For my final eighth semester of my bachelor’s degree programme “Education for Primary School”, I have chosen to go abroad to Bruges in Belgium from February till July. I was studying and living there for half a year to enhance my pedagogical expertise, to improve my intercultural knowledge and to work on my personal growth.
The University “VIVES Hogeschool” in Bruges
During my stay in Belgium, I went to the VIVES University of Applied Science in WestFlanders and joined the programme “V.I.C.K.I.E.” at the campus in Bruges. When arriving on the campus I was really impressed of the building and the facilities the university has to offer. Lots of areas to learn, eating during the breaks and chill with your study colleagues. The university even has a quiet room, where you can study or hangout to calm down during the day. The building is surrounded by lots of green area to sit and they have a huge parking spot for your bike.
On the first day of university, we had a “Welcome day” to get in contact with the other Erasmus students, the teachers and coordinators of the exchange programme which was quite lovely because I really felt welcomed in this country. During this event we also were informed about the university, the programme, the most important facilities to know (hospital, pharmacy etc.) and the lifestyle in Bruges. Since that day I felt save and ready to start my Erasmus experience in Bruges.
The V.I.C.K.I.E. programme was offered especially for international students for the bachelor’s level for preschool education, primary education and secondary education. Nevertheless, we also had some courses with other Erasmus-students that follow a different profession (e.g., logopedics, management, business). In those courses we learned to apply the 21st century skills (sustainability, creativity, international and intercultural competences) to improve our global engagement as well as competences, missions and visions of other education systems in different countries. We had a lot of different tasks and assignments to do like projects, interviews, class activities and reflection papers. Furthermore, I participated a course which focused on the personal growth, the social and intercultural competences as well as the cultural identity.
In my Learning Agreement I have chosen to have practice which also includes that I had to learn the language Dutch. Within a few months I was able to understand and speak simple Dutch which made me feel even more welcomed in this country.
The school practice
I also went to have practice in a local primary school in Bruges. For two weeks, I was the second teacher of the 4th grade at the school “Immaculata”. The first few days at the primary school were packed with lots of new experiences and impressions. When I arrived at the school, the children were very excited and curious about me. They asked a lot of questions and where always by my side. The children were very extroverted and open-minded which really surprised me. Nearly half of the class was fluent in speaking English so I could easily connect with them.
I was fascinated by the similarities and differences of the educational system compared to Austria. It is mandatory in Belgium that the students attend primary school between the age of six and 18 years. So the children have to attend primary school in Belgium 6 years (instead of 4 years in Austria) from the age six to 12. Furthermore, the children can enter the school any time after a vacation break. The children learn beside Dutch also French or German in school, which depends on the area of the school. The public primary education in Belgium is free like in Austria. The curriculum includes a range of subjects and is often divided into specific times like mathematics are in the morning and creative subjects are most held in the afternoon. Wednesday afternoons are mostly free.
I was living in the dorm “Kotville” for half a year, which was located next to the university VIVES and could be easily reached by bike in 5 minutes. Renting a bike in Bruges is absolutely recommended because you can go everywhere very fast and there are a lot of bike lanes in the city. However, I was living in a dorm where I had a small room for myself with my own bathroom and a fridge. We had a shared kitchen which also included a “chill-area”. The building is, just like the university, outside of the city center. Nevertheless, you can easily reach the center within 10 minutes by bike which is no problem when you also ride with friends. While I was staying there, there weren’t a lot of international students actually living in that building. But still, I spend a lot of nights and days with all the people I met there. I never regretted staying
there, it was actually perfect for me.
The city of Bruges
Bruges is a very historic, middle-aged looking city in the heart of West-Flanders in north-west Belgium. You can stroll around the city, relax at the canals and parks by feeling the charm of the city. The city is also surround by some windmills which can be reached within a few minutes starting from the city center. Bruges is a fairly compact city, meaning even if you stay on the outskirts, you won’t be hiking for miles to find the main attractions. The marketplace is the liveliest place in Bruges. You can find a lot of attractions, stores, restaurants, waffle stores and bars in this area. This part of the city is normally on the weekend very busy. There are a lot of tourists travelling to Bruges and the crowds tend to overwhelm the city, especially during the holidays. However, you can easily escape the crowds by going to the peaceful Minnewater Park to relax and enjoy the nature.
Since Bruges is close to various means of transportation, you can easily reach the beaches (Oostende, Knokke etc.) within a few minutes as well as other cities (Brussels, Antwerp, etc.) and even countries (France, Netherlands etc.) within a few hours. Bruges is therefore a really good starting point for travelling during your free time.
During my stay in Bruges I acquired social and intercultural competences as well as grew on a personal and professional level. I became more independend and learned new aspects of myself while being in a new surrounding. Furthermore, I made lots of friends across Europe and around the world.
Taking this big step in my life and studying in another country was probably the best decision of my life and I would never want to miss out on that amazing experience!
Report written by Kerstin Ranftl