1 KU Leuven, Belgium Faculty/college: Humanities Level: bachelor master PhD other Name degree programme: Erasmus/History (Faculty of Arts) Preparation Exchange/placement application process: I thought it was very easy. You just had to hand in a motivation letter and a financial plan and for me that wasn t a problem at all. The only thing that was difficult was to choose the destination. Counselling/support at home university: When you take the initiative and ask questions, everyone is willing to help you. I have called sometimes with my study advisors and the international office and afterwards everything was clear to me. Academic preparation: Not so much really, but I investigated the attitude of students and their habits at forehand. So I discovered that Dutch students are seen as very direct and that the students Belgium are really reserved. That kind of information helped me to prepare myself for lectures. Language preparation: I already spoke the language (Dutch of course), but because I ve met a lot of internationals my English has improved. However, I didn t prepare myself with English courses or something at forehand. Finances: The Erasmus grant, compensation for public transport (because I wasn t using that in the Netherlands) and the grant of the government (studiefinanciering). Apart from that, I saved money for my exchange and my parents gave me a small amount monthly. Everything was sufficient. Study/placement abroad period Study programme/work plan (concerning content and organisational issues): I followed courses of history/political sciences and a language course French. Everything was very interesting and I liked my courses a lot. For example, there was a course about Comparative Politics where I learned a lot about the political systems of France, Belgium, Germany, United- Kingdom and the Netherlands itself. Besides that, I had two courses about Russia: Russian Politics, an annalistic course about the actual politics of Putin and a course about the history of Russia. Both very interesting! The fourth course was about the political history of Belgium, a really difficult but interesting course of which I learned a lot too. Next to this all, I joined a French course (which was from a KU Leuven supported institution) and that was a great variation. Academic quality of education/placement activities: The academic standard in Belgium is really high. In my opinion, Utrecht University is really good
2 but KU Leuven asks more detailed questions in their exams. The level is almost the same, but the details they asked in Belgium made the difference. Studying for the exams was really intense, because I had all my exams at the end of my semester and most of them counted as 100 percent for the whole course so everything depended on that moment. However, at the end everything was okay and I passed all my exams. It s just something to take into consideration. At the beginning, everyone is still going out, because the exams are so far away from that point (the Belgians themselves see this as a big advantage!). Afterwards you have enjoyed a really good quality of education so that s worth it! Counselling/support at host institution/organisation: The people of my host institution were very nice, especially at the international office. They were very willing to help me and to chat about my home country. The professors of the courses are friendly, but really distant and formal (there is no working group, only lectures so that s the explanation I guess). This however, I ve never seen as a problem. Transfer of credits: The exam commission is taking care of that now, but I assume it won t be a problem because there are international agreements within the EU about this. Student life Welcome/orientation programme: The orientation programme provided a nice opportunity to meet other internationals. Especially the parties in de evenings we re greatly visited! There was a market with fairs too where they promoted optional extracurricular activities and other useful things like bike renting etc. The orientation programme really helped me to meet a lot of people so I would recommend everyone to attend that. Accommodation: To find an accommodation in Leuven is really easy (surely in comparison with Utrecht!). I just attended a Facebook group and I only had write a reaction. They work with a first-come, first served principle, so I already got a room after my third reaction. The room was really nice and big, next to the central library and the rent was very reasonable! I loved staying there. Leisure/culture: My faculty organised some daytrips through Belgium, which were very interesting! Apart from that, several organisations organised daytrips or activities such as visiting the library tower, the local brewery etc. It offered again opportunities to meet a lot of other internationals. Suggestions/tips: - Attend the introduction activities as much as you can. It is the easiest way to meet internationals! - If you re used to Utrecht, please don t worry about finding a room! The way people find their room differs per country, but Belgium in general is really easy. - Go on an Erasmus, don t hesitate about it! Everyone makes new friends easily so you re never alone and the experience is invaluable. Conclusions Would you recommend this host organisation/destination to others? Please explain: For sure! If you want to discover more about Europe itself, enjoy good education or you just don t
3 want to go to far away then Leuven is a great option! It s a small town, so you will settle down easily and therefore it is easy to see other internationals very easily. Apart from that, the nightlife is great! There are loads of great beer café s and every weekend there are parties you can attend. If you don t like going out, there is lots to see and you can easily see the rest of Belgium (Brussels, Antwerps etc.). Apart from this all, you will enjoy very good education and you will boost your resume because KU Leuven is doing great in the international ranking. Do you have any additional advice or comments?: - Look for a room on the Facebook page Kot te huur, there are international residences too, but you can probably get a room more central via that page! - Belgian students are not always easy to approach. They are shy by nature but nice, so you have to invest a bit in friendships with them. Apart from that, they go home every weekend and they rarely cook. Keep that in mind, you can always choose for an international residence or eat with other internationals at your place (you will have the kitchen for yourself most of the times!) - Make sure you have some extra courses you want to attend, just in case when the schedule suddenly has changed or you happen to dislike the course and you need a back-up plan Report 1 exchange application process PREPARATION I had no problems with the applications process. KU Leuven doesn't need that many documents (no transcript of records or elaborate motivation) so the process went fairly quick and easy. counselling & support at Utrecht University The people at the Internationl Office can help you with any problems, I'm sure. (I myself didn t experience any trouble) academic preparation There was no additional academic preparation needed, in my case. I think UU and KU Leuven are quite at the same academic level. language preparation The language of instruction at KU Leuven is Dutch, which was no problem for me, of course. I also took classes that were given in English, but I don't think any student of UU need any preparation for that. finances Living in Belgium is not that much more expensive than living in the Netherlands/Utrecht. So I managed, with my loan from DUO. study programme (content and organisational issues) STUDY ABROAD PERIOD
4 You can 'shop around' in the first two weeks of the semester, before you have to fix your study programme for sure. This gives you the oppurtunity to check out and attend a number of courses before you make any definite decisions, which is really nice and handy. When it's time, you go to the International Office with your choices, and they will enter everything in their system for you. After that, no changes are possible (which turned out to be a problem for me, because there was some unexpected overlap, but still). Also, you can follow courses in Dutch and English, which means that you have a lot of choice! You can take every course from the Humanities programme, so you can really broaden your horizon. Especially if you're a master's student, I recommend not to take any courses from the programme that they have composed for the Erasmus students: it's far too easy. academic quality of education activities I think the quality of education at KU Leuven is as high as (if not higher) at the UU. But you shouldn't experience any problems. It's a different style of teaching though. Professors (even 'normal' teachers they call 'professor') are more distant than you're probably used to here. There's still a clear hierarchy: the professor orates, and you listen and take notes. Of course there are exceptions (I also took a class that was more 'Dutch' style), but generally speaking this is how it goes. Also, they have a semester system, which means you have classes until the christmas holiday (in case of first semester), which isn't really a vacation because in January means exams: and that means studying! It's normal that you just have one exam per course, which counts for 100%. To get 30 ECTS in one semester, you have to take 5 courses (6 ECTS each), and 5 exams in 4 weeks is quite a lot, believe me. Especially when they determine if you pass or fail. Besides, the normal type of exam in Belgium is an oral exam. You get the questions, some preparation time (usually in the same room as where the exam is being held, so don't get too distracted by the person before you) and then you have minutes to convey as much knowledge as possible, that you have acquired in the last semester. And then it's just waiting and wishing.. counselling & support at receiving university abroad As said, teachers are as easy going as you might be used to. But the people from the International Office are really friendly, and can/will help you with any problems. If you have some questions about a course, just ask the other students first. If they don't know, contact the professor; is preferred. And always start with 'Geachte professor [achternaam]', they don't take that title lightly! transfer of credits KU Leuven s you a digital scan of your transcript of records, and sends hard copies to your home address, so that's all decent. My credits still need to be transferred, so I can't say much about this subject. Belgium works with a 1-20 scale for grades, where a 10 is already sufficient (so it's more complicated than just halving your grade); by now I still don't know how my grades are getting translated into our grade scale, and I haven't found anyone at UU who can give me this information in advance (or just a document with comparison scales or something). welcome & orientation programme STUDENT LIFE Before the semester starts, the university has organised a week with orientation days. There are courses and lectures about living in Belgium (also one especially for Dutch students) and you can subscribe to activities such as visiting the bell tower of the university library and a visit to the Stella Artois factory. The faculty of Humanities also planned day trips, to Antwerp and Brussels and such. Many international students attend these, so if you want to meet lots of international people, that's the way to go. Organisations such as ESN organise pub crawls in that week, specially for the incoming Erasmus students. accommodation I guess the university provides housing, but I did not made us of that. I searched for Facebook groups (ESN
5 Erasmus Leuven, Pangaea etc.) in which people advertised for subletting their rooms, among others. In Belgium, student rooms have 10, 11 or 12-month contract, so it's not possible to rent a room directly from a landlord (or you have to find a new tennant after you leave, also an option of course). But there are plenty people going on Erasmus themselves, so I recommend just searching for Facebook groups and look there. Also, kotnet.be, because it's from KU Leuven so you know you get an 'approved' room. Prizes can be lower than in Utrecht, but I don t know what you get for that. I myself rented a studio in a new building (houses in Belgium are generally not that.. new), and it costed me 460 euro a month. leisure & culture Living in Leuven is like living on a student campus. Literally half of the city's population consists of students, so they 'rule the school'. Because KU Leuven has a semester system, nobody seems to study in the first weeks or even months. Result: every night, from Sunday to Thursday, the bars at the Oude Markt are packed with students, having a good time. (Not on Friday or Saturday, because all Belgium students go to their parents EVERY weekend, so the city is deserted in the weekends. Still many international students though). Beer is also really cheap, especially at the 'fakbars': each faculty has one, runned by students. suggestions/tips Do you grocery shopping at Colruyt: they are the cheapest (if you don't count Aldi/Lidl), or at a Turkish supermarket of some sorts. Supermarkets are more expensive in Belgium. But there's an Albert Heijn coming soon, which would then be the cheapest supermarket of Leuven (I know right), so you could also go there. And for cheap drinking: go to the fakbars! Belgian 'special beers' for E1,80. I mean! CONCLUSIONS would you recommend this university/destination abroad to others? please explain Yes! I really liked the city a lot: not too big, but that's okay. It still feels like a city. And because of the huge student population, it always feels alive during the day (and nights) (except in the weekends that is). The level of education is also really high, and KU Leuven generally has a broad variety of subjects you can choose from. do you have any additional advice or comments? I think I said everything I wanted to say. Just apply already! Report 2 exchange application process PREPARATION As I started with the MA programme Comparative Literary Studies in February, I was too late to meet the deadlines for studying abroad. International Office said they could not help me with this, and that I had to wait for the list with universities that still had places left. The university of Leuven, (the KU Leuven) was one of the universities still left, and I applied for this university, as the courses offered were very interesting. The application process went smoothly from there, both with the UU IO and the IO of KU Leuven. My stay at KU Leuven was arranged quickly, and KU Leuven ed me many documents with information about studying and living in Leuven which made the preparation for the stay and the actual stay easier. counselling & support at Utrecht University As I could not compile a shortlist of universities abroad that I would like to study at since I missed the deadline for application, I did not encounter much counselling or support from the UU IO. Naturally, I did have conversations with my study coordinator about my study programme and the courses I would like to take abroad, but further counselling and/or support was not necessary/needed academic preparation
6 I did not have to prepare myself academically for the stay, as I intended to take courses in fields that were familiar to me (literature and philosophy). language preparation I did not have to do any language preparation. Half of the courses I intended to take were taught in English, and the rest in Dutch, which is my native language. finances I applied for the Erasmus grant, and in addition to the grant, I had saved some money, and cancelled my OV so that I would receive a monthly compensation. These preparations and grants, in combination with a relatively low rent for my room, were sufficient to comfortably stay in Leuven for one semester. study programme (content and organisational issues) STUDY ABROAD PERIOD I took 4 MA courses offered by the faculty of Arts, and 2 MA courses taught by the faculty of Philosophy. I enjoyed almost every course very much. The teachers were very approachable and helpful. At the beginning of the semester, an information session for international students regarding registering for courses and living in Leuven was organised, which explained the perhaps rather complicated system of registration well. Unlike the system at the UU, one has to enrol twice for the same course: once on Blackboard (which they call Toledo) and again to finalise your study programme (this finalisation is done in the programme ISP). The latter is done under the supervision of one member of the International Office, so that went very well and without any difficulties. KU Leuven s International Office was always very helpful and quick in answering questions. academic quality of education activities The quality of the courses offered is very good indeed, both regarding content and the teachers. The style of teaching, however, is somewhat different from that in the Netherlands: fewer seminars than I was used to, and less stress on participation in class. There is also (at least in the faculty of arts and in the faculty of philosophy) no such thing as the mid-term; only finals in the form of papers and/of oral and written exams. The study load, however, and the academic quality is certainly comparable with that of the UU. One should not be deceived by the sometimes seemingly relaxed classes and class readings, as at the end of the year, preparation for the exams could become very intense and stressful if you have not kept up with your course work during the semester! counselling & support at receiving university abroad I did not need any, but via s and information sessions, one was certainly informed about the possibilities regarding this. transfer of credits I don t have any experience with this yet welcome & orientation programme STUDENT LIFE There were several programmes organised for incoming exchange students at the start of the semester, but I did not take part in them, partly because I had already visited the city and the university before, and spoke the language, and partly because I had to finish papers for UU courses at that time. KU Leuven also offers a buddy programme which matches an exchange student with a Belgian, local student, who helps the exchange student
7 to feel at home quickly and to get to know the city and the university. accommodation I had applied for accommodation in a KU Leuven residence several months before my actual stay, and a room in one of their residences was assigned to me. The rent was 290 euro per month including internet. My housemates were all Belgians, so that was a great way to mingle with the locals a bit. I have no experiences with the private rental market (where the prices for rooms are higher). There is, however, a service, the student housing service, which is happy to help exchange students finding a room quickly. This information was e- mailed to me very soon after I was admitted to KU Leuven as an exchange student, so KU Leuven prepares their exchange students well! leisure & culture Many cultural activities take place in Leuven, and the city offers many excellent sport and leisure facilities as well. It is truly a city filled to the brim with students, so there are many, many activities organised. On arrival at the university (when you register as a student at KU Leuven) one has the opportunity to buy a culture card, which gives you discounts on many cultural activities, such as on cinemas, concerts, exhibitions, and so on. suggestions/tips When you like meeting students from your own faculty and be able to buy cheap drinks at the same time, make sure you go to the Fakbar of your faculty. It is basically a bar, every faculty has one, but organised by and for students only. When you want to meet other (international) students, the society Pangaea is certainly something to go to as well, as they organise many activities to feel quickly at home and to meet new people. As the Belgians have a reputation of being somewhat distant and cold, these things might not only be a good way to mingle, but also to do some extracurricular activities at local clubs to meet locals. CONCLUSIONS would you recommend this university/destination abroad to others? please explain Yes, I would definitely recommend KU Leuven to others. The (international) atmosphere is great and the city is beautiful. The quality of courses is excellent, and the university is really helpful towards exchange students. Although one, as a Dutch student, might feel that Belgium is too close to the Netherlands to offer that abroad experience, it definitely feels as a valuable experience of having studied abroad. do you have any additional advice or comments? It is quite normal for Belgians to go home in the weekends, and as an international student who stays in town, weekends are often very quiet. The weekends, however, are a good time to behave like a tourist and to explore the city and the country some more.