BFTF Essay Winner Wouter-Jan on his 4-Week Stay in the U.S.

The recipe is pretty simple: select sixty eight driven youngsters, coming from every thinkable country between San Francisco and Moscow, all clearly bright, some even brilliant and none of them afraid of certain ambition; put them for a month together in the perfect, paradise-like setting that the Wake Forest University Campus provides in Winston Salem, North Carolina, THE United States of America; finally add some enthusiastic mentors, experienced professors, controversial topics, visits to important historical places and civic engagement that has to be done … et voilà: this is what we call BFTF.

How simple it is to describe the concept, believe me, you cannot imagine how impossible it occurs to me right now to portray its outcome. It is like trying to describe the supreme flavour of the perfect brownie (hard and cold on the outside, hot and liquid inside), or illustrating the idyllic scene of a spectacular sunset after a wonderful day, that just set the whole sky in fire. The words that should help describing what happens on these unique moments when heaven puts foot on earth are simply not invented yet. However, let at least give me a try to come close then, keeping in mind that typical American creed that proved its right on several levels this summer; nothing is impossible.

Let’s go:
Taking part in the Benjamin Franklin Transatlantic Summer Institute 2012 affected me in my deepest inner self, as well in the person I am towards others, in ways I couldn’t possibly predict. The expression ‘life changing’ is so often used and therefore lost his strong, true meaning; but related to my month in America I think it are the only words that could slightly come close to expressing what BFTF did with me.
From the moment you are born, you build up an own identity and a certain view towards the rest of the world, based on the place and the way you are raised, the friends you meet and the small, early choices you have to make already. By staying always in the same environment and having mostly the same people around you, that first identity gets constantly acknowledged, what makes you think you know yourself. Especially as an almost eighteen years old you think easily you got it all together, have nothing to learn anymore so you feel ready to go, see and conquer the world. That might have been the attitude I arrived with in America and I can guess I was not the only one.

But everything changes when you get dropped in that totally new and unique environment of all these wonderful, intelligent international people, all with their own cultural and personal different backgrounds. Throughout working with them, talking, and laughing together, you get to know so many other aspects of life which might initially not have been directly present in your home surroundings. You get confronted with the fact that from the other side of the border, from the other side of the ocean, things can be seen on a totally different way that definitely makes sense too. Leaving your safe, reliable home by putting a small step in ‘the world’ makes you understand that others, that the world and that especially you yourself are so much more complex than the way you saw all these things before from your own small and simple cocoon you had always lived in.

Thanks to these others, eventually, you find and are almost forced to reinvent yourself. That is what I mean with ‘life changing’ and why I am so grateful to have gotten this opportunity.

Realising afterwards that never ever so many wonderful, interesting, clever and engaged people will be together again, tastes really sour, and makes you feel sad. On the other hand, I understand now myself what effect this kind of programs can have on the self-development of young people, and because others deserve it as much as I did, I would love to create something that makes these things possible for others too.

Beside the aspect of learning a lot from each other, classes took a big part of the day too during the program. Many of my friends home did not really understand why I wanted to attend lessons about complex constitutions and difficult diplomacy during my holidays, but honestly, for me it never really felt that way. Eventually I realise now that when you talk about politics, international relationships, debate or diplomacy you essentially discuss the same daily life issues you would argue with your friends, only on a slightly different, mostly bigger scale. In fact you only build further on the discovery of your own identity by putting it into practice in challenging situations, even if it is just a simulation of a conflict that not even exists and where you do not even defend your own opinion.

Because in the end ‘International diplomacy’ is all about making reasonable agreements funded on shared values that both parties find tolerable, just like the harmony you should search for in living together with other persons. So, yes, eventually it is nothing different too from the story how that exceptional, unbreakable band started growing between young students from whole over the world. As a result, the visit to the Capitol, the simulation in the State Department, the Debate Classes or the comparing constitutionalism classes did not feel at all like switching from the fun part of the program to the content part, it just all perfectly fitted in that one, bigger, extraordinary BFTF flow that from the beginning captured every substance of me and will probably, hopefully never let met go.

I think it is better to end here because before I know I start writing a whole book about my month in the USA. But before I end, only this; I had never ever thought I would find a second home on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. Especially not in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (of all places!). So based on my experience you can definitely let out the ‘host’ out of host family or host dad; because it is incredible how I found a new home in only one week. Again, impossible to express with ink and paper, you should have been there, or take part in your own BFTF adventure if it is possible; you will definitely understand me then!

With love
Wess (also known as; Wouter-Jan)


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