Tag Archives: #firstimpressions
Hi! I’m Nhi and I’m currently studying at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KU Leuven) in Belgium! I’m an Anthropology major and Museum Studies minor and will be continuing my studied here in Leuven. I arrived here on September 19th and have slowly been acclimating to Belgian culture.
Leuven is a small city east of Brussels. It’s a beautiful city where biking is the main mode of transportation. But I am a little skittish of riding a bike so I’ve been walking everywhere.
This was my first time traveling internationally alone and I have to admit, I was pretty nervous about flying and figuring out how to get to KU, but navigating the airport and surviving the long flight was easier than I had initially thought! My study abroad program gave me pretty straightforward directions on how to navigate the airport and what train I had to take to get from Brussels to Leuven. Leuven was a short 15 minute train ride from Brussels. From the train station my dorm is a 3 minute taxi ride or about a 15 minute walk. I live in a residential dorm with 14 other international students. We share a kitchen and bathroom and have grown really close within the past week. There are people from Spain, Belgium, South Korea, Germany, England, Croatia, and America. So it’s really fun not only learning Belgian culture, but the cultures of all of these other countries!
The first thing I noticed when I got to Leuven was how differently the roads and streets work here. Unlike the States where we have traffic lights and usually separate bike lanes, around where I live in Leuven there are no traffic lights and no separate lanes for bikes! Pedestrians, bikes, and cars all share the same road with no traffic lights and have to fend for themselves on the road! You just have to zoom across the street, because there is no guarantee a bike or car will yield to you. The streets are mostly all stone roads from what I can tell, so paved sidewalks and roads bleed into each other with almost little to no distinction.
Another thing I found surprising is that every store you go to requires you to buy a bag to hold your purchases. The bags can cost anywhere from 5-25 cents. I was expecting it at some grocery stores, but it’s at EVERY store I’ve been to so far and that has ranged from a grocery store, to a Belgian version of CVS, to a tech store. I usually try to stuff my purchases in a bag I already have but sometimes I have had to bite the dust and buy a plastic bag. It’s a funny quirk to me and the other Americans who live in my corridor.
Another thing that is different from America is that all stores are closed on Sundays! There are a few 24/7 stores open but mostly everything else is closed on Sunday and reserved for people to rest and prepare for the upcoming week, which I think is nice for all the workers and business owners. Small things like this took me for spin at first but now it seems pretty normal to me.
All in all, the time I’ve spent in Belgium so far has been wonderful and has allowed me to meet some amazing friends and see beautiful buildings in Belgium that leave me in awe. The few days I’ve been in Belgium have me so excited for what else the beautiful country has in store for me. I’m excited for my next 3 months here in Belgium and am grateful that Gilman has helped make this trip possible for me!
My name is Christopher Amoako-Kwaw, a senior at Fairfield University in Connecticut spending my LAST fall semester of senior year in Florence, Italy. No, to just say Florence, Italy would not do this city enough justice. The beautiful, magical, breath-taking Florence, Italy is where I have been the past six days.
I never really had a picture of what Florence would look like. I’ve see photos and things of that nature, but I never could have expected what I have seen now. Before leaving this past Sunday, I can’t say that I was anxious. I’m not really someone that gets anxious because I am willing to take on any challenge. I would say that I felt that things would be a little weird. Not being around my close friends that I have made at Fairfield, not being able to go home in case of an emergency, things of that nature were on my mind. I just made sure I saw all of my friends and family members before I left. I also made sure to see professors and administrators who have supported me during this process to thank each and every one of them.
When I first officially got here, I was actually kind of shocked. I had no idea Florence had so many tourists. I got off the plane thinking my days of seeing Americans all the time and speaking English were over. But to my surprise, they were everywhere. And I can see why. This city is truly something to behold. I am in an apartment with five other students, and my apartment is located three minutes away from the Duomo. Yes, the Duomo. It’s crazy just walking one block and being outside of its grand and mysterious grace. It’s one of the most beautiful and intricate things I have ever set my eyes on. Also, when I first got here I thought that all I would be eating is the best kind of pizza and pasta. But since I’ve been here, the pasta and pizza from the U.S. actually tastes a lot better. I’m hoping it’s because I haven’t been to the best pizza and pasta places yet, so I’ll continue looking around.
This is something worth noting: I am the only black person from Fairfield here in the program. The Fairfield Florence program host students from three different schools, Fairfield University, Providence College, and Saint Jose. I am also the ONLY black person in the entire program. So yes, definitely a difference from my college experience in the U.S. Diversity is certainly an issue back at Fairfield, but I have people like me that I surround myself with. So I’m not really sure if this is a culture shock or a culture change, buts it’s definitely about to be an experience I have never had before. I am definitely happy and excited to take on this challenge.
I have actually noticed many differences between the U.S. and this beautiful city. Other than the obvious 6 hour time difference, the way Italians behave is very different. First off, the streets aren’t packed and busy until around 9:30/10 am. Back home, stores are open and people are running to work at 7:30 am, so that is very different. Another difference is the eating patterns. Restaurants, cafes, and little shops close around 3 pm and open up again around 7 pm. Apparently, that gap is used for sleep so I’ll be getting really use to that.
In terms of goals, I really just want to explore where I live. I want to know how to get home from anywhere as naturally as I do when I’m home. I want to be able to walk into a store or restaurant and not look confused at the menu or confused at what they are offering or saying. I want to be able to go to a grocery store and know exactly what the things mean and say. These are little things yes, but I know they will go a long way. My main goal is to honestly just step outside my comfort zone and meet new people. I don’t want to fall into my ways of comfort. I want to experience what others experience, together with them. I also want people to experience what I experience as well, as well as feel comfortable around me.
People were telling me that coming here would feel like I was in a different world. They certainly were not lying. But people also told me that I can handle anything that comes my way and overcome it. They were not lying about that either.
¡Hola a todos!
Today marks two weeks since the night that I landed in Quito, Ecuador. It is hard to remember the last few days that I spent in the United States. They seem like a blur, a rapid time lapse of the friends and family who wanted to spend time with me and I them before I was on my way to another continent! Mixed with a dose of last minute packing and stressing about documents I needed when abroad made time go even faster, and in a blink of an eye I was saying goodbye to my boyfriend and was ready to board my flight, which happened to be delayed by just a few hours. Little did I know this delay was quite the foreshadowing for the culture that I would be surrounded by later that very night.
A few phone conversations, a layover, and one burger later, I was en route to Quito from Fort Lauderdale! Sitting next to me on the plane were two Ecuadorian siblings who were on their way home from visiting Washington D.C. with their parents. This was my first experience of many to come where I truly had to use my mind as the Google Translator I know it can be. My time here will perhaps even require me to translate my thoughts into English upon my return!
I didn’t expect it, but after my flight landed and the doors slid open to reveal people with balloons, flowers, signs, smiles, tears, and more, I found myself getting a little emotional. I was in a completely foreign place and it was just starting to set in. Beyond the different language, the people around me had a way about them unlike any I had seen before. Their mannerisms, gestures, the colorful tones I heard when they spoke, combined with seeing families and couples reunited after what must have felt like ages, my eyes started to water. I could feel the welcoming environment around me, and even more so when I met my host mom and her friend, who hugged me while asking me endless questions and helping me with my luggage.
The sky was pitch black during the drive home, but the city of Quito was still awake, with lights from houses, streets, and stores, shining so bright that they created shadows of the seemingly endless and immense mountains that engulfed the city. The next morning, I saw those breathtaking mountains everywhere I went, and I am sure that if there is one aspect of my life here that I will never get used to, it will be this beautiful landscape.
The feelings that my experience two weeks ago at the airport gave me have yet to leave and perhaps they never will. I meet Ecuadorians on the bus, walking on the street, in stores, getting lunch, in classes, anywhere you can imagine, and they are all filled with love that they want to share with you. Although these past two weeks have been filled with ups and downs, of feeling homesick and lost throughout conversations or in classes filled with Ecuadorian students, I am starting to feel more and more at home and have been stepping out of my comfort zone daily, making every day I spend here an adventure that I look forward to.
“When are you going to start packing for studying abroad? You know you’re going to be there for 6 months. You need to start now.” That’s what my mom said about a month before my date of departure to Vienna, Austria. I laughed and told her my plans for the next couple of weeks, then went on about my business. Boy, was she right! Funny pre-departure story: I cried from the moment I arrived at the airport until I boarded the plane. Serious tears, not crocodile tears. I wasn’t crying because I was going to miss my parents or home, or for any of the usual leaving-home-for-a-long-time reasons. I cried because I forgot to grab my winter coat. Yes, my winter coat, of all things. I think the stress and sleep deprivation from packing was the cause. I mean, after unpacking and repacking three times in a matter of five days, all while juggling an online class, I learned my lesson the hard way. The good news is that the journey to Austria was a memorable one, and I survived without my winter coat.
Since the first day I arrived in Austria, I keep thinking Vienna is massive! (Compared to my hometown of Indianapolis, Indiana.) When I tell the people who live here how big I think the city is, we always end up agreeing to disagree. My initial thought about Vienna is that the number of people on the streets do not amount to the number of apartment buildings in the city. There are so many buildings, and no two buildings look alike.
I’d say the size of Vienna is comparable to New York City or Chicago, but the discomfort of walking through those cities just isn’t here. I say discomfort because if you’ve ever visited New York City or Chicago, you just can’t escape bumping into a couple of people or getting lost in a huge crowd. I believe the fact that Vienna is separated into 22 districts is the reason it feels less populated. Every district I’ve been in also varies in the vibe it gives off. One may feel urban while another feels more suburban. I live in District 22 near the Schonbrunn Palace, and I’d describe it as a busy but relatively quiet district. It’s lined with cafes, local markets, restaurants, and art galleries (recent discovery)!
The way Vienna is set up makes it unique and breathtaking, and excites me more than any city I’ve ever visited. There’s a thrill in knowing that I won’t ever be bored because on top of my classes, there will always a new place to visit, or a different restaurant to try out. I love the city life!