Wednesday, February 03, 2010
Leuven is only an hour from Namur but it is nonetheless a perfect place for an Erasmus stay. Studying in Leuven is indeed a good opportunity to learn to know a Belgian city very well and, of course, to speak Dutch.
Organization for exchange students
The people responsible for the exchange students (such as Mrs Kerstens) made my arrival in the city very easy. Their office is open every morning from Monday to Thursday, so I never struggled long with a problem. For example, I found a student room very easily.
I was allowed to choose nearly any courses I wanted. Here were my 5 courses (10 hours a week): English Literature from 1800 to the present (BA 2), History of the Low Countries at the Crossroads of European History (with foreign students), sociolinguistiek (BA 3), mediasociologie (BA 2) and Italiaanse cultuur (BA 1). I would recommend you all 5 courses. 10 hours a week, this is not much. However, I had a lot to do by myself (papers to write, books to read, and so on) but I wasn’t up to my eyeballs either. Thanks to this, I had time to discover the city and enjoy my stay in Leuven not only as a student but also as a tourist.
In September, short before the start of the classes, the university organizes several city trips for exchange students (for example, we visited the European Parliament in Brussels and the American cemetery of Henri Chapelle).The KUL (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven) offers students many facilities such as a free sports card and a free bus subscription. Although I didn’t use my sports card a lot, I can tell you the sports centre offers a large amount of facilities (a swimming-pool, tennis courts, a lane, and so on). I often went jogging on the outskirts of Leuven, which was very pleasant. I also worked in a café in the centre of Leuven: I met many Dutch people there and I improved my knowledge of the Flemish language. In the evening, I often let my hair down with friends in the trendy bars and cafés of Leuven (on the Oude Markt, especially).
I am very happy with the student flat I lived in. I got on really well with all my flatmates. They were all Flemish students (9 in total). We usually met at supper-time in the kitchen, where we talked a lot and watched our favourite Flemish series “David”. We often organized parties and they sometimes gave me a hand if I had a problem with my bike (they are real experts in the subject!) or with the papers I had to write in Dutch.
The exam period was (too) long and thus very exhausting. I had nearly a whole month to study before the exam session; the latter lasted for two weeks. As the exam period lasted until the end of January, I haven’t attended the first week of the classes here in Namur. Also, I didn’t have any holiday. However, the exam results are already coming out by the end of this week, which is very quick because it is only a week after the end of the exam period.
My impression of Leuven
My impressions of Leuven
In the beginning, my Erasmus was a leap in the dark but as I visited the city, I got to know it and its inhabitants better. Now I can say that I completely fell in love with Leuven. The historical buildings are spread all over the city (among them, I can list the City Hall, Saint Michael Church, the beguine convent and the Central Library). Leuven is not a big city but there are as many students as bikes, which is a lot…! The Flemish people are very friendly and many exchange students have chosen to come and study in Leuven, so it is very easy to make friends. According to me, the inhabitants of Leuven are very proud of their city and the city is therefore very clean. It is very hard to get bored in Leuven: there are numerous cafés and clubs (for whatever appeals to you), several cinemas, museums (e.g. Museum M), many concerts and many shops (e.g. in the Bondgenotenlaan, the street facing the station).
Three tips: 1) don’t go to Leuven without bringing your bike along (and a good padlock)!; 2) I would recommend you the pastries of the Vangrootloon bakery (yum!), the “Alma”, the cheap student restaurant, and, more generally, the many restaurants of Leuven (Italian, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Mexican or, last but not least, typical Belgian restaurants); 3) you should pay a visit to the magnificent Central Library!
All these things make Leuven a very nice city to live in and a perfect place for an Erasmus stay.
For me it all started in Ba 1. I recall the moment when I was waiting to take Mr Delabastita’s oral exam, when suddenly I saw a girl from Ba 3 who was saying how great her experience in
My experience with Dutch people also took place through the courses I followed at university. The “Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen” is quite amazing when you look at the size of it because it is twenty floors tall. What made it even more amazing was that all students who studied Dutch and English seemed to be totally bilingual. Apparently Dutch people watch a lot of movies and TV-programs in English, which may explain why their English is so good! The classes were quite interesting, I must say. I followed a course about Dutch and Flemish literature which I found particularly worth doing. Even though we had to read a lot of books, I am quite glad I followed this course because it allowed me to read books I had already heard of, but hadn’t got the opportunity to read them yet. And if I had to do my Erasmus all over again, I think I would take the same classes, you know, because they were very interesting.
Perhaps more importantly, I think my greatest memories of my stay in
What can I say to the students who envisage to go on Erasmus? First, that you shouldn’t hesitate too much because it’s an experience you won’t get to make later on. Secondly, that once abroad you should try to make as many contacts as you can with the people you meet because, apart from helping you practise your language skills, simply the fact of realising many people do not have the same customs as yours means you will be more open to the world thanks to your Erasmus. Thirdly, that you should enjoy your stay as much as you can, because from my experience, spending six months abroad is really not a long time, and it would be a pity to think you have not enjoyed your stay enough after you are back to your own country. In other words, go for it, enjoy it, and good luck!
Tuesday, February 02, 2010
(here Leuven under the snow : Faculty of arts, Oude Markt, the Central library)
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 “Sociolinguïstiek” (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...
Monday, February 01, 2010
Fortunately, Magali was with me and she supported me. And so we left and when arriving in Dublin, instead of taking a second flight to Cork (the 210€ were still a painful memory) we took the bus, ready for a four-and-a-half-journey.
When I arrived in Cork, I was surprised by the generosity and kindness of the Irish people, but also by their accent, which is quite hard to understand I must admit. But I could understand a few words and finally arrived in Farranlea Hall where I was supposed to stay for the semester. There, I learned that I had to move to another place, closer to the campus. The reason was that there would be more people staying for the week end so that I wouldn’t be alone. But as you can imagine, it was not the case. And even though the room was better than I expected I felt lonely from the time my friend was gone. But soon I met people and started college. As I was in Ireland to improve my English, I was glad when I learned that my flat mates where Irish girls from Cork with Irish names difficult to pronounce and remember at first time, i.e. Maire, Aoife and Deirdre. This was also my first contact with the Irish language, which I tried to learn when I was there.
Talking about Ireland without talking about the weather would be a huge mistake, especially if this one added some little things to your Erasmus. We’re always complaining about the rain in Belgium… Be reassured now, Ireland is worse. It had rained so much the week of 20th November, that the authorities decided to open the dam in Cork. As a result, a great part of the city and parts of the campus were flooded. The campus was thus closed for a week and the water supply was interrupted in some places. Unfortunately, it seems I was in the wrong place and therefore had to live, or survive without water for nine days, and believe me, it was not an easy week!
As far as college is concerned, the courses were very interesting for the greater part. I was just a bit disappointed about my German class, because they didn’t want me to take a higher level and I just felt I didn’t learn anything. But on the other side, I learned a lot about Irish and Celtic believes and customs - without forgetting the fairies - during my Folklore course. The system of examination is also a bit different from here… As far as I’m concerned, I had to write three essays for one course for example or write two essays (three pages each) in an hour and a half.
Let’s talk about my life as an Erasmus student there… In the beginning of the year, I joined the photographic society, which enables me to go on a trip to Galway and to visit at the same time Connemara and the Burren. As I already had gone to Cork in June to get to know the city, I didn’t go sightseeing that much. I just regret I didn’t go back to Blarney Castle to kiss the Blarney Stone, though I went to Clonakilty and went to the Inchyndoney and Owenahincha beaches. I also went to see the Gaelic football match between Cork and Kerry in a pub and attended a hurling match. One of the places where I spent a lot of time in Cork was the Mardyke Arena, the sport complex. There, I experienced trampoline, which was, as Floriane told me, perhaps a bit too dangerous for me, and wushu. Sadly, the Mardyke was flooded and I had to stop doing sport. Though, I continued to walk because, as opposed to people staying in the Netherlands or in Belgium, I had no bike. I also liked to go to Crane Lane Theatre, where bands were playing live.
I have now been in Utrecht for 5 months and next week I will be back on our beloved 5th floor. So I think it is time for me to look back for a moment and to tell you about my stay in the Netherlands.
Utrecht is a very beautiful city which looks like Bruges with all the canals and … many bikes, of course! There are some old buildings worth seeing like ‘de Dom’, and interesting museums. Moreover, Utrecht is in the centre of the country, so it is a very good place to stay if you want to discover other cities of the Netherlands.
Besides these activities I also tried to go to the swimming pool and to do fitness every week. We often met other Erasmus friends in the city. By the way, I really advise those of you who will go to Utrecht next year to try ‘Café België’: you will nearly feel at home with their impressive list of Belgian beers!
As a conclusion I would advise all the future BAC3 students to go on Erasmus because, even if it seems a bit scary at the beginning to leave your country and friends for 5 months, it is a very good opportunity to make new friends from all over the world and a lot of discoveries!
I started to look for a room as soon as I was told that I would be an exchange student. This turned out to be more difficult than expected! I spent hours applying for a room on the Internet, mainly on www.kamernet.nl, but it was unsuccessful. The system of this kind of websites is really strange. First of all you have to pay in order to be able to post a limited number of reactions to some offers. Then you have to describe yourself and your expectations so that your potential roommates choose if they want to meet you or not. Only after that, if you are lucky, you may perhaps get the room. The worst thing is that, most of the time, people do not even reply. I always received the same automatic replies: ‘Helaas heeft de verhuurder besloten om jou niet uit te nodigen voor een bezichtiging’ or ‘De verhuurder heeft deze kamer van Kamernet.nl verwijderd’. Floriane kindly accepted to house me as long as I did not have any other place to sleep. I began to feel totally depressed until, after nearly two weeks, I eventually found something. The room I rented was the room of a Finn student who had decided to go back to
The room was not very well situated but by bike it did not take too long. I had to ride fifteen minutes to go to the city centre, the shopping streets, and the university. And I actually must recognize that I like this means of transport, even if it was less fun when it was pouring or when it began to be really cold outside. Wearing gloves and a scarf was indeed strongly advised in order not to freeze.
According to me, the main difference between us and the Dutch people is that they are really distant. Indeed, students do not even kiss to say ‘hello’ or to say ‘goodbye’. It was a bit difficult for me, and for Floriane too I think, to get used to their coldness.
I did not really meet Erasmus students from other countries and only one of my flatmates was Dutch. It would have been nice to practice my Dutch with her, but she was never there. The two other flatmates were German, like the majority of people there. They were very nice, but they were rarely at home so I did not see them very often. I found it rather difficult to have some real contacts with them, even though I had a few conversations or dinners with them. I was more lonely there than I had imagined. I went out only a few times to bars or with friends I met during the first period.
The only restriction of
We had to go to the university for only 6 hours of courses a week but we had a lot to do at home. It took a lot of time but the two courses I chose, ‘Apollo and Dionysus’ and ‘Cultureel Pluralisme’ were really interesting. I was a bit lost for the first one (as you can imagine, philosophy is even less easy in English than in French), and I was convinced I would not pass the exam, but once I had studied it properly, it was alright.
The method of evaluation is another major difference with our system. Students do not have any real exam session. They have the same course for six weeks and then take the exam (I had to take a real exam for the first period and to write a paper for the second one). I am still waiting for the results of the second course, which I hope will be good.
I was quite disappointed by the atmosphere between the students, especially during the last period. Dutch people are rather cold even if they can be nice during the PBL session. Moreover, being BA2 students, they all knew each other already, which made it difficult for me to integrate into their group.
Let us now speak a bit about the city. Most people will agree that
Something which was really amusing was to see the Vrijthof being invaded by children, teenagers, adults and even old people disguised on 11th November. As far as the Christmas market is concerned, this is the most beautiful one I have ever seen. It is not that big but the old merry-go-round, the big wheel and the skating rink make it fabulous.
I cannot deny the fact that I have some regrets when I look back at my stay there. I wish I had had more contact with Dutch people. I also wish I had gone out more often in order to enjoy my four months in the
The experience was really worth it anyway. Getting used to a new university, to new people and to ‘foreign’ languages is not easy. But I would advise it to everyone, even if it means a lot of work! Now I am back in