For almost 2 months now, I have had the privilege of calling Leuven home. The more time I have spent here, the more I am coming to realize how wonderful this city truly is. This semester, I have been scrolling through social media to see friends studying abroad in much larger cities – Barcelona, London, Edinburgh. I’ve had people ask me multiple times, “What made you decide to go to Belgium?”
Outside of talking to previous students who have spent semesters here, I chose to come to Belgium ultimately because it would allow me to travel easily. I live in a central location. Brussels is a 20 minute train ride away, Paris is a 4 hour bus ride, Amsterdam a 3 hour bus ride, and Germany and Luxembourg are right next door. In the time I have been here, I have come to appreciate this city on a much deeper level.
If I could describe my experience here thus far in one word, it would be “authentic”. While studying abroad can feel like a dream regardless of where you’re located, none of my adventures here have felt superficial. I feel like I have become a true citizen of Leuven. I discovered my favorite park to talk walks and runs at, I study at our library that looks strikingly similar to Hogwarts on a weekly basis, I buy fresh produce at the weekend markets, and I even found my favorite waffle stand.
I no longer feel like an outsider here. I can get anywhere without having to use Maps on my phone and I’ve even had locals come up to me asking for directions in Dutch a few times last week. Each day I step out my door, I discover hidden gems, a new coffee shop to sip on lattes at, or even quaint neighborhoods with winding cobblestone streets. I couldn’t ask for a better experience. Leuven gives you the best of both worlds. The city is small enough that you can bike or walk virtually anywhere, but large enough that you can come across new parts to explore each day. If you want to spend some time in the countryside, it’s only a 20 minute walk away. If you want to experience the nightlife, all you have to do is walk to the city center.
If you are on the fence about coming here or even studying abroad in general, just do it! It is such an enriching experience, and before you know it you will be calling this place your second home.