Saturday, April 29, 2017

Why living in Brussels was difficult for me and how I adjusted


Brussels is the EU Headquarters and was an interesting place to live in, even though my time there was all too brief. Out of all the countries I've lived in, this place tested me in many ways. I needed to find that happy medium during the periods of adjustment that every expat goes through when moving to a new country. Some places are easier than others. Brussels was difficult for me. 


Some of these reasons are typical of an expat and periods of adjustment but mostly my personal experiences...

1) Language barrier. Brussels is a French speaking city for the most part and there is a small section that borders the flanders section which speaks Dutch. Having a small knowledge of both French and Dutch, I thought I would be fine. It was certainly challenging! Even small things like asking where the eggs, oatmeal, bread, dishwashing liquid are became an adventure. Grocery shopping was like a jigsaw puzzle for me. Knowing some Dutch words and some French words, I managed to find my way around the store. Google maps was my friend and luckily wifi was easy to find. 



2) Safety risk. I was actually fearful of a terrorist attack when I moved to Brussels for an internship and then I heard about safety issues in general that plague the EU headquarters. I was stubborn and still chose to move to Brussels even after there was a lockdown on the city a week after the Paris attacks. Looking at the news from afar was definitely fear-mongering and how much can we trust the sensationalization of the media these days. I minimized my risk by choosing to live near my office outside the city center so I wouldn't have to ride public transport during the morning rush hour and didn't go to crowded places very much. I dislike crowded places and rush hour traffic anyway.



3) Knowing no one. Most of the places I've lived in in the past, there was always someone I knew or an educational institution which made meeting new people and making friends very easy. Brussels was completely foreign to me. I only knew the people that worked within close proximity to me. Eventually, I started to slowly create a routine for myself going to the gym, taking a dance class, and signing up for a Swedish language course which had quite a small eclectic group of International people. When an acquaintance from Singapore moved to Brussels with her husband, I managed to meet up with them for some lovely brunches. Though it was difficult at first, I grew very comfortable with spending a lot of time alone. 







4) Adjusting to desk life.  I have always been very active in the art of the hustle working in performing arts and creative industries. It was quite the adjustment to working in an office with other people sitting nearby typing away on computers doing tasks that contribute to a large company. It was  a glimpse into corporate world for me and quite a different working culture than I was used to. As a creative go-getter that gets a lot of things done with an ability to multi-task. I felt like my previous skills were being put to good use. However, my eyes certainly felt tired at the end of each day. There was even a few days where I would come home and put sliced cold cucumbers over my eyes to let them relax.








5) The weather was unpredictable and gloomy. I moved during winter in Belgium and the winters there can have some very ugly wet days with strong winds. I have lived in New York City for most of my twenties and sometimes the weather in winter can be pretty cold, windy, frigid, wet, and also the appearance of blizzards! I never experienced seasonal depression much as I prefer when the weather is a bit colder and crisp. I think fall is the best season but I didn't dislike winter. I actually like snow and winter sports. BUT... I was certainly not prepared to experience the unpredictable weather of Belgium. In a single day, one can experience, rain, fog, snow, hail, strong winds, and sunny skies. On the rare days that the weather and skies were clear, I would grab the opportunity to go and explore! Those are also the days that I really appreciated the sunny skies.





I had a few more serious problems living in Brussels that I won't divulge here but when I left Brussels, I really began to miss it. I missed it a lot! When I returned a few months later for a few days, I was quite happy to be back and took the opportunity to enjoy what the capital of the EU had to offer in those few days. Perhaps I was adjusting to living there and making a new normal. As a third culture kid who has lived in numerous places around the world since I was a child, it seems every country has its unique challenges. The journey of life and where it takes us is not one to take for granted. Every ups and downs are meant to be lived through and experienced. Like the unpredictable weather, one needs to experience both to appreciate the good that happens. 

J'adore Bruxelles!



16 comments:

  1. Having visited Brussels recently, I can see how it would be difficult to live in! You're right -- some problems are more general to living in a new place, but I think I'd still be nervous about safety problems. That being said, there were some beautiful parts to Brussels, like the Grand Place. Glad to hear you liked it when you returned!

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    1. Yes, it was a bit scary at times - I left just 5 days before the terror attacks.
      I really enjoyed Grand Place, Place de Bourse area was really nice and I hung out there quite a bit. There were also a few little gems that I found as well.

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  2. Im sorry to hear that it was difficult for you! I loved the city from the beginning but that was due to getting go know people and going out a lot which you say it was not your case. But I agree that the language barrier and the gloomy weather is a real problem in Brussels (but still I managed to stay here for almodt 7 years and it's not yet over haha).

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    1. Yea, sometimes people fall in love with different places. I loved living in New York City the moment I set foot on there and left not on my own volition 7 years later (I wanted to live there a minimum of 9 years). Brussels was a big learning experience for me. :-) I hope to visit again someday.

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  3. I can relate to what you experienced in Brussels - weird at times, a bit scary because of the attacks but oh so charming in the end!

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    1. Yes, those attacks were certainly a shock! I left just 5 days before the attacks and felt extremely sad.

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  4. Interesting read. I'm Belgian (Flemish) and have only been to Brussels...idk...maybe 5 times in my life (like most Flemish people of my age where I live). Brussels is very different from the rest of Belgium and I always found it to be a bit gloomy and yeah, dangerous too, especially at night...
    Anyway, it's nice to hear that you made the best out of it and started to love it after a while. :)

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    1. Yea it is a bit dodgy at night but not all parts. I used to work in ghetto Brooklyn and had a tough girl attitude - which I adopted whenever I was in central Brussels. I think it helps.
      I've been to Antwerp and Leuven - I think Antwerp was really beautiful despite the rainy weather when I went. Leuven was cozy!

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  5. Ah I can totally relate. As an ex-pat myself, living somewhere I don't really enjoy. Language barriers can be hard, thats why google translate on my phone is my life saver. Especially in grocery stores haha

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    1. Oh Google translate... what would we do without Google Translate and Google Maps! If there was wifi - that really helped a lot. I heard there are new devices where you can get realtime translations now. I still think learning some words of the language is good though. Learning new languages is always good for the brain ;-)

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  6. It's sad to read that you had such a hard time adapting to a place. It has never really happened to me. I grew tired of one of the places where I've lived the longest, but that was because of the work routine that was making me see everything kind of ugly. It's nice to read that you appreciated the city when you came back, though!

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    1. Like I mentioned in my post, some places were easier to adjust to for me, sadly Brussels was not one of those places. I think given more time, I would've started to adapt to living there. I've been traveling a lot the past year and do quite a bit of slow travel, and not really playing the part of tourist very well (hahaha) but its because I've adjusted to feeling at "home" there almost immediately.

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  7. You're feelings are similar to mine. I really appreciate this post. I grew up between two cultures and I also moved around a lot... I never felt at home. When I moved to Paris, it was difficult to adjust. I think one of those reasons was because it was the first move I had decided for myself. Thanks for sharing your story, and I'm happy you appreciate the city now!

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    1. Glad that you liked reading my experience of living in Brussels. I don't have a hometown nor did my parents install strong cultural ties so wherever I go, whatever I'm exposed to, and whomever I associate with, I adopt certain cultural traditions that I like and make it my own. :-)

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  8. Really interesting read. I'm always fanisincated to hear about other people's experiences in other countries, especially ones who live there. Although Brussels was beautiful and I only spent a day and a half, I definitely didn't feel as safe as I do in other countries. Like anything else though it was an experience that you can look back on and has probably made you a stronger person :)

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    1. Hi Lauren - thanks for the comment :) I definitely feel like I learned a lot from living there. It was the first place (and I've lived in many different countries and cities) where I was completely isolated as I didn't know anyone. Most of the places I've moved to, I've at least got some friends there and then make more friends easily through them. I had to make friends from scratch. And when I started to feel comfortable, my internship was done and I moved away again.

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