I left miserable Edinburgh for an equally miserable Leuven on Monday the 14th of September. The excitement and nerves finally hit me the night before and I barely slept a wink. A minor palava with my carry on suitcase (damn you Ryanair regulations!), a group of men arguing behind me on the flight about a change of seating arrangements AND my airport taxi failing to pick me up at the other end didn't exactly help with the nerves. I called another taxi and waited around for 90 minutes on my own in the middle of Brussels Charleroi airport and finally made my way to my temporary accommodation in Leuven.
I rented a BE Housing business flat on Bierbeekstraat for 7 nights in order for me to begin room hunting and enjoy some of what the orientation days had to offer. My temporary flat was HUGE. Because of this, I had a very restless first night's sleep. Having so much room to myself without having anyone to share it with (plus a few creepy crawlies lurking in the corners) really daunted me and I woke up on Tuesday morning feeling physically sick. Nerves were primarily to blame. I then realised I was in a foreign country on my own with a million errands to complete in only seven days. Having never moved out of my family home before, I knew moving to Leuven would take a lot of courage and the whole ordeal was, and still is, a huge deal for me and I don't think I quite realised what I was getting myself into until that morning.
To ease with the stress of moving away, I already knew two students from Edinburgh University who had arrived before me, so I was incredibly grateful to have them there to guide me around the essential University buildings where I would register and find accommodation.
In Leuven, they call rooms to rent 'kots', so before I arrived, I joined the 'Te Huur: Kot In Leuven' Facebook page where private landlords or students post their rooms available to rent for the semester or the academic year. I had been in contact with one of the landlords in the Facebook group, so on Tuesday I went to visit the room on Parkstraat. The kitchen was very dark and cluttered and the stairs up to the rooms were very narrow and steep - a bit like Anne Frank's house! The room itself was very nice, but as it was my first viewing I said I would get back in touch at a later date.
I've also noticed a lot of rooms to rent in Leuven don't come with a mattress. Apparently, this is because students in Belgium take their mattresses with them when they leave their accommodation at the end of the year - truly bizarre for any British students.
After a satisfactory first kot viewing, I visited the housing office for guidance on where to look next. An adviser directed me to the KU Leuven accommodation page (Kotwijs), where a list of rooms from a private landlord, KU Leuven residence rooms and private residence rooms can be found. There is a room full of computers and telephones next door to the housing office and this is where I found myself for hours on end every weekday booking subsequent kot viewings.
Throughout the week I visited five rooms - two of which were owned by private landlords, two KU Leuven residences and one private residence - each having their own pros and cons. Ideally, I was looking for a KU Leuven residence, which has obvious advantages over contracting with a private landlord. I also wanted a room in a corridor amongst other international students. Here in Belgium, a lot of Belgian students go home at the weekend, which I've discovered by watching hundreds roll their suitcases through the cobbled streets of Grote Markt and Oude Markt on Friday afternoons. So, of course, I desired for a residence which would have other students present over the weekend. I also think living with international students would be beneficial if I ever suffered from homesickness. Looking for accommodation all depends on the individual, some people wish to totally submerge into the Belgian culture and live with Belgian students - each to their own!
In amongst kot viewing appointments and visits to the housing office, I attended a few orientation events. On Thursday, the University hosted information sessions on 'Living in Leuven' and 'Studying in Leuven'. I found the presentations really helpful and the speaker addressed matters from simply crossing the road in Belgium to the right to waive paying city tax if you reside in Belgium for more than 90 days. I'm looking forward to starting University again as I'm currently lacking a routine in my life. After going to the 'Studying in Leuven' information session, I'm getting the impression that Belgian students devote a larger amount of time studying at home compared to the average back in Edinburgh. I've noticed the exam format is slightly different here. In Edinburgh, 90% of my exams are written and last 2+ hours, with the exception of the odd take-home exam. In Leuven, the exam format varies between oral exams to a three hour multiple choice exam! It'll definitely be interesting to see how the workload here in Leuven compares to Edinburgh.
On Saturday evening, my friend from Edinburgh University and I went to see the OH Leuven football team play against Zulte Waregem. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the game. I've only been to 2/3 football games in my life, all of which included Scottish football fans shouting and swearing at each other, so it was good to sit and enjoy a peaceful Belgian football game. Leuven lost 3-2, but it was definitely an incredible atmosphere and I would love to see them play again. The Belgian national U21 team also play here for only 5 Euros per match - definitely something to put on my wish list for the future.
Afterwards, we joined other international students for the Erasmus after party in Oude Markt. I don't drink alcohol, but I've noticed beer is VERY cheap here. In some places, it is even cheaper than still water! We visited two bars on Oude Markt - one of which sold half pints of beer for the same price as a full pint - bizarre! It was also quite strange watching hundreds of students opt for a pint rather than quickly throwing vodka shots down their throats, something which is (unfortunately) very common in Scotland!
My first week in Leuven has been enjoyable! Regrettably, because of my housing situation, I haven't attended a lot of freshers events. As this is my third year of freshers, I'm honestly not overly fussed because I've experienced it all back home and my priority has been looking for somewhere to stay for the next ten months. The University and student associations are constantly arranging Erasmus events throughout the year, so there's plenty of opportunities to meet other international students in the future.
I still haven't found a room yet and my check out date for this temporary flat is tomorrow - next time you hear from me I should hopefully have a room or will be living in a hostel for a few nights!