Belgium is known for its unique combination of beautiful countryside and magical towns. So far I’ve only been to Brussels, Bruges, and Ghent myself, but I wouldn’t mind traveling back one day to explore more. This week I’m bringing to you another post from my blog series Expat Story: World Through My Eyes – let´s discover all the pros and cons of being an expat in Belgium.
An expat in Belgium
Hi guys, happy to share with you my story via #WorldThroughMyEyes. My name is Sandra, I am from Bucharest, Romania and my Master Program brought me to this little country of beer & waffles called Belgium. I´m currently an expat in Belgium, living in Leuven, the city of the world-famous beer Stella Artois and student´s capital (especially Erasmus students).
For traveling purposes, Belgium is a gem for any travel lover, as it easily connects to the world. Being an expat in Belgium has made my life at alusoare.com easier and richer in travel experiences. You can check out my experiences from around the world over on my blog.
Belgium through Romanian eyes
Belgium is not that different as one would expect coming from Romania, which made some of the most difficult parts a bit easier to understand: the administration. And there are some other little things that make you smile sometimes, but I won’t list them. On the other hand, people are not as open here, at least in the Flemish part. It misses the Latin touch. One of the things that were very hard for me to get used to, was the fact that if you want to visit a friend just like that, simply because you are in the neighborhood – it is not possible, as you should book your visit some weeks or at least days in advance.
The country is small, but it is so different from one place to the other. Landscape-wise you can split it into 2 clear parts, Flanders & Wallonia. While the first has beautiful architecture, which makes some cities look like fairy tales, Wallonia wins on the nature side, offering cute villages around the little Belgian mountains. Even if it might come as a surprise to some, there are a lot of things to do and see in Belgium.
Life as an expat in Belgium is not that bad. Loads of international people and events. Millions of cultural activities, an amazing choice of restaurants. Seriously, it is almost impossible to go to the same one twice and Belgium does not force you to anything. You can be yourself 100%. You can integrate if you want and that, of course, brings some advantages but you can very well stay in your own group of people and almost feel like home. It somehow lets you develop your own personality, your own way of being and Belgium does never really make you feel judged (or hey I did not get that feeling).
Reality vs Expectations
Before taking the final decision to move here I googled Belgium for the first time and I saw that they have 3 official languages, one being German, but seriously, that’s almost like a joke: there are 70000 people speaking a sort of German here. My excitement of never having to use French was gone in a second, once at Brussels Noord train station.
Then I thought that Belgium would be a very well-organized country like Germany, but seriously, a more “overcomplicating” itself country is impossible to exist in this world. If interested take 4 minutes to watch Belgium for dummies, they explain it there perfectly, or if you are more into politics, here is a 3 min relevant video. I stopped trying to understand the political system and for crying out loud to understand how the first league of football works you need at least 2 PhD’s 😉
As I was saying, Belgium has 3 national languages. Flemish (which is similar to Dutch) in the North and French in the South. There are some German-speaking communities in the area of Wallonia. And there is Brussels, which in theory is bi-lingual, French and Dutch, but in reality, it is French. Now the biggest problem is at least in the Flemish part (I can’t say much about the Wallonia part) are the dialects, which makes your learned Dutch in a province almost useless in other provinces.
Making close friends
Making Flemish friends is hard, and I don’t mean social friends, but people you can always turn to. It is not because of the language in most of the cases, but because they use to stay very close to family and the friends that they have since childhood.
This is a national sport in Belgium. The majority of people commute more than 1h to work and public transport is an adventure. Besides the regular delays and problems caused by people walking on rails to save some time to get to the office, the other big challenge here is the strikes. And there are strikes all the time.
Maybe this won’t be that striking for people coming from other countries, but I am used to having shops open all the time even on Xmas, but in BE is not the case. Except for supermarkets, shops close at 6, which makes it almost impossible to reach during the week and most of the shops are closed on Sunday.
The level of service is not the best one in Belgium if compared to many other European countries. The concept of “the customer is king” is definitely not a known term here. It seems that nobody cares, which is hard to cope with sometimes.
Although not to see the sun for weeks sometimes can be hard, it triggered 3 new positive things: 1. you learn to appreciate more every second of sun you have, 2. you travel more to sunny places, 3 you understand that rain won’t stop you to conquer the world 😛
Only in Belgium
A popular Facebook page to check is Belgium Solutions, it gives some interesting perspective
French Fries with mayonnaise. I must say I thought it is a joke at first, but everything changed when I saw how serious everyone is about the fries, I think this is the only thing that Belgians from Wallonia and the ones from Flanders agree on.
It is crazy how developed the beer culture is, they seem to have 1150 types of beer. I was not a beer drinker before coming to Belgium, but everything changes after so many years here. I must say I can now really appreciate some great beers (try Carolus classic, Westmalle dubbel or tripel Karmeliet)
Belgian pralines are world renown and there is a good reason why. If in Belgium, even if you are not a big sweets fan, make sure you get some Neuhouse chocolate for your friends and family back home. Oh, and another thing, don’t mention other chocolate brands to Belgian people they won’t understand why you could possibly like something else when the best of the best is in Belgium 😉
Maybe not everywhere it is at the same level, but the bike is king in Belgium and has the highest priority when it comes to people or other vehicles.
I came here by pure coincidence, it happened. After the bachelor, together with 2 other friends, we aimed to go for a master program in a country/city that would match all our needs and aspirations. And this city happened to be Leuven, Belgium. Now, 7 years later, I am extremely happy that this was what faith had prepared for us. Maybe, at first it is not easy to adapt to the new culture, but now it feels at some level like home.
Before and After
I came to Belgium when I was 22, I only lived with my parents before and had no reason to be stressed or concerned about anything but my studies. As an expat in Belgium I grew up both personally and professionally, while discovering a lot about myself.
I had to take decisions that would impact my life in one way or another. I learned to be more open to new things, to compromise, and to accept that things are different here and I need to adapt to how Belgium works. I made friends from different corners of this world, which made me curious to see those places and luckily Belgium borders with several countries and has a lot of flight connections, making it quite convenient for travel addicts like myself. I like what the result was and I am very happy it happened to be Belgium.
Hopefully, I did not miss anything relevant and if you would like to come over to Belgium and need some suggestions don’t hesitate to contact me. You can, of course, find all my contact details on my blog www.alusoare.com & again thanks to Anna for the super great initiative.
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