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How moving to Belgium has changed me: Five expats share their stories
Some found love and started a family. Some got into a new hobby or moved up the career ladder. Some took French classes and some just slowed down. We have received many different answers to our Facebook question: "How has moving to Belgium changed you?"
Apparently, it does not matter much whether you moved to Belgium just recently or been here for decades – there is always an impact. But do not take it from us. Here are five people who all came to Belgium under different circumstances, in different ages and from all corners of the world. They all witnessed a life-changing experience with their fries.
‘Our hearts are shaped like Brussels sprouts’
Katie Rodmell (pictured above) moved to Brussels from the UK in 2012 for her career as a fashion designer. Her original plan was to stay two years. However, in 2014 she met her now husband in Le Bazaar nightclub. And in 2019 they decided to start their own fashion label, Monty’s Accessories.
"If you asked me five years ago whether I could see myself self-employed, running a business in a foreign country, I would have laughed at such a question," she admits. But Brussels made it happen: "We gained a huge amount of help from many platforms and experts in the city which proved to us that being a citizen here is really like nowhere else."
Today Katie is certain Belgium will be her home for many years to come. "I have a great network of friends, half of my family is Belgian," she says. "This is our home and our hearts are fairly shaped like Brussels sprouts."
‘Thanks to Brussels I have a great job’
Some 1,200 young people are offered a traineeship within the EU institutions each year. In March 2017, Nathalie Peñaranda from Colombia was one of them. She applied after her master's studies in Paris while struggling to find a job in France.
"I was sure I did not want to go back to Colombia," she says. "Some months before my French visa expired, I found the traineeship application." Luckily, she was selected and more than two years later she still calls Belgium her home.
"Brussels changed my life completely," confirms Nathalie. “It put in my way great friends from all across Europe, experiences, places that I always dreamed about. Thanks to Brussels I have a great job and I am able to visit Colombia more often. So here I am in Brussels living the life I imagined. Here I am, a non-European in the heart ofEurope, a non-European in the EU bubble."
‘I have learnt to be more patient in Belgium’
You don't have to be fresh out of school to become an expat. Julie Gilliland-Clover, an American originally fromIndiana, moved to Belgium in her fifties to take care of her husband's parents. "We all just bought a house to live together in Lier," she says. "I lived in Florida for the last 23 years where we raised our children. They are independent now so we decided it would be a good time to move before we were too old."
When comparing Florida and Belgium after two and a half years in Europe, Julie talks about an adjustment she had to make. "Belgium moves at a much different pace than I was used to living in the United States," she states. "America is a 24/7 way of life. Things are always available and open. People work an average of 8-10 hours a day and get a week or two vacation a year if they are lucky. I have learnt to be more patient in Belgium."
‘Learning French is one of my best memories of Brussels’
Natasha Sharan is leaving Brussels after living in the city since early 2016 with her husband and son. When asked about Belgium, the homemaker coming from Mumbai,India, mentions the usual things - waffles, fries, chocolate, gorgeous parks... And on top of that - French classes.
"In 2018 the Evere commune made it compulsory for all dependent spouses to complete two levels in French, A1 and A2," she says. "It's become my best memories of Brussels. The way it is taught, the way you are completely immersed from day one, really forces you to speak and understand the language." Natasha topped the class and continued towards an extra level, non-compulsory B1. Moreover, she is certain that even outside Brussels her French will be put to good use: "It has opened up before me multiple job opportunities in my home country. Kudos, Belgium!"
‘An opportunity to meet new people’
For Mathew Holt, a young Australian, the journey to Brussels started in Chile. While studying there in July 2016 he met a Belgian named Marie. After the semester came to an end, the two former exchange students remained in touch which later proved to be life-changing.
"In June 2018 I was working in my new job six months after graduating," he says. "I wasn't satisfied with my life, I wanted to explore. At that time Marie and I started communicating daily, calling each other for an hour each day. Before I knew it I was applying for a Working Holiday Visa."
Mathew arrived in Belgium in May 2019. He lives in a relationship with Marie, working for a Flemish company in Brussels and playing rugby on Sundays. "I hadn't played rugby since high school but seen this as an opportunity to meet new people," he explains. And he intends to stay: "My visa expires in May 2020 but I am currently applying for a family reunification visa." Fingers crossed.