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02/12/2013

One Month Check-In

I cannot believe I’ve been here for a month already, that just blows my mind and kinda freaks me out. It’s going by so fast!! Too fast actually…

In my first post I mentioned some things that I was nervous about and some things that I was excited for coming into the whole abroad experience. Now that I’m one month in I figured this would be a good time to revisit those initial thoughts and concerns.

One thing that was making me extremely nervous was the fact that I was about to move so far away from home and all my family. I’ve always been anxious to part with my core group of people. I remember crying before the 5th grade overnight trip to the mountains, I just skipped the 8th grade DC trip, and going away to college was made less difficult only because I had so many close friends going with me. Honestly, the fact that I’m not as anxious about being so vastly separated from them surprises me. This is something that still kind of bothers me when I think about it too much (what if something happens and I can’t get back in time sort of thing), but overall the transition into being in Europe hasn’t been as hard as I originally expected it to be. While I’m at school in the states I’m used to talking to my mom almost every day on the phone and that’s something that isn’t as easy to do here with the time difference and her lack of iPhone (get with it mama). Not being able to talk to my family as easily has probably been the hardest thing to get used to. But again, it’s not as bad as I was anticipating. I think this is because one, it is still pretty easy to keep in touch with my family with facebook, email, skype, and the countless iPhone apps. And two, I feel so at home here and so comfortable here and therefore I’m not as ‘homesick’ but more ‘peoplesick’ at times (new word, run with it).

Not knowing anyone on my program coming into study abroad was also something that was making me pretty nervous. So many of my friends went abroad together and are living together which would have made the transition so much easier. I, on the other hand, hardly knew anyone from the trip. After having gone to the same school as my friends since second grade, the thought of having to make new friends on my own was very daunting. I’m sure that sounds silly, but this is the first time since second grade (seriously) that I’ve had to make new friends entirely on my own. Looking back now, though, the fact that I was nervous about not knowing anyone is humorous. I’ve made so many great friends that I know I’ll stay in touch with after the semester is over. My program is mostly to thank for this. At the very beginning they had all sorts of activities planned for us and we were all in the same hostel together so basically we were forced to get to know each other.

There was a lot of ‘hand holding’ done by my program in the first week or so but it was great. I know so many people who get to their location and have to figure out all the next steps and how to get to their housing entirely on their own. This would have totally and completely freaked me out. CIEE, my program, gave us just enough guidance and babying in the beginning to ease us into the city and living life in Brussels. Without the activities, orientations, and excursions on those first few days the experience would have been much more jarring and I’m not sure I would be as smitten with life here.

The fact that I had never been to Europe before was also intimidating. I thought I would show up to find out that all the other students on my program were already world travelers with their passports filled to the brim with stamps. Not the case. A good number of them are also in Europe for the first time and it’s been fun to share all those ‘firsts’ with them. I’m also grateful that my first experience in Europe is a complete immersion into the lifestyle here rather than a whirlwind trip to see all the sights. I’m learning so much and getting to know my area so well.

Thank goodness I can look back on that first post and giggle at the fact that I was so nervous about some of those things. As for the things I was excited for before moving to Brussels (my homestay, the food, learning, traveling, taking a break, and new friends)… They’re all still just as exciting and are just as amazing as I was anticipating them to be! As a matter of fact I’m off to Budapest tomorrow afternoon!

I swear I’m the luckiest girl in the world.

-Emily

03/06/2012

So where is Belgium?

“I had to look up where Belgium was before I started my application last year…” A student told me this the first week of orientation as we shuttled our way from the hostel to Cantillon, a lambic brewery in Brussels and the city’s only continuously operating one for the last 100 years. I’m not surprised that he had to look up where Belgium was – I’ve been living here for the last three years and some of my family members still get confused as to where I live – is it Germany? No, no, no, it’s near Amsterdam, so I think it’s in the Netherlands…. But she speaks French, but she’s not in France, I know that – she’s in Switzerland, right?

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While some people might get annoyed that other people don’t know exactly where their adopted second country is on a map, I take a secret pride in it. Brussels, and Belgium, is the ultimate hidden gem of Western Europe. Most people have heard about Belgian waffles, Brussels lace, the medieval city of Bruges and of course, the beer. But they’re still lured by the dazzling lights of the Eiffel Tower or the history along the banks of the Thames, so they rarely stop and spend time in Europe’s capital. Which is ok. It means there are more waffles, fries and beer left for me to enjoy! And I know after a month and a half, all of the BCC students this semester are feeling that way too.

The students have thrown themselves into discovering the mysteries and charms of Brussels and Belgium by day and night. They’ve thrown themselves into the culture by attending plays and films in French, learned how to cook tangine from a Moroccan-Belgian, and even played on a variety of tanks from World War II during our first excursion to the Battle of the Bulge in Bastogne.

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But the students have also begun to experience that extra special joy that comes from traveling – that feeling of returning ‘home’ after spending a weekend away. That feeling is really a significant turning point in the study abroad experience. It helps to bring extra special joy when you realize that the Grand Place isn’t filled with touts or too many tourist groups, so you have room to sit down in a circle with your friends on the cobble stones with a packet of frites to watch the Town Hall light up at night. Because it’s then you realize that you wouldn’t want to spend your semester abroad anywhere else but here, and you’re sort of glad you had to look it up on a map first.

04/27/2011

I have to say, since college began I have had a perfect track record of spring breaks: freshman year I went home to Boston with Molly, last year I went to San Diego to visit Ari and this year it was Nice, London and Mom & Dad visiting Brussels! Every year it’s gotten better, so I have some pretty epic expectations for senior year.

Nice was wonderful, it has been so cold and rainy since January in Belgium and Anna and I finally go to lay out on the beach and got burnt! It was wonderful; however, I realized once getting back to Brussels that Belgium doesn’t sell aloe vera, so that was a slight set back. While in Nice Anna and I also took a trip to Monaco, which was like a rich person’s DisneyWorld- it was so ridiculous. We saw a guy in the water with this like little water jetpack- he had a jetpack on and had a big tube attached to a small boat that pumped water into the pack and then it sprayed it out and he went up in the air. It was cool, but a ridiculous toy. We walked along the street and glanced in some shops- all designer, they even had a Baby Dior store! I like designer clothes, but let’s get real for a second. You’re going to spend like 100 euros for a toddler’s shirt that they’re going to grow out of in a month and spill food on in the mean time. Although crazy, it was really cool to finally be there after passing through a Grace Kelly obsession in junior high.

Mom and Dad came to Brussels two days after I got to back to Brussels and then we went to London the next day. I don’t think I realized how much I loved London until I traveled a lot more and then went back. Brussels is slow and quiet for a city and it felt so great to be in a fast paced and active city again. The first day we were there Mom even said, “This feels better.” Mom & Dad really liked London too. There’s so much to do in the city and while the shopping and eating and living are expensive, the touristy stuff is all free so it balanced out for us. I also FINALLY bought my Burberry trench coat after almost buying one last summer too. It was so much fun to do, but I’ve had it for about a week now and I’m still too scared to wear it. Not that anyone has ever spilled anything on me before, but it still makes me nervous that it will happen once I wear this coat.

Now I just have two weeks plus to go! I finish up my internship next Tuesday and then my last final is the following Wednesday! Overall this semester certainly has not been what I expected but I really feel like I have experienced living in Europe rather than just the typical “study abroad” experience. Living with a family, working part-time and going to school has all really made a difference in how much of the culture I’ve experienced compared to my friends on other programs.

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04/12/2011

bienvenue/ welkom!

I have only been here a week and I already feel exhausted- they say New York never sleeps, but apparently neither do study abroad students. I got in early last Sunday morning and we had 3 days of orientation before moving into our housing for the semester. In those three days we went on 3 walking tours, had Dutch and French lessons, went out to dinner every night, had information sessions on phones and public transit and history and culture. Finally we had orientation to our host institution (Vesalius College) and then a weekend break and classes began!
Laura

I moved in with my host family on Wednesday and it is going really well! I live with a woman, Judith, and her two daughters who are 12 (Valentine) and 9 (Angelique) and her boyfriend, Aldo. They all speak French at home and so far I am doing decently with understanding but I can for sure understand a lot more than I can speak. But there’s no better way to improve a language than to practice!

Today is only the second full day of classes but I think I will be taking Introduction to Dutch, Mergers & Acquisitions and a Belgian history/culture class we are required to take with the study abroad program I am on. The Mergers & Acquisitions class doesn’t start until next week and it is actually on the Boston University campus that they have in Brussels, so that will be another great way to get around and see the city! I am also doing an internship at Aspect Consulting (http://www.aspectconsulting.eu/) which I am really excited about! I will be working just under 20 hours a week, and I will begin next Monday- I am super anxious for it. The office is in what my friends and I call “Chocolate Square,” where all the ritzy chocolate shops are and in a really cute area for shopping and antiques- totally ideal for taking walks around on break or meeting people after work!

This weekend a small group of us plan on going to Antwerp (where there is 1 of 3 Starbucks in the country- the other two are inside the national airport terminals). It’s only 7.50 euro for a round trip and we want to hit the shopping capital before the sales end; in Belgium stores are only allowed to have sales in January and July to protect smaller businesses, so for me that simply means better to do the majority of my shopping now!

Brussels and Belgium definitely have their quirks (like having no government, for example), but so far I’m really enjoying getting to know the city and everyone who calls it home.

Au revoir/ Dag!

winkelen in Antwerpen! (or, shopping in Antwerp!)


For our first weekend without CIEE-scheduled plans, a small group of us decided to go to Antwerp! Just a metro and a train ride away (7.5 Euro round trip on the weekends, awesome deal!) we were there in around 45 minutes. We took the 8:30 AM train out and came back by 5:00 because we were all so exhausted from walking. We basically just shopped and ate our way around to city. To begin, the Antwerp train station has one of 3 Starbucks in the country (the other two are inside the terminals at the Brussels National Airport), so of course that was my first stop.

If they build it I will come...

After we hit that up we went walking around and made our way to the main shopping street. Antwerp is known (according to wikipedia) in the fashion world for the “Antwerp six” who were a bunch of fashion designers from a fashion school in Antwerp and really influenced the fashion world with their avant garde style. One girl in our small group and I went to a hat museum they had there, and the woman in front of us in line had extra tickets and gave us hers!

After that we had some waffles (of course, like all good Belgians) and got back on the train!

battle of the bulge

This past weekend we had a CIEE excursion and we to see the Battle of the Bulge fields and got a tour by a man who was 9 years old when it happened and was living in a town just outside of Bastogne at the time. It was really incredible.



We were supposed to all meet up at 7:30 and I ended up waking up at 7:30, but luckily since it’s Belgium and people are always late when I called and they hadn’t left yet it wasn’t a big deal that I didn’t get there until 8:00. Case in point that there is no concept of “on time” in Belgium. We had croissants and pain chocolate (basically croissants with chocolate inside them) on the bus before we met our guide and watched an episode of Band of Brothers.

We had a great lunch and then started our tour of Bastogne. The whole day consisted of a visit to two American memorials (one my the people of Bastogne and one by the US), a German grave yard, a bus tour of the city, a museum and a visit to the fox holes. Our tour guide was a man who was 9 years old when the Battle of the Bulge happened and it was so interesting to hear all about his memories of the various occupations as a child. He talked about the differences between the occupations of the Germans, the Americans and then the Nazi SS. When he began the tour he talked a lot about how people in Bastogne will “welcome us home” as Americans when we’re here. At first I thought he was trying to get us to like him by saying that he liked America- but throughout the day and the more places we saw it really did seem like the people of Bastogne were still very appreciative of the American soldiers who had fought there. There were a lot of American flags in windows and buildings and streets named after American figures.

My favorite part of the tour was when we got to go see the fox holes where the Americans had been looking over Foy. It was really incredible to see the actual place where the soldiers were camped out and even though it was not nearly as cold as it had been then, it made all of our guide’s stories and history seem much more real.

host family bonding

On Friday night I was planning on staying in to do some homework but my host mom invited me out to dinner with her and Aldo and her two older children and neighbors and I feel like I should try to bond so I went.

It was the longest, and probably most exciting, dinner I’ve ever had. I thought when we went out to dinners with our program they just fed us especially well because we pre-paid for everything. Nope, that’s just the Belgian way. We had pre-dinner drinks (where I was the ONLY

person at the table who ordered water because I didn’t know alcohol was expected) and hors d’oeuvres (where again, I was the only one who didn’t order one), then the main course, dessert and for all of us about 5 bottles of wine. We left the house at about 7:45 and got back just after midnight.

The neighbor that was dining with us is an older man and he was in World War II and tried to speak to me a lot in English (which I was grateful for, I feel like I can prove to them I’m actually smart when I talk in English) and asked me a lot of questions about Grandpa! It was fun talking with him an

d he was super excited when he learned that this was my first time in Belgium and at the end of the night we all were putting on our coats and he made us all sit back down and he pulled out a bottle of champagne and put it down in front of me and said, “Welcome to Belgium!” Host-family bonding? Check.

On Saturday morning a couple friends and I woke up early to go to Gent! Mostly, we just walked around and stopped in the places that we thought would be fun. Gent was a very prominent medieval city (according to the guide books) so we saw a castle (where we saw a guillotine with the original blade, thank goodness for that) and lots of old churches and buildings. Needless to say, since the city was constructed since before urban-planning, we got lost quite a few times but luckily found out way to a bakery, to lunch, to the shopping street and a waffle stand. All in all, a very successful outing.

Well the thing is...it's in Milan

So last Tuesday at my internship my supervisor comes up and asks me about my availability to go to a meeting on Wednesday. I have 6 hours of class on Wednesday and so I told him I really couldn’t do it. Then he says, “Well the thing is, it’s in Milan.” Done. Sent in my homework and took a quiz and less than 24 hours later I had landed in Milan. Wednesday morning I flew out with a girl who had just finished her internship at Aspect and we got to Milan at about noon. We had about 4 hours to wander around the city before we were briefed about the event (which was just taking notes at a dinner about broadband) and then the event started at 6 and lasted until a little after midnight with debriefing and everything. The next morning I went out with two other interns who were there from the Paris Aspect office and we wandered around a little. It was fun because their English was much better than mine, but they were more comfortable speaking in French so most of the day they spoke to me in French and I would speak to them in English- but we could all understand each other just fine! Overall Milan was nice, but it’s a very industrial city and wasn’t super pretty.

Then at noon I took the metro to Milano Centrale where I caught a train to Florence to see Molly, my roommate at Macalester! Florence was gorgeous and a super cute small city. I spend the rest of the day with her and her friends having dinner, going out to some clubs, and just hanging out and catching up. I left early afternoon the next day.

It was such a random event but such an amazing opportunity! Now I have EXTREMELY high expectations for the rest of my internship.

 

Milan

 

03/30/2011

March Madness Belgian Style

March has definitely flown by for the CIEE BCC program in Brussels. March has been THE month for excursions on the program.

We started things off right with an excursion to Binche, a small town in Wallonia. Wallonia is the southern region of Belgium where French is the primary language. The town Binche plays host to a special type of Carnaval recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage event.

Gilles stache

Binche’s carnval is a spectacle of chaos, oranges and color. The synopsis is pretty simple – all the men in the town dress up in bulbous, ostrich-feather adorned costumes, turning themselves into Gilles. Once gussied up, they parade around the streets in a staccato type walk, keeping time to the accompanying tattoo of snare drums. While winding their way down the town’s cobbled streets toward the Grand Place, the Gilles throw gifts of blood oranges into the crowd. This goes on all day until nighttime, when the Gilles finally reach the Grand Place. There, they dance around bonfires until the wee hours of the morning.

Carnaval carnage

We also mixed in a visit to the European Investment Bank with some sight seeing in Luxembourg. After a day exploring one of Europe’s smallest countries, everyone wandered around a Belgian chateau before digging into a hearty meal of boar stew – a regional specialty of Belgium’s Namur province!

Students enjoying the sights of Luxembourg with one of our tour guides...

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And as if that wasn’t enough, we threw in a trip to The Hague in the Netherlands to see international justice in action at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. After a briefing by a legal prosecutor for the court, we were able to sit in on a General Tolimir’s trial. Happily, it was a great day to sit in on the trial as General Tolimir was representing himself and cross-examining a UN Commander involved in bombings around Sarajevo. It was an impressive back-and-forth for all parties involved in the trial.  And after the trial, we were able to lighten the mood after an intense morning by sampling fresh raw herring and stroopwafels!

Right before the fresh herring...

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And down the hatch!

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And this isn't even everything!  Stay tuned for further details about the other events of Belgian March Madness!

02/09/2011

Welcome to Brussels!

“Brussels? That’s in Germany, right?”
“Belgium…that’s where they speak a funny language that sounds like a cold!”
Why are you studying abroad in Brussels?”

These are just a few of the questions our Business, Communications & Culture students are already accustomed to answering in the month that they’ve been studying and living in Brussels. And already, they’ve gone from wondering what exactly Flemish is (and no, it’s not a disease!) to planting some strong roots in this quirky country where they find themselves.

BCC group
Bienvenue à Bruxelles! The entire BCC group in Brussels' storied Grand' Place.

The first month in the capital of Europe has already been a crash course in all things Belgian. Students have learned just how serious Belgians take their ninth-art in a visit to the Belgian Comics Strip Museum, as well as experiencing the strangely acidic, definitely surprising, and unquestionably unique gueuze at Cantillon – Brussels’ last remaining brewery and one of the few remaining spontaneous fermenting breweries in the world.

On top of this, they’ve already started to scratch the surface of Belgium’s varied history in the CIEE Core Course with a visit to the Belgian Parliament (a surprise glimpse of the Hungarian Prime Minister included!). They’ve also explored, and in some cases, gone knee-deep, into modern Belgian history during the group excursion to World War II’s Battle of the Bulge, the sight of America’s largest military action. Our group was guided around by an eye-witness to the Battle and was treated to his accounts of what it was like to live in a house occupied by German soldiers. We also were able to see the GI’s foxholes which were used as protection in the forests of the Ardennes during the battle, now made famous by Steven Spielberg’s Band of Brothers.

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Standing around foxholes left over from World War II's Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes.

Students even examined their own country’s politics and modern history in the Belgian limelight! Some of our CIEE students were asked by the VTM, the Flemish news broadcasting station, to watch and discuss President Obama’s State of the Union for national Belgian television! You can check out their moment of Belgian fame here.

Students have also settled into the rhythm of Brussels life. Now that we’re a month into the semester at Vesalius, students are starting to use their burgeoning language skills throughout the city. Many are flexing their linguistic muscles on a daily basis with their housing situations, interactions at shops or at their internships. A large number are also taking advantage of the ‘cours isolée’ option offered at the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) to try their hand at taking a class en français with other Belgian students to supplement their Vesalius courses. Additionally, many students have participated in the French-English language exchange CIEE organizes with local francophone students. The first conversation table was a huge success and many students are looking forward to upcoming tables!

Conversation table BCC students hanging out with local francophone students at a typical Brussels café during the Conversation Tables.

We’re definitely ready for a fun semester that’s jam-packed with opportunities, so stay tuned for further updates and photos from the Spring 2011 BCC semester!

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