My first experience living abroad was when I was 20, doing an exchange semester in Belgium. It was the first time living in a flatshare, the first time living in a foreign country and the first time being surrounded by French speaking people (I was there to improve my French). It was an unforgettable experience.
I don’t know exactly what I should talk about, from my language skills over life as a student in Namur and life in a flatshare (meaning: being the first time on my own) to all the trips we’ve made to different cities (there is this excellent card for young people which allows you to travel to any city in Belgium for only five euros). Packing everything in one post seems impossible, but I give it a go.
Let’s start with Namur. Namur is the capital of the Wallonie, the French speaking region of Belgium. It is a small town situated on two rivers with a Citadelle. That’s the only thing Namur is famous for apart from its “Fête de la Wallonie” in September. Namur has several universities and therefore student parties too. I studied teaching Maths - everything in French - in the first year. So although the subject was more or less known to me, the language made it quite harder. More difficult though was following the conversations of the other students. Beside my classes in university I had French language courses with other Erasmus students and met some other exchange students. With them and some of my student colleagues I did explore the country nearly every weekend.
My favourite city in Belgium is Ghent. It is a city in the Flemish region and a student city. I’ve been there twice: The first time I visited two friends who are living there and they showed me all the nice places. The second time I’ve been there with Erasmus students, of whom one is normally studying in Ghent.
I’ve been to Dinant, the homeland of Adolf Sax who has invented the saxophone. Dinant is very small, and there are saxophones everywhere. Dinant is not only famous for the sax, but also for its grotto.
Of course I visited Brussels, the European as well as the Belgian capital. It’s huge (only the famous Manneken pis is small) and very international.
One weekend I spent with some Belgian friends in the Ardennes, the hills of the Wallonie. There are some cute villages and it’s just a very nice place to chill.
Belgium not only has hills, but also sea. One of the most famous cities at the coast is Oostende with its nice promenade. It was a little bit too cold to go swimming, but I just can’t have enough of the sea.
I did several smaller excursions as well, on my own or with friends. Erasmus organized a tour in the EuroSpaceCenter, where we could even simulate being in weightlessness. With student friends I’ve been to Walibi, an amusement park which was especially decorated for Halloween. I’ve been to Liège with its famous train station and to Louvain la Neuve, a paradise for shopping.
And of course I’ve been to Bruges, the Venice of the North. Sadly it rained the whole day, but we had a great time together walking over the bridges and through the marketplace and eating pizza in the evening. The next day we continued to Oostende once again where I had mussels the first time in my life. (Belgian food, here we come!) Another typical dish is vol au vent, which I tried of course too.
I’ve not only visited Belgian cities, but also some cities of the adjacent countries. Before Christmas we went to Cologne, a German city. Early in the morning we visited the cathedral and walked to its top. After that, we didn’t know anymore what to do so we started looking for all the Christmas markets (they have four!!) because the city is famous for them.
To France I’ve been twice: Once on my own, because I visited friends in Lille. They led me through the city and tried to make my stay as nice as possible.
The highlight of my studies was two days in Paris. They wanted to encourage teachers-to-be to visit museums with their students. So in these two days we visited four museums and a play in the evening. I think I will never go to a museum with my students, it was just too much. But anyways, it was a great trip and I always love to go back to Paris.
Right before I had to go back home I spent three days in Amsterdam with an Erasmus friend. We had a great time eating burger in the Hard Rock Café, attending a free walking tour and a tour through the Red Light District and strolling through the vibrant city.
I have so many memories from my time in Belgium and it definitely changed my life and myself. I can only recommend to everyone to do a student exchange if they have the chance. My French really improved (there was just no possibility to speak any other language) so that when I came home I even struggled with the German words (and told my family about the “Weihnachtstanne” (sapin de noel) instead of the “Christbaum”).
But the very best part of the exchange was my flatshare. We’ve been six students, two from France, one from Belgium, one from Romania (but half Belgian) and one from Lithuania. With this international mix I had so many hours of watching films together, playing the guitar, cooking and drinking beer, playing tricks on each other and laughing together. Without them the stay would have been a lot more lonely and I’m so grateful having found this flatshare and having met those amazing people.