Why you can also get more out of your expat life in Brussels!
You just arrived in Belgium. Alone, with your partner, or your entire family. Settling in is not easy, finding your way around neither. You have to move in to a new house, deal with bureaucratic hurdles, get your life organised, and learn how to go with the flow in another culture. You don’t know many people, certainly not outside your work environment. Building a new circle of friends is therefore easier said than done, especially with the many superficial “expat events” that focus more on partying than on making authentic connections. You realise that expat life can be rather lonely, and that you again need to build a circle of friends to smooth the transition and to feel more grounded.
Or maybe you have been living in Brussels for some time already, or even for many years. Yet, you still feel like a stranger and realise your social life needs a structural upgrade. Your initial plans to discover the city and country are far from realised. Weekends seem to fly by in no time, and it is hard to find the energy to do anything more than groceries or domestic duties, let alone visit a museum or make a trip out of town. Your “expat bucket list” of things to see and things to do while in Brussels just isn’t getting any shorter. And again and again you realise on Sunday evening that tomorrow morning it’s Monday again…
Maybe expat life is just not as romantic as you had imagined?
What you need is a supportive community that can help you feel more connected and more at home in Brussels. An organisation that smoothens the transition from being a newcomer to being an integrated expat, and one that would contribute to your level of enjoyment of life in the city, also when you live here for years. Expat Club believes that your personal life as an expat should be exciting and socially satisfying, especially because you’re far away from your family and old friends. Since 2013 Expat Club serves the Brussels’ international community by offering a wide range of fun, unique, educational and meaningful events and trips. Bringing people together, fostering mutual respect and understanding, creating an atmosphere in which people want to help each other, and contributing to having a good time as an expat in Brussels.
Our local activities vary from workshops to movie screenings, from Sunday morning walks to guided museum tours, and from lovely coffee mornings to movie nights. Our aim is to discover all (hidden) corners of the city and introduce you to the many cultural gems in town. Our trips go from Amsterdam to Paris, and from Cologne to Canterbury, and everything in between and beyond. We even had fun at the Octoberfest in Munich and celebrated Christmas in Strasbourg and York!
All events and trips are organised from A to Z, so you won’t have to worry about a thing. Just show up at the meeting point, which is virtually always the roundabout Place Schuman in the heart of the European district, and depending on the destination we may also stop at places like Midi and Delta. We arrange modern buses for our trips with comfortable seats, extra leg space and professional drivers. You don’t have to worry about the route, the maximum speed or parking. Just sit back, relax and enjoy the ride. We also offer guided tours by local experts, make group reservations in good restaurants, and often arrange access to restricted places that regular visitors cannot enter. For instance, at France’s 5* top tourist destination we have had guides with the keys to the (very small) prison and hidden chapels.
We believe that doing things or travelling together provides the unique opportunity to experience something special with like-minded people. This will not only enhance how you enjoy the event or trip, but also forms a cultivating ground for creating lasting friendships. We don’t want to lay this on too thick, but new friendships are a happy side effect of joining our trips.
Over the past years we welcomed thousands of expats from all over the world at hundreds of events and trips. Many lasting friendships were created. Even though we are not a community for singles, some even tied the knot and also the first “Expat Club” baby is a fact. But what we value most is that everyone feels welcome, and is at the same time welcoming himself. Whatever your nationality, age, background, career path, or marital status, you definitely fit it as we include everyone from au-pair to CEO, and from entrepreneur to Eurocrat, and from young professionals to retirees. We are even open to families with kids in various ages! This unique mix of people makes Expat Club so special. Seeing and doing things together, while meeting other international minds (including Belgians) in a friendly environment is what it’s all about. That’s why we are not an old-boys network. In-crowds don’t exist, and we simply don’t like it when people bring an attitude. Thus newcomers are able to hit the ground running at our events.
In our 5 years of existence, we discovered a few dozen museums, exhibitions and architectural pearls in Brussels. We walked hundreds of miles in and around the city (and in places far away!). And we visited well over 100 destinations in Belgium and surrounding countries. Some very special tours have taken members behind the scenes at car factories, a nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest harbour the Port of Rotterdam and Brussels Airport. We can safely say, we know the city, country and what lies beyond its borders. If you’re not from this part of the world or continent, rest assured that we know the best things to see! Meeting new and friendly people is easy when you are around others interested in the same places, activities and ideas as you! You can leave your work life behind and simply focus on relaxing and enjoyment while experiencing something new.
Expat Club events and trips have been covered by various “expat media” and we work together with several other local organisations that focus on making life for expats in Brussels easier and better. No wonder, because by seeing and doing things you are creating the best memories of your expat life in Brussels. That’s why so many are supporting what we do.
How it all started
Expat Club was founded in 2013 when Edgar Hütte (1976) from the Netherlands (in Brussels since 2010), decided it was time for an expat community that would not just focus on partying, networking, one nationality or a specific topic. Edgar had lived in several other countries before coming to Belgium, including Berlin, Paris, Atlanta-Syracuse-Washington D.C., Milan and Mumbai. Every time, and like many other expats, he felt the need for a supporting circle of friends.
“Feeling lonely made me realise that making authentic connections is really essential. At the same time you must feel that you spend your time in a meaningful way. I guess the realisation of these two elements were key to why I started Expat Club in 2013.“
During his doctoral studies at Bocconi University in Milan he was surrounded with other students, but since many were Italian and already had their own lives, he decided to become the local organiser for NLBorrels, a worldwide organisation for Dutch expats. Full of enthusiasm he quickly built up a network of hundreds of Dutchmen in Lombardia and organised dozens of social get togethers in the nicest bars, restaurants and rooftops of Milan. He also hosted 3 big Queens Day parties and Orange Football evenings during the World Cup 2006.
In 2007, while visiting Mumbai for his dissertation research he met an old friend, an Indian lady who he hadn’t seen since they first met in August 1998 on a train in Amsterdam. Many years of distant friendship quickly evolved into a long-distance relationship. Flying back and forth between Europe and South Asia was not only expensive, but also highly frustrating due to expiring and (temporarily) non-reissued visas. Having to meet in Singapore because you’re not welcome anymore in India for the next 4 months is apparently one of the costs of an international relationship.
While living in Mumbai Edgar was active in the Dutch-Belgian community to make life for the Dutch/Flemish speakers a bit easier in this gigantic metropole.
“With the enormous distances between the different neighbourhoods, I often had to plan 2 to 3 hours to go from one place to the other. Building up anything of my own social life, besides that of meeting my wife’s (lovely) friends, was just incredibly hard. Although I totally loved living in Mumbai, this aspect of being an expat is something that someone who has never lived in another country, let alone in a place like India, will never ever understand. Under such circumstance you are automatically searching for what is familiar. Your fellow countrymen are therefore the first ones you try to get in touch with. The gatherings I organised in Milan were created so many lasting friendships that for me it was logical to become part of the Dutch-speaking community in Mumbai.“
But the real expat challenges began with the plans to get married and to move out of India, and settle in to Belgium.
“I have been through it all. I’ve jumped through so many bureaucratic hoops, that I could be hired as a circus act. But without kidding, the papers, administrative fees, running back and forth, returning to earlier desks for yet another stupid stamp, the denials, the mis-information, the waiting for information, or just the outright lack of information, it seemed endless. And once you’re finally married the shows starts again. It was impossible to easily move to the Netherlands. My wife needed to pass a language exam, a civic exam, and on top of that came dozens of forms, long waiting times and incredibly expenses. Luckily Belgium, or Brussels to be more precise, was a much easier place to move to, but also there we wasted so much time, money and efforts in trying to even start our lives. I learned the hard way that getting help from people that have performed the same circus act is required. That’s one of the underlying reasons why I wanted to bring people together when I started Expat Club years ago.”