I had been wanting to go to a Northern European country for a while, so for Spring semester of my sophomore year I decided to go to Belgium, more specifically the city of Leuven which is a 30 minute train ride from Brussels. I chose this particular place to live for 4 months for three main reasons.
First of all, it was a country in the North of Europe which I knew would have a drastically different culture from Southern Europe were I was born and raised. The first thing that stood out to me on arrival was that everyone speaks multiple languages, even the elderly. They speak Dutch, French, and German (the three national languages) depending on the area of the country. Plus they all speak English, and some even Spanish. Then the food! I had the best beer stew of my life in a little restaurant in Leuven that brews their own beer from a nearby building and they transport it to the restaurant through an outside pipe. I also tried the famous Belgian waffles and Belgian fries, but unfortunately I have never been a fan of either so I’ll leave the judgment for those who enjoy it. Additionally, the beer culture is really big in Belgium, it’s in everything. One of the most peculiar and fun experiences I had there was the Cantus, which is a Belgian University tradition revolving around songs, rules, and beer. I cannot describe it well enough so you’ll have to see for yourself. Lastly, even though the people tend to keep to themselves when you first meet them, after a while they really were some of the nicest people I’ve met. Although that may have been influenced by the fact that Leuven is essentially a college town.
The second reason for my choice was Belgium’s central location which allowed me and some friends I made in Leuven to travel all over Europe. We spent a little over a week traveling from Prague to Vienna to Bratislava to Salzburg to Budapest. All for under five hundred dollars. We stayed in hostels and took buses or trains between each city and the remaining time was for seeing the cities and eating all that delicious food.
The third reason was based on the program I did. I was part of the EuroScholars program which allows for U.S. students to spend a semester in Europe participating in an ongoing research in Europe. When I applied I had to look at the projects available and my favorite one, where I ended up learning so much and having the best lab experience so far, happened to be in Belgium.
One last thing I will say about studying abroad which was probably one of my favorites, was meeting people from all over the world. I stayed in an apartment building where I had my own room, but shared one kitchen, three toilets, and two showers with 13 other people. Hearing that may sound overwhelming and not ideal but I promise I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I’m still in contact with the people I was closest to and just for the memories we created, the semester was well worth it.
Catarina Mendes Felgueira is majoring in Biology (pre-professional). She spent a semester studying abroad and doing research in Leuven, Belgium through the ISA EuroScholars program. Catarina had the following to share about her time abroad, “You’ll have adventures you never thought you would and you won’t want to leave. This is the cheesy truth!”
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