Visiting friends in a Twin City adds new meaning to vacation

Next year will mark the 40th anniversary of New Iberia’s twinning, or “Jumelage,” with a city in Belgium on the outskirts of Brussels. Woluwe-Saint-Pierre students and youth of the Teche Area have been exchanging lives learning about the other side of the world for years. Unfortunately, it was mostly from there to here — until this year.

Four students from New Iberia hosted Belgian teens Dorian Ceulemans, Julie Laduron, Mahaut Magin and Jade Thibault last year, but in 2018 the Louisiana friends took the trip. Chaperones Ebrar and Jean Reaux also stayed in host homes for 17 days.

One of the benefits to the travelers in Brussels is that local officials and budgets designate funds to send and receive the Twin City visitors. In addition to the $4,000 that paid for outings to nearby cities and the coast, the host students and Louisiana teens toured caverns, parliament, a mining museum and more. If their enthusiasm is any indication of the excursion, the time and expense was worth it.

The investment brought obvious rewards as each of the students remarked about things that were different from living in the United States. The insightful parents included Chad and Danielle Fremin Boudreaux (Layne, 16), Jonathan and Juliette Armentor Granger (Jack, 16), Ashley Reaux Orduna (Lilly, 16) and Paul and Angel Broussard Reaux (Catherine, 19). The chaperones, Jean and Ebrar Reaux, were grandparents to the cousins.

Learning By Living Elsewhere

Education becomes fun when students bring experiences into play like visiting with hosts about the importance of recycling, which residents of Belgium “take very seriously.” The systems in homes include colored recycle bags that even include hoops so younger children can throw their items in the container.

The Twinning expense budget provided by Woluwe-Saint-Pierre put them all on the fast train to Paris arriving in about an hour. Stairs replaced elevators in most of the buildings since most were old or had small lifts. Even the Arc de Triomphe required climbing stairs, Jack said. They walked everywhere which included cobblestone streets — bricks to the younger travelers.

Not that these activities were over-exhausting for teenagers, but while they were in Belgium, a heat wave came through bringing average temperatures during the day to around 95 degrees — the July average is mid-60s, lows in January around 35. Rains were welcomed to cool the days, nights were already much lower.

Similar to New Iberia at the same period of time, the difference felt by young and older visitors from New Iberia was the fact the buildings don’t use air conditioning. Cool morning baths were the main refreshment.

Food was a popular topic of conversation during the recap of the trip. A favorite among all was the Lotus brand spread made from “Europe’s favorite cookie.” Layne Boudreaux learned the hard way not to bring food back in carryon baggage. Tears did not deter the customs agent who made her throw the treasure away. Since others had packed some in checked luggage, she was able to get another jar.

Cajun treats were packed for the trip over as gifts for the Belgium hosts. Each student had unique Louisiana items for their hosts but the favorites were Cane River Pecans from New Iberia and Louisiana’s shake, Tony Chachere.

Bread “vending” machines on nearly every corner was a novelty as was unsliced bread. “No one drives,” was the best explanation for so many thin residents. Most of the travelers’ transportation needs were met by riding trains or the metro systems and trams. Water is consumed straight from the tap which was a fascination for Lilly, a resident of Loreauville.

A side trip took them down into a former working coal mine in Blegny, one of the four authentic coal mines in Europe with underground galleries accessible for the visitors through the original shaft. Equipped with a jacket and a helmet, the teens took a mining cage down to the galleries located between 100 to 200 feet below the ground level. With tools still in place, darkness and the smelly environment, the students could understand why the working conditions were so dangerous.

The lack of internet was not missed with so many things to see and do, but the value of electric chargers became appreciated as they pedaled bicycles in the airport to charge their phones. Also in the airports were play areas and activities for children, like trampolines, so little ones could expend energy before taking a long flight to somewhere else in the world.

Catherine at 19, the oldest of the four exchange students, noticed how much less complaining she heard and said, “we complain a lot more.” She was enamored by the old city architecture, perhaps more than others because she is a student of architecture at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

One of the highlights of the tour in Brussels was the Victor Horta house, Ebrar Reaux said. Catherine agreed. The Horta Museum is located in the private house and studio of Victor Horta (1861-1947) and was built between 1898 and 1901 in Saint-Gilles, Brussels. The two buildings are typical of Art Nouveau at its height.

“The interior decoration has largely been retained, the mosaics, stained glass and wall decorations forming a harmonious and elegant whole, down to the last detail,” the website for the museum said.

Sister Cities

New Iberia, Louisiana, USA is one of six Twin City pairings with Woluwe-Saint-Pierre. Other relationships include Pecica in Romania, District Ruyumba in Rwanda, Chao Yang in China, Gangnam in South Korea and Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Three rivers play into the community which is fresh and humid with weak thermal variations, according to their website, available in English as well as French and the Netherlands official language, Dutch.

Twinning with New Iberia occurred in September 1979 under Mayor J. Allen Daigre, with Minus Armentor, Senator Sam Broussard and Jackie Voorhies.

Looking Forward to 40

One Teche Area student mentioned, and all agreed, they hear so much about people going all over Europe, but rarely to Belgium. They considered Brussels and their Twin City to be a hidden gem. Americans don’t always think of the ancient city of Brussels to be the Washington D.C. of the European Union, but it is.

The suggestion was made by several of the parents and adults involved stateside that twinning might consider an adult exchange next year. A 40th Anniversary trip sounds like a goal and one worthy of exploration.

Load comments