The third addition to my expat interview series. This time I take you to Belgium, where the beer is good, and the waffles are to die for, and where an old friend of mine, Anya Gregory, lives and studies.
Anya and I met back in 2011 when we both were stationed at the same summer camp in the north of Spain, where we both taught English to children. In fact, we were actually bunk buddies for the summer. Anya recently moved from Toronto, Canada to study abroad in Leuven, Belgium. In this interview she talks about what it’s like to live and study abroad in a foreign country, and what she loves most about her new country!
Here is what she had to say…
Where and what are you studying in Belgium?
I am studying at KU Leuven in Leuven, Belgium. Located just 20 minutes by train outside of Brussels, in the region of Flanders. I am studying a Masters in Social and Cultural Anthropology with a focus on Urbanism.
What made you decide to study overseas instead of at home?
Primarily, I was attracted by the cost. Some schools in Europe are free for foreign students, but most are extremely cheap (think less than 1000$/year). I had been to Belgium before and had really enjoyed my time here so I decided to apply to KU Leuven, and it worked out!
Have you noticed much of a difference between school in Belgium vs. in Canada?
Definitely. For my undergraduate degree I attended McGill University, which is known as a ‘hard school’ in Canada. However, the expectations here are definitely far greater and most Belgian students just want to pass instead of aiming for an A (like we often do at home). Lowering my expectations has been harder than I thought it would be!
What is your favourite part about living in Belgium?
My favorite part about Belgium is that everything is so close to each other. I can go to Brussels in 20 minutes, Ghent in 1 hour, Luxembourg in 1 hour and a half. I can even fly to the south of France in 1 hour and a half… the possibilities are endless! Since I have wanderlust, this location is perfect for quick trips outside of my comfort zone.
If I was going to Belgium tomorrow and I had never been, what would you suggest I do?
I would suggest that you spend at least 3 days in Brussels to begin with. Brussels is a really cool city and has a lot to offer with regards to culture, art, nightlife, good food and tourism. Then I would suggest that you rent a car and go to some of the Trappist breweries, they are located in monasteries (think drunk monks). Or if you are more into chocolates and city sightseeing, take the train to Ghent and Bruges. Ghent has a beautiful canal that you can tour in a boat, the architecture is amazing and the overall vibe of the city is very lively. Bruges is a tourist town, but it has amazing chocolate. The architecture is very post-card picturesque, so don’t forget your camera!
What was the most difficult part of getting adjusted to living and studying abroad?
Navigating my way around the city and finding housing and starting classes all in a week was certainly overwhelming, especially considering I didn’t have a network of people to rely on. Finding a solid group of friends is key to making a smooth transition to life abroad, I am so thankful for my lovely friends here, as they truly make me feel at home.
What made you decide to start your food blog?
Partly because my friends and family are constantly asking for recipes, I thought placing it on an internet platform might be a little easier for everyone to access! It’s just for fun, when I have the time, but I have gotten positive feedback so far, and that makes me feel very good!
(P.S. You can visit Anya’s blog here.)
What is your favourite part and least favourite part about blogging?
For me, it’s very much a hobby and since I am a full-time student I don’t have much time. The best parts would be looking for recipes to try out for the blog, thinking about new combinations, and taking pictures (right before digging in)! The least favourite part about it is that it is time consuming, so I don’t have a lot of time to spend on it.
What has been your favourite or drink discovery in Belgium that you think everyone should try?
Belgium is known as a place for chocolate, beer and waffles, and these are all amazing! But I would have to say that my favourite Belgian discoveries are the artisanal markets, this might be cheating a bit because in the markets they sell a variety of local cheeses, meats and vegetables. I love the ritual of going to the market every weekend and seeing the local vendors and getting my food for the week. The best part about this is that I can do it year round even though it is outside, something you certainly cannot do in Toronto!
You can visit Anya’s food blog for some great recipes and food inspiration at: www.studioculinaryadventures.wordpress.com/