International Studies Abroad ®est. 1987


Culture Corner

Belgian Culture

Brussels is a high paced business and cultural center representing a melting pot of cultres from Western Europe and beyond. With Brussels being a dual language city (both Dutch and French are official languages here) the city draws from multiple cultures and histories to make it what it is today. And now that there is such a strong international presence, Brussels continues to draw influences from cultures from around the globe.

The European Union, European Parliament, NATO and the United Nations (among others) are all located in Brussels drawing business people here from around Europe and the rest of the world and giving the city a very wordly and international atmosphere. It is easy to find nearly any type of cuisine here, from traditional Belgian to American, Thai, Indian or pretty much anything else you may be looking for. You will find that the city is filled with picture perfect European cafes, lively pubs, eccletic street markets, historic buildings, delictible chocolate shops and so much more just waiting to be discovered. Belgian culture has a strong focus on cuisine, arts, celebrations, beer making and more.

Monuments & Must-Sees

Palais Royal
The Belgian Royal Family's Palace.

The Atomium
Built for the Brussels 1958 World Fair. It represents an atom, more precisely it is built on the model of a metal crystalline molecule magnified by 165 billion times, it is 335 feet (102 meters) high and was designed by André Waterkeyn. They hold exhibitions there, and there is constantly something going on there. People can go to the various molecules of the atom and see spectacular views of Brussels.

Église Notre Dame du Sablon (Church of Our Lady of Sablon)
This is a very late Gothic church in Brussels. Built in the 15th and 16th centuries, Notre Dame du Sablon is noted for its four-fold gallery with brightly colored stained-glass windows (illuminated from the inside at night), which make a striking contrast with the gray-white Gothic arches and walls.

The Grand Place is the central market square of Brussels. It is surrounded by guild houses, the city's Town Hall and the Bread House (Maison du Roi). The square is the most important tourist destination and most memorable landmark in Brussels. The Grand Place was named by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1998. One of the houses was owned by the brewers' guild, and is now the home of a brewers' museum. Jardin du Botanique: Brussels' Botanical Gardens – there are often concerts and exhibitions held in the Botanique – which is a building opposite the gardens.

Manneken Pis
Created in 1619, means little man pee in Dutch and is one of Brussel's landmarks. It is a small bronze fountain sculpture depicting a naked little boy urinating into the fountain's basin. On special occasions, the statue is dressed in a costume – he has several hundred different costumes. Since 1987, the Manneken has had a female equivalent, Jeanneke Pis. The story is that of Duke Godfrey II of Leuven. In 1142, the troops of this two-year-old lord were battling against the troops of the Berthouts, the lords of Grimbergen, in Ransbeke (now Neder-over-Heembeek). The troops put the infant lord in a basket and hung him in a tree, to encourage them. From there, he urinated on the troops of the Berthouts, who eventually lost the battle.

Cathédrale des Saints Michel et Gudul
A chapel dedicated to St. Michael was probably built here as early as the 9th century. In the 11th century it was replaced by a Romanesque church which in 1047 became a "collegiale church". The relics of St. Gudula were transferred there and it thus became "the Collegiale church of St. Michale and St. Gudula". The building of the present church in Gothic style began with the choir in 1226. Work of art: stained glass window (16th century), confessionals (16th century), pulpit (17th century), carillon (1975). A thorough restoration of the cathedral was carried out between 1983 and November 1999. Remains of a Romanesque church were discovered, as well as a Romanesque crypt under the choir.

Cultural Activities

Brussels has endless activities for international visitors to enjoy. Listed below are some different cultural activities to do while in Brussels. You can do many of these activities on your own, with friends, or they may be sponsored by ISA. Upon arrival to Brussels, different sponsored cultural activities will be announced throughout your program abroad.

The first Tuesday and Thursday in July holds this festival where more than 2,000 participants parade through the Grand Place as Renaissance nobles, guildsmen, soldiers and entertainers.

Plantation de Meiboom
With honors for Saint Laurent, dressed in strange and colorful costumes and accompanied by seven traditional giant figures, the people of Brussels parade around central Brussels with a may tree. They then plant it at the corner of the Rue du Marais and Rue des Sables.

Fete de Saint-Nicolas
The feast of Saint Nicholas (Dec. 6th) is the holiday children look most forward to all year 'round. Saint Nicholas, (original Santa Claus) parades around the streets with his back-up assistant, Zwarte Piet, delivering presents and sweets to the children.

Mardi Gras, Binche
In Binche, the "Gille"is allowed to wear his Gille costume on Mardi Gras only. Tradition also forbids them to make a performance outside Binche. In the afternoon, during the parade, the "Gille" wears his impressive hat covered in ostrich feathers and offers the public hundreds of oranges.

Christmas Markets
Throughout December there are Christmas markets all over the center of the city of Brussels both in and just outside of the Grand Place. It's a festive time where you can find excellent food and drinks as well as beautiful hand made crafts.

Belgian Soccer
Soccer is the most popular sport in Belgium and although they are a small country, they have excellent teams that compete in the European leagues. Anderlecht is the most commonly routed for team in the area and they play all year round. Feel free to check out the Anderlecht website.

Royal Museum of Fine Arts
Museum of Musical Instruments
Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate
Comic Strip Museum
Auto world Museum
Magritte Museum

Belgians have beautiful gardens, partly due to the fact that it rains so often. You will rarely find a greener place. During the spring time, the royal family opens up their royal greenhouse and gardens to the public and you will find incredible botany to see and smell.

Every other year the Belgians design a "carpet of flowers" that's as large as the Grande Place and place it for all of the public to see. It's a truly unique site that can't be found anywhere else!

Cultural Immersion

Language Exchanges
Students will be given the opportunity to be in class with local and international students. There may be opportunities to arrange meetings with local students to share their knowledge of French or Dutch and learn English in exchange. This activity, based on student interest, is a great way to get to know other students of Brussels, and share your culture and language with others while learning more about your surroundings and student counterparts!

While there is no structured volunteer program offered, any student truly interested in volunteering while in Brussels can work with the ISA Brussels staff to find different opportunities. Students simply present different organizations or areas that interest them and the Paris staff can help you figure out how to get involved.

ISA Student Blog
Stay connected while you're abroad and share your experience with your peers back home on the ISA Student Blog, one of WordPress' top 23 recommended travel blogs! Each summer and semester the ISA Student Blog features current ISA students as bloggers, photo bloggers, and video bloggers who document their time abroad to share with their friends, family, prospective students, advisers, and more. If sharing your study abroad experience through writing, photos, videos and other media while receiving professional guidance and feedback appeals to you, consider applying to be an ISA Featured Blogger, Photo Blogger, or Video Blogger. The Site Specialist for your program will email all accepted students to notify you when ISA is accepting applications for all ISA Featured Blogger programs. Please contact the ISA Blog Team at if you have any questions.

Cultural Blogs
We also suggest you check out the plethora of other cultural blogs available on the web to learn more about others' experiences in Brussels, cultural happenings, and expat lives.

Language Resources

There are three official languages in Belgium; French, Dutch and German. Although Brussels is located in the north of the country and surrounded by Dutch communities, French can often be more prevalent.

Helpful Phrases in French

  • Bonjour Hello/Good morning
  • Bonsoir Good evening
  • Au revoir Goodbye
  • Comment ça va? How's it going?
  • Comment allez-vous? How are you? (Formal)
  • Comment vous-appelez vous? What is your name? (Formal)
  • Comment tu t'appelles? What is your name? (Informal)
  • Où se trouve le/la...? Where is the...?
  • Je ne comprends pas. I don't understand.
  • Parlez-vous anglais? Do you speak English?
  • Je ne parle pas français. I don't speak French
  • Je voudrais... I would like...
  • Excusez-moi. Excuse me.

Helpful Phrases in Dutch
  • Goede dag Hello
  • Goedenavond Good evening
  • Afscheid Goodbye
  • Hoe gaat het? How are you?
  • Wat is uw naam? What is your name?
  • Waar is de...? Where is the...?
  • Ik begrijp het niet I don't understand.
  • Spreek je Engels? Do you speak English?
  • Ik spreek geen Nederlands I don't speak Dutch
  • Ik zou graag... I would like...
  • Neem me niet kwalijk Excuse me.

On-line Dictionary Resource

Verb conjugation
We suggest you look up some helpful websites dedicated to verb conjugations in French or Dutch.

Beware of translation websites...much can be LOST in translation!