Don’t Underestimate the Importance of Body Language

“You go de andere zeit,” the bus driver tells me in halting English, his hand cutting a karate chop motion through the air, “and wait for andere bus.”

“And what time is it coming?” I ask pointing to the invisible watch on my wrist. The Russian couple is standing off to the side, a puzzled expression on their features.

As an answer his head juts forward and he squints at me.

“Uur for andere bus?” I ask, pointing to my wrist again. I think the bus driver is German so I am hoping he understand the Dutch words for hour and other.

A shrug is his answer.

Continue reading

Advertisements

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

Continue reading

At Least I Don’t Hear Bombs

“So how did you end up in Belgium?” I ask, just trying to make small talk as we wait for our friends to get their sandwich orders.  Mohammad and I have only just met during the lunch break for our intensive Dutch Language course. The only thing I know about him is his name and that he is from Pakistan.

“I’m seeking asylum,” he informs me, his tone flippant.  Mohammad gave the statement the weight of a snowflake and it lands on me as an avalanche. I don’t know for certain, but I have pretty good idea that the reason he’s seeking asylum is largely influenced my country’s military presence in Pakistan.  To say I feel uncomfortable doesn’t quite capture the nuance of emotions running through me. No previous experience has given me a reference on how to proceed after such a response.  Continue reading

In Antwerp, Apartments Strip You!

IMG_2329

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

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

The Vegetables Will Make You Sick

I love vegetables. I love meat more for the record, but I do love to munch on some crisp broccoli or a lightly tossed salad; for me a meal really isn’t complete without something green. Seriously, in another life I might have been the Witch from Into The Woods. So when I see that the mussels were on a bed of steam celery and onions, I am very pleased.

When people think of Belgian food, Continue reading