For Hawa Umarova '12 of Chelsea, Mass., the opportunity to study abroad in Belgium last fall was the chance to learn about her strengths and weaknesses, and to discover how far she was willing to go to achieve her goals.
A self-professed adventurer who loves to learn, Umarova said she could not think of a better way to enhance her education than to study abroad for a semester.
"I choose Belgium because it is the unofficial centre of Europe, and Brussels is considered to be the capital of the European Union," Umorova said. "I also have family in Belgium - two brothers and lots of cousins - whom I hadn't seen in almost nine years. Also, being in Belgium made travel inside of Europe a lot easier, and to some countries, cheaper. It was an ideal and perfect choice. "
An interdisciplinary studies major with a political science minor, Umarova attended an American-style college, Vesalius College, in Brussels. There, she lived with a French-speaking Belgian family. Umarova, who took two semesters of Italian at MCLA, was able to practice her Italian with them as they all spoke that language fluently.
"My host mom cooked amazing Italian, French and Belgian dishes," Umarova said. "We had wonderful conversations about everything from fashion to politics. I was blessed to have had such a great host family that added more than 50 percent to the wonderful experience I had."
At Vesalius College, Umarova studied with students from all over the world, including from Australia, Norway, Sweden, France, Ukraine, Poland, as well as the United States. She took classes in "Human Resource Management," "History of Post War Europe," "European Studies Art" and "International Business Negotiations. She also served an internship, which earned her additional credit, at Principal Kids, a child discovery company that works to bring children and exceptional children's products together.
"With my art class, I got to go to Amsterdam, Paris, Reims, Metz in France, and also had a chance to really explore Belgium itself through Bruges, Antwerp, Brussels and Dinant," Umarova said. "It was good to learn and travel at the same time and see some of the most famous and mystical paintings, such as the Mona Lisa and also The Girl with the Pearl Earring."
While the best thing about her experience was seeing the members of her family who live in Belgium, making new friends and seeing Europe, the hardest part, Umarova said, was facing some anti-Americanism she encountered from Belgians.
Nevertheless, the experience taught Umarova much about Belgium and its politics.
"It gave me an idea on how the Europeans view America and the Americans. I became a more of a well-rounded person and diverged into the fast growing global world, making connections and friends. It has made me more aware of the world around me," Umarova said. "Just the fact that I had this experience and a chance to study abroad in Belgium, away from the American mindset to experience a whole new mindset, was both refreshing and rewarding.
"I am really happy that I took a chance on such an opportunity and I am also grateful to MCLA for allowing me to do such a thing," Umarova said. "Having had a chance to do an internship and get credit for it while acquiring skills for my future career, and being able to gather these experiences to build a strong resume was indeed a priceless experience and a great decision in my life."