Every week I talk to a Belgian who moved abroad and built a new life there. This week Indie tells us about her new life in Peru.
1. Hi, Indie! Please quickly introduce yourself. Tell us who you are, where you’re from, where you moved to and when/why you moved.
I’m Indie, 28 years old and originally from Genk in Belgium. I’ve always been interested in other cultures and development aid. I like going on immersion trips and that’s how I ended up in Ecuador, Burkina Faso and the Philippines.
Aside from that I’ve also participated in some international exchanges within Europe and as a part of Erasmus+ projects. That’s how I got to know a lot of Eastern European countries as well as Turkey better. It’s also why I’ve had an international group of friends ever since I was little. I’m still in touch with many of them. I love getting to know people from different countries and different cultures.
I studied Social-Cultural Work and Special Education. I used to work as a caretaker with children with autism and behavioral problems and as a guidance counselor for families.
Besides that, I also volunteered with an inclusive youth organization. I organized training sessions and camps.
The urge to study more was big, though, and so I entered a post-graduate International Collaboration in Kortrijk. It was a very interesting education that consists of six months of preparatory classes and an internship in a developing country.
In the meantime, I’d also taken Spanish classes in the evenings. All of this with the intention to go to South America for a longer period of time, a dream I’d had since primary school. As a kid, I used to read a lot about Inca culture, which really fascinated me.
I decided to intern in Cusco, Peru, at vzw (Sofie: a vzw is an association without lucrative purpose) Chico Latino, an educational organization. I worked in the afternoons on a project for subordinated kids in a village 45 minutes from Cusco. In the mornings, I trained teachers and helped out at a local school.
When my internship was over, five months later, I felt like doing more and so I stayed an extra month as a volunteer. After that, I volunteered in an orphanage in La Paz, Bolivia, for two more months, but then I went back home because of financial reasons and because my family and friends started missing me. This wasn’t easy because by then I’d been in a relationship with a Peruvian man, Luis, for six months already.
After about half a year, I missed Peru and Luis so much that I decided to go back. I’d saved up all of my vacation days so that I could go for a month. I traveled around Peru together with Luis and visited friends in Cusco. After that month I made an important decision: I’d try to live in Peru. I simply felt that I needed to do this. I already felt at home in Cusco.
I spent the next year in Belgium preparing everything. Luis and I looked for a house in Cusco. I saved up a lot, quit my job and canceled my apartment in Ghent and then the time had come to leave. Full of excitement about my new life, but also with the necessary amount of stress, I left.
I’ve been living here for four months now and I haven’t regretted my decision for one second. Luis and I live in a nice apartment in San Jeronimo, close to Cusco. I work at the local vzw Urpi Sonqocha, that helps children who live in extreme poverty and problem situations. I’m the volunteer coordinator and counselor for the group of three- to eight-year-olds. We’re always looking for volunteers, so if you know someone who’s interested, please email me at [email protected]
2. What did you expect from moving to Peru? Did those expectations hold up?
Because I’d lived here before for half a year with a local family, my expectations were pretty realistic. I knew the limitations of living in Cusco, like the different rhythm of life, less luxury, garbage in the streets, overcrowded buses…
I also knew the many advantages of living here, like being close to nature, the different rhythm of work and life, the traditional parties, the food, the international ambiance…
Living here with the idea of turning back to Belgium, like I did two years ago, was different from living here with the idea of staying here. I think I adjusted much more to the life and culture here this time because I know I want to stay here for a long time.
Aside from that, it’s hard to compare Cusco to other cities or the countryside of Peru. Cusco is a mix of cultures. The old Inca culture, the Catholic Peruvian culture and the influence of immigrants from around the world are beautiful and very fascinating!
3. What’s the biggest difference between life in Peru and life in Belgium?
The lack of heating in the houses. That may sound strange and not that important, but if you live here, it really affects your daily life. People here don’t have heating, not even in the cold season. The result is that it gets really cold inside during the night and never really warms up during the day. So I bought myself a thick poncho for the nights. But my partner and I decided the install heating here anyway.
I also notice this at work. The kids that come to our organization live in an adobe (some kind of LEEM) houses with holes and cracks. Often, their houses don’t even have windows. Warm clothes are too expensive and so they’re not buying those.
A consequence is that many children are constantly sick or having a cold. They also have red and hurt cheeks, hands, and feet from the cold. Our organization gathers warm clothing to hand out to the children and we rub them in with a hydrating lotion daily. We also buy medicine when needed.
Aside from that, there’s the difference in how much daylight we get. The sun sets early here all year through At the moment that’s around 6 pm. The sun sets quicker as well. We don’t really know twilight. That’s a big difference with Belgium. People start their days earlier here and go to bed sooner.
4. What’s the best part about living in Peru?
The view on nature and the mountains, everywhere you are in Cusco. It keeps amazing me. Seeing the sunshine on the mountains around Cusco is simply gorgeous. Nature is always close as well. It’s easy for me to walk to the mountains, sit down in a quiet spot and relax there, in the sunshine and while enjoying the view on Cusco below me. Even at home, I have a great view of the mountains from my living room.
This is a photo of that view:
5. What do you like least about living in Peru?
That it’s dark so early in the evenings. When I get home from work, it’s pitch black already so I can’t sit outside in the evening sun.
6. What do you miss most about Belgium?
My family and friends. I used to visit my parents weekly. Whenever I was sick, my mom would be there to take care of me. Besides that, I occasionally went out to have drinks with friends. I still do that with friends from here, but I miss having Belgian beers or going to the frietkot (Sofie: fries shack) from time to time.
You also can’t find our nice cheeses here. or you can, when you pay a fortune, something I don’t think is worth it.
7. Is there something about Belgium that you don’t miss at all?
The life and work rhythm are different here. People often work more than eight hours a day here but at a much more relaxed pace. There’s time to have a chat and most people go home for lunch. I really like that. I really don’t miss the rushed working rhythm of Belgium.
I also don’t miss the Belgian urbanization. In comparison with Peru, Belgium and especially Flanders are built full and stuffed with houses and other buildings. In Peru, you still have vast nature.
8. Do you think you’ll stay in Peru? Or is there a chance you’ll move abroad again someday?
It’s hard to answer this as I really don’t know yet. I leave the future open to new chances and challenges I’ll come across. I do plan on staying here in the near future and building a life here.
9. Do you have any tips or advice for other Belgians who consider moving to Peru?
When you feel like you need to try things in a new country, go for it. You can always return to Belgium when you want to. Chase your dreams (you don’t want to regret for the rest of your life that you haven’t tried it!). A lot of people will react skeptically or say you’re crazy, but that’s because they’re chasing different dreams. That’s okay. Everyone has the right to live their own lives and the right to be happy in their lives.
Make sure you’re prepared. Contact others who’ve moved to the country of your dreams through blogs and Facebook groups. Ask them for tips. Take a holiday there for a longer period before moving there. Make sure you’ve saved up enough in case you get severely ill (so that you can pay for a hospital) or in case you suddenly want to return to Belgium.
Don’t burn all your bridges in Belgium. Stay in touch with friends and family. They’ll still be important to you, wherever in the world you are.
Don’t exaggerate preparing either. For most countries, it’s really hard to apply for a working visa while you’re still in Belgium. Go there on a tourist visa and arrange the rest when you’re there. Have faith.
And enjoy the new experiences, new prospects, new friends and your new home!
Look at yourself as an immigrant and not as an expat. An expat is someone from the West moving to the South while someone moving from the South to the West is called an immigrant, but what’s the difference? I think we’re all immigrants who have a good reason (work, love, a new challenge, hope for a better life…) to move to another country and hope to built a life in this other country.
Are you a Belgian who moved abroad, or do you know someone who is? I’m always looking for new Belgian Expats to talk to. Check out the X-pat Files for more information on who exactly I’m looking for and drop me a line!