School of Economics
Università degli Studi di Padova
September 2015 – January 2016
“The “great beauty” of the Erasmus is this strong brotherhood feeling you share with your university/adventure mates, it’s about realizing how cultural and linguistic differences fade to give way to friendship.”
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Which tips would you give to someone who is looking for a house or an accommodation in Brussels? What is the average monthly rent?
If compared to other European capital cities, Brussels is relatively small (around 1 million inhabitants), but it’s still Belgium’s capital and, for this reason, it’s not easy finding a room. My suggestion is to make an early non-stop research on the internet websites. First of all, have a look at the Facebook pages written in French (BXL à louer is the most popular one), then at the websites with rental ads for students, such as Brukot or Housing Anywhere. Pick out the best flats according to their price/quality ratio and, in order to avoid bad surprises at your arrival, arrange a meeting to see them. At the beginning I suggest you to stay in a hostel or in an Airbnb. That’s what I did and it turned out being the best solution to settle in and to get emotional support during my research! Consider that in any area of the city you won’t spend less than € 400 for a single room. So, be careful to everything that has a low price!
In general, how would you describe the cost of living in Brussels?
Before leaving, everybody told me that in general Belgium is expensive. But, according to my experience, once the rent is paid you won’t spend that much money and the quality of your life will be rather good. To give an example, the yearly public transport pass is incredibly cheap (especially if compared to how much we pay in Italy: € 120!). With only € 5 students can travel by train all around Belgium.
Then, there are many supermarkets suitable for all budgets and tastes. However, restaurants are far from being cheap and beers too.
Was the language a problem? Have you ever had problems in interacting with local people? Did you attend any specific course?
Belgium is a bilingual country: the population is divided into Francophones and Flemings (who speak a Danish dialect) and then there’s also a German-speaking minority in the South. However, in Brussels it’s French that is used as lingua franca. You could expect English to be popular too, but it’s not, not even among university students. So, French is the key to a better and easier integration. I had studied French only at middle school, but in a month or so I was able to communicate properly, thanks to my flatmates and to a language course I took in my city (Padova) before leaving.
Was it difficult to adapt to Brussels’ lifestyle (e.g. cooking, public transport etc.)?
Absolutely not! The local kitchen makes everybody happy with chocolate, beer, french fries and waffles. Once you are back home in your country you’ll (neary) regret having left Brussels. The lifestyle is the same of any other European city, also for what concerns timetables.
List the 3 main problems you faced during your Erasmus in Brussels:
- I must confess: my flatmates. Belgium is a strange country and so its inhabitants are. Or, at least, the ones I met.
- The terror threat. The city issued an alert after Paris’ attacks of 13th November 2015 and imposed a lockdown for five days: the subway was closed, the univeristy parties and the firework show for the New Year’s Eve were cancelled, the streets were full of soldiers and all our relatives were extremely scared. They’ve been hard days I don’t wish to anybody, but this threat should not stop your enthusiasm for leaving and for testing yourself abroad.
- Last but not least: the hairdresser! If you don’t want to be victim of creative-cut and wild hair-drying traumas, which will make you prefer hiding under a hood and sitting at the bottom of the bus, keep on cutting your hair in your motherland.
The 3 best aspects of your Erasmus in Brussels:
- Trips: thanks to Megabus, Flixbus and Ryanair you will have the chance to visit all the surrounding countries at a very low price and in a short time. Indeed, Brussels is right in the centre of Europe and connections are terrific both for trains and for airplanes. Want some ideas? Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam, Cologne, Luxembourg… And right before the end of my Erasmus, I made myself a gift and I took a return flight to Copenhagen at only € 35. Not to tell you about Belgium: the Flanders is one of the most evocative regions I’ve ever been to in Europe. Those who love art, architecture and design will fall in love with all those small cities, such as Brugge, Gent and Antwerpen.
- The atmosphere in Brussels. It’s not Paris (and it doesn’t want to), but it knows how to steal your heart with its grandiose squares, picturesque alleys, hidden cafes, vintage shops, art exhibitions, Sunday markets and delicious food stalls on the corner of the streets. Not to mention the extreme kindness of Belgians. They always try to understand your “italianized” French, whether to give you directions or just to chat with you outside a pub in the middle of the night. They make you feel that, all in all, you are not so far from home…
- People. It’s the friends you meet on your path that make your experience meaningful. The “great beauty” of the Erasmus is this strong brotherhood feeling you share with your university/adventure mates. It’s about realizing how cultural and linguistic differences fade to give way to friendship. You’ll see for yourself!
3 tips you would give to those who are going to begin their Erasmus in Brussels:
- Does it always rain in Belgium? No, it’s an urban legend! Although it was winter; raincoats, umbrellas and stuff like this have been almost useless. The climate was mild and I’ve used my thick winter coat just one time, more as a decoration I must say. It snowed only one day and in the most inappropriate moment, that is, when I was going to the airport to come back to Italy, with 35 kilos of bags and backpacks full of unmatched socks and books I would never have opened again.
- Be accurate when choosing your mobile company and always keep an eye on your monthly expense. It may happen that you are charged inexplicable amounts of money…
- Find the time to explore Brussels’ areas, to visit its museums and to lose yourself in its boundless urban parks (my favourite one is Bois de la Cambre, in autumn it’s like a fairy-tale). I don’t remember when and where, but once I read: “Paris will make you a Parisian, London will make you a Londoner, but Brussels will make you be yourself.”
Would you suggest Brussels as an Erasmus destination?
Actually, Brussels is not Belgium’s most famous university city (Leuven and Gent, a few kilometers far from Brussels, are the true university centres), but there’s a lot of night-life and there are always cultural events that make it an attractive destination. However, it must be said that it is still a capital so it may be a bit dispersive.
And, if you had the chance, would you move to Brussels?
I would mainly do it for one specific reason: the European institutions, which are the heart of the city and offer great job opportunities to young people coming from all Europe. Apart from it, the quality of life is not particularly high: a lot of traffic, not too efficient public transport… Which are characteristics that my ideal city doesn’t have. Anyway, I could do it for a short period.
Say hello in the local language! 🙂