If you’re thinking about studying abroad, consider studying in a country that tends to fly under the radar for students contemplating their next adventure. Belgium is centrally located within Europe, and it has an abundance of beautiful historic sites, delicious food, and diverse people. If you’re looking for a study abroad experience that involves exploration and gorgeous architecture, Belgium is the place for you!
1. A nation with an identity crisis
Belgium boasts a diverse population with three official languages: French, German, and Dutch. Although this has created governmental friction in the past, it allows for a unique experience for visitors who are interested in learning more about a country that is challenged by ethnic division (or learn a new language).
For those that love traveling and discovery, it is worth noting that Belgium is only 11,787 square miles. It takes less than three hours to drive east to west, and another three hours to drive north to south. It’s a lot of country in a small area.
3. Chocolate, waffles and fries…oh my!
If you haven’t tried Belgian chocolate, you are missing out. Belgium is the world's number one exporter of chocolate, they know their chocolate! Belgium is also world-famous for waffles with three specific types of Belgian waffles: Liege waffles which are eaten like cookies, Brussels waffles are eaten with toppings such as whipped cream or chocolate, and Galettes waffles are usually eaten for breakfast with jam. It’s also believed that French fries are thought to have been invented in Belgium, and not in France. Be sure to try them at a restaurant or any one of the street vendors you pass along the way. It’s best if you try them with the Belgian specialty sauce, andalouse.
4. The center of Europe
For those wanting to use their study abroad opportunity to travel Europe, take advantage of Belgium’s central location. Belgium is easily accessible to bordering countries such as Luxembourg, Germany, and the Netherlands, as well as other countries such as Italy, Spain and Greece. Be sure to experience the open borders of the European Union, allowing one to travel easily by train, plane, or automobile!
The largest city and capital of Belgium, Brussels holds the European Parliament and is home to the NATO headquarters. Brussels also holds many historic sites and landmarks, such as Grand Place and Town Hall. Be sure to take a peek at Manneken Pis “little man pee,” depicting a small sculpture of a little boy peeing into a water basin. Sounds odd, doesn’t it? Well, it is one of the most famous sites in Brussels, and the Belgians love this sculpture so much they routinely change his wardrobe with a small ceremony a couple times a week.
This city is Southwest of Brussels and best known for the Carnival of Binche for Mardi Gras, dating back to the 14th century. Upon entering this city during the carnival, study abroad students will instantly feel as though you are stepping back into time watching the parade of thousands of men dress up as Gilles. These men and young boys dance down the streets wearing outfits with the colors of the Belgian flag, trimmed in white lace, throwing blood oranges to the crowd.
Northwest of Brussels and one of the most beautiful cities in Belgium. Along the Leie River, students studying abroad can witness the buildings representing the historic Flemish architecture that still stands today.
One of the oldest bridges in Belgium is in Bruges, which truly exemplifies the name of this city; it means “bridge” in Dutch. This city falls along the canal and is sometimes referred to as the “Venice of the north”. Take in the sites by walking around this quaint city, or take advantage of the canal by going on a boat tour.
About 16 miles east of Brussels, Leuven is the capital of the Flemish region of the country. Both the Stella Artois brewery and the Oude Markt “Old Market” are located in Leuven, which attract many young students from all over the world. The Oude Markt has over 45 bars and restaurants within the tiny city square.
10. Cultural voyage
You will be charmed by the history, the people, and the diverse cultural influences brought by the Flemish, the Walloons (French-speaking Belgians), and the Germans.