Is life better here in Belgium or is it better in America?
It’s a common question I hear when people discover I am from the United States. Human nature seems to demand a hierarchy and people use comparisons such as this to put perspective on their life. I detest this question because I never know quite how to answer it. When people ask me this particular question, I would hesitate and dodge making general statements about either country. I always frame the answer within the context “For my husband and I, Belgium was a better choice.” I ramble off the items on the pro side of my pro-con list, but they are mostly subjects of personal importance. It was a highly personal choice.
I don’t know how to answer the question because my gut response felt like a betrayal.
To admit that life is better here feels like I am betraying my friends who are working three jobs while going to college, and going into tens of thousands of dollars into debt, all to get ahead in life. It feels as if I would be betraying the loyalty of my sorority sister who dedicated her career to civil service and to the dear friends are risking their lives to protect our freedoms through military service. But most of all, I feel like I would be betraying the sacrifices my mother and her family made to come to the United States in the 1970’s. My grandparents immigrated to the U.S. to give their children and their grandchildren a better life — there is a great irony to the fact that I emigrated from the United States in search of the better life. I don’t think anyone expects immigration to become a family tradition.
To say “Life is better in Belgium” feels like I am dishonoring everyone I love in the US.
I want so badly to be able to confirm any stranger’s notions that anything is possible in the United States, but I have lost faith in the American government. The actions and behavior in Congress and in Washington forced me to confront the fact that going back with my husband may not be option for us in the future. I hadn’t and don’t anticipate going back to the United States, but it was nice to know that the option was there. Before I left, my mother kept insisting, “Everyone comes here to get ahead. They don’t leave,” but that belief is dangerously hanging in the balance and I grieve at the realization.
Two weeks ago when this all started my colleagues kept asking me, “How does a government just completely shutdown?” Belgium was without any formal government for 500+ days, and set a world record for the longest time gone without any formal government in a country. However, the government didn’t shut down. The way it has been explained to me is that an emergency government stepped in, services continued and were not stopped or reduced, the budget was frozen in place, and the government went on a hiring freeze. The populace was, in general, not left in the cold.
Congress has come up with a solution until January 7. For everyone back home I hope that a more solid and concrete solution can be found, but I have genuine fears that Congress won’t find itself in the same precarious position again. And if that should happen, I can only hope that the family tradition of immigration will stop with me.