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International experiences will not only broaden your horizon, but also improve your chances in the labour market. The Go Abroad Fair at Tuesday 17 October and Wednesday 18 October helps students take their first steps towards their own international adventure. Nathalie, Gilles and Laurence spent a part of their studies abroad and share their stories.
‘In Suriname, it’s really normal to talk to ministers.’ Nathalie Colpin, master’s student in educational sciences, spent the beginning of the last academic year interning at the National Information Service in Suriname. ‘If I had any questions I would just knock at the door of the council advisor. He kind of played the role of my mentor in Suriname. He would offer me some coffee and chocolates and we’d talk for an hour.’
Nathalie’s preference originally went to an African country, but an enthusiastic professor with a strong connection to Suriname made her change her mind.
‘I didn’t even know where the country was, but after I did some research I was completely convinced. During the next lecture, I talked to professor Vanwing about my options. Because I really wanted to live and work together with the locals, I decided on an internship instead of writing my thesis abroad.’
A decision she most certainly doesn’t regret.
‘The internship in Suriname has been the most wonderful experience of my studies. I know that I will carry the things I’ve seen, experienced and learned during my internship with me for the rest of my life. I might not have the same work experience as people who did their internship in Belgium – due to the cultural differences and work ethos - but I have grown so much as a person instead.’
‘My internship has brought me to places in the outback of Suriname that you would never be able to visit as a tourist. Not only was I allowed to interview locals – as much as language barriers allowed - but I also got to see Suriname in a different, more authentic way.’
Twenty-two year old Gilles Gillet also changed his mind about his destination. Originally, he wanted to study in Berlin, but he ended up going to Sichuan University in China instead.
‘My decision to go to China was rather unexpected and spontaneous. I learned about the Lotus project when I participated in an info session about Erasmus. China as un upcoming international player is of course very interesting for a student in political science with a fascination for international relations. The generous scholarship didn’t hurt either.’
‘When I received the news that I was selected for China in May I was a bit taken aback. Berlin – for which I also got selected, would have been a safer choice. It’s familiar, Western and I’m able to understand some German. In the end, I picked Sichuan over Berlin and it was quite the adventure.’
The chaos and energy were most memorable to Gilles.
‘I lived in a city with a population between fifteen and sixteen million people and there was a chaos, a liveliness, a fuss that you wouldn’t find over here. The energy in that city was amazing.’
‘Everything was different: the people, the food, the culture … Things we would consider ‘not done’ were perfectly fine over there and vice versa. Sichuan isn’t a big Westernized city. The city is in a province in central China that’s rapidly developing. If you wanted to visit something you had to take a bus over tiny mountain paths, but in the meantime you would see them build the highway. During the four months I spent in China, they’d opened at least one or two metro lines. It was quite an interesting sight.’
Both Gilles and Nathalie indicate that, even though they received some guidance, filling out the paperwork wasn’t always easy.
According to Nathalie cultural differences could sometimes lead to frustrations while trying to complete the process. ‘Shortly before I left everything came together and I was able to leave with a peaceful mind. For a moment, it felt like the Himalayan mountains had fallen of my shoulders, but it was completely worth it in the end.’
Both Nathalie and Gilles have been bitten by the travel bug. They would be very inclined to leave again, if anyone would offer them a new scholarship.
They’re not the only ones. VUB alumni Laurence Eggerickx’s first Erasmus exchange left such a big impression that she ended packing her bags again not once, but twice.
‘I’ve exploited the system to its fullest, partly because I had the opportunities and the necessary guidance from the VUB. My first exchange left me wanting more. You learn a lot about yourself when you leave your comfort zone.’
After her first exchange – a semester at The university of Copenhagen – she participated at LIMUN, a model united nations conference in London and she wrapped her university career up with an internship at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
‘The cycling culture in both Copenhagen and The Hague are most memorable to me. Many people use bicycles for their transportation and the infrastructure is a lot better than in Brussels. Sometimes there are even traffic jams for the cyclists that get you stuck in front of a traffic light.’
Laurence graduated from the VUB with a master’s in International and European law, and has always dreamed of working in an international context. In the meanwhile, she’s working as a legal assistant at the International committee of the Red Cross.
‘During the job hunting process, I noticed that employers attach a lot of worth to exchanges. They don’t only prove that you’re willing to step out of your comfort zone, but also that you speak multiple language and are interested in different cultures.’
The official stats confirm Laurence’s gut feeling: an exchange looks good on your CV. Erasmus alumni don’t only double their chances to find a job within a year after graduating, but they also earn up to 25% more than students without international experiences.
Working or studying abroad has a lot more to offer than some pretty pictures. A multitude of scholarships make an exchange a possibility for everyone. Students who are inspired by the stories of Nathalie, Gilles and Laurence and want to spend a part of their studies abroad, will be able to attend the Go Abroad Fair for more information.
Do you want to gain some international experiences? Do you have your mind set on a destination and a scholarship programme or are you still figuring out your options? Find all the information you need to take your first steps towards your own international adventure at the Go Abroad Fair in Jette on Tuesday 17 October or Etterbeek on Wednesday 18 October.