It is true, Brussels is beautiful! I’ve never stayed in a city before so being here is a completely new experience for me.
I have been surprisingly comfortable being in the city almost daily. I know how to get around or how to figure out where I am. I think that this is in part due to my host mom, Mechthild. She made me feel at home within the first few days of being here.
To help me acclimate to my surroundings, my host mother took me to the best pizza place in Tervuren (my host village about 5 miles outside Central Brussels) called Emilo’s. She wanted me to know about that right away. She also took me to the Grand Place on my first night to see the famous flower carpet, which is only up for three days every other year. Mechthild also introduced me to the best afternoon snack – pancakes with chocolate sauce and ice cream!
I am very happy with my experiences in the city so far; my classes, my internship and my homestay. I’ve already learned quite a bit from my experiences and I would like to share a few things that are different than I expected in Brussels.
One of the most interesting things that I have encountered here, are social interactions.
On the first night I took a walk in my village of Tervuren. I wanted to explore a bit and get to know those that I lived by. As I walked, I looked at people and smiled. There were a few people that I even said, “hallo,” to.
Everyone I did this to just looked at me, so when I got home I asked my host mom what was going on. She told me that Belgians do not look at each other while walking down the street. To me this was odd. I realized that because I was from a small town in the U.S., I had no clue that people tended to avoid eye contact while walking down the street in Belgium.
Another social norm in Belgium involves the way that people greet those that they know. In the United States, it’s customary to greet those you know with a hug. Here, that doesn’t happen. Hugging is seen as something that is too intimate. Instead, people kiss on the left cheeks once. This is something that I was told right away.
That still didn’t stop me from being taken by surprise when I walked into my internship the first day and was greeted with cheek kisses! I’m not sure if I will get used to that.
I’ve only been here for three weeks so I do not know much about Belgian law but there is one thing that I think should be shared in case people want to visit the country.
To my knowledge, Belgium does not have a law like the American Disabilities Act, or ADA. Therefore, there is not a lot of infrastructure in place to support people with disabilities.
I asked my host mom about why there were no lifts, ramps, etc., to help people get around. She said that Belgium is one of the few countries who do not have any sort of protection in place to help people with disabilities get around.
There is no language requirement to study at Vesalius College in Brussels because it is an English-speaking institution. However, the two main languages spoken in Belgium are French and Dutch.
I think it is important to not let yourself get intimidated by language barriers in Belgium, or to let it prevent you from studying abroad here. I did not previously know any French or Dutch, and I have been able to get around just fine. Brussels is a multinational city where many languages are spoken.
Most people here do speak English. In the Flanders region of Belgium, where I live, English is often their second language.
I’ve already picked up on a few directional words in French just for the sake of getting around better. The first day I was here, I got lost and knowing a few directional words helped me communicate with the people and ask for help.
So far, my experiences here have been great and rewarding. I am just getting started and am looking forward to all the other opportunities I will have in the few short months that I will be here.
About the Author – Tiffany Byers, Fall 2018 Brussels, Belgium Storyteller & Manchester University student
Tiffany is a Senior at Manchester University doubling majoring in Public Relations and Peace Studies. As a fist generation college student, she plans to make the most of every opportunity by taking classes in Arabic, Rhetoric, Political Communication and Public Diplomacy!