By H.E. Rybol
Photo credit: Claude Wians
Whenever I tell people I grew up in Luxembourg, they look at me like a question mark. They have difficulties picturing… well, something. Fair enough, it’s a tiny country and not exactly an exotic destination known for its cozy climate.
So, what is it like growing up in little known Luxembourg?
If we start on the outside and work our way in, I could start with telling you that a bunch of European Institutions are based in Luxembourg. What does that mean, besides a truck load of bureaucracy? It means you have a whole lot of people from a whole lot of different nationalities! So Luxembourg is multilingual big time! Actually, according to the Luxembourg Statistics Portal, 44,5% of the population are foreigners. Hello, languages!
You also have, lo and behold, different education systems: Luxembourgish, French, International and European…that I know of.
Throughout the year, you’ll find events that celebrate this multilingualism and multiculturalism like for example the Bazar International (this year on 30 November-1 December, if anyone wants to pop by) where you’ll find stands from many of the nationalities represented in Luxembourg that sell traditional food as well as arts and crafts from their home countries.
So what does that mean for a kid growing up there?
It means that you walk the streets hearing all kinds of languages spoken around you, all the time. You see people of all nationalities eating, laughing and working together.
That’s what I saw all around me, at home, in town, at school.
You see, I went to the European school. It works like this: In every school year, there are school sections for each language of the European Union. Depending on how many students there are, you might have one or two classes per language section. So for example, in my year there were two German classes, two Italian classes, two French classes, one Greek class…. you get the idea.
The main courses were taught in your main language. Over the years, everyone was thrown together for PE, second language, third language, history, geography and some optional courses. We all shared the same playground, courtyard and food court. We took the same buses home.
We also had a bunch of theater groups (I remember the German one, a French one and an English one), an orchestra and a big band. Students formed other bands together and the courtyards were filled with boys playing soccer – both across all nationalities.
In December, the Danish section celebrated St. Lucy’s Day. It was freezing outside and suddenly, the lights went out and the Danish girls, dressed up in white and carrying candles, walked through school singing St. Lucy’s song. Everyone streamed out of the classrooms to watch them sing their way through the darkened school. I always loved that day.
In the choir, kids from all countries sang in all languages. We were taught the pronunciation to be able to sing the songs and the meaning of a phrase or two. We asked each other about the rest but never remembered all of it. So we didn’t really know what we were singing, but it didn’t matter. We all stood up on stage together, sang each other’s songs and let ourselves be carried by the melodies.
That’s the school I went to from kindergarden until high school graduation. Looking back I realize that, linguistically and culturally speaking, we were all spoiled rotten and I am unbelievably grateful for it.
But growing up like that has consequences. For me, growing up in an environment like that (in addition to my TCK-ism) means several things:
- being in a predominantly monolingual environment makes me feel claustrophobic
- hearing all languages spoken around me feels comforting, like home (regardless of location)
- I have an unshakeable belief that people from different cultures and faiths can live together peacefully and get along. I know that we can relate to one another based on our shared humanity, if we only allow ourselves to see it.
Of course, this is just a small peek at one aspect of life in Luxembourg, and a subjective one at that. There are many, obviously, and if you’re just a little curious, this website might take you a little further.
H.E. Rybol is a third culture kid (TCK), foodie and culture shock enthusiast. She loves relaxed conversations, the outdoors and the smell of freshly mowed lawn. She writes at Culture Shock Toolbox.
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