Ready to Make a World of Difference

Ready to Make a World of Difference

by Susan Neuhalfen

Jonas Meuleman moved from Belgium to Texas only three years ago to start an entirely new adventure with his family. Born and raised in Belgium, he left the only friends he knew, his band, his studies and his extended family to become a stranger in a strange land.

His father’s job brought them to Texas and to Lantana, where Jonas started high school at Guyer. He had had only two years of English but his educational background in Belgium was so extensive he tested out of many classes and graduated early at 17. He was a quick study, teaching himself to read at 3.

“We didn’t know he could read so young,” said his mother Katleen Speelman. “We would be in the car and he started reading street signs out loud. Sometimes I think he’s never been a kid; he was always exploring things on a quest to learn.”

He began reading everything he could find from newspapers to books to other forms of media. Learning became his passion and that is a trait that has stayed with him.

“I must specifically thank my parents for providing me with such an inquisitive attitude,” Jonas writes from Belgium where he is currently working. “It opened my mind extremely. This skill is something I have always cherished and kept close to my heart.”

Jonas is the oldest of three. His mother teaches French, Dutch and European history in a room she has turned into a classroom in their Lantana home. The name of her business is European Academy of Bright Stars, LLC. His father works for Kimberly-Clark. Jonas speaks Dutch, French and German and has also studied ancient Greek and Latin. Before moving to the U.S. they traveled extensively over Europe, exposing their children to new cultures and countries. Though moving to another country can sometimes cause culture shock, Jonas came in with an open mind.
His interest in politics really grew when he got to Texas and he began taking AP World History and U.S. Government classes at Guyer. One of the most influential teachers from Guyer High School was Jonas’ political science teacher, Kate Gengo. According to Jonas she gave him the strength and perseverance to pursue a career in diplomacy, a dream he has had for many years.

“I’ll be very surprised and disappointed if you aren’t UN Secretary General one day,” Mrs. Gengo wrote in his yearbook.

After graduation, Jonas began taking classes at UNT. His favorite was his Arabic class as he places great value on cultural diversity. He became involved in the United Nations club and UNICEF. While studying there he was selected to represent the U.S. at the WFUNA youth seminar in Kuala Lumpur. He described the event as life-changing.

“By seeing how a globally diverse group of young people coming from all over the world can come together, I am now more certain than ever what I want to be in my life and do for others,” said Jonas. “It was an honor to be part of a group who are united for global progress.”

This was the 5th WFUNA youth seminar. 30 of the students were from Malaysia and 30 from other countries. Jonas was the youngest student in attendance and represented the American delegation. The students are charged with goals, just like the United Nations. These youth delegations broke into small discussion groups working around issues such as gender, discrimination and racism in order to work toward peaceful societies all over the world.

In his never ending quest to learn, Jonas finished his semester at UNT with a 4.0 GPA and even made the President’s List. He decided to return to Belgium to study and experience the university system there. Because of his age and continual class workload as well as extracurricular activities, he hadn’t yet held a job. He decided before beginning his semester in Belgium to work at a factory there.

“I wanted to achieve some real work experience,” said Jonas. “A chance of living on my own will provide me with the necessary skills to be independent.”

He is also learning now, as an adult, the differences between living in the U.S. and living in Belgium. In February, he will begin his studies at the famous Catholic University of Leuven (KUL) founded in 1425. He has joined the Belgian WFUNA and will major in International Studies. His only disappointment is that he cannot continue his studies in Arabic though he does keep in touch with the Arabic teacher at UNT.

As he continues to study at KUL, he has his dreams set on one day being a diplomat. He hopes to one day attend Georgetown University.

“I’m convinced that the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service is the next logical step in my life,” said Jonas. “It is the best place for me to focus on my ultimate goal to serve the world as a diplomat.”

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