-Where were you born?
Washington, DC, USA
-In which country and city are you living now?
-Are you living alone or with your family?
With my husband, Miguel and 2 cats, Cleo and Sophie
-How long have you been living in Belgium?
-What is your age?
-When did you come up with the idea of living in Belgium?
I knew from my experience studying abroad in Italy that I wanted to spend more time living in Europe. In order to make that more likely, I took some TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) lessons and got certified. I was undecided on the country I wanted to go to, and I looked up schools all over the place. Soon after I found myself with a European (Irish and Spanish) who was in the US for a while. He had to move back to Ireland, and we decided to carry on long distance for a while while we figured out what the next move was. He soon found himself with a job in Brussels, Belgium, and after a brief visit, I was won over by the chocolate and beer (and general Western European charm!)! I moved there for about a month to get a better taste of the city, and despite my rusty French, it went quite well and I found myself sad to leave! I officially moved in December! (And now am married to that European charmer!)
-Was it hard to get a visa or a work permit?
Well, yes and no. If I had tried before getting married, it would have been VERY difficult. I was able to work in the black, though. I babysat and then started offering private English lessons, and had no trouble at all carrying on and making a living without any work permit. Now, being married to an EU citizen, a work permit is no longer a problem, especially with a residence card to my name!
-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?
Luckily, the Belgian health care system is very good and even without official insurance you can get basic medical needs taken care of at a very low price. (EUR 30 for a doctor's visit.) To become insured was a different story. As a non-EU citizen, I had to become an official resident, and to do that took SCADS of paperwork as well as a marriage book (in my case). You could also become a resident by enrolling as a student at a local university. Really, it was all about the right paperwork.
-How do you make your living in Belgium? Do you have any type of income generated?
I teach private English lessons and babysit occasionally. I got those jobs by replying to ads and posting ads and fliers around town in appropriate locations. I also made a website for myself and got some business cards printed. Here in Brussels there is always room for another language teacher!
-Do you speak the local language and do you think it's important to speak the local language? What do you think about the local customs and do you think it's important to observe them?
Belgium is a bilingual country, but French is the language most spoken here in Brussels. I did know some French before moving here, though it wasn't much. Flemish (a dialect of Dutch) is the other language spoken here in Belgium, and I came here knowing absolutely NO Flemish. But here's the deal, while I should really be working on my French (I need to use it quite a lot) I am really tempted to try. Most of the French speakers here (at least those I deal with on a day-to-day basis, shop owners, etc.) are fairly rude, speak no English and refuse to understand my accented French, even when it is grammatically ok! This is extremely frustrating, as I want to make the effort, but I'm losing my will! Now, as for the Flemish speakers, they are, in general, very kind and patient, and I would say at least 90% of them speak very good English. Whenever I need to call for customer support for anything, I call the Flemish line and ask "Spreekt u engels?" Works every time!
As for local customs, I'm afraid I haven't been exposed to many here. There are so many foreigners here (Because of NATO, the European Commission, etc.) I have not met too many Belgians! I also live right near (basically in) the Matonge, the Congolese district, where they have their own special local customs! (Some of them not so savory...) I don't really think that assimilation is the name of the game here in Brussels, but there are some local customs I am happy to take part in! (Sitting on the terrace drinking beer, eating a lot of chocolate, bringing home big fresh baguettes for lunch, going through strolls at the royal park...)
-Do you miss home and family sometimes? Describe your favorite recreational activities there or those that are available.
I do miss home and family. I was here for 5 months before visiting home, and that seemed like a very long time to me. Since then I've had friends visiting and I've gone home a few times. I also have a weekly phone call with my parents, and that really helps. The internet has also helped a lot with separation anxiety. I love to cook and bake (as recreational activities)! I also have made a few friends that I spend a lot of time with. I run in the park for exercise, and I blog a lot. There are plenty of events and clubs for expats, too. There is no lack of things to keep a lonely expat busy!
-Do you have other plans for the future?
I am planning to live here for another couple of years, and in that time I really want to take advantage of living in the middle of Europe! I am traveling to Ireland and Sweden this month, and then in December I'm off to London for a few days! There is ample opportunity for travel, and I'm hoping to spend some time in Eastern Europe as well! I am hoping to continue with my English lessons, and would love to take on a class or 2 of children at a local language school.
-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?
I am renting an apartment with my husband. We pay EUR 650 for 67m2. We have a decent sized bedroom, and a big living room, kitchen and bathroom. The area is very up-and-coming, with loads of trendy restaurants and cafes. The building is quite old, so it has its problems, but it is still a great price for what we have and the area!
-What is the cost of living in Belgium?
I would say the cost of living here is about EUR 1,500. That would be including housing, food, transport and entertainment.
-What do you think about the Belgians?
The locals that I know are very nice and friendly. However, I am not impressed with the locals in the service industry. It almost seems like they resent foreigners taking over their city. Many of them seem to be simply indifferent to foreigners.
-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Belgium?
Positives: The food here is excellent (chocolate, beer, fries, waffles, mussels, etc.), there are loads of other expats to build a community with, great health care system, excellent cheap public transportation,good service for taxes
Negatives: High taxes, crazy bureaucracy, no concept of customer service, internet bandwidth cap, no real choice in utility suppliers
-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in Belgium?
Patience, patience patience. Do not expect anything to be done quickly.
-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about Belgium?
xpats.com -- A site for English speakers in Belgium. They have everything froma Q and A section where you can post your own questions, to a classifieds section, job postings, local events, local blogs, etc. GREAT site!
brodyinbelgium.blogspot.com -- my blog about my day-to-day life here in Brussels!