Saturday, February 21, 2009

"Sei einzigartig, sei vielfältig, sei Berlin"

Berlin, Berlin! How could I start telling you about this great city? There is actually so much to talk about, so much to see, to do and to discover in this capital!

First of all, Berlin is huge! In comparison to the small town of Namur which I am from it is so much bigger (with 3.5 millions inhabitants for 891.82 km²). Even if Berlin is the capital of Germany and a huge city, one of the first feelings we get is one of space and freedom; we do not feel oppressed, stressed, lost or insecure unlike other big cities or capitals.

Berlin is an amazing city, a multicultural centre, a metropolis. Only by walking in the streets, sightseeing, or going to a restaurant, the multiculturalism is obvious at first sight. This is far from being a drawback! On the contrary, this is one of the many things that make the city so stunning and interesting. Berlin is a booming city that changes and lives constantly during the day as well as during the night. There is always something to do (immer etwas los!), you can not be bored!

When I arrived in Berlin, (my first time ever), I went to a hostel I had booked beforehand and the day after, I started my researches to find a flat (a WG, Wohnungsgemeinschaft in German). They have really good websites to guide you and inform you on the offers ( amongst others).

It was not as easy as I had thought though. My criteria were actually quite strict, the most important being that I wanted to live with Germans. Quite normal you might say, but there are so many foreigners and students from all over the world that you are often surrounded with French people, Italians, Spaniards, or any other nationality except German natives. It took 2 weeks until I found the dream WG: a big flat with a living room and balcony, a kicker, 4 bedrooms (there were four of us), a kitchen with dishwasher, big hallway, bathroom with washing-machine, internet, phone, TV and even a Playstation and a Super Nintendo. And on top of all that: 3 Germans as flatmates! What more could I wish for?

The flatmates were open-minded, sociable, friendly, helpful, and even slightly crazy! They are the ones who are (in part) responsible for my wonderful stay in Berlin!

University started on 1st October. The first days were “orientation days” for exchange students (like us Erasmus students or other exchange programs). The introductory speech took place in a big lecture hall overfilled with more or less 650 students, all of them exchange students! That was quite impressive. The same day we went on some tours around the university and the village and we had to find the various offices to be registered, fill in loads of papers we did not always understand and all of the usual red tape. That was not the most interesting day of my stay but it turned out to be decisive. The students we met in the queue became very good friends with whom we went to parties and discovered the city.

The university itself is pretty big. The different faculties, buildings and offices are scattered in a village (Dahlem Dorf) in the south-west part of the city, a bit decentred unfortunately but peaceful and green. Thankfully our faculty was in the main building. To be frank, even at the end of our stay we still did not get to know the whole university, but we managed anyway.

Berlin has 4 main universities, each one in different parts of the city. There is actually no real student centre and apart from the monthly ‘Erasmus Night Party’ there are no Students parties like those in Namur, Louvain-la-Neuve or other Belgian towns. That wasn’t a problem as we went to clubs, bars or organized ‘WG Parties’ etc.

Berlin is divided into different areas, each of which has its typicality and is different from the others: Prenzlauer Berg for example in the North-East is on the one hand the “alternative” side of the city and on the other hand, a very peaceful area with lots of children, families etc. Kreuzberg in the South-East is a place where there are lots of very cheap bars and along with Neukölln (in the south-east) is the area where the biggest Turk communities live. Schöneberg, in the South-West where I lived (between the university and the centre) is a bit more residential and quieter but very nice as well. There are quite a few parks and green places everywhere in the city, and the biggest park is the huge Tiergarten, the green lung of Berlin.

As I previously said, Berlin is a multicultural centre. This is visible with restaurants: you can find whatever kind of food you want. From the Sushi Bar to the Ethiopian restaurant or the Argentinean Steaks and of course the classic Döner-Kebap, whatever strikes your fanvy is somewhere in Berlin. What’s more, food is cheap! You can have a good pizza for 2.30€ and have a nice meal in a restaurant for a mere10€. As for supermarkets, Berlin is the 1st city with the largest amount of Turks and there are a lot of “internationale Lebensmitteln” supermarkets where you can mainly find Turkish specialities. There are however also Asian Shops and of course the traditional Lidl, Penny and Aldi etc.

In comparison with other cities or capitals, Berlin is rather cheap! With the attractive prices mentioned above for food we sometimes wondered if it was not cheaper to eat out rather than to cook at home, even if supermarkets are very affordable as well. As to the rent for a flat you can easily find one from 200€/month equipped with internet, washing-machine, and all of the basic things you need!

There are still many things to say about Berlin, but keep in mind that it is really worth going to this city. I have never heard anyone disappointed about their stay whether it be long or short in this amazing city. I really enjoyed my stay and I recommend an Erasmus and/or a trip to Berlin to anyone. It is only 1h10 by plane and about 8 hours by car. So, what are you waiting for?

Monday, February 16, 2009

From pier to pier

Have you ever heard of the famous English piers? A pier is “a long structure built in the sea and joined to the land at one end, often with places of entertainment on it” (OALD). This blog entry aims to give you more information about this fascinating English cultural icon.

Clevedon Pier in Somerset

The piers are part of the English landscape since the Victorian era. There are 55 surviving piers in the UK today out of the hundred which were built since the 19th century. Their first function was to allow ferries and boats to berth in deep waters without getting closer to the coast. The first pier ever built in Great Britain was Ryde Pier, built in 1814 on the Isle of Wight.

Ryde Pier

Later in the 19th century, piers also turned into leisure places. This period was indeed the beginning of a new touristic wave to the English seaside thanks to the recent introduction of railways. The piers were mainly built to allow tourists to walk along the seaside. Southend Pier was built in 1830 to that touristic end. It is by the way the longest pier ever built in the UK (7,080 feet, which corresponds to 2,158 metres).

Southend Pier

Piers are a real cultural icon of the UK since some of them became really famous. One of these is Brighton Pier. Brighton Pier is a pleasure pier also known as Palace Pier. It was opened in May 1899. Nowadays, you can find a casino, roller coasters and even a log flume on the pier.

Brighton Pier

The piers were such a great success in the UK that they were exported overseas. One of the most famous piers in the US is the Ocean Beach Pier in California which is the longest pier of the West coast of the US (1,971 feet or 601 metres).

Ocean Beach Pier

There are even 3 piers in our beloved country. You can see them in Blankenberge, Oostende and Nieuwport.

Oostende Pier

Unfortunately some of the piers had to be destroyed or did not survive over the years. This is why the National Piers Society is currently promoting the preservation of these cultural icons, witnesses of the Victorian era.

Catherine & Charles

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Cologne, the perfect city for an Erasmus : Viva Colonia!

When I was told I were to go to Cologne for my Erasmus, I thought it wouldn’t be as exciting and interesting as in Berlin or Cork, the far away destinations. But I was quite wrong! And you too if you have the same impression. Even if it was only 250 km away from my house and took only 2h30 by car (but by trains my personal record is about 7 hours…), Cologne is though rooted in another country, another language and another culture!

But let’s start with the beginning of that adventure! I’ll skip the boring administrative details, not so important, and go directly to the arrival in the most famous city of Nordrhein-Westfalen. I went there only a week before the beginning of the classes but I recommend to next Erasmus students to go there more or less one month in advance to familiarize yourself with other people living near your student room, the city, … Anyway you can’t be bored because so many things need to be done and seen! Moreover the winter semester in Germany begins only mid-October, i.e it is very short (only 2 months till the Christmas break!!!) and if you don’t go earlier, you will have the same sad impression as me, namely that you hadn’t the time to completely enjoy it! I don’t want to say I didn’t enjoy my Erasmus because I lived there a marvelous dream but I regret it wasn’t longer.

So where was I in my story? At the beginning, okay…

During the first weeks we had big difficulties to cope with the choices of courses and the credit points, still not really used by the Germans. I felt very lost in that huge city, far away from everything and everybody I knew. But as the weeks passed, we solved our problems of courses, we met very kind people from all over the world and we got used to the German habits and culture. Do you know how much the German greetings are complicated? Okay I’m maybe not the right person to speak about this because I still don’t really know how to greet everybody and in all contexts but I can give you a piece of advice : Wait to see what s/he will do and simply imitate him or her. But please don’t give a kiss at first (especially to a boy) because he could misinterpret it and think you want more… Hopefully it didn’t happen to us. We ‘ve always managed to stop our nearing tendencies early enough!

Ooops sorry I’ve failed again to simply tell the story… But this Erasmus was so great I could speak about it all night long! (But I must post it now, otherwise the deadline is over…)

So what especially did I do there with Joyce? Well we had a lot of fun of course, our student rooms were in the same house with the nicest German girl ever and the worst Chinese girl ever too… But this is also another story. I’ll only tell you she was the worst flatmate I have ever had and that she got so much on our nerves that we had to control ourselves not to strangle her… So that was our nice experience with the Chinese culture. Hopefully we met other people with other nationalities. We were all in an Erasmus atmosphere and we had great time together.

(these were our student rooms ! lovely, isn't it?)

So all of that was really great fun but what I really really enjoyed and made my Erasmus stay so terrific was the scout unity I met there! You cannot value this if you’ve not lived it! Like Benjamin I took the steps to live a scouting Erasmus and I was not disappointed! It was really the best way to have contacts with local people and go outside the student life for a little time. I lead about 10 little monsters (the boys) and 3 little angels (the girls!) each Monday afternoon and each Monday evening I was invited to go to the meeting of leaders. That was always great! I had a lot of fun with them, either because we spoke about the prejudices about Germany and Belgium or also because they tried sometimes to speak French but made pronunciation mistakes and so said other words, not always in their advantage….
At my arrival of course I was a bit lost in this group of Germans speaking a bit of slang, very quick with several conversations in the same time, so I didn’t dare to say a lot but as the weeks passed (and with a bit of Kölsch ;-) ) the german words began to get out easily of my mouth. So I assure you, if you are a scout in Belgium and are lucky to go in Erasmus, don’t hesitate and try this adventure! It’s easy : a little mail at and you have the guarantee of a perfect Erasmus stay! After all I lived with my german unity (each Monday, some parties, a scouting week-end, some Sundays and even a real mass in the Kölner Dom) it was very difficult to leave them. I met there really friendly guys, whom I’m not ready to forget! And anyway it’s already planned we see each other once again because they invited me to go to their summer camp in Romania, and as this whole Erasmus experience has taught me : don’t waste your luck, don’t be afraid and go!


Life at Maastricht University

Hi everybody!

As you probably have noticed I am back at the fifth floor! Most of you have already heard about my stay in Maastricht but some have not. That is why I wrote this blog entry ;).
Nolan told you about the academic system and I am not going to talk about that again because I exactly followed the same courses as him (The Making of Crucial Differences and Cultureel Pluralisme). By the way, I really enjoyed both courses. However, I would like to say one more time that it was really difficult to get used to that system. But once you get used to it, you appreciate it a lot. Key words are active participation and personal work.

Thus, I will focus on life at Maastricht University in general. When I first met my tutorial group in September, I got the impression that I had been sent to the wrong place. But as time went by, I got on very well with some students, who by the way were almost all erasmus students. After classes we often drank coffee together at Selexyz. Selexyz shops are bookshops and in Maastricht the one they have is within a church! Weird but very pleasant. We did not often party together though. Only a few times at the Twee Heeren, the only place I knew to go out in Maastricht. Why? We had so much work to do that we were most of the time under pressure! Our ends were indeed to pass the exams.

The change from one tutorial group to another was... let’s say surprising! Once again you need to get used to a new tutor, new people and above all to the Dutch language which is in tutorial groups very difficult to understand. People knew each other already in my Dutch tutorial group( BA 2 students) and because the key word was still ACTIVE participation, they talked very fast and in a very broken way. But as for the first period, you progressively get acquainted with it.

Maastricht the city, is really beautiful. Even though you are not far from Belgium, the landscape is very different. The first thing which caught my eyes was the amount of bikes everywhere in the streets. You have more risk to be knocked down by a bike than by a car in Maastricht. I brought mine and used it to go the the library or stuff like that. Then you have the Maas river and the pedestrian streets which were of course also wonderful. I would like to pay attention to the kmarkt Albert Heijn too. Of course you have all the products you have in supermarkts in Belgium but food is differently organised and you have much more choice which is really useful when you have no idea of what you are going to cook ;).

During my stay I particularly enjoyed seeing people disguised on Carnival’s day the 11th of November. The Vrijthof (the main place of Maastricht) was literally invaded. More striking, the day after the 11th you could not say that something had taken place thanks to the efficiency of the cleanliness services. As second big event I cannot do without talking about the Maastricht’s kerstmark. It was the most beautiful, breath-taking kerstmarkt I had ever seen in my entire life and I would strongly advise you to go next year. It impressed me a lot. These were the two biggest events but Vrijthof is a well-animated place and it was very common to have things such as concerts organised there.

Do I have some regrets? Yes I do. I wish I had more contact with Dutch people. If I had the opportunity to return to Maastricht, I think I would go out more often. Yet I am stressed from birth onwards and I think it is hard to change one’s personality in 4 months only...

In short Maastricht was a great experience as experiences always are. When you are abroad you realised that you miss your home university and Belgium a lot and I think that it is something positive too. Seeing what happens outside makes you feel happier when you are back at home.


My stay in Köln !

Hello everyone!

Our second semester has just started in Namur and I’ m pretty sure that this one is going to be quite different (that is to say for me and I suppose for the other Erasmus students too) from the previous one. A few words of explanation are in order! I spent the first semester at the University of Cologne in Germany, where they have their own way of doing things … as they do in any other country I’m sure. I’ll try to explain in this brief blog contribution what Ana and I have been up to for these last couple of months!
Let’s start with a little piece of advice to all you future Erasmus students out there! The first thing to do after you have been selected for the Erasmus-adventure is to look for a student room because these are very hard to find! Luckily Ana found accommodations for both of us in a small city (just outside of Cologne) named Hürth. Our lodgings were absolutely perfect; we shared our little house with a very nice and helpful German girl called Janne and a Chinese girl (Su), whose main occupation was eating! Unfortunately Su only spoke ‘Chinese English’, a version hard to understand for anyone who hasn’t resided in Asia for at least a decade. I didn’t spend a lot of time with her; so my English hasn’t changed for the worse!!! As for the German language, I practiced it with Janne and the other Erasmus-students who lived in the area.

Unlike Namur Cologne is quite a big city. It has a lot to offer. That is why we were very grateful for the numerous means of public transport that we could use. Indeed it only took us 30 minutes by railway to reach the centre of Cologne. Once there, you are tempted by the many shops, museums, restaurants, snacks-bars and of course the cathedral, the famous ‘Kölner Dom’, which is one of the symbols of the city. When we found out that you could get to the top of the cathedral, we decided to give it a go! So on a sportive day, Ana, Benjamin (who was there on a visit) and I climbed the 509 steps to the top in 20 minutes (Benjamin did in 15 minutes). When we finally arrived, we were met by the most beautiful panorama over the city and its surroundings stretching as far as the eye could see. After this tiring but rewarding exercise, we spend the rest of the day in a more relaxed way, namely by visiting the zoo!!

On a more serious matter, we discovered that the academic system in Cologne is not exactly the same as in Namur. First, you have to choose your own courses as well as register for them online. Believe me this is not as easy as it sounds. I’ll spare you the details but let’s just say that I spent a lot of time on the internet trying to understand the complicated German system. Secondly, Germany isn’t fully aware of the ECTS points! This caused quite a problem when we had to explain to the various professors that we needed X credits points! Most of them seemed to know what we were talking about; but others just answered “Keine Ahnung!” (No idea). Another problem we encountered was the fact that in Germany the first semester only finishes in February, whereas in Namur the second one already starts on January 26th! So Ana and I spent our last Erasmus week trying to explain to everyone that we really needed our papers as soon as possible because we had to return back to Belgium. Quite exhausting!

But most of all, Erasmus is not just a great linguistic experience; it is also a cultural one. Indeed, by meeting students from all over the world, you learn a lot about different cultures. This gives you the opportunity to improve not only your language skills, but also to become more independent.

So if you get the chance to study in Cologne, don’t hesitate because it’s absolutely worth it!! It will guarantee you fun memories for the rest of your life!