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!

LIVING in Brussels

What does it mean to enjoy living in Brussels?

It means sleeping in, reading the newspaper over baguette, nutella, and tea, familiarizing yourself with today’s current events.

It means jumping on the bus down the street from your house, nodding to the bus driver who has seen you three days in a row now, and greets you with a ‘Bonjour!’

It means not getting lost when transferring from bus stop to tram stations, and pausing to help other Americans read their map and orient themselves.

It means walking into the secretary’s office for some paperwork, and getting asked questions by other students who thought I was her assistant! 🙂

It does not mean waiting an hour to register for classes (grrrrr), but it’s having your advisor speak to you in French about the origins of your last name.  For the record, I was placed in Advance French, Debating Contemporary Issues, Exploring Transnational Issues in Europe, and a European Studies course that will bring me to France, Germany, and The Netherlands on various expeditions!

It means having an interview for an awesome internship and totally geekying out with professors over political strategies to respond to the chemical warfare attacks in Syria.

It means going to a local sandwich stand with the girls and getting baguette-long sandwiches that are SO good 🙂

It means exploring ULB without any time restraints or restrictions, just talking, exploring and soaking up the sunshine.

It means finding Brussels’ equivalent to a Walmart and making questionable purchases hahaha

It means returning to the campus bar, sitting outside, and enjoy a Belgian beer and chatting.

It means getting frustrated, both at the bank teller and the secretary at Veco, for delaying paperwork, but not worrying because you still have 133 more days to figure it out 🙂

It means exploring the streets surrounding Veco, even if there’s really nothing there 

It means getting frites (french fries) from a street vendor with mayo 🙂 actually REALLY good and I hate mayo! (I feel very Belgian!)

It means taking the transports home and, even when missing your stop, still being able to navigate your way home.

It means having a homemade dinner with my host mom and new host student and serving as the translator so they can get to know each other (and realizing how strong my French really is!)

It means retiring early for the night, eager to embark on my six hour tour of Brussels tomorrow!

A Demain! xo

 

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“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.”

Orientation has finally started, and I’m up and about mapping out public transportation routes, noting bits of advice and instructions, taking lots of photos, and enjoying the thrill of getting lost and having to find my way home!  I think the thing that’s really cool about this trip that makes it both exciting and nerve wracking is the lack of direction and supervision from a director, teacher, tour guide, etc.  Unlike all of the trips I’ve taken in the past, I’ve had an agenda; but in Brussels, it’s just me, especially since classes haven’t begun yet! Riding home on the metro today after getting totally lost and walking around like a nerd with my map out, Mother Teresa’s quote came to mind.  This time, I’m the leader. I set the agendas, I make the calls, I organize the activities- Brussels is my playground. It’s wonderfully exciting, yet I’m slightly bumbed that I just had this revelation today after three days in my neighborhood, I can’t imagine what the next couple days, weeks, months have in store!

DAY 3:

Tuesday morning, Marie-France took me to register at the local commune (city hall); I should receive my paperwork confirming my temporary residency within the upcoming days.  Returned back to the house for a light lunch, and I spent the afternoon in my host mom’s garden reading away.  The title of my blog, My Markings, is based off of Dag Hammarskjold’s journal, which is also published under the title ‘Markings.’ Dag Hammarskjold served as the second Secretary General for the United Nations from 1953-1961; he was a man with impeccable political insight, a passion for community service, and a commitment to his faith.  My dad had received a copy of Hammarskjold’s journal at the start of his studies in Brussels and so, in carrying on the legacy, presented me with my own copy last Christmas to help guide me during my time abroad.  While I’m not even half through the book, one quote really stuck out to me that really stuck out as I embark on this journey.

“But at some moment I did answer Yes to someone – or something – and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and that, therefore, my life, in self-surrender, had a goal.”

Marie-France and I had dinner that night at her friend’s house, who is also hosting two American students from Veco (my university).  While they are a part of the College’s business program, it was still GREAT to make connections in my area (and to have a little break from speaking French all the time!)  🙂

DAY 4:

Wednesday came with lots of LONGGG information sessions, and the nerves of navigating both Brussels’ metro and bus routes!  Luckily for me, Belgium has this great website that helps you map out which buses/metros to take, where to get off, and how to get to transfer stations- however being ME, my 35 minute trip to school took 50 minutes (C’mon Girl Scouts, you were supposed to teach me how to read a map!!) Coming home was definitely much smoother of a process- at least I’m learning! 🙂 Currently using a paper pass that allows me ten rides per card; I plan on purchasing an unlimited pass card, which is much cheaper, to use for the rest of the semester.

While Wednesday’s orientation program for international students was very helpful with answering questions, nine hours in the same room is TOO LONG! That being said, the day’s program did provide a great setting for getting acquainted with the VUB campus, reconnecting with HWS classmates also on the trip, and learning about various cultural practices that may arrive in our day to day events with our host families .  There are approximately 150 students in my program, with maybe 100 of us being international students. It’s a large group!  I’ll have my classes confirmed for sure tomorrow, so that’s exciting too! Overall, lots of information, but so tired at the end!

On my way home from orientation, I took a quick detour between the tram and the bus stations to stop and get some groceries (when heading to school, I take the bus for 20 minutes and the tram for 10 , and vise versa for the way home, with maybe 5-10 minutes waiting in between). Made in home in time for dinner! Marie France’s two eldest sons and their girl friends came for dinner- which was a lot of fun! Was exhausted from a long day, so went to bed early for the night!

DAY 5:

Being with a French host family has already started to pay off- had my French placement exam this morning, and was recommended by the professors that I be placed in Advanced French which is AWESOME because all we do is read really cool French lit and have oral presentations (can you tell that I’m excited!?!) Hopefully, they don’t factor in the grammar portion of the exam too heavily!

Took the bus after the exam with a couple of friends to get lunch.  Ended up in one of the side streets off of the Grand Place, which is essentially ‘Little Greece’- all Greek restaurants (not as good as Yia-Yia’s bakery though!) Enjoyed a delicious falafel and my first Belgian beer- Jupiler. Great lunch with great company!

After lunch, my friends headed off to their internship interviews, and I took off exploring the area by myself! It was amazing- no schedule, no time constraints- just me! Starting in Grand Place, I traveled down the six side streets, visiting museums, churches, waffle stands ( 🙂 ) and much more! I posted the pictures below so, rather than tell you everything, I can show you! Overall, while I may have suffered from dehydration and, yet again, looked like a nerd with my map wide open, I made it back home in time for dinner and a intriguing conversation about the education systems with my host mom. A wonderful, inspiring, adventurous day! 🙂

The View from Le Palais de Justice (the Palace of Justice)

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Le Palaise de Justice (the Palace of Justice)Image

Bruxelles

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Greek Restaurant and Street

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Le Grand Place (again 🙂 )

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Street Art- Tintin

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Le Musee du Cacoa et du Chocolate (Chocolate Museum)

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My First Belgian Waffle!!

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L’Exhibit de da Vinci

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L’Eglise de Saint Nicolas (St. Nicolas’ Church)

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Musee de Tintin

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Galeries Royales St. Hubert

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And, when I got lost and looked for landmarks (haha Mom…)

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Ain’t nothin’ better
We beat the odds together
I’m glad we didn’t listen
Look at what we would be missin’

-Shania Twain