Belgium 2015!

We are now accepting applications for Belgium 2015!  Here is the link to the application process: https://studyabroad.ua.edu/index.cfm?FuseAction=Programs.ViewProgram&Program_ID=10897

If you have questions about the program, please contact Prof. Doug Gibler at dmgibler@ua.edu

Belgium 2014 Safety Considerations

We are traveling to places you’ve likely never before visited.  Caution is important.

I require adherence to two important rules while on the program.  The first is that you must be present and on time for every single event.  Most of the program visits occur in the morning, so I will have the opportunity to see you bright and early.  (We will have a morning check-in time at breakfast in London and Paris.)  If you do not check in with me on time or miss an event, you will be sent home at your expense.  Seriously.  The second rule is: be polite.  Like it or not, as such a large group traveling, we’re representatives of our country, and I want every person to be courteous and respectful of others, both in and out of the program.  [NB: each of these rules are posted in the Safety portion of the blog…  I need to keep track of how you’re doing, and it’s also always best to not be the ugly tourist and attract attention to yourself as someone who is out of place.]

Petty theft is common in some of the places we’ll visit.  We’re tourists, and we’ll be visiting tourist areas a lot of the time.  Be aware of your surroundings, and keep careful watch on your things.  Better yet, leave valuables at home!  Or, if you have to travel to Europe with some valuables, hide them in your flat before going out for the day or weekend.

Last, personal safety is also a concern.  Be very aware of your surroundings and also realize that, though you’re aware, you are a foreigner and don’t necessarily understand the context of the area.  This is especially true if you’re incapacitated.  Always, always travel with at least one friend, and always be able to take care of yourself.

Ooops, one more last note: drug and weapons laws are both stricter and more strictly enforced where we’re traveling.  Don’t take either.  If you’re arrested, there’s nothing I nor UA could do for you other than to send the embassy and pay you a visit in jail (and I will lecture you during that visit).

Belgium 2014 Important Course Information

A few comments about the Belgium 2014 courses before departure:

First, an electronic coursepak of readings will be available to students before June 1st.  Each flat will have wifi, so if you’d like to read the electronic version, you’re all set. However, none of the flats have a printer.  So, if you’d like a printed version, please go ahead and print the coursepak before we leave.

Second, you will be expected to keep a journal of our visits and your activities while we’re abroad.  Preferably, these journals will be electronic documents, but you can keep a notebook instead if you prefer.  Note that, though computers will be available in the flats, the keyboards are Belgian, which take a while to accustom yourself.  If you don’t have a laptop, notebook, or iPad, you may want to bring a notebook for the journal entries.  No book purchases are required for the program.

Third, the courses in the program are dedicated to experiential learning, and, thus, we will be visiting all the major organs of the European Union, NATO, the US Mission to the EU, and at least one non-governmental organization.  You should dress appropriately–no tennis shoes, long pants and/or business skirts only, realizing that European dress is more modest than some American trends.  Our class meetings, which will be about a 15-minute walk away, you can dress more casually.

Last, there will be an in-class final exam for both courses.  The exams will ask you to apply the program and your experiences to the course material in some way, while also asking for analysis of the readings.  More details on these as the courses start.

Belgium 2014 Important Pre-Departure Travel Information

The following information should prove useful for those attending Belgium 2012.  Course information will be in a separate post.

First, here is a list of the addresses and contact information for where we’ll be staying, including linked maps for each address.

Second, some US cell phones will work in Belgium, but the costs are exorbitant.  For alternatives, consider skype, email, etc, since all flats will have free wifi service.  You could also purchase a disposable phone in Brussels rather cheaply, or you can try one of the cell phone rental services.

Third, all flats come equipped with full-service kitchen, and you will have access to laundry facilities, free of charge in the building or your flat.  Again, free wifi is available for your flat, and most come with large screen televisions.  See a post below for pictures of the flats.

Fourth, there are numerous shops and restaurants nearby, including a large grocery across the street.  Bring a large sack or backpack for the groceries since many don’t provide bags for your purchases (and you pack your bags yourself).

Fifth, several languages are spoken in Belgium, but French is most dominant in the area where we’ll be staying.  It’d go a long way, I think, for you to be able to say please (s’il vous plait), excuse me (pardon), thank you (merci), and hello (bonjour) in French.  Would you expect less of those traveling to Tuscaloosa?

Sixth, pack smart.  Do NOT(!!!) pack three or more bags for a three and a half week trip.  You’ll look ridiculous, and you’ll have difficulty carrying your own bags.  You must be able to carry all your own luggage.  We will be taking several day and weekend trips.  It’d also be wise to pack a backpack for these excursions since we won’t have a chance to check-in immediately after arriving in London and Paris.

Last, our flats are located in the European Quarter of Brussels and are very close (12 minute walk) to the Schuman Station metro, train, bus stop.  There’s also a local tram nearby.  You’ll be given a 10-trip pass for the metro very early in the program that will cover all program-related travel within the city, but you can always purchase additional “jump passes” for less than 1.5 euros at the station.  (All city-to-city train travel is covered by the program.)

What and How to Pack

As we’re getting ready to leave, I thought I’d share some final tips for packing before the trip.  Some things you don’t necessarily think about until you’ve been abroad.

First, put everything you’re going to bring together, and then cut it in half.  Seriously, only bring half of what you really think you’ll need.  You want to travel lightly, both for baggage fees and just because you don’t want to carry stuff.  You will have easy access to free laundry, and my guess is that you still won’t use everything.  Covering every possibility is impossible, so pack clothes and items that give you flexibility– don’t pack shoes just for that perfect outfit or one dress in case you go out to high tea. Pack clothes that can be multiple use and items that will be used over and over.

Second, some essentials to bring:

  • your passport and directions to the flats, to be carried on your person. The passport is your ticket everywhere.  All else can purchased or borrowed.
  • a small umbrella. It will rain– if not in Brussels (and it will rain there), then in London. See this week’s forecast, for example: http://www.weather.com/weather/tenday/50.850340,4.351710
  • a grocery tote bag. European groceries don’t really have plastic bags for you to carry your stuff; if they do, they’re for purchase. Bring a Sam’s bag or some other type of tote.
  • a journal, if you’re not going to use a laptop. This is an important part of both classes.
  • a backpack. It’ll be much easier to carry stuff for the daytrips in a decent backpack.
  • converters. A US to Belgium converter is pretty cheap (under $10) at Radio Shack. These are helpful.  Note, though, that if you bring a hair dryer, there’s a decent chance you’ll blow the fuse in your flat, and everyone will be without power.  If you absolutely have to have a hair dryer, you may want to think about getting one in Europe.
  • Pack some key toiletries in your carry on in case your luggage gets lost– things like contact case and glasses or whatever.  Bags often get lost on this trip, so plan accordingly.
  • At least one good outfit (preferably two) for visiting the EU institutions. European bureaucrats dress very, very well, and it’s best to be in good, business causal attire for these visits.
  • An emergency credit card. Tell your bank that you’re traveling and confirm it can be used in Belgium, London, and France.
  • A few recipes. You will get sticker shock at some of the restaurant prices… 15 euros for a grilled cheese (croque monsieur) in some touristy places.  So, it’s best to take advantage of your full kitchen once in awhile. Make sure you’re able to cook at least a few things before you go.  There’s easy access to groceries, and you’ll have a fully stocked set of cookware.  It’s sooooo much cheaper than always eating out, and you’ll have more money for chocolate and souvenirs.
  • Speaking of souvenirs, you’ll bring back more than you take with you. Remember that when you’re packing!

On money, make sure you have some kind of financial plan.  Personally, I’m going to rely on my ATM card and a few credit cards because I know they most often work in Belgium. I won’t be carrying Euros or GBPs when I travel and will head directly to the ATM when I land.  Those fees are much cheaper than changing money or even travelers cheques.  Again, make sure your bank is aware that you’ll be traveling.

Last, on phones, I bought a set of disposable phones our first year and have used them ever since. They’re cheap (about 50 euros with time for about 2 hours of local talk or maybe 10 minutes of international time), and they can be reloaded.  But I have to have a phone with me. You don’t.  I strongly recommend putting any smartphones on airplane mode and then taking advantage of skype, google video chat, or whatever, to talk to home.  You’ll have good WiFi access in your flat, and you’ll have it at the London hotel as well, I believe.

Oh, and here’s a nice set of ideas for how to pack for any trip.  Take a look.

Questions? Feel free to send me an email.  See you in Atlanta or Brussels!

Accommodations

Several students have asked about accomodations during our stay in Belgium, and so I thought I would provide some pictures of several of the apartments we have reserved.  The apartments are all located in close proximity, near Vesalius University (10-15 minute walk from the Grand Place pictured on this website).   We will all be staying in similar apartments.  For students, the apartments will be double occupancy, or more for the larger flats.

Here are some pictures.  Note that they are grouped in folders, so you’ll have to save the file to computer and then open the files individually.  Type I apartments.  Type II apartments.