Living and traveling in different countries this semester has allowed me to recognize a lot about nationalism and patriotism. Similar to the U.S. and American Football, Belgium has adopted a new patriotism incited by their own football (soccer) team, according to one of my Belgian housemates. In their game last Tuesday, as fans covered themselves in flags and other Belgian-colored paraphernalia, they watched their team succeed in beating the Israeli soccer team, making them the world’s top-ranked football team this year. When they finished, the crowd went WILD.
Small things like victories in football or traditions like tailgating in the U.S. add to the idea that your identity can somewhat be defined by the place you live. You can be proud of that! Being apart of your own community and nation where you have your own unique culture, music, language, games, food, and much more is a factor in shaping who we are as people. The diversity amongst the cultures that appear because of this is absolutely incredible.
One of the most life-changing experiences that made this idea of nationalism even more clear to me was my trip to Palestine this past weekend. Before I came to Belgium, I joined Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a student organization led by my fellow study-abroader and Hanover student, the wonderful Sima Altal. The group itself seeks to educate the Hanover campus about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and the number of different issues that heighten this conflict. It is amazing, however, to notice the difference in my education between simply hearing and learning about the conflict, and then to actually experience it by visiting the areas. Sima, here in Leuven with me, asked me to come with her for the weekend to surprise her mom for her birthday, and I wholeheartedly accepted the invitation (when else would I be able to visit?!). And one of the things I was hit with most while I was there was how necessary nationalism is to keep Palestine alive.
Before I visited, when I thought of U.S. nationalism, I thought of winning football games and singing the national anthem. I associated nationalism as a small part of the U.S., that honestly, I tend to find a bit annoying and shallow. Yet, when I was in Palestine, I witnessed a new level of nationalism. The use of Palestinian flags, patterns, history, symbols; everything counted in reminding its citizens and visitors that it is a nation with rights that need to be recognized. There is no escaping the pride in culture, music, art, and (for some) religion that created their identity as a nation.
It seemed so crucial, and so, so important to the survival of the nation to have pride and be active in keeping their nation alive.
It was a sobering and amazing experience that I think will continue to keep me questioning and understanding my own pride in the country that raised me.