Belgium 2015

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Kelsey Richardson

I had absolutely no idea what to expect going into this study abroad experience in Belgium. Did I really sign up for a trip to a place where they spoke a different language with four people I barely knew?  None of it seemed real, not even as we boarded our first plane. but it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I have always known that I wanted to study abroad but had no particular destination in mind.  Thankfully UConn’s nursing program had so many options.  Belgium was the perfect program for me between the length and the location. This was my first time to Europe and I will definitely be back.  We traveled not only all around Belgium but also to Paris and each trip was more than worth it.  Traveling was one of my favorite parts of my two weeks abroad.  Between planes, trains, buses, trams, taxis and walking sometimes miles each day we covered a lot of ground.

I learned so much and met so many wonderful new friends from a few different countries including Belgium, Portugal, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, and Holland. Our group was interdisciplinary filled with nurses, physical and occupational therapists.  This gave us the chance to see and learn things from another healthcare professional’s point of view on many different topics and we got a chance to learn about each other’s countries and cultures as well.

While the first week was more traveling and site visits, week two was more in class instruction where we learned a variety of complementary therapies that could be used with palliative care patients such as reiki, art therapy, haptonomy, aromatherapy and massage.  We were able to go to a nursing home in Belgium and use these techniques with patients and they absolutely loved it.  It was a great experience and nice that we were able to take what we had learned in the classroom and utilize it in the real world.

When we were not in class, we kept busy eating waffles, French Belgium fries, and of course chocolate! The Belgian students were the best tour guides and I think I saw more of Belgium than some people who live in Belgium themselves! It was sad to leave this amazing country but I know I left with more than just what the classes taught me.  I left with some incredible new friends and an experience I will never forget.

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Natalie Kirkham

It is not always easy to pack up your belongings, say goodbye to what is familiar, and embrace change. The unknown can be frightening and nerve racking for some. However, I am pleased to say that any whisper of apprehension or hesitation I experienced upon arriving at the airport, almost instantaneously vanished when I said hello to my fellow nursing colleagues. Immediately, my decision to leave the states and travel abroad felt real; it was actually happening! My worries transformed into excitement and my excitement flowered into happiness – happiness that I had taken this leap of faith. This spark never faded during the course of my two weeks in Belgium.

My experiences in Belgium were amazing. Not only did this trip allow me to meet incredible people – from the U.S. and internationally – but it also enabled me to broaden my horizon and knowledge base. Chronic and end-of-life care, unfortunately, is not a topic emphasized in nursing school. In fact, I sometimes feel as if it is pushed off. Consequently, my personal comfort in discussing end-of-life matters and providing appropriate care – both for the patient and family – was, for lack of a better word, minimal. For these reasons, this particular study abroad trip really appealed to me. Fortunately, the course did not fall short of my aspirations. I feel as if I garnered a tremendous amount of knowledge both from the workshops we attended and the professionals we met. However, what I liked the most, were the different opinions and contributions made from each participating country. Even though certain aspects of care were similar among all of us, there were many that were different. This really got me thinking. It made me realize the importance of being open-minded and nonjudgmental. Furthermore, it made me aware of the fact that just because something is different, does not mean it is “wrong.” I believe that this type of thinking and cultural awareness will be tremendously beneficial as a future provider of healthcare.

Besides from the school aspect, I was incredibly happy with the group of UCONN students – and faculty member – chosen for this program. Our group really worked well together and clicked as a whole. Despite living together, we never encountered any difficulties or problems. I am so grateful for the opportunity to work more intimately with these students and for the friendships I have made. I can honestly say that I would recommend this trip to any other nursing student. It was truly an amazing experience – one that has left me with memories and friendships that will not fade.

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Elizabeth Schilling

After studying abroad in Ireland during my sophomore year of nursing, I fell in love with the idea of traveling, especially to Europe. When I realized that I could travel to Belgium, I immediately applied to the program to expand my view on nursing and health care around the world. I am so grateful for the numerous opportunities that the UConn School of Nursing has provided for me, especially with studying abroad.

It’s when I push myself out of my comfort zone that I learn so much more about the world, nursing, and myself. We started our trip with a quick stop in Gent, Belgium to drop our things off at the hostel and enjoy an amazing meal with our professor Kathryn, her husband Zoltan and our program director Fillip and his wife Ben. Our empty stomachs were filled with mouth-watering steak and traditional fries, which originated in Belgium. We then quickly planned a trip to Paris, France and went to bed. With only hours of sleep we made the trip and enjoyed a wonderful weekend with the sun shinning on the Eiffel Tower and us.

The first week in Belgium we traveled all over the country with Belgian nursing students who took us to Antwerp to enjoy our first Belgian waffle! We spent a lot of time with these students and became very close, they were so welcoming and friendly. We even had a night where we all ate dinner together at one of the student’s homes. Fifteen of us shared a meal and numerous stories about our lives as we compared and contrasted between American and Belgian customs. The week was filled with delicious waffles covered in fruit and the most incredible Belgian chocolate.

The second week in Belgium started with a cultural night where we all dressed in clothing that best represented our country and presented a 20 power point Pecha Kucha to best show our country and end of life care. We had the first week with only Belgian students, the second week students from Portugal, the Netherlands, and Lithuania arrived. Time went by very fast, we had jam-packed days with lectures, site visits, and group projects. We spent most of our time in class learning about palliative care and euthanasia. Our group project integrated students from different countries and we worked together to learn different relaxation techniques to provide for our elderly patients in a nursing home outside of Gent.

Reflecting on my time in Belgium, I will always remember the delightful friends I made, the delectable chocolate I ate, and the information I gained. The program enriched my knowledge of end of life and palliative care. This will help me become a better, well-rounded nurse with compassion for those who are dying.

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Brian Thalheimer

The study abroad experience is Belgium was amazing.  Right from the beginning, the people were very friendly, as we would not have found our way to the hostel without a few friendly citizens that spoke English well enough to help us.  During that first point of contact was when the “culture shock” set in that had been described to me before, but was something that I did not understand until I experienced it.  Having people speak around you in another language that you cannot understand is very frustrating, and not being able to communicate with others that easily was also frustrating at first.  However, after about a day, it was something that I was able to adapt to and come to terms with.  After all, I was a visitor in another country.  Right from the beginning of the trip, we were able to travel to a location of our choice, which was Paris.  This was a fun, independent weekend trip that allowed us to see the highlights of Paris such as the Eiffel Tower, the Luvre, and of course taste the famous crepes.  Upon returning to Belgium, we made many new friends with the Belgian nursing students.  They were very friendly and even invited us to one of their homes for dinner.  I found that they for the most part were similar to us; they shared similar interests in Netflix series, enjoyed going out with their friends, and of course study hard for Nursing.  They also introduced us to a very big cultural difference of food preferences.  For example, they enjoy eating fries with mayonnaise instead of ketchup, and they eat raw beef on their sandwiches instead of cooked.  While I enjoyed the mayo, I think I will stick to the cooked beef on my sandwiches.  Being that we arrived a week early than the other countries, we had the privilege of touring to different parts of Belgium.  Each city was very pretty with Gothic inspired architecture, water ways, and roads paved with Belgian blocks rather than pavement.  During these trips, we also visited hospitals which were in the most part similar to ours it seemed like, other than the fact that everyone has insurance.  Some other places we visited included a senior center where we did Zumba and line dancing with the elderly.  (I have to say most of them could dance better than me despite their age).  In the second week, the students from other countries filled the hostel and we were quick to make even more new friends at the cultural night.  Each country presented a quick power point about their country and then we shared drinks and food that represented each of our nations.  It is fair to say that more apple pie is well liked in Europe, as we got very positive reviews on it after baking it for cultural night.  During the second week we did very engaging workshops that reflected comfort and palliative care.  These workshops included aromatherapy, massage therapy, and reiki.  We then took the skills we practiced into the community to an assigned patient location, which was a very rewarding experience.  To end the trip, we participated in Belgium’s well-known light festival with our large group of newfound friends.  Overall, I picked up a few words in Dutch and Portuguese, and left with many great memories, skills, and people who I will never forget.

Paul Levesque

Attending the IPLA course on chronic and end of life care in Belgium was definitely a once in a lifetime experience that I will never forget.  Going into the course I personally didn’t really know what to expect. Any questions or feelings of uncertainty quickly subsided as we met the students from Belgium on our first day of the program. They were so friendly and welcoming it was unbelievable. We quickly connected, which I believe greatly enhanced the overall experience of the program. Many times we were invited to share personal thoughts or opinions. Having a comfortable environment allowed many of us to be open and share our thoughts or experiences related to topics such as euthanasia and end of life, which are often difficult subjects to discuss.  One of my favorite parts of the course was the opportunity to attend workshops on complementary therapies. We were provided with the theory on therapies such as hapnotomy, aroma therapy, and art therapy followed by hands on practice of these particular therapies.  As I participated in these workshops I realized how beneficial they can be to health and wellness and they became something I would like to incorporate into my future nursing practice. Aside from the course we had many opportunities to explore the various cities of Belgium with the other students. We had numerous opportunities to sample the staples of Belgium which include waffles, French fries, and an infinite number of craft beers. There was even a night where one of the students was kind enough to invite us all into his home for dinner. We had the opportunity to have a wonderful home cooked Belgian beef stew followed by a night out with all the other students. As we were all seniors entering our last semester of nursing school I also felt as if this program prepared us for what we will face upon graduation. Living in another country we were often left to figure things out for ourselves. We quickly adapted to our surroundings learning to utilize things such as public transportation. I feel like this enhanced my feelings of independence which will ease my life transition following graduation. This program truly left me with many memories I will never forget and I would recommend it to anyone!

Belgium by Richard Jeong

February 26, 2017

Studying abroad in Belgium was definitely one of my favorite college experiences.
Having never been to Europe, I thought this was a great opportunity to gain insight on
what nursing was like in other countries and to broaden my cultural experience. I had
only heard about Belgium, but actually having the opportunity to go was unreal to me.
Though I had doubts and worries that this trip might not go as well as I planned it too, all
those negative thoughts went away as I became more comfortable with the people I was
with. Everyone there welcomed us with open arms, which made it that much easier to
come out of my comfort zone!

The first week was about site visits, where we visited palliative care units at different
hospitals. That was an eye-opening experience for me because it showed me that
hospitals do a lot of little things to maximize the comfortability of older adults. The
second week was a bit more intensive, as we learned more about complementary
therapies such as aromatherapy, music therapy, and massage therapy.
All in all, I’m glad I applied to Belgium because of the people I’ve met and the things
I’ve learned. It was sad to leave this amazing country, its fries, and its people, but I hope
to visit Belgium again.

Belgium by Jennifer Kline

It’s hard to believe that I almost didn’t travel to Belgium. I literally let the application deadline
pass me by for reasons I can’t even try to fabricate. It was thanks to one of my fellow classmates
(shoutout to Ashley) and the very understanding education abroad coordinator that I was able to
jump on board this amazing program. My absolute dream job is to be a pediatric oncology nurse.
The reason I wanted to study end of life and palliative care in Belgium was due to the
experiences I had during my internship on an oncology unit this past summer. Many patients
who could benefit from palliative and hospice services weren’t utilizing them. Budget problems
caused the palliative care team to become dismantled and I fear that patients will never fully
experience the quality of life they deserve at the end of their lives. I left hoping to gain insight to
a new way of integrating palliative care into the lives of those with chronic and terminal diseases
and that hope became a reality.

During multiple different site visits I saw how a hospital truly could become a home. To enter a
palliative care unit in Belgium, one must ring a doorbell just as you would to enter someone’s
home. Aromatherapy provides a relaxing setting and some hospitals even have a dog that roams
around freely for the patients to pet and play with. Patients and their families are able to cook
their own dinners in the kitchen and nurses and patients eat at the same tables. Couches encircle
a large flat-screen TV where patients can go to enjoy a movie. These are the type of units I hope
to one-day see in the hospitals here in the United States.

By far one of my favorite nights of the entire trip was when all 50+ students along with the
professors had dinner together in the ballroom at the university. After we were finished eating,
we blasted music as each country taught different cultural dances to each other. The U.S. got the
night started by doing the whip and nae nae  and we continued representing the States with
songs like The Cotton-Eyed Joe and The Macarena. I may or may not have been sweating by the
end of the night and my face hurt from smiling and laughing so much. It was in that moment I
knew I would never forget the people and memories I created with them during my time in
Belgium.

Not only did we get to explore Belgium, but we were also given a free weekend in which we
traveled to Amsterdam. To say it was two of the best days of my life would be a complete
understatement. We packed our days with a canal tour, an ice bar, a tour of the Van Gogh
museum, and a trip to the Heineken factory. We filled up on lots of yummy foods and found it
hard to put our cameras down because of the gorgeous architect. It’s amazing how easy it is to
travel around Europe (we almost got on a train to Germany by accident) and it is safe to say that
I will definitely be returning to do more exploring.

We have been back in the United States for over a week now and not a day goes by where I don’t
think about the amazing times I had in Belgium. Although we were only there for two weeks, I
find myself feeling homesick now that we are back. I miss all the incredibly friendly and
welcoming students from Belgium and all the laughs that we shared. I miss staying up on a
Sunday singing and dancing until the late hours of the night. And I miss spending each and every
waking moment with the eight other UConn students I traveled with. Two years ago I studied
abroad in Cape Town, South Africa and a very special person shared with us the following quote
many times when we returned: “You will never be completely at home again, because part of
your heart always will be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and
knowing people in more than one place.” The more I travel, the more I identify with this quote.
Traveling abroad is a very special experience, and I am glad that I was able to participate in this
adventure with the School of Nursing.

I can string together a bunch of words. I can tell you more about the delicious foods we ate and
the hospitals we visited. But words only go so far. The best part of this trip wasn’t particularly
the words I shared with others. It was the feelings I experienced throughout the weeks. Feelings
of happiness, of hope, and of freedom. And for that I am truly thankful.

Belgium by Alma Sabovic

February 16, 2017

My study abroad experience in Belgium for the End-of-Life care program was amazing. Before I applied I wasn’t really sure if this was something I wanted to do because it seemed like a short period of time and I didn’t think that we would have enough time to enjoy the program and Belgium itself. Thankfully, I was completely wrong. The second week was the intensive portion of the program that was filled with interesting lectures, guest speakers, discussion panels, site visits, a project, and fun activities to get to know the students from the other countries. The first week only included a few site visits and some activities with the native Belgian students so there was much more time for us to go out and see the beautiful sights in and around Belgium while getting to know each other. In fact we were even given a free weekend when we first arrived in Belgium, which we decided to spend in Amsterdam! The free weekend in the beginning was a great way for us to start off our time abroad because it gave us a chance to get familiar with the culture before jumping right into classes.

Our classes in the second week were far from boring and at times were very hands on. We were even lucky enough to have different workshops that focused on complimentary care. These included heptanomy, hand massages, feet massages, music therapy, art therapy, and several others. Not only were we able to practice on one another but we also actually were able to go to different sites for palliative patients and implement some of the techniques we learned with the patients.

My favorite part of the whole trip though had to be all the new amazing friends I made from all over the world. Other students came from Portugal, Czech Republic, Estonia, and of course Belgium. We even had some students come from Kansas, USA this year. Despite the different languages we all spoke or the different customs we had spending that time together made us realize we had more similarities than we had differences. It was incredible how close we got within such a short time frame.

So if you’re thinking about doing this program go for it! It will definitely be one of the best decisions you have ever made. You will learn so much about palliative and end of life care, meet some amazing people, spend time in a beautiful country and have some AWESOME food for sure! Finally if you’re even half as lucky as I was you just might end up with an incredible group of your own Uconn classmates to go on this journey with!

Belgium by Maura Kenny

Studying abroad in Belgium has by far been the best experience of my life. As a nursing student interested in working with the oncology population, I was drawn to this trip because of its focus on end-of-life care. I was intrigued to learn more about Belgium’s euthanasia law and was hoping to gain insight on their healthcare. My expectations of this trip were exceeded in every way. While we did spend time in the classroom listening to lectures, most of our “school” time was spent visiting different hospitals and rehabilitation homes in the community as well as getting hands on experience with various types of complementary care, such as reiki. I especially enjoyed how we were able to work with students from various countries in small groups to perform complementary care in a hospital or nursing home. Being able to connect to patients who live in a different country and speak a different language was an eye opening cultural experience and really got at the heart of nursing. The program, while intensive, allowed plenty of time for fun of course. We were able to travel to Amsterdam and Bruges in our free time, and both of these trips will never be forgotten. The Belgian students were amazing tour guides and took us to the best restaurants and bars that Ghent has to offer. We had so much fun hanging out with these fellow nursing students, even if it was just for a night of Twister and Belgian beer. The friendships formed were the most meaningful part of the trip and thankfully social media has made it easy to stay in contact no matter where you are in the world!

Belgium by Joseph Ferraro

I have always wanted to study abroad and experience a different culture. I have never been out of the country before and I was worried that since the program was only two weeks, I would not be able to get a chance to explore Belgium while also taking classes. However, this could not have been farther from the case. Even though I was only there for two weeks, I had an incredible experience and would recommend this program to other nursing professionals looking for more education about end of life care.

Death and dying are topics that many people do not like to discuss, and that many people are not ready to handle in the clinical setting. Even though there were some cultural differences, all the teachers and lecturers were well prepared and brought their own unique take to care at the end of life and how patients should be treated. I know that I will confront death in the hospital setting, and now that I have had this experience, I feel more prepared to handle myself when the time comes.

Getting to see Europe was my favorite part of the trip. As a group, we traveled to Amsterdam, Bruges, and Ghent. The cities we saw were beautiful and the people were all welcoming and inviting. Getting this chance to interact with people from not only Belgium, but Portugal, Estonia, and the Chez Republic as well was a life-changing experience. While we do come from difference places, have different experiences, and believe different things, we were all united in our desire to provide the best care possible to those we are working with, and we were all willing to learn what we had to in order to improve our practice.

I will never forget the conversations with the people that I had while abroad. We not only talked about nursing and healthcare, but about things we liked and disliked, our dreams and hopes, and where we came from and where we wanted to go. Talking to people about these things helps you to better understand why they believe what they do and why they make certain decisions regarding their care. I know that it is important to get to know people on a personal level before you can truly give the best care possible. I will never forget what I learned here, and I hope that his program is as inspirational for people in the future as it was for me.

Bruge, Belgium by Ashley DiStasio

I was always skeptical about studying abroad. I never knew if I would be able to handle an entire semester away from home, my family and friends. When I heard about the option to study abroad in Belgium I immediately thought this would be the perfect fit for me. Two weeks spent in a country that I would never otherwise have the opportunity to visit was just the right amount of time. During this time away I not only learned a lot about students from Belgium, but also from Portugal, Estonia, Czech Republic, even students from Kansas. Everyone was extremely welcoming and the Belgian students welcomed us like we had been friends forever. They were amazing tour guides and always were around to help us translate the Dutch language to English. Everyone made us Americans feel as though we belonged at Artevelde Hodge School.

Not only did we create a special bond with the students, but also we were able to learn a great deal about end of life and palliative care. The first week was spent visiting hospitals around the country. This was a great opportunity for us to see the differences in health care compared to America. I enjoyed observing the units because it showed me what changes I could possibly implement on my unit when I become a nurse, as well as the similarities both of our countries share in the health care field. During the course itself, I gained a lot of knowledge and hands on learning experience with palliative care comfort measures. These included skills such as Haptonomy, massage, acupressure and aromatherapy. I felt as though these were great measures to know, especially since we do not focus on them in our course at UCONN, and am excited to share my new skills with my peers. The greatest part of the experience, for me, was the debate on Euthanasia. This is such a highly controversial topic and it was very interesting to hear about it from a country where it is legalized. I learned much more about Euthanasia than I ever expected and now am able to form my own educated opinion on the topic.

I believe end of life and palliative care is a very important area that everyone should be aware of. After studying in Ghent, I feel like I have the knowledge and skills I was hoping for, prior to taking the course. I also feel much more culturally competent and am grateful that I was able to learn so much about so many different countries. My eyes were opened to an entirely new way of care and I now know how important palliative care is for our patients. If I had another opportunity to study abroad I would definitely return to Belgium.

Bruge, Belgium
Bruge, Belgium

Belgium by Melanie McGovern

The study abroad program in Belgium is an incredible experience for a senior nursing student. It is the opportunity to go to another country, observe their health care facilities, learn about their practices, and meet students from around the world. It opens your eyes to the differences in our lives but also shows that we have many more similarities. The first week is just the fifteen Belgian students from Gent and the American students, we had nine from UConn and four from Kansas. We went to a variety of site visits at hospitals, rehab facilities, nursing homes, and community health clinics. We focused mainly on palliative care units but we were also able to see labs, an emergency department, a morgue, an oncology unit, etc. The second week brought students from Portugal, Estonia, Czech Republic, and from other parts of Belgium. We listened to lectures on end of life care, did workshops with complementary therapy, had cultural events at night, and did our own therapeutic group projects at local nursing homes.

I found the most beneficial part of the program was working with and getting to know the other students. That first week allowed us to really bond with the Belgian students. They were incredibly helpful in making sure we got to all the sites, advising us on the best places to eat and shop, and taking us out with them to experience Gent nightlife. Although they grew up in a different country with different customs and a different school curriculum, we are all just college kids, trying to pass nursing school. They have a lot of the same interests, dislikes, hobbies, and stressors we all have here at UConn. We are very excited to have made lifelong friends.

Besides all the amazing people you meet, this trip is also a good way to get know yourself better. You are required to be very independent. The instructors and Belgian students are only with you so much, you need to be able to work as a team, with your fellow UConn students, if you want to get the most out of your time in Europe. Meals are not always provided and you have free time, so you need to be able to get to restaurants, plan day trips to other cities, or activities in Gent. If you want to go to another country during your two days off it is up to you to plan that. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and use maps (paper maps may be required if you don’t have wifi). You are also living with a bunch of other people. You need to be considerate of their space, whether you share a room, a bathroom, or just the communal kitchen. The educational material is also something that makes you more self-aware. Euthanasia is legal in Belgium so there is a lecture and debate panel to learn more about it. Grieving and bereavement lectures can be difficult to think about especially if you have personal experience with that in clinical or in your life outside nursing. It makes you think about the tough questions that are not always brought up in our society because they are uncomfortable. But they structure the course in a pretty positive way. You learn about all the possibilities you have and the potential to make the end of life process as comfortable as possible for your patients. All of this can seem overwhelming or out of someone’s comfort zone, but this trip is the best way to push yourself. You learn so much that will not only make you a better nurse but will widen your horizons as a person.

Belgium 2014

February 21, 2014

Eight nursing students from The University of Connecticut School of Nursing and one faculty attended a two week Intensive Program, Living Ageing . This interdisciplinary program was sponsored by Artevelde University College, Ghent, Belgium. The photo shows the faculty from the eight countries; Belgium, Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway and the United States.
Faculty
Filip Dejonckheere, the faculty from Belgium provides a warm thank you. I quote, “Thank you so much for joining our programme. You and your students offer a real added value to the European dimension in the course. Your students are special and so open for everything!!” I agree the students were wonderful ambassadors. Enjoy their blogs.
Kathryn Stewart Hegedus, DNSc, RN, NAP

Emily O’Hala
Of all the colleges I had considered before my freshman year, UConn’s nursing program had the most to offer in terms of study abroad. The Belgium trip was the perfect fit for me, and I am glad that I took advantage of the opportunity. The experiences that I had while abroad impacted me not only professionally, but on a personal level as well.

During our time in Belgium, we worked with students from other countries including Estonia, Czech Republic, Belgium, Norway, Portugal, Netherlands and Lithuania. Our first week was spent in Dworp. Because the college was outside of the city, it created an environment for us to bond with the students from the other countries. Learning about their different cultures and about how their healthcare system and nursing care differs from the United States was very interesting. In addition to the differences, I was also amazed at all of the similarities that exist between the roles of nurses internationally. Having so much in common with the other students really made us bond quickly. We grew to become not just colleagues, but also as friends with the hope to keep in touch in the future.

In addition to the class lectures, we also had the opportunity to participate in interactive workshops. The ones that I took were reiki, drama-therapy, art therapy and haptonomy. Haptonomy, which I had never heard of before, proved to be my favorite workshop. In this workshop we were taught how to relax someone through simple things like face and neck massage and gentle touches. We learned how to perform haptonomy on someone laying down and also on someone sitting in a chair. I felt that this would be something that I could use with my patients without having to go through professional training. Specifically, the instructor said that it can be very beneficial to patients suffering from dementia by helping them stay calm and comfortable.

In our second week we traveled to the beautiful city of Ghent. It was amazing to see such old buildings and architectural designs that differ so much to what we have in the United States. One of the highlights of the week spent in Ghent was going to a nursing home and meeting the patients that lived there. As a group we were required to plan an activity for the resident to do. We chose bowling and chair exercises. Going into the activities, I was nervous about the language barrier, but this turned out to be a smaller obstacle than I originally suspected. I realized that through gestures and motions, I was able to laugh and relate to these elderly people even without knowing their language.

This experience is one that I always remember. I will take what I learned there, both in and out of the class room, and apply it in my future nursing career. The trip taught me how to better relate with people with languages and from different cultures and generations. Also, it has improved my ability to help patients be more comfortable in my care through non-medicinal, alternative therapies.

Mallory Bates
My abroad experience to Belgium with the UConn Nursing Program continues to be a blessing in my life even as the days pass and the memories become more distant. Being my first time visiting a country outside of the United States I had absolutely no idea what to expect. I knew that while I was there I had to try the waffles, chocolate, and beer. Those three staples became a frequent treat as we roamed the streets of Brussels, Ghent, and Amsterdam. The best waffles we ate there came from a van parked by the castle in Brussels center. They had a crunchy exterior and a moist, soft inside that almost melted in your mouth. As we roamed through the city I was mesmerized by the ancient and picturesque architecture that make up the cities.
What I did not expect was to make friends with some of the kindest and interesting people I would ever meet. Being with these other students from countries such as Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, Czech Republic, Astonia, and Portugal everyday was an interesting experience. At the beginning it was a little like culture shock, everyone was a bit hesitant to get to know each other. Spending nights at the bar at the cultural center in Dworp was a perfect way to meet the other students. We took turns running the bar and each country would play music, teach dances, and we would all converse. By the end of the two weeks I had made some really beautiful friends, some even have plans to come visit us in the United States. I continue to talk to some of them almost daily, sometimes even on video chats and it warms my heart to know that I have some truly amazing people and memories in my life.

Christian Tuesta
Reflection on Belgium Experience
The opportunity of going to Belgium to attend the IPLA course was a once in a lifetime experience that I will never forget. Personally, I haven’t traveled outside the US since 2004 so ten years later was a long time for me. Before the trip, I didn’t know too much about the curriculum we would be taught or the type of environment we would be in but I still knew that learning with other international students would make this experience well worth it.
During my 2 week stay, I learned many things inside and outside the classroom. The content we learned during lecture was somewhat a review for me since I had a whole semester on ethics. But what I found interesting were the alternative remedies we learned to use on the elderly. These remedies included; aromatherapy, music therapy, clown therapy, message, and many others that I had never really learned about in depth before. Also, the Euthanasia panel we had was very interesting to me since we don’t really discuss it in the US. Many people had their own beliefs about this topic and it was exciting to see the debate between each country. What made it even better was that we learned all of this in a mixed group of students from different countries. It was during this time where we learned about them and their cultures and they learned about us.
My favorite experience of this trip was the cultural night we had during the first week in Dworp, Belgium. Before this, I had gotten to know a few students but this night was when I really got to appreciate every country present as I learned about them and cultures/customs. Each table had their special foods, drinks, and presentation and was unique in every single way. My favorite table was the Portuguese table since they had so many types of food and different wines to sample. Also, some of them dressed in their school outfits to show us what they wore back in their country. At some point, I felt kind of embarrassed since we didn’t have so much food or drinks like the other tables. But many of the students loved our pumpkin bread and cookies and found our table really interesting. From this night on, I felt more connected to everyone which made the trip more enjoyable. The second week in Ghent, Belgium was incredible as we got explore the city with others and got to enjoy the night life thanks to the people from Belgium. For that, I am forever grateful to them and for making me have the best time in Europe.
By the time I left, I felt like I’ve grown as a person and student. I have become more open-minded to other countries and the healthcare they offer in Europe. I was lucky to make new friendships because of this experience and hope to remain connected to my new friends as I pursue my nursing career.
Belgium
Samantha LaMark
Prior to leaving for Belgium I had no idea what to expect; would I be able to get around without knowing the language? Would I make friends with the other students? Would I enjoy the food? Would there be magnificent scenery and architecture unlike anything I have ever seen? The answer to all of these turned out to be yes, and over two weeks I made new friends, tried different foods, and explored through Belgium and Amsterdam by using a map and the intuition of seven other people.
The best parts of this trip for me were the meeting of new friends from all over the world and strengthen my friendship with my fellow classmates from UCONN. Staying in Dworp provided all the students to spend time together and really form friendships that would carry on throughout the rest of the trip and even presently. While in Dworp the regular team building activities pushed us out of our comfort zone and gave us something to laugh about as we sang songs, created dances, and often times just act silly. The workshops and activities brought us all closer and created a level of familiarity and comfort that was unexpected when I initially arrived to Dworp.
This trip also influenced how I think I will practice as a nurse. I realized through the site visits what a positive effect complimentary medicine can have on patients. I think taking the time to de-stress someone through massage or guided imagery can really have a positive impact on a patient’s hospitalization and healing. This trip taught me so much about myself and other cultures, helping me to become a more culturally competent nurse while providing alternative therapies or working with colleagues who can provide these alternative therapies.

Melissa Carlson
The weeks leading up to departing for our trip to Belgium did not feel as though the trip was real. People would ask if I was excited and I would reply “yes” without much more to say on the topic. While sitting in Bradley Airport the whole experience became real. As I sat among a group of my peers; some of whom I knew well, while others were complete strangers, I was overwhelmed with the realization that I was about to leave the comfort of my own country and my own college campus and set out into a foreign city.
When applying for this trip I thought I was simply going to learn new information and see some tourist sites. In reality I gained so much more from this trip than I ever thought possible. Spending two weeks in a new country made me really learn to work with others; from navigating new city streets to spending every day with the same group of people, I learned how to truly cooperate and coexist with other people on a whole new level. Interacting with students from other countries opened my eyes to how big our world really is. I didn’t think I could have anything in common with these other students aside from our health care majors but I quickly learned that even thought we came from different countries or spoke different languages at home; people can connect in all different ways. As a group complied of students from all over the world, we learned how to work together in and out of class to have an unforgettable experience in a beautiful city. This trip taught me more than information from a textbook and gave me more than pictures of historic buildings; it taught me about myself and how I am capable of more than I could have realized while staying comfortably on my own college campus.

Stephanie Ellis
My experiences in Belgium are ones that I will not soon forget. Those two weeks were not only a learning experience but also a wake-up call. We live in our communities, surrounded by our own cultures and comfort, but it’s not until we step outside of those boundaries that we learn about the world outside, that surrounds us and influences us in greater ways than we know. For me personally, every time I travel I realize again just how similar the world is. We have these pre-conceived ideas that foreign countries are just that- foreign; but it was during those two weeks and getting to know the other students that I realized we’re not so different at all. We listen to the same music, enjoy the same TV shows and spend our time as young adults in the same ways. When we visited the palliative care units and nursing homes it is easy to notice how remarkably similar they are to what we have here in the United States. Yes, there are differences, but not unlike those that we see between our states.
What I will take away most from those two weeks abroad are the people. The students from our small community at UConn and those from the six other countries I had the privilege of getting to know. From the moment we arrived at the airport, our group of eight students from UConn instantly bonded and created relationships and memories that will stay forever. It’s not always a given that eight people, thrown together for weeks, spending almost every waking moment together will click the way we did, and I’m so thankful for that. Outside of our group of eight, the other students that we grew to know in such a short time made this trip as wonderful as it was. Everyone was so welcoming and friendly, excited to be sharing this experience. I learned the most from these people, about their cultures and countries, their healthcare systems and also about their everyday lives. I remember thinking how weird it was that the instructors encouraged us to spend our nights at the “bar” in Dworp, but looking back I can see the real reason- it allowed us to bond and get to know each other on a personal level, as people and not as students in the classroom. We taught each other dances, shared music and many, many laughs. It amazes me how bonds like that can form during fourteen short days. It astonishes me even more that our relationships didn’t end when we left Belgium and boarded our planes. We all still communicate, share pictures and jokes and look forward to when we might see each other again.
We can have the information in the world available to us, but it’s the people that we meet throughout our lives that truly have an impact.
Traveling Students
Samantha Spano
Vamos embora, meaning, “let’s go,” was first phrase I learned in Portuguese from my new foreign friends, Marianna, Raquel, and Vanessa. Although at the time it was a simple phrase I could use to impress my friends at home, I look back on it now as the theme of my study abroad trip. Let’s go, let’s experience, let’s try new things, new foods, new ways of thinking. What really made this program for me was getting the chance to work with students from six different countries. Although some practices and ways of thinking may have different, the core values of caring for others, whether it was in nursing, physical therapy, or occupational therapy, were the same in every country. These two weeks helped us to build upon our similar foundations with different perspectives on living, aging, and end of life care. This, in turn, has allowed me to develop a greater appreciation and higher standard of care for the elderly population. So again I say, let’s go, let’s continue to grow, let’s take what we’ve learned and seen in Belgium, and apply it to our own practice.

Nikki LaRossa
My study abroad experience attending the Interdisciplinary Programme on Living Ageing was truly exceptional. I had never been to Europe before and was excited to meet and learn with students from several different countries. I had never seen anything that looked like the cities of Brussels or Ghent before with all of the beautiful architecture. I’d never think I’d be able to walk by a medieval castle on my way to class every day. I loved being able to learn about complimentary therapies and how to provide care to somebody when there is no cure available for their illness. It was extremely interesting to learn about healthcare decisions such as euthanasia that are not available to people suffering a terminal illness in the United States. It was a unique experience to see what different healthcare professionals thought about it and how they believed it benefitted their patients, friends, and family members. However, the thing I loved most and will truly miss is being able to spend time with students from many different countries. I was able to learn about healthcare in their country, the different ways in which they provide palliative care, and their culture. I’ve made lasting friends I hope to keep for years to come and one day see again whether in my country or theirs.

This trip solidified for me that even small acts to improve a person’s quality of life or even make them smile are always worth doing and provide meaning to what we will do as nurses. After being split up into groups with students from multiple countries and disciplines, we had the opportunity to go to a nursing home for people with dementia and do a music therapy activity for the residents. We allowed them to make their own instruments and play their instruments to music. Although dementia can limit the things a person can do that they once enjoyed, it was great to see them smiling, laughing, singing, and dancing to the music. I feel very fortunate to have had this opportunity and will keep the memories and things I have learned with me in my nursing career and the rest of my life.

 

Interdiciplinary Programme On Chronic Care and End of Life Care

March 6, 2013


University College Arteveldehogeschool – Gent, Belgium
This is the third year that I have accompanied UConn nursing students to this two week, intensive program. The USA is one of eight countries participating with Estonia, The Netherlands, Norway, Lithuania, Portugal, Belgium and the Czech Republic.
As in the past, these students were also responsible participants and wonderful ambassadors for the USA. Their blogs have been shared with the other faculty members. Their comments regarding the “elementary level” of some of the presentations have been noted and will be considered as we plan for the 2014 conference. Students vary in their depth of knowledge thus, it is a challenge to meet the needs of everyone.
Kathryn Stewart Hegedus, Associate Professor, Emerita

Laura Bishop
The experience in Belgium is one that will stay with me for the rest of my life. When I first applied to the program I was unaware of how intensive and demanding the course would be. The very concentrated curriculum required every student who was part of IPCEC to be completely and totally committed to learning about caring for the chronically ill/end of life patient.
The part of the program that will stay with me forever is every moment that all the students spent together outside of class. I learned more about other cultures/countries by having casual conversations with students, then by the formal lectures from the instructors. Every day I was excited to get to know the international students better. The most surprising aspect of the experience was how welcoming the Belgium students were. They were genuinely caring, helpful and resourceful whenever someone had a question or needed help simply getting around the city of Ghent.
My interest in the program was sparked by the information we received about euthanasia. In the United States euthanasia is not legally practiced. Physician assisted suicide is the only ending of life option. Learning about the options suffering patients have in end of life decisions in Belgium opened my eyes to the potential future possibilities patients could have in the United States. The main problem I see in the U.S. society is stubbornness. It seems to me that most Americans are stubborn or unwilling to learn about a practice that is not seen as socially acceptable. My society needs to open their eyes and learn about options they might not personally agree with. I myself do not personally agree with euthanasia, but, what gives me the right to discredit a practice I know so little about? Keeping the IPCEC program running will help to educate other countries’ health care professionals become more understanding of another culture/country’s practices. To see through the eyes of another and accept them for who they are and what they practice is when we can call ourselves truly educated future health care professionals.

Stephanie Kish
I am glad I had the opportunity to study abroad at Arteveldehogeschool in Ghent, Belgium, and Deistelheide in Dworp, Belgium. Before coming to Belgium I had never left the United States before; the farthest I’d ever travelled was Florida. The 8+ hour flight did not intimidate me (I’d been in 8+ hour car rides before, and I love flying), it was navigating through airports and foreign public transportation that made me most nervous. But as there were seven of us, we were able to figure it out. The best part of the experience by far was getting to met and become friends with students from Belgium, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Estonia, Greece, Lithuania, and Czech Republic. Everyone was so friendly. I remember a few days into the trip was my birthday. That combined with being far from home for the first time made me very homesick for family and friends. However, my group and our international friends quickly made me feel comfortable and at home by singing happy birthday several times throughout the day and in a couple of languages, along with receiving a Belgian éclair and learning about the three kisses tradition.
It made me realize (and carry with me throughout the trip) that even though you are not surrounded by the familiarities and comforts of home, you can still have great experiences and memories as long as you have good people with you, which we did.
One thing I thought was interesting was that sometimes if someone I was talking to knew I was American, they would often feel self-conscious about their English or their accent, while on the other hand I was self-conscious because English is the only language I can speak (fluently, anyway). Meanwhile, the people we met could speak three to four languages.
Throughout IPCEC, I not only learned about healthcare in other countries, but gained a better grasp on health care in the United States, and a more developed opinion on healthcare systems in general. Yes, America has many issues in affordability of healthcare and health insurance, but we are on the right track with certain things such as stressing patient autonomy, the importance of patient education, and trying to eradicate paternalism. We also had a lecture/debate on euthanasia; it was interesting to learn about this sensitive topic in a country where it is legal.
In Deistelheide we participated in various alternative therapy workshops, including art therapy, music therapy, aromatherapy, and basal stimulation. Usually skeptical of alternative therapy techniques, I now understand how and why they are used and found them therapeutic myself during the workshops.
Overall, I am glad I went on this two-week study abroad trip to Belgium. If I wanted to make this blog longer, I could go on about the Belgian beer; chocolate shops; extreme dehydration; the fact that we experienced every type of Belgian weather; doing everything wrong on Belgian trains; that I checked “visit a castle” off of my bucket list; my love of Speculoos; kip as my first word in Dutch (it means chicken); and that I would love to continue exploring Europe during my life as well as other continents.

Lauren Papa
Reflection on Belgium Experience
For me traveling to Belgium was much more than just an educational experience. What I found most valuable about this experience was not the time spent in the classroom but the time spent getting to know students from different cultures. It was eye opening to see not just how different we all were, but also how alike. I found it very valuable to put myself in a position where I knew nothing about the culture, and be simply immersed in a world so unlike my own. Meeting, working, and socializing with a diverse group of students gave me a new perspective on the world and myself.
Going into this experience I have to admit I knew little to nothing about what it meant to be a nurse in other countries. I very naively thought that a “nurse was a nurse,” no matter where you are but what I learned was that the role of the nurse is a little bit different everywhere you go. This was eye opening to me and it really gave me a much better appreciation for nursing as a global profession. I also gained a global perspective on end of life care. As our population ages it is important to be familiar with all the different choices one can make at the end of life. It was particularly interesting to learn about euthanasia and the impact it has had in both Belgium and the Netherlands. This choice, virtually unavailable to those in the United States, has brought closure to many peoples in a very peaceful and meaningful way. I feel that by having had this experience, and having learned from other professionals, that I am better prepared to be a culturally competent provider here at home.
One of my favorite experiences in Belgium was the opportunity to participate in site visits. I was able to see first hand nursing care in a few different contexts. The site that had a meaningful impact on me was a breast cancer rehabilitation facility. Its inception was from the idea that there is a transition phase between the end of treatment and the return to a normal routine. At this facility women are invited to participate in a treatment regimen that focus on strengthening the body, mind, and spirit all the while taking place in a historic royal villa on the waters edge. This experience had an impact on me because I wish there were places like this available to my Aunt when she was transitioning from being “sick” to being “Cured”. Overall I was impressed by the sheer amount of facilities dedicated to taking care of the whole individual separate from the disease process. In addition my mind was opened up to all the different options for quality end of life care available in different countries.
It is impossible to have an experience like this and not compare it to what I know to be true at home, and through doing this I was able to see the importance of education. Every healthcare provider should be educated about intercontinental and intercultural differences so as to better understand the care we provide in our own countries. I feel that there is nothing more limiting than a lack of knowledge and understanding of what is out there. This experience continues to impact my nursing education as well as my clinical practice. As a nurse I am more culturally competent, and more open to a variety of end of life choices. As an individual I am stronger having left my comfort zone to have an amazing experience. But most importantly as a student I have made connections and friendships that will last a lifetime.

Brittany Rubenstein
My experience in Belgium is one that I will remember for the rest of my life. This trip did have its ups and downs, but the positive aspects will be the ones I will cherish forever. I had never been to Europe before, but after attending this conference I will most definitely return to this beautiful land.
The classroom content itself was rather basic, but the knowledge from outside the classroom was unforgettable. In my opinion I learned more from than other students, than the faculty itself. I feel like the content of the class can improve and become more challenging. The most useful topic was the discussion on Euthanasia. The topic of Euthanasia is rarely talked about in the United States, which is why this lecture was so valuable to me. I think it is in the conferences best interest if they elaborated more on this topic. For me, Euthanasia was one reason why I wanted to attend this conference. I have had family members who have suffered from terminal illnesses and in my opinion the end-of-life care in the United States is lacking. I wanted to attend this multicultural conference to see how the United States can improve on their end-of-life care.
It was a great experience to attend the day visits at the various healthcare institutions in Belgium. This really made the conference worthwhile for me because we were able to physically see how the healthcare system operated in this country. One of my visits was to an adult day care center, which was absolutely amazing. This facility was somewhere I would want my family members to attend if they were terminally ill. I personally wish that the United States could have something similar to this program.
Overall this conference was a great opportunity. I left this conference with friends from various countries and an opinion with how my homeland can improve on their end-of-life care.

Brenna Czudak
This year I was a participant in the Uconn Study Abroad to Belgium. I have never been on a plane, let alone left the country, and thus every moment was a new and amazing experience for me.
Being in a foreign country was humbling, because it’s so very easy to forget how much of the world is out there when you’ve never really left the small state you grew up in. I learned words quickly (kip is the word for chicken in Dutch!) and learned about local traditions and landmarks. The fact that I was walking streets that had been in existence for hundreds, even thousands of years, reminded me of how young our country really is. One particular morning, a friend and I left the hostel early and bought breakfast from a small boulangerie on the way to class, and as I was watching the steam come off the freshly made croissant from a bakery that had been in existence since the 16th century, it hit me how very blessed I was to be a part of this world that had such an remarkable story to tell.
This feeling was compounded by the opportunity I had to interact with students from so many other countries, learning about our differences but most notably, our similarities. Students were welcoming, and always willing to share. It was amazing to see my own country through their eyes—and healthcare on a global level, for the first time. Cultural night was one of the best nights of the trip. Each country created a presentation about their country’s culture, with food, posters, pictures, clothing, and dance. One of the best and uniting moments was when we were all dancing the Lithuanian dance. On multiple occasions throughout the trip (even at the bar!) someone would play this song and EVERYONE would get up and dance. It became a part of us, part of our shared experience, reminding us we are never far from each other and the incredible friends we had made.
There was so much I learned that I wish to bring into my practice as a nurse in the United States. I’ve been an aide in long term care for years, but had never really looked at death, open and exposed, the way we did during lectures and discussions during class. So much of what was taught and explored was about the holistic care of these dying patients, and it was refreshing and educational to focus on the spirit after being enmeshed in the medical model of care for so long. I loved the workshops we participated it—my choices were basal stimulation, massage, reiki and art therapy. The panel discussion on euthanasia was also an incredible experience. I know that I grew in knowledge and practice, and this experience will highly benefit by care as a future nurse.
To have an opportunity to participate in a program like this is a blessing. The intercultural and interdisciplinary education and experience is invaluable. I have returned home with new knowledge, stories to last a lifetime, and friends, from across the globe. I will never forget this experience, and its hand in shaping who I will become, both as a nurse and an individual.

Casey Martin
When I went to Belgium I had no idea what to expect. I knew we were going to learn about palliative care but that was my only expectation. We were all pleasantly surprised not only by Belgium itself but by the people who were also at the conference. Each country brought very different perspectives not only about end of life care but about nursing in general. I learned more than I ever imagined I would during this conference. Surprisingly, I learned more from the other students than I did in our classes. They provided more information about their culture and healthcare system than any class ever could. It was eye opening to hear about how healthcare systems operate in other countries; and comparing other countries to the United States really made me appreciate our healthcare system.
My favorite part of this program was the demonstration of complementary therapies that are widely used in Europe especially at the end of life. Some of the complementary therapies we discussed were aromatherapy, pet therapy, massage, light therapy, feet reflexology, music therapy, and reiki. Before this experience I had barely heard about the majority of these therapies let alone how to perform them. Practicing these on classmates and getting to experience each therapy made all of us realize how useful and calming each of the therapies can be for individual patients. It really made me think of how I can incorporate some of these therapies into my patients care to make them more comfortable.
Overall, Belgium was a wonderful learning experience that I highly suggest to other students with an interest in end of life care and complementary therapies.

Courtney Beyers
Seven students from the University of Connecticut School of Nursing were invited to participate in the European Union 2013 IPCEC Study Abroad experience: International Programme on Chronic and End-of-Life Care.

We departed from the US on January 18 and began our study abroad experience in Ghent, Belgium. Initially, we discussed elementary concepts such as pain management as we became acquainted with our various cultural representations and broke our language barriers. Nearly a dozen counties and languages were represented at this conference/study abroad, however, it was conducted in English.

Early in the first week, we had a “cultural night” when we celebrated the various counties attending the experience. This was a wonderful opportunity to get to know everyone participating as they presented food and dances representative of their home countries. We had many opportunities to chat, learn each other’s names, and become more comfortable with each other.

We continued to attend lecture throughout the week, but also had the opportunity for two site visits. My first site visit was a home for the elderly in Ghent. A local student took us there and provided a tour. It was very interesting to see the continuity of care at the facility and “aging in place” from independent living, to assisted living, to 24 hour nursing care and care at the end of life. Everyone was extremely welcoming on behalf of the staff and the residents were very happy to greet us as well. I would definitely be comfortable living there later in life.

My second site visit was a palliative care unit in Brugges. The definition of “palliative” is different than the American connotation. In Belgium, a palliative care unit is equivalent to an inpatient hospice unit in America. This was at first confusing and surprising to me, because I was not expecting it. Instead, I was expecting something along the lines of a patient-centered medical home to provide palliative care or “symptom management” for chronic patients. I am so used to caring for patients with Sickle Cell Disease, so my personal experiences had motivated this mindset.

The palliative care unit nurses were extremely calm and welcoming. It was obvious they were passionate about their work, to care for people at the end of life. An interesting discussion that was motivated by our site visit was “truth telling” at the end of life. Do you tell someone that they are dying? Do you not tell someone that they are dying? Is this necessary? Is this an injustice, or is it justice?

It’s all debatable.

Our group chose to work on a representation of the palliative care unit for our group work for the remainder of the conference. After the first week, the entire conference migrated to Dworp for complementary and alternative therapy training. The location was very fitting for this study because it was set in a quiet, more rural area.

During week two, we were offered several hands-on workshops such as: reiki, music therapy, art therapy, massage, etc. I think we were very fortunate to have the opportunity to get comfortable with reiki, since it has caught on in the West and will only become more popular.

As I reflect back upon this experience, I feel that the workshops, lectures, and site visits have advanced my clinical competence. Already, I have been able to employ what I have learned into clinical practice. A very nauseous cancer patient undergoing chemotherapy was not responding well to Zofran… and so I took her away to a beach through the means of guided imagery and the help of a T.V. station at the hospital called the “Relaxation Station.” I feel I had the confident to facilitate deep breathing guided imagery, and in the end, she did not vomit! In fact, she reported that her nausea resolved. This was definitely a very useful adjuvant to her Zofran.

I am still in touch with friends I made during this conference. It is amazing how many experiences we have shared! We grew so close together throughout the two weeks. I will always treasure this experience.