Getting a local SIM card
To make sure you don’t spend a fortune ringing round for potential flats on your UK phone like I did, get a local SIM as soon as you can. I’ve been told that Carrefour is the cheapest place to go for a pay-as-you-go SIM; they’re at the checkouts, along with the little slips you use to buy the credit. Also make sure your phone is unlocked and will accept the SIM!
Where to live in Brussels
Finding somewhere to live in Brussels isn’t as straight forward as with many other Erasmus destinations but it’s worth the effort once you’re settled in. You can expect to pay anything from 250 euros to over 1,000 depending on what you’re looking for - but there is something to suit all needs. My advice would be to do your research before you come out here, have an idea of what you can afford, whether you want to live with students or rent a room in a flat and where in the city you want to be. For ISTI or the ULB I’d recommend living in Ixelles as it is so close; it's the student district and is well connected with transport. Another good area is Uccle which is equally close. You can chose to live further out of the city in somewhere like Forest or closer to the centre but expect an average journey of 40 minutes to classes (not great if you have an 8AM start!).
In terms of searching for an apartment, I’d recommend using websites like Appartager, Expatriates and Brukot, but there are others around too. Watch out if you’re staying for fewer than 12 months as it will often be your responsibility to find someone to replace you when you leave. Don’t be afraid to make phone calls - you'll find lots of people don’t respond to their emails.
Transport in Brussels
So, you’ve got your SIM card and somewhere to live, now you need to get your transport sorted. For the first few days you can get a travel card for 1, 2, 3, 5 or 9 days (I think!). They are well worth getting; you will spend a fortune if you get individual tickets and no one does it. They charge more if you buy them on the transport too so always use the machine or Kiosk. As a student you can get 50% off of your MOBIB card which gets you unlimited travel. For this you’ll need your passport, a photo and a form signed by the uni. Pop into the International office in ISTI (in the front door, left down the corridor and near the end on the left) and see Claudia (the lady in charge of international students) or Véronique (the co-ordinator for English speakers) and they’ll sort you out.
Institut Supérieur de Traducteurs et Interprètes (ISTI)
Here is a really useful page for ISTI exchange students - it will inform you about enrollment, useful contacts, accommodation, course choices, the library, the university calendar and timetable, and other general advice.
- Get speaking French from the outset, once you start speaking English with a person it becomes the way you communicate and your chances of French practise with this person are shot!
- Be confident, the year abroad is about doing new things, what would be the point if we just lived like we do at home? Push yourself out of your comfort zone and you might surprise yourself.
- Join the Tandem scheme offered by the ULB, there are posters around ISTI, it is a language exchange programme and gives you a great chance to practise with a native speaker- an unfortunately rare occurrence around here.
- Take the classes offered by V Louis, I don’t usually like literature that much but he is funny and speaks clearly so his classes are enjoyable.
- Try and take 1 or 2 classes that aren’t just offered to Erasmus students to get a taster of 'real' classes and mix with non-Erasmus students.
- Travel, you’re in the European Capital! They call it that for a reason you know, you’re in the centre of everything and it’s cheap to get anywhere you want to go in Europe so jump on the train and get going.
- Do the tourist-y stuff. There is plenty to do in Belgium and loads of museums to visit on a rainy weekend so make sure you don’t go home without having seen it all. Oestende, Gent, Leige, and Bruges are all close enough to get to via train and worth a day trip.
- Do what you want to do and not what you feel you should do and what other people are doing. I guess this is a life motto really but honestly, if you want to do something just do it, don’t worry about everyone else, the year abroad is your experience to do with as you wish.