Last semester, I wrote an essay on Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre about the importance of walking to Jane’s growth in the book. Each time she walked, Jane allowed herself to become physically and mentally stronger instead of becoming the caged, bird-like creatures that women were left to be at that time. Though I do not have to worry as much about the gender norms that Jane struggled with, as I walk through the streets of Leuven everyday, I’ve found that the walking I do acts in a similar fashion, making me physically and mentally stronger as I venture through my study abroad adventure!
When you live in Leuven, you have a few transportation options (some much more popular than others): bike, car, bus, or your own two legs. In Leuven, driving a car is extremely different from driving in the US. Although you may be driving a 4,000 pound vehicle that you could easily squish someone with, cars have much less power on the roads than bikers and pedestrians. It is much easier to bike around the small city rather than try to maneuver your car down cramped, sometimes cobblestoned streets, packed with pedestrians and bikes.
Just like at Hanover, students (most of the time) walk or bike to all of their classes. However, instead of a 5-7 minute walk maximum to each class, the KU Leuven campus is spread out through the city. It could take you 5 minutes to walk to one of your buildings, and maybe 20 minutes for another. By the end of the day, after walking to classes, running errands, and simply exploring a bit, you may have walked up to 5 miles that day!
The beauty behind this is that walking allows me to get stronger physically, but it also allows me to learn the city and maintain being a responsible adult who buys groceries for herself! While I walk, I’ve been able to find yarn stores, coffee shops, and hidden roads lined with beautiful trees and historic buildings galore.
Thus, after you’re worn out from walking all day long, you quickly begin to appreciate the small things you get done throughout the day. Though you still are expected to be on time, the pace of life seems much slower while I’m in Leuven. Since it takes more time to get places, I do less, but appreciate them more because I put a little bit more effort into each action. And, as I walk daily to my classes or to buy some delicious Belgian fries on my breaks, I get to witness the completely different world that surrounds me so much more than I would if I were on a small campus in Belgium. I’m able to see typical Belgian residents, walking their kids to school, students riding their bikes home after a long school day, etc.
Every time I walk out my front door, I get to experience the beautifully different and diverse culture that surrounds me everyday, and I am wholeheartedly excited to get to know better in the next few months.