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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.