Saturday, January 31, 2009

The discovery of a different Belgium

From mid-September to mid-January I spent my time in this far, far away city called Leuven. What I liked most was the discovery of a very different culture and a very different mentality. There are so many differences between Flemish and Walloon cultures that I felt a bit lost at first. In what follows I list some features of these strange people so that you can better understand why I felt so disrupted at the beginning. First of all, Flemish people are really distant: they don’t even kiss to say ‘hello’. It was really difficult to get used to the coldness of my fellow students. Secondly, I was really surprised to see that Flemish people are so… civilized. They don’t piss and vomit everywhere during student parties and they don’t throw their beers at others’ faces like in Wallonia. They must be very aware of the value of a eurocent, which also explains why they are much more miserly.

Seriously now!
Even if it is true that Flemish culture is slightly different from ours, I got on very well with people there. I really enjoyed the daily life with my room-mates, who were very nice with me.
Let’s talk about the city and its university. Leuven is a very beautiful and charming city. The various monuments and historic buildings make of Leuven a very picturesque place.
My room was very well situated. Very close to the shopping streets, I had to walk only five minutes to go to the station or to the Grote Markt. Going to the faculty of arts only took me two minutes, so that I didn’t even need a bike.
The structure of the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven is not very different from the University of Namur. Only the methods of evaluation are slightly different. There are more open book exams and you have to write papers more often and for many different courses. I took five courses, including one in English: Literature, religion and art in Europe. The four other courses were taught in Dutch: Introduction to the Spanish-speaking world, Popular genres, Sociolinguistics and Dutch folklore. These five courses were all very interesting but Popular genres and Dutch folklore were by far my favourite.
Leuven is a city where you can hardly be bored, for there are so many things to do. Some organizations (like the International Contact Club) propose visits of different places in Leuven (like the Stella Artois Brewery, the University Carillon …) or other European cities. There is also a big sports centre including a swimming pool in Heverlee. I went there from time to time but I must admit that it was not the ideal way to meet people and practise Dutch.
As I only had eleven hours per week I decided to take a Dutch course at the ILT (Instituut voor Levende Talen).There were six levels, so that people of one single class had more or less the same skills. I met there many people of different nationalities. We often organised activities in order to practise our Dutch together. The classes resembled those of Ann-Lien Lievens and Leonie Vossen. We could train our listening and writing skills and we also had interesting discussions about political and daily events.
I enjoyed so much my stay in Leuven that I will probably go and study there for my master.
If some of you are interested in spending their time in this welcoming city, don’t hesitate to ask me for more information about the university, the courses or even good addresses of pubs and restaurants… ;-)

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