By Whitney Steinmann
The Belgium Study Abroad Program, headed by Dr. Clyde Munster and Dr. Cady Engler, is a unique five week program offered by the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering. It grants students both within the department and in other departments across campus, the opportunity to travel to Belgium to participate in two classes in a more hands on way. This year marks the 12th summer since the program’s inception, with the trip lasting from July 6th to August 12th.
Dr. Munster founded the program in 2005 after receiving the Fulbright scholarship that gave him a research opportunity to work in Leuven, Belgium in 2000. The study abroad program is hosted in the city of Leuven, about 18 miles outside of Brussels, at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven. The university was established in 1425 and has become an extremely safe and college-like environment for traveling international students. Belgium as well as the Netherlands, which the students also visit, are part of a coastal region where much of the land is at or below sea level causing these countries to be leaders in hydrology and its subsequent technology. Additionally, both countries are leaders in improving waste recycling and the development of alternative waste treatment methods. And while the program centers around departmental students, engineering students in other departments as well as non-engineering students from the College of Agricultural and Life Science and the College of Geoscience, are able to participate to gain new perspectives and beneficial experiences.
Approximately 20 students attend the program each summer with nearly all of the students receiving scholarships or fellowships. The Belgium program is one of the most affordable study abroad programs offered by the university, even allowing students to travel to Brussels or other parts of Europe early before classes begin. Once students arrive in Brussels, they are met by Drs. Munster and Engler at the airport where the university is only a short 10-15 minute train ride away.
The two courses taught consist of a combination of classroom time, presentations, seminar speakers, and weekly fieldtrips that center around hydrology and waste management. Fieldtrips take place on Thursdays where students learn about the hydrologic cycle, water and waste technologies, and their comparison to U.S. practices. Destinations include water companies and treatment plants, the Chantoir de Longchamps sinkhole, the Remouchamp Cave and the storm surge barrier, or Delta Works, of Zeeland in the Netherlands. Students additionally receive 4 day weekends to explore other parts of Europe. Popular destinations include London, Dublin, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Paris, Berlin, Munich, Rome, Barcelona, as well as many others.
In addition to gaining classroom knowledge and hands on experience, students become engaged with diverse cultures and learn to become more independent. The welcoming nature of Belgium and the interaction of other international students at the student house, creates a positive atmosphere and open mindedness. Students mature and become self-sufficient throughout their trip, transitioning from the initial overwhelming feelings of being in a foreign country, to confidant and independent individuals in the five short weeks abroad.
Belgium Study Abroad participant, Tyler Green, said: “The best thing about study abroad is the chance to explore a different part of the world. The field trips allow you to see engineering design that doesn’t necessarily happen in the U.S. With the ability to travel to a different country every weekend, [the Belgium program] is hard to pass up.”
Another participant, Taylor Pinkerton, had this to say: “What I loved about the Belgium study abroad trip was the opportunity to travel around Europe on the four day weekends with the best of company. Although my favorite part of the trip was traveling and experiencing new cultures, I also enjoyed the field trips and guest speakers for the classes. The field trips were cool because you can see firsthand how the different processes worked.”
Dr. Munster has high hopes for the future expansion of the program. By including other universities in the program, it allows A&M students to interact with other biological and agricultural engineering students across the country. Previous students have joined the program from Tennessee and Kentucky and hopefully, more universities will participate in future years. The interaction of students from varying universities, adds an extra dimension to the international program that help shape a variety of perspectives and approaches. Additionally, Dr. Munster anticipates the program’s sustainability by increasing interest among faculty, creating more visibility for the program, increasing the recruitment of more students per trip, and encouraging the program to be a regular part of the curriculum. By all accounts, the program has been a huge success and the cause of lifelong memories and experiences for its students.
For more information about Texas A&M University Study Abroad Programs, visit http://studyabroad.tamu.edu/.
For details about this news story and others please contact Stormy Kretzschmar, firstname.lastname@example.org.