Claire Moront, Bioengineering, COE ’20 //
When I first stepped off the plane in Brussels, I was beyond excited for my next six months. I looked forward to the weekend trips to Italy, Denmark, France, and all of the other hidden gems of Europe. Fear set in when I was tasked with getting from BRU to the place that I would call home for the next six months. Wide-eyed and rolling two suitcases packed with peanut butter, starbursts and pictures of my dog, I began my adventure to Leuven, Belgium.
As a third-year Bioengineering student, I knew what it was like to struggle to understand things, especially with classes like Quantitative Physiology and Bioelectricity. I hobbled my way through getting a SIM card, a bike, and opening up a bank account. But, there, everything took getting used to. The grocery stores were tiny, the weather was gray more than I thought possible, and the buses actually came on time (??). I felt horrible always having to ask “English?” My world was nothing like it had been before, and admittedly that was scary.
My first day of work was remarkably similar to those that I have had in the States. HR meetings, facility tours and countless introductions took up most of my day. After work, I rode my bike home and made some pasta with sauce as it was one of the few things in the grocery store that I could recognize. Day by day my excitement grew. On day two, I got my badge. Day five was headshots for the website. Day twelve was full access to the lab (one of the most exciting days for me). By the end of month one, I had found my community. I did morning coffee runs to the 7th floor with Joana, lunch in the cafeteria with Ben, Vincent and Joao, and weekend hangouts at Oude Market.
By the end of my co-op I was heart-broken to leave. It was refreshing to adventure every weekend. I felt like a tourist every day (but, the good kind of tourist where everything is new and exciting, not the Hawaiian shirt and expensive camera kind). I couldn’t leave now—I was just beginning to compile my list of the best fries, chocolate and waffles in the city.
I packed my bags, hopped on the number 7 bus to the train station and whispered tot ziens to Leuven. I saw the Stella Artois factory fade out of view and, although I was counting down the minutes until I got to see my dog, I already missed the unforgettable experience that I had been lucky enough to make. The hard skills that I gained working with such an incredible group of people in a rewarding and engaging position are some that I will certainly highlight on my resume. But the lessons I have learned from simply pushing myself to explore, and ask, and do, created ripples far beyond any piece of paper.
All of this to say, I was terrified when I first arrived in Belgium for my co-op. For the first time in my life, I truly felt like an outsider. I knew nothing about the culture, the food, the language, or even social etiquette. I had no immediate friends. My family was 6 hours behind me. That first week tested me more than once. But here I am now, looking back on that experience and embracing all of the ways it has changed my life for the better. With a job offer on the table and a place full of delicious food, I hesitate to think I said goodbye forever.