My name is Georgia Johnston from Taiwan. I am a diplomacy student from Tamkang
University. I spent some time in Belgium in 2018 for an internship. I liked it so much I
decided to put Brussels as my first choice when applying for an exchange programme.
I am lucky to be able to spend my exchange year at Saint Louis Brussels. Before arriving I was extremely worried about whether I could fit in and make friends, but the students here have been nothing but helpful. I’ve made friends with local students in class and during ESN events, I was introduced to some of the best restaurants in town, and my Belgian buddy even picked me up from the airport with her car!
Learning experience wise, the professors here speak good English thus they are able to go deep into the explanation of the content they teach. Back home we use a forum to communicate with the professors and organize our schedule, and I was happy to find Saint Louis with similar technique. The intranet was a bit complicated at first but very helpful after getting a hang of it. The thing I had the hardest time to adjust to was the exam month. In Taiwan all the exams are crammed into a single week, so I was used to studying intensely for a period, then get it over with in a week. In Europe the exams are dragged through a month and over holidays. It was hard to be constantly stressed out for such a long time at first, but I was able to readjust my attitude, and was able to plan my studies accordingly.
As an exchange student there were no pressure to compete grades in ranking, and we were always surrounded by new things to experience. Unlike back home where the professors would keep an eye on our performances, the school here really tests our self-disciplines and our ability to arrange time. After two years preparing for the exchange application and a lot of money to come here, I worked really hard on my studies. Although it felt like I missed out on a lot of fun, my academic growth was worthwhile. Something worth mentioning is the location of Saint Louis. Located near city center, it was not only fun to explore around but also convenient to travel away to further tourist spots. Some may say the campus is tiny, however, my home school sits in the mountains, so I was happy to be able to go from class to
class without climbing up and down the hills.
Two things that caught my notice during my stay, first being the student culture. In Taiwan, partying isn’t part of our student culture. While clubs and bars exist, frequent party goers tend to have a bad reputation and they’re not where most people hang out. In Taiwan we socialize over food: food stands, night markets, and stir fry restaurant. I went clubbing for the first time in Brussels and I was greatly disappointed to learn that they don’t serve food. My dream of eating all the food on the table in the corner while others dance and make out was crushed, but at least I’ve experienced partying. So I guess I’m one of the cool kids back home now.
The second thing, and also something I missed the most, is how people express themselves. People there dress however they want, decorating themselves with bright colors and crazy haircuts. I was especially amazed by the amount of glitter I see on some of outfits in store. My country being heavily influenced by Japanese and Korean styles, tend to be more conservative when it comes to fashion. Conservative not in the way that revealing clothes are frowned upon (which they sometimes are), but that people are more comfortable not standing out too much with how they dress. Perhaps it is because I am a foreigner there, but I do feel more at ease in Brussels than at home, where I’d worry about drawing attention on myself even in a simple tank top.
You start to do comparison when you’re in a new environment. I realized how I took some of the things in Taiwan for granted: clean metro, safe streets to walk alone at night, being able to go out and buy food at 3 am, and PROPER BOBA TEA (yes they are from Taiwan!). But I also see things that we can improve as a country: a more open-minded society, a new system for secondary schools (because Asian kids are depressed), and better environmental awareness.
Unfortunately, with the virus outbreak in March, my exchange had to come to an end.(...) I never got the chance to properly say goodbye to Belgium and it still makes me sad thinking about it. I will definitely go back and pay a visit after the pandemic is over.