My name is Mel and I am an American woman, married to a Dutch man. I’m a geek, reader, blogger and photographer. You know. Just a girl.
I moved from the US to Antwerp, Belgium, in 2009. We came because my husband was (and still is) in university over here and we did not want to continue our relationship across an ocean. Besides which, I love it in Europe and was thrilled to have a good reason to come over!
What challenges did you face during the move?
Not very many. It isn’t very difficult for an American to come over here, especially since we got married at the same time.The biggest thing was finding a reputable (and not overly-priced) company to ship some of my possessions over here, and finding a place to live (which frustrated me, because I was in the US and unable to view the properties or know much about them). My husband ended up getting our apartment about a week before I arrived here.
How did you find somewhere to live?
My husband scoured internet sites for renting in Belgium, and emailed/called up the ones that looked good in the right areas. If the people he contacted responded positively, he set up appointments and took a train over here (he was in the Netherlands at the time, about 2hrs away from here) to check them out. I think he visited 3, and had contact with a handful of others. When we settled on our apartment, there was some paperwork that needed to be done, and since he was a student (not working), his parents also made some sort of guarantee with him.
Are there many other expats in your area?
Antwerp is a very international city, so yes, there are people from all over living here. In addition, there are many shorter-term visitors constantly coming, for study abroad programs, temporary work assignments, etc, from around the world- who stay anywhere from a month to a year or more, without putting down more permanent roots.
What is your relationship like with the locals?
Well, I don’t have very much of one, to be honest. The people here are very nice, and most of them do speak English; but I feel bad/awkward approaching people and asking them to speak English for me, so it puts me off a bit. Plus we’re more “homebodies” so we don’t often end up in situations to really meet many new people. But I’ve never had any trouble with anyone, and random people even address me in English if they overhear me speaking, and need/want to say something to me. Everyone is quite friendly, truly. I even had an elderly man approach me in the city center while I was sitting & reading a book, to have a little conversation with me. That is not a common occurrence in the US!
What do you like about life where you are?
I love it here. It’s a wonderful city that has everything one could want. There’s a number of museums, tons of culture, big nightlife, the cost of living is quite low (as far as I’m concerned), it’s very international, it’s a cinch to travel around (in the city, country, and continent!), it’s just a great place! Plus, my lifestyle is incredibly much healthier since leaving the US. We cook (like most people) every night, with a variety of vegetables (and no meat), we have some fruit every evening, I do plenty of walking, it’s just tons better.
What do you dislike about your expat life?
The big thing is that I have not yet learned to speak the language. And that’s a reflection on me, not the city. One other thing I guess, is that businesses don’t care much if they lose you. I’m used to the capitalist economy where businesses bend over backward to make sure you keep using them, and over here they just don’t appear to care that much to accommodate people if there’s an issue. But it’s not like there are problems often, so it really is not a big deal. Of course, I also dislike not seeing friends/family often. But I encourage them all to come visit so I can show them around, I love to show off my city!
What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?
I guess simply to be sure it’s what you want. If you come here with an open mind ready to embrace this place, you will be quite happy. But if you come here looking for the place you left behind, and constantly compare them and want that place, you will end up very disappointed. Make sure you really want the change, and open yourself to it. Also, be aware that you *must* be patient (having a padded savings is a good idea); bureaucracy is a sloooow process, and it *will* take a while for things to get finalized. But it’ll be done eventually!
What are your plans for the future?
Living life to the fullest! And, becoming a Belgian citizen once I am eligible.
If you wish to ask Mel questions about her expat experience you can tweet her at twitter.com/ShortQuietOne or read her blog at melbymonkey.com