Travellers are often quick to ignore Belgium, preferring to head north to Amsterdam or south to Paris. They don’t know what they’re missing.
This fascinating little country pretty much embodies the spirit of the new European Union, as the population negotiates the intense regional rivalry between the Flemish-speaking north and the French-speaking south (which perpetually threatens to split the country in two)-- all while maintaining it’s own distinctive flair. Top it off with delicious chocolates, great works of art, architecture, waffles, and 20 different sauces for French fries, you’ve got a great study abroad experience in Belgium!
Belgium is home-base for the EU and NATO, giving the country an important position in on the international stage.
Above all, though, Belgium is a country of two distinct halves. Dutch-speaking Flanders (northern Belgium) is sprinkled with fabulous historic cities, such as Brussels, Brugge, Ghent and Antwerp. In French-speaking Wallonia (southern Belgium), however, most attractions are natural wonders: caves, castles, idyllic valleys and tons of outdoor activities.
This tiny country may be traversable in a few hours, but the sights, history and culture they’ve crammed into to this international hub is worth a closer look!
Belgium's universities are big, mostly public, and high-performing. It’s important that the program you choose caters to your needs for academic support so as to avoid feeling overwhelmed.
- Language: Many classes at Belgian universities are taught in French and Dutch. While there is usually a language prerequisite prior to being accepted into a study abroad in Belgium, many programs will offer rudimentary and upper level language classes to give you a leg up.
- Housing: Most study abroad students live with host families in order to experience the Belgian culture. Nothing beats daily immersion in the real life of Belgians! However, homestays aren’t for everyone. Students who are interested in a bit more independence may choose to live on their own. Many programs offer housing in dormitories, or can give you advice on renting your own apartment.
- Academic Life: Belgian and French universities share many similarities. Grades are given on a 1-20 scale (20 being the highest, with most folks landing around 12-16). Most students stick with others on the same subject track, taking the same classes throughout university.
Brussels: The city’s most famous landmark, often described as capturing the “irreverent” spirit of Brussels, is the Manneken Pis, a small bronze statue of a child performing one of Nature's, erm, most basic functions. Belgians have created hundreds of outfits for this statue, dressing him up for each season.
There are many stories of the statue's significance- it could have been inspired by a child who found a special way to drive away invading troops by climbing a tree above their heads. Another story goes that a father was missing his child and made a declaration to the city that when he found him he would build a statue of him, doing exactly what he was doing when located. Others claim the little boy was turned to stone for peeing on her property by peeing on a witch’s garden. You decide!
The Université Libre de Bruxelles has a student population of over 24,000. It is a French-speaking institution with classes in a variety of subjects. If you intend to study politics or international relations, Brussels is a great choice! Lucky students are often given the opportunity to visit important UN and NATO buildings. With 20,000 people working in EU offices on any given day you have the chance to meeting influential political figures.
Leuven: A real university town, located just 20 km east of Belgium, Leuven has small town charm with great access the capital. Students looking for a more intimate study abroad city should check out this lovely little spot.Some popular student activities and things to do are visiting important museums and historical sites associated with the two World Wars. Leuven is surrounded by beautiful abbeys, churches, parks, and farms.
University of Leuven is one of the oldest and most respected centers of higher learning. It has has a student population around 40,000. Leuven has a wide variety of course options such as anthropology, business, economics, sociology, literature, and more.
Ghent: Once one of the most powerful cities in Europe, Ghent’s architecture reflects the power and wealth of it’s medieval heyday. Its fantastic churches, halls and homes line-up along elegant canals, giving the city a fairy tale charm that is truly spectacular. Add 50,000 students to the mix, and you’ve got a city that is ideal for a study abroad adventure.
Ghent University, one of the major universities in the Dutch-speaking area of Belgium, is relatively young compared to other major universities. The main language of instruction is Dutch and most classes are taught in Dutch, however, many classes are also taught in English.
Social life and Student Culture
Students usually gather around the university campus or go out shopping in nearby streets. The Erasmus network is a wonderful way to save during your trip in all of Europe. The Erasmus Student Network (ESN), a student card, offers free or discounted access to events for just €5 (5 Euros). Be sure to visit Brussels to grab free samples and tastings of Belgian chocolates!
You don't have to sell the farm to afford study abroad! Here are some scholarships that will ease the financial burden:
Study in Belgiumlists all upper level institution that offer funding to students. Check out if your university can give you any moolah!
- More Study Abroad Grants and Scholarships