Some have been blessed with families who travel abroad, while some are part of families who prefer to stay close to home (myself). As a student whose first international experience was the winter of my junior year of college to the Dominican Republic, a summer in Europe presented an exhilarating and slightly frightening opportunity. Prior to my arrival in Brussels, Belgium, I had never experienced any sort of European culture; I had never needed to take public transportation, I don’t speak any languages outside of English, and I have a passion to see as much of Europe as possible in my short time abroad. Keeping these things in mind, Brussels was the perfect place to begin my European adventure.
Why Belgium is the perfect place for your first trip to Europe:
- English is a widely spoken language in Brussels. Although you will hear a great deal of French and Dutch, chances are you’ll also hear conversations in English. Very rarely do you encounter a Brussels resident who does not speak English. If they aren’t fluent, they probably know enough to help you out.
- Brussels, Belgium is considered the capital of the European Union, making it an especially international city. You’ll have the opportunity to meet people from all over the word and to build relationships that can turn into important connections. Serve the City Brussels, where I am currently doing an internship, has staff members from Romania, England, Sweden, Bosnia, New Zealand, Germany, Greece – and of course, Belgium and the U.S.!
- The public transportation system of Brussels is actually fairly easy to figure out, especially if you invest in a MOBIB pass (a card that you can pre-load your ‘journeys’ on via kiosks throughout the city). If you decide not to use a MOBIB, you can purchase tickets at these kiosks. Each stop has a sign displaying what lines of transportation stop there. The lines are organized by numbers and colors, each line having a ‘to’ and ‘from’ direction. The buses, trams, and metros have screens mounted to their ceilings that allow you to keep track of the stops approaching and what line of transportation they connect you to. Much better than walking through the city!
- Belgium is small and centrally located (30,528 square kilometers), making travel to neighboring countries easy and fairly inexpensive. Trains and planes are usually cheap, often less than €100. Students from my ISA program have taken trips to Germany, The Netherlands, England, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, and even Hungary! It’s a great way to experience Europe in the time span of a summer and on the budget of a college student.
Not everybody had opportunities to travel abroad while growing up. Although it may seem like it’s too late, traveling as a young adult is wonderful, because you most likely aren’t worried about a spouse or children or job – you really don’t have much to miss! For those of you that are considering making your first expedition to Europe – you’re not alone, and Brussels would be a great place to begin!