Arts and culture

Six Thousand Four Hundred Kilometers

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Welcome to JNU, where the trees are green, the air is clean and it’s absolutely, completely different than studying in Belgium. I have been at JNU now for nearly three months now and I can honestly say it has been… interesting.

The first thing that people think of, when I tell them I study at JNU is: “Oh so have you protested as yet?”

Well, well, well. Let me tell you – No, no I have not.

It is interesting being at JNU for this very reason; the students rally together to fight causes that may (or may not) be worth fighting for. Sure there are different political parties and as has been seen in the news recently, they do clash. But the point is, the students stand together.

At the KULeuven (campus Brussels), we have student unions, but they have little to no impact on the students’ academic lives (at least that’s the impression I get). They’re great for socializing and organizing events, but in terms of getting involved in the administration side of things – is nearly non-existent. This is partly due to the fact that the KU Leuven originally was only located in Leuven but has over the last few years taken over campuses around the north of the country. This makes us a university of nearly +60,000 students. So yeah I’m thinking that might have something to do with it.

One thing that I have noticed about JNU and which somewhat bothers me is the fact that some teachers seem to easily allow students to make decisions for them. So, in Belgium, if a date has been set for a test, nothing will result in a change in date. Not prepared? Too bad. Train strike? Well, should have left earlier. Sick? Better be dying! I guess it is nice that the teachers can be accommodating, but somewhere a line has to be drawn. If you’re teaching a class of 25+ people, then one person should not be the reason you either don’t show up to class or don’t go through with the test.

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Moving out of KU Leuven

Another difference seems to be in the manner of communication. I have never in my life spent so much time on WhatsApp as I have now. My thumbs are sore. My thumbs can actually lift weights now. Don’t get me wrong though, I’m loving feeling “popular”!

It seems to me that it would be easier to have an easily manageable online platform (not Facebook) where teachers could post all information necessary (not like Facebook) that is accessible by all (not like Facebook).

Now a bit about the JNU campus – Wow!

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This campus is amazing. It is quite literally the greenest campus I have seen so far. There is actually real wildlife! I’ve seen lions and tigers and bears! Oh no wait, that was the zoo. I went to the zoo. No but really, the deer (Nilgai) are actually quite imposing. They walk around like they own the place. “Don’t you go messing with us!”

The KULeuven Campus Brussels is located in the center of the city, in the capital of the European Union. The disheartening part is that there are so many magnificent old buildings by the Belgian architect Horta, and yet we chose a gray and lime green schemed building. Great.

I recently came to learn that because JNU is in a nutshell anti-capitalistic you’ll never see a McDonalds there. Which is actually quite amazing. The food on this campus. Wow (again). I have no words for the food. It is amazing. And it is cheap.

Because Brussels is the center of Europe, vendors seem to think that they can hike up the prices. Food in Brussels is unpleasantly expensive and we don’t exactly get the largest portions. I mean I guess you could technically eat at the cafeteria, but it’s a tad bit disappointing when you can get Thai, Chinese, Sushi, whatever, literally around the corner.

Now, I don’t live on campus so I’m not actually sure what the nightlife is like at JNU. From what I hear it’s a lot of… actually. I don’t know what it’s a lot of. I should probably ask around.

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Oude Markt: a gathering place for students in the student town

I haven’t been out in Brussels in a while, so I can’t really compare it. But I live in Leuven, a student town about 10km outside of Brussels. Leuven is a great place for students. It’s small, probably about the size of JNU campus (at least that’s what it seems like, can basically walk across it in 20 minutes). But the fact that it’s small makes it quaint. And especially if you’re a bit apprehensive about moving abroad for the first time, it’s the place to be. The international students union also regularly does events in order to bring Belgians closer to the international students. I do feel that JNU could learn from that a bit more.

I have to say my experience at JNU will definitely be one that I will cherish forever (as clichéd as that may sound). I know I complain a lot about everything that goes on around here, but honestly doesn’t that just add to the experience? Isn’t that the reason why people choose to go on exchange programs?

JNU has taught me to come out of my comfort zone. It has taught me that if you want something done and done well you need to fight for it. Life will never be easy: finding a career, sticking to deadlines will never be easy. I fought to be at this university. Sometimes I ask myself why, but I think at the end of my six months stint here, no one will dare to go up against me.

JNU has helped me find my voice. Brussels will help me further that voice (in a hopefully more organized path.) Thanks for everything JNU. I know that after I leave you, you’ll still be with me. (Yes. That sounded incredibly cliché and I’m sticking by it.)

Aditi Luykx is an exchange student studying at the School of Languages and works for The Informer.

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