Every week I talk to a Belgian who moved abroad and built a new life there. This week Maxim tells us about moving to the US.
1. Hi, Maxim! Please quickly introduce yourself. Tell us who you are, where you’re from, where you moved to and when/why you moved.
My name is Maxim Van Deursen, originally from Roeselare. I studied Business Management and Marketing at the UC Leuven-Limburg. During the last year of my bachelor’s I got the opportunity to study abroad for a semester. That year the only destination in the US was Cape Girardeau in Missouri.
I was the first Belgian exchange student that got to study at the Southeast Missouri State University in an American city of only 38,000 inhabitants, a 2-hour drive south from St Louis and a 2-hour drive north from Memphis on the banks of the Mississippi River. I left Belgium in August of 2015 and found an internship in Cape Girardeau, which I needed in order to graduate UC Leuven Limburg. Currently, I’m doing a prolonged internship until the end of August 2017.
2. What did you expect from the US and life there before moving? Did those expectations hold up?
Before moving to the US, I visited some of the big cities during summer. I have always been a big fan of New York City and Chicago because of the crowded atmosphere and the skylines with the tall buildings, together with the mix of different cultures from around the world. The Americans that live in the big cities are always very open and interested to know where that mysterious accent comes from.
In Cape, things are much calmer, given that this is a small city compared to NYC or Chicago. People are very welcoming and are interested in learning about Europe. This is a rural area and some people have never traveled outside the state of Missouri, or have never even been in a car ride of longer than 8 hours. Cape is rather rural, but I’m still not living between the cows and I still have that city feeling because of the many restaurants, stores and shops in this town.
3. What’s the biggest difference between life in the US and life in Belgium?
Here in Missouri, the biggest difference is the weather. The sun is shining every day with temperatures between 25 and 30 degrees Celsius from March till November, which is very nice of course. However, this is the Heartland so in winter it can get pretty cold around here. Last winter was better than expected, but it’s possible that it’s -5°C on Tuesday and 25°C on Thursday.
The friendliness and openness of people here is another big difference. They have a lot of questions, which was something I had to get used to in the beginning, but it’s fun to keep the conversation going. They love to take you to the typical American events as well, such as Annual District fairs, public holidays, national parks, the history of Missouri etc. This is fun for me because that way I don’t have to discover everything on my own and I get to hear their side of the story as well.
4. What’s the best part about living in the US?
People’s openness and their willingness to help, the cheap sales tax of 8% instead of the 21% in Belgium and the inexpensive housing in Missouri.
5. What do you like least about living in the US?
Some laws are rather strange, like the ban on alcohol usage for people under the age of 21 for instance. Restaurants and bars close at 1 a.m. in Missouri, this can be a bit early for a 24-year-old, especially during weekends. Luckily, there’s always someone who decides to organize an afterparty at their house.
The big taxes on income are a bit painful, but then again, the fact that everything is much cheaper here balances that out.
6. What do you miss most about Belgium?
Chocolate and crispy bread. There are some European products you can buy here, but these are really expensive. The prices for French cheese start at $8-10 for just a small lump. People in Missouri are a big fan of soft bread and biscuits, while I love the crispy baguettes in Belgium and the choice between different sorts of fresh bakery products.
There are no real fry houses here, so it’s really hard to find typical Belgian fried snacks. But you quickly get used to this and instead you get a whole range of products that you can’t find in Belgium.
7. Is there something about Belgium that you don’t miss at all?
The weather, the 21% sales tax, expensive gas prices (and the strikes by public transport companies).
8. Do you think you’ll stay in the US? Or is there a chance you’ll move abroad again someday?
At this moment we are in the process of looking into the possibility of being hired as a permanent employee. I would love to stay in this cozy city for a couple more years until I have put enough money aside to move to Downtown Chicago. I would only consider going back to Belgium during summer holidays, seeing that it is a long journey with at least one transfer to get from St Louis to Brussels.
9. Do you have any tips or advice for other Belgians who consider moving to the US?
It seems like a lot, but it’s definitely worth it. Americans are really interested in networking and getting to know people, which makes it relatively easy to be accepted by them. Especially when you make an effort to be involved in the community, you’ll get to know a lot of people in a short amount of time who will always be there to help you when you need it.
Don’t let the permanent visa related uncertainty discourage you, it makes life a little bit more exciting and makes you appreciate the small stuff.
10. What are some tips you would give to people who are traveling to your region/city? Things they should visit or eat?
Cape Girardeau is located in between forests and national parks, on the banks of the Mississippi River. It is the perfect stop during a trip from Chicago to Atlanta because you are passing through St Louis, the Blues cafés in Elvis’ Memphis, the country music saloons in Nashville, the Smokey Mountains with the American black bears, the Indian Reservations in Chattanooga and Atlanta. You will feel like you are traveling back in time.
Do not hesitate to buy a pair of cowboy boots, everybody wears them over here and they love it if you wear them too. Besides, they are really comfortable.
When you are in the region, you should definitely try the crawfish and the catfish. New Orleans, where you can taste the typical Jambalaya and alligator dishes, is an 8-hour drive away. But you will find those dishes here in Downtown Cape as well. Also, in Cape you can visit one of the many casinos that will remind you of Las Vegas, like the Isle Casino for instance.
At the end of summer I recommend visiting the Annual District fairs, at these typical American fairs you will be able to try fried Snickers, fried Oreos and smoked Turkey legs. Here you will find a lot of attractions as well as events such as tractor pulling, demolition derbies and rodeos.
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This interview was done by Paloma Garcia Miranda, a talented Master’s Student of Business Communication who’s helping Sofie out here on WonderfulWanderings.com.