When people ask me why I chose to study in Brussels, I usually respond that it was a coincidence. Since I had only managed to come back to university in fall 2017, I didn’t feel ready at all to apply for a study abroad program. At that point my chronic illness and all the related bureaucracy and therapies had taken up so much time that I didn’t dare to add something to my already full plate. I still felt pretty unstable and could barely manage my life as it was. In spring 2018, my friends met up with our teachers to discuss the details for their upcoming stay abroad and were busy filling out their applications and picking a partner university. Starting with the most important points like emergency room or medication supply for six months, the list with reasons why I couldn’t study abroad ended with things like the possible impossibility of finding new friends and homesickness. It seemed impossible to find the courage to apply. Yet suddenly I wanted to, because once again in my life my perspective changed. However, it was already too late, the application period was over and I was angry and relieved at the same time. Out of curiosity I looked up hospitals in Brussels and found many emergency rooms near my campus. I closed the tab and moved on. Some weeks later I received an email about free spots in the Erasmus program. The coordinators almost begged us to apply and this time I took a chance and applied.
I received my nomination a few weeks later and got accepted at Saint-Louis-University in Brussels. Classes in Brussels would start in February 2019 which was almost a year away. For most of the time the only reminder for my stay abroad were the many things I had to hand in and the endless emails I had to write to my coordinators. I also had to figure out how to get my doctor to give me medication for six months, find an insurance that would cover the costs in case of emergency for a period of six months. Then the hard even harder part: I had to contact the university in Brussels and explain my situation and ask them to be understanding when I would miss classes that required attendance. Although I had people who supported me, there were many things that I could only figure out on my own, since I had been the only coordinator of all the illness related things for the past five years. It was overwhelming at times. Sometimes I didn’t believe it would really happen. However, on January 27th 2019 I found myself on a plane to Brussels, with a huge box with medication, many letters from my doctors and my university.
During the first week, I stayed in an airbnb because the student residence only offered contracts for the official time of a semester or quadrimester as they call it in Brussels. Since I had arrived a week early to participate in the introduction week to brush up my French a little and to have a short break before the next semester would start, I could only move in on February 1st. The first days felt like a little vacation.
Luckily I got to know other Erasmus students in my French class. Together we walked around Brussels and ate lots of frites (fries) and chocolate. On Friday I finally moved into the student residence, a building with seven floors located right by the main campus. My classes would take place at a different campus close to the EU parliament, so the first weeks I tried out different ways to get there.
These first weeks were chaotic and I had to get used to the “Belgian lifestyle”. Since Erasmus students could choose classes from every faculty they couldn’t be registered in the online system for one major, so we were given about 20 pages with all the classes that were available at the translation institute and had to literally find our classes.
Although classes had already started we were told that we could “check out” any class for the upcoming three weeks and then make a final choice. As a student who usually chooses their courses at least a month before the beginning of the semester, I was nervous as hell. I always plan ahead and illness wise that is also necessary. Of course I fainted during the first week in Brussels and spent my birthday in the emergency room with the Erasmus coordinators who wouldn’t leave my side. I had fainted during a chocolate tasting tour, right in the middle of a chocolate store. Since it was only the introduction week it wasn’t too bad that I missed a couple of days.
The second week I had a really bad toothache and it turned out it was my wisdom tooth pushing through. The dentist at the emergency clinic removed it on the same day. There I was, a sick chick in Brussels, with a chubby cheek and no clue about my schedule. Homesickness hit me harder than ever. I cried to my cool packs and thought that I should’ve sticked to my initial feeling and stayed at home. However, a few waffles and frites later, I pulled myself together, figured out the schedule and handed it in. Finally I had a plan and felt better.
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