Month: February 2017

Belgium by Richard Jeong

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

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.