A Student's Perspective: Study Abroad in Bruges, Belgium

by Stasia Lopez /
Stasia Lopez's picture
Oct 04, 2013 / 0 comments

Are you curious about studying abroad but would feel more comfortable on a short-term faculty-led program? Then, you'll want to read the faculty-led student interview series this month!




The first will be Ms. Chacara Evans...and Chacara was a 2006 Johnson and Wales University graduate with a major in Hospitality Management and minors in Hospitality Meeting and Sales and International Hospitality Operations. She studied abroad in Bruges, Belgium in the summer of 2006.


Were you always interested in studying abroad? What motivated your decision to go abroad?

Growing up overseas and later moving to the states, I always had the desire to return. I decided to study abroad to explore a country that I had never traveled to and also gain college credit in an international atmosphere.


What was your faculty-led study abroad experience like? Describe the courses studied, how you contributed, and basic outline of your experience.

My experience abroad was priceless and full of memories that I will never forget. I studied international hospitality operations. While studying in Bruges, Belgium, we spent a lot of time exploring behind the scenes in hotels, museums, local farmer’s markets, and restaurants. We spent our free time climbing countless stairs in several bell towers to capture the most breathtaking pictures of the city. To familiarize ourselves with Bruges, we quite often participated in day-long scavenger hunts which I found to be exciting. The scavenger hunts typically resulted in the discovering of some of the world’s best chocolate, Belgian waffles and frites (fries)! We also explored countless museums, souvenir shops, beautiful canals, historic buildings, cathedrals, and the infamous City Square all while learning about the city.


Chacara Evans with a white chocolate Belgian waffle

Chacara Evans with a white chocolate Belgian waffle


A day trip to the Netherlands landed our group on a snail farm where we enjoyed a fabulous serving of escargot. My roommate and I traveled to Brussels (the capital) every weekend to hang out with local friends we made while perusing through numerous local festivals held that summer. I recall another day trip to Antwerp, a city most known for its cultivation of diamonds and for serving as Europe’s largest seaport. Our class was awarded one free weekend to leave Belgium to go wherever we would like. Three others and myself decided to take The Tube to London (which is where I was born). This was my first time being back since my family and I left in 1987. That moment was the most memorable moment during my entire trip. A funny memory I enjoy sharing involves my roommate booking our hostel in Piccadilly Circus for the wrong night. To our surprise, London was hosting a major event, selling out all hotels until the following night. Luckily, we found out upon arrival, so as we explored the city, we were nervously contemplating where we would spend the night.

After a long day of hopping on and off double decker tour buses and visiting the London Bridge, British Parliament, Buckingham Palace, St. Paul’s Cathedral, riding the London Eye, walking through Hyde Park, stopping at 10 Downing Street (home of the British Prime Minister), and countless other attractions, our night ended at Sofitel Hotel (equivalent to The Ritz Carlton) which cost us 750 Euros (which equaled to about $1,000)! Needless to say, we took advantage of every amenity offered and laughed about it the entire trip back to Bruges.

Our study abroad tour ended with three days in Paris, France and I will never forget climbing the entire 700 steps of the Eiffel Tower. We also had a picnic at the Eiffel Tower where each student was responsible for going to the local market and bringing an item to the picnic.


Chacara on the Eiffel Tower steps!

Chacara on the Eiffel Tower steps!

Other sites visited were The Louvre Museum, where I secretly snapped a picture of the Mona Lisa, the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Arc de Triomphe, Versailles Palace, and the Hard Rock Paris. A friend of my family introduced me to a local in Paris prior to me going abroad. She was very friendly and insisted we meet upon my arrival. She picked me up at the Hard Rock and took me to her apartment where she was celebrating a friend’s birthday. I spent hours learning about the locals and to my surprise, I learned about their intense desire to visit New Orleans, Louisiana. They believed of all the places in the United States, that’s where they would feel most welcomed. To end our voyage abroad, the class took an exciting trip to Disneyland Paris. On departure day, we cried, we laughed, and we hugged our classmates and instructors. We knew that for some of us, we probably would not cross paths again, but we all held a common bond and a memory of a lifetime that we would never forget.


What skills did you develop from your experience abroad?

A number of irreplaceable skills were developed from studying in Bruges, Belgium. Amongst the many skills learned, I would have to cite the value of patience and appreciating all the “small” things we take for granted. I learned to be patient with international concepts that are unfamiliar to the “American Way,” that work just as fine if not better. I learned how to taste, appreciate and match wine, beer, and cheese. Another skill that was helpful was as simple as choosing the best restaurant on a budget. I learned to always follow the construction workers; they often find good food for a great price! I appreciate air conditioning more since (as a victim in Hurricane Katrina in 2005) studying in Belgium in summer 2006. It was the hottest summer Belgium had in 30 years, and I remember sleeping with the windows open because there was no central air.


Do you feel changed from your experience abroad? If so, how and why?

My experience in Belgium enhanced my knowledge of international cultures while motivating me to see more of the world. Since 2006, my goal every year is to travel international and if I cannot go international, to travel to a state that I have never been. I’m happy to say that I have maintained that goal every year.


What were some challenges that you observed that happened on your study abroad experience?

Language is always going to be a challenge when visiting another country if you are not bilingual. However, mostly everyone spoke English. In Belgium, in order to graduate from high school, you must master five languages. So the other students at the college were much more advanced than we were.


How did you prepare to go abroad? What steps did you take that really helped you? What advice would you share with other students? Did you have to attend a pre-departure orientation?

Preparing to go abroad was fundraising for me. Financial aid did not cover the costs, so I worked extra jobs and was fortunate to have my flight donated with airline points from my Grandmother who wanted to assist me with my studies. My advice to any student that wants to study abroad is to simply DO IT! Do not let anything get in your way. If your friends don’t want to go or cannot afford it, make new friends on when you land! I signed up for Study Abroad completely oblivious to who I would share living space with. The pre-departure orientation was general and consisted of all students that were going abroad, to all destinations. Most of our information was discussed online from our instructors who taught at the main campus in Rhode Island.


Chacara Evans and classmates studying abroad in Belgium

Chacara Evans and classmates studying abroad in Belgium


Many students worry about the cost of going abroad. How did you pay for you study abroad experience? Were there any scholarships and grants available? Any tips you would recommend to students who’re interested in going abroad?

Please refer to my answer to question #6. Seems I got ahead of myself (smile).


Did anything about your study abroad shock or surprise you? If so, explain.

Repeated honesty amongst the locals shocked me. We were told upon arrival to complete an information card and place it inside our wallets. This card included our name, address of school, phone number to our room, and email address. The word of advice was to be responsible and keep up with your belongings, but if you happen to lose your wallet, most likely it will be returned as it has in the past. Sure enough, someone lost her wallet and it was returned. I also made friends while in Europe.


Once you returned from your experience, how did you reflect upon your study abroad experience?  (blog, re-entry workshops, share photos, etc)

I shared my experience and pictures while in Belgium via social media and I also kept a journal each day. Keeping a journal was the best thing for me, because as the days passed, it was hard for me to remember what happened the week prior. To have the opportunity to refresh my memory was valuable.


Did your study abroad experience ever come up in a job interview?

Study abroad is on my resume and is always discussed. One interview that stands out was with Carnival Cruise Lines - I was offered a position based on my international experience, both living and studying. The hiring manager was most impressed with all of my travels and maturity at the age of 21. A day later, I was offered a position for Hilton Hotels and elected to work with them.


Anything else you’d like to share with us?

If I can reiterate anything further, it would be to DO IT! Regardless if it’s studying abroad for college credit, or just leaving the country to sightsee. Everyone owes it to himself or herself to experience life across the seas and to explore a destination never before traveled. Since my experience of studying abroad, I have been inspired to one day become a college professor and travel with other students going abroad.





This is part of a series on international education, as part of our commitment to #GenerationStudyAbroad and our commitment to the White House Summit on Study Abroad and Global Citizenship. You'll find many more inspiring stories here on Wandering Educators!





Anastasia R.D. Lopez, M.A. recently graduated with her Masters degree in Educational Leadership in Higher Education and Student Affairs degree from Western Michigan University. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Business Administration degree in Hospitality and Tourism Management from Robert Morris University. Her experience in higher education and student affairs ranges from Career Services, Academic Advising, working with first generation students, students with disabilities, international students, transfer students, undergraduate/graduate students, and study abroad and international education at both public and private universities. She also has related experience in business as well as hospitality and tourism management. Stasia is a Global Education Editor with Wandering Educators and lives with her husband, Fernando, in Michigan.


All photos courtesy and copyright Chacara Evans