Getting Lost in Ghent

Tristan Grizzle - Profile picture

Author: Tristan Grizzle
Program: Business Administration – International Business
Study Abroad Location: Ghent, Belgium

I have lived within the city of Toronto my entire life. I can say that I am truly blessed that my parents have exposed me to many different cultures by allowing me to travel with them to many countries while growing up. My parents are also well experienced with working and studying abroad. They have provided me with a ton of tips and tricks to help me survive while on my adventure, all of which went in one ear and out the other because I was so excited, overwhelmed, and scared to be living in a different country for a long time.

When my trip began, I would have to say that my first few days in Ghent, Belgium were the most overwhelming and sometimes frightening for me. It wasn’t until my first week that I realized I was not at home anymore and there was no turning back – for a while. If you are a native English speaker like myself, you will feel totally lost when you look at all the non-English words everywhere. This overwhelming feeling may or may not come to you, especially if you are already an international student in Toronto; which is also one of the most multicultural cities in the world.

Here are some important tips and tricks that I have found helpful for dealing with the culture shock and that frightening feeling of studying abroad.

1. GET A SMARTPHONE

I am assuming that most students already have a smartphone this day and age, which is a very helpful tool to help you with studying and traveling abroad. Make sure that your phone is unlocked and that you can insert a SIM card from any other country in it. This way you will be able to make local calls at a cheap price, as well as use your phone to help you navigate around. Some of the apps that I found helpful were the following:

Facebook Messenger and Whats-app Messenger
These apps will help you call your friends and family back home if you have any questions or are just a little homesick.

Google Translate
This app is extremely helpful! You can simply point your camera at words and it will translate it to the language of your choice. I challenge all students to try their best to learn the national language of your study abroad location to fully embrace the culture. This app can really help get you started!

Google Maps
Google Maps is the most accurate navigation app out there. It also provides you with real-time transit times for traveling. This app definitely helped me on my first week. Sooner or later you won’t even need to use this app.

Google News & Weather
Know what’s going on where you are, and more importantly watch the weather forecast on a daily basis. It rains a lot here in Ghent, I am glad that this app reminded me to bring my umbrella with me on those super wet days.

2.  EMBRACE THE CULTURE

Learn the national foods of your study abroad country, in Belgium they have delicious fries served with mayonnaise, mussels, chocolate (Godiva Chocolatier opened their first store in Brussels), and of course Belgian waffles.

3. ASK QUESTIONS AND MAKE FRIENDS

Try to do a little bit of research of your study abroad country before you arrive. Learn how to speak common phrases in Flemish (Belgian Dutch), learn whether they have a high-context or low-context society, and learn how to approach someone. In Belgium, I found that everyone here was very friendly; I have made a lot of friends with locals after approaching them. Most Belgians are extremely inviting once you approach them, so get out there and make some friends!

4. GET LOST

Sometimes getting lost isn’t a bad thing at all. You can sometimes find that you are actually not too far from home. Try to always walk around with your camera (or smartphone) so you can take amazing shots like these posted below. Join me on my journey through Belgium and the rest of Europe.

Immersing myself in Dutch Culture!


Author: Victoria Ercolao
Program: Public Relations – Corporate Communications
Study Abroad Location: Utrecht, The Netherlands

Prior to my exchange, my knowledge of the Netherlands consisted of three things: the land of wooden shoes, open-minded views and delicious cheeses. But, it’s so much more dynamic than that and is truly a fascinating culture that I have grown to love. The Dutch have a word, gezellig, which has no direct English translation, yet perfectly sums up their culture. The closest English translation is cozy, but it can also be used to describe enjoying great times in the company of great people. Rain or shine (but mostly rain!), you’ll find people enjoying drinks in the park, eating out with friends, riding their bikes or just genuinely enjoying life. Also, Dutch students really have mastered the art of school/work-life balance. The kind,yet friendly nature of the Dutch makes living and studying in the Netherlands very enjoyable. Even my description doesn’t give an accurate picture of what this really means – you’ll just have to experience it for yourself!

If you do decide to study in the Netherlands, I’d suggest you do the following:

  1. Buy a bike – everyone cycles everywhere (even to go home after a night out!)
  2. Try traditional Dutch snacks – frites (french fries) , bitterballen (Dutch Meatballs) and stroopwafels (Caramel filled waffles) are my favourites!
  3. Explore as much of the country as you can – the history in Amsterdam, architecture in Rotterdam, beaches in the Hague and beauty in Maastricht are all a short train ride away.
  4. Try to learn the language – it’s difficult, but so rewarding when you can have a small conversation with the locals!
  5. Always have an umbrella handy – it rains A LOT.

I’m in no way exaggerating when I say my time spent in the Netherlands were some of the best months of my entire life. Studying abroad is a learning experience in every sense of the word; not just learning for the sake of academics, but learning about myself and everyone I met along the way. I was privileged enough to travel to many other countries during my time in Europe – France, Germany, Denmark, Spain, Belgium, Poland, Ukraine, Scotland, England, Italy, Croatia and Greece. No matter where I was, I found myself stepping outside of my comfort zone and immersing myself into a completely different culture has made me more independent, social and confident . I returned back to Toronto about a month ago, and not a day goes by where I don’t think about my time spent in Holland. The hardest part about going on exchange is readjusting back to your normal life!

Living & Studying in Utrecht!

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Author: Victoria Ercolao
Program: Public Relations – Corporate Communications
Study Abroad Location: Utrecht, The Netherlands

Everyone has their concerns when they are about to start a new adventure or experience. These concerns were certainly present when it came to pursuing my studying abroad experience. Although I had my concerns, I knew that with the right help and support that I would quickly overcome all of my concerns with ease. Thanks to both my coordinator at Seneca, and the international office at Hogeschool Utrecht for making my transition one that was both smooth and simple.

The Program

I completed my second semester of my Public Relations & Corporate Communications certificate program at the Hogeschool, Utrecht (HU), where I studied International Communication and Media (ICM). I had a wide variety of electives to choose from in the ICM module that directly related to my program at Seneca. All the courses were also taught in English. From the day I arrived, I was integrated with both Dutch and other international students. Between my coordinator at Seneca and the International Office at HU, I never felt confused or overwhelmed with academic processes. All the staff and teachers were always willing to help. The HU also prides itself on offering its students an international learning experience, and I agree that this was the most rewarding part of the program. My classes had students from Spain, France, Germany, Australia, India and South Korea (just to name a few!). Collaborating with students from such diverse backgrounds really challenges you to think from different perspectives and becomes a very valuable skill that employers look for!

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Housing

The student housing market in Utrecht is extremely competitive due to the large student population, which is why finding a place to stay during my study abroad period became a concern for me. My concern was quickly resolved once I spoke to the international office at the Hogeschool Utrecht (HU).  The HU recommends that all international students use an affiliated student housing company named SSH. I rented my room through this website and had a really positive experience. SSH has properties all over the city and they take the uncertainties out of finding a place on your own. Rooms range in price from €300 to €700 per month, and the earlier you reserve, the more choice you have. I rented a studio apartment right on the HU campus for €625 per month all-inclusive. The apartment was clean, spacious and I didn’t have to share any amenities; however, I would recommend renting something closer to the city centre because that’s where all the action is. Aside from being really close to all my classes, there’s not much else to do on the HU campus.

If you are excited and eager to study abroad, make an appointment with one of the going global coordinators!