-Where were you born?
Chile, in Santiago
-In which country and city are you living now?
-Are you living alone or with your family?
-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 was transferred from my job in Chile to the headquarters of a large pharmaceutical company. I accepted because I wanted to live and work in an international setting.
-Was it hard to get a visa or a work permit?
It took me more or less 3 months from the moment I had the interview till I was able to travel. Many documents needed to be translated and for the work permit - even medical permission - was requested including chest X-ray and lab samples.
-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?
No, my company was in charge of this.
-How do you make your living there? Do you have any type of income generated?
The job was the reason of why I am here, so I just accepted the offer of transfer from my country and continued in the same company.
-Do you speak the local language and do you think it's important to speak the local language?
English and French have been helpful for my job and my daily activities. I know that if I wanted to get another job I would need to learn Flemish which is very challenging. In almost all Flemish areas and Brussels there is no need to speak any other language than English. In Wallonia French is a must, even if you go as a tourist: Namur and Liege for example. They accept well the effort to speak French there. Flemish people would not like to speak French with you unless you are a French speaker. It is very impressive that many Flemish speak also Spanish and German.
-Do you miss home and family sometimes? Describe your favorite recreational activities there or those that are available.
I miss the Chilean food, there are things that are not available here (pisco, quesillo, manjar, dulce de membrillo) including seafood. I discovered one Chilean restaurant and one small Colombian shop in Brussels that have some Chilean items. Family and friends visit us every year and we talk through Skype. The best about Belgium is the amount of holidays to spend in other activities that there is normally no time to do it: sports, reading, traveling and studying or participating in group lessons. There are a lot of groups to learn wine degustation, cooking, art history, painting,etc. I am currently doing a master in the university because I can combine work and studies.
-Do you have other plans for the future?
My husband and I would like to move to another country; we are seeking opportunities in Asia and Latinoamerica.
-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?
My husband bought the house before to meet me. The prices are high compared to my country. The monthly costs are around 1800 euros.
-What is the cost of living in Belgium?
Supermarket stuff per week is around 120 euros. Most expensive are meat and vegetables. The cheapest are beer and chocolate.
-What do you think about the locals?
In Brussels it is very clear there are neighborhoods of expats. Here in Leuven most of the people are from Belgium or students/workers from University. Most of my neighbors are young couples with children and almost all of them speak English with me. In general they are very gentle but they do not like direct conversation. If there is a problem they prefer to send an anonymous letter than to ring the bell and talk about the issue. They are very passive and normally they do not complain about things that sometimes I consider as unfair. They make a distinction between foreigners that are coming as expats and those other that are coming as immigrants specially from countries like Morocco, Turkey and Muslim nations. They admire my style and freedom to express myself as a Latina.
-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Belgium?
Positive are the woods, so well conserved and organized. The food is great; there are many good restaurants to go and discover. As many people have mentioned, the chocolates are the best in the world as well the frites.
Negative is the weather especially in summer, because it cannot be predicted that there will be sunshine. No customer service in the shops and they are always closed when you need them (after 1900 hours or on Sunday). The building concepts are very rigid and the houses are in general very dark with small windows and garden. The garbage management is very bad in my commune, besides we need to pay for each bag so they just pick it up every 2 weeks (it's a nightmare in summer).
-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in Belgium?
Do not expect the international kind of city that you would expect. Brussels is not Paris, London or Madrid. Things work here differently, so you need to be very self-sufficient and independent to survive. If there is a leak, or any other house problem you must wait at least 3 weeks to have someone at home to arrange it.
I was lucky to have a job before I arrived, it gave me all the things I needed including friends and colleagues that are also part of the expat community. I know from many other friends that to find a job for the partner is very difficult. If you have children there is not a lot of help , so you need to find a creche/school in advance.
-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about Belgium?
www.sportoase.be: this site is for those who are in Leuven or antwerp to do sports, they have a fitness club, swimming pool, squash, yoga and dance classes.
www.visitgent.be: these are the cities that should be visited as they are great for shopping and culture.