Thursday, February 16, 2012

Berlin - How I found love.

Berlin – How I found love.


There I was... in the middle of the former East Berlin. I had already seen some old postcards of Berlin and lucky me, my new ‘home’ appeared to be exactly as in these pictures! Also my new neighbours must have been around at the time these photographs were made; average age: 70 and older. Let the Erasmus experience begin!

I had chosen to live in ‘the centre’, which means that it took me about an hour to get at university, since the ‘Freie Universität Berlin’ is situated in the South of Berlin. Six weeks I followed an extra German course and this is where I met most of my friends. After our courses in the morning, we went swimming in the Wannsee, visited Museums or chilled in one of the many parks. In the evening, there were of course the beer gardens, bars and some of the most famous techno, minimal- and electro clubs in the world.

Berlin shock?

- There is more smoke hanging over the parks, than over the motorways. Whenever the weather is nice, there are hundreds of people grilling. It feels like one big family, where everybody brings something to share with the others.

- FKK and naturalism: there is a kind of naked culture at almost all the beaches and parks in Berlin. Families come to picnic naked, friends have a beer together and women just want to get rid of those last white spots…

- It’s all about vintage and the ‘hipster’ style in berlin. In some shops, you can even buy clothes per kilo!

- We spotted a grandpa sniffing drugs and met several friends of our grandparents with pink or green hair dancing on electro music or singing karaoke in Mauerpark.

October – December: FLIRTING AROUND…

My flatmates arrived and it couldn’t have been better! I immediately assured them, we were not just living in an old DDR-building, but we found ourselves in the ‘coolest’ area, since ‘Ostalgie’ seemed to be very popular. Together we went to festivals, concerts, other cities and countries … and to university. I followed an English course about first language acquisition, a Dutch course about German and Dutch literature after the second world war (with Mr Lensen) and last but not least, my favourite course: media in and about Berlin. Not only did this course give me the opportunity to visit different newspaper editors (TAZ, Junge Welt, Berliner Zeitung, …), I also stayed up to date with what was happening in and around Berlin. This made me realise that I was at the heart of everything: art, fashion, economics, politics and crime. We interviewed people from the Occupy-movement, a former prisoner from the Hohenschönhausen Stasi-prison and the man behind East Side Gallery, Kani Alavi.

January: THIS IS LOVE!

Berlin is one of these cities you just have to live in to get a glimpse of what it is like. When I first visited the city, I immediately liked it because of its architecture, museums, parks, restaurants and clubs but I only started to love it after learning more about its history, culture and people. According to me Berlin is not ‘Poor, but sexy’, like the governing Mayor said in 2004, but rather ‘Sexy because it’s poor!’ Without idealising ‘the poor artist’, Berlin is still a place where there is some room for free thinking and dreaming, where you can be who you want to be and where rules are made to be broken. The fun of doing something was often just as big as the frustration of missing another. You still need to ask me what made me love this city?

As a wise man once said to introduce his course, studying Literary Theory is a bit like moving to a new town. At first, you dwell on in the streets, map in hand, to gradually discover the city's main spots of interest. With time, some places become familiar while others still remain to be uncovered by the eye. 
A similar felling overcame me as I walked day in day out down the streets of Leuven (but quite contradictory, not that much when I got absorbed in my Literary History course). Nevertheless,the first thing I discovered about Leuven is that it is no ordinary town. Just walking down the Monseigneur Ladeuzeplein to join the Grote Markt and eventually the Oude Markt overthrew me on each occasion.
But the main point of an Erasmus in Leuven (often left aside by many) is of course to study at its prestigious university; and this is where the fun really begins ! Once you've recovered from the Pangaea's International Welcome Party at Alma 2 and that your cart is filled up with various courses, you may begin your adventure.
Let us imagine that you put up something like this:

- Sociolinguïstiek (at your own risk!): From 'Common Ground' to 'Norm' and 'Partialiteitsproblemen', Mr Jaspaert will let you see sociolinguistics as you've never imagined it would be!
- Engelse Literatuur II: If you've grown a passion for poetry and works such as Wordsworth's, Shelley's and other poets, this course will surely prove exciting. Mr De Graef basically discuss various texts with insight in contemporary issues such as gender, revolution, class, empire and war.
- Nederlandse Literatuur III: If you've ever dreamed of discovering the 20th century Dutch authors (such as Claus, Boon, Reve and Mulisch), then do not hesitate one second !
- and many more

In many ways, Leuven is a wonderful place to work and live. My starting plan of first experiencing it  during an Erasmus and eventually move there to follow a master program has only been confirmed ! 

Cork Cork Cork

« Dernier appel : Angèle Mars et Sophie Trigaux sont priées de se présenter à la porte d’embarquement. » This was the very beginning of the Erasmus adventure.
This morning of 9th September, the head full of dreams, we left Belgium for a completely different environment. After a few hours by plane, we landed in Ireland. This country I didn’t know at all some months ago rhymes today with wonderful landscapes, rain, pubs, Guinness, parties with girls in super mini-skirts teetering on gigantic heels, tea at every hour of the day, cars on the left side of the road, Gaelic football, Irish coffee, plenty of “fucking” things of all kind (my flatmate was clearly one of the fucking best users of this fucking word), hot chocolate with marshmallows, and many other things. Together with Elisa, we took great pleasure in discovering all that makes of Ireland such a unique place.
After a first city tour, the three Belgian girls went to their respective accommodation. Having a natural non-sense of orientation, I had to ask people where was “50, Mc Curtains Villas, College Road”. Doing so, I quickly realized how nice (not always red-haired) Irish people are. Once in my new house, I could also appreciate the particular understanding of the word “hygiene” they have. In order to apply my own definition of the term, I had to engage Angèle and Elisa for a full day to help me with the cleaning of the few square meters. Apart from this, I was really happy with the place I shared with three Irish students: Kate, Orla and …

- Hi! What’s your name?
- (Something impossible to understand)
- Sorry, could you repeat it?
- (Same problem)
- …. Ah ok! Nice to meet you….
- Hi Kate! What’s the name of the boy?
- (Same problem)
- Ok. Could you spell it please?
- N-I-A-L-L

QED: the Irish accent is something hard to understand!
Anyway, I was living with very pleasant guys and even if the house was situated quite far from the centre, I had a walk of only two minutes to go to the university.
It is in an amazing setting that we had the chance to study. The university offers to my delight a very large choice of classes such as literature, translation, music, folklore, philosophy, and much more. It was great to try my hand at classes that have nothing to do with the programme of Germanic languages. The only thing that disappointed me at university was the contact with the native people. They were quite distant towards the Erasmus students and I have to say that nothing was put in place by the Erasmus coordinator to encourage our integration among the Irish students. Fortunately, this was made possible by the impressive variety of clubs and societies.
It is simply impossible not to find something you like. On the programme: Kung Fu, biology, volleyball, medieval society (for the ones who enjoy being dressed up like knights and fighting with swords), chess, politics, … This was clearly the best way to meet plenty of Irish and people from other parts of the world. The one I chose was Ultimate Frisbee. I then ignored that I would once really enjoy going to the sport centre.
But there was much more that I didn’t know before these four months. The Erasmus experience was not only a wonderful way to improve my English. It was also a chance to take some distance from my Belgian life and consider things differently, to discover a country and its culture, to clear my way through a labyrinth of novelties… The Erasmus experience is something you can only be enriched with.




“Dear Angèle, I am pleased to advise you that you have been accepted for admission to University College Cork.”

My Erasmus experience truly began the day I received my UCC admission letter. I was finally holding something concrete that made me realise I was going to study in Ireland for one semester.  From that moment onwards, time flew so fast that I found myself in Cork sooner than I had expected it. 

I had already found an accommodation before arriving in Ireland but I would advise any future Erasmus students not to do that. I had tons of problems with my landlord and I think it is much easier to find a cheaper and well-located accommodation once you are in Cork. I also advise people to share a house with Irish people rather than with Erasmus students because that is the best and sometimes only way to speak English with native speakers. Since it is difficult to be integrated with Irish students, you will probably spend most of your time with other Erasmus students who may not always speak English very well. Therefore, living with Irish students is certainly the best solution to improve your linguistic skills.
Though, there are at least four things you must know about Irish people before sharing a house with them:

1) They definitely don’t have the same sense of hygiene as us. Don’t be surprised if one of your roommates uses your toothbrush or your facecloth.
2) They are not able to cook a meal without burning it and therefore, you will hear the fire alarm ring only twice a week if you are lucky.
3) To avoid awkward situations, don’t say to one of your girl roommates that you have met an Irish girl with the most outrageous mini-skirt you have ever seen, she will probably have the same.
4) Don’t panic if you don’t understand them at first, you will quickly get used to their particular pronunciation. And don’t be surprised at all if you hear them say “you know” and “I was like” every two words, something very irritating when you live with an Irish girl talking all the time.

Besides finding an accommodation, choosing the courses I was going to follow during the semester was another important stage of my Erasmus. It was difficult to make up my mind and decide which course to choose in the large choice of courses UCC offered to Erasmus students. I felt relieved once I eventually had completed my first learning agreement in Belgium, thinking that I wouldn’t have to think about it anymore. Though, when I arrived at UCC, the international co-ordinator told me that half of the courses I had chosen were not available anymore and that I had to make another choice. I had to go at least six or seven times to the International Education Office to get all the authorisations I needed to follow modules that both suited me and the administration. But I quickly forgot these administrative details and truly enjoyed the fourth months I spent studying at UCC. I was really impressed by the architecture of the campus as well as by the courses we could follow there. First of all, the architecture of the buildings on the campus was an interesting mix between old and new and you could have class in old buildings such as the Quadrangle as well as in more recent buildings such as the O’Rahilly Building. Besides the fact that the campus was beautiful, it was also very big and it took more than 15 minutes to go from one side to the other. And last but not least, I’ve never a seen a university offering a so large variety of courses. Everyone can find something made for him/her in the many courses proposed at UCC. What is special is that Irish students can barely choose any course they want. For example, someone studying microbiology can also follow a French translation class as well as a Greek mythology seminar. I think it is a nice system but I’m wondering what the Irish students are specialised in at the end of their studies.

                                                                UCC Main Quadrangle.
                                                                      O'Rahilly Building.

However, going on Erasmus consists not only in finding an accommodation and in choosing interesting courses. The most important thing is to have a great time, of course! I’ll surely keep a good memory of this fantastic stay in Ireland where I’ve learned a bit more about myself and where I had a great time with two wonderful girls, Sophie and Elisa. There are many things that made my life in Ireland nicer:

-The Irish. What I liked the most about Irish people was their casual attitude. Irish people never seem to bother about what other people may think about them and they never look stressed. What is also nice with them is that they are always ready to help you when you need it.  And last but not least, Irish people never worry about time or schedules. They are always at least 15 minutes late and don’t find it embarrassing to come 20 minutes late in class. I must admit that I found this last characteristic absolutely pleasing! However, saying that Irish people are absolutely perfect would be lying. If they are very welcoming and friendly when you first meet them, they become distant and indifferent as soon as you try to know them better. Besides, they don’t care much about hygiene and cleanliness and I have observed some gory things in the shower siphon.

-Trips. Ireland is a splendid country and we have seen some breath-taking landscapes while we were travelling around Ireland with Sophie and Elisa. The most beautiful places I have been to were Dublin, Kinsale, Youghal and the Ring of Kerry. I regret not to have visited the Northern Ireland and I would advise anyone going to Ireland to visit as many places as possible in the beginning of their stay when they don’t have too many things to do. Otherwise, it will become difficult to organise longer trips once you will have to work for your different classes and you will come back home without having seen half of the places you wanted to go to.

                                                                    Ladies' View.

-Friends. We met a lot of other Erasmus students coming from all over the world at the beginning of our Erasmus. It was really nice at first but then, asking a thousand times to different people where they came from and having superficial conversation with them became boring. Moreover, people speaking the same language tended to stay together and it was quite annoying to hear French people asking you to speak French with them because “zey” didn’t speak English very well. Hopefully after a little time we met good friends we really got on well with and this added another dimension in our Erasmus experience.

To end with, here a list of the things I will have to remember if I ever come back to Cork:

-The fact that it rains everyday in Ireland is definitely not a legend. So try not to forget your raincoat this time.
-Irish people drive on the left, so look right before you cross the street if you don’t want to die after two days. 
-When other Erasmus students ask you to come to a pub for Arthur’s day, don’t ask everybody who and where is Arthur in order to tell him happy birthday. Arthur invented the Guinness and he died a long time ago.

 Angèle Mars

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

And finally, Elisa Venturi: Cork.

These were the last words I had expected to hear for so much time. Then, the adventure began. I was giving the opportunity to live one of the greatest experience of my life. Moreover, I was so lucky I could enjoy it with two good friends! From this point, one thing was constantly in my head – Ireland.
I could already hear musicians, violins, waterfalls, the noise of the glasses in a pub and this fabulous culture that belongs to the Emerald Isle which was calling me.
Of course everything was not exactly as I had figured out. Such an experience leads you to do things you had never thought of. This is a journey full of unexpected moments and wonderful surprises.
Since the first days after my arrival, some Erasmus activities were organized. I met my two best friends in a pub on the first evening spent in Cork: the first was Almu, a Spanish girl from Granada and the second one was Irma, a Dutch student in Food Biology. We spent four months together and became friends for life after this stunning experience.

The University College of Cork is an extraordinary place, with its traditions, a huge number of societies and with old corridors smelling like a prestigious past. But the university is also a highly modern area, with a student centre, a bank, a library, a bookshop, a gifts shop, an art gallery, restaurants, etc. I had always something to do, people to meet and interesting classes to attend.
As the choice of courses was quite big, I could study different matters such as translation, literature, cinema and even music! This class of pop music was amazing and gave me the chance to speak with Irish students who considered me as one of them and not as an international student anymore.
The English Market was one of my favourite place in the city centre. It is an old covered market where you can find fresh fish, fresh meat, fresh fr uits, and in brief all the fresh food you need. Even if the sellers are less fresh than their products, people there are lovely and this place was like an oasis for me when I wanted to escape Ireland’s grey sky for a while.
In a sense, you can sometimes compare the Irish to the American - they find everything “wicked” and show a lot of enthusiasm to all what you say. But it is part of the culture and that is a good thing according to me. People try to know everything about you and your stay in their country. And when they ask you what you think about the Irish, you will spontaneously answer they are great. Like the rain never forgets to fall on Ireland, the Irish people never forget to be warm and friendly.
Fortunately, I had quite a lot of free time to go and discover more about Ireland. I went many times to Dublin, which is truly a lovely city, but also to Limerick, Waterford, Killarney and Galway. Leaving has given me the chance to take a break with my everyday life and to see things differently. I can say this experience changed me and I think it must be the case for every single Erasmus student. But while starting a new life is very great and exciting, saying goodbye is the hardest thing.

This island and all the people who have contributed to this fabulous memory will stay in my mind for a long time. Do not hesitate and just go and discover Ireland. I can promise you that you will enjoy it.

My Erasmus-Belgica in Leuven

My stay in Leuven started with the « Orientation Days » on Thursday 22 September 2011. After a welcome speech and an infosession about “Living in Leuven” in a gigantic auditorium counting 900 seats (which was not enough for all international students), we were lead through Leuven. A guide showed us where to find the student restaurants (Alma 1, 2 and 3), the central library, a student centre called “Pangaea” and, of course, some of the university buildings.

When I arrived for this “Orientation Days”, I felt quite lost because I couldn’t find Fabien or Martin. Fortunately I met a friendly German girl called Daniela who felt quite lost too. We communicated in English and soon became friends. We both decided to become members of Pangaea and be aware of the parties and other activities the club organized for Flemish and international students to meet. Thanks to Pangaea and to the common “meeting place” of every student, the “grote markt”, we got plenty of opportunities to meet other people and have an enriching international experience. A quite funny thing I noticed is that many people take the old city hall as meeting point before going somewhere else for a drink or other social activity.

During the first days I had to find lessons which ended in January and be sure all lessons I wanted to follow were not scheduled at the same time, which was a pretty difficult task. When I finally succeeded, I had to go and find Mrs Kerstens in order to definitively register for all courses and plan my exam schedule. Mrs Kerstens is a really nice and welcoming Erasmus coordinator and she makes you feel at ease because she is always there to help you in case of problem. Her study, as well as the building where most of my lessons took place, is located on a picturesque green place: the “Erasmusplein”.

After a week or two I received an e-mail from Korneel, my Erasmus “buddy”, telling me he had had problems with his internet but he was disposed to help me and invited me to eat a “carbonade flamande” (his own words) with his friends. They all were really friendly and accepted me as being part of them, but they were surprised a Walloon could speak Dutch in the way I do: they first thought they would have to speak French with me. Unfortunately I didn’t manage too see Korneel a lot during my stay in Leuven because he had a great deal of work to do if he wanted to pass for his master in history.

Surprisingly, I didn’t use my bike that much because my room was located at 5 minutes of the Faculty of Arts on foot and I was not far from the centre. Nevertheless it is quite useful to take an old bike when you study in Leuven because a new one would soon disappear and you can’t easily do without a bike if you want to go to the sport centre of Heverlee for instance. You could indeed go by bus too, seeing the fact that you receive a free bus pass as an Erasmus student, but then you can’t really go where you want when you want…

Concerning my studies there in Leuven, the course I preferred was that of Dutch Literature of the 20th century. This course was indeed given in a very interactive and attractive way and even though we had to read four big books in a short amount of time and analyse them by ourselves first, I really enjoyed this course and learnt a lot of interesting things.

The only negative point I would like to mention is the fact that 5 months is much too short if you really want to be part of the group formed by Flemish students. Out of these 5 months we had indeed only 3 months of lessons and the other two months were the study and exam period. In addition, the course program for an Erasmus student is not the same as for the other student so I was with different people in every courses and seeing somebody 2 hours in a week is not sufficient to know them well.

If I had to summarise my experience in Leuven in 3 words I would say: enriching, unforgettable and useful.

Nijmegen: linguistic diversity and Erasmus community

In this blog, you won’t find any information about the city of Nijmegen. You can surf on the Internet, type Nijmegen on Google Earth and visit the city by yourself. You won’t either read anything about the courses offered by the Radboud University, because choosing courses depends on personal choices. However, if you like America, Nijmegen is perfect for you. There you can choose courses on American literature, culture and even politics. What you are going to read relates to the linguistic diversity and the Erasmus community.

The Erasmus stay in Nijmegen starts on the 15th of August with a perfect and well-organized Introduction Week. Dutch students of the Radboud University (the mentors) showed us the city, the university and the sports centre. Every day, we had different activities, games and parties to get in touch with other Erasmus students, but also with Dutch people and their culture. This wonderful week ended with an unforgettable international weekend. Somewhere at the heart of wild Dutch woods, other games and parties were organized by our mentors for the Erasmus community of Nijmegen. During that weekend, I spoke Dutch, English, French and Spanish. I was like a child making new friends in a linguistic paradise. After the Introduction week, you can’t be worried anymore to be an isolated Erasmus student in a foreign country. You know the city, the university, the huge sports centre; you have a bike and you have new friends from all around the world.
More or less 4 days a week, I ate with other Erasmus students, mostly from Portugal, Spain, Italy, Germany and Belgium. I didn’t eat with Dutch students because they have dinner at 5.30 pm, but I lived with them. As a consequence, that was the perfect linguistic mix: speaking Dutch during the day and English at night. The English we spoke was not RP English, but well a beautiful International English with different accents. The German English is funny and the Spanish one is really sexy. When you come back from Nijmegen, you understand that the international norm is hopefully not RP English, but well International English with all its colourful distinctions in phonology, vocabulary and prosody. Nijmegen and its Dutch mentors devoted to Erasmus students enabled me to discover new cultures and to speak 2 or 3 different languages every day. I think this is the strength of Nijmegen: the omnipresence of Dutch and English in a united Erasmus community. You can’t find this linguistic diversity in Cork or Canterbury and a magic Introduction Week as well organized as in Nijmegen doesn’t take place in Utrecht, Maastricht or Leuven.

To conclude, if you want to speak Dutch and English every day within a united Erasmus community, go to Nijmegen. Your will start your stay in mid August and finish it at the end of January. This is the longest, but the greatest. Believe me!!


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Groetjes from Maastricht

Maastricht is a pleasant little town like Namur, full of streets with no car and a pretty small university. Four months is definitely a too short period of time to discover every nook and cranny of a town, but not too short to have happy memories of it and here are some of them…

Everyday I had to cross the St Servaas Bridge with my bike to join the centre of the town. On my way back, I used to stop at the ‘Plein 1992 to buy some food. This was my favourite place, near the water and the park. One day, I was going to the library when I saw a herd of sheep coming from nowhere crossing the High Bridge with a shepherd and a dog. That morning I really thought I was dreaming but I made some pictures.

While on the subject of library, I must say I really enjoyed studying at this place. The University of Maastricht is based on ‘leading in learning’, therefore the library has its ‘tutorial rooms’ where groups can meet to speak at ease without disturbing the others who are wishing to work in quiet. 
The best faculty was that of ‘Arts and Social Sciences’, where I studied. There, I fell in love with the new café. It reminds me great time with my tutorial group of the course ‘Globalization and Inequality’ because we were all fond of coffee and sometimes we really needed some to finish our weekly paper assignments on Sunday evenings. This group was formed by Judith, the German; Thomas, the French; Laura, another Belgian and Omar, the Egyptian who studies in the states and who is by the way the most intelligent boy I ever met. The one who also made a big impression on me is Judith or the Germans in general because they were always so concentrated on their work and they were all working like robots until late in the evening in the library. In the end we were all very closed in the group, we had a really good time together. But all good things come to an end: after the first exam in the end of October I had to meet my new group for the second course, this time with Netherlanders (and two Flemish). Honestly, I didn’t win true friends the last two months. In a way, I found the international students a lot nicer than local ones.

Apart from my first course, I had the greatest time at Heugemerweg, Simon’s place. His roommates came from Canada, Poland, Sweden and Ireland. They all were really interesting, funny and kind. To me, the best memory there was the Christmas Party in December. We all had to bring a particular dish and that evening I tried Peter’s ‘egg nog’, a beverage made with milk, eggs, rum and other strange things. No comment, each to his own I would say… I also went to the first party in Maastricht with the Heugermerweg’s team, it was called the ‘cantus’. We could call it a Germans’ party, not only because of the real majority of German students there but also because of the cliché of Germans drinking draught beers and singing (shouting). At the end we could see half-naked people jumping on tables. CRAZY is the perfect word to describe what was going on that night.

At my place, it was a lot less funny. Nevertheless, I had one very nice roommate there called Shugi, a Dutch girl who studies medicine. She prepared really strange dishes like pastas with mango and menthol.
During the free-time between courses and homework (many hours I have to say), I used to go to  the sport centre. I tried sport like hockey and basketball. Finally I played most often badminton, with Simon and two other boys. When I went there alone I used to do ‘circuit-training’, it consists in running and doing some body exercises with very lively music. The way to the centre is really safe and it seems to me that students in general are more motivated than in Namur to do sport seriously. I miss this place very much.

To sum, this experience may scare a little at first because of the many steps we have to make, like choosing a favourite destination, meeting the professors, filling in the papers, finding an accommodation, again choosing courses, before it becomes real. Yes, I had some reasons to freak out but wasn’t it worth it: I had a great time with wonderful people and discovered many new places which are now full of good memories. So yes, it was definitely worth it!!!


My Erasmus in Innsbruck

Picture the scene: anywhere you look, wherever you turn to, you can only see mountains. Used to hills being the highest you can get in Belgium, the sight of those huge, breathtaking mountains leaves you speechless. I spent my Erasmus in one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited: Innsbruck.

The University of Innsbruck is certainly not like here in Namur. One of the main differences is that students have to make their own class schedule. Because of this there is not a fixed group of students like here in Namur, instead they change all the time. Courses in Innsbruck were a bit disappointing. They have this system of Pro-Seminars, in which students hold presentations and have a debate afterwards. However, there was this one course, it was ONLY presentations and a few of the students spoke horrible English!! And really, just presentations? The teacher did not do anything!

At first I was worried that I might not have a lot of contact with Austrian students. However I was pleasantly surprised. When students heard that I was foreign, they immediately spoke more slowly and clearer. The Austrians, with whom I had class, also helped me lot to understand the teachers because some of them...well I wondered if it was even German they spoke! I mean, one teacher was really difficult to understand; I think he spoke some kind of dialect. I guess I will never know. But it was not only the teachers I had difficulty to understand. They were two boys in my student residence, they were from Bayern, and I could no understand a SINGLE word of what they said. I mean, the conversation always went something like this: he says something and I reply “Wie, Bitte?” he repeats, and I repeat “Wie, Bitte?” he repeat and I just smile and nod. But I did not worry too much about it, because others students in the residence, who had known those two for a few years, assured me that they also could not understand a word! Talking of my student residence, I rented a double room just for me. Plus I had my own bathroom! I stayed in the student residence Hertha Firnberg, where there were few Erasmus students and not once did we speak English with each other. I was worried that we might be tempted to speak English to have it easier, but everyone really made an effort to only speak German. The residence was located on the outside of the city, so I had to take the bus. There were buses every ten minutes and I never had to wait very long. What I noticed was that a lot of the Austrians had their own bike and were surprised that I did not have one. That was weird, I mean, we are in the middle of the mountains and people ride bikes here! I guess they are used to it.

There was also this organization, the Erasmus Student Network (ESN), which organized a lot of events such as the Tyrolean Night, the Halloween Party or the Pub Crawl. A lot of the Erasmus students attended those, so it was always fun to go out and have a wild night. This is how I met most of the students I got to know during my stay.

Enough about the university, let’s move on to the city. Innsbruck is a really old city, so there is a lot to visit, but the main attraction was, for me anyway, those magnificent mountains. If you are brave you can go on foot and “climb” to the top of the mountains. I pride myself on not being crazy so I took the cable car. But once you are up there you can only think “Wow”. You get the most beautiful view of the city and the world below. In the distance you see a few villages spread across the valley. I admit I was tempted to sing “The hills are alive with the sound of music”, just to be one of THOSE tourists.

This was in the summer, but when winter gets there, we are talking about something else entirely! Everybody goes skiing. When you get on the bus, you have to be careful not to get a ski in the eye. Even in class, some students are already dressed to go skiing once class is over.

All in all, I recommend Innsbruck as an Erasmus destination. Forget Köln or Berlin! Innsbruck is the place to be if you want to live an unforgettable experience.

My pilgrimage to Canterbury

Myriam and I were the first Germanic students who went to England. When last year I applied for my Erasmus in Canterbury (Kent), it was like a dream... A dream that goes back to BAC1 when Mr Arblaster introduced the history of English literature. Don’t you remember? The Cathedral? Chaucer? The Canterbury tales? So many memories... I had to go on my own pilgrimage to this centre of English history!
Now I will tell you my own tale... I started on 17th September not on horseback like the knight, the friar or the Wife of Bath, but by train with my two heavy bags. Well, I must confess my journey was very long and quite exhausting. I didn’t know you don’t need to visit St Pancras for one hour, because the eurostar calls at Ashford. It’s closer to Canterbury. But never mind, I eventually reached my final destination. Myriam and her very useful car were already at the station to pick me up. (Thank you, Myriam!)
My accommodation was located at Darwin College. I was not in the same area as Myriam but I lived with nine room-mates from England and the rest of the world. Indeed, the University of Kent is international. You can hear French in every corridor (France is not so far). What’s more, I daresay you meet more Asian than English students. I befriended some of them, and I became a member of the Malaysian Society.
The first week at the University of Kent was ‘Welcome Week’. They organised lots of events for us. Among them, a welcome dinner with plenty of food and some special parties at the Attic or the Venue, the discos on campus. On Sunday we eventually visited Leeds Castle. This is a Kentish castle, with big gardens. Next to the historical part of the visit, the estate also comprises a childish labyrinth with underground caves (not very realistic but that’s ok) and an aviary with lots of beautiful parrots. Well, Kent is probably the most exotic county of England!

Canterbury is a nice, small and peaceful town. As you know, it is historic and so touristy. The cathedral is very impressive. You can’t miss it, it’s in the very heart of the town! And as a student from Kent Uni, it’s free. I visited it a few times with Myriam and other friends. And we even got the chance to see the cathedral in the evening! A Christmas carol in a Cathedral illuminated by candles, it’s worth it, I assure you!
But candles are also dangerous. Fortunately, English people are very vigilant. For the Christmas carol, a member of staff was placed every 10 meters to indicate the way out in case of fire. Well, I appreciate the English watchfulness, but not when I’m still sleeping in my bed! Indeed, every Wednesday on 8 am they test the fire alarms at Darwin. Such a deafening noise for five minutes, it’s horrible! We didn’t need to evacuate for the planned tests, but we had to if it happened at another time. And it occurred at least twice a week -even by night! Well, the positive point is that you see all the girls in her pyjamas.

The lectures in England are very different from the Belgian ones. First I could only take two modules, because they are worth 15 or 7.5 ECTS each. Concretely, I had lessons five hours a week... not a lot compared to Namur! The system mainly relies on self-study and essay writing. That means you spend most of the time working alone in your student room. Well, it’s not the system I prefer. However, I must admit that submitting essays is less stressful than the exams we have in Belgium. I also realised they were keen on oral presentations. At the end of the day, it was very interesting to discover another academic system.
My three months at the University of Kent were a very short but intense experience. My flatmates were so nice. We had a lot of fun together, we went to parties, we celebrated Halloween and Bonfire Night, we visited many places in Canterbury and in London. I can’t say how many tons of chocolate and fondue I ate (everybody should have a Swiss friend). I can’t say how many times I went to the supermarket on campus (opening hours: 4am to 5am). I can’t say how many pizzas I cooked -and how many ‘quiches’ Myriam reheated. I can’t tell you what I did to avoid being infected with scabies... But I can say my Erasmus at Kent was one of the best experiences I have ever had!

5 months in Nijmegen

Once upon a time Germanic students who had already spent some years in Namur decided to go off to other countries in search of adventure. I was one of the two who landed in Nijmegen, The Netherlands.

Everything began in mid-Augustus when I took part in the “Introduction week” of the Radboud University. This introduction week is really a must do: 10 days to discover the city, the university, the sport centre but also to meet the other international students, to buy a Dutch SIM-card and a bike (which is to become your best friend as life is unthinkable without it).

But summer doesn’t last forever; the 29th of August it was already time to go back to school. In the Netherlands an academic year is divided into 4 blocks. I had 3 classes during the first block (end August-end October) and 4 during the second one (end October-end January) which leaves a lot of time for social life (yes in Nijmegen the weekend lasted 5 days and the week 2 days). But this doesn’t mean that you’ll take it easy for 5 months. Dutch people are fan of weekly assignments and of scientific articles also to read weekly.

And once the weekly assignments are done? I lived in Hoogeveldt, a student complex at 5 minutes from the University and from the sport centre and at more or less 10 minutes from the city centre. This is a perfect location given that other people living in another complex named “Lent” had to bike 25 minutes to go to the university. So, don’t worry you’ll make plenty of sport even if you don’t register at the sport centre which would be a mistake. Indeed the sport card is a must have. It offers a large panel of activities, from common ones like tennis or football to more special ones like capoeira. You can register for weekly classes or buy so-called ticket hours which give you access to whatever sport you like at whatever time you want. In Hoogeveldt there is also a shop (useful when you forgot something at the AH) and a student pub called “Piecken”. This is the place to be every Tuesday evening as an international party takes place there every Tuesdays. And if it’s not enough for the week, Thursday is also likely to be a party day but this time in the city centre (you won’t forget to eat kaas uit de muur at 6 in the morning before going back to sleep of course). At the end of the week there are the Sunday Sessions at a bar in the city centre. There, you can hang out and enjoy live music or even go to play a tune yourself. Other activities are also organized by the RIS (Radboud International Students) such as the visit of other cities, of a brewery. If you took part in the introduction week you are also invited to a mentor diner every month, when you meet again your group and your mentors to enjoy a meal often including dishes from all over the world.

What else? If I had to summarize the whole experience in one word it should probably be WONDERFUL. The Erasmus exchange made me discover a wonderful city, full of wonderful people and now wonderful memories. The fat lady has sung too early, 5 months are too short but they were, and will probably stay, the best months of my life.

My Erasmus in Utrecht

My Erasmus experience really began last spring. I started to fill in various application forms, and after a stressful interview came the official announcement of the destination: I would spend 5 months in Utrecht.

From then on, the most important and urgent thing to do was to find an accommodation. At first, I wanted to live with Dutch students to get a chance to practice my Dutch every day. However it appeared to be extremely difficult to find an accommodation in the Netherlands without going there and participating at what they call “hospiteeravond”. I finally found a nice room close to the city centre via the website of Short Stay Housing, an organisation which helps international students to find housing in Utrecht. Thus I shared an accommodation with people from all around the world and mainly spoke English with my housemates, which was perfect to get into contact with other people, to learn more about their cultures and to improve my English.

Another important issue was the choice of the courses. I decided to follow two linguistics courses which were given in Dutch: “Talen in contact” and “Taalvariatie en Taalverandering”. In the first course “Talen in contact”, we defined and studied concepts and phenomena such as pidgin, creoles, bilingualism, interference mechanisms, language loss or language death. In the course of “Taalvariatie en Taalverandering”, we could carry out a research into language variation and change within the Dutch-speaking area. I also chose “American literature and culture before 1900”, a literary course focussing on America and the creation and development of its identity.

During my first two weeks in Utrecht, the university and the group ESN (Erasmus Student Network) organised various activities meant to help Erasmus students: Dutch students became our guides and led us through the university and the city centre, people from the student desk helped us with registrations for the courses and to the municipality and welcoming parties were also organised. Thanks to these activities, my stay in Utrecht began without much trouble and I learnt pretty fast to find my way in the modern university buildings, the huge library and the nice historical centre of Utrecht.

Utrecht is a very beautiful city where there are many things to see. I visited the Domtoren, the tallest church tower in the Netherlands; the kasteel de Haar, a wonderful castle located at only 10 kilometres from Utrecht and the Speelklok museum which contains a wide range of automatic instruments, from small musical boxes to huge dance organs. Another nice thing to see was the flower market which takes place every Saturday morning. I bought there really typical souvenirs of the Netherlands: tulip bulbs. The city of Utrecht is really dynamic and organises many cultural events as a film festival during the last week of September. On that occasion I went to see the film “De bende van Oss”. For those who like shopping, there are 3 department stores and a lot of nice shops in the city centre. Among others, Utrecht has many small and nice book shops. I went in almost all of them and bought dozens of books in Dutch and in English. The city of Utrecht has many small cinemas, where the films are of course always projected in the original language. So being a film enthusiast, I often went to the cinema.

If I had to summarize my Erasmus in Utrecht in a word, I would say “rewarding”. It has been a really nice experience in many respects. Humanely, I met many people and learnt to know them and their culture. Culturally, this stay made me discover and experience the Dutch way of life. I also learnt how the university system functions in the Netherlands: What are the courses like? What is expected from students? How are the teachers toward their students? What are the advantages and disadvantages of the “blok” system? are the main questions I had before leaving Namur and I have now been able to answer. Of course, it was not always easy to be far away from home. You sometimes miss your family and friends, becoming nostalgic of our beloved 5th floor. However, these hours of homesickness can’t overshadow the nice moments you spend with your new housemates and classmates, the wonderful places you visited and the joy of seeing the work you did being rewarded. Now that I am back in Namur, I feel happy to have tried such an experience and proud of what I have accomplished: I am a discreet person who feels easily stressed but that Erasmus brought me more self-confidence and helped me to deal with unexpected or stressful situations with more calm and control.

Justine Dumont