Tag Archives: Brussels

My Last Night in Belgium

17 May

The time has come for me to say goodbye to Belgium. Some days I feel like I’ve been here forever, while others I feel like I just got here last week. It is hard to put into words what this experience has meant to me. I can honestly say that I am not the same person I was when I got to Europe 9 months ago. I have had so many opportunities, has so many experiences, and befriended so many amazing people. But I have to say goodbye for now Brussels. It’s been an crazy, amazing year.

In honor of this moment, here are some pictures from my last night out in Brussels with cousin Caleigh and roommate Lindsay. We had a great dinner out, had some Belgian beer, and enjoyed waffles!


My Goals–Revisited

19 Jan

When I got to Brussels, I made a list of my 5 goals for studying abroad. Coming into the New Year, I decided to revisit those 5 goals and reevaluate them for the new semester. Here they are!

Goal 1: Try New Foods!

I think this might have been one of my more exciting goals of the semester. I’ve had frites, waffles, and beer in Belgium, frites speciaal in the Netherlands, bratwurst in Germany, fish and chips in London, and Guinness in Dublin. Also, I no longer despise fish! This semester: I want to try and cook some of these dishes. I have a great kitchen at my host family’s house, so I intend to use it!

Goal 2: Travel in Country!

So, I kind of failed at this one. I did a lot of traveling, but not much through Belgium. I spent a day with Hannah in Namur and a week playing tourist in Brussels with Alex, but nowhere else. This semester: Just do it! 🙂 I just need to get out and take those day trips. I still want to go to Bruges, Ieper, Bastogne, Antwerp, and more.

Goal 3: Make friends!

This was the most successful of my goals. I made a TON of friends! The hard part is that they are all back in the US now. This semester: I guess I’ll just have to make new friends. Oh darn. 😉

Goal 4: Learn the Language!

I don’t think I did as much as I could with this. I had a French host family, but I didn’t really speak to them much in French. I didn’t end up getting into the French class that I needed for Agnes, so I guess I’ll have to do this on my own. This semester: I think what I’m going to start doing is getting a French newspaper to read on the 45 minute tram ride to or from school everyday. That should give me plenty of time to brush up a little.

Goal 5: Study, study, study!

Okay, so I probably didn’t do as much as I should have. I didn’t have the best of grades, but I didn’t have the worst either. I did get to have a ton of out-of-class learning though. One way was through the European Peace and Security Studies program where I got lectures from Karen Smith of the London School of Economics, Johan Galtung, the founder of peace studies, Dr. Christian Koch of the Gulf Research Center, and many more. I also found some great museums both in Brussels and in other cities around Europe. This semester: Spend more time studying for my actual classes.

In front of NATO HQ

In front of NATO HQ

Where In The World Is Agnes Irvine Scott?: Episode 1

23 Dec

In honor of its 125 Anniversary, Agnes Scott College has started a “Flat Agnes” campaign. What this campaign has done is sent little cut-outs of our school’s namesake, Agnes Irvine Scott, so that students and alums can take pictures with her around the world. That being said, I will not be taking Flat Agnes around with me in my study abroad travels.

Agnes’s first introduction was to–surprise–Brussels! However, we were lucky to be joined on this trip by the wonderful Agnes student Alex McLellen, who is currently studying abroad in Northern Ireland. Below are the pictures of our trip, as well as the map of Agnes’s first step abroad!

Agnes's First Stop: Brussels, Belgium

Agnes’s First Stop: Brussels, Belgium





NATO HQ (Fall Break Day 4)

2 Nov

I know I skipped day 3, but all I did on fall break day 3 was relax and buy a top-up for my cell phone. I decided that day was okay to skip. However, I think my adventures on day 4 completely makeup for being boring the day before.

A couple weeks ago, I attempted to get in contact with the commander of American Legion Paris Post 1 to try and arrange a visit. Between the time I contacted him and when I got a response I decided not to go to Paris, but he had an alternate suggestion for me. He informed me that he lives in Brussels and works at the U.S. Mission at NATO Headquarters and invited me to get a personal tour of the grounds. He later emailed me and asked for my resume and topics of interest so that he could arrange for policy experts to sit down and talk with me.

When I arrived at NATO, we instantly went into a tour of the main area of headquarters. He even got special permission from security to take my picture at different places around the headquarters!

My first meeting was with a Lt. Colonel who is one of the leading experts with the U.S. Mission to NATO on the ISAF mission in Afghanistan. We discussed the future of the ISAF mission, what will possibly happen in regards to NATO involvement in Afghanistan after the 2014 exit, and the future of NATO missions in general. My second meeting was with a Foreign Service political officer from the state department whose job is to keep apprised of the changes in the status of potential member states to NATO. We discussed the future of NATO expansion and what it is like to be a Foreign Service officer, which is what I want to be in the future. She then introduced me to another Foreign Service officer who came to the state department through a fellowship program. He and I discussed the specific steps I could take to ensure the best chance of being accepted to the state department.

All in all, it was a very successful and informative day in which I made amazing contacts for the future!

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. 🙂

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!

I Have Arrived!

20 Aug

Though I arrived about three days ago, I finally have enough time to sit down and write about my trip without falling asleep first.

Unfortunately for the family, Mom had to work on Saturday, so she didn’t get to go to the airport with us. However, we were very fortunate indeed to have some amazing friends travel up from Indianapolis so that Dad wouldn’t have to come home from Chicago alone. I have to say again, thank you SO SO SO much Uncle Johnny and Alana for joining us on the trip; it was a blast!

Mom, Dad, and I saying good-bye at the house. Photo credit: Alana Null

Mom, Dad, and I saying good-bye at the house. Photo credit: Alana Null

Here is a little tip for international travelers out of Chicago O’Hare airport. Don’t plan on eating with the people dropping you off at the airport. That is what we normally do. We get to the airport, check in, find some place to eat, say our goodbyes, then go through security. Unfortunately, what we didn’t know about the international terminal at O’Hare is that the only place to eat before security is at the downstairs McDonalds. They didn’t even have tables really. You just have to sit in airport style chairs and try to eat. We did eat there, but I know Dad would have preferred an actual sit down meal.

My first flight was from Chicago to Dublin, lasting almost 7 hours. It was through the night, so we got dinner. I don’t know how other airlines are, but my meal on Aer Lingus was fantastic. I had pork with stir fried rice, a roll, mixed veggies, and a chocolate brownie for dessert. Yummy! That was pretty much the highlight of the flight though. I read a book, watched a movie (Olympus Has Fallen), watched 3 TV shows (Ripper Street, Big Bang Theory, and Family Guy), and did a sudoku. It officially made me 5 for 5 on not being able to sleep on international flights. I don’t know what to do, next to medicating, to make it so that I can sleep. Oh well, hopefully it will be different on the way back to the States.

I arrived in Dublin at 5:00AM their time (1:00AM LaGrange/Atlanta time) and had just over an hour to wait for my next flight. I was really excited to see a sign that said Guinness had their main taps at my gate, but go figure, they weren’t selling any at 5 in the morning. Sorry Dad, guess I’ll have to use my Guinness money for some Belgian beer instead.

I arrived in Brussels at 9:30AM their time (3:30AM LaGrange/Atlanta time). Customs was super easy to get through, and I even met two other students who are studying at Vesalius this semester. One was from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the other is from Rochester Institute of Technology. They were super nice and I hope to run into them again tomorrow at Orientation.

My host mother, Laurence, and her sister-in-law, Eleanor, met me at the airport and helped me take the stuff out to the car where my host father, Thibault, was waiting. They took on a short drive through Brussels before going home. Unfortunately, their house is being newly renovated and it hasn’t quiet been completed yet, so we are staying at Laurence’s mother’s house for the time being. I really enjoy it here, though I am not looking forward to repacking my bag in the next day or so. It is definitely not going to be as easy as when Mom and Dad are there to help me sit on it to force it to close.

I’m having an amazing time though. Laurence and Thibault’s baby, Simon, is adorable and is always laughing. Laurence enjoys cooking just as much as I do, so we have had great conversations about cooking and Belgian cuisine. They have showed me house to use the bus system and I successfully got lost, found my way, and used the bus to get back to the house. I may have walked randomly through the streets of Brussels for an hour before I found the right bus, but I saw some beautiful parts of the neighborhood that I will eventually be living in.

I will start posting more as my trip continues, but just know that I am safe and so far loving my experience!