First, let me make a statement: Erasmus programme must be the smartest thing that the EU created since its beginning. And if you have any doubts about studying abroad - Don't! Erasmus is always fun no matter of the destination! What i can tell you is why Belgium may be a good choice to go for.
When you come from the hot, temperament Balkans, where you are simply used to living on the edge between the Worst and the Best and you can hardly find yourself somewhere in between, Belgium really does not seem an exciting place to go ahead. Especially when you have Portugal as another option. Belgium! - I thought. - Too normal, too European, too civilized and too... boring therefore.
Well, one of the first things you learn from your Erasmus experience, is that to break the stereotypes and crash the myths and to create your own is much more fun than to simply float on people's prejudices. Belgium is neither average, nor boring. Just on the contrary, quite a diversity actually! When it comes to people Belgium appeared to be the most colourful place i have ever been! Who says that globalization is an abstract term? Here you can smell it, taste it and touch it.
Head-to-toe Muslim veils, long bearded Jewish people with the-most-weird-hats-on-ever, vivid African garbs, Asian people from all throughout the East continent...you name it. You can have it all! In a country that has three official languages, seven districts and six governments /you can never be sure about that actually/, please do not teach them to respect differences. They are simply born with this ability.
Speaking of languages, a really useful tip comes along. Do not talk in French in the Dutch speaking part and vice versa. Most people are quite sensitive towards this and as I come from the region where ethnicity has a really bloody meaning, I am the last one to blame them for that. To avoid uneasy situations, just talk in English. Everybody knows it well and it doesn't seem to bother them at all.
Well, Belgium is expensive. Speaking with figures - just make it double if you come from Bulgaria. If you rely on your University scholarship, don't! There are discounts for students, of course, but a considerable amount of money put aside in advance will definitely work better.
As I have started with the practical matters, i have three important statements to make about living in Belgium:
Statement No.1 Bus drivers are crazy. Fast and furious.
Statement No.2 Belgians are very good in recycling, so you better learn to respect the environment. /Otherwise you will face a sharp penalty!/
Statement No.3 Everything is closed on Sunday! So, I'm telling you in advance - Sundays are boring in Belgium!!!
Let's come to the point. Parties! Well, Belgian people know how to party... in a very organized way! Everything should be carefully scheduled and prepared in advance. That is the main point of the existence of the enormous amount of youth movements here in Belgium. Seriously, Belgians are really keen on this kind of social gatherings. What a looser you must be if you are not a member of something!
Once you go to a party, it is all about drinking beer and...drinking beer. But it is fun after all! You want to go to a party in Gent, Brussells or Bruges but you are living in Antwerp? No problem at all. Distances are not an issue here in Belgium.
Now when it comes to aesthetics, obviously we have quite different perceptions in a comparison with the Belgian youth. Let me describe what does "hot" and "fashionable" mean if talking about boys. He will probably be slim, tall and blond. The hairstyle - the more unusual, the better! If his hair is so messy, that he can barely see you, then you have the perfect sample! The jeans must be tight, really tight so that you can easily see everything. I mean literally everything!
Seriously, it is not hard to see that fashion is an important issue among the young people in Belgium. Zara and H&M are religion. Shopping - definitely a national sport! Especially in Saturdays on the Antwerp's main street Meir you can see what is like a traffic jam of... people! And I'm not joking, sometimes you have to wait for 10 minutes just to move few steps forward!...
At first you may get the impression that Belgians are quite reserved nation or typical northern people - cold, seroius and boring. It is true that they will hardly dare to talk to you first, but once you start a conversation they appear to be quite friendly and helpful people.
But it is also true that Belgians are individualists. Sometimes the differences in the temperament are so big, that you begin to feel like the main character from the movie "My Big Fat Greek Wedding".
But Belgians are in fact always curoius to learn more about your own culture because they love to travel and to discover new countries. And for sure, you will be well accepted and welcomed.
No matter of the differences, it is really the people you have met here what you like best about being Erasmus! And definitely it is the thing that you will miss most when you go back home!