The Catholic University of Leuven (Belgium)
It seems as though fate has brought Lise Smout to Smith College. Before coming to Smith, Lise was a student in Leuven, which is the capital of the Flemish part of Belgium, where she wrote her master's thesis on Sylvia Plath's "The Bell Jar." Now she is in the place where Sylvia went to school, and she can take advantage of the unique Smith College archives to learn more about the woman who inspires her.
But it wasn't always apparent that Smith College and Lise were such a perfect fit. Before her first visit to the United States, Lise like many other Europeans thought that America was not as culturally diverse or interesting as Europe. "But then I was here and it was amazing…there is so much beauty in this country," she says with a smile on her face. After her trip to the United States in 2006 with her family, all of those preconceived notions of the United States were disproved, and she decided to apply to schools in the U.S., so she could see more of the country that she had come to love.
Although there hasn't been a lot of culture shock, there have been little things that are different. For instance meals are served much earlier, and there is not the café culture that there is in Europe, which is one thing that Lise says could help the social environment in America. Another adjustment that she has had to make is the transition from a co-ed college to an all-women's college. She says that she was surprised when she came here because she thought that there might be a little cattiness between girls, but that that is not the case. Now she feels that an all women's college provides a safer environment in the classroom for women to speak their minds.
Lise was already fluent in English, her first language is Dutch but she can speak a number of other languages including French, English and Swedish, so the biggest change is the educational system. Lise went to the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (also know as the Catholic University of Leuven which was founded in 1425 and is one of the oldest and most prominent universities in Europe) where, she said "students were expected to go to classes… then during the Christmas holidays we had three weeks to study and then three weeks of exams." There was very little to homework during the term, but there was a final exam that was the most intense part of learning at the University. This system was excellent if the student was very disciplined in keeping up with the studying, however she says that Smith "urges you to have the discipline, and they ask you be more on top of it" which she thinks produces a much lower dropout rate.
As a former student representative for the Catholic University of Leuven she is passionate about education. She hopes to continue to speak about education, but she knows that literature is her true calling. "Literature is really my passion, I don't see myself doing anything else…studying literature and doing research is what I really like to do, and it sounds awfully boring to some people… but that is really what I see myself doing for the rest of my life. But, I still like to think of myself as doing more than one thing." In addition to being a scholar Lise is also interested in the things that help create modern literature - things like pop culture and gossip, which many scholars tend to shy away from. She believes that the contrast is good, and that those different types of cultures can influence each other and work together.
Lise has come a long way; from thinking that the United States wasn't even worth visiting, to deciding to come and live here and finding that she loves it. She has come to appreciate the diversity of Smith and loves how people appreciate the thoughts of others even when they are very different. She is now an ideal Smithie: a woman who loves to learn and embrace new ideas.
By Zoe Falk '14, Global STRIDE Fellow