By Contributing Writer Justin Herring
Coming into college, I had never flown on an airplane in my entire life. Since entering college, I have flown to and from Florida twice for the Haverford baseball team’s annual Spring training trip. With minimum experience traveling alone, I was a little nervous to say the least when it came time to step through security and leave my parents at the airport to finally begin my journey to Belgium. However, when I landed, all my anxiety went away. There was a representative from KUL (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven) waiting to pick me up at the airport, and about two hours later, I reunited with three of my closest when their flight landed.
The decision to study abroad with three of my closest friends has been one of the best decisions of my life. Not only would it be tough to not have people to hang out with, to take classes with, or go Euro tripping with, but it would be very difficult to adjust to a new country’s culture by myself. Most Belgian students go home on the weekends so, unlike America, where Friday and Saturday are the best nights to go out, it is the week nights that are the best nights to go out in Belgium. Considering that Leuven has a population of about 100,000, around half of which is university students, the weekends can be very quiet. This has by far been the weirdest custom to adjust to, especially since many young students in Leuven like to stay out until four or five in the morning. I have three 9 AM classes and am reluctant to stay out that late on week nights (even though I have done it once). I am glad my friends are here so we can have a good time whenever we want, without having to stay out until five on a Wednesday morning.
By Contributing Writer Jessica Blitz
Shalom from Jerusalem! To avoid sounding stereotypical, I will not say that studying abroad is amazing, but instead use words like “interesting!” and “delicious!” and most of all “complex.” Jerusalem, and Israel/Palestine in general, is so much more than a news briefing from CNN or the New York Times will ever truly capture. It is full of more fresh food than I have ever seen in my life. It is full of the most adorable stray cats (as many as the squirrels back home). It is full of wonderful people who want to talk to you about the election in the states and then invite you to their home for Shabbat dinner or tea ten minutes after having met you in line in the grocery store. It is rich in history and rich in culture and rich in people wanting to share all of it with you.
I’ve been here two months and I’ve been to Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Tiberius. I’ve been to the top of Masada, I’ve hiked Ein Gedi, I’ve floated in the Dead Sea, and I’ve camped under the stars on a Mediterranean nature preserve. I took advantage of cheap European flights and backpacked Eastern Europe. I’ve been to synagogues, churches, and the Baha’i World Center. I was invited to a Jewish Orthodox home for Rosh Hashanah dinner the first night, and spent the second night with my secular program coordinator and her family. I’ve eaten some of the best shakshuka, baklava, Ethiopian food, and Yemeni bread that I can imagine exists—and of course, more hummus then I care to disclose. I’ve taken a traditional post-Shabbos dinner walk home and participated in an interfaith communication study. My professors are Israeli, Palestinian, Argentinian, and Scottish. My academic advisor was originally from Wynnewood, PA.
My friends here and I all came to Jerusalem with our own preconceived biases and opinions about what studying abroad here would entail, and our own feelings towards Israel/Palestine. Being here, though, teaches you that as a student abroad, the best thing to do is be quiet for a little, listen to the people who know more than you, see as much as possible, and walk away still just as baffled by the complexity as you walked in but with five months worth of extraordinary experiences and a brand new appreciation for blended chickpeas.