The Belgium Diaries: The Last Page

Jamie Sterling - pic1 new

Author: Jamie Sterling
Program: Public Relations – Corporate Communications
Study Abroad Location: Ghent, Belgium

Classes have just ended here at Artevelde and, despite a final project and an exam in a few weeks, the goodbyes have already started.

It’s unreal.

But surprisingly, it’s not as much sad as it is disquieting. Life is about to change, again and I feel busier than ever. My days are full of studying, researching and applying to jobs, planning a short trip and slowly packing all of my things. On top of that, I’m trying to soak up every last bit of Ghent before I go.

Literally. It’s still raining!

Despite being completely in love with this city, the rain is something I don’t think I could ever get used to. Actually, throughout this experience there have been a few things that have remained completely foreign to me. For instance, there are ‘second chance’ exams where if you fail the first time you can try again during the rewrite period two months later. I just can’t get my head around it.

At the same time, there have been some things that have grown on me. I was reluctant but I learned to appreciate that grocery stores close at 7 p.m. every day and don’t open at all on Sundays. It’s inconvenient but it feels more relaxed, in a way.

And of course, there have been many things that I have embraced wholeheartedly. I will certainly miss cycling everywhere, spending sunny days sitting by the river in the medieval city centre and perusing weekly markets. Not to mention treating myself to a warme chocolademelk where the milk comes piping hot and you stir in the chocolate chips yourself!

In fact, I’ll miss all of it.

Whether I understood it, accepted it, adapted to it, or not — every part of this experience contributes to the knowledge and skills I’ve acquired simply by being here. Without the observation, problem solving and resourcefulness that come from being out of one’s comfort zone I might have never found my way to my apartment on a cold and misty morning four months ago. More importantly though, I’ve developed my relationship-building and communication skills in the context of an evolving intercultural awareness. There is nothing quite as special or as memorable as the diverse connections I’ve made here and I’m grateful to all the people I spent time with, learned from and have been fascinated by.

It’s bittersweet that the semester has come to an end but I know that when I leave, I’m not just leaving the city, the culture and my friends behind. I’m bringing with me a broader world view, an alternative perspective of my field, and a global network of wonderful and intelligent communications professionals.

So I won’t say vaarwel but dank u vel, I couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity.

An Experience of a Lifetime

Jacqueline Roes - Profile Picture
Author: Jacqueline Roes
Program:  Public Relations – Corporate Communications
Study Abroad Location: Ghent, Belgium

Throughout my university experience, I never had a desire to go abroad. I think part of my hesitation lied in the fact that I hadn’t left the nest and was nervous of being so far from my family. After applying and being admitted into the Corporate Communications Program and moving away from my hometown of London, Ontario to Toronto, it suddenly occurred to me that it would be an amazing opportunity to take my studies abroad and Seneca offered an exciting exchange program called Going Global. After doing some research, I confidently chose to go to Ghent, Belgium. Friends and family had asked me, why Belgium? My reply to them was that I love to travel and Belgium is conveniently located within Europe. To the north is Holland, to the south is France and just below France is Spain. To the east there is Germany and to the west is England. Fortunately for me, I got to travel to all of these beautiful countries!!

Upon my arrival, of course I was anxious and really had no expectations. I had no close friends who had ever been on exchange and I was also going completely by myself. I am a friendly person but of course there are doubts: will I make friends? Will I get to travel? Will I be homesick? The answer? I made so many more friends than I expected, traveled so many more places than I anticipated and I really didn’t get homesick! So therefore, the overall exchange experience surpassed my expectations more than I could have imagined!

So for those wondering, the exchange program was all in English.  All the exchange students plus the locals could speak English and I was surprised how easily we were all able to communicate with each other! To give a very brief blurb about Belgium, the country has two official languages: French and Flemish (Flemish is very similar to the Dutch language). I was in the Flemish speaking area of the country.

I’ve been asked if there was anything I could change about my experience what would it be? My reply was I wish I could’ve stay longer! I met so many incredible people from all over Europe, as well as from the United States, and have made lifelong friends. Even though they are all so far away, my solid group of friends and I have stayed in contact and talk about how we wish we could escape the real world and revisit Ghent. The city was welcoming (most locals speak English), and it is the perfect student town with tons of activities. The historical architecture of the city was stunning and truly has the best beer, chocolate, fries and waffles in the world!!

Through this exchange, I gained more confidence in myself, incredible friends, and a more open and well-rounded perception on life and culture in general. The exchange really opened my eyes to differences in culture and how to adapt accordingly.  This was an amazing learning experience and I would a hundred thousand percent do another exchange in the future if the opportunity ever arose!

I encourage anyone contemplating a study abroad program to do it without hesitation! I jumped from thinking I’d never do one, to one day saying I’m up for the challenge and I am forever grateful for the decision I made and for my parents who encouraged me to follow through with my decision! Every day, I miss my friends and Ghent so much and that’s how I know it was worth every second and every penny I spent!

Author: Jacqueline Roes