Each Saturday I talk to someone who left their home country behind and moved to Belgium. This week the Swedish Cecilia tells us about her life here.
1. Hi Cecilia, 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 Cecilia, I’m a 28-year old Swedish woman and a mother of one. I love exploring the world and have a great need to see new places and meet new people. When I am not traveling I am… who am I kidding, I’m always traveling. I guess I am also a creative person. I play the piano, I crochet, I love DIY projects, painting and to plan events. I am pretty strong-opinionated, especially when it comes to the environment, and I like reading books about self-improvement.
I studied Business Administration in Gävle, Sweden, and decided to do a semester abroad through the Erasmus program. Oh, how I love Erasmus! I chose Germany to improve my German and ended up meeting the love of my life. I did not improve my German, but I still consider it a win. My (Belgian) boyfriend tried to find a job in Sweden at first but as they can be pretty slow in handling applications there we decided to try in Belgium instead. So what started as six months abroad now turned into five years. I wonder if my parents will let any of my six siblings study abroad…
2. What were your expectations before you moved to Belgium and did the reality align with those expectations?
I expected an adventure and an adventure I got! Coming from a country with a pretty stable economy (at the time) despite the financial crisis I wasn’t prepared for the struggle to find a job. I thought that my relatively high level of English was more than enough to find something and I was rather discouraged when I realized that 95% of the applications (a number I just made up) required not only Dutch but also French. I could learn one language pretty fast but two? In the end, it only took me 3-4 months to find something which I have understood afterwards was pretty fast.
I didn’t expect it to be so difficult to find Belgian friends and to integrate into the society either.
3. What’s the biggest difference between life in Sweden and living in Belgium?
I assume that the cultural differences between two countries in Europe are smaller than one from, let’s say South America and Europe, but I find that there are loads of differences between Sweden and Belgium. More than I expected, especially since in my experience Germany and Sweden are somewhat similar (don’t scream and pull your hair if you disagree, it’s just an observation).
If I would only have to mention one thing it would be the mentality of the people, but explaining that point further would require another five pages.
4. What do you love most about Belgium?
I love the quality of the health care, the social security when you are sick, the fresh food and good steaks, the chivalric men (except if you are highly pregnant on a full train), the warm winters and how there’s always something to do.
The one thing I love the most is that it’s so centrally located which makes it easy to discover the rest of Europe without taking a lot of vacation days.
5. What do you like least about Belgium?
The sore point that every expat talks a lot about. I myself have complained my fair share about Belgium in the past years – just ask my fiancé – but every country has its ups and downs. I’ve learned after five years that there is no point in complaining because it won’t change a thing and I don’t come from a perfect world either. However, complaining to your fellow expats does make things easier.
I strongly dislike the public transportation and the traffic jams, the short maternity leave, the constant rain, the lack of nature and all the complicated procedures and paperwork.
6. What do you miss most about Sweden?
Except from the obvious answer “friends and family”, I really miss our traditions. We celebrate things almost every month (with schnapps!) and it brings people together. I miss plucking berries and mushrooms in the forest, taking the boat to an island for an afternoon swim in the summer, the sense of belonging to “my” people and to understand all the underlying messages and body language that people unconsciously have.
7. Do you think you’ll stay where you are now, or do you think you’ll migrate again some day?
A year or two ago I would’ve said that I wanted to move as quickly as possible. Now I started liking and appreciating it a lot more here so I can’t say for sure what the future might bring. I do know that I will never stay forever anywhere. There are too many interesting places to live in this world to just sit still.
8. Could you share some of your favorite spots in Belgium with us?
I haven’t visited Wallonia much, but Dinant and Durbuy are two favorites. I like shopping in Antwerpen and Knokke in the summer. Brugge and Leuven are cute day trips. I would spend a day in Ghent by sipping a drink at the Graslei and strolling over to the castle of Gravensteen, eating a waffle at Max and doing some shopping at the Veldstraat. Finish off the day with a cocktail at Cafe Theatre before choosing one of Gent’s 600 restaurants. My two favorite festivals are Gentse Feesten and Tomorrowland.
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!