Silvia: Explorer of the Everyday
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Belgium, etc.
My name is Silvia Martin. I was born and raised in Romania, in the city of Galati by the Danube. I moved to Belgium one week before I turned 20, that is when my life as an expat began. The exact arrival date was 22nd September 2002. I spent 9 years in Liège, it is there that my sister was living and where I did my University studies in Germanic Languages and finished with distinction. I moved to Brussels in December 2011, where I work as Product Marketing Communications Specialist (I know, it’s long) for Toyota Material Handling Europe (even longer). I love horses, dogs, dancing, South Africa, and I appreciate someone with a good sense of humour.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I started to blog sometime around December 2011, just about when I was starting my career as a copywriter. I did not know the first thing about blogs or WordPress. But while I was commuting between Liège and Brussels for work (which I did for 3 years), I started to write about my trips. I thus ended up with 4 pages about a trip I did in Ireland. Writing seemed to be a necessity for me. I had to submit to that and then discovered blogging and how much fun it is to share your experiences with others. It was also very scary at the beginning; I did not have enough confidence in my writing and feared criticism. Now I’m beyond all this.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
One of my favourite articles is the only about Rome also because it is among the first ones I wrote for the blog.
Tell us about the ways your new life in Belgium differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
Life in Belgium was and is different and if I’m not mistaken will always be. This is always the case when you trade one country for the other. The differences are not shocking, but require some adaptation. Brussels is one of the cities where you do not have to adapt that much: it is not a traditional city where you are the only newcomer; it is a cosmopolitan place where everyone is from somewhere else. Belgium is a very welcoming country for immigrants, probably also one of the few which is so. We are all expats, so there is not one specific culture you have to adjust to. But you might slightly lose yours. The rule of migration is: you lose something, you win something. And the other way round.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Belgium? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
At 20 you are never prepared for much: you’re still discovering, but you are eager. What I was not ready for was life on my own: to earn my money, to deal with my own problems, to make my own decisions and deal with them. I was facing all this together with a different environment, without references that were part of my former life. Everything was new. I don’t think I would have changed anything because I remember just how stubborn I was at that age and no one’s advice could have helped me out: I just did everything my way. Which is important: the only life you live step by step is yours, not someone else’s.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
Getting lost on the highway because of indicators such as Luik/Lüttich when all you’re looking for is Liège is a typical example.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Belgium?
- Don’t stay at home, mingle with people as much as you can, otherwise it will be a very solitary immigration experience and you can live in an apartment anywhere in the world, but will never get the feeling of the place;
- Find a job before you come – it’s difficult to watch passively the others having fun around you while you cannot afford anything, especially when you are young;
- Remember that life has ups and downs anywhere and that people are kind or not depending on whom you find along the way. But this is the same pattern everywhere.
How is the expat community in Belgium? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
Yes, but that’s also because I discovered I was not such an open person after all. Like-minded people are not easy to find, especially if you don’t socialize much, which is my case. But Brussels gives you the possibility to join different clubs, groups, activities, so in the end you have the opportunity to find what is most convenient for you. The options are there.
How would you summarize your expat life in Belgium in a single, catchy sentence?
There’s this line I extracted from “West Side Story” and used in my blog: “Once an immigrant, always an immigrant” – I really like this and believe that it summarizes pretty well my life right now. Expats are continuous misfits. They just need to accept that. It is a wonderful experience even if, occasionally, it may not look like it.