However, the more I reminisce the more I miss it and can still feel the "post-Eramsus" blues. My best friend (who was on Erasmus in Barcelona btw, I know...goals) googled it and it seems that it is a legit syndrom. Ok, enough moaning, Erasmus is over, period....So I guess, I will now pour myself a glass of that Duvel I brought home with me from Leuven and get started on this wild ride called Erasmus...
You all probably know by now that I decided to go on Erasmus and chosen Leuven (my other option was Paris, but more on that in my previous article), where I spent amazing 5 months of my life. I won't talk much about my beginnings because I already summed that up. Now it's time for you to hear the end of the story and for me to finally close that chapter.
When I look back at all the pictures, I see happiness, I see smiles, I see colours, I see friendships, I see me- core me. Let's dive into the details now. I hope you will fall in love with Leuven as easily as I did and will immediately consider moving there for good (ok, I am fine with you only visiting).
Welcome to Leuven, city of students, beer, splendid architecture, true friends, cultures, opportunities and tireless studying!
These pictures are just a tiny little teaser for you to make it till the end of this extremely long article, because there will be more lovely pics from Leuven (wink wink).
Let me start more generally and sum up Belgium as a country and what it has to offer you, what to see, visit, taste and experience.
Starting with food (yes, you know me well and I also know you well), there are many specific types of dishes, drinks and flavours that can be linked to Belgium. Even though, Belgian cuisine isn't the most recognised in the world, it sure has some hidden surprises and treats to offer. Not much credit is given to Dutch cuisine in general, however, at least the three staples such as beer, fries and chocolate need to be given that well deserved credit, am I right? I am all against stereotypes, but these three fellas can't escape us!
In Belgium they don't always have a warm cooked meal for lunch. Instead, they prefer to have a baguette (trust me, there is a baguetteria on every, I mean EVERY corner). These baguettes would be our typical school lunch, because apart from that, there was not much choice to be honest (unless we cooked, which was not that often). Good luck to everyone allergic to gluten, who doesn't have the time to cook at home, since baguettes are lifestyle in Belgium.
Beer isn't only a drink, it's a culture. I have never drunk that much beer ever in my life, even though I am from Czech (nope, I can assure you that we are not a number one beer country...Czech meet your true rival- Belgium). After you spend some time in Belgium, you finally understand what true beer is. Any "beer" that is under 8% of alcohol is simply not a beer.
The best thing about drinking the proper beer (meaning at least 10% of alcohol)?
You can only have 2 of these and end up being tipsy (read drunk).
I don't even want to count how many beers we managed to drink throughout our Erasmus. The number would probably give me a slight heart attack, but well, we enjoyed not being judged for drinking beer all the time, cause who doesn't, when in Belgium?!
We visited beer festival in a small town church, beer festival in a huge expo hall, in Brussels, went for a beer into pub with more than 2000 beers (you will be choosing from a proper 100 pages menu- and yes it takes you 30 minutes to choose one beer), we bought a box of 24 hoegaardens and carried it home for 20 minutes, we managed to finish 24 hoegaardens and bought an additional box, we drank 30cent beer and we drank 6€ beer, we drank beer to help us cure hangover and to get us drunk again, and we found truth in beer when there was no wine and when we needed some encouragement during desperate-3am-assignments-writing period (read: we ran out of Monster Energy).
You all probably know that Belgium has a Dutch speaking part and a French speaking part, and also a tiny German speaking part (don't even let me start on all the Governments they have!). Leuven is situated only 15 minutes away from Brussels, and falls under the Dutch speaking part (not Brussels though, there they speak French) (I know...too complicated).
I am going to be honest, for me, there was not much to see in Brussels and would choose Leuven over Brussels every time. However, of course we had to visit the capital of Belgium and the EU itself. Generally, his very official yet culturally diverse and busy city is beautiful, but some parts are better not visited.
If there's an occasion to visit Brussels, it would be Brussels Food Truck Festival. If you are a fan of food (who are you if not?!), sun, friendly atmosphere, music and parks, this event is simply made for you! We managed to get proper sunburnt during that afternoon (probably because we hadn't seen sun in the previous 3 months), listened to nice live music and tasted food and drinks from all over the world.
Apart from that, Brussels is much nicer during spring or summer. So if you want to go visit during the winter, expect rain and cloudy grey-ish city with not very thrilling ambiance. However, this only is my point of view! You may find it completely exciting to explore the city or live there.
Me and Tyryza went to Ghent with our Finnish friends, Rebecka and Fredrika, for a one day trip. The weather was amazing and compared to Brussels, there was a lot to see in Ghent. So if in Ghent, make sure you visit the Old Fort in the very centre, walk alongside the river, take picture for Instagram in the Graffiti Street, visit the Beguinage (which is a must in EVERY city), wander and get lost in the cute little streets and notice the architecture style of most of the buildings.
I visited Brugge when my dad and Blanka came to visit me (end of June). I would suggest visiting all these amazing places when there's a bit of a sun out there (April onwards), otherwise it's all grey and cloudy and well...depressing. Never mind, those of you who saw In Bruges are probably interested to visit because of this movie anyway. I didn't particularly enjoy the movie, however, fell in love with this super cute city!
So when in Bruges, make sure you visit the Begijnnhof, go on a canal boat tour, where they will show and tell you everything about Brugge, eat some mussels, which are typical for Belgium, get lost in the hidden streets trying to avoid all the tourists yet finding out you can't possibly run away from them tourists, take a cheesy picture in front of a Town Hall, touch Jan Nepomucký's statue if you are from Czech and that you take the cutest pictures possible of all the above (which is of course what I did)!
Combination of Belgium and beach doesn't go together as well as beer and Belgium does, and that's a fact. Or maybe me and Tyryza just chose the worst place possible when wanting to see the beach in Belgium. Yes, this huge disappointment is called Oostende and there's nothing special to do in that place. The beach looked like in some kind of sea resort 40 years ago (referring to pictures my parents had shown me when there, back home). Ok enough moaning Michaela, at least we saw the beach, our bare feet could touch the sand and then we at least found a pretty park on our way back. But frankly, I would never go again (just so you know that everything isn't perfect in Belgium, even though I won't stop praising it haha).
Random parks and road trip
Since Honza (University of Worcester students who came with me and Tyryza) had his car over in Leuven, we could go on some road trips and explore (we literally went on one with him :D ). To show you we didn't only visit cities and towns but also a bit of a nature, Park van Tervuren is situated just outside Leuven and is extremely pretty. Therefore, if you are seeking a little getaway into the nature, this place seems to be perfect fit. Don't forget to bring your picnic basket and food with you!
ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT ERASMUS IN BELGIUM
Many people have been recently asking me about Erasmus in Leuven, coming from my home University of Worcester in the UK. So hopefully, this little section will provide you with necessary information when wanting to go on Erasmus to Leuven from the UK. As for the course- I study BA (Hons) Marketing, Advertising and PR in Worcester and could go for an Erasmus to Leuven or Paris because they offered the combination of all the subjects above (which is very rare actually, PR is a hard one to find guys).
The only actual reason that you go to Erasmus for, but not always the only thing we remember and are looking forward to. However, in our case, I am pretty sure we all will remember "the school" part. Firstly, this was a bit of a shock, since the system in the UK is completely different from the rest of the world I guess, or Belgium at least.
At Worcester, we would only have 4 modules throughout a semester (which they call courses in Belgium, whereas "course" in the UK means your degree, the curriculum or what is it that you are studying, therefore you can imagine our confusion). Each of such modules (mine were Marketing, Advertising, PR and one elective) lasts for 3 hours, thus you only have lectures for 12 hours a week. WHICH IS NOT HAPPENING IN BELGIUM ;----). In the UK we are evaluated based on our written essays, reports and presentations all done either individually or in teams (yaaay, team work). We also have exams, but I only had one in the UK so far and will have my second one in my final year.
Whereas in Belgium we had 9 modules, school 4 days a week from 8-4 or 10-6 or similarly. Despite being in school almost every day, we had shorter lectures, each lasted for 2 hours only. But there was not much sense going back home in between the lectures, since the campus was situated quite far away from the centre, where we lived. In Leuven, we had a combination of UK's teaching style and Czech style. We were evaluated based on written essays, reports, presentations, test and exams both oral and written... uppffh... yes. The semester is finished by the end of June, which compared to UK's middle of May seemed a bit harsh, especially due to the amount of sun outside, which made studying for exams 1000 times harder.
Altogether we submitted at least one (in some minimum of 3) written assignments for each module, we passed 5 exams, from which 2 were oral, we wrote some tests and had at least 5 presentations. So in overall, I can say it was a busy busy semester.
Also, I am still not sure which University we attended, whether it was KU Leuven or its association or branch, but I guess, we need some mysteries in our lives after all... Hahaha I am just kidding. We attended University College Leuven Limburg (just UCLL please), which recently got separated from KU Leuven and is now its branch, association, division, partner, however you wish to call it, but still belongs to it.
I am glad I had a chance to experience different teaching style and approach. When you then put "Erasmus in Belgium, Leuven" on your CV, it will stand out and make difference, since it really is about academic experience in this country rather than going out and partying till dawn (we still managed to do both, I mean...IT IS STILL ERASMUS).
FINANCES & ACCOMMODATION
OK, another topic which most of you have asked me about, so I decided to sum it up quickly. Accommodation is best found by yourself, since the University does not provide you with any option to stay in the halls of residence. We all were supposed to find our accommodation ourselves, with a help of housing services and University representative. The only tool they provided us with was website where all the University approved landlords were listed. Fortunately, the website was mainly in Dutch, so this is when you start to expand your vocabulary :---)) You will find words like Kot, Te huur, de flat, etc. almost vital for your survival in Belgium.
After a week of desperate calling and apartments viewings we managed to find a studio. We also didn't make it easier for us by only looking for a studio for two. We had few viewings but wanted to live in the centre and together. Towards the end of the week we managed to find a lovely studio for a very reasonable price in the halls of residence RIGHT IN THE VERY CENTRE, which was 1 minute away from the Oude Markt (I know, everyone familiar will say it's the DREAM). Me and Tyryza both paid around €320 per month and had a whole studio with "bathroom" and kitchen for ourselves! I used the quotation marks there, because it was not a bathroom, but more like an airplane toilet cabin installed into a studio haha, but we loved that plastic bathroom of ours! This magical studio was at the Mgr. Karel Cruysberghs residence.
I suggest you join some Facebook groups if looking for accommodation or make your research beforehand. You can stay in the hostel during the induction, which is what we did, but you will still need somewhere to go afterwards, right? Trust us, homeless life- we've been there and it ain't fun haha. So be prepared, get in touch with people and start looking in advance.
Apart from that, the finances were quite ok to handle. We did not have a part-time job and the EU grant did not even cover our accommodation (the grant is €250 per month), however, I did have some money saved and that helped. The transport in the city was cheap, we only paid for €20 semester. Or you can always buy or rent bike, because EVERY ONE OWNS A BIKE IN LEUVEN. As for food, in order to save some money up, we always went grocery shopping to ALDI, LIDL and COLRUYT all at the same time and bought the cheapest picks in different shops. Meat was a bit pricy, but if you avoid shops like Delhaize for usual shopping, you should be fine. Another advantage of Belgium is that it is the country of Alpro. So imagine all the Aplros you can have for the lowest price ever (you no longer have to dream about dark chocolate hazelnut milk)! As for the phone operator, we all used Mobile Vikings sim cards we got from ESN and paid around €15 per month (you can go cheaper, but we wanted to have data). Beer (ok, Stella) was €2 in student places, or around €3-4 for stronger and better beer (read Duvel). For a proper meal you would pay up to €10 unless going for student a meal into Alma, in which case it would be more like €3 haha.
We decided to enjoy Erasmus to the fullest, so instead of saving every cent, we rather made sure we have the best experience ever. Which doesn't mean we were throwing money away, but just had enough on the side for the "pleasures" (trips, parties, clothes, food, drinks).
Now back on something more fun. Look at this! Even the SKY in Belgium was perfect. This was our awesome view from the studio. Bart, I know you are reading this and dreaming about the (back then ours, now just your) sky.
THE BEST OF LEUVEN
The most beautiful city. I couldn't have asked for a better place to spend my 5 months in. I loved every street (ok, almost) and I enjoyed every new place we discovered there. You could never get bored and you always had options. The city was full of students and internationals, everyone was friendly, helpful, spoke English (EVERY SINGLE PERSON SPOKE ENGLISH) and generous. You could see bit of every culture in the city, especially when it came to food. The architecture was so specific it enchanted you from the first sight. You could not fall in love with this place. I can guarantee you will be wishing to stay there longer, but won't be able to because your life is somewhere else, but that is ok. Because you will always, ALWAYS be ready to come back.
We were not short on drinks as you can see.
Best cocktails in town: Bar Nine (Levander Margarita, Strawberry-basil smash, Caipiroska, Candy Crush), Matizze (any Daiquiri), De Rector (Raspberry vodka approved by 6/6 French girls & Bart)
Best beer: The Capital (any special type of beer - 10% and more - served in fancy glass), De Werf (Leffe on draft), anywhere (as long as it is Duvel or Tripel Kanunik, you are covered)
IT'S ABOUT TO GET EMOTIONAL
We had it all. Endless laughs with my French girls, fighting with my Tyryza over whether to go for our beloved pad thai for lunch fourth day in a row or whether to cook at home (pad thai won, always), cocktails in Bar Nine (read lavender margarita or strawberry-basil mojito), dinner dates with my Jesuses, having an excuse to drink 10% beer everyday, forever regretting the amount of fries eaten, waiting for delayed buses in a proper rain, regretting not purchasing a scuba diving suit, going to Cantus dressed as Princess Leia and getting all the boys' attention, spending sleepless nights with my roommate working on assignments due next day, having to connect your laptop to a CABEL INTERNET (Kotnet, I won't ever miss you), drinking beer in church, on streets, in bed, in bar, at school, EVERYWHERE, exploring beautiful cities, spending maybe too much money on cocktails (no regrets), not finding Brussels attractive at all - compared to Leuven, nothing is more picturesque.
And here's to the people, who made my experience magical.
To Tyryza, my partner in crime/classmate/roommate/partymate/travel buddy/everyday date/team mate/study buddy/personal make-up artist/Duvel sharer/bus ride buddy and basically 24/7 company, who shared every single moment of this ride with me. To Jesu, my Spanish picantón owning my heart and bringing sunshine to my life since April 2016, who is the biggest surprise Erasmus has brought me and what I am the most grateful for ever since then. To our French girls gang Adele, Camille, Maïlys, Gaëlle, Jeanne and Pauline, who always knew how to make the funniest situation from an awkward moment by sharing their sex stories, who shared our teacher crush with us (Camille, I know you are now kissing your phone screen saver with Tim :D) and those who should learn everyone how to dance when 'One dance' is on. To our Mexican diva Jessica, who brought warmth and sun with her kindness to Belgium for everyone. To our Belgian party spirit animal/guide/soulmate/funny & kind friend/Belgian sky lover (ok the last bit sounds weird) Bart, who knew exactly when to bring out those fire shots and raspberry vodkas and would never let any of us down. To Honza, who's been on this journey with me since 2014 and ate almost all the pad thais in Leuven with us. To Moni and Verena, our Austrian gals, who would always help anyone with anything and were the loveliest girls. To Fredrika, Rebecka and Noona, our Finnish (party) buddies/Gin & Tonic addicts and the best story tellers. To Marta and Daniela, our Portuguese always-cold-in-this-weather and fabulous nutritionists/queens who could not simply stop dancing when `Ai Se Eu Te Pego` was suddenly on. To Jorien, Artem, Alfonso, Alberto, Daniel and guys from the Cruysberghs residence, who always were up to go for a beer, organise something, share our cuisines or simply watch a movie and made us feel super comfortable in our accommodation. And to everyone who we met and shared this crazy ride with.
It's been wonderful, spectacular, awesome, super and I miss you.
Here's to our endless laughs, to pre-parties in our kitchen, to me and Tyryza finding sparkling Ice Tea insanely tasty in the morning after, to our cheese or pancake nights in the halls, to our international dinners drinking Soplica and eating paella, to being with people from all over the world, to making new life-long friends, to eating fries in a pub and not giving a single F about it, to moving from one bar to another throughout the night, to dancing to One Dance, to spending 30 hours on the bus, to sleeping for 2 hours before exam due to endless studying, to being wet all February because it was raining EVERY SINGLE DAY, to meeting my boyfriend, to drinking Belgian classic- lemon Jenever, to going for a sushi boat, to having pad thai 30 times per week, to waiting for my boyfriend in front of Maccies (romantic, I know), to getting ready with Macklemore, to waking up before Tyryza and waking her up when preparing my breakfast, to the main time we discovered face swap, to not being able to remember where we had our classes, to coming to school through the field, to morning brunches and late dinners with Jesu, to watching GoT episodes before everyone else did, to drinking beer and shots, to taking random pictures, to taking videos of us all dancing on One Dance, to sticky nights at Ambiorix, to posh nights at Bar Nine, to meeting people from all over the world, to finding out more about Belgium, to smoking more cigarettes than accepted, to destroying our umbrellas in the endless rain, to falling in love with Belgium, to always having a place in our heart for Leuven and to never forget our friends and experience from Leuven.
I miss it. Sometimes more than I should. Why? I don't really know to be honest. Perhaps, because it was a time for me when I was more or less careless, no real responsibilities, job, third year at the University coming towards me, my future after graduating was still close, but far enough to have enabled me to fully enjoy that semester and so on.
I miss my Erasmus friends (guys, WE ARE HAVING THAT REUNION IN JUNE, DO YOU UNDERSTAND?! I really miss you), I miss sharing every minute with Tyryza (sometimes we were fed up with each other), I miss the city, I miss having my boyfriend in the same place and seeing him 3 times a week (now I only get to see him once a month), I miss drinking beer everyday (and trying to hide that beer belly under my jumper), I miss Belgian sky (Bart will understand) and I miss it all.
Dank U Leuven. I am coming back (my pink pad thai is coming yas) and I will forever remember my time spent there.
I hope you enjoyed this article.
See you at my new adventure,