What I’ve learnt from my time in Belgium

I was just in Belgium for a couple of days to pick up the last of my possessions from when I left early, and to get my departure forms signed. I must confess, I was a bit teary-eyed when I caught my last glimpses of Brussels as the train was pulling out. I grew to like that city a lot.

So I suppose I’ve officially finished. But hang on! I still need to do my work. I’m still in the process of organising all that stuff with my professors at home, but we’ve basically agreed I’ll write a few essays. I find that much, much more preferable to the oral exams that I would have done had I stayed in Liège.

It’s been a different experience, to say the least – and to be perfectly honest, it’s been mostly negative. It’s difficult to put this across when people (such as family friends) ask me how it’s all going, and I have to lie through my teeth for the sake of politeness. However, even at my lowest points during my semester in Liège, I’ve constantly thought, “These things are meant to try us”. I am making an effort to take each thing that went wrong and learn from it.

  • Get all the necessary admin (ERASMUS forms, etc) sorted out as soon as possible. Even if your host institution is unreliable and difficult to navigate, it’s the least you can do, and it means that your home university most likely won’t get on your back about mistakes that were out of your hands.
  • Try to interact with others as much as you can. This is really what made it all go wrong for me, I think. When I’m not in the company of people I already know and feel comfortable with, I can find this difficult. Add the factor of a foreign language or awkward situation and it makes it dozens of times worse. I wish I had persisted, though. It’s not that I didn’t try at all – that’s what made me so frustrated, I think. It’s just that sometimes shyness got the better of me and I missed opportunities to have what could have been great conversations. I think this could actually be more down to the French language, though, and the fact there’s the smallest part of me that still feels a bit self-conscious speaking it (I’ve never really had problems talking to people out of the blue in Germany, curiously).
  • Don’t think about people from your “old life” too much. Of course you’ll miss them, and it’s not to say you should cut all ties with them, or anything as drastic as that. It’s just that maybe don’t worry about immediately updating them on your every move. Keep long emails and Skype dates to a minimum, and you’ll appreciate them all the more. Try your best to live in the present.
  • Don’t get too anxious about the academic side of things. I spent most of the semester under the impression that my work done in Liège would count for 30% of my entire degree, and since I wasn’t really happy with my performance in second year, I wanted to study hard. It wasn’t until only a few weeks ago that I found out it was only 10% (not as small as it sounds, complicated system – but still). Obviously, don’t completely slack off, try and enjoy lessons, but it’s nothing to get amazingly stressed over. Unless you’re doing presentations in front of the class. That’s scary.
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff. The biggest error I made was probably having all these big hopes about it all, thinking it was going to be perfect and amazing. And I think that for this reason, I very much took it to heart when something went wrong. But you must accept that bad stuff will happen, by your own doing or not. Everything won’t be great just because you’re abroad. As my friend Sarah said, “It’s just like life… but it happens to be in another country”.

As for the positive things: One thing I can say is that my French skills have improved very much. I can breeze through the average novel (even if I don’t recognise every single word), whereas before I would take a while taking in what was on the page. To expand on what I was saying before, French pronunciation is notoriously difficult for an English tongue, and the inconsistent grammar can be a nightmare. But on the whole, the feeling I get when I make myself understood – and not just understood, but appreciated for my efforts – is incredible. I’ve found that it’s all about little victories. I just enjoy the language a lot more now, I think.

Right now I just need to concentrate on the work I have to catch up on, and also on my preparations for Austria. Updates on that will follow soon.


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