Tuesday, February 02, 2010

My Erasmus stay in Leuven

After more or less five months spent on Erasmus in Leuven, I am now back in Namur. It is very difficult to summarize this Erasmus experience in a blog entry, but well, I’ll give it a try! The first thing that comes to my mind when I think about Leuven is breathtakingly beautiful. I admit it, Leuven is not a very exotic Erasmus destination, but if I had to make my own top 3 of the most beautiful Belgian cities, Leuven would definitely be number one. Ladeuzeplein and its old library (the square of the library), the ‘Grote Markt’ with Saint Peter church, the ‘Oude Markt’, the University Hall (KULeuven being created in 1425, some of the buildings are very old), old streets, the Castle of Arenberg in Heverlee (the faculty of engineering)... And in December when the city was full of Christmas decoration and covered with a big layer of snow, it was simply magic!

(here Leuven under the snow : Faculty of arts, Oude Markt, the Central library)

To stay in Leuven during the whole first semester, I needed to rent a student room. I found mine via someone who wanted to sublet her room during her Erasmus stay in England. It was just three minutes on foot from the Faculty of Art. So, a perfect location! The big disadvantage of that room was that it was like a little studio and only the bathroom was shared by all the students in the building. Not the ideal place to meet people... I tried to speak with my ‘roommates’ when I saw them in the stairs or I sometimes pretended to have no salt or pepper just to go and ask them and so try to speak a little bit more with them. But this method was not successful and those roommates are now only mere acquaintances than real friends! A little anecdote about my room was that it was situated only one street far from the Central library, which has a set of bells. Every Tuesday and Thursday evening, from 7pm to 7.45pm they use to play famous songs, which can be heard all around the city. Each time I tried to guess the songs and I must admit I was not too bad at that game! Among others I guessed “Killing me Softly – The Fugees”, “Gaston – The Beauty and the Beast” (Disney), “Lemon Tree – Fool’s Gardens", “Viva La Vida - Coldplay” and “Mamma Mia – ABBA” (I recorded it on my camera)

(here the view from my room and my room)

What I really liked during this Erasmus stay was that we were ‘free’ to choose the courses that we wanted. Here I will mainly talk about my two favourite courses. The first one is “Literature, Religion and Art in Europe”: even if the title does not suggest so, this course was nearly only about painting. For a few years, I have really been interested in painting, so I must say this course was the perfect occasion to study it more closely. During the lessons, we studied more than 200 paintings and it was really interesting. The problem was that the information that the teacher gave us about those paintings was very brief and sometimes superficial (except for the big masterpieces of course), and so for the exam we had to complete our notes by information to find on our own, otherwise we would sometimes have only two lines to write about one painting... That maybe a disadvantage, but at the same time, when you look for something on your own, you’re sure you will remember it later! The exam counted for half of the marks, and for the other half, we had to write a paper. My topic was “The use of mirrors in the works of two Belgian surrealists: Magritte and Delvaux”. At first I wanted to write something about mirrors through the history of painting, not especially about surrealists (I must admit I’m not one of their biggest fans), but the teacher insisted so I finally accepted. Now I’m glad to have chosen this, because I realized it was not as bad as I thought it was.

Another course that I really enjoyed was “Inleiding tot de Italiaanse cultuur” (Introduction to Italian culture). This course was divided in eight parts: politics, social and economic aspects, intellectuals, geography, cinematographic history, design, media and architecture. For this course we also had to read two books: ‘The Cambridge companion to Italian culture” and another book about Italian Fascism. Even if some parts were boring at first glance, it was really interesting, and now about some aspects I know more about Italy than about my own country!

The three other courses that I took were “Nederlandse Volkskunde” (Dutch folklore), “Populaire Genres” (more especially about children literature) and “Sociolingu├»stiek” (Sociolinguistics).

What really impressed me in Leuven was the organisation of the university. Everything is very clear and easy. For example, at the beginning of the year I only had to go to the University hall with all my documents, they took a picture of me, then three minutes later I received my student card which was also my library card and my sport card. And that was it!

Leuven is also an incredibly dynamic student city. The nightlife there is ten times better than in Namur. The differences with Namur are that in Leuven the parties begin very late (11pm) and there are not as dirty as in Namur. If you want to go out, you have plenty of choices: ‘fakbars’ (the one of politics, economy, psychology are the most busy), housewarmings and all the (disco) bars in Oude Markt. The only small disadvantage is that beer is more expensive than in Namur, but well that’s the price to pay for good parties!

Finally, even if I met some Flemish people there, I preferred to spend time with the Erasmus people. It is very difficult to create bonds of friendship with Flemish people because they are very cold. Even if they answer nicely when you talk to them, they won’t make any effort to speak further with you. It seems as if they have their circle of friends and that they don’t want to meet new people. With the Erasmus people, it was different. There are here like you, without real friends there, so if they don’t want to stay alone, they need to learn to know each other.

This Erasmus experience was really unforgettable and needless to say, if one day I have the occasion to do it again, I won’t hesitate one second! The only regret that I have is that maybe it was a little bit too short. But well, all good things come to an end...

(here, Saint Peter Church on 'Grote Markt')

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