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Cassie Graves – Study Abroad Belgium

Studying abroad in Belgium was an experience I will never forget. Before our study abroad officially started we all travelled to Europe early and stopped in both Amsterdam and London for a few days. This kicked off our amazing European adventure. After our few days of nonstop exploring and very little sleep, we headed back to Ghent to start our two-week course. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect before I arrived but after the first day all my worries had disappeared. All the students from the first week bonded immediately and we became inseparable from then on.

In the first week of the program, we visited an abundance of facilities related to end of life care. We saw palliative care units, nursing homes, and oncology units. One common factor that they all shared was the focus on comfort and complementary therapies. They would use therapies such as aromatherapy, art therapy, and breathing exercises in conjunction with more typical therapies offered. In the USA, we don’t see these therapies being used often. Belgium really focuses on quality of life instead of quantity of life. They really provide a holistic way of nursing to all of their patients.

Coming back, I really hope I can bring my new knowledge of complementary therapies and put them into use for clinical and when I start my career as a nurse. There is so much we can all learn from each other and I am so grateful that I had an opportunity like this to broaden my idea of what nursing can do and become.

Alexis Perry – February 6, 2019

Being able to study abroad in Ghent, Belgium was one of the best experiences in my life. Cultural night was incredible and a night that I surely will never forget. It was enlightening and wholesome to watch how animated everyone got about their food and their country. I got to meet so many people from various places around the world (Belgium, Kansas, Portugal, Latvia, Czech, Germany and Estonia), and learn about their country, perceptions of the world and end-of-life care.

Since I have been working in a nursing home as a nurse’s aide for almost five years, I have had many experiences with the way end-of-life care can be carried out in America. However, I wanted to learn more about palliative and end-of-life care in general, but also about how it differs in Europe.

As I was in Belgium, I quickly realized that the country focuses a lot more on optimizing comfort and enhancing the quality of life during palliative care. There are actual facilities dedicated to this, therefore the healthcare workers are experts at completing the care. Through the use of music, art, aromas and even massages, the workers are capable of not only relaxing the individual, but also relieving physical and existential suffering.

My own personal box has widened to accept everyone I met, everything I have learned and everything I have experienced. The friends I have made from this trip I still talk to, because though this trip was only two weeks, I believe the impact of this course and each other, has kept us talking. I am so happy to have met them all.

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.

Belgium 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.