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”

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“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

‘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

A New Belgian Find: BRNS

My first introduction to BRNS was a couple of days ago through this post from In Between The Tracks. (Sidenote: Some really quality stuff at In Between the Tracks. It’s definitely worth checking out. ) I saw that BRNS is a Belgian band from Wallonië and decided to check them out. I like supporting locals, and while they’re not Antwerpenaars, Belgium is local for me now.

Upon first listen to their track “Our Lights,” I was instantly intrigued by BRNS. I’ll admit am not sure I understand the music video and still find it a bit weird after 6 viewings, but I really like their sound. There is an element to “Our Lights” that reminds me of Jimmy Eat World’s “Goodbye Sky Harbor.” The sounds of the two bands are completely different, but the repetition and layering of the sounds in “Our Lights” immediately brought to mind end of “Goodbye Sky Harbor.” Continue reading

Why Learning a Language Makes You Feel Like a Toddler

Learning a new language as an adult is what I imagine it’s like to be a toddler. You can understand most everything that is going on around you, but you personally don’t have the language capabilities to communicate everything you want or think. Suddenly you understand part of the reason that they throw tantrums all the time.

And then you decide to learn Dutch, 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