To Belgium and Beyond!
Shortly after I received my acceptance letter for my study abroad to Belgium, the world was shocked by the bombing of Brussels. The news made my family concerned for my safety; they asked me to reconsider my trip. However, I told them when faced with unpredictable acts of violence we just have to move forward.
After all that worry about terror, the biggest challenge I faced was lack of planning. Arriving in Brussels Airport just after midnight on a Sunday was a mess. There was no help to be found anywhere, so I bought one overpriced train ticket and set out alone into the night.
Growing up in the Midwest, I had never used public transportation before. This made my first train ride in Belgium an extremely frustrating experience. I missed my first stop twice only to learn the doors would have opened if I had just pushed the right button. Somehow, I got off the train and found a bar with a local and two Irish guys who were kind enough to help me get where I was going. Approaching strangers in the dead of night is probably also a bad idea, but luckily they were genuinely kind people.
There were many strangers who took time to help me during my time abroad. The first week in Hasselt, Belgium, I got a lesson from a local who was in stitches watching me try to ride a bike with all my groceries. The people I stayed with in other countries were extremely generous hosts, serving local dishes and giving great tips on where to visit.
While I was at school in Hasselt, I got to work with two students from Spain and Italy for a group exhibition in December. My professors pushed us to work bigger and explore new concepts. The result was a show titled Nichtophobia, or fear of the dark. Our topic was overcoming terror and darkness, so I made a series of paintings with life size neon figures.
During my time abroad, I slowly adapted to European travel and went on to see places near and far. Through trial and error, I made it through small and large airports, international bus lines, and got a crash course in European geography. Overall, I managed to visit six countries, saw nearly 50 art galleries in major cities like Berlin, London, Lucerne, Antwerp, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Ghent, Basel, and Bruges. I hiked with friends in the Alps, visited castles, saw actual royalty, and learned how to carry almost anything on a bicycle.
While abroad, I learned to appreciate little things like stores which are open on Sundays or past 8pm, the taste of fresh milk, common water fountains, and the support of all my family and friends. Overall, I'm glad I didn't let fear prevent me from seeing the world and missing out on this amazing transformational experience.
My Bike in Hasselt
Nichtophobia - Fear of the Dark, Fear of Terror
Tree and I in Potsdam, Germany