- Hi! Welcome in Leuven! Are you an Erasmus student?
- Well yes, I answered.
- And where do you come from?
- Try to guess…
- USA? England? Germany? France? … I don’t know!
- What??!! Is that possible??
I think I have answered this question 8576 times since I first came to Leuven on September the 10th. Students seemed not to understand why I had chosen to stay in Belgium. Even if Leuven is still in Belgium, it is completely different from Namur.
The first reason why I chose Leuven instead of Nijmegen – which was for a long time my first choice – is that I really wanted to be able to understand dialects in Dutch. However, I must confess it is still hard to understand West-Vlaams or any other dialect. The second reason is that I wanted to be sure to speak Dutch, and not English. As we all know, the Flemish people are proud of their language, which is why they do not switch to English (like in the Netherlands) if they see that Dutch is not your mother tongue. The third reason why Leuven was my first choice is simply because of the university’s status. The K.U. Leuven is the largest university in Belgium with roughly 40 000 students. Bart De Moor, the vice rector of the International Office, told us that there had never been so many students studying at the K.U.L. since its establishment in 1425. Moreover, in the 2011-2012 university ranking, Leuven is ranked 17th in Europe and 67th in the world!
In order to make sure I would speak Dutch, I lived for five months in a house with four other Flemish students. I spoke Dutch every single day! Nevertheless, I also spoke English with Erasmus students (and even Spanish and Turkish!). English was the Lingua Franca in parties. And there were a lot of parties everyday all over the city! The funny thing is that parties in Leuven are totally different from parties in Namur. Whereas in Namur you have to wear a “space suit” in order not to be too dirty in the bunker, you can go to parties in Leuven (TD) with your most beautiful suit! And once you leave the party, you do not have to run or to ask somebody to walk you back home because you feel unsafe. Leuven is one of the safest cities in Belgium. I have never seen such a safe city! That is why the only dangerous things in town after a party are the pigeons (even if it’s really scary for some people ;-) ) and drunk bike riders (erm…).
> Grote Markt (Google)
The city itself is picturesque with its Old City Hall on the Grote Markt next to the Sint-Pieterskerk and its MANY bars and pubs on the Oude Markt, and the Central Library on the Ladeuzeplein. I could compare Leuven with Brussels: indeed, Leuven is a much smaller version of Brussels with a very old centre (the Grote Markt) and a ring road (de Leuvense ring).
> Leuven (Do not mind the cursor :-P, Google map)
Let us now discuss my courses in Leuven. Of course, I was in the Faculty of Arts (Faculteit Letteren). We had a huge list of courses, but I took only 5 of them : Populaire genres (Dutch), Engelse literatuur II: Engelstalige literatuur van 1800 tot heden (English), Engelse taalkunde III: grondige vraagstukken: diachroon – theoretisch (English), Sociolinguïstiek (Dutch) en Nederlandse literatuur III: 20ste eeuw (Dutch). All of them were really interesting. However, I have the duty to tell you that the Sociolinguïstiek exam was very difficult but the course was one of the most interesting. Each professor was friendly (but not as friendly as our teachers in Namur) and answered our e-mails very quickly.
For those interested in studying at the K.U. Leuven next year, I would say three things:
1. Take your time to look for the courses available in the university. Some courses are not taught every year.
2. Try to find a student room where there are Flemish students and not only Erasmus students, otherwise you will not speak Dutch at all!
3. Do not be afraid of the Flemish people! They will not speak spontaneously to you as we do in Wallonia, but once you begin to talk with them, there are as crazy and friendly as we are. :-)
Now that I am back in Namur, I see that I have progressed a lot (namely in Dutch). Choosing Leuven was definitely the right decision. The "Erasmus experience" helped me to gain more self-confidence, and the K.U. Leuven more general knowledge and open-mindedness. Next year, I will have to choose a university for my master, and Leuven has definitely a place in the list.
> The Central Library at Christmas. (Google)