The reality of my opportunity to participate in this project has yet to set in. The moment I heard about the dig, I knew that I was meant to be here; it was almost like deja-vu.
An overwhelming excitement mixed with an undertone of terror flew through me when I was first accepted into the Walhain-St.-Paul Project. This has been an adventure of “firsts”: the first time that I have ever been to Europe, the first time I have been a part of an archaeological excavation, and even the first time I have ever seen a castle (other than in movies). I have never been so drawn to an experience; this was meant for me, and I am absolutely supposed to be here. Not until my arrival at the airport in Brussels, after walking through customs, did I finally realize that I had, in fact, been chosen to participate in uncovering a piece of the medieval past.
Immediately following my dizzying excitement, nerves set in. Am I going to be able to do this? What if I make a mistake? What are the other students going to be like? I have to spend a month with them, what if we don’t get along? Now that we have all come together in this beautifully green and castle-dotted country, I finally feel like I can answer some of these questions.
Yes, I am going to be able to do this. The instructors have been so understanding and patient with us. When we have a question about the area we are excavating, one of them will come right over and help us stay on track. They are almost always somewhere in the vicinity of the castle, drawing the site or excavating, and will point out any unintentionally (or otherwise) destructive behavior or suggest a better tool to use for a specific area or task.
If mistakes are made, the instructors explain how to do things differently in order to better preserve what we can. For many of us, this is our first time excavating. They understand that reality, and they do what they can to acquire as much information as possible from the excavation while at the same time instructing and guiding the next generation of potential archaeologists or historians.
All of us students are from different areas of the United States, and most of us have different personal as well as academic backgrounds. There are thirteen of us this year, and we all have at least something in common with one another. Whether it be the love of cats (Carlos), Disney movies, or past hardships, we enjoy each other’s company and have created a great support group. For many of us, this is the first time away from our families, and we all try to be welcoming and comforting.
There are undoubtedly groups of people who spend more time together than with others. It’s human nature to find people who you feel comfortable with. Something that I have found is that as long as everyone at least attempts to be friendly and helpful, the rest of the group will do the same in return. The “Golden Rule” is important when working with others and when living in such close quarters, and we all try to remember that we are all in this together. We didn’t come here to make enemies, we came here to be a part of something bigger: to uncover the past and to possibly find people who share common interests.
This is one of the most important and exciting things I have ever done in my life. The beautiful museums, castles, towns, and towers that I have seen already on this trip have been so interesting and different from America that I don’t think I could ever spend enough time wandering and experiencing Europe. The fact that I’m in Belgium excavating a castle is still something that I have trouble believing. I don’t know how I have become so lucky as to do something like this. The only thing more unforgettable than the experience of excavating at the Walhain castle and learning so much about Belgian history is the people who I have had the honor of meeting here. I have never felt so comfortable with a new group of people so quickly. The first day, most of us girls found ourselves in one of the dorm rooms laughing, exchanging stories, watching YouTube videos, and bonding, forming an instant fellowship. It was as if we had already known each other for years.
This ridiculous group of guys and gals is one that I will simply never forget.
Bonnie Davidson (’14)