Name: Kelsey Hubble
Program: UMSL exchange at the University of Antwerp, Belgium
Term Abroad: Spring semester during junior year
Experiencing life as a student in a foreign country for nearly six months was nothing less than the most surreal thing I could have imagined, and one of the greatest things I’ve ever had the pleasure of doing. While you’re abroad, everything you do and everything you encounter feels serendipitous. All the things around you are brand new, and the feeling does not fade even long after you have left. Even if I wasn’t doing anything, just sitting around doing nothing felt somehow more magical, just being in such a new and stimulating environment. The feeling of boredom escaped me for half a year, because there was no conceivable way for me to be bored. There was always something to do, something new to see, and somebody looking for someone to do these things with. Which was all for the better, because although the saying usually goes “There are only two kinds of people…”, when it comes to international students studying abroad, there is only one type of person: genuine and loving individuals who want nothing more than to soak up every single new experience they possibly can with new people. This is because studying internationally brings out the best people, and it brings out the best of those people.
From the moment I arrived in Antwerp, Belgium and attended orientation at the University of Antwerp, I was introduced to the network of international students, which they called Erasmus, which consisted of approximately one-hundred and sixty students who had decided to study at UAntwerp just like I had. They told us that the bonds we would form with the other people at that orientation would likely be some of the strongest connections we ever make in our life, and they could not have been more right. Immediately, the people around me were not strangers, they were my companions in tackling an entirely new country together. Before I knew it, I had made a few friends, and I had met the friends they had made, and the friends their friends had made, and I had a network of people I developed an immediate bond with to share this adventure.
It only took three days of knowing these people who were technically still strangers before a handful of us planned a trip to fly to Morocco. I had just met these people, and I could not have felt more comfortable traveling to yet another new continent with them. We mastered haggling in the medina, traversed the Sahara desert, rode camels through the sand dunes, joined in an African drum circle, and camped under more stars than I’ve ever seen. This was something I knew I would never have been able to do while living back home, and it began as nothing more than a spontaneous whim while sitting in a coffee shop. This level of spontaneity and excitement carried itself through the rest of my five months there. It took me to The Netherlands multiple times, on a nine-hour biking excursion, and a beachside music festival. It took me through all of London, through the magically old city of Prague, through Vienna and the Austrian countryside, the overwhelming ruin bars of Budapest in Hungary, the Pride Festival in Paris, through a ten-day solo trip in Italy, numerous picturesque cities in Belgium, and most importantly, the city of Antwerp itself.
The Erasmus Network set the tone early, planning countless events specifically geared toward the international students in Antwerp. We would have themed parties at the university’s student bars, they planned bowling nights, pub crawls, nights around the city, excursions during the day to explore Antwerp’s sights and rich history, and everything they could think of to make sure their international students had something to do during their free time, as well as giving us an outlet to get to know each other better and make even more friends.
Living in the city could not have been any easier or more pleasant. Everything I could have ever wanted to do in the city was within walking distance from where I lived, and rarely a quick bus or tram ride away. Just imagine being able to walk everywhere you wanted to go in St. Louis, it’s impossible. So the accessibility of so many amazing things was outstanding, from the Sculpture Park, to the Great Cathedral, Museum ann de Stroom, Groenplaatz, Grotemarkt, even to the sandwich shop I would walk to everyday because they sold delicious sub sandwiches for only 2 euro. Even the people were unbelievably easy to get along with. There was no culture shock upon arriving, as I learned that almost everyone spoke perfectly fluent English, despite learning Dutch as a first language (some spoke even better than people I know in the U.S. who only speak English). The people in my classes were all so intelligent and engaging and I appreciate everything I was able to learn from there while I was studying, about the course subjects and about their culture as Belgians.
I was lucky enough to absorb so many different cultures while I was abroad, as my friend group consisted of people from Spain, France, Germany, Austria, Italy, The Netherlands, and so many more places. I am convinced I met the absolute greatest people that those countries have to offer, and they were all gracious enough to show me their ways of life, from cooking Spanish family dinners, to showing me their home neighborhood in northern Paris. A group of people who were always up for anything, from staying out all night until 6am when you have classes the next morning (NOT recommended) to just sitting by the river eating Belgian fries (HIGHLY recommended). It is because of them that I was able to have the experience that I did, and I began counting the days I could revisit Europe and all the people I met there from the moment I returned home.