Tot de Volgende Keer / Until the Next Time
If someone had told me my freshman year that I would one day pack my life into a suitcase, learn Dutch, and eat my weight in fries, I would have called that person crazy. Sometimes, though, the crazy has a way of making itself appealing, and that must be how I wound up in Hasselt, Belgium, preparing for five months away from everything I’d ever known before.
Sometime around Labor Day 2011, my friend casually mentioned that she’d like to Study Abroad. After about two minutes of deliberation, I e-mailed the Washburn coordinators and began my whirlwind plan to spend the Spring 2012 semester at the Provinciale Hogeschool Limburg. Crazy? No: it was the best decision I could have made.
On February 1, 2012, I touched down in Brussels National Airport, fresh off a 20-hour plane ride and destined for a city I’d never heard of before September. Within a week I’d created a blog (jeneverjourneys.wordpress.com), eaten my first of many orders of frietjes (Belgian fries), and met the most varied group I will probably ever live with. We quickly formed a core group of friends (most of us students at PHL) consisting of Spanish, Scottish, Turkish, and me: the lone American. We went everywhere together: picnics in the park, all across Belgium: Ghent, Antwerp, Brussels, Bruges and more, to nearby Maastricht for Carnaval, to Berlin, Amsterdam, and along with the Spanish students on the trip home for Easter.
Besides all of these exotic excursions and multinational associates, I was also able to make friends with several native Belgians. Despite their reserved and distant first impressions, my Belgian compatriots soon warmed up, and were a vital part of my study. As the only American in the ceramics studio, I relied upon my classmates for guidance when the professors were gone, or being less-than-helpful. They helped me learn Dutch, lent me tools and supplies, offered travel advice, and even drove me to the hardware store when I needed sandpaper. I know that they helped me get through some hard times, and I miss their camaraderie in the workspace.
I’d be lying if I said that every day was beautiful, and the first to say that studying abroad is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Adapting to new money, food, housing, transportation, friends, and teachers is not easy. Doing all of that almost 7000 miles away from everyone else I knew was heart-wrenching, but it was not the most difficult part. Despite the distance, I knew that I would return to Kansas, and I would see everyone again. The hardest thing was leaving Belgium and all of the people I had met, because there was no plan for a return.
I miss Hasselt, and the people, every day. Fortunately, the Internet has made our friendship possible beyond those five months: I can Skype with my friends from Turkey and Scotland, write a message to my studio-mates from PHL, and watch a YouTube cover by my Spanish friend, all from my own home. The personal connection may be lacking, but it’s a way to continue our friendship until we meet again: tot de volgende keer.
Students dressed for a party in Leuven.
Spanish students at Carnaval in Maastricht.
Graffiti Street in Ghent.
A Scottish friend at a picnic in the park.
Walk along the beach in Spain.