For 21-year-old Liz Vaala, traveling to Belgium in the summer of 2017 proved more fruitful than she ever imagined.
When she received an email from her professor last year nominating her for a position in a summer class 4,115 miles away in Ghent, Belgium, she accepted the nomination and went through the application process. She was not expecting to be selected. One morning at 5:30 a.m., she opened her email to discover she had made it into the program.
“It was too amazing of an opportunity to pass up,” Vaala said.
For two weeks, Vaala spent time abroad in Flanders, Belgium, studying at the University of Ghent. Flanders is one of the three official regions in Belgium, with Ghent being one of the most populated cities within Flanders. The program she participated in, called Taalunie Zomercursus Nederlands, focused on learning and speaking Dutch as a second language.
With only 120 students selected from countries around the world, Vaala made friends with students from Sweden, Italy, Romania, the UK and Slovakia. The program split the students into four smaller groups, each focusing on a different aspect of learning the language. Vaala was placed in the translation group, where she attended lectures, speaker events and workshops and participated in field trips.