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.

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