After only two days in Belgium, I felt it necessary to write a blog on my first impressions, as they are so prone to change, I don’t know if I’ll even remember half of them. You are discovering and experiencing so much in the first couple of weeks abroad, it is impossible to have first impressions that will last longer than half a day.
I urge you not to take your opinions on your day of travel, like I did, as I was so exhausted from travelling for 12 hours with all my luggage, I doubt even a room made of chocolate would have lightened my mood at the time. Although my room is sparse, it is of course habitable, and I suggest that with any time abroad, taking mementos and personal items to make it seem more ‘homely’ is a great and simple idea. Even little things like photos can make a bland room so much more inviting; in my case, I’ve made collages of photos of friends and family, and there’s nothing better than seeing their mugs on my wall to cheer me up, or even make conversation with other students, “Is that your friend? Why does she have lit candles stuck up her nose?” and other great conversation starters.
I would suggest you plan out your journey well, knowing which transport is available if you have to connect to another airport or train station. Google Maps is a wonderful thing, and I don’t know how I would have survived without it in my day of travel to Liège. In short, preparation is key. Know if you have to register with the university upon arrival, what documents you will need, whether your accommodation is available and office hours for important contacts such as the accommodation manager, international office and your DoS. All this is vital for your year abroad, but in terms of accessibility, I found it very easy to do, so don’t worry too much!
My other key advice, apart from being a slightly organisational obsessive before departure, is to enjoy yourself. Get to know other students, take part in all the activities you can (there are soooo many being set up at the moment, I can’t keep up!) and sign yourself up for everything. So far I’m going on a walk around the city, a barbecue, speed friending, a trip to the Ardenne, and a night out, all organised by the Erasmus team at the Université de Liège. While it may seem overwhelming at first (oh dear, there’s actual French and Belgian people in my apartment), there is also a vast number of exchange students who are as worried about their competancy of French speaking as you are. But you can only improve by trying; and although many conversations have often been aided by a mixture of dictionaries, phrase books and hand gestures, I know it will be doing my French some good at least.
Oh and watch out for Belgian drivers, they do not like pedestrians.