August 20, my departure date, is nearing. Soon enough I’ll be blogging about food and cafes and pubs and awkward limited conversations due to language barriers… and food and cafes and pubs.

I will studying in Brussels, Belgium, for one academic year. I will be blogging primarily on my website, www.janellebitker.com, but I'll attempt to repost the travel-centric blogs here too. This post in fact, with the exception of the current paragraph, is copied and pasted from a blog entry I published a few days ago! Without any further ado, here we go:

The first question I often get is, why Belgium? Perhaps one of the strangest countries in Western Europe, and seemingly always ignored for France, England and the Netherlands, Belgium certainly seems like a strange choice. Well, I had no choice.

How’s that for dramatic?

In order to effectively study abroad, and effectively financially, I knew I wanted to be gone for a full year. I also knew I had to go to a French-speaking country, or, er, city, or, er, partially French-speaking partially city, but I had to be able to take my classes in English. Because, pardon my French, my French sucks.

Those two requirements alone ruled out every possible University of California program. They either allowed me to take French with other classes in English for only a semester, or I had to be fluent in order to stay for a year.

And that, friend, answers another common question: Why aren’t you studying through the University of California?

That’s right! I’m not studying through my alma mater!  I’m going through a third-party provider based out of — of all places — TEXAS! It’s called International Studies Abroad (ISA), and here’s the link to my program.

Now you might be thinking, “Great Janelle! You still haven’t answered my first question. Why Belgium? Why not just go through an outside provider and go to Paris like everyone else and like you probably secretly desire?”

I’m sorry, let me answer that for you.

This ISA program in Brussels offers some badass classes. Badass classes that will count toward my major, Technocultural Studies, and help me graduate on time. That’s another thing about studying abroad — it’s easy to fall behind and be forced to stay a fifth year. The ISA programs in France, while they looked fantastic, would have surely set me back another year.

In Brussels, I’ll be taking communication (and hopefully journalism in the spring) classes at Vesalius College — a small school with about 300 international students. It’s part of a 10,000-student Dutch university, so us internationals benefit from big-school amenities but still have 25-person classes. I’m pre-enrolled in film theory and scriptwriting, mass communication, intercultural communication, European art, and then I’ll be placed into a French class at orientation. Being over ambitious, I’m also intending to apply to the school’s English, student-run magazine, Vernacular.

There are some pre-planned ISA excursions to Bruges, Antwerp, Ghent, Dinant and The Hague in Holland. I have a pre-planned trip to a Tuscan villa with my family in the spring. I have a month off in the winter, and I intend to see Prague and Istanbul somewhere during that time. And of course, I’m approximately two hours (or less) from Paris, London, Amsterdam and Cologne by train!

In the mean time, I’m trying to choose which travel guidebooks to buy — Rick Steve’s? Lonely Planet? The Rough Guide? Frommer’s? And my suitcase remains on my bedroom floor, empty and taunting me. And I’m still waiting to find out who my host family is, and who these other ISA students from across the states are.

Until then, stay tuned.

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Tags: Belgium, Brussels, pre-departure

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Comment by J.H. Barnes on July 17, 2011 at 9:43pm
Welcome to the Aggie Network, Janelle--looking forward to following your journey!
Comment by Judy Hanna on July 17, 2011 at 7:17am

Your French is going to improve so much during the year, so don't worry about those "awkward limited conversations." In fact, your Dutch probably will improve as well.

It sounds like you've really planned out your reasons for why you want to study abroad, why you chose your program, and what your goals are while you're abroad. That will definitely make the entire experience easier and more enjoyable!

Guidebooks: Honestly, I found it helpful to have a small guidebook for my host city (I got one from the CultureShock! series) so I would be aware about the things awaiting me. For my travels, though, I found wikitravel.org to be the most useful. Bonus: it's free!

Have a great year abroad, I look forward to reading more about your experience in the coming year. And if you do get the chance, go to Cologne! It was one of my favorite cities to visit in Germany.

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