This year it has been 7 years since I did my study exchange in Louvain-la-Neuve and I thought that I could write some useful information based on 6 months spent there. So if you are deciding where to do your study exchange or already considering LLN, you need to read this post about Erasmus in Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium.
Louvain-la-Neuve and the University
Louvain-la-Neuve is a student town located 20 kilometres southeast from Brussels, built in the 70´s expressly to host the French-language part of the Catholic University of Leuven. It all started in 1968, when due to linguistic issues, the Catholic University of Leuven split into Dutch-language part Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KU Leuven) that stayed in Leuven and the French-language part Université Catholique de Louvain (UCL) was moved to the newly constructed town called Louvain-la-Neuve (new Leuven). Université Catholique de Louvain is the largest French-speaking university in Belgium.
You can notice the young spirit of the town directly. The architecture looks still fresh compared to the University in Leuven which dates back to the 15th century. I have visited LLN again last year and there were many construction works going on, which means that the town is still getting bigger and modern.
The centre is inhabited particularly by the students and so during the week, Louvain-la-Neuve is a very alive place with many events going on, while during the weekends, the town becomes empty as many Belgian students often leave. But don’t worry! There are many weekend activities organised by the Kot Erasmus and ESN so as an Erasmus student, you don’t get bored here unless you are searching for it. Often you may organize dinners or travel arrangements with your fellow Erasmus students.
I did Erasmus at the Louvain School of Management and enjoyed the courses given by people who worked in the field and they gave us a lot of practical examples. The courses were based a lot on case studies, discussion, group works and presentations, as the accent was put especially on the practical side of the subjects taught. I really loved the way the study was organised as in the Czech Republic, it was based much more on theoretical knowledge.
How To Get To Louvain-la-Neuve
Belgium with its 2 international airports is easily accessible from many European cities (especially with low-cost RyanAir or Brussels Airlines). The two Belgian airports are very well connected with Brussels from where you can easily get to LLN: from Brussels National, you take the train to Brussels (20 minutes) and then direction Ottignies – Louvain-la-Neuve with a transfer in Ottignies (45 min to 1 hour, depending on the train type) and from Charleroi (Brussels-South) the way with one transfer takes one hour and few minutes.
Check the train schedules on the official website of SNCB (Belgian railway company).
Student accommodation in Belgium in general consists of so-called “kots” that are basically apartments with multiple rooms for students with shared bathroom, kitchen and dining room. In Louvan-la-Neuve, the University provides the kots also for exchange students, but you need to book them fast (few months in advance), otherwise you can find rooms for rent in houses of the locals or there are also agencies renting rooms or studios for either short-term or long-term period.
For general info about accommodation provided by the UCL, including the list of agencies or home owners renting rooms or apartments, click here. You can also search on various FB pages in order to retake somebody’s kot for a short-term (for example here). If you do not find accommodation until your arrival, you can arrange few days´ stay at Kot Erasmus as they have some spare rooms usually.
Every Day Life
Many facilities assuring a quality student life are available in Louvain-la-Neuve. If you have accommodation in the town, everything is walking distance. Particular faculties, sport centre, canteen, library, cinema, doctor, shops, restaurants, bars, clubs, lake etc.
Sports centre “Blocry” is accessible to all students and you have a huge choice from various types of sports, from football, tennis or badminton to dance or fitness. I did a salsa course there and really loved it. I also tried scenic dance or step aerobics, depending on the mood. Apart from collective sports, there is a basic gym and swimming pool too.
Lake is a popular place during the warmer months – people go running and walking their dogs around the lake, fishermen try their luck, students organise picnics and barbeques when it is not raining – well ok, do not imagine real BBQ with good meat or what as BBQ is often just a code name for drinking. 🙂
Eating out is very nice in Louvain-la-Neuve. Student canteen is available in the center of the town and during my time, they offered daily dish, salad bar, and pasta with 3 types of sauce every day. The town is also packed with some good restaurants such as Nulle Part Ailleurs, Le Piano (one of the oldest restaurants in LLN), Belgicanos (tapas), La Creperie Bretonne (pancakes), Le Brasse-Temps (beers) and many others. And then stands with kebab, french fries and waffles are present too.
Tin Tin Museum grown in LLN when I was leaving in June 2009. Since then it is a popular museum for the lovers of comics.
Theater and cinema is present in LLN too. Honestly, I never went to see a movie in LLN, was always too busy either out with friends, doing sports or studying.
There are also many shopping possibilities in Louvain-la-Neuve. Apart from the shopping center including large supermarket Delhaize, there are many boutiques in the city center.
Parties in Louvain-la-Neuve are wild! In the beginning, it will annoy you as you are probably not used to such a wildness, but at the end you will miss it! Apart from parties going on in the particular kots, one special thing about student life in Louvain-la-Neuve are the Cercles, small bars and clubs ran by student communities. Every faculty has one and then there is a common one called La Casa. Those places are usually wild, stinky and dirty and you should enter only if your stomach can handle it, plus being dressed in your worst clothes and shoes that will never enter your room. In those cercles, it is usual that people throw half-empty beer cups in the air or directly on each other. Also, as it is often very crowded and the way to the toilet is not always easy, and I think I do not need to continue. You migh think that I am exagerating… well, we can talk about after you receive your first beer shower (and you might be lucky if only beer). 😉
For the foreigners this is crazy indeed, but it’s their tradition and it’s nice to experience it once you are young and looking for fun time spent with other students. At the end, you may have some fun stories to tell others… 🙂
During my stay, the Becketts was the only cultivated place to go out for dancing and every student in LLN knows where to find it. For those that were not big fans of circles, it was then a good option. Becketts is an Irish pub with a dancing floor upstairs and there were Salsa courses on Sunday.
In the spring, student parties moved next to the lake and around the main squares – Grande place and Place de l´université – people were just sitting on the ground, drinking and talking to each other. Police was present in case of need. 🙂
There are two big events during the year in Louvain-la-Neuve. These are “LLN 24h vélo” in October (a bike race organized by the students, followed by a huge open-air party with about 40,000 participants every year!) and “Bal des Busés” in May – both are huge events with open-air concerts and the whole town is crowded, your group gets separated and you get lost few times, but it´s still fun.
Once in Belgium for Erasmus, it is time to discover the big Belgian cities such as Bruges, Gent, Antwerp, Brussels, Namur etc. You can get to these cities easily by train and as a student, you can get a cheap train ticket between LLN and Brussels and so called GoPass that allows people under 25 years to travel for low price between all Belgian cities. This is also practical once your friends visit you as you can easily note in more travellers the same way.
Brussels is a strategic point for those who want to discover Europe. If you come to study in Europe from other corners of the world and you are hungry for travel, Belgium is your place! With the capital lying few hours by train from Amsterdam, London, Paris, Luxembourg, and having cheap connections with RyanAir from either Brussels National or Brussels South (Charleroi) to the rest of the Europe. During my stay, I visited Madrid for 25 euros return ticket and Glasgow for 18 euros – crazy, isn´t it?
Those 6 months spent in Louvain-la-Neuve made my life special. I met so many new friends, from all over the world, with whom I spent nice time together! I will never forget LLN and this song from Edouard Priem will remind me of it forever:
Louvain-la-Neuve, you never sleep at night, you make me sing without stopping. We party all the year long, sometimes in June we cry, I will never, never forget you!
Erasmus was an unforgettale experience that I would recommend to any young student. Just go and try it! Wherever you feel like, might be Spain, might be Sweden, whatever! Erasmus also changed my life – I was never the same person as I used to be before leaving for Erasmus. After coming back to the Czech Republic, I found it difficult to stay on one place forever, to settle down. The idea was just scary and something inside me called for new international adventures. This was also one of the reasons why after my studies, I returned to Belgium, Brussels where I have been living already for 6 years…
How about you? Have you ever studied abroad? Tell me where and what did you like about it!