The Clash of the Cultures (Croatia)

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Author: Stephanie Rukavina
Program: Business Administration – International Business
Study Abroad Location: Zagreb, Croatia

            The experiences in Croatia are never-ending. Since my arrival I have seen so much and experienced quite a few festivals and events that I didn’t know even existed. One of my favorite things about Zagreb is the stands that can be found throughout the center of the city. When I first arrived here, the stands were selling freshly roasted corn on the cob, popcorn, and even some sweets. It was common to see these stands on every corner! Now that the season has changed, the corn has been replaced with roasted chestnuts, and let me tell you, they smell amazing! Zagreb seems to have a large focus on local and organic food, as there is several outdoor farmers market that work every day and sell a variety of goods grown or created by local farmers. I have gone to these markets a few times now, and every time I’m greeted by everyone’s friendly smiles.

While all these experiences have been amazing, I have faced some minor challenges. While many study abroad students may agree that language was probably the biggest challenge they faced when moving to a new country, the same cannot be said about me since I am fluent in the Croatian language. My biggest challenge was leaning to manage my time, and understanding how the public transport system works. In Croatia, the culture is more relaxed, slow paced lifestyle. This is sometimes reflected on the public transport system. I have had multiple times where I am late to class because I missed my bus because it came too early, or where the bus was too late. I have learned to always leave extra time to get to class, because you never know what kind of delays you’ll face. Another challenge I faced was homesickness. I missed my family back in Canada a lot, especially my mom and my sister. I feel like I haven’t seen them in such a long time (other then our Skype sessions). And even though my dad and grandma were closer here in Croatia (about two hours driving), I still missed them like crazy as well! Just like anything, some days passed very quickly, but others I had homesickness like crazy, making this a difficult challenge.

            For other students who are also facing these challenges or worried about these challenges if they study abroad, my advice to you is not to stress with it. With all of the Skype calls and messaging, you’ll never fall out of touch with your family. It’s completely normal and expected for you to miss them, but you’ll survive! Studying abroad is an amazing opportunity, and any challenges you face will be tiny in comparison to what you would gain from this experience. It’s worth it, trust me!

Becoming a Belgian

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Author: Clemens Snoeijer
Program: Business Administration – International Business
Study Abroad Location: Ghent, Belgium

When one plans to study abroad, you envision a way of how everything is going to work out. But as soon as you get to that country and start experiencing the culture, you begin to realize it’s the complete opposite of what you had first imagined. This was the case for me when I arrived in Belgium.

When I first arrived in Ghent, I was excited to meet all the different people living in Ghent. My first attempt of meeting new people and adjusting to my new temporary home was going out to the tourist locations. As an extrovert, this seemed like the easiest way to try and make new friends, but I was certainly mistaken. When I made an attempt to talk to Belgians in the area, it became obvious that the people were simply not interested in having a conversation with me. Many of these conversations were small talk or being flatly ignored. Did I really pick the wrong location to study abroad? I really didn’t feel welcomed from the people of Belgium. I was worried this was going to be a long five months abroad. But I was not ready to give up just yet.

In September, when the Erasmus orientation week started, there were many other students that were studying abroad for the first time as well. These fellow classmates were just as eager to make new friends, like I was. After the welcome session and campus tours, all students studying abroad were welcomed to a meet and greet lunch, where I met many of my current friends. We decided to find a local café near the campus; we all took the time to get to know everyone more personally. After that, the week was filled with many social activities where we got to know each other more personally.

After having settled in and having made new friends, I began working on the academic aspect of this exchange. My first class of the day is at 8:15am, but because I do not live the near campus, I had to wake up at 6:30am to get ready for my session. Even though I was super tired, I was relieved to know that this class and many other classes were only one and a half hours, which was different compared to the three-hour classes at Seneca.

The organizational structure has been a little confusing; however, I have slowly adjusted to it. There have been times where my professors did not arrive on time. This might have to do with the fact that they may be teaching different classes at other campuses scattered over the city. If they are driving, parking a car, bike or even a motorcycle, it becomes difficult since there is nowhere to park it.

Another thing I often wonder is where the assignment layouts are? I miss having the expectations clearly outlined, where compared to here in Belgium, the assignments are extremely vague of what is expected of you. After finally getting adjusted to the classes and what is expected of me, I finally began adjusting to the different teaching approaches that each professor has. Without a doubt, I can admit that Marketing is one of my favourite classes so far that I am taking at Artevelde. The professor is so interactive and has many memorable examples. This probably explains why I can never find a seat in the classroom. I always think that it is the survival of the fittest for a chair as almost every student goes to her class. My least favourite class would have to be Innovation and Change. Even though I am not required to take this class, I wanted to take the class to spend time with the friends that I have made here in Belgium. Overall though, I have really enjoyed the atmosphere here at Artevelde so far. For anyone that is looking to do a future exchange, I would highly recommend this school.

When I have free time after going to class and doing my homework, I have been enjoying the social component as well. Since coming to Belgium, I have been extremely lucky to have friends who are very ambitious and outgoing, like myself. Every single person in our friend group is unique in their own special way, including different personalities and interests, which works out perfectly. I feel like this has to do with us all being from different countries and I am always so interested in having to hear about their experiences of coming to Belgium and hearing how different Belgium is to their hometown. This has been such a great opportunity to learn more about the world from other people.

Since making new friends and starting my education here in Belgium, I have had the chance to visit Bruges a small city near Ghent. Went on a school trip to Walibi (an amusement park in the French region of Belgium), visited many different bars and cafés, went out for dinner at different local Ghent restaurants, toured around Amsterdam and London and much more! A few friends from our group have also been able to find a gym that we like and have started working out several times a week. I’ve begun adjusting to the kind of lifestyle that Europeans have and have realized that they are focused on their appearances. They are also the kind of people that enjoy having a healthy lifestyle.

Now, having had the chance to meet a few Belgians, I will have to admit that these people are not as cold as I first thought they were. Compared to the Dutch culture, I’ve learned that Belgians are not as open minded. When I say that, I mean that Belgian people need more time to warm up to you. Talking in an elevator isn’t something you can do, like we do in Canada. Greeting someone on the street only towards the people you know is considered appropriate or considered normal for Belgian culture.

I think if there was one thing that I had to share with those of you who are happening to be reading my experiences here in Belgium, it is to never expect a country to have the same social traits. I believe that the Netherlands and Belgium have a few things in common, but they are still very different countries. The Dutch dialect has probably been the biggest challenge I had to face. If they are not from the Ghent region, they have strong accents. Sometimes speaking English is just much more preferred.

I am very excited to discover more of the culture differences that the Belgian culture has and what the cultural differences are between The Netherlands, Canada and Belgium. I am definitely going to be trying to live more like a Belgian, and experience all the things that the true Belgian culture has, and that’s by living like a true Belg.

My Second Month in the Netherlands

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Author: Amanda Cook
Program: Honours Bachelor of Commerce – International Business Management
Study Abroad Location: Utrecht, The Netherlands

I have now officially been gone from Canada for two and a half months, received my Dutch resident permit, finished my first block of school, and visited two other countries as well as multiple Dutch cities. Life in the Netherlands has been nothing but absolutely amazing!!

The city that I am living in Utrecht is centrally located, so it takes no longer than an hour to get to any major city in the Netherlands. I have had the opportunity to go and visit the city of Gouda which is known for its cheese and inventing the Stroopwafel. I also visited Rotterdam and Amsterdam. Rotterdam is known for having the tallest building in the Netherlands and its modern architecture with the famous cube houses. Amsterdam is known for the red light district and its canals. Each city is so different from one another that no matter which city you decide to visit there is always something new to see.

I have also had the opportunity to travel to Munich, Germany for its annual Oktoberfest. The festival draws millions of people each year, both locals and tourists. Most people dress up in the traditional “dirndl” or “lederhosen” to explore the fair. There are carnival rides everywhere, snack stands, and of course, the famous tents with traditional German music playing inside. This is a festival that I would recommend to everyone to experience once in their lifetime!

A few weeks after Oktoberfest, I took a weekend trip to Prague, Czech Republic. This city absolutely captured my heart. Prague boasts multiple types of architecture such as, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque era buildings all which make for a stunning city. Prague is known for its bridges, the John Lennon wall, its castle, and also for hosting a replica of the Eiffel tower. The city is divided by a large river that has a famous bridge across it called the Charles Bridge. It has many statues placed across it and some legends say they bring luck if you touch them.

Life in the Netherlands has not been all travel, on the contrary, the level of difficulty of the education is much higher than in Canada and has kept me quite busy studying. Here the school year is divided into four blocks which are all 8 weeks of classes then exams. I have just finished block A, and found it quite rushed because you still are expected to learn the same amount of information as in Canada but in half of the time. School has given me the opportunity to meet other exchange students as well as many Dutch friends.

I am very grateful for all of the opportunities that studying in the Netherlands has provided me and love every minute of it!