This article was originally written for the Caravel, a student-run international affairs newspaper affiliated with Georgetown University. With permission from the Caravel’s Publisher, I am reposting my article here to share with all of you.
I had the amazing opportunity to sit down a professor at Sciences Po Bordeaux to discuss the recent changes to French higher education and their impact on students. If you’re interested in exploring the differences between US and French higher education, I highly encourage you to give this a read!
As you may have noticed, this blog has been inactive since February, as sad as I am to acknowledge that. And not for the lack of travel, I assure you. During my semester abroad, I have been actively writing for another platform, a Georgetown University-based research center that each semester selects a cohort of students to share their study abroad experiences through the lens of politics, religion, and culture. Working on those posts in conjunction with this blog (before I fell off the wagon here) made me reevaluate the overall format and the type of content that I really want to be producing here. I don’t mean to disparage the many wonderful travel blogs that focus on sharing photos and visitor tips from their travels, but I find myself yearning for a more analytical approach. All of that to say that 1) this blog is not dead and 2) you may be seeing some changes to the type of content I post here, but post I will!
My next stop this summer is a two-week trip to the motherland (aka Russia) with pit stops in Moscow, Saint Petersburg (VERY briefly), and Kazan. I will then fly back to my beloved France for a six-week internship at a newspaper in Saint Omer, a small community in the north of France. So buckle up friends!
Ever since I returned, I’ve been getting a lot of questions about “my trip to Brussels.” The problem is, I didn’t just go to Brussels. In fact, I made it a point not to go just to Brussels. So, to set the record straight and to do other parts of Belgium some justice, let’s talk about Ghent.
Ghent (or “Gent” in Dutch and “Gand” in French) is the largest city of Belgium’s East Flanders province. Spoiler alert: it’s not actually very large. But neither is Belgium. Ghent was one of the richest European commercial centers during the Middle Ages, specializing in wool production. Though lesser known than its touristier counterpart, Bruges, Ghent can boast just as many beautiful, quaint buildings found alongside the city’s canals.Continue reading →
At long last, find your mini-guide to mandatory Brussels eats below. Before we begin, I will confess to the grave sin of not having tried a lot of Belgian beer due in part to dietary restrictions and in part to my general dislike of beer. So, while I can’t speak to it personally, I’d say you should probably try the beer, too. Perhaps with your frites.
First and foremost, before you even drop off your bag, have a waffle…or ten. I guarantee you that you haven’t really tasted a true waffle until you’ve had one in Belgium. Before you run off on your waffle quest, allow me to impart some waffle wisdom. Did you know that there are, in fact, two types of waffle? Yeah, me neither. You have the Brussels waffle, a larger rectangular waffle with deep holes, made of lighter batter and the Liege waffle, a round-ish waffle, made of thicker batter mixed with pearl sugar to achieve a caramelized texture. The Brussels waffle is more plain and requires a topping for a complete waffle experience, whereas the Liege waffle can act as a standalone dessert, no toppings necessary. But where’s the fun in that? Every waffle shop in Brussels offers more toppings than the eye can see, so go forth and explore! I would recommend a classic strawberry-banana-whipped cream combination. And remember: ask for the Belgian hot chocolate, NOT Nutella. Trust me, my fellow Americans, the hot chocolate is superior. But if you really can’t betray your heritage, why not have two waffles and compare the taste? 😉 In terms of cost, I’ve found it to be similar across all waffle-serving establishments, starting at 2€ for a plain waffle and going up as high as 10€ for a truly sophisticated, multi-topping experience.
As I wrap up my 36-ish hours in Brussels, two words come to mind to sum up my experience: food and construction.
As food is perhaps the most crucial aspect of any journey, I will be making a separate mini-post with delicious highlights & recommendations tomorrow. And in regards to construction…well, it’s everywhere. To the point where I entered a museum this afternoon and found a man shamelessly drilling the floor as I and another unfortunate couple maxed out the volume on our audio guides. There is also an absurd amount of sidewalks and roads being redone in what appears to be a Brussels-wide frenzy to repair all surfaces touched by the human foot. It’s unclear whether such activity has anything to do with an upcoming EU summit…
Inconveniences aside, I had a full day of exploring Brussels today. In an effort to save some money by eating a supermarket yogurt for breakfast, I left the apartment bright and early to visit the Atomium, a structure originally constructed for the 1958 World’s Fair (Expo 58) held in Brussels. For a reduced student fare of 8€ I got access to the entire building, including both the permanent exhibits and a temporary “Atomium Meets Surrealism” exhibit featuring my all-time favorite artist René Magritte.
Oh happy days! I’ve finally ventured beyond the borders of my host country like a good study abroad student that I am, and I’m excited to update you daily on my Belgian adventures.
Though I have a tendency to announce ambitions projects and then not follow through on them all, I am hoping to also put together a guide for each city I visit with a breakdown of my itinerary, so that y’all can follow in my footsteps one day. [Please hold me to this].
After I’ve spent a month telling you about sales and trips to beautiful cities, it is finally time to talk about the actual reason I’m here – classes, and all the ways in which they are completely different from what we’re used to in the States. So buckle up and get ready to learn.
I never thought I would say this as I struggled to pull together four 10-20 page final papers in early December, but I miss take-home writing assignments. This semester, I won’t have the opportunity to flaunt my superior bullshitting skills by restating the same argument in six different ways without the professor realizing that I’ve only introduced one semi-original idea in the whole paper. Because the concept of excessively long research papers doesn’t seem to exist in the French university system.
Peter Gumbel, the author of an (apparently) controversial book about the French education system, describes the French teaching style as “sit down and shut up.” Although his analysis focuses primarily on the secondary education system, it’s not totally inaccurate when it comes to university. I am enrolled in seven courses here: two conférences de méthode (seminars), three cours magistraux (large lectures of 40-100 students depending on the course level), a French class, and a history class. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll ignore the history class because it takes place in a public university unrelated to Sciences Po and operates according to different rules.