Reflection: My First Year as an Expat

It has officially been a year since I landed in Brussels with only two suit cases andready to take on the world. My biggest confession from this past year? I had no idea what I was doing when I picked and moved to a whole new country. What’s even worse is that I had —no idea— I didn’t know what I was doing when I moved to Belgium.

Pictures from throughout the year

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How Antwerp Gave the World the world “White Christmas”

Red Star Line Advertisement

“Jullie zijn de derrrrrrrrde passagiers,” our museum guide Inez says enthusiastically rolling her “r’s” for emphasis. Today for our last day of our social orientation class we are taking a field trip to Antwerp’s newest museum The Red Star Line museum.

To say that this two-story museum is about the company that over two million people used to sail from Europe to America isn’t quite accurate. You do learn about what the ships were like and the different travel booking stations owned by the company all around Europe. But what this museum really focuses on are the people who passed through these halls and their experiences with the Red Star Line.   Continue reading

Opera Unchained

This past Saturday I got to enjoy my christmas present from my husband: tickets to see the Vlaamse Opera’s production of Der Rosenkavelier by Richard Strauss. I love going to the opera. In university, you get to hear many great arias in studios, area recitals, convocations, and student recitals, but only have one or two opportunities to see a fully staged operatic productions. So I try to go to as many different productions as I can.

Der Rosenkavealier, Op. 59, is a comic opera by Richard Strauss and libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal and Harry von Kessler. The story is about the Marschallin, Princess Marie Thérèse von Werdenberg, her young lover Octavian, her cousin Baron Ochs, and Och’s prospective fiancée Sophie. Continue reading

In Antwerp, Apartments Strip You!

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Mr. Isinvar at the beginning of the Ikea bed puzzle. It would take him 3 hours to finish.

Finding an apartment in Antwerp takes a healthy dose of patience and a ton of luck. We began our search for an apartment a few months ago, and since then there have been several moments when I was unsure if we would be able to find a place that suited our needs. I didn’t think we had such a difficult wish list: we were looking for a place that had direct tram/bus routes to work, a reasonable price, in good condition, and either had parking or was in a place where we could easily find parking — it was looking to be quite a tall order.

After scouring the newspaper and the internet, we finally found our first home as a married couple. It’s a lovely apartment with Continue reading

The Never Ending Hunting Season – Apartment Season

“Well it’s Europe,” I tell myself as I look around the Kitchath, a combination Kitchen-Bathroom. I had prepared myself for the fact that everything is smaller in Europe. During the summer of 2012, I lived in the University Quarter in a Student Kot, so I felt like I knew what to expect when my husband and I started looking for apartments.

But I was not prepared for this: along  the right wall is a sink, a stove, and a place for a washing machine, the back wall has a stand alone shower with a half sink next to it, in the corner sits a small niche for the toilet, that is only covered by a dangling fabric strip partition, and to the left of the toilet is the refrigerator. Apparently the owner thought when he converted this building into an apartment building that it wasn’t worth it to create a separate room for the personal hygiene essentials. And naturally, since there was already plumbing in the kitchen this was the only logical place to put these essential household items.

And so here I stand, in the middle of this quirky little room, trying to imagine making my first home with my husband here in this place. Continue reading

Cyclic Observations in Antwerp

My awesome second hand bike, with it’s awesome “Girl Power” sticker

One thing I did not expect when moving to Antwerp was the nightmare that comes with driving around this city.  In fact, the INRIX Traffic Scorecard ranked Antwerp as the second most traffic congested city in the world — second only to Brussels. That’s right, my city is more nightmarish to drive around LA, NYC, Boston, Beijing, or Manila.

Luckily there is a decent public transport system Continue reading

American Awareness: Thoughts on Global Citizenship

I am never more aware of being American than when I am abroad. I don’t quite know how to explain this particular feeling of American awareness. It’s not pride or arrogance, or even shame, but finding the words to accurately describe this feeling is proving elusive. At home there is a truly bizarre fascination with your heritage, but I almost guarantee that every time the 1/8 Polish, 1/8 Korean, 1/4 Brazilian and 1/4 Kenyan American is abroad, they only indicate their American heritage when asked “Where do you come from?”

Lindy Hop lesson before the live music starts

Last friday I was transported back in time to September 4, 1944 – the day that British troops liberated Antwerp from German forces. To commemorate the event, the city of Antwerp put on a small festival in Groenplaats called Brevrijd! where people could come out and listen to live big band music  and practice their Lindy Hop steps. And it was here that I was at once hit by the strangeness of being an American abroad. Continue reading

How the Month of August Conspired Against Me

I have to be grateful for small victories

While Antwerp is not a large city and public transport is far superior to anything I experienced growing up, it’s been suggested to me on several occasions to get a bike. The city isn’t huge, but bikes can make getting to hidden pockets of the city much more easily accessible and you’re not beholden to the bus or tram schedule.

It’s for this reason that I set out one sunny Thursday afternoon to go bike shopping. I found a second hand bike shop located in the Antwerpen Zuid district, an area full of lots of little interesting shops and pubs. My plan is to go look at bikes and explore the area a bit, maybe get a coffee and sit a terrace and read. It really is a lovely day. Continue reading

Sitting in the Invisible Corner: A Restaurant Review

Taken after waiting for about 20 minutes for our plates to be cleared

This past saturday my husband and I celebrated the 8th Anniversary of our first in-person meeting, affectionately dubbed our “Milaniversary.” For those of you who don’t know, my husband and I first “met” on an online MUD, based on the Wheel of Time series in 2004. We became good friends and when I got the chance to go to Italy in 2005, he came and met me and my mother in Milan. We spent the whole day together, the three of us, sipping cokes in a piazza, visiting the Duomo, and finally getting in dinner at a Chinese restaurant.

I like celebrating the little things in life; in fact, I’ll take almost any excuse to go out and celebrate, even if it’s just going out for dinner. Continue reading

I came to Casablanca for the sangria.

Main Stage at CasablancaOne of the awesome things about Antwerp is how much free or relatively inexpensive stuff there is going on in the summer. Everything from music festivals, circuses, pop up bars, outdoor film showings, children workshops, and dance performances. It’s truly wonderful and tonight I plan on taking full advantage of the available free entertainment. Continue reading