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.