-Where were you born?
Brasov, Romania (Transylvania for the more exotic sound!)
-In which country and city are you living now?
-Are you living alone or with your family?
Alone, as in no family. But living together with Mark, an expat himself.
-Are you living alone or with your family?
-How long have you been living in Belgium?
Oh … God … probably too long. Almost 10 years now. And every year is the last one.
-What is your age?
Aha, the trick question. Currently 30.
-When did you come up with the idea of living in Belgium?
Oh, there was not a lot of thinking as such involved. I applied to different American colleges around Europe. Some offered me a full scholarship. Others not. Belgium won. Et voila, I arrived in Brussels. Looking back probably not my top choice, but in the meantime it became home. Sort of.
-Was it hard to get a visa or a working permit?
Visa was a very (very!) long process, but given Romania was not yet part of the European Union, probably not that unusual. Nowadays Romanians do not need a visa anymore for Belgium (or other EU countries). Work permit: again up to this year it was a lengthy and sometimes nerve-wracking process (sort of work permit lottery!) but that has been solved by the EU membership as well. Only drawback? Romanian citizens still need a work permit in Belgium up to the end of 2008.
-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived? No, as both university and later, my employer applied for my health insurance.
-How do you make your living in Belgium? Do you have any type of income generated?
Working very hard! Well, like everyone. Yes, I do have job. And I got it very much like everyone else: applying to different jobs, registering with head hunters and going through job interviews. It took me a little bit longer than initially planned because of the then work permit process (see above). Jobs in Brussels are plenty. Of course most of them are more or less EU oriented: project management, consultancy, lobbying, etc. All these jobs are advertised in either expat magazines (The Bulletin is a good start) or on Eurobrussels.
Then of course there is the whole European Commission job platform which has its own system, to be found on their website.
-Do you speak the local language and do you think it's important to speak the local language?
I think no matter the country you live in, local language and customs should be at least taken on board. Sometimes learning a language (Dutch) can be more difficult than learning another (French). But one or the other is probably helpful when settling down in Brussels. I am not saying necessary. My current working and living language is English and I am sure we could go by with just that perfectly well: everyone speaks English (from the butcher, kid you not, to our landlady, or restaurant staff). French and Dutch though open doors otherwise closed, and people are always very responsive to our shy attempts at speaking the local language. Plus if you really want to know what’s happening in Brussels, you simply need to speak (or at least read) one or the other. And French is just sooo sexy!
-Do you miss home and family sometimes?
Moving abroad young and probably unaware of the big bad world, I sort of rebranded Brussels as my second home. After all I am moving fast towards having lived 50/50 in Romania and Belgium.
I miss my family tons and they miss me. But we have worked out an efficient communication based on modern technology (messenger, Skype, sms, Facebook, you name it) and a very European style relationship: my parents spend their holidays here (combined with the Netherlands, France, Germany, etc.) and I spend Christmas and/or Easter home.
-Do you have other plans for the future?
I never lack plans. I always lack time. Travel, yes. Business plans, yes. Both are somehow linked to a lot of back and forth, collecting more and more air miles, with a very relaxing break in Bourgogne and a longer, adventure filled holiday planned in Brazil.
-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?
Renting. On average rents range from 500euro to … well, as much as you can afford.
The real estate market has been going up, up and up till recently. Now that it reached a standstill we will most likely look into buying.
-What is the cost of living in Belgium?
More expensive than Germany. Less expensive than the UK. Does that answer the question? Difficult to say. Cost of living depends on income and that is very different from Brussels to suburbs and then again, from expat to non-expat. You adapt.
-What do you think about the Belgians?
I think the locals are lovely. Really, once you get to know them, great people. Only that it takes a very long time to get to know them. Then again, drawback of being an expat is that most of our friends are expats themselves.
-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Belgium?
Lots of positives – at the crossroads of major European capitals, absolutely amazing food and drink, very international thus culturally very rich, easy going, etc.
Negatives – well there is the weather! And trust me it can wear you down like nothing else. Then there is the very Belgian administration, where no one seems to know anything. Very confusing. A lot of patience is needed. (And the occasional glass of wine!)
-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in Belgium?
Enjoy it and take it all with a grain of salt. Learn one of the languages (or both). Get out there and explore the country. Then explore the neighboring countries. Enjoy the many restaurants and bars. Try Belgian beers. Oh, and the chocolate. And the moment the sun shines, take it all in because you don’t know when the next sunny day will come.
-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about Belgium?
I keep (more or less regularly) 3 blogs: Food, general gourmet life (festivals, markets) and restaurant reviews are on Glorious Food and Wine. Another on and about Belgian beers (of course!).