Faculty of Science and Engineering - Belgium, Ghent
|10 januari 2020
In the months of September, October and November of 2019, I stayed in Ghent, Belgium, to work in the research group of prof. Johan Winne. I came into contact with prof. Winne through my Master research project’s supervisor, prof. Minnaard. Prof. Winne was happy to take me into his research group to do my second research project. We decided that I would work alongside one of his PhD students, according to what would be available during my stay. Upon my arrival, I met up with my daily supervisor, who is working on a specific type of cycloaddition reaction in the field of synthetic organic chemistry. I was asked to design my own project within this topic, which I then worked on for the rest of my stay in Ghent. Although the results were mostly disappointing and caused some frustrations, it was an interesting project. Most importantly, I learned new chemistry, obtained new skills and made new useful contacts within the university and chemistry department. Besides the research itself, the exchange has also been a valuable experience.
I am a native Dutch speaker, and although Dutch is also spoken in Ghent, there are some significant differences in the pronunciation and use of the language. This is especially difficult when talking to people that speak in dialect, which is very common in Flanders. It took me several weeks to get used to the way of speaking, in order to conversate with people confidently.
The professor, my supervisor and the majority of the research group were Dutch-speaking Belgians, so I mostly spoke Dutch at the university, although there were also international group members. In my residence there were no Dutch speakers, so there I only spoke English.
I was appointed a room in one of the residences provided by the University of Ghent, in which only exchange students are housed. This meant that I shared one floor and a kitchen with around 20 other exchange students from (mostly) other European countries. Although we had different schedules
(I worked fulltime), we got along very well and we got together on a regular basis.
Although the Netherlands and Belgium are neighboring countries, I found there to be significant differences in culture, especially in work-related areas. Since my internship started when the academic year had not yet begun, I initially assumed that the relaxed working environment was a result of the holidays. However, this was not the case, as I discovered that the Belgians have a much more relaxed attitude when it comes to working, compared to the Netherlands. There is a greater tendency for social interactions and activities during the workday, and I found that people take full advantage of their lunch break. Although it made me feel uncomfortable initially, I soon started to see the benefits of it. This lifestyle was also reflected outside of the workplace, where I noticed a more relaxed atmosphere in traffic, on the streets, in the city center, etc.
I am very grateful for the financial support that I received from the GUF. Without this support, I would not have been able to stay in the university residence for exchange students. I consider my stay in this residence to have been of great importance for my overall wellbeing, as it allowed me to get into contact with great people from all over the world, on a daily basis.