Experience Ghent and Feel Belgium - The Core of Old Europe - BACK
(Published on 14/02/2011 by Amina Zigo)
I am a postgraduate student pursuing studies in the field of “International Relations and Economic Diplomacy” at the University of Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina (B-H)and I am the lucky student who have gained six months Basileus scholarship to study at the Ghent University
Six unforgettable months in Flanders region will leave a deep mark in every step of my future life. Teachers, students from different parts of the world, local shop-keepers, class mates, restaurant's stuff... form part of the story itself. The impressions they left on me I will keep as a souvenir in my memories.
I can never forget that feeling when I arrived to Sint-Pieters train station at Ghent. Really a strange feeling. Alone at the station and completely overloaded with luggage and bags. At the same time I was confused and happy. For 10 minutes a taxi- driver reached me to the hostel where I have reserved accommodation. It was nice small room.
The next day, I remember, I contacted all the possible addresses in order to find student’s room. I was lucky. I found a room in the attic, close to the University, warm and simple with a small kitchen and not so expensive. Immediately I was informed about this strict way of garbage separation and the use of blue and yellow bags. I liked the idea and asked myself is this a reflection of real Europe? I was not lazy to dispose of all the glass jars along with other garbage. I shared a bathroom and toilet with six students (three of them were from India, two from Belgium and one from Czech Republic).
Integration into student life and activities
The very first day of my arrival I met an Erasmus student from Kosovo, Gjylbehare, who provided me with some baic information such as library, bank, how I can buy a cheap phone card to call the parents in B-H. She took me to the places where I bought some basic items, food, clothing etc.
Exploring the city with a map was quite interesting. I noticed difference, in front of me was old Europe, reflecting beautiful ancient style, nicely decorated with bunch of multicoloured bikes.
Being a student in Ghent means to enjoy special privileges. Such as electronic cards that give them access to libraries and student restaurants...enjoy social life. I did not find it difficult to integrate into student life and used all the opportunities. I ate in the student restaurants, borrowed books at the library, went to cinemas, I became a member of the Erasmus Student Network (ESN)...
After my arrival I enrolled at first level of Dutch language course. Along with me classes was attended by mostly other Erasmus students from Portugal, Poland, Czech... and new immigrants. We had the opportunity to talk to each other over coffee break and very often to go together to explore the city.
I participated in the Welcome Days event in late September where students received information about all activities. I was very much surprised to see the interaction between professors and students in particular the opened debates during classes. With all due respect to all teachers, I can say that The Common Foreign Security Policy lectures by Professor Sven Biscop were the most interesting. The professor talked about the EU's relationships with neighbours, international organizations, UN, NATO, the Western Balkans... I noticed a difference in the teaching system. While teachers in B-H require students to memorize facts from the book (which is tiring), professors at Ghent University want students to read books and articles and give their opinion, and they required team-work. I realized that students in Ghent are not burdened with content and give their opinion on certain issues. I liked such a way of study because students expand their own horizons.
I realised that Ghent is pretty much multicultural place. I met many people of the Turkish origin and I saw that they are well integrated there. It surprised me to see that they have their own shops, restaurants, trade-markets.
Quite by chance I met a family from Kosovo who were kind enough to invite me for a lunch. Later on, I used them as example for my research for the course of Social Inequality where I wrote an extensive paper regarding the integration of the refugees. I explored the way they had been integrated into the Belgian society. Excellent conclusion: refugees from Kosovo in Belgium have a better status than in B-H and they managed to integrate themselves into the Belgium society.
Ghent - full of mystery
What I missed in the early days in Ghent was the hiking because Belgium is too flat country. I realized that most of fruits and vegetables in Belgium are imported from neighbouring countries. However, for the first time in Ghent I have tried a miniature tomato and Asian cherry- lichi fruits imported from China.
Ah, the Belgian chocolate. This magic product is enigma for all tourists in Ghent because of its special taste. When you start eating it, you simply can not stop. I have to admit, I have become addicted to the warm chocolate.
I learned about the mythology of some cathedral in Ghent during the Basileus team evening expedition, which took Erasmus students in a time of historic ferment in Belgium, the Middle Ages and the King Leopold. They provided us with some interesting details involving the Sint-Baafskathedraal, Sint-Niklaaskerk, Belfort...It was very interesting evening.
Besides that, it appears that Ghent is very known in organizing Festivals. The city is fully revived with "Winterdroom 2010" which was opened in December last year. “Light Gent Festival” in late January 2011 have attracted thousands of tourists. Tram with special lighting effects and music that was circling through the city provoked the excitement and admiration. I remember an image from a fairy tale presented at the facade of the building. It was about a boy who in his dream becomes a giant. Looking at the projection of fantasy I become part of the boy's dream.
Travel to Paris, Brugge, Amsterdam, Brussels, Cologne, Liege and Oostende
Leaders of ESN organized wonderful and cheap trips. Over weekends I travelled with other Erasmus students outside of Ghent. I remember those happy moments in bus and different destinations such as Paris, Brugge, Amsterdam, Brussels, Cologne, Liege and Oostende... Autumn in Paris is really difficult to describe. One strange thing: tickets to the Arc de Triomphe were more expensive for residents of non-EU countries. Anyway I paid ticket, climbed up there and enjoyed the view.
We visited Christmas fair in Cologne where we enjoyed looking hand-made stuff. It was my first visit to Germany. So much inspiration, originality and uniqueness in each exposed subject. I noticed that prices were tailored for pockets of European stable employees. I really did not see anywhere such an unusual wooden and clay jars. I was amazed. I bought a calendar painted of cats for memory of Cologne.
It is interesting to be in the capital of the Holland. I noticed that Amsterdam is famous for its canals and museums, plantations of tulips, famous people who live there (eg Anne Frank's house), diamonds and beer factories, but also the unrestricted party. A tourist guide was talking enthusiastically, demonstrating interesting places. Apart of that, we also participated in a street rally where the local people through screaming tried warn political decision-makers about the importance of culture in today's world. Good attempt to awake politicians about culture.
But definitely the most spectacular event was the visit to Ice Festival in Brugge in the second half of December. Something similar I have seen in newspapers and on television. We stared at huge ice statues of famous buildings from the East and West and tried feel spirit of several world’s cities. There was everything, from Big Ben, the Sagrada Familia to the beautiful buildings in Moscow and Egypt's pyramids. Impressions were complemented by statues of Disney characters and famous actors and singers such as Madonna, Elvis, Marilyn Monroe...
With a Erasmus friend from Bulgaria's I went to Brussels for Christmas. The local city shops were decorated with pure chocolate and candies. This was really a true picture of Belgium. The beautiful 3D snow-fluffs projections aligned with Christmas melodies adorned a nearby cathedral. I remember, in a nearby shop I bought a sandwich. Tuna and peach, the new flavour, pleasant and very attractive taste.
Located on the shores of the North Sea, Oostende gave me a sea picture of Belgium. I was delighted listening tunes of sea, cry of seagulls and eating sea-fruits. It was Sunday and shops were opened. Excellent combination of rest and shopping.
Lucie's birthday party and the dinner at a Chinese friend's
I clearly remember traditional Czech meal Jednohopke which was prepared by Czech friends Lucie and Marcela for Lucie's birthday's party. Garlic, cheese and franch bread.
My colleague from the same group of studies from China, Yan Yan invited me one evening for dinner. I enjoyed using chopsticks, Chinese salad with a special Asian mushrooms and chicken ribs in a sugar sauce. Yami...specialities of the Eastern culture. I really liked it. As a present I got a book about Chinese culture. I promised her that I will read and even comment on it. "I invite you to China" – screamed Yan. "I would like to, but it is not possible for right now, you know, I am a student ..." – I answered. “Everything is possible if you believe. Be careful when something want. You may realize” – resounded her words at my leaving.
Great news on the doorstep of the 2011
While I was waiting for the Belgian resident permit card (pink electronic little card) to be issued in January I heard that the EU abolished the visa and that B-H citizens from 15th December on can freely travel to Western Europe. Great news! Wow, now I can travel around Schengen zone freely. I shared the those great news with my Erasmus friends.
New Year is really a spectacular event in Ghent. With enthusiasm I enjoyed seeing twenty fireworks spreading nice colours on the city tenth. Strangely, the celebration of New Year without the using strong pyrotechnic items which are so popular in B-H.
However the month of January was very stressful period of me. Need to study a lot! The street Sint-Pietersnieuwstraat is usually full of students, but in those days it was totally empty. Students were preparing exams. What a challenge! Prepare presentations and study in a foreign language. Teachers seemed strict, but however a bit flexible as they knew that we come from different countries with different educational backgrounds and as such tried to take that into consideration.
Soon after, many students left. While I was waiting for the results of my exams I tried to profit and do some research at the library and as such collect materials for my master theses in B-H. Our university library in B-H is very poor and students are lucking basic texts.
However, it seems to me that my time of six months in Ghent ran in a few days. I went to the farewell’s parties. We were a bit sad.
We do not know what life brings tomorrow. Perhaps we can meet again somewhere in Europe or even in a Western Balkans...while doing our doctoral research or in one of the international organisations currently presents in B-H, maybe some of them came to B-H... Who knows? Everything is possible.
One thing I know... I will miss all those lovely Erasmus students from Kosovo, India, Slovakia, Czech Republic, China, Ireland, Egypt ...
After all, this is an unforgettable and wonderful experience where I had the opportunity to familiarize myself in a new role and to face the challenges and adventures. Thanks Basileus, thanks Gent University, thanks Gjylbehare, ESN and those who have made my six months unforgettable.