Adjusting to Brussels was definitely a shock at first. Everything is so different than what I am used to in Canada, but I’ve learned to love it. I live in a great apartment in a great location, just a five minute walk from the school, and it’s close to all the shops and bars.
The language at first was hard to get used to. I was very overwhelmed at the beginning because it made me realize how much I still have to learn about the language. I’m no where close to being fluent. Since I was so overwhelmed, I chickened out and only ended up taking one French language course this semester. Living in this environment has made me realize that the only way to improve my language skills is to completely immerse myself. It’s difficult to do when you could get by just speaking English, but it’s something you’ll have to force yourself to do if you want to improve.
All my close friends are international students, so we all speak English together. In order to try and improve my French, I’ve joined a club called Cercle Solvay which is the business school’s “circle.” Every faculty has a circle and they set up events, trips and networking events and socials. There are also a lot of international events in Brussels. People gather at a bar and try to speak French. I’ve been to one of these events, but it’s really just a bunch of foreign people butchering the language. Trust me, though, any exposure is good exposure.
As for school, it’s much more laid back compared to Carleton. This semester I have classes once a day, except for Monday and Thursday where I have two classes. So far, there have been so many holidays in the last two months that there has been one week where all my classes took place. I’ve found that the classes I’m taking in English are easier since English isn’t most people’s first language. More time is taken to complete simple questions and to gain an understanding of material. And, because English isn’t anyone’s first language, I’ve been able to practice my French within my groups for projects.
Université libre de Bruxelles doesn’t offer residence to its exchange students—but don’t let this discourage you from applying. There are tons of great housing options that you can find online beforehand. You can choose to live in an off campus residence or in a shared house/apartment. It just depends on how much you’re willing to spend. I chose to live in an apartment because it was closer to the school, I’m able to cook my own meals in a semi-private kitchen, and it was cheaper. In Belgium, a bedroom within a shared apartment is called a “kot,” so when you are searching, that is a term you’ll typically see. Don’t worry that you’ll get a foldable bed—“kot” means a room. I used the website Brukot, but there are also many other websites you can use.
Larisa is a Bachelor of International Business student who is currently studying abroad in Brussels, Belgium.