My Experience in Leuven, Belgium - by Anna
Why did you choose to go to Leuven, Belgium?
I chose to come and study here for several reasons. One was that Leuven is in Belgium, one of the most central countries for travelling in Europe. It´s also a university city - the university here is very prestigious and is one of the best is Europe since the classes are taught in English. Finally, friends highly recommended it to me. If I´m honest, I was torn deciding between Ghent and Leuven. After reading the comments on erasmusu.com from other students I decided on Leuven - I´m not sure how to describe it, it just gave me good vibes. Hand on heart, I couldn´t be more in love with this city.
How long did your scholarship last? How much were you paid?
This year they´ve changed the legislation, so you can now only take part in an Erasmus+ exchange of five months´s duration. You can go for a whole year, but you´ll only receive financial support for one semester. In addition to taking up my place offered to me by Erasmus+ (which paid me 250 euros per month), I applied for two other scholarships: the MECD (offered by the Spanish Ministry of Education, which gave me 100 euros a month extra) and one specific to my autonomous community in Spain (the Agaur scholarship, through which I received 200 euros per month). I ended up then receiving 550 euros per month for five months, so some 2750 euros in total.
What´s the student life like in Leuven?
The student life here is very active, Leuven being almost entirely a university city and meaning that the majority of people who live here are young people. The university organizes lots of activities for students, and there are also lots of organisations that run activities and trips for exchange students. There are lots of parties during the week and the main square with pubs is always full. You won´t get bored here. You can also attend a broad range of cultural events, from expositions to free concerts.
Would you recommend the city and University of Leuven to other students?
Definitely! It´s a very charming city. The people who live here are generally really lovely, and you can´t help but feel at home. Since it´s a small city, it´s easy to get around by bike and everything is nearby. In terms of the university, it´s very good. They´re very devoted to their students, and because of this they offer many free services: for example, a housing service, a sports centres (Sports KU), an incredible study area where there are rooms for studying alone or for group work, cafeterias where the food is good value for money, and much more.
What´s the food like in Leuven?
If you´re used to a Mediterranean diet, the food here won´t seem like anything special. Personally, I´m not that impressed by it. Frituur (chips which are a lifesaver after a night of partying) and meat stews are very popular, as is adding sauces to everything. Another traditional dish is croquettes (filled with cheese or with seafood). You can find everything in the supermarkets though, and if you like, you can eat just in the same way you do at home.
Did you find it hard to find somewhere to live in Leuven?
Not really. It seems harder than it is - I searched for everything on the internet. If you´re hoping to live in student halls, I´ll tell you now that it´s very hard to get a place in the ones associated with the university (supposed to be ´public`). But if you look hard, you can find many other private halls or rooms in houses (kot) where you´ll be sharing a kitchen and a bathroom. I stayed in the Goede Herder Leuven halls (owned by the company StudentVille, which has two other halls in Leuven). It wasn´t hard for me to get a room there - I just sent an email and they told me they had rooms available. I ended up getting a shared room to save money. Look at the webpage of the university housing servive (KU Leuven), because it has useful information on how to choose and look for accommodation. Above all, I recommend taking your time with it and if you can, coming to Leuven beforehand to look at different rooms. It won´t be too stressful if you arrive without anywhere to stay though - you might be too late for halls, but there are always lots of kots available.
How expensive is everyday life in Leuven?
I would say you spend from 800 to 900 euros per month (if you want to have an active life, e. g. go out every night, buy drinks while you´re out, buy decent food at the supermarket and do some travelling, etc. ). It´s possible to live much more cheaply though. The important thing is not to panic if during the first month you end up spending lots of money, since you´ll think you need to buy absolutely everything from scratch, especially the things you take for granted at home.
How are you finding the language? Have you signed up to a language course at the university?
Here in Leuven, you´ll get along fine speaking English. If you end up visiting Brussels though or want to travel to the French part, it would be useful to know some French. I didn´t do a course at the university because I already have quite a high level of English (level C1), and thought I didn´t really need to. If you think your English is rusty, I´d recommend doing a course. That being said, you´ll learn lots just by being there.
What´s the cheapest way of getting to Leuven from your home city?
I flew to Brussels Zaventhem (the main airport) which is 25 minutes away from Leuven. You can catch a train from the airport to Leuven for 8, 50 euros, but if you´re laden down with heavy bags and on top of that don´t know the city well, the other option is to get a taxi there. Look it up on the internet in advance, as there are some six-seater taxis you could share with others and get them to drop you off near where you´ll be living.
What are the best places for partying in Leuven?
There´s a square called Oude Markt where there´s loads of bars to have a drink and dance in. My favourites are Cafe Belge, Giraff, Revue and The Rector. There´s also the FakBars, which are bars associated with the different university faculties where you can buy very cheap drinks - all the local students go there. You´re sure to discover them all for yourself though. I´d also recommend going to the STUK café and to Blauwer Kater.
What about eating out in Leuven? What are your favourite places?
I didn´t do much eating out, but I did see that there was a large variety of restaurants and cafés. De Werf is an informal and cheap restaurant to go out for dinner to. Quetzal is also a local gem for those times when you´re hankering for some chocolate.
What does Leuven have to offer in terms of culture?
There´s the culture centre STUK which always organizes events, art expositions and puts on international films in their own languages.
Do you have any advice for future students coming to Leuven?
Make sure you don´t miss the orientation days the university organizes at the start of every semester! They´ll be key to you adapting to life in Leuven. Above all, try to make friends with people from all over the world, because you´ll see there´ll be lots of Spaniards there. Consider that one of the advantages of going on an Erasmus exchange is immersing yourself in new cultures and getting to know people of different nationalities. It can be difficult to build up friendships with these people since it´s always going to be easier to bond with people who speak your own language, but try not to be embarrassed though and spend time with a variety of people. In my case, I made friends with Spaniards and international people. It all boils down to being enthusiastic. Try and take advantage of all the activities the university organizes, too, and keep active on social networks so you can keep up to date on events happening locally. Don´t miss the Cantus, whatever you do! Just enjoy everything that this marvellous city has to offer.
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