When you walk around Brussels, you are amazed and surprised by the tons of different languages you can hear. It is not necessary going to Grand Place: try simply to catch a bus or walk randomly in the city center…and you will know what I am talking about.
Brussels is home to people coming from all over the world: not only Belgians, but also tourists, businessmen, people who moved for work reasons… and students.
During my experience as a foreign student in Brussels for 5 months, I noticed how many students chose Brussels as new city to start this important path; when I came back to my place in Italy, I have started to investigate this topic and I started to feel the need to get some answers to my questions, which were ‘Why did other students decide to go on the Erasmus?’ and in addition, ‘Why did they choose Brussels, as I did?’ or ‘Why Brussels instead of other cities, such as Paris?’
First of all, what is the Erasmus+ Program? Basically, it is a program which gives the chance to university students to move to abroad for educational reasons, in order to attend another university in partnership with the home university in their home country.
I wasn’t able to find any answer so, curious as I am, I decided to interview some Erasmus students in Brussels during my last trips to Brussels.
Beatrice, Marianna and Elena are three Italian law students from Rome who decided to apply for the Erasmus+ Program and now they attend classes at the Faculty of Law at ULB, situated in the heart of the university quartier, Ixelles.
Beatrice, 23 years old law student, has started her second adventure far away from home in September and she is very confident when she tells me why she applied for the Erasmus+ Project.
“There are many reasons why I decided to experience this new adventure in Brussels: first of all, it is a constructive experience: I already spent 6 months in the USA when I was at high school because I wanted to improve my english.
I also aspired to learn some French, but I wanted to combine this wish with my field of study: I study Law and I am really interested in International and European law.
So I thought about Brussels as the ideal city in order to be able to learn french being in contact with different law systems.
To be honest, there are also other reasons that led my choice: some years ago I came to Brussels and I felt in love with the city and ever since then, I have realized it was a very international city.
Being a base french learner wouldn’t have been that easy in a city where only french is spoken, so I chose Brussels because English is spoken by everyone.
In addition, even if it is a capital city, the city it’s not too big either too small: I’m from Rome and I know what living in a big city means: taking public transports to cross the entire city requires a lot of time. This doesn’t happen in Brussels, because the city is not too big. Maybe it is banal, but it implies a major participation to different social events”.
Marianna totally agrees with Beatrice and confirms that Brussels is actually the best location and destination which allows students to be in contact with the European Institutions and she has noticed the efficiency of Brussels:
“I’ve felt in love with the city and when it comes to lifestyle it is not like other European capital cities: you can easily use public transports and it’s not as busy as Paris or London. Everything seems more calm and I really appreciate the atmosphere you breathe all around the city”.
During my staying in Brussels, I met Elena, another Italian law student who has revealed that the first time she applied for the Erasmus, she refused to leave.
“I had already applied for the Erasmus+ Program two years ago, but I was in a relationship and when I discovered that I had actually got the Erasmus, I refused: I wasn’t simply ready and my biggest limit was my lack of knowledge in the english language.”
So I asked her why did she apply again.
“The idea of doing the Erasmus has never left, so I last year I decided to apply again. It was mainly a way to start learning another language, even if I was aware that I wasn’t ready to face another country because I really knew very little english.
Why Brussels? Well, I’m finishing the law school, this is my last year and living in an European country allows me to put into practice what I’ve learnt so far. This experience will help me to better understand what I really want to do in the future. Furthermore, in my opinion, leaving your country and your confort-zone helps you in order to get to know yourself from other perspectives and by doing it, you can understand your strengths and your limits.
I didn’t choose France because I don’t speak French, my aim was to study in a country where the most used language was english, in order to improve my skills, and at the same time because Brussels is the heart of Europe when it comes to European Institutions.”
Leaving your home country, your home university, your family and your friends is also something that students do in order to experience something completely new for themselves: that’s what Camilla, Communication student attending the University of Padova, has specified from the very first seconds of the interview:
“Why the Erasmus? Well, I’ve been a stable relationship with my boyfriend for 5 years, everything goes amazing, but at a certain point I came to the conclusion that I wanted to do something for myself; so why do not apply for this program?
I chose Brussels because I do not speak a word of french, as a matter of fact I attend VUB, the Flemish version of ULB, where classes are taught mainly in dutch and in english… I could never have chosen a french speaking country because of that.
I like Brussels, it is not that chaotic as many other European cities are. It is a very functional city.”
From what Naiara, polyglot Communication student at ULB, has reported, living abroad can truly be considered an experience that makes you grow as a person, it helps you to maturate and to understand what you want to do in your life.
She admitted the following:
I’m considering to move to Brussels for the master. When I applied for the Erasmus, I wanted to discover another European city and I thought about Brussels because of the mix of cultures: I study communication so I needed to find a place where I could actually be in contact with a variety of cultures and languages and put into practice and analyze what I have been studying. Brussels, because of its multicultural features, appeared a good compromise.
Having the possibility to be here is a great, in particular for students who study languages: it helps you to know you better and it inspires you… Can you believe that I’ve also found out what I want to write about in my bachelor thesis? I was thinking to discuss the differences that characterized the city of Brussels, comparing the french and the flemish poles.”
As these girls said and as an Erasmus student in Brussels too, I can confirm that Brussels is the best place to study when it comes to languages, cultures, communication, politics and law. Not only this city is the heart of Europe, but this city is full of life and it represents the crossroads of cultures, languages, ideas, and because of that it is synonym of integrity, mobility and it offers tons of actives and stimulus to its citizens.
Belgium in particular is know for its comics (Tin-Tin is the perfect example), and a great Belgian cartoonist Hergé once said “La rue est une Musée pour tous!”, which could be translated into “Streets are a museum relevant for everyone”.
Well, that is how we could sum Brussels up: a city where thousands of people, cultures and languages intertwine as they meet, creating an en plein air museum, where every single individual with its own personal experience, can share its life, connect with other people and learn.