Photo Essay 2014

Ashley Russell

Ashley Russell


Inspiration, Motivation, & Integration: An Art Student’s Time in Belgium

Belgium, or as the Flemish say, België, is a small country between France and The Netherlands where I studied for the duration of my junior year’s spring semester. While pursuing my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at Washburn, I knew I wanted to study abroad somewhere inspiring and motivating.

Half a year in this waffle-loving, chocolate-making country was enough time for me to fully immerse myself in a new culture and a new environment. While studying at Provinciale Hogeschool Limburg in Hasselt, Belgium, we (the international students) were given the assignment to have our own art exhibition. The process of creating this exhibition, while working with international students from Poland and China, really pushed me as an artist – their hard work as creators and new English speakers impressed me. In fact, the title of the exhibition was “Bodies Immersed,” which had art work dealing with the concept of being in an unfamiliar place.

Being integrated in Belgium was a form of education on its own. Learning the public transportation system, reading train schedules, asking questions and navigating maps were all experienced while visiting cities in the country. From never being on a train pre-study abroad, to taking the train almost every weekend – I soon became a professional at not relying on a car.

Not relying on a car also allowed me to bike, bike, bike! Belgium is extremely biker-friendly: bikes have their own sidewalk – almost everywhere – and there are bike racks everywhere, always. Locals drink coffee while biking, hold their umbrellas while biking, even transport other bikes while biking (I once saw a man biking on his bike while steering a 2nd one with his other hand). I was able to see more and hear more as a daily biker in Hasselt. The elaborate graffiti-filled underpasses, paths through forests, and cobblestone streets  in which I biked through provided me with visual ideas and concepts for the work I was creating at my university.

Five months seemed sufficient enough to fully-integrate myself into a new culture, but by the end of my stay in Belgium, I found myself not wanting to leave. This place became my home: I experienced, I lived, I learned, I grew. The people, travels, events and surroundings in Belgium allowed me to accomplish much more than I predicted. I can’t wait to visit again, someday.


Director of PXL’s Art Department, exchange students and I at our opening night of “Bodies Immersed”

Myself and other exchange students, inspecting the city map after arriving to Brugge, Belgium

AIDS victims remembrance graffiti art in Brussels, Belgium