Belgium: A Short Story of Brussels

It was July 2015 when I got a phone call informing that I was awarded for Jean Monnet Scholarship Programme (2015-2016), which was totally out of blue. The programme that I enrolled was International Conflict and Security at University of Kent in Brussels. I thought I couldn’t make it and had already started planning what I was going to do for the winter. Needless to say that I accepted the offer, instead so the long journey had begun. Visa application for Belgium was a very painful and problematic process for Turkish passport holders. I had to go through some intimidating process to get it. They finally issued a 6 months visa, which at least gets me to Brussels. When you move in, you can get the compulsory Carte de Séjour (Residence Permit) by going back and forth to the Municipality.

The view out of our window

For 2 weeks, I have been looking for a suitable appartment with an Austrian named Ben (Benjamin), who was going to be the partner-in-crime for the whole year in Brussels. We eventually fed up with going around and stopped seeking when we came across the appartment shown above. It was in Etterbeek area, which is one of the most convenient options for us. Monthly rental fee was around € 550 per head including everything.

Austrian jackal – Ben (Benjamin) – He’s probably got high by the strong smell coming out of the Lebanese restaurant beneath our building

Renting a place is a real challenge here in Brussels because the real-estate agencies are usually owner-friendly rather than tenant-friendly. Also, once they get your signatures and rent it out, you are mostly dictated for what/how to pay when you are leaving. We almost couldn’t even get anything back out of our deposit at the end. Well, our Moroccan real-estate agent well-deserved our retaliation as a response. She couldn’t foresee how much we love diplomatic engagements… 🙂

The main door of our building hailing the Żubrówka

There are some other reasons than fries, beers, mussels and waffles to live in Brussels. Before all, it is an excellent place to learn French. I strongly recommend Brussels for those who have that urge. One of my main priorities was to learn French here. 80% of the population in Brussels speak French (the rest – Flemish and German) and since it’s the language spoken in the streets, not learning would be a great loss. I had really worked hard and chosen Alliance Française Bruxelles for the entire year. I already had a background and basic knowledge but it helped me to reach almost C1 level, which was already much higher than I’d expect.

Streets of Bruxelles

2 things helped me the most. First one was talking to the Francophone Maghrebi (Morroccan, Algerian, Tunisian) people, who are mostly easily approachable and talkative. They also never ignore or despise when you talk idly and about daily silly stuff. I mean you have to talk bullshit when you are in process of learning a language, right!? Therefore, they could have a conversation from politics to football, or palm trees to Belgian beers. If you also have some mint tea (thé à la menthe) on your table, literally nothing else’s needed. Second one was faking (not in a bad manner). You just go around pretending that you don’t know a single word in English. Then, French is left as the only language that you can communicate with the people. 

An event about refugees at Grand Place organized by UNHCR

Another great opportunity is that Belgium is a hub for the European Union institutions and NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization). For this reason, one can claim it’s the capital of Europe by both its location and hosting nature for the most important institutions. By living here, you easily get in touch with those institutions and participate in their events. You might inevitably find yourself in an event organized by the European Parliament for the weekend since you are all surrounded by the people who constantly invite you for those kind of events.

at European Parliament – Sorry, I can’t start talking without taking a sip of my coffee


European Commission’s main building at European Quarter

Getting to any country in Europe is so easy if you fly from Brussels. This is one of the perks that I like the most about living in Brussels. You can literally find a 5€ plane ticket from Brussels to more than 10 countries around. The most expensive ones might be around 40€ or 50€. This ultimately makes you want to explore as much as possible. I followed almost ‘one country a week’ principle. In the end, I had a chance to explore every single country in Europe.

A few pics. from streets:

Manneken Pis – One of the most popular things in Belgium



Grand Place
Belgian beers!


European Ministry of Bonzai is also located in Brussels

And this (work of art by Salvador Daliis what happens when you bring baklava to your neighbours from Turkey:

— Austria: ‘omg, I can eat them all if you won’t’                             — Ethiopia: ‘just another desert. Let’s eat it anyway’                    — The United States.: questioning ‘what’s inside?’

In Brussels, everything is international. Everyone assumes that you speak English fluently. It’s like a city designed to be international and accommodate global participants in it. Even though it doesn’t offer much to tourists, there are so many reasons to live in. It’s relatively more promising and easier to live here than any other European capital. Apart from trying Belgian beers and going to Delirium cafe, touristic stuff doesn’t appeal to those who are expats here.

After all, writing the thesis in our library was the main activity, anyway…
And, this was the most important product coming out of my Brussels’ story…

Ending the story with a picture below:

It was written on a metro station, says:                   ‘Being well-adapted to a sick society is not a sign of a good mental health’

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