I decided to study abroad with MAAS because the program brings together an international group of students in an area historically significant to the U.S. The variety of perspectives in the classroom, the beautiful yet affordable setting of Ghent and Brussels, and the abundance of history make for an excellent academic environment. Studying in Belgium, specifically, allowed me the opportunity to grasp European perspectives on U.S. politics and culture while deepening my knowledge of European history and culture. Belgium, sitting at the crossroads of so many historical events, is an excellent place for a foreigner to experience Europe.
Did you run into a language barrier? Did you ever think you knew more/less of the language?
My French is basic and my Flemish primitive, so language was an issue occasionally. Fortunately, my Belgian classmates happily helped me adjust and maneuver my way around school administration, renting a flat and the like. One student met with my landlords and translated my housing contract to make sure I wasn't signing away my future. Another student went with me to my landlord's flat to resolve an issue relating to my flat deposit. When language was a barrier, the locals I knew were happy to help me out - and teach me what I needed to do the essentials - like order a Belgian beer.
Describe your favorite must-have food that you tried abroad.
When the fair is in St. Peter's Square, get yourself some oiliballen (spelling?!). They are basically giant balls of deep-fried dough covered in powdered sugar. Belgium never tasted better... except for frites with mayonnaise. The country takes its frites pretty seriously - and it shows. Also, have locals take you to a genever bar and try a few different flavors. No better way to enjoy an evening in Ghent.
How has this experience impacted your future?
MAAS is a flexible program that allows a foreign student a wide range of research options, while establishing a strong base in American Studies. With this grounding, I feel prepared for a range of professional options. At the same time, studying here made me much more sensitive to European perspectives and attitudes, especially toward the U.S. As an American, this affected me personally. Academically, it broadened my horizons.
Do you feel you got a chance to see the city from a local's perspective?
Of course! Belgian classmates were all too happy to help the foreigners see the city, know the culture and enjoy themselves. The course students developed a strong bond and supported one another academically and socially. The only limitation to experiencing the city from a local's perspective is a person's willingness or unwillingness to learn the culture, see the city and meet new people. Ghent is easy to love.
What was the best place you visited outside of your study abroad city?
There couldn't be one favorite place. So much of Belgium is easily accessible by train. Seeing Antwerp, Ieper, Liege, Namur, Oostende, Brugge, Brussels... The country is varied and beautiful. Filling your extra time in Belgium is not difficult. And that's just Belgium - it's so easy to train into the Netherlands, France, Germany or the UK. I love Brussels most of all, though. The variety of architecture, exceptional museums, great food and cafes make for a good time.