My Summer Study Abroad: Life-Changing

October 23, 2008 at 12:14 pm Leave a comment

I studied Abroad in Brussels, Belgium this past summer for a month. My Dad was a pilot for 35 years and my Mom was a flight-attendant for 10 years, so needless to say my sister and I have been raised on the saying, “the world is your playground.” My parents have always encouraged me to travel whenever I have the chance and to soak up every experience I encounter. I decided to step out of my “comfort zone” at the time and study abroad for a month. (I thought a month was a long time going into the trip, but a month flew by!) I was asked to reflect on my experiences while abroad… and I feel my responses to these particular questions help descirbe why my experience was life-changing, enjoy…

Why did you choose to study abroad in Brussels?

I chose to study abroad in Brussels for a number of reasons. First, it was very desirable since Clemson has the CUBC center located there, so I was able to earn 6 direct credit hours. Often, people decide to study abroad in other big cities such as Paris, but many do not realize that Brussels is the capital of the European Union, so there is a great deal of activity and rich culture! Also, Brussels is a desirable city to study abroad in due to its location relevant to other countries.   

What has been one of the most outstanding moments since you’ve been abroad?

I have had too many outstanding moments since studying abroad to mention just one. But to narrow it down to three, I would say spending evenings in the Grand Place (Brussels’ Beautiful Town Square) with friends was among one of the best! We would bring bread, cheese, and wine and all sit together in a circle while laughing, people watching, and admiring the beautiful architecture surrounding us! We would all look to each other and say “We are in Europe!” The second most memorable moment was sitting on the lawn in front of the Eiffel Tower. The first 10 minutes of every hour starting at 10:00pm the Eiffel Tower is illuminated with twinkling lights, it is definitely an “a-ha” moment and a sight to see!  A third outstanding moment was when a group of girls and I traveled 2 hours on the train to Cologne, Germany for the weekend. Once we arrived at our hotel, we were invited to the hotel owner’s 50th Birthday Party being held in the hotel lobby. We decided to go and enjoyed an authentic German dinner, open bar, and live German music. We spent the evening dancing and meeting a  wonderful German family who spoke little English!

How do you enjoy the school environment in Europe as opposed to here at Clemson? Better? Worse? Why?

The school environment I experienced was on a more personal interactive level. I enjoyed the change mostly due to the wonderful Communications professor I had. He is a highly recognized Belgian Journalist who writes on International issues. He shared many personal stories with our class which added to the level at which we got to know him.

 

Are the students your age relatively similar to those in the US, or are they significantly different?

The students our age were surprisingly similar in the activities they enjoy and classes they take. However, one major difference is that they are expected to become fluent in at least three languages as opposed to our one! Also, I realized from studying abroad that although it seems you are worlds apart, there are similarities amongst people that unites us all and brings the world together.

Was it difficult to acclimate to the lifestyles/culture in Brussels? Why or why not.

At first it was difficult, but it was mostly fun and interesting to acclimate to the many lifestyle/culture differences. For instance, their reliance on the metro system made us learn how to navigate our way around the city. Also, most buildings, such as our hotel, was not air conditioned. However, we solved this “problem” by simply opening the big windows and used fans to get fresh air! The dining experience was a change because it is viewed as a much more relaxing outing spent with friends rather than a rushed experience. Overall, their lives are much more fast-paced; however they still make time for an afternoon beer or lunch break with friends.

Did you have any off-time in order to explore? If so, where did you go?

We had classes Monday-Thursday, so we were able to travel on the weekends. Within Belgium, I explored Bruges, Oostende and Antwerp. Weekend trips included: Amsterdam, Cologne (Germany) and Paris. We traveled to these places by the very reliable train system! It was wonderful exploring other countries, but it was always nice returning to Brussels, our “home away from home”, at the end of the weekend.

 Did you make many friends while abroad? Did you encounter any other Americans, other than students?

We made “Belgian” friends mostly while spending time in the local bars and restaurants. Most spoke conversational English and were very willing to give advice on fun places to go and things to do while in Brussels! They were always excited to hear we were from the United States and enjoyed asking questions or making comments about the upcoming presidential election. We also encountered other American students studying abroad as well as other Americans. While singing karaoke, we met two different groups of Air Force Officers stopping through Brussels on their way to the Middle East.

Would you study abroad in Brussels again, or would you prefer to study somewhere else? If so, where?

If given the opportunity I would love to study abroad in Brussels again! Although Brussels is a smaller city, there is so much to see and I would find it fun to return to a place in order to discover even more! Traveling to other cities also gave me an opportunity to discover where else I would like to travel in my lifetime. Paris is such an amazing city with an incredible amount to see, so I would definitely enjoy returning there for more than a weekend!

 Has studying abroad influenced your view on education/studying?

Travel has always been an important aspect in my family, but after studying abroad with other college students and having to acclimate for a month, I definitely believe studying abroad is an experience everyone should try to incorporate into their college years. It made me realize that even students across the world are having to study hard for an exam, which made me appreciate the education I have been given. Also, studying abroad made me realize education is so much more than memorizing definitions or formulas. Educating yourself is about exploring the outside world, placing oneself in sometimes unfamiliar situations, and learning as much as possible from the people and situations you encounter along the way.

 Has studying abroad given you a different perspective on living in the United States?

Studying abroad in Brussels was a wonderful experience, but one that made me appreciate the United States. It made me value the freedoms America provides as well as the comfortable lifestyle. Although Europe has its many prides, being away from my country made me even more proud of my homeland and to call myself an American!  A famous person once said, “But all of them rang true, and reminded me of why I travel: to learn and grow, to challenge myself, stretch my limits and foster an appreciation of both the world at large and the chair waiting in front of the woodstove back home.”

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