Year — Fall 2019
Aug 20-23, 2019 → Jul 11-14, 2020
With its culture renowned for tolerance and diplomacy, Belgium is an ideal place to begin your international education. Spend a year wandering the cobblestone streets and you’ll understand why this country has produced some of the finest artists and thinkers of Europe. As you go about your daily life, you’re likely to hear a lot of Flemish (a regional variation of Dutch), but you may also come across natives speaking French, German, and English. This is your chance to experience first-hand the cultural melting pot of Belgium by living with a Flemish host family and attending a local high school.
Belgium is considered to be one of the most satisfied countries in the world, which may be because so many people are involved in their communities and government. Even so, Belgians are often reserved around new people, and you might have to take the first step in getting to know someone. But once you do, you can expect to be surrounded by a warm and friendly community. In the culturally unique Flanders region, people usually prefer to use Flemish, but many are also able to speak French.
Your journey to Belgium will begin in New York, where you’ll meet your fellow AFSers from the US. Together you’ll attend an overnight orientation, and then travel to Brussels where you’ll be met by AFS staff and volunteers. Then you’ll be taken to a three-day arrival camp where you’ll have a crash course on Belgian culture and get to know members of AFS Belgium (Flanders).
Soon you’ll be ready to travel to your community. Along the way you’re bound to see the fairy-tale peaks of castles and walled medieval cities. You also might spot the North Sea with its smooth sandy beaches. As you get closer to your new home, you’ll likely pass long lines of people waiting to buy crispy fries or waffles from store windows and carts in the street.
AFSers have lived in communities all throughout Belgium. You’ll most likely be in a rural or suburban town, but there’s a chance you could end up in a city. Belgium is a small country (about the size of the state of Maryland) so no matter where you are you’ll always be just a train ride away from Brussels, the coast, or neighboring countries (France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg).
Like anywhere in the world, all families in Belgium are different. But Belgians are known to be flexible, open-minded, and accepting of other cultures. You’ll most likely find your host family to be close-knit with one or two children.See where past AFSers have lived
While living in Belgium, you can get involved in the regular fairs and carnivals that parade through both small towns and big cities. You’ll find festivals celebrating anything from electronic music to historic witch trials! Belgium is also the home of popular characters like Tin-Tin and the Smurfs, and the people have a long-standing appreciation for comic strips (in French, bandes dessinées). Your Belgian friends will probably enjoy sports, especially soccer and cycling. Teenagers also participate in activities like tennis, bowling, swimming, ice-skating, and canoeing.
Belgium is famous for waffles (wafelen) and fries (pomme-frîtes) that you can buy from vendors on the street. Belgians claim to have invented French fries, and serve them in paper cones with mayonnaise instead of ketchup. Their chocolate is legendary, with brands like Godiva and Leonidas offering delicious pralines. You’ll also find lots of mussels and carbonade flamande (beef stew) along with potatoes and bread. Belgians take their time to eat, so even with all these options you’ll have the chance to savor each new flavor.
Belgium is known to be a well-educated country with a challenging school system. You’ll likely be enrolled in a general (academic) secondary school, but you might also attend a vocational high school. On Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday classes generally run from around 8 am to 4 or 5 pm. Most schools have Wednesday afternoons off, with classes ending around noon. You should expect to be held to high academic standards in Belgium and may find that your peers are more focused and dedicated to their studies than many in the US. But don’t worry – you’ll also have time to unwind after school with extracurricular activities offered through community or youth organizations.
"Life-changing" is hard to describe, yet it’s nearly always the first thing that AFSers say when asked about their experience abroad.
"Transformed" is another one. When you return home, if you’re like most AFSers, you’ll bring with you a sense of accomplishment unlike any other. You’ll have gained maturity and independence, discovered new passions, and feel like you can do anything you set your mind to. That transformation isn’t visible only to you, though - others see it as well. AFSers gain critical skills for college and careers, ranging from language fluency to intercultural competence and critical reasoning. "Life-changing" means it’s only the beginning.
Please Note: Travel date ranges are meant to help with general scheduling and are subject to change; please don’t book any travel based on these dates until you’ve received confirmation from AFS. All programs, prices, and travel dates are subject to change without notice.