“Why did you want to study abroad one more time?” This was the question I got asked the most when I started preparing to go on an exchange to Belgium. At that time, I didn’t really know why.
One friend told me that she had traveled to 11 different countries while on her exchange. That idea of being able to see the whole beautiful continent of Europe excited me the most, even though I wasn’t sure what exactly I wanted to see or get out of the experience.
I finally got to see 10 countries in Europe during my stay, but the number did not matter anymore to me. I learned that traveling was fulfilling, not just because of all the beautiful destinations, but because it gave me the opportunity to bond with my friends and to discover my hidden self. The places were simply just attachments to stories of what happened on the road.
I will never forget when my friends and I went out all night discovering Hamburg, Germany, then boarded the early flight back to Belgium the next morning; when we slept on the floor of a friend’s dorm room in Amsterdam for the King’s Day celebration; and when I traveled by myself to Italy without knowing any of the language, got lost in the middle of the night in the suburbs of Florence City and magically got back to the hostel after being helped by some nice passers-by.
What I am also fascinated about is the dorm life with other exchange students from all around Europe. I wasn’t only able to study with them but also to learn about how people from different cultures live their lives. Whenever we had dinner together, the cultural distinctness was clearly shown on the table. However, such meals were not very common, since we all had different daily routines.
At 5:30 p.m., Belgian students normally would start preparing foods for their 6 o’clock dinner. French students ate at 8 p.m. While the French took their time to enjoy their meals and desserts, the Spanish students would start cooking and dancing with music in the kitchen. What could be a better and more fun way to learn cultures?
Four and a half months on exchange was an absolutely life-changing experience for me. It’s not a long time period, but it’s enough for me — who, in February, boarded the plane to Europe not knowing much about the continent — to see, learn and become more aware of the world I’m living in.