I am currently studying in Ghent University in Belgium. Ghent is a bit of unchartered territory for fellow Aussies. The first few fellow Erasmus students I met (exchange for Europeans) had never met an Australian before. At first this was a bit daunting; would I be left surrounded by strange Europeans for 6 months? However I soon came to realise this has made my exchange experience all the more exciting and enriching.
Ghent is a ‘city’ in Belgium, with 270 000 Belgium, which to me feels very small (I can bike ride nearly everywhere in 15 minutes). The best part is that 40 000 of the population are students living in Ghent, ensuring a lively vibe throughout the city with there always being something fun to do and someone to do it with whether its drinking next to the canal in the (so far oh so infrequent) sun or trying the different jazz bars and clubs around the city.
Ghent was built in 650AD, so as you can imagine it is veerrryyyy old which is what gives it its charm. Don’t be fooled though, this doesn’t make the city boring: you can’t walk two steps here without stumbling on a bar filled with students drinking at all hours of the day, or fry stands with so many sauces you couldn’t possibly try them all in 6 months.
I live in the uni-housing buildings which was the perfect choice because it means I’m with all the other exchange students and is right next to ‘overpoort’ – a street of semi seedy clubs packed every night of the week with internationals and locals a like partying into the wee hours of the morning. I wont say it houses the most classy establishments, think Kings Cross in Belgium… but can always be counted upon for a fun night out! The group ESN organises many events for exchange students, including international dinner nights, parties every week and trips to local towns and cities.
Belgium is the perfect place to go if you want to see lots of Europe, and if you are worried about living somewhere where you don’t know the local language. Everyone here speaks English and are more than happy to switch languages depending on where you are from (they speak minimum 4 languages each its scary!). Situated in the north-center of Europe it is very easy to go pretty much anywhere. First of all, other cities in Belgium are a 1 hour train ride away tops. I’ve already been to Bruges multiple times and Antwerp. Getting to neighbouring countries is just as easy, I’ve been to Amsterdam and Paris and am about to go on a trip to Germany and Poland.One of the perks of going somewhere with no other Australians is all the friends you make live throughout Europe and are always offering up there home to crash at (I have plans to stay with friends in Istanbul, Ljubljana, Budapest, Katowice…).
Last but not least is of course the classes. Ghent University is a highly ranked institution in Europe, and the classes are all really interesting. The only problem is that to make up the 24 credit points you need 30ECTS which can end up being a lot.. I had to enrol in 8 subjects to ensure I had enough!
Anywhere you choose to go to on exchange I can guarantee you will have a great time, whether its meeting people from all over the world, travelling to places you never thought you would see or learning new skills (like how to cook!). Also check out Belgium if you’re in Europe, you won’t be disappointed!