Life-changing experience may sound like a huge cliché, but... Believe me or not, your life will change afterwards. Mine has changed fundamentally, and thanks to these four months, I am where I am right now. Back in Belgium. But I'll come back to that later.
At first glance, an exchange stay abroad may look like a wild, unrestrained ride full of parties, alcohol, fun, and a minimum of duties and responsibilities. Well, I'm definitely not going to argue that this is total nonsense. It's partially true, but those who have already experienced it will undoubtedly agree with me that there is so much more hidden behind this image.
I spent a semester in a small, tiny town in the Flemish part of Belgium. If you've ever been to the Netherlands or Flanders, you know that Dutch is an extraordinary language. If there is a Dutch or Flemish person reading it right now, I apologize in advance for the comparison, but I would personally describe it as a badly spoken, grunting German. Until today I can barely manage to introduce myself in this language. Still, fortunately, speaking Dutch is not necessary as everybody speaks English fluently, and you only need to raise your little finger to order a beer at the bar.
By the way, the local beer is fantastic, and the offer is incredibly broad. Life in this beer nation might almost sound like a dream… until we look closely at prices. 0.33l beer is, on average, three times as expensive as a half-litre beer in Brno. After overcoming the first semi-heart attack, one gets used to it and learns that in order to get drunk, you need to do some pre-drinking with your Erasmus fellas. But don't forget that local beer is very strong, and you have to ride your bike back home from the party. I underestimated this fact many times, and it cost me a lot of falls and bruises. Writing this warning is most probably useless. It belongs to the student life here, and I personally don't regret a single scratch.
In general, the Belgians promoted student life to a completely different level. Even in a small town like Geel, several student organizations organize events several times a week. I would like to describe the election week of these clubs more in detail when beer and fries are available for free as part of their campaign, but as I say - the beer was free and served to you at the school campus from the lunchtime, so my memories are hmm... slightly blurred and hazy.
But as I mentioned in the introduction, Erasmus is not just about this. Living in a new country, adapting to new cultures, and especially getting to know people from all over the world will change your perspective on several things. Suddenly you feel like everything that happens at home is very far away from you, and it does not affect you at all. You will begin to feel an increasing desire to travel and explore the world. Belgium has the advantage of its central location and thus easy air accessibility anywhere in Europe. Therefore, in addition to surrounding countries, I managed to visit, for example, Oslo (unbelievable 20€ for a return ticket) or Copenhagen (for even more unbelievable 10€). Since you are an Erasmus student and you have a limited budget, you are trying out new options that are a real step out of your comfort zone.
I will never forget my first experience with Couchsurfing. I could easily entitle our host as the king of all weirdos. Together with two other friends, we slept in the room literally tiled with tens, if not hundreds of packets of pasta and rice. At that time, we laughed that the guy is getting ready for World War III. Today, four years later, I say that the guy may have predicted the current situation in the world and so that he doesn't need to plunder stores and fight for stocks right now. Anyway, Couchsurfing is a must-experience, and I highly recommend it to everyone. I have tried it several times since then, and besides a little strange experience from Denmark, it has always been an enjoyable, enriching adventure.
But most importantly, besides discovering the passion for travelling and getting to know the world, Erasmus has given me also something else. Something unique that nobody will ever take away from me. Friendships all around the world. And not only from our small family, which we created as a group of around 30 international students in Belgium. After my return to Brno, I joined the local ESN organization where I have had the opportunity to meet other amazing people. So, if you suddenly feel empty or lost after returning from your Erasmus, don't be afraid to reach out to your local section. There are people who will understand you and become your friends for life.
Now it's been four years since I went to Belgium for my Erasmus. Since then, I've travelled to dozens of other countries, visited many of my foreign friends, experienced another Erasmus in Spain... But Belgium stole my heart - you know how it works; the first time is the first time. So, right now, I'm writing this post from another Belgian city, Ghent, where I've decided to move and finish my master's. So, if you still hesitate whether to give it a try or not: Go for it. Trust me, it's worth it.