Each week I talk to someone who left their home country behind and moved to Belgium. This week Eamonn tells us about his life here.
1. Hi, Eamonn! 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 Eamonn O’Brien. I am Irish and have been living in Belgium for 14 years. I work in aquaculture (fish farming) and had been managing a hatchery in Cyprus when one of the feed suppliers, a Belgian company, approached me with a job offer. So my wife, our dog and I packed ourselves off to Belgium. We rented in Overmere for a while before finally buying our own place close by.
2. What were your expectations before you moved to Belgium and did the reality align with those expectations?
We had been over for a weekend sponsored by the company before our move, bear in mind these were days before TripAdvisor etc so we relied on travel books with paper pages! We were over in the summer and it was great. I had already been staying there for a few months and had gotten to know the place a bit and found our rental house while my wife finished up her work in Cyprus.
However, we moved in November, which was a big shock going from high 20s and eating outside to cold, dark and wet November Belgium. The dog loved it, he hadn’t seen green grass in ages but for us it was a shock. Everyone in the street had their shutters down and we were the “English” people in a country village. The locals were very nice and keen to demonstrate their amazing skill of English however.
We didn’t really have any expectations, it was a jump into the unknown. I think today it is a lot easier to have expectations and there is so much info available. We just jumped in with both feet and gave it a go. It was not easy. I was travelling a lot for my work and my wife spent a lot of time studying Dutch. But as spring arrived, we got to know our neighbors and started making friends.
3. What’s the biggest difference between life in Ireland and living in Belgium?
I found Belgium to be very much like Ireland, very family orientated and the shops closed on Sundays. My English wife was more shocked that shops would not be open, haha. It’s only this past weekend that we finally have a DIY store open on a Sunday morning in our village.
Finding fresh milk was always a challenge back then. We are not UHT milk people but now we have a delivery every week and we are even friends with the factory manager from INEX that produces the fresh milk.
I had been living abroad for years before getting to Belgium (Cyprus 6 years, UK 3 years) so you get to a stage: “What do I consider “home”?”
Some village people can be a bit “rude” and unwelcoming but in general we had no issues and found that people were amazing. No different to anywhere you go, really. There will always be a few but you gravitate towards the people you can relate to.
4. What do you love most about the Belgium?
Pretty much everything, really! It’s a great place to bring up kids, we have three, all born in UZ Gent. The medical system here is amazing and the education system is also great. If you take the time to integrate and make good local friends you will be very happy here. It helped that I am a musician and singer so you get invited to lots of parties ;-)
We are very much integrated in our village, we are on the school parents council and active in the KLJ, KWB, Football club, horse riding, dog school, gymnastics, rope skipping, running. Our village is a real community. Last year I was Ill and 20+ locals came around one Saturday and did all the hedges and trees in my BIG garden. We just gave them beer and sandwiches and they were so happy to help us out.
I believe you reap what you sow. Learn the language ( it doesn’t have to be perfect) and if you appreciate good food and drink you will find great friends.
Another example of great Belgians. One of my speakers from my PA system was broken. I dropped it into a music store in Gent and explained I had a gig in 2 days and needed it urgently repaired. It wasn’t possible in such short notice but the guy just went out back and brought out a new speaker and said, “Here, you can borrow this for your gig”. There was no charge, no deposit, nothing. Obviously I had done business with them before but I was really impressed with that level of trust and openness.
5. What do you like least about Belgium?
Traffic jams and the high taxes but I don’t really like to openly criticize anyone’s country.
6. What do you miss most about Ireland?
Family and friends. But there I am lucky, my best friend drives a truck from Ireland to Europe every week and I get to see him sometimes.
I think it is important to remember that when you move away, people’s lives at home also continue. It is easy to think that your memories remain constant but of course they don’t. So when you go back things are different. Friends have their own kids and priorities change. Having a good traditional Irish music session and a good pint of Guinness would be something I would always dream about.
7 Do you think you’ll stay where you are now, or do you think you’ll migrate again some day?
I can’t see myself leaving. I travel all over the world for my work, approx. 70% of my time is abroad and I always feel good when I come back to Belgium. It is home. In seeing different countries – and I get out into the field, not some tourist illusion – you get to see what real life is like. We are so lucky here in Belgium but we take it for granted.
That said, you never know, if something came along or my job situation changes who knows what could happen. Of all the places I have been to only Vancouver and Adelaide were places I could have been happy to miss my flight.
8. Could you share some of your favorite spots in Belgium with us?
Hmmmm Donkmeer/Nieuwdonk. The Ardennes around Rochefort. Dropping into nice cafes along the Schelde around Appels
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!