The past three days are starting to become a blur! I left London early on the 22nd and took the amazing European train to Brussels. It was only about an hour or so!
So now I can start to explain a bit about what I am doing over here. I am studying as an exchange student at the Université Catholique de Louvain in Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium (the French speaking part). I am enrolled in the Louvain School of Management, which is basically the business school. European universities have a student network called the Erasmus Student Network which works closely with exchange students. It’s basically a volunteer based student run organization. So I applied to have a “buddy” upon arrival here and that has been the best thing! My buddy’s name is Michael and, like he likes to say, is the best buddy ever. But really. He met me at the Brussels train station when I arrived, which actually means we spent an hour wandering around the train station trying to find each other because I had no phone access and I was a lost American haha. But once my name was called over the loud speaker (lol) we finally found each other. We took a train to his town called Geneval where his sister, Marie, picked us up. She is a doll! They welcomed me with a gift of some beer and chocolate. I love these people. They gave me a little tour of their town and then Michael and I went to the campus so that I could begin the process of enrolling and getting my housing.
So I enjoyed a Belgian burger for lunch and we stopped at various offices to get some things done. He gave me a tour of the campus which is a mini city. There are no cars all throughout which is really cool. And there are shops and restaurants and bars all over the place mixed in with the classroom buildings. I had my first Belgian beer and then we met Marie at an Irish pub a little later. It reminded me a lot of a place I would find at home! I checked in and spent the night at the campus hostel called Kot Erasmus because I didn’t have my key yet. I was so exhausted and that night it really hit me that I was going to be here for a while and that I was pretty much on my own. It was an equally scary and satisfying feeling because I am so proud of myself for doing all of this independently.
The next day I met up with Michael again to continue our errands. He really is so generous to help me with these things because its all of the boring stuff like going to city hall to verify my visa and enrolling at the university office. We had lunch too and I continued to get to know the city. It has been so interesting to get to know Michael and how life is in Belgium. He has lived here all his life and is going to the US for the first time in August to study abroad in Austin, Texas. Conversation is fun because there is so much to talk about, for me to ask about here and for him to ask about the states. Later in the afternoon, Marie picked us up and we stopped at the supermarket to grab dinner. The place was huge! It offered services that you would find in Target or Walmart like electronics and all of that but it was also a full fledged food store. Their selection of wine, bread, and cheese is absolutely incredible. So we got some “special” beer and pizza to go. We went to their house for dinner. What a great experience! Their home and neighbourhood is stunning and so different from a typical neighbourhood at home. I got to meet the pup and kitty which made me happy too. After a nice dinner I went back to LLN and spent another night at Kot Erasmus.
This morning I was able to get the key to my apartment! So I was finally able to pick that up and drop all of my luggage off. My place is about a 15 minute walk from the action downtown but it is still considered on campus. When you walk in there is a narrow hallway that leads to the living room on one side and small kitchen and living area on the other side, all shared areas. There are 8 of us living in the apartment; there is a spiral staircase up with 4 bedrooms and a shower and toilet. And then there is a spiral staircase down a level with the same set up. Ive met two of my roommates, a girl from Taiwan and a boy native to Belgium. They were friendly and it will be interesting to get to know them. The thing about the housing here is that the exchange students are not together; we are kind of thrown into random apartments with full time students.
Another student from USC, my friend Paul, is also studying here and he arrived today. So Michael is his buddy as well, and he made it to LLN and also got his key. So we did a little bit of walking and then went to the orientation for school this afternoon (yes I am here for school haaaa). They did a little tour after the orientation and I went along with Paul and also met the other USC student here, Savannah. It was nice to see some familiar faces! Throughout the afternoon we ended up meeting a handful of other exchange students which was really exciting. I am surprised by the language barrier here, it has been hard for me to keep up with the French and I was so excited to meet some people who spoke the same English as I do. So I now have a bunch of Canadian friends and a friend from Sweden! They seem like such great people and I am so excited to get to know all of them more.
I am settling into sleep now after an exhausting three days. My life is finally starting to have some normalcy and I am glad for that. I still don’t think it’s hit me how long I will actually be here! I’m trying to pace myself so I don’t completely crash haha. More updates and pictures to come soon 🙂