Case study: Lucas Surgeon, Brussels 2023/24

3262cf86-d17a-434b-8f91-3a38680d7ab6In October 2023, I embarked on an exciting six-month journey to Brussels with support from the John Speak Languages Trust.

Thanks to funding and continual encouragement from the Trust, this experience not only broadened my professional horizons but also deepened my understanding of the French language and Belgian culture.

Upon my arrival, the challenge began immediately with a housing mix-up (where the landlord attempted to sneakily rent out my room to another tenant whilst I had to undergo surgery for a room that I had already signed the contract of and was already paying for!), meaning that I was faced with a battle against the complexities of the Belgian renting market and a pretty awful and dishonest person to deal with. This unexpected hurdle was the first real test of my language abilities, having to read up on complex laws, reporting to the local commune, and ultimately arguing my case all in a foreign language (something that would’ve been hard enough in English!). With help from French friends, I thankfully managed to navigate local bureaucracy to get my money back and secure a place to live.c917bc5b-951d-4bba-876d-eb61b986a786

My internship, situated in the heart of European politics, gave me a great insight into how the UK operates and conducts policy with our largest trading partner, something I got real first-hand experience with in the Economic Affairs team. From debating economic policies to crafting international agreements, each day was filled with engaging tasks that utilised and enhanced my language skills. Attending meetings and discussions inside the European Commission was particularly insightful. I even had the opportunity to get a feel for the atmosphere at various EU institutions, including a visit to the European Council, which was documented in my November report.

1708079483000The cultural aspect of my stay was equally enriching. I lived with Erasmus students from France, which allowed me to experience an immersion of the French language both at home and at work. Through the British embassy I managed to have a lot of contact with Belgians, working at the mission, who were always keen to share aspects about Belgian culture and history (teach-ins, excursions, etc.). Seeing Brussels change through its seasons was also great, from the snow-covered streets in January and the break of Spring just as I was leaving, the six months there really gave me a full impression of Belgium. By the end I had found that my French skills had been considerably honed, finding it easy to switch between French and English, something that will be really important continuing on this path of international affairs. Finally, funnily enough the departure from Brussels was almost as disastrous as the arrival. The chaotic yet humorous ordeal with every taxi refusing to take me, leading to me inevitably missing my train by 6 minutes made my final moments just as memorable as my first.

I’d like to recommend two things for anyone looking to also go for the John Speaks Languages Trust before closing:

  1. For immersion, really insist that you want to only speak the language.

Although our reputation as a country is very poor for language learning, this very instance of insisting is really hard from a British perspective. I think it feels rude for us because many people would like to practise their English with a native speaker. You just need to persevere and be clear about why you are abroad. I said very openly and honestly that I am abroad to learn about their culture and to learn their language, something that is usually well received.

  1. Don’t be discouraged by mistakes. Perfectionism with language learning will only hold you back.

I have made many funny double entendres in French. Just persevere and learn to laugh at yourself when saying things that aren’t 100% correct.


Overall, my time in Brussels was a transformative period that equipped me with invaluable skills and experiences. The support from the John Speak Languages Trust was instrumental in making this journey possible, and I am deeply grateful for the opportunity. I’m looking forward to applying the knowledge gained here to my future endeavours and encourage others to embrace such enriching experiences that undoubtedly shape personal and professional paths.

Posted in Case Study, Monthly Reports