Second time around…

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Returning to Leuven at the beginning of February was quite the shock.


Almost none of my old friends are here (apart from a few British students from other universities who are still hanging on in there), I was not in Leuven for Orientation Week for the second semester and there are significantly fewer arrivals. Along with the sub-zero temperatures and travelling home and Germany for a number of weeks at a time while I still did not have a set timetable, I haven’t really had the opportunity to go out and meet many of the new people in Leuven. Instead it has been a lot easier to stick to my old friends in Leuven and stay in bed with Belgian Netflix (which has a significantly better choice of shows than in England).

Having done very little, apart from try to organise my very, very full schedule, I thought I should talk about my plans for the next semester and how things have changed now that I feel comfortable living in Leuven, Belgium.

1 / Visit friends from Term 1 and hope they still remember me!



I’ve already visited London twice now to visit friends I hadn’t seen since summer last year, and I’ve visited Frankfurt as well. There are plans in the works to visit Berlin, and I was so excited that a few of my friends from last term ended up visiting!


Staying in contact with friends both from Durham and Erasmus has involved weekly updates, snapchat groups and vague plans to visit as soon as possible; the old Leuven gang have been severely missed by those of us left here but it’s been great to hear about their new internships and trips across Europe and the US.

2 / Fewer exams, please.

I have taken two non-law modules this term in literature and sociology; I love writing papers and I love the two subjects, law modules are very harshly graded here (as are all subjects to be completely honest) and I felt like I might need a break from my other 6 law modules this term.

A number of my courses this term require me to write a paper project, rather than write exams. This is very common for the open modules available in Leuven, so it’s a mystery to me how I ended up with 100% exams last term. This time round I’ve tried to space out the work and stress myself out just a tiny bit less during exam season.

3 / Act like I know what I’m doing.

Now I’ve been here a term I feel like I have just enough knowledge about the culture, the cities and the language to blag my way through the next term. I don’t need to set up a bank account or register, so I can really focus on pretending like I have my life together in Belgium.


Everyone came out for the one sunny day so far this term

Here’s a few pointers from someone who has only lived here 5 months now and seems to think she’s a local: ‘dankuwel’ and ‘alstublieft’ are the most helpful phrases to know in Flemish, the best tourist city in Belgium is Ghent not Brussels and fries are better with mayo than ketchup. I feel like I don’t know much, but I know the important things… notably how good the Belgian’s fries and waffles are.

4 / Try more beer.

I’m still trying to get through all the different types of Belgian beer… I have a sneaking suspicion I wont be able to get through the 400+ beers on offer but here’s to trying.


Home for Christmas

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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.IMG_8965

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.

The worst:

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. Saying goodbyeIMG_9339

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!

The best:

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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?


Belgian bureaucracy? Completed it mate!

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At the 10 week mark, with 3 weeks left until I’m home for Christmas, I finally mastered Belgian bureaucracy. Belgium is notorious for its excessively complicated administrative procedures, something I was unaware of until arriving here in September. You might be wondering why I chose to write a whole article on this?

Firstly, I truly think I need to vent about my battle with the paperwork. Second, it might actually be useful. Thirdly, I have far too many anecdotes about my personal struggle with administration to pass up the opportunity to poke fun at my incompetency.

There is a very specific order to the registration procedures, so without the previous step you can’t ‘level up’. It’s absolute murder and trying to complete them all in the exact order needed has been a headache from start to finish. Here are all the things you need to do upon arrival in Belgium, which I have only just managed to complete:

A compulsory enrolment session which left me traumatised

At Durham University, registration is online and relatively simple. There is the opportunity to take a photo and order your campus card to be ready upon arrival. In Belgium they like to do things a little differently… We attended a lecture which ended with half of the lecture hall  queuing to use a single printer to photocopy their documentation, while the other half queued to hand in their documents and have a photo taken for their campus card. I stood there for about two hours as one of the lucky bunch who had brought a photocopy of their ID and admission letter with them.

The printer broke. Anarchy ensued. I was still waiting for a photo to be taken. The printer was fixed. More queuing. I finally reached the front. In a second the whole traumatic experience was over. A sigh of relief.


Then I was told I would have to wait a week to collect my campus card and bus pass from the university hall in the centre of town, and I decided I needed a cup of tea and a nap to recover.

Picking up your student packet

This is pretty self-explanatory. It contains your campus card and other documents which have vital information needed for your registration at the town hall, which will affect your ability to open a Belgian bank account…

Pick it up a week or so after the registration procedure. Apply for modules, complete your learning agreement, set up your own timetable and choose exam slots for the whole year. It’s a lot of trial and error, and going back and forth between your home university and KU Leuven. Proceed to next steps.

Running across town to register at Leuven City Hall

For this you need to have accommodation and proof of a rental contract, documents of registration, a passport photo, a letter of admission, etc. Prior to this, I made many failed attempts at opening a bank account, which I will elaborate on in the next saga. For now, just know that you need an appointment and you must be there within 15 minutes of the beginning of the appointment.

I accidentally went to the wrong City Hall. Leuven has two – and despite being warned multiple times not to go to the Old City Hall in the city centre… I went to the Old City Hall in the city centre. Needless to say, I was not amused when I found out my appointment was in the new City Hall of Leuven, which was now a 20 minute walk away.

I had an appointment to open a bank account the next day and was all too aware that I needed to have a specific form from the registration procedure at City Hall, so I power walked to my appointment, arrived there with a few seconds to spare and collapsed in a chair in the waiting room. The lady who greeted me there was lovely, and stopped me from falling into complete and utter despair at the whole ordeal. I was finally registered as a resident of Leuven, and just had to wait for a Belgian police officer to check that I lived at my address. (Yes, it really is as weird as it sounds.)

Belgian banking: a three-part saga


A bank account can only be opened after your arrival in Belgium. This means that the appointments for setting up bank accounts are in high demand during the first months at KU, and once I’d managed to get round to it I was the last in line and there were only appointments for a month’s time available in the branches in Leuven. Not wanting to wait around, and thinking I was being very clever, I booked an appointment in Brussels and headed there one morning during orientation week, having been far too optimistic about when I was going to be an awake and functioning human-being after going to a Law Faculty social. I arrived at the bank and was told I was only able to open a bank account in the town or city where I studied. I returned to Leuven and tried again…

My second attempt at opening a bank account was more than a month after my first attempt. I had booked an appointment and patiently waited for it to come around. I brought every possible piece of documentation I thought I might need, but alas… it was not enough. I was told that I need proof of residence (apparently not the same as a tenancy agreement) which was only provided by the above registration procedure at City Hall. Needless to say, the appointment was not successful and I returned home to despair a little more.

Finally, after (running to) and registering at City Hall I managed to book an appointment at a bank in Leuven. You need all of your documents, even your National Insurance number… It was a short process and I was just very relieved that I wasn’t told I needed another mythical document to open the account. I had finally found my way out of the Belgian bureaucratic maze.

In conclusion, start everything as soon as you get there and plan your appointments in advance. Do it in the right order and don’t try to get creative with opening a bank account. I’m finally settled in here, an official resident of Leuven and student of the Law Faculty. If I can do it, anyone can!

7 best things about my month in belgium

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They always say the first month is the hardest. Granted, they are usually talking about newborns, but the phrase still applies here. I’m five weeks or so into my year abroad and to be completely honest, adjusting to life here has been harder than I expected. I arrived here in September, started lectures two weeks later, and only now can I finally navigate my way home from a night out without having to use google maps.

23032730_10210557223147917_5279125630169934095_nDespite the slightly comic anecdotes I have about the struggles of shopping in a foreign language, my near death experience in a laundrette or greeting friends with two kisses on the cheek, I think I’ve finally (sort of) got the hang of things here.

It’s flown by and I’ve been so distracted by Belgium that I’ve only just come to the shock realisation that it’s called a year of studying abroad for a reason. With this came the knowledge that I need to slow down a little if I want to pass the year, so I thought I should take the time to reminisce on the freedom of the first month here by saying my seven favourite things I’ve done and seen in Belgium so far!


1 . A walking tour of Leuven.

Meeting at the city hall, our guide showed us around the historical squares in Leuven, the library, the cultural centre and most importantly, the pubs and bars (her words, not mine).

2 . Eaten (a lot of ) Belgian food.

Fries and mayo is the Belgian food of choice. This combination confused me at first, but now it is a way of life. Belgian waffles (and occasionally pancakes) have become another staple of my diet.

3 . A boat ride in Ghent.

We might have been very cold and the weather might have been very miserable, but a boat tour where the driver told us that the last time the castle had been stormed was by drunk students who occupied it for a couple of days before the beer ran out was pretty entertaining.

4 . Going to the Erasmus Student Network’s events.

Some of the themed parties have been a little quirky, but they have been good for meeting a number of other international students. Most of the friends I’ve made have been through ESN student events and parties – so, as weird as it might have been having to introduce yourself to strangers on a pub crawl, run around the city completing group challenges and attend traffic light partys, I’ve really enjoyed it so far.

5 . Visiting Antwerp.

6 . Attending lectures.

The courses I’m taking are a little wacky, and a bit out there. But the fact I’m expanding my studies beyond law has really made this year interesting. I’m studying religion, philosophy, French and literature alongside law – the extra year has made it possible, and even made me enthusiastic enough to attend my 9am lectures.

7 . Experiencing the Belgian beer culture.

It’s only been 5 weeks but now I don’t even think before ordering myself a Stella. We’re trying to tick every beer we can find off the list by the end of the year – if it sounds impossible that’s because it is. But we’re still trying…




how to (barely) survive orientation week

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On the day of my departure I boarded the Eurostar, sat at my window seat and waited for the train to leave St Pancras. Instead of admiring the French countryside speeding past my window as I waited to arrive in Brussels, my primary thought had been “Did I remember to pack my toothbrush?” (I didn’t.)


The journey was an interesting one: I only finished packing 15 minutes before I had to leave to catch my train, the journey to St Pancras was spent reassuring my mother that yes, at the age of 20 years old I am able to travel by myself and only a few minutes before departure did I manage to lug my suitcases onto the correct platform. It was slightly chaotic, thought notably without any major mishaps. These seemed to begin during orientation week.


I am particularly prone to making mistakes, so the initial week of my year abroad has been no different. Speaking from personal experience, here is a list of five things not to do prior to starting your year abroad in Belgium:

1. Don’t leave packing ’til the last minute.

If it seems like an overwhelming task to pack everything up to be shipped off for a year abroad, thats probably because it is. It might seem blindingly obvious that you should not pack all of your belongings needed for a whole year in Europe the night before, but alas I never learn. At 2am on the morning I was travelling, I found myself frantically googling “Will I need my food processor?”, something you would find only a totally underprepared exchange student doing. Help yourselves out – avoid the unnecessary stress and pack your bags at least a week or two in advance!

2. Keep track of essentials!

Don’t lose your phone! Obvious? Yes. Highly unlikely to occur if you are not a total scatterbrain? Also yes. Did this happen to me? Unfortunately.


Being in a foreign city without google maps has shown me how dependant I am on the internet for everything: navigation, registering for my courses, knowing the orientation day timetable, communicating with those back home as well as everyone I’ve met here. After we had a pizza to commiserate my loss, I walked home and was off the grid for 24 hours (until I very luckily had my phone returned to me!) Travelling might be frazzling, but keep track of your essentials such as your passport and phone.

3. Do not believe the myth that because you are only across the Channel, you won’t struggle with the cultural differences as much.

I was aware that the language would be different, and the food and the people. I just thought that as a European way of life I would understand it fairly easily and adapt to it. I was very much mistaken.


I have probably almost collided with every one of these bikes on my walk to lectures.

Belgians go home from university every weekend to visit their families. The university has ‘kotnet’ which is not as simple to sign up for as eduroam in England – it’s taken me five days to register, activate my number for internet, get my head around it, install a router, and I still do not have wifi in my room.  Everyone rides bikes. You’ll get almost run over at least five times during your first week. The shops are closed on a Sunday, and close at 5pm everyday. Sometimes I feel like I’m in the twilight zone.


Overall, just be aware that you will encounter a very different culture on your year abroad no matter where you go, and you’ll be confused at first but ultimately end up loving it – after all how could anyone not when the Belgians are famous for their waffles, fries and beer!

4. Read your housing contract.

Please. Don’t turn up and realise that your room doesn’t come with a mattress.  Just read it – you’ll make your orientation week go a whole lot smoother if you turn up with everything you need.

5. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there.

Everyone will tell you that a year abroad is a difficult experience. I was told multiple times before going how lonely and stressed I would be, how difficult it was to make friends and how alienated they felt living in another country. I haven’t experienced any of these problems so far, but maybe it’s just because I’m on a freshers week high, because we had an orientation week to help settle us in or because the number of international students in KU Leuven is extremely high. Regardless of the reasons, I am really happy that I took a chance and applied to Erasmus on a whim.