Leaving my parents at the airport to travel here to Belgium was, at the time, more nerve-shattering than leaving home to go to university for the first time. I’d never been to Brussels before now, and I had no idea what to expect, neither from my job nor the area surrounding. It’s true that the experience of living in another country is one you’ll never forget. It does indeed become a second home, but if you’ve never lived out of the country before, and never visited said country, finding your feet can be incredibly difficult. I had a weekend to get myself settled in, but the culture shock was huge. Stepping off the plane into the unknown, so close yet so far away from home… not a friend in sight. At least, not for me, anyway! I didn’t know anyone here, I didn’t know how to get around… but taking that leap of faith is one of the best things you can ever do. Sure, you’ll get lost, you’ll fumble with your language and confidence to find where you need to go… you’ll eat the strangest things out of miscomprehension… but you’ll fear very little in the future. I guarantee that once you’ve gotten over your fear of the unknown and you realise the most amazing adventure awaits you , you’ll definitely want more than a measly term or year here! The opportunity to make memories that will last a lifetime awaits you the moment your feet hit foreign soul.
My first weekend here was terrifying, I have to say. I didn’t know what to do or where to go, so I went for a walk around Brussels and I hoped for the best. I found my workplace, which was very close to where I live, and then stumbled over the Royal Palace. I couldn’t have been happier when I realised that I could go inside and look around and take photos for free! The best accident so far, I thought. Listening to the people as I walked around certainly helped me, as I felt myself relax more and more. I remember that there was an exhibition on about WWI and the royal contribution from the King, and I was amazed that I could actually understand the French written there! It gave me a little more confidence to go out and try my first Belgian coffee… ordered in French, of course!
I did find, however, that something as simple as buying food from the supermarket was a trial in itself. The etiquette is completely different to that of the UK, which made me a little more nervous. It seems that simple pleasures such as queuing is non-existent! AND you have to buy plastic bags! Six months on, however, I feel as if I could pass for a native Belgian myself…
Amy Jayne Conley studies French at UEA.