When I first arrived in Belgium over 15 years ago, I found myself in a fascinating country. I knew little about Belgium beforehand, and I was amazed by many things.
Then it all came crashing down.
That culture shock curve is a real thing. You’re riding on a high of new discoveries. Then it hits you: You’re in a foreign country where many things are different from whatever you called home before.
First, you love everything, then you hate everything. And finally, the dust settles.
For some of you, it’s off to a new adventure elsewhere. For many of us, this crazy little country becomes home.
There are lots of valuable insights about life as an expat in Belgium that will make your experience in this country a better one.
These are the ones we think will have the most significant impact:
Start language lessons ASAP, and stick to them no matter what
Maybe your company offers them, or you take advantage of the “inburgering” sessions you will be required to do.
It’s very easy to brush this off when you find a lot of English speaking people, or maybe your job requirements don’t allow you much time. But if there’s anything that will help you in the long run, this will be it.
And which language should you choose? Well, best to start with where you live. If you live in Brussels, French will be a lot more useful, to begin with. If you live in any city in Flanders, Dutch will be best.
But of course, don’t stop there. Once you feel somewhat comfortable with one language (not necessarily fluent), have a go at the other one.
Belgians (in particular the Flemish) are generally quite appreciative of your efforts to communicate in their native language!
Find your tribe and life will be a lot easier
In all my years here, this is a defining aspect that “makes or breaks” your stay here. Lots of people find themselves very isolated with no support system.
There are many ways to meet people in Belgium. Your language lessons will be a good start. There are also many meetup groups around various interests you can join.
One of the main reasons Expat Club exists in the first place is to help you find your tribe. Meeting like-minded people during great travels in Belgium and around Europe is a great way to create meaningful, long-lasting connections.
Belgians are lovely, friendly people in general. Still, they are not going to embrace you into their inner circles from the get-go.
But once you’re in, you’re in.
Making friends in Belgium is still kind of a touchy subject, but a worth pursuing endeavour. So keep at it!
Get out of the Brussels bubble once in a while
There is so much to do in Brussels that you can fill every weekend with activities. But your Belgian experience will be enriched so much more when you get out of town.
There’s more to Belgium than just Brussels or Brugges (although you do have to visit the latter, it’s quite stunning!)
Go shopping in Antwerp one day, or take an afternoon stroll in Hasselt. Spend a day at the seaside in Knokke or go out dining in Ghent. Visit the famous war site memorials of Ypres and Bastogne.
And of course, go for a one-of-a-kind trip beyond Belgium.
For instance, go to Delft in the Netherlands where you can learn everything about its famous porcelain. Or discover the castles of Ludwig II in Bavaria, Germany. Or put on a mask and join in the Venice carnival festivities.
Live your life, rain or shine!
Coming from a country with over 30-degree weather all year round makes it for some awkward conversations with people. Primarily, why do you live here, girl?
I used to get quite depressed with the weather, particularly my first year in Belgium.
The rain is an inevitable part of the deal of living in Northern Europe. We tend to get spoiled with lovely sunny days here and there, of course. But the reality of Belgium is more like “little grey, a little rainy.”
If I’m honest, I really missed out on a lot because of this weather. So to you, I say: don’t let a rainy day prevent you from discovering something new.
Wet shoes and a raincoat seem like a pretty good tradeoff for the great memories of the places I visit.
And hey, if the weather is really, really terrible, we’ve got some great indoor options for you to enjoy!
And there you have it! Four expat tips we think will make your life in Belgium a more enjoyable one!
What are some of your best tips? Tell us in the comments below!