How ISA Excursions Changed my Perspective of Europe

McKenzi Puzin is a student at University of Arkansas, Fayetteville and an ISA Photo Blogger. She studied abroad with ISA in Brussels, Belgium.

When you imagine Europe you immediately think of large cities, crowded market squares, and people speaking every language. Or at least I did. Europe has always been the central location for travelers across the country because of its vast unique history, different cultures, and small countries for easy traveling throughout. But everyone sees the cities, capitals, and densely populated areas with a rich culture. Being based in Brussels I adapted quickly to this lifestyle and became used to the fast paced city life with a restaurant and cultural activity around every corner. I became used to the flow of the fast paced energy and forgot that beyond the city center was a vast country side with people whose history created the beautiful Europe we know today. This is why the ISA excursions were so unique to me. They brought us out of the city life and showed us all of Belgium and even the Netherlands and how you can go anywhere within a country and be mesmerized with the country’s beauty.

When embarking on the Netherlands excursion, we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. Our Housing Services Coordinator, Ines, one of my favorite people of all time, hands us the itinerary with an analysis and timetable of the weekend. The easiest way for me to outline how this excursion affected my views of Europe and the daily life is through pictures.

The Peace Palace, in the heart of The Hague, Netherlands is a remarkable rendition of how many countries across the globe can come together and create peace. It is still a working building and houses many court trials weekly. Despite Amsterdam as the capital of The Netherlands, The Hague is where the country’s government establishments are located. If ever given the chance to see the remarkable building, it truly is a spine chilling establishment with so much history worthy of the up most respect.

The Peace Tree is situated right outside the main entrance to the Peace Palace and holds travelers’ wishes and prayers for peace. They are small pieces of paper tied to the tree by string and withstands wind, rain, the cold, the heat, and everything that the world can beat it down with. Adding prayers to this tree for yourself and seeing the prayers from others is such a unique way of seeing hope in a world full of criticism and hate.

Our next stop on the weekend excursion was the coastal region of the Netherlands. Knowing that the beach and a change from the city life was so close, a 10 minute tram ride, was amazing and relaxing. The beach is so beautiful that all any of us were could do was stare at the beautiful scenery around us and take in the soft sand beneath our shoes and the shine of the sun off the crescent waves.

Delft was the next city on the excursion and it was a small university town with history and lots of fresh cheese. This protestant church has stood at the city center since the 13th century and actually does not stand perfectly vertical. It leans slightly toward the river but while building the church the architects noticed the error and then created abstract pieces on the building to create the illusion that it is standing straighter than it actually is.

Cheese, can’t live without it. Especially me. The great thing about this fresh cheese shop is that every cheese they sell has a free sample. Holland is known for their fresh cheese so if possible take a venture into the next cheese shop you pass. They will not disappoint.

Walking through Holland was gorgeous. It is a clean nice city with many adventures around every corner. My roommate and I were daring enough to try a local favorite: fresh uncooked pickled herring. It was tasty and a little more fishy than sushi.

This photograph was taken at the Maurits Cornelis Escher Museum in Holland. He was a Dutch graphic artist who made mathematically inspired woodcuts, lithographs, and mezzotints. This photograph is just one way that the eye can easily be tricked.

The last activity of our weekend was one of the best activities planned through ISA.  Biking through the picturesque landscape of Holland’s countryside was breathtaking. It was amazing to see that beyond the bustling metropolitan areas, the countryside embodies the feeling of relaxation and the slow-paced lives. It’s hard to slow down, especially while studying abroad and wanting to do everything possible, but when you do it is an amazingly refreshing feeling that shows that you can’t forget to breathe and realize that slowing down and enjoying the ride is well worth it.

Along the path of the biking tour through the country side we spotted many windmills strategically placed. Historically, they were used to pump water from the overflowing farm fields to the rivers that ran through the town. They also were a way of communication. Dependent on the placement of the windmill’s sails, it meant either a newborn, a death, or intruders into the city. Today they are still used for the same purposes but less frequently due to modern technology. In addition, Caroline and I are very pleased to be riding bikes through the country side, even though she might not show it in this photograph!

Overall, I would not have the same understanding of the Netherlands apart from the city life it was not for the ISA excursions. Do not miss out on the excursions because they are included in your ISA program and are for and with great people. Bonding and cultural experiences- can’t get much better than that.

The world awaits…discover it.


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