Emily West 2Choosing the right study abroad program is quite the task. I struggled for months deciding what location was best for me, and I was never able to fully make up my mind until I learned about the European Peace & Security Studies (EPSS) certificate program offered through BCA Brussels at Vesalius College. There are so many beautiful locations around the world that I fully believe everyone should see at one point in their lifetime. However, study abroad is much more than just traveling around the world (while it is a big part). You are spending four months in a completely foreign location, so I made sure to find the location where I thought I would thrive the most. For me, that was Brussels. I actually enjoyed my first semester so much, I decided to return for a second term and complete a full academic year abroad.

There are a number of things that might draw someone to the city of Brussels. A fact unknown to many, Brussels is the international capital of Europe. Many organizations, such as the European Union and NATO, call this city home to their headquarters, while others, including the United Nations, the World Health Organization and the World Bank, have locations here. It has three national languages—French, Dutch and German—but you will also find many English speakers throughout the area. The city is also a great central location, making travel very easy for those who wish to see the rest of Europe. However, I would highly recommend getting to know the rest of Belgium as well because so much history rests in the surrounding cities, including Bruges, Ieper, and many others.

While all of the above garnered some of my interest, what really drew me to Brussels was Vesalius College’s EPSS certificate program. It was unlike anything I had ever heard of before, and in my mind, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Don’t get me wrong, my home college has a great political science department, but the courses offered through the EPSS program were on a totally different level. The courses go beyond your typical political science topics, as they are very specific to security and how to analyze and approach contemporary conflicts and the arising security threats that come with them. It is very rare to find certificate programs offered at the undergraduate level in the US, so for me, finding this certificate was like finding the golden ticket in a Willy Wonka chocolate bar. I saw the program as something not only to build my resume but to also give me an entirely new perspective.

What does the EPSS program have to offer, you may ask. Well, the program consists of five core courses that focus on the different approaches to new and rising security issues that pose a threat to the international community. The courses not only emphasize the approaches by different institutional organizations but are also taught by professionals from those specific areas. For instance, a NATO official taught the course about NATO and Transatlantic security, and an official of the Belgian military taught the course on military security. I truly believe that brings an entirely new aspect to the course. The professors not only know what they were talking about, but they also speak from experience.

Emily West 1The program also requires a lecture series given by high-profile academics and policymakers that the student has to attend. In the past, professionals from the EU, NATO, the UN and the European Defense Agency have given their time to share their experiences and highly valued expertise on a number of topics related to international security and the tools used to advance that security. The lecture series not only gives students the opportunity to hear from some of the world’s most renowned professionals, but also gives students the opportunity to network with the guests and others in attendance. That alone is an experience that should be fully taken advantage of.

As with any program, there are certain things that are unspoken when going into them head first. For me, it was the necessary amount of time to be put into the classes. I went into the program with the typical, and turns out incorrect, study abroad mindset—class is going to be easy, and I’m going to be able to travel during every bit of my free time. That was not entirely the case here, as some of the courses require heavy reading and lengthy research papers. However, that did not hinder my study abroad experience whatsoever. I simply just had to work equally as much as I wanted to travel the world.

But how do you know if the EPSS certificate is right for you? It’s easy. If you’re interested in international security or politics and are looking for something different that will give you a better-rounded education, this could be for you. The program fits in with a number of academic fields, including political science, international affairs, diplomacy, etc., but it is not limited to those. The certificate and the location both provide the student with a unique experience and international perspective that is not always possible to gain elsewhere.

After completing the program, I fully standby my initial opinion of the program as a unique experience unlike any other. I spent four months sitting through lectures by some of the greatest academics in the field, and I created a network of officials and fellow colleagues. I finished the semester not only with a certificate, but also with a greater capacity of knowledge of international security that could become highly beneficial in a future position as a professional in international affairs. I highly recommend this program to anyone looking for something to provide them with a better insight on the world’s rising security threats, as that is exactly what I have gained.

– Emily West, 2015-16 BCA Brussels and Elizabethtown College student

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