Year — Fall 2019
Aug 20-23, 2019 → Jul 4-7, 2020
If you’re searching for a vibrant mix of European culture, look no further than Belgium. As the headquarters of the European Union and NATO, it’s a hub of international activity. Join students from around the world to explore a country with three official languages and historic ties to French, Dutch, and German cultures. By living with a host family in the southern half of the country and attending a local high school, you can get an inside look at the customs, the language, and the people of Belgium. This is your chance to redefine the meaning of international education and spend a year or semester immersed in the Belgian way of life.
According to international polls, Belgium is one of the most satisfied countries in the world. This satisfaction is perhaps due to the fact that Belgians tend to be very involved in their communities and government. Even so, they can be reserved around new people, and you may have to take the first step in getting to know someone. But once you do, plan to find yourself surrounded by a warm and friendly community.
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. You’ll be taken to a three-day arrival orientation where you’ll have a crash course on Belgian culture and get to know members of AFS Belgium (French).
Soon you’ll be ready to travel to your community. Along the way look out for dense forests and intricate medieval architecture (there are more castles per square mile in Belgium than anywhere else in the world). As you travel further into your picturesque new home, you’ll likely see people gathering together on cobblestone streets to devour waffles or munch on crispy fries.
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 particularly 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 experience 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.
During your year abroad, you’ll get a chance to give back to your community by becoming involved in a local non-governmental organization (NGO) or social organization.
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.
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 may find that your Belgian peers are more focused and dedicated to 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.
Before you get to Belgium, you’ll be given access to a Rosetta Stone language course. You’ll start learning French through this online program before you arrive, which will help you communicate with your host family right away! Once in Belgium, AFS will help you continue your French language lessons on a local level.
"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.