Why Choose? This Student Combined Studying Abroad With an Internship

June 4, 2024 By Renee Grutzik, amn8sb@virginia.edu Renee Grutzik, amn8sb@virginia.edu

As a rising fourth-year student at the University of Virginia, I spent the spring semester struggling to decide how to spend my summer. 

On one hand, securing a summer internship would have given me real-world work experience to tack onto my resume. On the other hand, I had always dreamt of studying abroad during the summer. It truly seemed like I had to pick one option or the other.

But what if I didn’t have to choose?

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I was thrilled to discover UVA’s Global Internship Program, because it would allow me to gain valuable work experience in a completely foreign environment, combining my two aspirations into one unforgettable experience.

In April, I was accepted into the Global Internship Program in Ghent, Belgium. Ghent is a lively city just a 40-minute train ride from Brussels, the capital of the European Union. The six-week program partners with HoGent University of Applied Sciences and Arts to offer internships to UVA students from an array of backgrounds and majors.

My internship comprises two drastically different projects. The first half of my week is spent assisting members of HoGent’s 360° Care and Well-Being, a multidisciplinary research center devoted to assessing sustainable practices in health care. The bulk of my work with them is verifying documents translated from Dutch to English.

Older architecture in the left image and modern architecture on the right
The blend of well-preserved medieval buildings and modern architecture is one of Ghent’s most captivating features in my eyes. (Contributed photos)

The second half of my internship is spent with David Van Bunder, a HoGent professor and one of the coordinators of this internship opportunity. I assist him in writing articles in English aimed at supporting first-generation Belgian students, as well as their professors and counselors.

Accompanied by three other UVA students – Taiah Guess, Shevya Panda and Caitlin Winston – I have spent the last few weeks immersing myself in Belgian culture and traveling to neighboring cities on weekends.

Follow me as I navigate the highs and lows of the first two weeks of my journey.

Various views of Ghent infrastructure
After arriving in Ghent, I spent the first few days admiring the city’s infrastructure as I acquainted myself with my new environment. (Contributed photos)

Sunday, May 12

After taking the train from Brussels to Ghent, I checked into the ibis Ghent Centrum Opera hotel, which would be my home for the next six weeks. There I met up with the other three girls in my program. Despite just having left home a couple of days prior, I felt an overwhelming sense of homesickness that I could not shake. A combination of adrenaline, jet lag and homesickness kept me up most of the night, which wasn’t the most ideal way to start the program.

Monday, May 13

Running on just a couple of hours of sleep, the girls and I met up for coffee on the Campus Schoonmeersen first thing in the morning. HoGent’s campuses are spread out around Ghent, giving us a chance to explore the city as we got acquainted with our surroundings. For the second night in a row, I hardly slept.

Tuesday, May 14

Today was the first day of my internship at the 360° Care and Well-Being Research Centre. After being introduced to some colleagues, I got to work on my first assignment: checking English translations. While Dutch and French are the primary languages spoken in Belgium, English is also widely used. I spent the rest of the day reviewing the research center’s internal documents to ensure they made sense to a native English-speaking audience. I bought some melatonin and finally slept through the night!

A visit to Brussels and Bruges
Belgium’s straightforward public transportation system makes weekend trips to cities like Brussels and Bruges a breeze for our group. (Contributed photos)

Wednesday, May 15

I spent the morning at the 360° Care and Well-Being Research Centre finishing the work I started the day before. I then met with David on the Campus Schoonmeersen, and we discussed his expectations for me. Slowly, my feelings of homesickness started to fade.

Thursday, May 16

I started the morning at a local coffee shop researching Belgium’s education system. I discovered just how many vintage stores are on the same street as our hotel, which has since increased my spending. Taiah, Shevya, Caitlin and I got dinner at an Irish pub called Patrick Foley’s, where I struggled to enjoy a Guinness.

Friday, May 17

I worked remotely again, this time in the lobby of the hotel, compiling information on the Belgian education system. I ended up walking more than 7 miles to explore the city. I broke a glass at a jazz bar called Elmo. It is a cute place, but out of embarrassment, I won’t be going back.

A day in Brussels with a boat river tour passing under a stoney bridge
The girls in my program and I took a day trip to Bruges. Its beauty and endless activities made us eager to schedule another trip back to Bruges in the coming weeks. (Contributed photos)

Saturday, May 18

Taiah, Caitlin and I took a 40-minute train ride to Brussels for a day trip. We enjoyed typical tourist activities like admiring the Grand Place, visiting the Manneken Pis and shopping at Les Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert. The day wouldn’t have been complete without indulging in fries with mayo, a Belgian classic. I sampled some Belgian beers, and we had dinner at a rooftop restaurant overlooking the entire city.

Sunday, May 19

The girls and I embarked on another day trip, this time to Bruges, a short train ride from Ghent. We took a guided walking tour of the city and learned a lot about its economic importance and medieval architecture. I felt like a princess among the castles and cathedrals. I tried undistilled beer from Half Moon Brewery, a famous Belgian beer maker. And, of course, I had more fries with dinner!

Monday, May 20

Today was Whit Monday, a Belgian holiday. I slept through most of the day, recuperating from the weekend’s activities.

A cloudy day over the river in Amsterdam as a boat makes its way
Despite intermittent rain, we had an unforgettable weekend in Amsterdam. (Contributed photo)

Tuesday, May 21

Back to work! I reviewed more English translations at the 360° Care and Well-Being Research Centre. On the tram ride home, Caitlin and I stopped for an early dinner at a delicious pita restaurant. Later that evening, I got hungry again and went out for more fries. I tried andalouse sauce, but ultimately decided I preferred mayo.

Wednesday, May 22

Caitlin and I attended a EuroCarers conference in Brussels with our supervisors from the 360° Care and Well-Being Research Centre. The conference was an annual meeting of representatives from 12 European nations, focused on how to better support informal carers. Informal carers are non-professionals who provide vital medical support to their loved ones. They are an essential part of the medical system. The day was spent listening to the presentations and taking notes.

Thursday, May 23

In the morning, I worked remotely from a café. Later, I met with David and students in his Pioneers Program to discuss my research so far. On campus, I saw a sign with my name, which initially confused me. I later learned that “Renee” is the mascot of HoGent’s student council. I felt honored to share my name with it!

Friday, May 24

I met with David and some of his students in the morning. A wave of homesickness hit me, but it was soon distracted by a weekend trip to Amsterdam. The girls and I took a FlixBus from Ghent to Amsterdam, which was delayed by a couple of hours. After enduring the bus ride, we checked into our hostel, which happened to be a boat. We then participated in a cold and rainy canal boat tour.

Renee and two other students stand in fron of the water in the far left image, the middle is a small town art piece, and the right image is of the river with many boats lining either side
I’m grateful to have connected with three amazing UVA students and to explore new places with them on weekends. (Contributed photos)

Saturday, May 25

We woke up early to get a jumpstart on our day. I enjoyed simply walking around Amsterdam and taking in the vibrant culture. We visited the Tulip Museum and learned that Holland is one of the largest exporters of tulip bulbs. The girls and I enjoyed sushi for dinner followed by visits to some pubs after.

Sunday, May 26

We checked out of the hostel in the morning and visited the Rijksmuseum, where we saw a couple of Van Gogh’s paintings. We then boarded the FlixBus back to Ghent. I was relieved to be back in the hotel after a weekend without showering. Taiah and I ordered Domino’s Pizza to our hotel room and watched “American Horror Story,” indulging in a bit of comfort from back home.

Conclusion

The first few weeks of my internship have been transformative. This experience has challenged me in unexpected ways, offering a deeper understanding of myself as I navigate a foreign environment. From opening up to strangers who have since become friends to adjusting to the time difference and working in an unfamiliar setting, I have learned a lot. I’m eager to see what the rest of this journey holds!

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