My time in Belgium was filled to the brim with adventurous moments, new discoveries, and everlasting memories. What started as a feeling of apprehension and excitement combined slowly shifted to a feeling of confidence paired with a newfound love for a new country, its people, and its way of life. My first few weeks in Brussels proved to be quite the adjustment period. Between learning my way around a new city (with signs in French and Dutch, rather than English!!!), trying to adjust to the living arrangements, and making a new set of friends, it was a surprisingly smooth transition; this is something I attribute to my level of excitement for the four months ahead of me.
Throughout my trip I was lucky enough to take several excursions with my program, my art class, and simply with friends. I believe I touched on a few of them in past blogs (Budapest and Paris). The excursions with my program included Waterloo and Bruges in Belgium, Luxembourg, The Hague and Delft in The Netherlands, Normandy and Bayeux in France, and Aachen, Germany. Each excursion had a learning aspect, as well as some free time to explore the each new city. In Delft I was able to try raw herring, which is a Dutch specialty. It is a raw fish with its head cut off, topped with raw onion. It was similar to sushi, although a bit too fishy for my taste. I found it difficult to get past the fact that I was eating an entire uncooked fish! In Normandy we saw a few of the D-Day beaches from World War II, which I’m sure you might have learned about in a history class. We also visited the D-Day cemetery, where a number of American soldiers were buried after World War II. The monument itself was incredible, but the reason for its existence, the death of thousands of men, was unsettling. On each of the excursions my program would provide dinner, which was usually some sort of local dish, each of which I enjoyed (surprisingly).
As I mentioned in a previous blog post I was enrolled in an art history class that had a number of trips throughout the semester to give us a firsthand look at the art and architecture we were learning about. We were lucky enough to visit Aachen and Cologne, Germany while learning about Roman architecture and city planning, because each of these towns had remnants of Roman architecture. Our trips to Antwerp and Bruges in Belgium aided us in learning about the way Belgium developed and why it grew to be a separated nation (as I’ve mentioned a few times before). Our Paris trip was filled with all sorts of history, all of which I mentioned in a previous blog post! My favorite trip was to Amsterdam in the Netherlands due to the number of museums we visited. While in Amsterdam we saw the Van Gogh Museum, the Anne Frank House, and the Rijks Museum to name a few. Getting to experience the subject matter learned in class in real life is such an incredible and beneficial way to learn. It allowed me to really understand and fully delve into what it was the professor wanted me to know about history and the art throughout it. The fact that I got to visit beautiful European cities was an added bonus!
After adjusting to Belgium and developing new friendships with the other students in my program I began to plan trips. With these new friends I was lucky enough to visit Antwerp, Belgium for a music festival, Rome, Venice, Florence, and Milan in Italy during the second half of our fall break (the first half was spent in Paris with my art class), Budapest, Hungary for a long weekend, Geneva and Gruyere, Switzerland for a trip to the Alps, and Barcelona, Spain for one last vacation and birthday celebration before heading back to the United States. Each trip was jam-packed with touristy activities, enjoying local dishes, and of course exploring as much as possible.
My time abroad has been one of the most important parts of my life so far. It was a time for me to develop my confidence and independence, it was a time for me to explore and take in cultures unbeknownst to me, and it was a time for me to build friendships that will surely last for years to come. While I miss the experiences and opportunities for adventure everyday, I’m so grateful I was able to take part in something so life changing. My outlook on life in the United States, and in Portland has been changed. I now realize how lucky I am to be a part of the amazing community that is Portland, but I still embrace the aspects of Belgian life I most enjoyed. I highly recommend studying abroad to anyone and everyone. Whether it be somewhere in Europe, Asia, or even somewhere closer to home, there are so many benefits that come from living the day to day life of a new culture, and fully immersing with a part of the world that may seem so foreign and unknown. It’s an experience that every single person can gain from, and one that I will remember for the rest of my life.
Thanks for the great semester and the compelling questions! I hope you all enjoyed learning about the various aspects of Belgium and the adventures I took elsewhere! As I said, studying abroad is something I highly encourage you to look into when you’re older. If you have any questions please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ve enjoyed writing about my experiences for you and I hope you all get the opportunity to travel in the future!