So my third week in Liège is nearly over, and I’m finally feeling like I ought to be here. I now know Belgians kiss twice on the cheek (anymore and you’d look a bit too enthusiastic, any less and you’d look awfully rude), and I am getting used to this city’s eccentricities, as well as its delicious cuisine. I love the fact it is so culturally diverse, and that one can find many cultural communities here; from the Middle East, North Africa, Portugal, as well as traditional Wallonia, onwards. As an Arabic student, Liège has offered me many chances to practice my Arabic, from buying Middle Eastern newspapers, or with the Jordanian man from whom I buy my olives every week, to the lessons at the university. It truely is an incredibly diverse city, and so warm and welcoming.
This week has been a bit of a mishmash of emotions, and it has been quite trying at times. My first taste of serious culture shock was last Sunday, when we discovered the local market which runs 3km down the River Meuse. Although the produce is amazing, such as the olives and the gaufres, some of it is still, well… live. You will find animals, anything from chickens and ducks to rabbits and swans, in tiny cages, ready to be purchased or worse. It was horrible to see, but it’s something that the Belgians seem quite used to, and as I am here to immerse myself in their culture for 5 months, there’s nothing more I can do other than walk very quickly on and not look, I suppose.
The other large shock I got this week was much less cruel but much more unexpected. Lessons began in earnest this week, and I was very prepared to turn up for lectures and be astounded by the amount of work I had to do, and the level of French spoken. While all this occured and was as difficult as I had anticipated, I had not banked on the fact that more than half of my teachers would not turn up for their lessons in the first week. As an Erasmus student, one isn’t privy to such information, but after asking several French and Belgian students, this lack of first week lessons is, in fact, completely normal. Teachers are much more laissez-faire about organisation and timetables, and as Erasmus students, we are welcome to try our hand at any course that we wish, within reason. Course organisers can leave one or two weeks for students to get their timetables together before embarking on the course properly. While this seems good on paper – hey, no Quebec culture for 3 weeks! – it’s very disconcerting as there seems little support for Erasmus students in the way of deciding which lessons are appropriate etc. While many teachers will happily reply to emails regarding lesson hours and all sorts, I have felt very abrupt having to email them to ask. At least they will know me now.
Despite all this strange, strange Belgian behaviour, the week has been fantastic, and was made all the better by a visit to Maastricht yesterday. Around 20 of us international students went, for 5euros return each! Seriously, once on Continental Europe, exploit the railways and go exploring. I’d totally recommend Maastricht, as it was a beautiful, and tranquil (well, we all know why) part of Holland, and I found it was such a great idea to see different parts of Europe while we’re here. More trips are on the way, like to Cologne for the Christmas markets, and to Italy, to savour some gelato, obviously, but it’s just something to look forward too after a hard week of attending 3 or 4 lessons, y’know?
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