Welcome Back, Gabby! The SFWS International Exchange Experience

The Santa Fe Waldorf School is proud to support an academic program full of experiential learning and life-enriching opportunities. Just one of these outstanding opportunities is the chance to study abroad as an international exchange student. Our own Gabrielle in the tenth grade arrived home from her three month Waldorf experience in Brugge only yesterday, and she wrote the following piece to share with our community. Enjoy! 

My Experience as an Exchange Student in Brugge, Belgium

The first thing I noticed upon arriving in Brugge, was the switch of language. It is, as you can imagine, quite a shock to all of a sudden be living in an environment in which you don’t understand anything whatsoever. The Flemish language, called “Dutch,” that is spoken here is very different than I expected it to be. Though it does have similarities to German (which my class studied for several years in elementary school), you can also hear the smooth beauty of the Romance languages in it. I soon realized that, although the language was different, everyone here made the effort to help me out and translate what I needed to know, or re-explain the instructions just given.

Here in Brugge, one of the most ancient medieval cities in all of Europe, you can still feel that sense of Xenia—courtesy—that remains today. It’s a prominent part of the community’s culture. Everywhere I have gone, from school to the little shops along the beautiful cobblestone streets, I have felt very welcomed. I haven’t found anyone to be rude when I stop to ask them for help or directions, and I haven’t gotten dirty looks when stopping to take pictures of the canals that have earned Brugge it’s name as “The Venice of Belgium.”

The environment at my Waldorf School here is much the same as at ours, from the similar paint style and colors covering the walls of the classrooms to the hands-on way of teaching that our Waldorf schools are known for. The first similarity that stood out was that the morning verse is exactly the same as ours (only in Dutch, of course!) I recognized it, because in 8th grade my class memorized the verse in German and it sounded close to that. So at school, there are many familiar, comforting bits and pieces that are shared between the schools. Another is that when I walk past the lower school here, I hear the flutes that all Waldorf students play in their younger years. And in the hallways there are displays of the work of the students. In the displays, I can see that in the younger section of this school, students create small, knitted animals like I did in the lower grades, complete form drawings like I did in middle school, and build the model houses we worked on in 3rd grade.

Although much here at school is similar, there are also many small differences. One prominent one, that’s not only different at school, but in town too, is that everyone bikes everywhere. Many families don’t own a car, and it is very rare for a family to own two cars. There are bike paths, and special traffic lights in the shape of bikes to monitor bicycle traffic, and the car drivers are very cautious and respectful of cyclists. A difference in the school is that they have a project in the school every year that they call year work. It is similar to the projects our Seniors work on, except that the students here don’t present their work. Each student chooses a subject or activity of interest, and learn all about it. At year’s end they turn in a hand written book about their subject, including illustrations. So far, though, at school there have been fewer differences than similarities. Or maybe the similarities stand out for me because they are comforting in their familiarity.

All in all, this exchange has been an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime experience. It’s an experience I realize not many people get the chance to have. It’s given me a glimpse into the everyday life of an entirely different culture and way of living. It is different than any vacation I will ever take in that I am 100% surrounded by the culture, and completely immersed in the language, making it impossible not to learn the basics, at least, and some strange words I will most likely never use again!