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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Cupcake Drag Queens, Hula Hoops, and the Family You Choose

Zsa Zsa Lamour in all her fantastic glory.

It’s been hard to get the motivation to write here. It’s been hard to share what I have been feeling about life here in Antwerp. I have done some awesome things in the last month and half. I scored €3 tickets to the Vlaamse Opera’s dress rehearsal of Rossini’s Otello, started and finished my social orientation course as part of my requirement for immigrating here, visited the Red Star Line Museum,  and went to a karaoke bar with potential new fellow expat friends. Continue reading

‘Cause My Tooth’s Too Sugarlicious For Ya Babe

I really enjoy cooking. An embarrassingly large amount of my free time is spent scouring the internet for new recipes to test. I like doing so even now more because I have someone who is forever forced to be my taste tester since he decided to marry me. My recent experiments this past week have been rabbit slow cooked in apple cider with onions and raisins, and recipe for sweet potato feta muffins, both getting positive reviews from Mr. Isinvar. More often than not he really enjoys my cooking, leading me to the conclusion that I am a decent cook.

However, there is one comment that surprises me every time I hear it, “It’s too sweet.”  Too sweet? I live in the land famous for its chocolate and waffles that have sugar clumps in the dough. How can anything be too sweet? Continue reading

Gelukkige Verjaardag vs Happy Birthday

This past weekend we celebrated my mother-in-law’s 60th birthday party. It was a lovely affair with lots of cava, good conversation, and delicious hapjes and cake. It was quite gezellig. I was actually really quite proud of myself because I enjoyed most of the evening conversing with Mr. Isinvar’s grandmother completely in Dutch.

My mother-in-law got a visit from Mickey and Minnie on her birthday!

We had a lot of laughs even though my Dutch is far from perfect and her particular accent was a little difficult for me to understand. However, the evening did prove that my Dutch lessons have been paying off and I can now spend entire evening comfortably conversing with native speakers, which is really exciting for me!

Anyway, in light of the party, I wanted to take a little time to talk about the differences between Belgian birthday traditions and American Birthday traditions. Continue reading

Today I Hate Living In Belgium

One of my best friends is getting married tomorrow and I can’t be there. We’ve been friends for 10 years, and have supported each other through every big and small occasion of note since high school. Despite the fact that we went to different universities, we always stayed in contact. He drove an hour to see my solo recitals and I made special trips downstate to celebrate his birthday. When I moved my wedding from August 2014 to June 2013, all he said was “I’ll be there.” Tomorrow he’s marrying a woman who is incredibly smart (graduated top of her class from the top university education program in the United states), who is dedicated to her profession, and is one of the most people beautiful people (both inside and out) I know.  It pains me more than words in any language can express that I can’t be there. 

I can’t be there because I am still waiting for my residency visa and I am not allowed leave Belgium until that’s processed. I knew there was a chance that I wouldn’t be able to leave in time 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

My Two Roads In A Yellow Wood

Maybe it’s because this is the longest I have lived outside the United States (124 days) or maybe it’s because I am sitting among the chaos of moving boxes, but I can’t help but wonder — how the hell did I end up here? I never expected to become an expat. I never expected to move to Antwerp. It’s stunning to me how quickly your life can change with one decision.

And for some unknown reason, I keep coming back to two lines from “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost:

“Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.”

Life gave me the chance to come back. I could have 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

How the Government Shutdown May Have Forced Me to Accept Immigrant Status

 

Is life better here in Belgium or is it better in America?

Miners Castle, Munising, MI - July 2011

The beauty I left behind when I became an expat.

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. 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