Exploring Beyond Evergreen: A Taste of Leuven

By Amy R. Wolfson, Ph.D.  |  Photos by Jen Lowry, Ph.D.

My colleagues and I have had an amazing three days in Belgium. Wednesday afternoon we enjoyed a delicious lunch that included mussels and toured a bit of Brussels with Andre as our guide.

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Our walk included the Grand Place, the Manneken Pis statue, Galleries St. Hubert and a stop for some famous Belgian chocolates. In fact, I insisted that we enjoy some dark chocolates before heading to Leuven for the rest of the day.

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Later in the day we headed to Leuven, about a 30-minute drive from Brussels, where Elizabeth Kennedy, resident director and associate professor of law and social responsibility at Loyola greeted us at the Loyola International Nachbahr Huis.

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It was such a pleasure to catch up with Elizabeth and to hear about the amazing year that she has had with our Loyola students along with many of the other students living in the Nachbahr Huis. Elizabeth arranged a lovely reception for us with the student residents who were still around, including two Loyola students, Faris Yanny from Puerto Rico, Maya Bond from New York, and Madeline Hodur, ’15, from Chicago who studied at Leuven as an undergraduate and is now completing an M.A. in European Studies, and other students from the Erasmus Program (undergraduate and graduate European exchange students).

We were overwhelmed by their warmth, friendship with each other, and enthusiasm for Leuven and the Loyola Huis experience. The students were from Turkey, Hungary, The Netherlands, Belgium, and several other countries and were studying chemical engineering, social psychology, Dutch language, business economics, physical therapy, communications, linguistics, along with several other disciplines.

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A few students shared how they had the opportunity to take classes from members of the EU Parliament. And, they shared stories from their classes, their love for Leuven, their travels, the lifelong friendships they have made, and they all emphasized how wonderful it was to have the opportunity to study at Leuven for the full year.

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After the reception, Christel Snels, associate director, met up with us and we (Andre, Jen, Elizabeth, Christel, and I) strolled through charming Leuven to dinner at a restaurant just off the Oude Markt, or what is known as the “longest cafe in the world.” Oude Markt is made up of at least 40 bars and cafes. We enjoyed every minute of this late dinner before heading back to Brussels for the night.

On Thursday we drove back to Leuven for a day of meetings with colleagues at KU Leuven, a walking tour of Leuven, and a chance to get a better sense of what it takes to run the Loyola International Nachbahr Huis.

Our first meeting was with Bart Van Den Bossche, vice dean for international affairs and professor of Italian literature, faculty of arts. He shared KU Leuven’s ongoing plans for internationalization for undergraduate and graduate students and we talked about new ways that Leuven and Loyola can collaborate for students and faculty.

After meeting with Bart we walked through one of the lush Leuven parks and were joined by Faculty of Arts, Roger Janssens, Executive Director for International Mobility and Cooperation (IMCO) and Annelies Kindt, policy advisor and coordinator, PECS Program (non-degree program in European Culture and Society) for a leisurely lunch that gave us time to learn more about our students’ experience at Leuven and other international opportunities.

I talked with Annelies about some of the academic internship opportunities including possible internships in Leuven schools or local businesses and the fascinating and participatory course she teaches on intercultural interaction that a number of Loyola students took this past year.

My colleagues and I certainly needed a walk after lunch and so it was perfect timing for a walking tour of Leuven with Roger Janssens.

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By this time Randy Gentzler, my colleague and vice president for finance and treasurer for Loyola, arrived in Leuven to help us plan future maintenance and renovations for the Loyola International Huis.

Roger gave us a lovely, historic, and story-filled tour of Leuven that included stops at the distinguished City Hall that represents eminent personalities from Leuven’s history, an area in central Leuven where many of the University buildings are located, Oude Markt, the old square or again, “longest cafe in the world,” the Central Bibliotheek (Central Library), and St Peter’s Church.

Along the way we stopped at the KU Leuven’s main building just in time to view the processional for the graduate students’ commencement.

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We learned about how during WWI the German army set fire to the original Central Bibliotheek and it was rebuilt with significant funds raised by American high schools, colleges, and universities whose names are distinctly engraved throughout the outside of the building.

At St. Peter’s Church, we viewed the 1442 statue: Sedes Sapientiae (Throne of Wisdom), dedicated to KU Leuven when it founded in its modern form in 1834.

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In addition to Roger’s explanation, we met a charming Leuven tour guide, Cecile, who talked with us about Leuven and St. Peter’s Church. She even gave us a glimpse of Dirk Bouts’ 15th Century painting of the Last Supper, which ordinarily you can only view with admission to the Church museum.

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After our tour of KU Leuven and the city, we returned to the Loyola Huis for an inside tour with Christel. Keep in mind that the house is located in the center of the city in what was a 17th Century convent. Our students live with other students from around the world in one wing of what we would now call a complex with a yard, study rooms, and multiple kitchens.

After we got a sense of where our students live for the year, Roger, again, served as our guide through Groot Begijnhof, the charming, restored cobblestone village of houses and now apartments, from the 13th Century that intersects with the Dijle River.

As the previous Loyola faculty directors reading my blog know, the Loyola faculty director, now Elizabeth, and her family, live in one of these special Begijnhof homes.

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Each house has a place on the outside wall for a statue of a saint and, by coincidence, our director’s house is the home to the statue of Saint Ignatius!

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In fact, today, we had lunch with Elizabeth and caught up with her family at the house. It was fun to wander through this one-of-a-kind house with Elizabeth and Andre as he reminisced about his two years in the house back in the early 1990s. Moreover, we had a chance to have dinner last night with our Leuven friends, Bart Van Den Bossche, Annelies Kindt, and Roger Janssens along with Elizabeth and Christel, at the University’s faculty club, in Beginjnhof.

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We spent most of today back in Leuven, meeting with staff from the Technische Diensten (Tech Services) regarding future renovations of the Loyola Huis, and talking more with Elizabeth and Christel about the special experience of having a chance to study for the year at Leuven. I think that I just might have to return to college and do my junior year at Leuven!

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I’m looking forward to mussels and Belgian beer in Brussels tonight as we head back to Baltimore tomorrow morning after a fabulous week.

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