-Where were you born?
Saint Louis, Missouri, smack in the middle of the USA. But I've lived in San Francisco, Columbus (Ohio), and Philadelphia, as well.
-In which country and city are you living now?
I'm currently living in Brussels, Belgium, but I've just taken a job in Paris so I'll be splitting my time between the two come the new year.
-Are you living alone or with your family?
I live with my boyfriend and my cat, who is quite well-traveled herself.
-How long have you been living in Belgium?
I have been here since May, but I had a 90-day visit (or "exile" as I call it when I'm feeling dramatic) to the States this fall since I didn't have a visa yet.
-What is your age?
I am 35.
-When did you come up with the idea of living in Belgium?
I've traveled extensively for work (I do fabric r&d/sourcing for fashion retailers) and my boyfriend likes to travel, as well, so we've always had a deal that if either of us got a job in another country, the other would go along. I thought I was going to be the one to land a job in Asia... and then he popped up with an offer in Belgium! We were really excited to immerse ourselves in another country and culture.
-Was it hard to get a visa or a work permit?
Oh! What a frustration the visa has been! Luckily for me, Belgium is quite progressive in that they give visas on a partnership basis (without marriage), and we've been together for 5 years so there was no problem in proving the durability of the relationship.... BUT all of the rigmarole of getting background checks and medical certificates and new copies of birth certificates (not to mention all of the emails/photos/etc. of "proof" that our relationship didn't pop up yesterday) then getting them all apostilled and then getting the originals *and* the apostilles translated by a certified translator and then getting all of my boyfriend's proof of residency and financial support documents and the lease and then having it copied and collated in triplicate and bringing it to the Belgian Consulate in NYC (who I'd been emailing with to make sure all of my documents were in order) only to be told that they no longer give partnership/"concubinage" visa to Americans in the US but only in Belgium and that the person I'd emailed with had misinformed me. UGH.
But I didn't let it stop me. I waited out my 90 days back in the States (since you only have 90 days in country and then must spend 90 days out without a visa) and came back to Belgium to turn in all of my papers at our local commune.
The funny thing is, I've now gotten a job in France that will sponsor my visa, so it all ended up being for naught anyway. But I don't think I'd have had the true moving-to-Belgium-as-an-American-expat experience if I hadn't had to struggle with the visa.
-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?
Based off of the partnership visa, I am covered by my boyfriend's health insurance. Quite progressive! But I had to take out a travel health insurance policy for 3 months as part of my visa requirements to show that I wouldn't be a burden on the system upon arrival.
-How do you make your living in Belgium? Do you have any type of income generated?
I just got a job... after about 7 months of looking. I think I was overly optimistic that I would find a job relatively quickly upon arrival because I reached out to many recruiters and fashion retailers in Belgium (as well as Amsterdam and London since they are commute-able) before I left the States and got many positive responses and Skype interviews. The tricky thing is, what I do is quite specific within my industry (i.e., not all fashion companies have a specialized fabric r&d or sourcing team), so many of the companies I spoke with were interested in creating the role or some didn't understand how it was different from other roles they already had in place. And I really like what I do! I didn't want to scrap my years of experience to come here and move down some rungs in the corporate ladder, either.
As far as finding jobs, there are many fashion recruiting agencies in the EU that I worked with. I also had good luck using www.indeed.com and putting in the country/place I was interested in and then letting the site transfer me to that country's specific site. It's actually how I found my new job. I was on the Spain site for indeed.com and found a recruiter looking for fabric help in Paris... and that was that. I will start work in Paris in the new year. I am still kinda beside myself about it!
-Do you speak the local language and do you think it's important to speak the local language?
I have about 15 years of French language study under my belt (I started learning it in school when I was 3) and when I think about that, it is shameful that I am not better. I have a knack for vocabulary and can understand better than I can speak. But that said, I don't do too terribly. I am unafraid and always try to start off a conversation with some French. I really wish my accent were better, though. But I don't mind it when locals correct my accent, in fact I appreciate it. It helps me to learn. Already I can tell my French is getting better, just by using it.
I think it's of the ULTIMATE importance to make an attempt with the language here. I read so much before I moved here that Belgians are rude or unhelpful or whatnot. Now that I'm here, I've found that *nothing* could be further from the truth. From the train manager who helped me when I missed my stop and had to accidentally go to Paris (true story) to the pharmacien who advised me on cold medicine to the man at the glasses shop who put a new screw in my "lunettes" for free to myriad other locals I encounter on a daily basis, I have had nothing but positive interactions with people in Brussels. In fact, I am getting warm and fuzzy just thinking about it! Try the language, be polite, and people will be kind to you!
-Do you miss home and family sometimes?
I do! I was lucky to spend my 90 days at home with my parents, though, which meant lots to me as I haven't lived with them in some 15+ years. I keep up with family and friends via Skype and emails. And I keep my blog updated so they know what's going on over here.
-Do you have other plans for the future?
I'll be traveling to Asia for my job, but I want to explore Europe to the fullest while I'm here, as well. There are so many countries I haven't been to yet.
-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?
-What is the cost of living in Belgium?
-What do you think about the Belgians?
It's like I said above, I have had nothing but positive experiences with locals. Locals have introduced me to other locals, I've exchanged emails with locals, that sort of thing. I definitely think that if you try the language and have a positive attitude, people will befriend you. I'm not saying that I hang out with locals all the time because my boyfriend and I end up doing lots of things with his expat coworkers, but I am definitely friendly with a few people in my neighborhood.
-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Belgium?
Positives: the old-world European culture, the food, the architecture, the pro-dog mentality (I <3 dogs!), the beer, the way it's improving my French skills.
Negatives: the weather (this wet gloom of a winter seems interminable!), not as many touring bands play here as in Paris, the dog detritus riddling the sidewalks, the weather (yeah, it's worth mentioning twice).
-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in Belgium?
Be open-minded and be ready for a new experience! Again, try the local language... even if you stumble, you won't regret it. And soak up the culture--try all the foods, see all the sites.
-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs Belgium?
I have been blogging for a few years now and since I've moved my blog has definitely has more of a life-in-Brussels bent than the outfit posts it originally had. Still, I think it's a good expression of my quirky self and my interest in clothing, cats, food, art, and life in Europe.
I also like to check the Q&A on the xpats website as well. Lots of helpful information there!