- Hello! Tell us something about yourself.
Hello! My name is Laura, I am 23 years old and graduated from my Master’s Programme in Psychological Research last June. I am currently studying Statistics at the University of Leuven in Belgium, where I also got my Bachelor’s and Master’s degree. I might be studying very close to the town I grew up, but do not mistake that for liking to stay in one place. I really love traveling, have visited 36 countries so far, and have taken part in several exchange programmes. The two most important ones were a semester abroad in Denmark through Erasmus, and completing my Master’s internship in the UK, which I would love to tell you all about!
- What was the best thing that happened to you during your experience abroad?
Both times, I feel like I got to know myself on a different level than before. Living in Belgium, I knew what kind of person I was, how I liked to spend my time, but a lot is determined by the world around you and the people you hang out with. When you are dropped into a new environment, without your social support system, it challenges you to make new friends, to figure out new interests, to discover a part of yourself that would have stayed buried in you comfort zone otherwise. I feel like I very much grew as a person both times. When living in Oxford last year, I also realised I really like focussing on psychological research and spending a lot of my time doing anything related to my internship. This helped shape my future plans and goals, and boosted my self-esteem.
3.What was the most challenging thing that you experienced during your stay?
Keeping in contact with friends and family at home. When you live abroad and start a whole new life, it is easy to forget time also passes for them. You are having amazing new experiences, but at the same time their days are passing by as well. Some people can still have a close relationship even after long periods of no contact, but this is not true for most. Make sure to check in with your friends over the course of your stay; invite them to maybe come around for a weekend; but do not get too hung up on them that you become homesick! It is a hard balance to find between enough contact and too much that it will disturb your experience abroad, but once you figure it out, you realise you can survive even when dropped in a new country, with a different language and culture. Just remember where your roots lie, and know there is always a place to come back home to.
4.What is the best food you had there?
In Denmark I would definitely say the cakes. The Danish are master chefs when it comes to baking, and everything tastes like Christmas (read: they put cinnamon in everything). They also have quite amazing coffee and frozen yoghurt. Just watch out with toppings for the latter: the Danish love their licorice, so always think twice before choosing anything that looks like chocolate sprinkles, because it may just taste a bit different …
Oxford had some mouth watering high tea places, that served scones with abundant amounts of cream and strawberry jam, and those really cute and tasty triangle sandwiches. The nicest meal I had however, was when my housemates and me created a Sunday roast to celebrate Christmas together. We had roast beef, gravy, potatoes in three different ways and way to many kinds of vegetables. The 5 of us could eat from it for days!
5.What is the biggest difference between your home country and the countries you went to for study/internship?
I would say any country is different than your own, but those differences become more apparent when you talk about customs and traditions with people from another background, or when experiencing those of a new country. Danish people are definitely much sportier and healthy than Belgians, and they are also very warm (contrary to the weather most of the time). You might have heard about the Danish ‘hygge’, which translates loosely to a feeling of coziness. It is a term for the welcoming, warm, friendly side of Danish culture; imagine drinking a cup of hot chocolate with a friend while it is snowing outside.
The Danish are also very serious about their taxes: they like to pay them, because they trust their government and believe they will do what is in the best interest of the Danish people. As a Belgian I can only dream of such sincere faith in how our country is managed!
The English are very different as well. The stereotype of the super posh, super polite English people might not be exactly true, there is a certain sense of respect everywhere you look. For example, when you arrive at a bus stop, you do not just stand somewhere in the crowd of waiting persons. No, you go stand in the back of the queue, and everyone gets on the bus in a civilized manner. And of course you greet and thank the driver, manners!
Both Denmark and England are pretty close to Belgium, in terms of distance, culture, and weather circumstances. Still there were small but noticeable differences, which surprised me in the beginning. But before you know it, you are back in Belgium and actually looking to the wrong side when crossing the street or forgot cash, because in Denmark you can pay everywhere by card.
6.Anything you would like to add
To anyone who is interested in spending some time abroad: do it. Maybe you realise that you love traveling or want to move to a different country, like me. Maybe you realise it is nothing for you and you like to be close to your family and the friends you grew up with. Any direction the table turns, you will learn something new about yourself, and you will not regret it.