On Leaving

I boarded AirFrance flight 0007 at approximately 6:50 p.m. on the night of Jan. 12. That day came way faster than I had expected. Or maybe it didn’t. I guess somewhere lingering in the back of my mind I had told myself that the day wouldn’t come so soon, I still had time to be at home with friends and family in my own bed, in a place that I was familiar with.

And then months passed in a time period that felt like mere days. And then I was hugging my friends goodbye and waving goodbye to my parents at the security check at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens with tears swelled up in my eyes.

The funny thing about leaving is you never really understand how fast the day comes when you’re scheduled to leave. It comes around the corner like a bullet and kind of just sweeps you off your feet. It’s a bit unsettling, but also a bit good for you, in my humble opinion.

The entire week or so before I left my home in Bohemia, New York to fly on a jet plane to Paris I felt like I had constant ants in my pants. I found time to spend time with my parents yet I was hardly home. I was trying to see every close friend I could before I knew the day would come where I would have to pack up my belongings and say goodbye for the next few months. I didn’t want to stop moving. I didn’t want to be alone. I knew that as soon as I got on that plane I’d be entering into a culture I barely knew, something unfamiliar to me. And it made me uncomfortable.

Don’t get me wrong, I was always excited to leave for France. I started taking French classes my freshman year and immediately loved the language in a way I never experienced when studying Spanish. I loved the culture and the history and the music and the language on its own. Its complexity astounded me and intimidated me and I decided I wanted to continue studying. What I expected to merely count for a GE became my minor. And now that culture is my temporary home.

I knew that studying abroad would be the best experience for me. Getting to live in a different country in a completely alternate culture is the chance of a lifetime. To get to learn a foreign language firsthand is a dream. Or at least it had been my dream. Learning a different language always appealed to me. I was excited to dive right into a new experience, one few people take often. I kept telling myself that studying abroad would be good for me: a different environment, a different language, different food, different people. Everything different.

But I was scared. So absolutely petrified. I cried more times than I’d like to admit at the thought of leaving my best friends and my boyfriend and my family. The thought of having to speak a foreign language I’d only taken for two and a half years taunted me for the last month I was home. Going into the city to get my visa alone gave me anxiety. The thought of being without my entire support system made me sick to my stomach. And for all of those reasons, I had to push myself to leave. As scared as I was and as nervous as I knew I’d be, I had to leave. I had to get over the fear I had of the unknown, the uncomfortable, the things outside of my comfortable little bubble in New York.

That’s what I believe study abroad is for. It’s for students like me and you, reader, who feel a necessity to explore and try new things despite any sort of reluctance. Because although you feel that your human nature will defy you, it actually helps you. Your mind and your body learn to adjust. It just takes time. It’s still taking time. And while that might not have felt okay a few weeks ago, it feels okay now. You adjust to the unknown and befriend it. Suddenly the new world you’re living in isn’t so scary – and you learn new things every single day.

One final note before I leave you for now: if you are thinking about studying abroad but are doubtful for any reason, I push you and advise you to just do it and to just say yes. In my final column of the semester for The New Paltz Oracle, I cited a study from the Institute for the International Education of Students (IIES Abroad) that found that studying abroad served as a catalyst for increased maturity (97 percent), increased self-confidence (96 percent) and had a lasting impact on the students’ world view (95 percent).

Another study I cited from the University of California, Merced, reported that 97 percent of students who studied abroad found employment within 12 months of graduation while only 49 percent of college graduates found employment within the same time period. The same study found that 90 percent of study abroad alumni were accepted to their first and second choice grad schools and 80 percent of these alumni said their abroad experiences allowed them to better adapt to diverse work environments.

So don’t worry about the unknown or what’s going to come next, or maybe even about how you feel you might miss out back home. I felt the same exact way – I still do sometimes – but I know that being in Besançon will only help me now and in the future. And everything at home is waiting for me when I go back.

Au Revoir, Brussels

Tonight is my last night in Brussels – I can’t believe it! This experience, as I’ve said so many times before, has been amazing. This past year was an extremely hard one for me, and I felt like things wouldn’t get better. After experiencing this new culture and exploring this beautiful country with the friends I’ve made here, I can proudly say that I feel the complete opposite way now. I’m so incredibly thankful I was given the opportunity to come here.

I just checked in for my flight and moved my seat so I could sit near some friends. I used the Delta App, which is extremely convenient! I’m hoping I can sleep on the plane; I didn’t on my last flight, which was not fun. It’s safe to say that I will sleep for two days straight once I get back to the States.

I’ll be heading out with the rest of the New Paltz crew for a final group dinner at around 7. It’s going to be bittersweet, I’m sure. My flight is pretty early tomorrow morning, so I sadly won’t be doing anything tonight other than sleeping, packing, and saying my final goodbyes.

American Feet on Belgian Streets

Bienvenue! Welcome to Belgium, the land of chocolate. If I had known how many chocolate shops we would have seen today, I would have started counting at the beginning of todays journey! And it’s only our second day in Brussels. Yesterday, we arrived in Belgium in the afternoon, we met our host mom, Judith (also known as Maman), and her daughter Angélique. Both are wonderful! Ema and I live together in Judith’s house with two other girls: Erica (of Washington) and Domenica (of Ecudor). This morning, we scouted out the grocery stores of our area: fresh fruit, muesli, and chocolate spreads galore! Later, after lunch, Becca (our third European adventurer whom is living with another host mom) found her way to our house and we “headed into town.” We set out around 2pm with the goals of finding our school campus (check), finding our internship locations (no check), and finding the city center — or what is actually known as Grand Place or Market Square (check). By the end of the day, we had found our specific campus building, learned how to use public transportation, and saw the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula and Market Square — so much beautiful architecture!

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The above orange trees caught our eyes.

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Tigger, the bicycle.

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St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral, much larger than its luxurious front entrance.

market square

Not sure about this building yet, but it’s green! We will be given tours later this week.

market square 3

Another beautiful building, not sure again, but we will soon find out!

That’s all for now, there will be more to come from these already sore feet!

Katie

PS. Below are some photos of beautiful Ireland flying above:

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Welkom in België

The moment has finally come – I’ve finally reached Brussels! It took about seven hours to get here from JFK to Brussels Airport, which I didn’t think was too bad. As we were preparing to land, my excitement grew more and more. The man next to me seemed to be extremely nervous, and I think I was scaring him even more by recording our landing. When I got off of the plane, I honestly did not know what to expect from Brussels. So far, the city has not disappointed.

As I was riding on the train to get to our hotel, the Ibis St. Catherine, it was really starting to hit me that I wasn’t in the States anymore; I was in an entirely different continent and country. It may sound ridiculous, but that’s what was swimming through my head after a long and sleepless flight.

Due to the terror threats here in Europe back in November, our group had to relocate from a hostel to the St. Catherine hotel. The rooms aren’t very big, but they are not horrible. Once I checked into my room, I decided to break the rules and take a nap. In all honesty, I felt refreshed after getting some rest! I’m going to cross my fingers and hope that jetlag won’t hit me.

Once I was settled in, myself and other students from New Paltz participating in the program explored the area. We ate dinner at Amadeus, a restaurant that is popular for ribs (thankfully they had vegetarian options), and walked around Brussels for a little bit. Christmas lights still cover some of the cobbled roads and it was absolutely stunning to see.

The highlight of my night had to be when we found a waffle place. I personally am not a breakfast food fan and never eat waffles at home. But because literally everyone talks about how amazing the waffles are here in Belgium, I decided to give it a go. Needless to say, if I memorize exactly how to get to this place from my hotel, I will be there at least four times a day until I leave.