By Alex MacDougall
In the fall of last year, I went to the Study Abroad Fair, held every semester at the student center here at Worcester State. I had always been interested in travel and to study in a foreign country, but I had no idea where I wanted to go. My favorite country (other than the United States) is Italy, but I had already been there, and I wanted to experience something new.
Being a communications major, one city that was suggested to me was Brussels, the capital of Belgium. It’s also capital of the European Union and the headquarters for NATO, so it seemed like an amazing opportunity to learn how governments and political organizations interact with the media, as well as a good chance to discover a culture I knew little about.
Being located between France, Germany, and the Netherlands, it would also mean I would be able to travel to these countries in Europe as well. I made up my mind then and there that I would choose Belgium as my study abroad destination.
The group I traveled with was organized by the International Study Abroad (ISA) program, which recruits students from all across the country. Not only did I learn about foreign cultures of Europe, but was also able to meet people from different parts of America as well.
They also organized several different excursions for us, from institutions like the European Parliament Building to beautiful cities such as Bruges and Ghent, located in the Flanders; the Dutch-speaking region of Belgium. If you want to get a taste of what Bruges is like, I highly recommend watching “In Bruges” on Netflix. Great movie!
In addition to taking regular classes at Vesalius College, the English-speaking college where I studied, I also decided to take an Art History course as an elective. Though it cost an additional fee, it was well worth it. In that course I was able to see some of the most beautiful art museums and cities in all of Europe.
Our first major trip was a three-day stay in Amsterdam where we visited the world-famous Rijksmuseum, which contains art from the famous Dutch masters Rembrandt and Johannes Vermeer, as well as a stop to the Vincent Van Gogh museum. We also visited Paris, home of the Louvre and its famous Mona Lisa painting. There was an enormous crowd of tourists in front of it taking pictures. Then we visited Versailles, home of the former French nobility. And what’s a trip to Paris without stops at Notre-Dame and La tour Eiffel?
My travels weren’t just limited to school-sponsored excursions. I was able to travel independently during my Spring Break period, although the program offered a trip to Morocco for those who wanted to feel more secure in their travels.
After my Art History trip to Paris, three friends and I journeyed to Prague, the capital of Czech Republic and one of the most underrated cities in Europe. From there we took our separate paths and I traveled solo to Munich and Vienna.
In Munich I met several exchange students from China, and in Vienna I shared a hostel with two roommates who hailed from Brazil. I learned just as much intercultural communication through meeting these people as I did through studying with any program. I ended my independent travel in Italy, where I met up with one of my old Italian teachers in Venice, before heading to Milan, from which I flew back to Brussels.
My semester abroad was coming to a close, but I still had one last trip. ISA arranged a weekend to go to the southern part of Netherlands to celebrate Konigsdag (King’s Day). We took a bike tour around the famous windmills of Kinderdijk, a trip to Keukenhof tulip gardens, and lastly to The Hague, home of the International Criminal Courts. In addition to hosting the ICC, The Hague also had what I believe to be some of the best nightclubs I have ever been to, especially on King’s Day, when everyone is decked out in orange.
If you are still wondering whether or not you wish to study abroad for a semester, I am here to tell you: Do it. You will not be disappointed. For a price that isn’t much more than a semester at Worcester State, you get to visit many amazing places and meet a ton of amazing people. Oh yeah, and you do learn quite a bit as well.
My final anecdote: After my semester officially ended, my family came up to visit me and we went several places together across the Mediterranean. One of the places was Rome, and while we were crossing the street on our way to the Trevi Fountain, I heard someone call out my name. It was two of the Chinese students I had met while in Munich! I guess it really is a small world, huh?