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,