How to Go to College in Belgium as an American

Today I have an update on Jared, the student from Chapel Hill we worked with who is now attending KU Leuven in Brussels, Belgium.

Jared’s family had a crazy summer before he left for school. In addition to getting Jared ready for college in Europe, they were also in the process of relocating from Chapel Hill to Wilmington, NC. Jared’s mom was starting a new job so Jared’s dad, Dave, went with Jared to settle him in. Now I have to say, though many Tom would probably struggle in a similar situation, I know Dave personally and he is super organized. Even with the presence of a focused and on task dad, Jared noted that the first week was exhausting with running around taking care of residency requirements, school documents, and settling in to his apartment. 


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Jared is living in a brand new student residence right in the middle of Brussels. The residence provides options for single rooms with shared kitchens/common areas or studio apartments. Since Jared’s family is saving so much money on tuition (at only 1,250 Euros per year), he was able to talk them into paying for a studio apartment option (housing in this residence ranges from 450-675 Euros per month). Jared’s room came with a fridge, bed frame, and desk so he also had to spend the first week buying a mattress, bedding, and seating. Thank goodness for Ikea!

Though there have been some issues with building management not being responsive (to issues like internet problems and such), Jared has no regrets about choosing this residence for his first year. The majority of the 75 students in the residence are first year students at various schools in the city and about a dozen of them are in the same program at Leuven as Jared. These factors made it easy for Jared to make friends from other schools and gives him friends from his own program to study with as well. Jared makes dinner for himself most nights (something his mother was worried about him handling), mostly prepared and frozen foods but sometimes a group of students in the residence cook for each other. 

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Jared thinks that paying a bit more for a residence that was new and in a safe part of town was a great idea for his first year, despite some of the problems. He will have more options his second year since he will know about more alternatives, have a feel for the city, and be able to make arrangements while he is there.

Jared’s classmates and friends from the residence are from a variety of countries around the world and he has enjoyed meeting people with diverse backgrounds and learning about their cultures. He plans to travel to Spain with some friends from his residence who are from Mallorca and has already travelled to Luxembourg and around Belgium. Of course, he also enjoys hanging out and going to parties!

Jared misses his friends and family, but hasn’t been hit with overwhelming homesickness. His older sister came to visit over Thanksgiving and then he will go home for two weeks over Christmas. His biggest challenge has been around learning the languages in Brussels. Belgium has different language areas. In the northern region, Flanders, people speak Flemish, a dialect of Dutch. In the southern region called Wallonia, people speak French. Brussels, the capitol is in Flanders (orange on the map), but the city is pretty much evenly split between those who speak French and Flemish (much like Dutch) which increases the difficulty of learning either of those languages.

Jared’s first year includes classes on accounting, financial institutions and markets, management, research methods, statistics, math for business economics, managerial economics, philosophy, psychology, law and foreign language. Of course, these are not all taken at once. Jared is taking eight classes, three of which are math-based courses this semester, which require a good amount of out of class study time. His lecture classes are in subjects like philosophy and require less time out of class for him since he had taken two years of world history, Jared is also taking a project class in which small groups of students organize an event for charity and carry it out by the end of March. Though he notes that it is the most challenging class he has, he appreciates that he is learning skills around marking, sponsorship, insurance, general accounting, and event management in a practical, hands on way. There are generally around 20 students in each of his classes except for his lecture classes which have all 200 students from his program. Here’s one key difference from college in the US: all of Jared’s books costs less than $200!

I was a bit worried that Jared’s transition would not be as seamless as Theo’s was. Not only does KU Leuven not have the residential component that Leiden University College has, but Jared’s campus is in Brussels while the main campus is a short train ride away in Leuven. Jared’s experience really speaks to a difference I often point out, which is that student life is often not confined to the school, but is more an experience of being a student in the town of wherever you may be. I’m so happy for Jared and we will continue to follow his experiences.

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