Q&A: My experience studying in Leuven, Belgium | Top Universities

Q&A: My experience studying in Leuven, Belgium

By Chloe Lane

Updated December 1, 2022 Updated December 1, 2022

Sponsored by KU Leuven 

Leuven is an ancient capital and the largest city in the Flemish Brabant province in Belgium. It’s also a buzzing study destination, ranking in the top 50 of the most recent QS Best Student Cities rankings.  

But what is it really like to be a student in Leuven?  

Summer Johnson is a graduate of KU Leuven, an innovative research university in the heart of the city and the highest-ranked Belgium university in the QS World University Rankings this year. Summer studied her MA Medieval History and since graduating has returned to her home country, the US, to work as a healthcare executive. 

Fourth-year PhD student, Gero Höhn decided to stay on to complete his PhD in business economics after graduating from KU Leuven with a master’s. 

TopUniversities spoke to Summer and Gero about their experiences studying in Leuven. 

Why did you decide to study at KU Leuven and what stood out to you about the university before applying? 

Summer: KU Leuven has such incredible programmes for international students. The university is so welcoming and accommodating and the faculty go out of their way to make sure students have the tools they need to move abroad.  

I was also very impressed by the university's commitment to excellence in research, social issues and the global landscape.  

Gero: KU Leuven is a prestigious university which is renowned worldwide, with ground-breaking, innovative research. Its faculty of economics and business also gained elite accreditation for business schools. 

During my master’s degree I spent a semester abroad at the EM Strasbourg, focusing on international wine business. While the Master of Business Economics offers great opportunities for international mobility, I liked the fact that Leuven is just two hours from my hometown Cologne, which allowed me to keep in close touch with my family and friends. 

What did you most enjoy about studying in Belgium? 

Summer: I loved Belgium: the architecture, the people, the professors, the university and the proximity to Europe. Belgium has such an amazing social support infrastructure and public transit system. They really invest in the community to make sure life is enjoyable for those living there. 

Gero: As a master’s student, I enjoyed spending time with my new friends. This not only involved going out together, exploring new places, sharing mealtimes at the campus dining hall or doing sports, but also discussing our studies, developing group projects and presenting our findings.  

Today, as a PhD, I am also truly grateful for all the wonderful and competent colleagues I have. A PhD is more demanding than a master’s but the conditions at KU Leuven are very good in terms of scholarship pay, opportunities to learn new skills and receiving feedback on research.  

I have the privilege of living in the Groot Begijnhof, which is owned by KU Leuven and offers accommodation for staff and students. The Groot Begijnhof is an absolutely stunning place to live as is one of Belgium’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites. 

What is unique about Leuven compared to other Belgian cities?  

Summer: Leuven has so much that sets it apart. It’s a student city and there are so many things in place to support students. The architecture is also incredible. I love the university library and the Ladeuzeplein.  

I also loved how much green space there was, with bike trails and running trails all around, especially around Arenburg Castle.  

Gero: Leuven is a beautiful city rich in history that also has a great cultural scene as well as a vivid student culture.  

The marvellous Stadhuis (town hall), the Universiteitsbibliotheek (university library), the Groot Begijnhof and the Museum M allow you to dive deep into the intriguing history of Leuven.  

On the Dijle, a small river that runs through Leuven, students can kayak surrounded by green fields, grazing cows and overarching trees.  

Leuven is home to a lot of top restaurants. After dinner, you can finish the day with drinks and dance at the Oude Markt, which is famously known for having the longest bar in the world. 

Is there anything that surprised you about student life at KU Leuven? 

Summer: I was surprised at how much there was that was specifically for students, like the many student bars (Fakbars). I was also surprised how often students liked to gather and go out and spend time at cafés and bars. It was very lively.  

Gero: The main thing that surprised me was that most Belgian students go home on the weekends. This meant international students would spend more time together on the weekends and, consequently, I had a much more international group of friends. 

Most people in Leuven have a good grasp of English, making it easy to interact with people. 

You could still learn the Dutch basics as a sign of respect, of course. For Germanic language speakers, I strongly recommend taking Dutch classes at the CLT or ILT in Leuven. Dutch is very close to our mother tongues and you can make progress fast, making the learning process very rewarding. 

Where were your favourite places to study in Leuven?

Summer: My favourite study area was Barboek, which is a coffee shop and bookstore in one. I also loved Zwartehond and De Maekerij. 

Gero: As a master’s student, my favourite place to study was the library of the Faculty of Law in the city centre. Your KU Leuven student card allows you access to the libraries of all faculties, including the historic main university library. 

I preferred the law faculty library because it neatly combines modern infrastructure, quietness, a delightful building and scenery. It’s also in an optimal position to get lunch in restaurants or campus dining halls nearby.  

Today, I work in the office of my research centre, which is also in the very centre of Leuven. It grants enough space and all necessary multimedia facilities to effectively conduct research, give seminar presentations and participate in online meetings.  

When you aren’t studying, what were your favourite things to do as a student in Belgium? 

Summer: I loved biking and running on the many trails. 

Gero: In Leuven, my favourite things to do are to go out with my friends. There are many things to do in Leuven, from museums to exploring nature. During my PhD studies, KU Leuven built a new gym, which is big and newly furnished.  

From Leuven, you can reach many fascinating destinations by train. This is not expensive in Belgium particularly because there are student and weekend discounts. Over the course of my master’s and PhD I had the chance to visit many magnificent places: the vibrant Liège, historic Bruges and Antwerp.  

You can take breath-taking hikes in the Ardennes or enjoy the dunes and beautiful beaches. My favourite part of the Belgian coast is De Haan and its surroundings, which can be reached in approximately two hours from Leuven by car. 

What is the food like in Belgium? 

Summer: It's very… Belgian, but delicious! Lots of meat and potatoes and cream and cheese. 

Gero: Belgian food is similar to the food from my hometown in Germany. For example, in Cologne we are proud of our local food traditions such as Flönz, a smoked blood sausage, and mussels. Both are also popular in Belgium. However, the Belgian cuisine has more French influence I would say, which is great as it adds a bit of finesse.  

What advice would you give to potential students considering studying at KU Leuven? 

Summer: It can be hard and scary and a lot of work, but it is absolutely worth it. The people are amazing and it's such a beautiful, life changing experience.  

Gero: If you’re considering a PhD, check for potential topics based on the professors’ and corresponding course profiles. Students that aspire to do a PhD in the future and start studying at KU Leuven should then put effort into their master’s thesis topic proposal and thesis research.  

Finally, I can strongly recommend taking part in the welcome activities organised by KU Leuven and student organisations: barbecues, drinks, weekend trips or sports events.  

I recently had a reunion with friends that I met during my master’s in Leuven and it just makes me unbelievably happy and grateful that we still share a strong bond and can laugh about all the unforgettable times we had together in Leuven.  

This article was originally published in December 2022 .

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Written by

As Content Editor for TopUniversities.com and TopMBA.com, Chloe creates and publishes a wide range of articles for universities and business schools across the world. Chloe has a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from the University of Reading and grew up in Leicestershire, UK. 

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