Letters from London: My Time in Belgium
Reflections from a Jesuit President on Sabbatical
November 20, 2015
If it’s Tuesday, this must be Belgium!
(Does anyone remember that old movie?)
Well I did arrive in Brussels on Tuesday afternoon after a very full morning in Paris. I went straight to Leuven, where I spent a very full 48 hours. I am once again on a train zipping through the French countryside, and I will soon be in the Chunnel.
Once I got settled in my hotel in Leuven, I had dinner with Professor Elizabeth Kennedy at the K.U. Leuven (K.U. stands for Catholic University) Faculty Club.
Very nice! I begged Professor Kennedy not to get any ideas about such a set-up in Baltimore!
It turns out that it is not a faculty club at all, just a nice private restaurant in the medieval section of the University.
Professor Kennedy is in the first semester of a two-year term as director of Loyola’s Leuven program. She is a tenured professor of law and social responsibility in the Sellinger School.
While I was eager to hear how our students were doing, I was also eager to hear how Prof. Kennedy and her family were adjusting to life in Leuven. Prof. Kennedy and her husband, Nicholas Vitek, have three children, ages 2 to 7.
I was delighted to learn that that they are really enjoying Belgium and that the children have adapted to the Dutch language in school without too much difficulty. And they have taken the opportunity to travel around a bit as a family. Prof. Kennedy shared with me this short video, shot by her husband, Nicholas, of her family’s recent trip to Prague.
At Loyola International/Nachbahr Huis, we have two wings of an old convent that has been completely modernized into living and study space for students.
The house is in a great location with easy accessibility to all of the lecture halls, libraries, and the other essentials of student life.
One of the great things about the house is that the residents are roughly one-third from Loyola and one-third from Belgium; another third are international students from countries other than Belgium and the U.S.
Another great feature of the Leuven program is that it is a full year (although a spring semester in Leuven will be offered next year). A full year really allows you get embedded in a country.
As someone who has spent just one semester in London, I feel that I am only just getting settled here—and it is almost time to go home. I regularly hear from students who study for a semester abroad that they wish they had stayed for a year, but I have never heard a student who spent the year abroad say it was too long.
That is certainly the case with the current group of Loyola students who are in Leuven! It is obvious that they are having a very rich and rewarding experience.
This was my second visit to Nachbahr Huis. This time my purpose was to touch base with our students after the terrorist attacks in Paris. Although Paris is a few hours away, the attacks were planned and coordinated from Brussels, just 35 minutes away.
Christel Snels, our program coordinator, arranged for two Coffee and Conversation sessions on Wednesday for the students, Prof. Kennedy, and me. Two sessions were necessary to accommodate the students’ class schedules.
I was delighted that some of the Belgian and other international students decided to attend.
While the students were shaken by the events, they were in very good spirits. Most reported that their parents were very anxious, but they they were calming down, albeit slowly.
We talked a lot about future travel plans and the importance of being appropriately cautious and prudent.
The students also directed the discussion to the causes of Islamic terrorism and to possible responses.
Cristel arranged for a great dinner in the heart of Leuven. It was a nice way to conclude my visit to the continent and spend some time relaxing with our students.
I commend both Professor Kennedy and Ms. Snels for the wonderful work they are doing with the students from Loyola and the entire Nachbahr Huis community.
The Rev. Brian F. Linnane, S.J., president of Loyola University Maryland, is on sabbatical during the Fall 2015 semester, re-engaging with his academic scholarship during his appointment as a visiting scholar at Heythrop College. During his time abroad, he will share occasional reflections.