Archive | October, 2013

Aller au cinéma! (Fall Break Day 2)

30 Oct

I don’t know about most high school introductory French courses, but one of the first phrases I learned how to say is, “go to the movies,” which is the title for today’s blog post about what to look out for when going to the movies in Belgium. 

For me, going to the movies is a relaxing enterprise. I do it when school or life is stressful and I just need a couple of hours to escape into another world. I know that many other study abroad students may feel the way, but not know what to navigate the system that is international movie theaters. Due to some research, I have made a step-by-step guide on how to do the movies in Brussels (which I’m guessing can translate relatively well to other cities and countries outside of the US). 

Step 1: Find your movie theater 

Remember everyone, Google is your friend, even in a foreign country. All you need to do is Google “Brussels movie theaters,” and they will help you with the rest. Personally, I enjoy the UCG De Brouckere. Not only can I easily get there with the 71 bus, but it is in a good location, has a good facility, and has a student discount price. 

Step 2: Decide on what movie you want to watch

This may be the biggest problem with going to the movies abroad, because not all of the movies are in English like we are used to. Luckily for us, different countries have established different ways to tell you what language the movie will be in. In France, if you see “V.O.” next to a movie, that means it is in the original language (without voice overs) and will have subtitles in French. This becomes a little difficult in a country like Belgium that has two different languages that are important (French and Dutch). Their identification system goes like this:

  • VOSTBIL: This means that the movie is in its original language and has subtitles in both French and Dutch. I believe a majority of the movies that I want to see are in this format. 
  • VF: This means that the movie is either in French or has been dubbed over so that French is the language heard. Pretty much any  childrens’ movie that you want to see will be in this format. 
  • VNL: This means that the movie is either in Dutch or has been dubbed over so that Dutch is the language heard.
  • VOFSTNL: This means that the movie is in French, but there are Dutch subtitles. 

Step 3: Make sure to have cash

I think this is something that all Americans (at least) need to remember when going through other countries, whether on vacation or study abroad: not everywhere takes debit/credit cards. Sometimes your bank card will not work in the stores. European bank cards are made different than American cards. They have a chip in the end of the cards that makes it so they don’t need to slide the cards. Get used to it! Sometimes bank cards from one European country won’t work in another European country. Therefore, be smart, and make sure to have cash on you when you go out of things like this. It sucks trying to find an ATM in the middle of nowhere. 

Step 4: Know your popcorn

I don’t know about other people, but I don’t think the movie experience is complete without a bag of popcorn (I’m a little obsessed). Well, just because you’re in Europe doesn’t mean you need to change that habit completely, just alter it a little. When you order popcorn at the movies they will ask you if you want it salted or sweet (“salé” or “sucré”). They do not load on the butter like us Americans. However, don’t let that discourage you. I am a big butter lover, but I still love the salé popcorn at the movies. Especially with some gummy candy. 🙂

Step 5: Enjoy the movie…

But not just the movie. Enjoy the experience! If you think about it, something as basic as going to the movies is culturally different just between us Western nations. By going to the movies in another country and getting used to their system, it is a way of slowly integrating yourself into that local custom. You don’t have to have a certain culture or custom to enjoy a nice relaxing afternoon at the movies. 🙂


Historian Heart: A Day at the Citadelle de Namur (Fall Break Day 1)

27 Oct

I officially started my week of fall break! Since it is a full week and I will be traveling around a great deal, I will be updating my blog almost every day to make sure that I get as much information in as possible (plus, I’m really enjoying writing all of this down!).

On the train from Brussels to Namur

On the train from Brussels to Namur

Today marked my first day trip to somewhere in Belgium. I don’t know what took me so long, but it finally happened! Though my friend Hannah and I were originally going to go to Paris for the weekend, we decided it would be easier and more economically sound to just do two day trips here in Belgium. Today’s adventure was to the historic town of Namur, Belgium in the Namur province of Wallonia. We had a blast walking through the vendor-filled streets as soon as we got into the city (even when my purse strap ripped and I had to buy a new bag) but we spent most of our day enjoying the amazing weather trekking to and visiting the Citadelle! There are three main parts to the Citadelle (The Castle of the Counts, Médiane, and Terra-nova) and the some of the most extensive underground passages in the heart of a citadel in Europe. I’ll go into a little bit of the history of the different parts of the castle, because we had an amazing tour guide and we learned so much!

The Castle of the Counts

The tower is left from the original medieval structure. The bridge next to it was added by the Dutch, and the connecting structure was added later by the Belgian army.

The tower is left from the original medieval structure. The bridge next to it was added by the Dutch, and the connecting structure was added later by the Belgian army.


The Castle of the Counts is the original, medieval portion of the Citadelle. It was built between the 10th and 15th century. It is located between the Sambre and Meuse river, in between the county of Namur and the beginning of the Liege province. The Citadelle was originally the home of the earls of Namur. There are very few pieces of this original castle left. Some of the doorways and arches in the underground passages were taken from the original structure. There are also a few towers and pieces of foundation left. Hannah and I realized we were really meant to be friends when we both got way too excited about touching an archway from the Middle Ages. It was like we were kids in a candy store. It is also interesting to see how these original pieces have been mixed in with other structures throughout time. The Country of Namur and the castle were sold to the Duke of Burgundy in 1421.



The Médiane

A window for soldiers to put their guns out of to shoot. Three soldiers would be assigned to each of the windows along this wall. There was also a set of ventilation shafts to get rid of the smoke from firing their weapons.

A window for soldiers to put their guns out of to shoot.


The Médiane was added in the 16th century. The location of the Castle of Counts at the junction of the rivers and important trade routes made it important strategically, but also made it vulnerable. It was because of this vulnerability that Charles V ordered the Médiane to be built. This area was more equipped to the use of cannons, which was becoming more and more prevalent, as well as have better resistance to bombings. This is also the area where the underground galleries were started. Most of these galleries were used for storage of supplies.  Today, the general outline of the Médiane and a casemate still stands.

There was a specific room in the underground passages that was designed for soldiers to be able to shoot out of to the oncoming enemy. Three soldiers would be assigned to each of these windows and they would take turns shooting. There was also a ventilation system built into the hallway to take the smoke from shooting out of the room.




The highest point of the bluff in Terra Nova.

The highest point of the bluff in Terra Nova.

Terra-nova is the newest portion of the Citadelle. The work to establish this new defensive system was started in 1631. There were numerous improvements and modifications to the site after that time. When Louis XIV came through this area, it took him 3-4 days to take over the county of Namur, but 4-5 weeks to take over the Citadelle. When he did, he asked his military architect (Vauban) to review the Citadelle and improve upon the weaknesses. One of the main areas that Vauban changed is the underground passageways. Not only did they expand them, but they changed the way in which they were formed. Where they were originally formed with limestone, Vauban constructed the new tunnels with double-fired bricks, which was meant to try to keep out the water and moisture that the limestone did not. At the end of the 18th century, the Citadelle was dismantled and abandoned by Napoléon Bonaparte. The area then saw a revival under Dutch rule from 1816 to 1825. The Citadelle eventually lost its military necessity in 1891 and was progressively opened to the general public.

Underground Passages

Officer's barracks (with creepy wooden soldier)

Officer’s barracks (with creepy wooden soldier)

The underground passages, also known as the Termite Nest, are the most well-known part of the Citadelle. They go below the the Médiane and Terra Nova. They range from limestone, brick, and stone covered in concrete (to keep the moisture out). It is clear to see the different impacts each of the previous owners of the Citadelle have had on the construction of these passages. As stated before, you can see the efforts the French made in improving upon the construction of the tunnels. You can also see the specific influence the Dutch made on also waterproofing the tunnels, especially in their specific construction of the stairs with trenches running down the sides to easily rid the stairs of water.

These tunnels were also used by the Belgian army during World War II. Starting in 1939, the Belgian army spent 8 months improving the tunnels to be functional for large amounts of soldiers, as well as their officers. Two different barracks areas were established in the tunnels under Terra Nova and Médiane. The officer’s area was built to hold 20-30 officers and had 3 restrooms available for them. The enlisted men’s area was built to hold 200-300 soldiers and also had 3 restrooms available for them. They also worked hard to design a special ventilation system to support extended stays below ground. Unfortunately, Belgium fell to Germany in only 18 days when the war finally started for them.


All in all, we had a fantastic day in Namur! Here are a few more pictures of our day, and I look forward to writing about my next fall bread adventure!

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Dusseldorf, Germany- 20 October 2013

21 Oct

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Clubbing in Cologne

19 Oct

I came to Germany for the first time 3.5 years ago, the summer of 2010, to meet the girl that would be living with my family and I in the United States for a year. It was my first time riding a train by myself, and I was very nervous to meet these new people. Little did I know, that day I met my future best friend and adopted little sister.

I have now completed my second month of my year abroad, and I celebrated it with my sister at a party for her college in Cologne. It was a private party at a very exclusive club in Cologne with all of her classmates from the international business college she goes to. We had amazing drinks, laughed a lot, and danced until 3AM. I had an amazing time, and cannot wait to explore more of Germany with her!

Amy and Melissa at Vanity Club in Cologne, Germany on 18 October 2013

Amy and Melissa at Vanity Club in Cologne, Germany on 18 October 2013

All Work and No Play….

12 Oct

According to my father, it appears that all I’m doing in Europe is traveling around, drinking beer, and having fun. I am doing all of the above, but I am also studying REALLY hard, none more so than last week with midterms. Along with thinking, “OH MY GOODNESS, MY SEMESTER IS ALMOST HALFWAY OVER!,” I figured I would give y’all a quick update on how all of my classes are going so nobody can accuse me of partying away my time.

So first, here is a quick overview of my academic program. While I’m here at Vesalius, I am completing an undergraduate certificate program in European Peace and Security Studies. This program is run through Vesalius College, the Belgian Royal Military Academy, the Institute of European Studies, the University of Kent, and the Global Governance Institute. It includes 5 courses and a high-profile guest lecture series. Here is a short summary of what I’m doing in each course:


POL351: Military Approaches to Security

  • The professor I have for this is actually a Major in the Belgian military and a professor from the Belgian Royal Military Academy. He has served in different military operations around the world, including in the Balkans during the crisis in Kosovo, so he has a very unique and interesting view on the subject of military approaches to security. We have done a number of in-class discussions and debates. One was a debate between two sides (men vs. women) on what the most important threat to international security is currently and what will it be 10 years from now. Another was a mock trial on whether the comprehensive approach should be the sole approach to crisis management and that it should be led by the military. In this trail I volunteered to be a witness, so I did a lot of research on the comprehensive approach and what international organizations are doing to achieve this theoretical agenda. I am happy to say that my side won (more of the class voted for our side than the other side). I have two big projects coming up. On Tuesday I will be presenting a group presentation on NATO’s ISAF mission in Afghanistan to 3 professors from the Belgian Royal Military Academy. Our group has about 9 people in it, but I am one of the two people giving the 30-minute presentation that counts for 25% of our final grade. I also have a research paper due at the end of the semester that counts for 60% of my final grade. However, I have no solidified my specific research question yet.

POL132: European Peace and Security Studies

  • This is our basic introduction to European Peace and Security Studies course. It is taught by Professor Koops, who is the head of the EPSS program, head of the International Affairs department as Vesalius, as well as the director of the Global Governance Institute. Most of what we have learned so far in this class are the theoretical foundations of peace and security studies. Luckily for me, a lot of it has been basic international relations theories that I already learned with Professor E. Morris with POL326 at Agnes. Starting next week, we are getting into case studies. The only assignments I have had so far for this course are reading tests, but we have a global foot-print evaluation and a policy advice paper that will come later in the semester.

POL235: European Union Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) in Theory and Practice

  • This course is also taught by Professor Koops. It is a deeper look into the EU’s newly created and ever evolving foreign policy sector. We have been looking at the evolution of this policy area through the history of the EU, starting from the times of the European Coal and Steel Community. For this class, we have two continuously running projects that we are working on. The first is a state analysis diary. For this we had to pick two of the EU’s member states (one from the “Big Three”, including the UK, France, and Germany, and another from the rest of the member states); I picked the UK and the Netherlands. For these states we had to do a detailed background on the history of the states, both with the general information and more specifically with the foreign policy and military history. After that was done, we started monitoring the news for any stories that relate to these state’s foreign policy or their influence on the EU’s CSDP. The second ongoing project is a think tank diary. For this, we had to choose two think tank events in Brussels that have something to do with EU CSDP and attend, ask a question, and network after the event. I have already finished both of the events. The first I went to was hosted by the Security and Defence Agenda and discussed the debate between security and privacy in the wake of the scandals created by the NSA and Edward Snowden. Two of the speakers at this event were from different European privacy non-profits, the third being former Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Lute. The other event I went to was hosted by the academic journal “International Affairs” and was in honor of the release of their September issue, which was all about European security strategy. Three of the speakers were authors of the articles, and a fourth was a representative of the European External Action Service (EEAS). I also have a research paper for this course. Currently, my research question is, “Is the European Union effective in their methods of using the comprehensive approach in crisis management to further their international missions under the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP)?”

POL222: Understanding Contemporary Conflict

  • This class is all about different modern crises from around the world and how the international community, especially the Europeans, respond. The first part of the course concentrated on the theoretical idea of how war and conflict could be defined. The rest of the course will be filled with different case studies of modern conflicts. The first case study we looked at was the Syrian conflict. Though it is currently impossible to evaluate how the international community is responding, because they are still in the process of responding, we still looked at the history of the conflict and what steps the international community are currently taking. The second case study we studied was the Balkan Wars. First, we went into the historical context of how the situation was established and how it evolved. Second, we looked at the situation and what exactly happened. Finally, we looked the different missions, involving the UN, EU, and NATO, and evaluated why they were established and whether or not they were effective. Right before the midterms, we watched the film, “The Battle for Algers,” and we are going to discuss that when we go back to class next week. The case studies we have left are Sub-Saharan Africa and the Congo war, The EU in the Sahel: Chad, Niger, Mali, the Great War, Insurgency and counterinsurgency: Afghanistan, and the Levant the the Middle East. I also have a research paper for this course. Currently my research question is, “How is the European Union addressing the issues of armed non-state actors in contemporary conflicts? Are these measures effective?”

POL337: The EU as an International Actor: Civilian Approaches to Promoting Security and Development

  • Where my military class discusses how military is used in crisis situations, this class discusses how civilian tools (economics, humanitarian aid, peace and state building entities) in crisis situations. A part of the course is trips to outside entities. Our first trip was to NATO Strategic Headquarters for the Allied Powers in Europe (SHAPE) in Mons, Belgium. It was an interesting trip, if only to be able to say I’ve been to SHAPE. Unfortunately, our NATO representative was new and it was obviously her first presentation. She was also told that we were a high school group, so I think she dumbed it down a little for us. Most of the information she gave us I already learned in other courses. Our next trip is the the European Commission and the European External Action Service. I have high hopes for this one! Other than this, I have a presentation and research paper due for this course. I do not know my exact research question yet, but I know it is going to be on the steps taken toward development by the EU after the Balkan Wars.

Other than my courses, we have also had two of our distinguished guest lectures.

  • The first lecture was from Dr. Christian Koch, the director of the Gulf Research Center and known as one of, if not THE, leading knowledge on the Gulf Region. His lecture was on “The Gulf Region and Global Affairs: Challenges, Changes and Opportunities.” He discussed the Golf Region, including Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), as well as their neighbor states, Iraq, Iran, and Yemen. For me this was an extremely interesting lecture, because I feel like I have a real gap in my knowledge where the Gulf states and the Middle East are concerned. I definitely have a new respect for the region after the lecture.
  • The second lecture was one I was REALLY looking forward to. This lecture was from Johan Galtung. He is not only the founder of the disciple of peace and conflict studies, but he is an international conflict mediator (who started in the US South during segregation), the founder of the Peace Research Institute Oslo, the Journal of Peace Research, and the global non-profit TRANSEND International. His lecture was on “The European Union Policy of My Dreams.” He not only discussed the basics of conflict mediation, but gave his uncensored opinion on what the European Union should and should not be doing. Not only did he tell some amazing stories of his experiences around the world and share some of his brilliant opinions, he was also extremely humorous. For an 83 year old man, he was definitely a character!

Our upcoming lectures include:

  • Ambassador Cosimo Risi (Italian Ambassador to the UN Disarmament Conference, Geneva), “The European Union and a WMD-Free Zone in the Middle East”
  • Alfredo Rizzo, “The European Union, Turkey and the Future of CSDP”
  • Armistice Day Reflections, “Being a Soldier: Personal Reflections of Three Young Ex-Soldiers”
  • Col Hans Ilis-Alm (European Union Military Staff), “Reflections on the Military Aspects of the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy”
  • Maciej Golubiewski (Desk Officer Syria, European Union External Action Service), “The European Union and the Syria Crisis”
  • Andrew Feinstein (Director Corruption Watch, UK and author of “The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade”), “Political Corruption and the Dangers of the Global Arms Trade”

I think this short summary will finally prove to my father that it’s not just fun and games here in Europe.

Next on my to do list: visit my sister Melissa in Germany next weekend and spend the last week of October/first week of November in Paris and London for Fall Break!

Things I Learned While in Amsterdam!

6 Oct

At the end of last month, I returned to the Netherlands after 3 years! It was a quick weekend trip to Amsterdam, filled with two missed trains, free lodging (thanks to a friend!), and tons of laughs!

After being in Amsterdam twice now, I can say pretty comfortably what the most important thing to do for tourists is to do. That is taking a canal tour! Amsterdam loves their canal, and rightfully so because they are historical and absolutely beautiful! There are also lots of options. For us, we wanted a great experience for a reasonable price. Though there were other cheaper options, we ended up taking the Eco Tours Canal Tours which was 18 euros for 75 minutes. It was an open top boat that only took about 12-15 people max. Lucky for us, there  were only 9 people on ours, including our captain/tour guide. It was a very personalized tour, and our captain was obviously very knowledgeable about the history of the city and the canals. Along with some of my favorite pictures, I wanted to give everyone some of the tidbits of information that he bestowed on us. Enjoy!


  • Approximately 15,000-16,000 bikes are pulled out of the canals every year by the city of Amsterdam.
  • The houseboats on the canals are at least temporarily attached to the seawalls. They are required to be moved for cleaning and maintenance every few years.
  • You can no longer buy a new slot on the canals for a houseboat. If you want to live in a houseboat, you have to purchase one that is already there. Though the price is extremely expensive, it includes the price of the boat and the slot itself.
  • Back at the beginning of the city, streets did not have street numbers on them. Instead, each of the houses had a name and symbol. A good amount of those symbols are still on the houses today (in my pictures, there is a house that was the “Red Lion”).
  • A good number of the houses around the canals are leaning. Some are leaning because the ground under them have shifted through time. Others were built intentionally leaning to make getting shipments in and out of the buildings easier.
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