there is no reason to
think about it, you can only enjoy it presently and deeply feel
it. And that’s why I like traveling.
I have already enjoyed six months here. Half of my American
Where is Belgium?
Posted on 1/30/13
Some simply asked me where Belgium
was. Perhaps most of you thought Belgium was in Germany. I
remember a guy interrupting me:"No, don't say anything! I know
where Belgium is. In the Middle East, isn't it?”
We could say Belgium is a country between France, Germany and
Great Britain. Belgium is a country counting as population
eleven million people. Just to have an idea: almost
one-thirtieth the size of the United States of America.
In this small country, three languages, three communities, four
regions, divided in ten provinces but one capital city: Brussels
(also European Union's de facto capital and NATO'S headquarter).
Through centuries, Belgium fought for its identity, its freedom,
Belgium is not a nation, it is a kingdom made from a several
nations. The kingdom seeks respect and equality among its
In Belgian history, there are also dark ages: the lack of
understanding between communities; the colonialist period; and
the atrocities and oppressed population during the first and the
second world wars.
Belgium can simply be described as the country of Belgian
waffles, beers or chocolates;
The land of the famous “Manneken-Pis” (you know, this sculpture
of a little boy relieving himself!);
The land of the Brussels World’s Fair Atomium;
A country of industries, of tourism, of humanism and social
A country for which young American soldiers gave their lives in
the cold and the snow in the name of liberty against the German
A country welcoming and opened to the world around;
A country of... A country for...
Simply my country.
Vive le Roi, la Loi, la Liberté!
Long live the King, the Law, the Liberty!