On 17 November, the Day of the International Student, we celebrate the community of international students at VUB. With nearly 25% of our student body consisting of international students, they are an integral part of the fabric of the university. This year we look inward, at our own VUB International Relations office, because we have several international students working with us. We sat down with four of them to ask how they ended up here, what their favourite places are in the city and on campus, and what they initially thought was a weird custom in Belgium when they first arrived. Meet Anna, Arina, Yoana and Firas!

Arina Klishina

Meet Arina, from Russia

Third year, bachelor's in social sciences, focusing on sociology.

I found VUB by googling the study programme I was interested in and the VUB’s social sciences one came up. The website looked good, the campus looked really nice and green, and it just immediately appealed. The cost of the programme compared to other universities also helped, but really it was the whole package that stood out. The campus was so diverse and cosmopolitan, it really was the best choice in every respect. I love studying at VUB and living in BrusselsIt's a great city. It has all a capital city needs, but at the same time it is very manageable, and not crowded like Paris or Amsterdam. And then of course its proximity to other places is incredible; you can really get anywhere from here. And the city is very green, with an excellent public transport system.”

Favourite spot in Brussels? “The Park of the Cinquantenaire

Favourite spot on campus? “The VUB International Relations office, especially as last year (2022) was financially tough for me due to the war in Ukraine, so getting work as a student has been extremely helpful and the International Relations office work is amazing and fun. But I love the whole campus.”

 Working at the VUB International Relations office? “Before working here I was a waitress, and no one spoke English. I managed to get by, but it wasn’t very easy. Here, everyone speaks English in the office. On top of that, I get to help fellow students at the welcome desk, especially those who are here on an exchange.“

Something peculiar about Belgium when you first arrived? “The culture of small talk is odd; we don’t really have that in Russia. You only really talk when needed. Also, here, people say hi to you when they pass you on the street. For instance, where I live, a man walking his dog in the morning will say hello. So nice, but so weird at the same time, but in a nice way of course. The eating hours here are stricter as well compared to at home.”

Day of the International Student, means...? “Recognition from VUB towards its international student community is amazing. Everything here is inclusive, and people are very accommodating by speaking English at the restaurant, the cafeteria, the library, etc. They really make an effort. This wouldn’t be the case back home, where international students aren't taken into account like they are here. If I have one suggestion it’s that there could be more support for non-EEA students; they often don’t have easy access to scholarships, so working as a student is very important, but not always easy to do. But I only have love and gratitude towards the VUB, its staff and fellow students.”

Anna Solodka

Meet Anna, from Ukraine

Second year, bachelor's in social sciences, focusing (probably) on political sciences.

I discovered Belgium via my schoolteacher back in Kyiv. I couldn’t really study at university in Ukraine due to the ongoing war. She had a daughter who’d been in Belgium for five years already, so she encouraged me to check out the different universities. I found VUB and here I am. I like it here. The administration, like the weather, can sometimes be a little tricky, but the architecture is amazing.”

Favourite spot in Brussels? “The Fine Art Museum, and the connected Magritte Museum, but also St-Catherine in the very centre.

Favourite spot on campus? “The little pond with geese behind the Braem Building. It’s nice to go there and find some peace and quiet. You can really hide there and relax a bit.

 Working at the VUB International Relations office? “I used to work (remotely) at my mum’s school in Ukraine, but the work here is great; it’s so international, and I actually enjoy explaining all the administrative processes to students and looking at the details in the different documents. Also, there are so many people here from different backgrounds, and the students who come in to ask for help are from all over the world. It makes it all very interesting.“

Something peculiar about Belgium when you first arrived? “The food portions! They’re huge here. We’re not used to that in Ukraine, so that was an eye-opener when I first arrived.”

Day of the International Student, means...? “The VUB is very international, but I think a day like this is important to recognise that we are all different and to recognise and celebrate that difference, and to be reminded of it. It’s a good thing to be different.”

Yoana Shalyavska

Meet Yoana, from Bulgaria

Second year, bachelor's in social sciences, focusing on communications.

I applied to VUB via an agent. I initially was interested in going to the UK, but this was just too expensive, and the agent suggested VUB in Brussels. When I looked at the study programme it immediately made sense to me. After my studies I’d like to stay on in Belgium and get a job in the field of communications, and maybe look for an internship, to gain experience.

Favourite spot in Brussels? “The Mont des Arts/Kunstberg.

Favourite spot on campus? “I can’t explain it, but I just love Building D. The outside of it especially. I honestly do not know why, but yes. Building D.”

 Working at the VUB International Relations office? “I love working here; the best job I’ve ever had; people are nice; the work is interesting. It’s just great.“

Something peculiar about Belgium when you first arrived? “The kissing on the left side of your face! What is that all about? In Bulgaria we just hug, we don’t kiss like that when we see each other. It’s funny because there are cultural differences with the Belgians; they are less emotional than us, quieter, and maybe a bit more distant, but I mean all that in a good way.”

Day of the International Student, means...? “You know, the VUB just screams international, it’s incredible. It’s not like that everywhere. It’s wonderful that the VUB is so open to international students and celebrates them on this specific day.”

Green campus VUB Etterbeek

Meet Firas, from Tunesia

Second year, master's in applied computer science

While searching for a university for my master’s I eventually found Belgium to be the best fit. Also, my sister was already living in Brussels, so her recommendation helped me decide. I love living here, so probably when I graduate this academic year, I’ll look for a job in Brussels, but equally, if something exciting comes along and it’s abroad, then I’ll not say no to that either. I’ve been quite active here socially. I joined the International Student Platform last year, but also the VUB Musical (which I joined again this year) and made many friends who are local Belgian students. It’s so inclusive here at VUB, especially when you compare it to other universities.

Favourite spot in Brussels? “Bois de la Cambre, and the Parc Royal.

Favourite spot on campus? “Oh, I have several favourite spots on campus: the grass atrium, and the small pond behind the rectorate building.

 Working at the VUB International Relations office? “I arrived a year ago, and immediately joined the International student Platform (ISP). Through that I met two people who work at the International Relations office, and thanks to them I got to work here. Now I know many more people here, and it’s such a relaxing and wonderful atmosphere. There isn’t much hierarchy, and you feel welcome. “

Something peculiar about Belgium when you first arrived? “Back home, when someone visits your house, they are king, and you’d never ever ask or tell them to do something. When you arrive at someone’s house, you’d also immediately take off your shoes before entering. Here, I went to someone’s house, and they immediately ordered me to take off my shoes, not giving me the chance to suggest it myself, and it wasn’t sugar-coated in any way. We have an expression back home that roughly translates as ‘your guest should not scratch their heads’ - things are different here, and I’m used to it now, but it was odd when I first arrived. Cultural differences!”

Day of the International Student, means...? “There are many activities at the VUB that make it international, so I immediately think of the language tables at the restaurant, the various events connecting international students, like the yearly International Student Goodbye, but also the different platforms and opportunities that exist for students to share their experience. VUB really takes care of its international students.”

Happy International Student Day to all our students!