08 January 2011

finding your place

I went to Leuven as part of a junior-year abroad program hosted by my undergraduate college.  I was one of twenty-five students, along with a faculty advisor and his family.  When we first arrived, the prevailing sense was that we had to know or to experience Leuven wholly and immediately.  Our advisor's wife offered a simpler approach.  Acclimation takes time.  Find one corner of the town and visit it regularly, she suggested, develop one habit and do it regularly.  This might have involved strolling through this park:

Or visiting the botanical gardens:

Or going to a favorite cafe once (or several times) a week.  

Finding these places and developing this routine eventually helped me to feel as if I were a part of Leuven, instead of just passing through.  Most of my time was spent here:

The square, the platz, the piazza, the markt: these spaces are central to cultural life in towns and cities across Europe.  In Leuven, the two biggest are the Grote Markt (above) and the Oude Markt (below).  Here you can sip coffee quietly during the day or meet friends for more rambunctious revelry once the sun goes down.  Here multi-generational families gather for a meal and beers of various strengths after church.  Here you can find both companionship and solitude.  Here is why I went to the continent in the first place.  

She was right.

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