American Courses in a European Context

I’m SO behind on blogging that I’m afraid I’m going to leave out bits of  last week! But, I guess that’s a good sign because it means I’m busy and staying out of trouble (for the most part 🙂 )

Vesalius College, the college that I’m studying at, is located on the Vrije Universeit of Brusseles campus. The Free University of Brussels is divided into two separate campuses- the French campus (ULB) and the Dutch campus (VUB)- in response of  the divided population in Brussels; Vesalius (or VeCo) is a part of the Dutch university. Students who attended VeCo are from all around the world, and a good fifty-percent of the 500 students are study abroad students. My college shares a building with various other English schools and programs also sponsored by the VUB. Our building is very modern, and VeCo occupies two floors in the building. Its a big change for having all of my classes in the same building, rather than having to walk 5-10 minutes to have to get to my next class. While VeCo has their own building, we are able to use all the facilities on both campuses: the library, the dinning hall, bars, etc. (Yes, college bar haha)

Classes are up and running, homework is already piling up, and my mind is working overtime to comprehend both new academic concepts and the view points of my international classmates. A couple of general observations before focusing in on each class.  I am taking four courses, and all of my classes meet for three hours, once a week 9with the exception of my history class that meets for 1h30). Note- while, ideally, this sounds great because it poses the benefit of having days off (no classes on Tuesdays and Fridays), three hour courses are brutally long. Teachers do tend to give breaks once or twice during the class, but others treat a ten minute break as the transition period between two class periods, resulting in two assessments/lesson plans per class, one for each half.  Like classes in the USA, my classes are all participation heavy and require you to be familiar with the course material (if not for class discussion, then at least for  exams and midterms.) With the exception of my French class, assessments are limited to a midterm exam, a final exam, and one – two additional assignments, typically an oral presentation or a 4,000-5,000 word paper. Little bit of a culture shock when I realized that students talk over the professors in class, or hold their own side conversations, although I’m pretty sure students are working to define words. I’ve also noticed that a lot of the comments made by my peers in class aren’t made to expand upon the conversation in class, but rather, make connections to similar incidences in culture/society, or to add some random bit of information to prove that they did the reading. While I’d being lying to say that I’ve never done either of the above, it’s a good reminder to not say things to fill space, but to speak less often and more profoundly to contribute to the conversation in a provocative manner. There are 30-40 students in both of my politics courses, 20 in my European studies course, and 8 in my French class.

Now, onto the courses! As I said, I’m taking four courses. My first course, Contemporary Political Debates, meets on Monday morning, and I’m pretty sure that my professor is Count Dracula (he also has four fingers on one hand, and three on the other!) The class takes the form of reading various articles/ essays regarding how culture has shaped various historical situations and current events around the world, and discussing them in class. As you can imagine, the class is very opinionated, but unlike my courses at HWS, I’m exposed to a wide range of opinions from my international classmates, which is super interesting. It will also be interesting, and selfishly exciting, to hear my professor and classmates’ thoughts on America’s role in our global community, and join in on the critical,somewhat cynical insight on American foreign policy.

My European Studies course starts at the Roman Empire, and traces European history through the centuries, honing in specifically on European art and architecture. The really cool thing about this course though (other than using the same history book from freshmen year at Porter’s) is the mandatory trips we take throughout Europe- I know, rough life 🙂  Throughout the course of the semester, we will take weekend trips to Aachen and Cologne in Germany, Antwerp, Bruges, Paris, and Amsterdam. I’m so excited for this prime experiential learning opportunity starting next weekend with Germany! Plus my teacher is pretty much a French Huffy from MPS, so this will be a fun semester:)

My French class has already reminded me of my love/hate relationship with language classes; while I love practicing the language through caual conversations and interesting readings, it requires so much work! We have essentially two assessments per class, and so much homework- but at least I know my French will be so much stronger by the end of the semester. Our class will also read a section of French play and actually go see one at the theater!

Finally, my Understanding European Security and Conflict will allow me to continue my thematic track of security issues, will doing in depth analysis of various genocides as case studies. The first class was a little dry, but I have heard awesome things about this professor and I have high hopes for semester.

I have also landed an internship for the semester to complete in edition to my courses.  I will be working as a writer, editor, and member of the marketing team for (A)WAY magazine- a Belgian magazine that, life a Family Fun magazine, caters to locals and ex-pats and provides information about various aspects of Belgian life. My first day officially starts tomorrow and i’m so excited to have the chance to work for a national magazine and be published by the end of the semester 🙂

The rest of my week was really low-key; hanging out at the campus’ bar or sandwich shop after classes with friends and trying to iron out the details of my internship and class schedule. I’m very excited to finally have my schedule underway!

Here’s to week two! More to come on my adventures both weekends (the Brussels and Leuven-la-Neuve) but my memo pad is dying!

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