Wednesday, February 15, 2012

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.

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