The lifestyle of an expat offers amazing opportunities, but also difficult challenges; that is what we knew before the assignment. What we didn’t know was what the challenges would look like exactly and how we would react to them. Here I will introduce you to one of the best chances to learn from an expat’s life, and for expats in Brussels, I’ve put together a little help.
One of the fundamental skills every expat and expat’s spouse, in particular, must learn is PRO-ACTIVITY. In our home environment we can lean back and watch out for the right opportunity to arrive, ready to jump on it, but as an expat or an expat’s spouse we need to be the active part of the game and possibly create the opportunity ourselves. In fact, it is not even about great or less-great opportunities; is about seizing any opportunity (or no opportunity at all). For me, this was one of the biggest lessons I’ve acquired as an expat’s spouse. I have learned to stop waiting for the right opportunity to arrive, and I have realized that acting is an essential asset to truly thrive.
If you are an expat’s spouse lucky enough to have children in school, join the school community. If you are a member of a church, search for a congregation in your area. The same goes if your employer offers a community via Netexpat or other relocation agency: don’t hesitate to join! It is for your benefit to profit from the connections someone else has already built.
My experience is that members of these communities are:
1) more knowledgeable about the location and can offer you valuable advice.
2) cosmopolites like you – so they are your “tribe.”
3) very open to newcomers.
Of course, it can happen that you will not be content with the offers and programs available where you live, but this is a great starting point to create a community. Exercise your pro-activity skills and open a new circle based on your unique interests. Even if you begin with only three or four members, it is worth your effort, because you are creating friendships based on interests that develop your skills and make you happy.
Following are a few examples of useful communities/meet-ups I noticed around me during my time abroad:
– A sewing club: Regular meeting of three girls learning how to sew household items like pillows, curtains, etc.
– A “tips for dyslexia” education circle: Meet-up of four moms with dyslexic kids
– The French reading club: A group of people interested in the improvement of their French literacy who meet monthly to discuss a different book.
– Indian cooking meetings for women
– Aerobics for women: Regular attendance of workout training with a nice chat afterward over a cup of coffee creates meaningful connections.
As an expat, and especially as an expat’s spouse, you can quickly fall into isolation and end up without friends and connections. The essential difference between people who move frequently and individuals who stay in one place is the ability to continuously develop and create thriving environments again and again from scratch.
In Brussels, you can join these existing nine communities listed in my infographic to begin regularly meeting new people, building friendships, and receiving useful tips for your daily life abroad.