Every week I interview a Belgian who moved abroad and built a new life there. This week Caroline tells us what it’s like to move to the United States.
1. Hey Caroline, please introduce yourself briefly. Tell us who you are, where you’re from, where you moved to and when you made that move.
My name is Caroline. I’m 37 years old, married and we have a daughter that’s eight years old. I’m originally from the Brussels region, my husband is from the Flemish Ardennes and we met each other at work in Ghent. Already during our first date he made it clear to me that he would move to the US.
Almost three years ago now, we moved from Ghent to Midland, Michigan in the US for my husband’s job. At the time they told us it would be for a two-year assignment, but now they’re talking about three to five years. We don’t really care. The longer, the better.
2. Why did you move to the US?
My husband works for a company that’s globally represented. His career was going pretty well, but eventually he’d run out of options to climb further upwards in the Benelux. Headquarters is here in Midland, Michigan and so they sent him here to support his career.
3. What were your expectations of life in the US and how did those expectations meet with reality?
My husband had come here for business several times already and so we had a vague idea of the environment we’d be living in, but of course living here is very different than staying here for just a week.
Living circumstances here definitely lived up to our expectations. You can buy a nice house here for a reasonable price. We’d never be able to live like we do now in Belgium. Also the convenience, offer and customer service here exceed our wildest expectations. I’ve never seen anything like it and I couldn’t miss it anymore either.
What did not live up to my expectations is the mentality of the people. Of course I’m generalizing and this is probably also region dependent, but people are a bit of hypocrites when it comes to their public behavior. Naively, I’d expected that, because of how religious a lot of people here are, they would act according to the values of their faith (in our little town of 42k people, there are 170 churches). I’d expected them to be less egocentric and shallow.That doesn’t seem to be the case though. It seems as if most people only apply their religious values in a small circle of friends, the church community, the school community and so on, but not in the midst of strangers.
4. What’s the biggest difference about life in the US and life in Belgium?
I have the impression that the quality of products (everything from construction material to clothes and food) is less here than in Europe. Then again, the offer is much bigger.
Also the offer in after school activities and family activities is much broader. Our daughter can choose from a wide range of hobbies here and we also do more things together as a family.
The biggest difference for me personally is that I don’t work anymore. When we left Belgium I thought I’d get bored quickly and would look for a job, but the expat community takes you in immediately and you don’t get the chance to get bored.
5. what’s the biggest cultural difference or the biggest mentality difference?
The biggest difference is that everything is aimed at convenience here. Everything has to happen smoothly and quickly: you eat in half an hour, a large part of the food on offer in supermarkets is “ready to serve”… en often the quality suffers from it. But just as often it’s a convenient option!
Customer service is also aimed at convenience. Bought the wrong kind of rice? No problem, just bring it back to the store!
6. What do you like most about living in the US?
The best thing for me is my free time, the possibility/luxury to do what I feel like, discover new hobbies, have coffee with friends, …
Being social is also easier here: as soon as people notice you have something in common with them (work, a kid at the same school or with the same hobby, …), they start talking to you. That way there’s always someone to talk to when you’re waiting by the side of the pool when your daughter has swimming class. In Belgium people hardly smile back at you at the school gate.
The expat community is great as well. they immediately take you in and the group has some sort of common mentality: the adventurous mentality from being an expat.
7. What do you like least about living in the US?
The food culture here bothers me tremendously. Where we live it’s very hard to find quality foods. The offer of healthy ingredients in stores is limited and I can count the number of decent restaurants on one hand.
Vegetables and fruit are stuffed with pesticides that have long been forbidden in Europe, meat and dairy are filled with hormones and there are additives in everything so that just reading the label makes you sick.
My husband struggles with some other things, like the lower quality of all kinds of products, the fact that people don’t sort their garbage here en that everything still is new.
8. What do you miss most about Belgium?
We mostly miss the good restaurants. Those are hard to find in our region, which is kind of surprising given the large amount of expats in our town.
9. Is there something about Belgium you don’t miss at all?
The grumpiness of Belgians is something I don’t miss at all. I always found it very hard to meet new people in Belgium. That’s so easy over here. Our circle of friends has never been this big, I think. Mostly expats, but also some American families.
I also don’t miss the lousy weather. It might be freezing cold and full of snow here from time to time, I still prefer that to the Belgian rain.
And for me personally: the 9-to-5. It feels so good not having to work and being able to spend time on the things that matter. The first year we were here I intentionally didn’t work to be here for our daughter during that transition period. Afterwards I didn’t start working because I was so busy with all my hobbies :) I’ve only recently started working as a freelance translator and that’s ideal: I work when i want and still have more than enough time for my hobbies.
10. Do you think you’ll stay in the US? Or will you move elsewhere someday?
We don’t care that much. Everything depends on my husband’s job. I wouldn’t mind staying here for another couple of years, but a new assignment is welcome as well. We still have to see so much of the world. I’m not going back to Belgium.
11. Any tips for other Belgians who are thinking about moving to the US?
Talk to a lot of people who’ve already taken the step. Ask them about details, not just the big things like work, housing and education.
If possible, take a trip to your destination and spend some time there living a regular life, not as a tourist.
If you move because of your job or your partner’s job, take into account that the company won’t tell you everything and so it’s best to ask questions to other people from the company who’ve moved already. Most of us will love sharing details.
Make sure you’ve arranged everything from A to Z, because there’s no social security here.
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!