Part 1

Friday 9th of June 2017

The morning meetings  of the business trip have come to an end around noon-time, so that I could catch the early flight to return to the office. In the afternoon, the Mayor of Mechelen, Bart Somers, invited us in his office in the Town Hall of Mechelen. He was informed about the “We l.o.v.e. Europe” project of Continental and found this so interesting and important that he would meet the team and discuss about the project. Moderated by the managing director Mr.Van Thielen, it was really an inspiring conversation and during the contact with the trainees, the Mayor showed a strong interest in this Continental project and its focus on Europe.  This is what I could take away from this visit which was for me personally a ‘once in a life time’ experience: The future of Europe and the belief in Europe is being questioned more and more but we must continue to believe in the European project despite the disagreements about the Union. It has spent seventy years peace on a continent that was destroyed by demons who were tamed by Europe. It means a lot to us and will mean much in the future. Young people should more realize that they are European citizens.We discussed about how local and regional authorities and companies can be the key to the problems we are facing today in Europe. About how job growth, the creation of new jobs, the migration process and successful integration without segregation, about the dialogue European citizens have and how initiatives like ‘We L.O.V.E. Europe’ can bring people closer.

It’s highly appreciated that Continental has facilitated and financially supported such a project. Our Mayor is a strong believer that listen to the down to earth practices and experiences of such initiatives. The mayor also asked our trainees what they have learned so far by participating this project. A final message for our trainees: if you work hard, use your talents and do your best then you can conquer a better future for yourself. The event has been finished with a group photo. “Another tick off my bucket list!” A bit excited from this visit, we returned to the office but –of course- not without having together a good pint of beer, brewed in Mechelen.

In the evening the trainees and the guest family enjoyed a tasty dinner in a local restaurant named ‘the Margriet’ (referring to Archduchess Margaret of Austria) and a slot show of a cultural project ‘Op.Recht.Mechelen’ with lots of sound and light effects on the historical buildings in the city center.

Saturday 10th of June 2017

Today is a free day for our guests. But of course not without performing first some obligations that makes living in a host family more pleasant: cleaning and dishwashing. After 10:00 am Patrick and Max left the house, stating that no evening dinner should be needed due to late return from  a one day Paris trip with their  interrail-pass. But at 5:30PM, suddenly the door of our house opened (not by itself)…Are they really so happy in our house? Later it became clear that using the Interrail pass on a Thalys train was not that easy without reservations and the trip to Paris, had been ‘upgraded’ to a sightseeing of Brussels city.

The day was finished with a common dinner and enjoying sitting in the garden with pleasant temperatures and some cold drinks, we had some interesting discussions together about young people and their future in Europe, we reflected again about our unique visit yesterday by our Mayor Bart Somers at the Town Hall of Mechelen and we ended with a review on his last book ‘Living together- A hopeful strategy against IS’. It was a nice evening where everybody could reflect his point of view in an open way. It surprised me how young people can sometimes struggle with themselves and with the faith in the power of our society. Also for our kids, this conversation brought a lot of added value.

Sunday 11th of June 2017

Another free day for our guests. Out of bed by sunrise, because today Patrick and Max will join a promising activity of the Mechelen personnel club: Under the guidance of the organizer Geert Spelier and Stefaan Van Thielen, a unique culinary ”Champagne Walk” of 9km on the beach of De Panne at the Belgian coast. Marleen, the assistant of the HR department was so kind to come over to our house to pick-up Max and Patrick at this early hour and after some small guided tour, they left our house for a 1,5h bus trip to the beautiful Belgian coast.As the girls needed to study for tomorrow’s exams, the rather quiet hours in our house could be utilized optimally.

Much later in the evening, our guests returned with a high level of tanned skin and even more enthusiasm about the nice day they could experience: they told us about their pleasant experience (also the songs on the bus) and showed the pictures of the champagne aperitif with oysters, the fish starter with the musical performance and the main course of meat at the J-Club. Also the cheese platter, dessert and after-party were highly appreciated. They could really appreciate the fact that all the dishes were paired with champagne.

For our guests, this was indeed an extraordinary experience of the Belgian culture through interaction with Continental colleagues and social activities.

Tired but very satisfied about today’s experiences, everyone went to bed.

Monday 12th of June 2017

Cycling to the office with this nice weather is enjoyable, but sometimes it is difficult to keep up the pace from young people. Working day started at 8:30 AM, and this evening a visit to the hairdresser and some shopping in Mechelen city has been put on our things to do list. We’ve enjoyed the undivided attention of one of the top beauty and styling artists in the city (my wife). The work has won accolades. And, of course, an extreme makeover opened the way to a ‘new us’. We laughed and made some fun about this most radical and thorough treatment plan. Nice experience of an extreme makeover. What also surprised me a lot today, is the fact that some -here not-named- Continental colleagues tend to treat the trainees almost like their own sons. Very nice experiences.


Tuesday 13th of June 2017

It’s nice to hear that Max and Patrick have been progressively involved in the work processes, emphasizing their growing curiosity and their willingness to grasp knowledge!

Wednesday 14th of June 2017

After work, we performed a sight-seeing tour in Brussels: the Atomium, the King’s church and palace, the Belgian parliament and some buildings of the European parliament. The organization of some cultural and leisure experiences for “our guests” has been really an enriching experience for all involved!

Thursday 15th of June 2017

A small walk in Mechelen city and some beers on the terrace of the local pub with typical Belgian beers made this day another special one.

It’s really nice to see how motivated the trainees are and the fact that they are showing this high level of ownership makes it really pleasant for us as a guest family.

Friday 16th of June 2017

After an interesting closing day at the Continental plant, rooms were cleaned-up for the next wave of visitors and we decided to organize together a so called ‘closing’ barbecue with several typical dishes of the region.

Nice food, interesting discussions and a small contest “who can best cook a marshmallow on the BBQ” …

Saturday 17th of June 2017

7:30 AM: Time to return home and travel to the next Continental location. The WhatsApp messages we received during that weekend proved the fact that this ‘We l.o.v.e. Europe Project’ has really brought lots of added value for these young people, but also for us as a guest-family.

At least we are now well aware about why we are supporting interesting programs like this…


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