Tag Archives: #generationstudyabroad

A New Sense of Reality

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!



Ready to board my flight with some Generation Study Abroad gear!


My view from the windows of my dorm room! I can see the sunset every evening!


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.



This is the main library of my host campus. It’s super beautiful and I can definitely see myself using it to study!


This is Arenberg Castle. It’s beautiful and currently houses the engineering and architecture departments of my host university.


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!

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Filed under Nhi in Belgium, Uncategorized, Western Europe

Classes, the Acropolis, and Aegina Island

It’s hard to believe that it’s been only two weeks since I last blogged here. The time is passing so quickly, but I’d say that’s a good sign! I have quite a few updates on what I’ve been up to lately (as I’m sure you’re all dying to know). So we’ll start with the entire purpose of this immersive experience — my classes.

I have class Monday through Thursday here, starting with my Modern Greek language class from 11:00-13:00 Mondays and Wednesdays. I went into this class thinking that it wouldn’t be incredibly difficult given that I also speak Spanish and have never really had issues in language, but immediately got smacked in the face with reality. Greek is a very difficult language. Not something you simply pick up on given the new alphabet, cultural norms that qualify how to speak and when, and conjugations. The people who live here are very forgiving when I try and fail in casual conversation though, and seem to appreciate the effort.

Next, from 3:30-5:10 Mondays and Wednesdays I have my political science/history class, Contemporary views on Greek Politics and Society. That’s a mouthful. And the length of the title just begins to explain the complexity of Greek history. I’ve only had classes for 3 weeks thus far and the sheer quantity of changes the country and culture has gone through are baffling. The professor, Dr. Gandolfo, gives an incredible account of this and is involved in a lot of ways with the political situation here first hand.

My Greek Myth and Religion class meets every Tuesday and Thursday from 3:30-5:10, and so far it’s been phenomenal. Dr. Stewart not only knows so much about the myths of old, but has excavated a lot of the religious sites, so her stories of finding different relics and what those show are pretty eye-opening and interesting in general.

Last I have my philosophy class, “The Good Life,” Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5:20-7:00. I usually don’t do well with night classes and even as a philosophy major had some doubts about how engaged I could force myself to be once my internal clock is telling me it’s way past time to stop thinking for the day, but I absolutely love this class. Dr. Mylonaki teaches in a style different than any philosophy professor I’ve had back home and constantly keeps us guessing.

As for my extracurricular activities, I’ve done quite a lot lately. I’m taking a marble sculpting workshop on Tuesday nights that’s been one of the best choices I’ve made here so far. I love art, but have never tried anything of the sculpting variety (besides clay) so it’s incredibly difficult, but also enjoyable. The past couple of weekends my friends and I have ventured around Greece where we first went to the Panathenaic stadium, which is a stone’s throw away from my apartment and was actually built in the 1800’s, then to the Acropolis. The views from the top are absolutely breathtaking. We were able to see the open air stadium and the temple of Athena.

Panathenaic Stadium

Panathenaic Stadium

View of the Parthenon

View of the Parthenon

View of the Parthenon

View of the Parthenon

The only downside to this trip is that since the economy here is still at such a standstill, pickpocketing and berating tourists for money in exchange for small toys or trinkets is popular here. A little girl forced a withering rose on me then demanded 3 euro for it, which I gave. All in the experience, as they say. My friends enjoyed laughing at my vulnerability though.

The next weekend we went to Aegina, a small island only an hour away by ferry. The island was beautiful. The water was completely clear (as you can kind of see in the pictures) and there was a perfect view of the mountains in the background of the next island. We went up a mountain to visit the temple of Aegina and looked down on the entire island and the ocean surrounding it. There were even small caves at the top (which were blocked off by wire fences for safety). It was an impeccable experience, and to be sure, an amazing weekend.

Aegina Island

Aegina Island

Aegina Island

Aegina Island

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Filed under Destiny in Greece, Western Europe

Farewell and Reflection

Saying goodbye to all of the friends that I made in Paris was very hard for me. They were the people who I had grown close to throughout my time abroad, so there were lots of tears. We all promised to keep in touch and that this would not be the last time we would see each other. It was hard to say goodbye to Paris as well. I had the best experience of my life. On my last day, I decided to walk around the neighborhood and listen to music. I wanted to absorb the beauty of Paris for the last time.

My friend Sofia from my program, AIFS

My friend Sofia from my program, AIFS

Upon arriving back in the United States, I found myself still speaking French. For example, at the airport I would say “merci” and “pardon” instead of “thank you” and “excuse me.” I remember my mother asking me a question and I replied “ouais,” which means “yeah.” It felt surreal being at home. Just yesterday I was walking around Paris and eating at a café with friends. I love my hometown, Chicago, but I miss the architecture of Paris so much. I miss being able to step outside and be less than five minutes away from a boulangerie. However, I was so excited to eat Chicago pizza again. It’s what we’re famous for. I was happy to be able to find exactly what I was looking for at the grocery store. And of course, I was happy to see my friends and family again.

The Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower

Studying abroad has been such a life changing experience for me. At first, I planned on going to graduate school and earning my Ph.D. in Chicago. Now, I think I want to earn a degree abroad or at least in another city. There’s so much to see around the world and I want to try to experience it all. I want to be a global citizen. For now, I will continue my study of the French language so that I can become fluent and plan for my summer visit to Paris!

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Filed under Christina in Paris, Western Europe

Dolphins, mudflats, and speed-dating?

It’s been six days since I landed in Australia on Sunday morning and somehow I survived. The journey was 21 hours from my home town in Boston, Massachusetts. I flew on Virgin Australia with three of my college mates: Matt, Mikhail, and Harry. After a particularly sleepless flight, our first journey was to a small eatery just outside of Stradbroke Island— nicknamed by locals, Straddie— where we had a cup of tea and snacks. Then, we took a ferry towards Straddie. It was amazing to see a whole ship carry a bus. Yes— to take all our belongings along and by the nature of Australia’s nonexistent beaches between mainland and island, it was now I see, a real necessity. That was perhaps the first thing that I noticed: the lack of bridges. Taking the ferry to the Straddie Island, I noticed the clouds seem to shift away and the blue skies started to overtake us as the ferry moved eastward towards the island. We also saw a pod of inland dolphins breach the water near Straddie, though they were just far enough to just make out. It was nevertheless quite a sight, combining a slight breeze, deep blue skies, and a feeling of openness stretching out for miles.

Since Sunday afternoon, the Hobart and William Smith College/Union College group has completed the sort of tasks that are needed for a semester together. We bonded over icebreaker activities—“speed-dating” and bingo with Australian slang. I also began to appreciate Australian’s morning tea time, which is the time after breakfast and before lunch, and their hankering for sweets in all varieties. Through sand and mud flat field work, trudging through chest-height level water, and learning the Australian sport cricket, I think a lot of changes in my life have taken place in the form of learning new activities and games.

I miss very much my comforts of my home; knowing where everything is and having everything organized and in one place in my bedroom. In my first few days, everything has been on the whim. Packing for excursions, getting ready for class, and using what precious free time we have to try to work together cohesively.

I am anxious about not being prepared. I am afraid of missing out because of not having an essential piece of item, whether physical or mental. I can tell you that I am not trying to control what cultural experiences I have or making it the utmost perfect study abroad experience ever, but it is such a vast undertaking, that it is almost overwhelming.

I can say I had this kind of realization going away 358 miles away by car from home in Boston to Hobart College in New York. But look, that was going to a new place in the same country. I could pinpoint exactly what I might expect culturally or what I may expect from the majority of other students. However, in Australia, most of the people I will come across will not be from a college town. My host family will have their own ways of living that they have developed through the years and I will be expected to conform to some extent.

And there are many more examples of my small anxieties.

1). Being prepared for week-long academic excursions to islands, national forests, and the outback.

2). Walking around in an Australian city.

3). Meeting people that could be speaking in a completely different vernacular.

Though, this is the reason why study abroad exists. There is no way around these feelings unless you immerse yourself in the experience.

I like to play tennis, run cross country, and try out new things. Moreover, I like to make it a challenge— challenge to beat what is exhausting, but in the end an accomplishment I can be proud of.

I believe that I still have a lot more room left to grow, and my first few days have shown me there is much more to discover in Brisbane.

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Filed under Oceania, Raymond in Australia

Pushing Your Limits: The Value of Study Abroad

Here’s a graph about culture shock, which should seem familiar since it pops up on this blog a lot.


I’d really like to start this post with: I hate this graph.

“Hate” is a strong word, I know.  If you’d like, I have other words I could use to describe my relationship with this graph: loathe, despise, abhor, detest.

Not any better?  Alright, we’ll stick to hate.

I’m a math major.  And I’ve tried really, really hard, y’all, to spare you from hearing about that.  For example, fun story I almost wrote about: I had the same taxi driver two days in a row, and we ended up becoming friends! The way I was going to tell it: I literally calculated the odds that I would have the same taxi two days in a row– a little under 4 ten thousandths out of 1, for the curious– and then nestled that into a story about Pi Day because it happened in March.  (You’re welcome for changing that up.)

But now I have to write about a line graph, which is so solidly in my Mathematics Zone that there is no way to go about this without a little bit of SCIENCE.

Ahem, sorry for the caps lock, I got excited.

This is a line graph.  While the axes are unlabeled, the x-axis (along the bottom) is pretty obviously time, and the correspondence of “high points” with emotionally positive things, and vice versa, can lead us to guess that the y-axis is “happiness.”


And now, my dear reader, let me add a straight line, marking “constant happiness” from where you began, pre-study abroad.


And now, my dear reader, what do you notice?

You finish below the line of constant happiness.  You end up less happy.  Study abroad is a net negative.


(Disclaimer, it’s not just me: I showed the original, unmarked graph to Juliana, my roommate, for whom– and I quote– even basic math is difficult, and she still immediately asked, “So life will never be as good as before?”)

I’ve studied abroad before, thanks to the US Dept. of State NSLI-Y scholarship, and I can assure you that my life improved significantly.  That summer in Morocco altered my goals in life, political views, interpersonal relationships, perception of myself, America, and Arabs… and all for the better.  Were there low points, both during my trip and during reverse culture shock after?  Of course.

But were my happiness and life, overall, improved?  Of course!

And now, with the amazing opportunity to study abroad a second time with the Gilman Scholarship, yeah, sure, I identify with this graph on some level.  I had a week there in month two where I just wanted to see my friends, the ones I’ve been friends with for years instead of all the ones I’d just met; I anticipate some absolutely terrible reverse culture shock next month, when I want to take a taxi to downtown and listen to live Arabic jazz, and realize I’m in Kentucky where nothing interesting happens ever; of course I’ve had some local minima– er, I mean, “downs.”

But I still hate this graph, and I want you to all know that it gets things so so so so so wrong with regard to the most important part: where you end should be way higher than where you began, because studying abroad is awesome and will make your life better.

Brought to you by your not-so-local math major.

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Filed under Charlotte in Jordan, Culture Shock, middle east