Naturally Croatian

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

I cannot believe how quickly this semester has passed by. It seems like only yesterday that I arrived in Zagreb, all excited to explore the city and learn from my many new experiences. Now the semester is all but over, with exams next week and Christmas songs playing everywhere you go. Zagreb looks beautiful this time of the year, with large celebrations of Advent found in the Center. The parks are decorated in Christmas lights, and little evening markets selling all sorts of hot drinks, baked goods, and handmade ornaments. Living in Croatia for these 4 months has really made me appreciate the culture and traditions so much more. To be able to see all of this first hand is something I am very grateful for. Looking to my future now, I am certain that Croatia will be a big part of it. I have always wanted to have the option to do business with multiple countries in a career that will allow me to travel on a regular basis, and after studying abroad, I have become even more sure that this is what I want. I have gained a new appreciation of my roots, and I am prouder than ever to be Croatian.

I think the thing that surprised me most about studying abroad was just how natural everything would feel to me. I don’t feel as foreign as I first thought I would, and I feel very comfortable here as well, almost like I’ve been living in Croatia my whole life! I have gained a whole new sense of independence, which has also allowed me to travel to Budapest, Hungary for a weekend with a good friend that I made while studying abroad. Before this experience, if someone told me I would be so confident in my abilities and so independent that traveling to a new country, I wouldn’t have believed them. I would have been so worried about getting lost, or thinking of worst case scenarios that I may have not even attempted to go. But now, I wouldn’t even think about it twice, I’m more focused on the positive outcomes rather than the negative ones.

            Something I wish I had known before study abroad is that your experience is never going to be exactly like what you expect it to be. It can be way better or worse, and that all depends on you and how to treat the opportunities that arise. My advice to others is to be open to everything, sure, some things may not work out the way you planned for them to, but often times the best memories and stories come from the opportunities left up to chance.

 

Was it worth it? (Belgium)

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

When I tried summing up my experience, I couldn’t put it in a simple phrase until I came across a relatable quote. “Exchange isn’t a year in your life it’s a life in a year.” It shows how this experience was beyond just an event that occurred during the year, it was a life changing opportunity. When I was planning to study abroad, I had questioned if Belgium was really the right place for me. I had wanted to be close to my family, but still be able to go out of my comfort zone. When my plans had not worked out to study in Brazil or the Netherlands, I was again brought back to study at Artevelde University College in Ghent. Constantly, this opportunity came back into my plans of studying abroad, and I simply could not understand why. What did Belgium really have to offer for me? It did not seem like a lot. Clearly I was mistaken.

            In my previous blogs, I have mentioned about how mesmerized I was by the differences of Belgium, The Netherlands and Canada. How much Belgians differentiated from Canadians and the Dutch. It was more than expected. I was fortunate enough to have such a large group of exchange students with me at Artevelde. It brought me out of my comfort zone where I learned so much about other countries besides Belgium. I now had friends who I was able to explore with, and travel to new places with. Each of these new friends that I made, were able to support me through the challenges that I may have faced, while also helping me develop as an individual. My new friends were really the highlight of this beautiful experience.

            During the break, I had the opportunity to go see London and Amsterdam. These were beyond amazing trips that I got to spend with my close friends. The amount of sightseeing that we managed to do in such a short time frame was remarkable. I will never forget how sore my feet were from all the walking. After that experience, I thought: “who needs a gym when you can combine it with traveling?” London was similar and easily comparable to Canadian culture. I felt I was just back at home with a few European twists, an odd currency, and powerful English accents. Hostels and cheap buses were our main source of transportation making it possible to travel with a college budget. I strongly recommend visiting London and Amsterdam, as they both were rich in culture, and give you a unique experience. After all our adventures were finished, we were glad to be back in Ghent.

            After London, we really started to enjoy what Ghent had to offer. We walked around the many different tourist attractions, tried out local restaurants, bars and clubs. I had easy courses without much work until the end of the semester, which made it possible to spend quality time with my friends. We visited Belgian cities, like Brussels and Namur. Namur really made me feel like I was in a different country, as everything was in French. Many of the residents living in Namur struggled with English, which made it hard to communicate. It brought out the little French I knew, same as in Brussels. Finally, we managed to book a flight from Brussels to Hamburg for a 10-euro return flight. This was an opportunity that couldn’t be missed. It may not have been my favorite city, but it was certainly educational, as it is Germany’s largest seaport. This was certainly a unique experience I was grateful of undergoing.

            We also hosted many exchange activities ourselves like the American and Canadian Thanksgivings, Basque Night, Christmas Markets, and the Goodbye Dinner. These moments were filled with great laughs and memories. They usually turned out to be the best nights in Ghent. They were filled with food, drinks and activities. America definitely won the Thanksgiving party, sorry to disappoint Canada. These activities were events like potlucks, where we all brought some food and snacks. The Spanish exchange students hosted the Basque Night, where we got a true taste of Basque, a region in the upper part of Spain. This was one of my favorite nights, as I just love Spanish culture. The Christmas Market was located in the heart of Ghent; where there were many vendors there selling Christmas oriented foods and goods. We enjoyed several nights drinking local drinks and foods. Finally, I hosted a goodbye dinner, as several students were not returning in January. I found a local Irish pub where we made reservations with 35+ students. They had set up a private room for us, where we could enjoy our last dinner together. This was an emotional but amazing end to the semester.

            In the last week, I had to complete my presentations and a few of my exams. After they were completed, I was still able to spend some quality time with my friends. These days have been beyond amazing but also have had an emotional twist. Many of my friends have become like family. We were all so unique but we got along so well. I built strong friendships and memories that will never be forgotten. A part of me will always be left in Ghent. I am sad to say goodbye and wish I could stay longer.

            After I celebrated the holidays with my family in the Netherlands, I went and explore Austria and saw my first mountain. I was curious to see the culture differences, and see the beauty of this country. I was beyond amazed, as anywhere I went I was surrounded by mountains. I stayed at my friend Georg’s house where his family welcomed me with open arms. The food was also beyond amazing, Backhendl being my ultimate favorite dish I tried during my exchange. After the New Year, I went back to Belgium to pack up my things, and sadly saying goodbye to my dearest friends before I returned back to the Netherlands to spend quality time with my family. It was certainly dreadful as I did not want to return back to Toronto.

It was not until I was on my flight before it sank in. My amazing journey had come to an end. I was not able to finish the term with them, as Canada starts their semester early in January. When I had landed, I remembered how large Canada was again. The highways were massive, and I forgot skyscrapers were surrounded all around me. It felt like I was re-experiencing Canada all over again. Luckily a good friend of mine picked me up from the airport so I did not have to take the public transportation. I remember I kept telling him “wow, Canada is so large.” I had to really re-adapt back to Canadian culture which was the biggest challenge.

            Lastly, to the exchange students I met in Belgium, I am grateful to have met every single one of you during this exchange. I have great memories with each one of you, where I will treasure each laughter, discussion, and tear we shared. You will certainly not be forgotten, and feel free to come see my in Canada, I’ll miss you.

Goodbye for now,

Clemens

Time flies (Netherlands)

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

My time in the Netherlands has been flying by. Even though my departure date keeps creeping up, I have been trying not to think about it because I’m just not ready to leave (haha). This exchange has introduced me to so many wonderful cultures and people, and I have learned so much from them.

Since I am living in a flat with people from all over the world we decided that it would be nice to have family dinners where each person picks a day and cooks dinner from their own country. Thus, we have had Canadian thanksgiving, Turkish, Finnish, and Spanish dinners, as well as hosted game nights with all of our roommates. It is very interesting to be able to taste the different ways countries cook and to see what they eat on a normal day.

I recently had the opportunity to go to Brussels, Belgium for the day and explore the city and its Christmas markets. They happened to have a whole Quebec area at their Christmas market, and I was able to show some of my friends authentic poutine which they have never even heard about before. The city was absolutely beautiful and it was filled with some of the friendliest people that I have ever met.

I am very lucky to be here in Europe for the Christmas season as each little city has its own Christmas market which is all very different and beautiful. Although there is no snow here, the markets help you get into the Christmas spirit!

Even though my town of Utrecht is fairly small and unknown when people think of the Netherlands, there is a lot of things to do here. Utrecht hosts smaller bands from all over the world, fun festivals, markets and events regularly. I had the opportunity to go check out a small Australian band which was amazing as well as the weekend market where you can go to get almost anything you can think of such as, clothes, food, bike accessories, and more!

Although my time is coming to an end here in the Netherlands I am very grateful for the experience and for all of the people I have met and I cannot wait to come back and visit!

Friends along the Way (Belgium)

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Author: Phillip Owen-Scott
Program: Business Administration – International Business
Study Abroad Location: Ghent, Belgium

Tim Cahill says that “A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles” and this is something that I truly believe in. One of the best parts about travelling overseas was most of the people in Artevelde are in the same boat as you, away from their family and friends. Now, that might not sound so pleasant but it also means that a majority of the people there also have the same drive for adventure as you and aren’t shy to make new friends or share experiences with one another. Many of the people in our program were multi-lingual and in my eyes much more talented than most of the mono-lingual English speaking North Americans but I found them wanting to know as much about us as possible. They looked at me as this person who came from some mystery land that they had never been too and wanted to find out as much as they could. Ironically enough I felt that Europe was a much more interesting place than anything back home but I happily obliged.

 If you follow the blogs, then you know that another student named Clemens is also in Ghent studying and we’ve become great friends over the last few months. Though we’d meet only a few months prior and we’d been friends with a great deal of others, I find myself enjoying the time I spend with him more than anyone else. One of my fondest memories is when he planned a Canadian Thanksgiving that involved cooking for 12+ people and went through the time/cost to prepare this whole elaborate event just too make others happy. We enjoyed mounds of food as well as party games and sharing stories with one another about back home. At the time, I was very sick and not feeling very upbeat but that one night made all of us feel slightly closer to home.

 One of my most memorable friends was a Bavarian man named Tobi. He’s a thin, short guy who has the humor you’d expect from a German, but was one of the most down to earth, and genuine people I’ve ever met. Whenever we’d have a conversation you knew that he gave 100% of his attention to you and would always have a great point to make towards any statement made. He’s never lied and will without a doubt tells you that you’re wrong if he felt it was needed to be said. His honesty isn’t outdone by his generosity that was given to anyone that was in need of help. We hold these poker nights every week and he would always come on time with beer to share with everyone, but of course would talk about how “Bavarian beer was the greatest” and “Belgian’s just can’t make beer as good as Bavaria”. This would be me with some groans and eye rolling but it was the thought that counted.

 One of my favourite things to do is both Tobi, Clemens and I share a Monday morning class at 8 in the morning (which we all looooooove…). The second week of classes we came up with the idea of going to breakfast and coffee since double doubles don’t exist in Belgium. This ended up becoming a recurring plan and we soon found a sandwich shop that was just near our campus were for 6-8 Euros you could enjoy a foot-long sandwich with your choice of coffee. We would spend hours chatting about our weekends, who we saw, where we went, what we did, as well as talking about current events and what was going on back home. We went there so often that the man who ran the shop knew us and remembered our order responding with “The usual” as we would sit down. He would make this small chocolate covered marshmallow and ask us if they were good enough to sell. By far though the funniest moment was after he would give us our food and drink he would respond with a brisk “You’re Welcome” before any of us could thank him for our meal.

 Even though I was able to travel all over Europe and visit numerous ancient cities or iconic landscapes I find myself enjoying and relishing those moments the most.