Whoever walks around on this campus hears more and more English. That’s not weird given these global times. How do exchange students experience Brussels and the VUB?
I just started my master’s degree in computer science at the VUB, it’s a two-year program. I’m working on a project about smart-cities at the moment, on programs that find out the fastest way to go from A to B. Nothing specific yet, but after graduation, we would work on developing it completely.”
What do you think about computer science at VUB?
“I think it will further empower me for an appliance that I will do after graduation, which is hopefully finding a job here. I want to stay in Belgium and I hope this will be possible. I want to start learning French and Dutch, these languages have a reputation for being hard to study. I’m amazed by how well Flemish students speak English. I’ve noticed that people from the French-speaking community don’t always speak very well English, not all of them of course. Moreover, I really admire it that people here sometimes speak three or four languages.”
Why did you choose to come to VUB?
“I studied the history of the VUB a bit and learned about the free spirit and the open-mindedness. It was a dream for me to come here. I don’t think you can find Brussels atmosphere anywhere else in Europe, not in London, not even in the US. It’s just astonishing to see how people interact with each other here.”
What kind of difficulties have you faced after leaving Iran to study here?
“I find it really comforting that people here speak English very well, at least in every situation I seem to find someone who does. People in Brussels are very helpful. I did run into some problems at the embassy, they really didn’t handle my case properly and they didn’t seem to care about it at all. I arrived on the 23rd of September, just before the start of the academic year and it really was a struggle to find a room here because I couldn’t get one from the VUB anymore. But in the end, it all worked out and I even managed to get a room from the VUB after staying in a privately-owned room for the first two months. There are always some struggles. But in general, I’m very happy to be here and I’m quite grateful that the Belgian government is investing in international students.”
What is the difference between studying in Iran versus studying in Belgium?
“In Iran, most of the things are done traditionally. Either you do something yourself or you don’t do it at all. All of the extra classes or things you do are seen as investments in yourself. But here you are more encouraged to do the extras. In Iran, the focus was on the theoretical part. If you wanted to do the practical exercises, you had to do it at home. The training sessions are really new to me. Just like the way the professors offer their courses. There are so many different platforms and media they use to give us access to the course, that I’m a bit lost from time to time considering that I’m used to notes and textbooks, the traditional way.”
“I really miss the Iranian cuisine but I’m curious about the food here, I tried waterzooi and it was just perfect. I’m in love with Belgian fries and I’ve heard about the mitraillette and I would really like to try it. Every time I see a place that sells fries, I have to restrain myself from buying them. And of course, the beers here are great. I’m not familiar with a lot of beers yet because in Iran alcohol is forbidden.”
Have you experienced some kind of a culture shock seeing the difference in the way students handle alcohol here?
“Well, it’s different in the sense that we don’t have people being drunk in public in Iran, if you’re a bit smart you don’t go into the streets after drinking because they will arrest you. But I was aware of the fact that people can drink here and that I could run into drunk party-goers. I have to say that I don’t enjoy the encounters with drunk students when I come back from campus.
While we’re on the topic of cultural differences, I would like to mention that I’m glad to have noticed that people here are very open and helpful towards tourists. I don’t want to say that in Iran people aren’t helpful but there’s a slight cultural edge on approaching strangers. For example, if you, as a male, want to approach someone for help, you should seek help from a man. And the same goes for girls. The reasoning behind this is that if a man approaches a girl, they assume he wants to make a move on her. You won’t see any girls approaching a guy on the street to ask for help, it’s really not common. If you approach a girl on the street because you have a problem, you will notice that the girls pretend you are invisible. It’s just because they are used to Iranian guys approaching them with fake problems to break the ice, you see? I noticed here that one’s sex does not influence their willingness to help.”
Do you have any plans to visit your family any time soon? Because since you plan on finishing your master here and look for a job afterward, I assume you’re not planning on moving back to Iran?
“I might find five days or a week this year before the summer to go visit my relatives back in Iran, but that will depend on the amount of work I have for the university. But after graduation, I really hope that I will be able to stay here and find a job in order to extend my visa. After five years with a working permit of category B, I can apply for a category A permit, which would be one for an unlimited stay. It would be a dream come true to be able to stay here.”