I don't know about you, but when I think of Belgium, the first things that come to mind are waffles, french fries, and chocolate. Although all of those things are fantastic, there's so much more to this fascinating country.
Belgium is a fascinating to spend high school abroad -- especially if you're interested in languages or international politics. Most people speak up to four languages: French, German, Dutch, and English. Its location is also reflected in its unique architecture and the countries culture.
Take a year, semester, or summer to experience life in Belgium. Indulge in the street waffles and learn the complex history behind the Flanders / Wallonia divide. High school abroad in Belgium is an amazing opportunity to meet new people and explore a new culture while learning and possibly earning credits all at the same time.
Belgium is great for students who want to study French or Dutch and are interested in international relations.
Most high school programs in Belgium are academic focused, and there aren't too many volunteer programs specifically designed for high schoolers there. The most popular types of high school abroad programs in Belgium are:
- Language immersion programs
- High school exchanges
- Summer programs / teen travel tours
Language immersion programs
If you primarily want to head to Belgium to study French or Dutch, consider looking at courses at a language school. Especially in the summer, many will have courses specifically for teenage learners.
High school exchange
With a high school exchange in Belgium, students have the opportunity to attend a local high school for a year or a semester and live with a host family. It's a total immersion into Belgian life. Through a year or a semester abroad, students will be able to learn Dutch or French, enjoy Dutch cuisine, and make new friends by fully immersing themselves in a normal life in Belgium.
Summer programs / teen travel tours
For high schoolers looking for summer programs, Belgium has a few opportunities for this as well. Focus on studying one part of life in Belgium or learn through traveling in Belgium and neighboring France, Netherlands, or Germany on a teen travel tour.
Just because you aren't there for a year doesn't mean you won't experience the local culture and enjoy the many different languages, architecture, and art that make Belgium the country that it is today.
Planning Your Trip
While in Belgium, popular cities include its capitol, Brussels, the second largest city, Antwerp, and fairy-tale esque Bruges.
Also keep in mind that Belgium is split into two regions: the Dutch-speaking region of Flanders and the Southern, French-speaking region of Wallonia. Brussels and the surrounding region is officially bilingual but mostly French-speaking. So, if your main focus while you're in Belgium is learning French, you're best off looking at programs based in Brussels or the South.
No visa is required for stays under 90 days but a student visa is required for any length of time longer than three months. Students must fill out an application form and submit it prior to departure.
I recommend sending it in four to six months before your intended departure date to make sure to give yourself enough time incase there are any road blocks but if you're going through a program, they should offer assistance with the entire visa process.
With the longer semesters and year abroad programs students will stay with host families. All families are carefully interviewed and selected and paired with a student. They are excited to welcome a new member to their family for a few months or longer and show you everything about their culture and traditions.
Other programs will have onsite facilities that are similar to dorms with shared rooms. These kinds of living situations are exciting ways to meet new people from around the world with similar interests. All programs take students profiles into consideration when pairing with a family or other students.
Teen travel programs will set students up in hotels / hostels along the way.
Belgium is pretty expensive. Luckily, most programs include 2-3 meals a day in the program costs, which will take a large chunk off of your budget. Although you do not have to account for meals, students are responsible for any personal expenses like shopping, weekend trips to the city or personal travel and plan for a daily budget of around 75 Euro. If you are a snacker, fries and waffles can be purchased on the street for the low cost of 1-3 Euro.
It's generally frowned upon to leave the house in your PJs. Also, tipping isn't customary for eating out or taxi rides -- even if your driver says so.
The winter can get cold so be prepared for the occasional snow flurry or rainy day with a good jacket and rain jacket, warm pants, and a good pair of shoes. During the summer the sun shines down on Belgium with very little rainfall so be sure not to forget sunglasses, dresses, and shorts for those warm days. Have some light layers on reserve for the cool evenings. Either way, be sure to pack:
- Good walking shoes
- Your smartphone (you can get a Belgian SIM card on arrival)
Health & Safety
Belgium is a pretty safe country, but even so, there are risks there as there would be anywhere.
Be smart and aware of your surroundings when traveling through Belgium. Also be aware of the higher threat level areas, like major cities, festivals, and crowded areas, where you might be at more risk for pickpocketing or demonstrations. Generally, the biggest concern is pick pockets in the larger cities.
There are no vaccinations required to visit Belgium.