Each week I talk to someone who left their home country behind and moved to Belgium. This week Fadi from Ukraine tells us about his life here.
1. Hi, Fadi, Could you please introduce yourself? Tell us a bit about who you are, where you are from, where in Belgium you moved to and when/why you made that move.
My name is Fadi Baddur and I have been living in Belgium (Ghent) for the past 5 years. I was born in Ukraine (where my mother is from) and have lived a few years in Syria (where my father is from) but then we all moved to Dubai where I spent 17 years before I traveled to Belgium.
I was looking for a good post-graduate masters degree and most of the big names were located in either the UK or the US. In a twist of fate (I can’t call it otherwise) I was sitting in an interview for a well-known local business school and a few months later I was walking out of the Sint-Pieters train station looking for my temporary place before the study year began. Five years later and the fourth year into my current job as a marketing consultant I wouldn’t have done it any other way.
2. What were your expectations before you moved to Belgium and did the reality align with those expectations?
Being acclimatized to constant sunny and hot weather in Dubai, a small note in the school’s brochure did raise some red flags in my mind. The note said: “….at least in Belgium we have more sunny days than in the UK!”. I did get used to the weather eventually and in fact I would prefer the Belgian weather to the hot scorch of the desert heat.
I never had a culture shock nor did I expect one since I have been moving from one place to another throughout my life but some particular everyday life habits had to be changed. Back home we don’t separate garbage so I had to learn it the hard way here :)
The environment of students and the English knowledge of my classmates (who quickly became good friends) made my first few months a smooth transition.
3. What’s the biggest difference between life in your home country and living in Belgium?
The main difference I would say is the work/life balance and the ability to enjoy nature and outdoor activities. Back home the weather dictates your movements so usually it would be from home to the car and then either to a shopping mall or to work. All locations are well air-conditioned and keep you chilled. In Belgium (as in most countries in Europe), it is easy to just get outside and go for a walk/run or bike to work if you live close enough. The infrastructure is designed for walking and cycling and it was great to make use of that and make it a habit.
4. What do you love most about Belgium?
I feel that because of the historical events and the geographical location of the country, Belgium is a country of many cultures and backgrounds. People here are more friendly and compassionate and most importantly accommodating. The majority of the population knows English (before coming to Europe I thought all countries had English as one of their main languages but this is not true) and are very happy to help you out and make you feel at home. When I moved to a new place I asked a neighbour about the day when the garbage is picked up (sorry I am giving the garbage example again!) and after a helpful reply the next day I found a detailed note in my mailbox explaining the sorting system and what goes in what bag.
I like the Belgian spirit of adventure and exploration. It is very rare that I meet a Belgian who has not visited some exotic locations or did something interesting in their lives. I guess adventure runs in their veins and it is contagious.
5. What do you like least about Belgium?
I am sure my observation below is applicable to any country that is not your home but for me it became Belgium since I settled here. No matter how long you live here you will always be considered as a foreigner. I was talking to a third generation Moroccan and she told me that she had made peace with this idea and the faster you realise it the sooner you will enjoy your experience in the country. She was not saying it in spite or bitterness but rather in a confident and proud voice. She was happy that she had the chance to keep her root identity and celebrates her home’s local customs. This was an eye opener for me as I always felt as a foreigner even back home since in Dubai they considered me a Ukrainian while in Ukraine they saw me as an Arab. In Belgium I learned how to make peace with that dilemma and celebrate who I am without being pushed to blend in and lose my original and unique identity.
Wait… did I mention politics? Yeah, that stuff is a mess here and I don’t think it will be resolved any time soon! But at least they showed the world that Belgians don’t need a government to keep the country going which is always nice to know :D
6. What do you miss most about one of your home countries?
As expected, back home you have a strong support system of family and friends which you need to build from scratch when moving to a new country. But as a global citizen home is where I am right now and I do visit Dubai to meet family and friends to catch up and take a stroll down the memory lane.
7. Do you think you’ll stay where you are now, or do you think you’ll migrate again some day?
I have long term plans in Belgium and compared to back home, I do feel that you can truly settle here and call it your home. The most important thing to keep in mind is language. I would suggest to all newcomers to pick one of the two languages (Dutch is easier if you have English background) and go for it! Locals will appreciate it and you will enjoy your stay no matter how long/short you plan to live here.
8. Could you share some of your favorite spots in Belgium with us?
For the best sushi in town try Sushi Palace in Oudburg and for the best Pasta in town you can’t go wrong with De Kastart.
Are you an expat who moved to Belgium, or do you know someone who is? I’m always looking for new 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!