Sunday, July 26, 2009

Belgium and Beyond

Author: Wendy Mussoline

IHE sponsored a trip to Belgium last weekend and most of us joined along for the fun. We spent two days touring four cities in Belgium - Antwerpe, Brussels, Gent and Brugges. We enjoyed the chocolate in Antwerpe, the nightlife in Brussels (after seeing the Manneken Pis, or little man peeing, and the gigantic iron molecule), the flemish folks songs in Gent and the boat tour in Brugges. It was a great trip with a real Belgium guide who quickly bonded with us after just a couple Belgium beer. You really only need two for the night, since the beers are typically around 9% alcohol.

Belgium was a nice break for me. It was the first time that I spent a weekend travelling and didn't have to think about where I was going. Sometimes I got frustrated trying to follow a group of 58 students, and I had to sneak away for some barefootin in the park. But the group experience was awesome for meeting new people and making new friends. I think Guy (pronounced Gee), our quasi tour guide, will forever be our favorite IHE staff.

After the long weekend in Belgium, we all came back and prepared our big presentations that we gave to IHE/USF (via video conference). Each student presented 15 minutes of background/methods/results of our summer research experience. IHE staff and students were very supportive and celebrated our accomplishments with us. It was a very bonding experience, until we lost SKYPE connection with USF during the last presentation and were unable to reconnect.

Our week also consisted of a wonderful presentation by Bas Heijman and three of his PhD students at TU Delft (the largest technical university in The Netherlands). We heard awesome presentations about drinking water treatment technologies employed throughout the Netherlands and how TUD contributes to ongoing research for the water companies. We heard a couple presentations on membrane filtration and fouling, and how wind-powered reverse osmosis units are being installed in remote areas of the world to provide fresh drinking water. It was an exciting opportunity to learn about technologies that are being designed and implemented as we speak.

The experience is drawing to a close and my feelings are mixed at this moment. The time here has been absolutely enriching and the focus on global issues in developing countries has been life-changing. This environment is a truly a breeding ground for fresh ideas for sustainable technologies related to water and wastewater treatment. However, the academic growth combined with the cultural influences have "flooded" my mind and I do need some time to digest and process the things I've learned here in Delft and beyond. I'm looking forward to going home next week...I really dread the thought of driving to work...wish I could take my bike back on the plane...but if I took it apart, I don't think I could ever put it back together. Oh's already been sold and the new student will pick it up from me two days before we leave. I may shed a tear!

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