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A year studying abroad: my first week in Brussels

This academic year, the Boar’s Travel Editor, Ben Ockrim, is studying at Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) on an international exchange program through Warwick’s Politics Department. These are his updates:

I knew I always wanted to spend a year abroad, but I did not know where I wanted to go. My only condition was to study in a city: somewhere interesting and exciting, with lots to do and a great nightlife (just like Leamington Spa). So, I was extremely excited when I was accepted into VUB’s school of Social Sciences to study Politics in the heart of Brussels, Europe’s political capital.

I moved to Brussels in early September to give myself time to settle before term started a few weeks later. Feeling like a fresher again, I arrived at my accommodation (a “cohouse” shared with a mix of students and young professionals) accompanied by my mum who helped transport my suitcases across the Channel. Ironically, though I was moving abroad, it took almost the same amount of time to get to Belgium from London as it did to get to Warwick. Mum stayed to help me unpack and take me shopping for essentials, before leaving to go back to the UK the same day. I was left to fend for myself.

I was extremely excited when I was accepted into VUB’s school of Social Sciences

With nothing to do, and no-one to speak to (I knew no-one in Brussels and my flatmates were busy or away) I spent my first night binge-watching Clarkson’s Farm in my room. Truth be told, despite the excitement of travelling, my first night away was quite lonely.

The next day was better. Still on my own, but with a checklist of things, I left my room and began to explore Brussels. I warmed to the city immediately. A hub of culture and diversity, with plenty of bars, parks, museums, beautiful architecture, and of course the European Parliament, I quickly got in my 20,000 steps walking all day. And even though none of Brussel’s major universities had started yet, the local bars were filled with young people from all backgrounds. A good sign for the year ahead.

Later in the week, my friend Ethan, who was travelling around Europe on his own, came to stay with me for a few days. I was looking forward to his visit, not only because I was happy to see him, but also because together we could go out and experience the Brussels nightlife for the first time.

Knowing nothing, we checked out the bars nearest to my accommodation in Flagey, Ixelles. The bars were full and buzzing, reminiscent of nights out in Bristol, Manchester and the Terrace Bar on a Wednesday. Our night was fun and responsible (we were careful not to get carried away as Belgian beer is notoriously strong) until we ordered a round of “Goliath Triples,” the coolest sounding beer on the menu. We drank it and soon our words were slurred. Surprised, as we hadn’t drunk much, we went back to the bar where the barmaid told us that “Goliath Triples” have an alcohol content of nine percent. We ordered another round, and after that my memory goes hazy.

The local bars were filled with young people from all backgrounds

A day and a hangover later, Ethan left, and I was once again on my own, but feeling more integrated with my surroundings. There are still a couple days until term starts, and I have a few tasks left: most importantly, I need to find a job (which is quite difficult when you don’t speak any of the local languages). I’m occasionally homesick but I know that will pass once university starts and I start meeting new people from all over the world. I can’t wait!

Comments (1)

  • Hey Ethan a great way to integrate is through volunteering! I recommend you look into Serve the City Brussels for lots of flexible volunteering opportunities. Good luck with this new adventure and welcome to Brussels!

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