Thursday, December 18, 2008

Erasmus in Leuven

Goeiedag iedereen!

As you have noticed (I hope!) I have left the University of Namur to join that of Leuven. I admit it is not far away and consequently I can’t say that I was like a fish out of water, but you can still feel the differences at the other side of the Belgian linguistic border. I assure you, I have really appreciated these little differences which made the Erasmus stay rewarding and fulfilling.

In this short article about my stay in Leuven, I will mainly focus on the University of Leuven, the social life in Leuven and the two main activities I took part in outside the academic world.

As already mentioned, I was sent to the prestigious University of Leuven (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven) and I studied there for five months. Firstly when you arrive there as Erasmus student, you do not have to be afraid, our university almost does everything for you. Indeed, when I knew that I was going to study in Leuven, I already began to search what I would have to do. But there was no need for this, I only had to fill in an electronic document and the rest was done by the university. Secondly when I arrived in July in Leuven, I received a list of rooms to be rented for a semester. In fact, the university asks the Flemish students who study abroad to point out if they want to rent out their room during their stay abroad. So I had received a list from which I only had to choose, visit and eventually rent a room. It was done the second day I came to Leuven…

As far as the courses are concerned, I only (but it was quite enough) took five courses. I had four lectures in Dutch and one in English. For the students who will have the opportunity to study there next year, I give the details of the courses I attended (chronologically), namely Dutch Folklore, English Literature from 1800 to the present, Introduction to the Spanish world (Spain and the Spanish countries from South America), Argumentation theory and Sociolinguistics. These courses represented a lot of work; self-research, papers and above all a lot of reading.

Furthermore I must admit that the University of Leuven is similar to that of Namur, but with a delay of one or two weeks. However, it is not at all the same way of teaching: here the focus lies on the work done by the students with very few lectures while in Namur we have more lectures and less work outside them. I will be sincere in saying that I do not have a preference; I really think that both systems of teaching are worthwhile and productive.

As for the social life here in Leuven I feel sad to say that originally I had real difficulties to integrate into the social life. This was not facilitated by the mass of work we had to do each week. Still the situation changed because I gradually made acquaintances among Flemish students. I went to the ‘fakbar letteren’ where I met lots of Flemish students who are active in student life (clubs, parties and student baptisms).

Besides my academic occupations I was also busy. I attended a German conversation course at Pangaea where I spoke and learnt German with a teacher and three other Flemish students. It was really interesting and instructive, because the teacher only gave explanations in German (of course), in Dutch but never in French. So while I followed the course in German, I also had to take account of the explanations in Dutch and sometimes translate them into French. In fact, this course was meant for Dutch-speaking students, but I am proud of having done this course where I had to juggle (and sometimes struggle) with languages.

Apart from this instructive conversation course, I also had the tremendous opportunity to join a local group of scouts. However, it is true that it took a great deal of time before I could join them (due to administrative problems!), but eventually I joined the ‘Scouts Jong Brabant’ in Heverlee. Four leaders and almost fifty cub scouts (from 6 to 12 years old) welcomed me for some meetings. This short spell with the scouts was more than wonderful; I met kind children and entertaining leaders who, like all scouts, were deeply involved in their task of entertaining and bringing up these children. When I had to leave them, they gave me a wonderful gift, i.e. one of their scout scarves. Now I proudly wear it each time I have a scout meeting.

Now you see that while being not so far away from Namur, it is still possible to spend wonderful times here in Leuven, which are fun, rewarding, fulfilling and instructive into the bargain. This is nicely summed up in the very slogan of the University of Leuven (in Dutch), ‘Ontdek jezelf, begin bij de wereld.’

- Benjamin or 'Den Benjie'.
[Note: this blog entry was edited according to Professor Vandelanotte's corrections]

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