During my student years (2005), I participated in the student program ERASMUS in Belgium. So I decided to give you an insight into living for 3 months in Belgium. The land of overindulging in chocolate and Goufres. The ERASMUS (European Region Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students) program is a student exchange program in the European Union.
Why Belgium???? First of all, It’s in the middle of Europe, so I hoped to travel to Belgium and the surrounding countries. Also, I had excellent references for their internships in the area of physiotherapy. Later I discovered some of the famous things about Belgium: good reasons to visit it, chocolate, Goufres, bicycles, and Bruges.
It was a stimulating experience, first of all, living in a foreign country and not speaking the language well. Second, it was the first time I was living alone. So it was exciting and frightening at the same time.
Regarding the internship itself, I didn’t learn new techniques or skills. Still, I was surprised by the organization of the hospital and the fact that physiotherapists were specific to a particular area. At that time in Portugal, physiotherapists were generalists. The same physiotherapist treated neurological patients and orthopedic patients. Nowadays, it doesn’t work like that anymore, at least in hospitals or big clinics.
Belgium has two official languages, French and Dutch, and in a small part German. There are two distinct regions: the north, Flanders, is mostly Dutch-speaking. The south, Wallonia. French-speaking. Brussels is bilingual, so a lot of people speak both languages. Street signs are in both languages.
Belgium had a turbulent history. And was dominated by many other countries like France, Spain, Germans, Netherlands. It gained its independence in 1830 but was the battlefield of Europe during world war I and II.
Interesting facts about Belgium
- Flandres and the French are always against each other. Like two brothers that are always arguing;
- Besides that, they are a very tolerant country. There is a wide diversity of nationalities, Arabs, Africans, and Chinese, that live in Belgium.
- They are very responsible and conscious people. I noticed that everybody paid for their ticket on the metro and train, and there was barely any control over it.
- The country had a political crisis in 2010, and although having no official government for 541 days, the Belgium people carried on with their life and governed themselves.
- They take pride in being the Capital of the European Union, headquarters of EU institutions and NATO.
- Never tell a Belgian that Jacques Brel is French. They will be offended. He is Belgian.
- They love beer, really, really love it. In Belgium, there exists a big of Beers. In a pub, you will always find a menu with 100 types of beer. And any time of the day is a good time to drink beer. Morning, lunch, afternoon, you name it!
- Bicycles!! They love bicycles and use them a lot to go nearly everywhere. I turned to love going to the internship by bicycle;
- Chocolate! They know how to do it right and have the best chocolate in the world. They are a significant producer of chocolate;
- Belgium is also the land of comic books. Tintin, Lucky luck, The Smurfs, and Spirou were all written by Belgian authors;
- In Brussels, nearly every metro stop has a theme. It’s pretty interesting to stop and appreciate different spots.
Best and Worst things about doing Erasmus in Belgium
- Bicycles, going to the hospital by bike and discovering the city by bike.
- First experience living abroad and far from home.
- Learning and experiencing new adventures.
- Having to speak a different language can be frustrating and fun at the same time.
- Traveling to Luxembourg, Amsterdam, and Paris.
- Sometimes you don’t find people to who you relate.
- Gaining weight;
- Not being prepared to live far away from home.
- Being far from Jorge.
But in the end, I took pride in the experience and how I managed to live alone in a different country with a different language…
Where to go in Belgium
The capital of Belgium and the European Union has plenty to keep you entertained. One of the things to do in Brussels is to visit the headquarters of the European Union.
The main attractions are situated in the city center, the Grand Place, the town hall, and the king’s house. Nearby is the statue of Everard’s Serclaes, who was a local hero. It is said if you rub the statue, it gives good luck.
One of the other best things to do in Brussels is to visit the Manneken-Pis statue. The statue itself isn’t that great, but it symbolizes the city!
At first, a fountain played an essential role in the former drinking water distribution. The legend says the statue is a representation of a boy who was spying on the soldiers that were attacking the city. He urinated on the burning fuse they were planning to detonate and thus saved the city.
The statue is often dressed in costumes.
The Atomium was constructed for the world fair in 1958. Nowadays, it serves as a place to do exhibitions. It is impressive, 102 m high, and each sphere is 18 m in diameter. It is very futuristic. It seems like you are inside a space station.
Visit the Royal Saint Hubert Galleries, home to lively cafès and one-of-a-kind boutiques, and the museum of comic books, the Belgian Comic Strip Center.
Bruges, located in the north of Belgium, seems to be taken from a fairy tale. All the buildings are of medieval architecture, similar in size and harmony.
The river and the canals between the houses give it a romantic look. It’s a place to take beautiful pictures. Bruges is well known for its lace, so don’t forget to window shop seeing. They are breathtaking.
One of Bruges’ main attractions is the church of Our Lady, which has one of the highest brick towers in the world (122 m). Inside the church, you can find the sculpture: Madonna and Child by Michelangelo.
Click to check a full Bruges travel guide.
I highly recommend you to see the movie In Bruges. It’s a fantastic movie, and one of the things that make it great is the scenery and cinematography of Bruges.
Ghent has a fantastic castle with a bridge. It was a lovely day trip and worth it for anyone visiting Belgium… We recommend reading this complete guide to Ghent if you plan a longer trip.
Still, wondering if you should visit Ghent or Bruges? Our friends from “our escape clause” have the answer…
Antwerp is one of Belgium’s most important cities. In this Flanders city, most people speak Dutch.
You can find the diamond quarter, the workshops that polish diamonds, diamond brokers, and merchants. You can visit the diamond museum. Nearby exists the Jewish quarter. Antwerp became a significant center for Orthodox Jews, usually associated with the diamond industry.
Antwerp also holds one of the most important universities in Europe.
What to eat in Belgium
Chocolate, chocolate, and more chocolate… When you get tired of chocolate, you have Goufre (waffles) and then Belgium fries…
Being under the domain of Spain (who brought chocolate to Europe) and later on having Congo as a colony influenced the culture of chocolate and helped the creation of the perfect praline.
Some of the best-known chocolate makers come from Belgium, like Côte d’Or, Godiva, Guylian, Neuhaus, and my favorite, Leonidas.
There are different chocolaterie throughout Belgium, but most are situated by the city center, around the Grand Place. You can just enter the different chocolaterie and ask to try the different pralines or truffles. In Bruges, there is even a chocolate museum.
There are two kinds of Goufres (Waffles): the Liege Goufres and the Brussels Goufres. We liked more the Liege Goufres!
You can Goufres everywhere, the train stations, the streets, the gardens or parks. The smell is the most lovely thing. Served still hot with chocolate, cream, fruit, you name it.
Frites (fries), never call them french fries. They are Belgium’s national dish! “les frites’ were wrongly given the name ‘French Fries’ by American servicemen when they arrived in Belgium at the end of the First World War.
They are the best street food! The Belgians don’t consider them a side dish, but a dish per see.
They are made with a specific potato, at least 10 mm thick, fluffy on the inside, and crispy on the outside. They are fried twice.
They are sold along the road as a snack. And you can eat them with different sauces, mayo, ketchup, mustard, or more exotic, like tartar sauce or aioli.
Mussels are a typical Belgium dish. You will find several restaurants to eat mussels in the city center of Brussels.
During my stay in Belgium, I had the opportunity to eat lots of kebabs!
They were cheap, and I didn’t have much cash like any other student. As I referred, Brussels had plenty of different ethnicities, including Turks meaning delicious Kebabs:)
In hindsight, Belgium is a paradise for foodies, particularly Brussels. However, like any other place, you need to know the best locations if you really want to enjoy real Belgian food in Brussels.