Belgium Europe Travel

The Good and the Bad in Belgium

Emily – Catholic University of Leuven – Belgium

Semester 1, 2023

Master of Business


How did I decide to study abroad as a Master Student?

I started a degree in Master of Business in 2019, at QUT, and was set to finally graduate once I completed my final four electives. After four years of studying and working full-time, I decided I was ready for a change, so I applied to go on exchange to study these last few subjects. I knew I could use the experience to travel, and as a means to trial living overseas. As it turns out, it was the practice run I needed before deciding that an international business career might be for me.

 How did I decide where to study/live?

I knew I wanted to go to Europe/UK (I have travelled a bit before and watching Emily In Paris did spark a few daydreams). After deliberating between France, Germany, The Netherlands, England and Belgium for a very long time, I finally settled on Belgium. My initial justifications were:

  1. It’s in the heart of Europe
  2. English is broadly spoken there
  3. There’s a reasonably good business university there
  4. Research showed it was more affordable for accommodation and public transport than England, The Netherlands and France (Germany was off the list at this stage)

Getting there

I left a week into the semester (probably not the smartest thing to do, but I had a wedding to be in, so didn’t have much of a choice). Getting there a week after the semester started was inconvenient, but not too troublesome. I stayed at a hotel after discovering my Airbnb hosts liked to smoke in the house (nearly everyone in Europe smokes and the rules don’t prohibit it – there are people smoking in bars; at bus stops; outside of cafés, restaurants and hotels – people are fine with it).

I found that people were eager to help the Australian girl. They were friendly, happy to go out of their way to assist, even offering to post ads seeking accommodation on my behalf.

What were hardest things to adjust to?

The thing I didn’t really consider that I definitely should have was…The FREEZING cold weather. The grey skies, bone-chilling winds and frequently cold days were more impactful on my mental health, decisions and overall activity levels than I had originally considered.

Another difficulty was the food. I am gluten, and dairy, intolerant and I went to a place where beer, waffles and chocolate rule the menu. I learned to say the appropriate phrases in French and Dutch (the Belgian national languages), but I didn’t always convey the message correctly and at times I got very sick from this misunderstanding.

The toughest part of the trip was finding suitable accommodation. There’s a lot of scams out there and often, the accommodation that isn’t a scam, isn’t liveable. As a 28-year-old professional, I wasn’t accustomed to living in a dorm or to sharing a bathroom or kitchen with 10-15 others… I also wasn’t a fan of the tiny prison cell rooms with paper thin walls and little-to-no windows. However, after about four weeks of desperately looking for a place (and seeing a lot of duds), I ended up finding a place on Appartger.

Unexpected experiences and insights

During those four weeks of searching for a home – on my own and in a new city – I went through a lot of good and bad experiences. (The university wasn’t super helpful unless you wanted to live in an overpriced dorm with high service/admin fees).

Whilst travelling around the city, inspecting random houses and flats, talking to strangers for directions, and catching a wide variety of public transport, I unfortunately encountered some not-so-pleasant spots, people and stories.

The craziest finding was in my first week, where I had looked at two places, each in a different part of the city and each identified by a unique source. Both rooms were vacant and housed a mix of professionals and students. The oddest thing was, each of the previous tenants there had suffered from a psychotic break, identified through odd and violent behaviour which ultimately led to public assaults and incarceration. This eery coincidence had me thinking about the possible environmental stressors that could have caused these students to lose their minds… It gave me a bit to think about and I began comparing my new environment (Brussels, BE) with my old one (Brisbane, AUS).

I did a lot of comparing in those first few weeks, wondering whether foreigners coming to live in Australia had to experience the ugly, shocking and scary parts of cities that locals instinctively knew to avoid. I realised I had taken my localised knowledge for granted and that I needed to accumulate new knowledge, experiences and advice in order to navigate my new home.

The Good, the Bad, The Ugly

Overall, the best part about my exchange was – unsurprisingly, but true – the experience. I gained knowledge that can’t be taught because it has to be discovered; earned life-lessons that can’t be told, because they have to be learned; and developed social skills and important connections that require immense cultural change, challenge to mindset, and personal growth.

Reflecting on my time on exchange is a gift. It allows me to understand what I want in life and how to prepare for a future where I have chosen to work abroad.


Find out how you can apply for exchange via the QUT Student Exchange website.

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