It’s been three months and finally it’s time to go home for Christmas. I feel similar to a child being taken home from nursery by their parents kicking and screaming that I do not want to go. This is not because I don’t miss home, or my mum’s cooking or a good apple crumble, because trust me, I do.
Rather, I realise that this week is the last before a period of revision, January exams and finally, saying goodbye to those international friends who are only staying for a term. It’s a pretty weird feeling being simultaneously homesick for England and desperate to stay in Leuven. So, in the spirit of ignoring the fact I’m going to have to say my farewells to Leuven and everyone in it for Christmas, I’m going to recount the best and the worst moments I’ve had during my first semester.
- Missing out
There is a constant fear of missing out. And the problem is it’s not just a fear, you really are missing out on everything going on at Durham. Seeing your friends on nights out and going on socials is not the best thing when you’ve got the English Channel between yourself and all the fun (though I did manage to fly home for Bailey Ball, so the FOMO wasn’t too bad.)
My fear of missing out almost stopped me from going on my year abroad, but I’m so glad it didn’t. Staying in contact with friends has been difficult at times. I try and remind myself that while I am missing out on that friend’s birthday meal or that big night out in Jimmy’s, I am having so many experiences here in Leuven which make missing out more than worth it.
- Not being able to navigate your way around a supermarket (or anything for that matter)
Sinaasappelsaft? Neushoorn? Meisjes? If you have no idea what any of these words mean, don’t be alarmed… neither do I. I regularly have no idea what is going on, and struggle with the language barrier quite a bit. Nothing is intelligible to me, and I can’t even pronounce the street on which I live. My misadventures trying to find peanut butter in the supermarkets of Leuven have been quite the saga.
- The workload
In Durham, I would have had fewer contact hours and no January exams. Instead of having a nice relaxing Christmas, I’ll be cramming for my written and oral examinations and probably questioning my sanity in choosing KU Leuven for a year abroad destination.
- Saying goodbye
I am not handling it well. Erasmus students either stay for a year or a term. So many of the friends I’vemade won’t be coming back after January exams, and some have even left for good. It’s been really sad saying my goodbyes to everyone, we had quite a few goodbye drinks and meals. It sucks, but having friends across the world is also pretty cool. I’ll (hopefully) be visiting them all very soon!
- Being able to travel around Europe so easily
I have visited all over Belgium including Gent, Bruges, Antwerp and Brussels. I recently visited Paris for the weekend for only 8 Euros. The travelling was one of my main motivations to go on Erasmus – and it has been one of the best things about this term.
- Getting experimental with your courses
I’ve learnt about philosophy and legal history, language and ethics and religion. In Leuven, I’ve managed to study a huge variety of subjects, including more theoretical modules to experiment with my interests for the year.
- Learning from other cultures
You wouldn’t believe how surrounding yourself with people from different cultures might change how you act. My American friends will try anything once. They always “rally” and I’ve managed to turn ‘just one beer at the pub’ into a night out too many times because of their (bad) influence. I try not to make generalisations, but my German friends are so direct. Where in England I would say “perhaps maybe you might want to…” they will literally just tell you to get your act together. I’ve been trying to copy them, even if most of the time I come across as a confused Brit who is ultimately just being slightly less apologetic than normal.
- Meeting new people
The best thing about this term has been the people I’ve met. I feel like I’ve known my friends for years even if it’s only been a couple of months. Just because they’re from a different country doesn’t mean you won’t find people who are your type of people. Finding a bunch of different nationalities who love to go out as much as you do, and have the same opinions or interests as you, has been surprisingly easy. Everyone says you’ll feel alone on your year abroad, but I haven’t… and who’s to say you won’t make a tonne of friends here instead?