I get asked why I moved to Belgium a lot, basically every time I meet a new person! And I have to say I have the easiest, default answer, that never fails to garner a sage nod of understanding and allow the conversation to move on. (Not that I don’t want to talk about it, but I just met you, and, have you got an hour?)
I moved for love.
That’s the easy answer. And it is totally true! But it is only one piece of the puzzle. Why did I move to Belgium – because of love. But why did I move away from Canada – that’s the more complicated one.
Luckily, growing up, my parents believed in taking me along for their travels. We only went on a few big trips in my childhood, but they still fostered the curiosity to explore. What’s more, my father was actively involved with the organization Rotary International (an amazing group!), and our home was opened to six international high school students who came abroad to Canada for a year. Each would stay around 3-4 months with us, and I would have an older sister for a time. Our first student, a Japanese girl who came when I was six, was the most formative relationship. We had such a close bond, and it was from then I decided that I was going to do this too.
It’s funny, when it came time for me to apply for the exchange program, there was never a doubt in my mind if I would be accepted. I just knew it was my path to follow. Thank goodness that worked out – because I can’t even imagine the identity crisis that would have happened if I didn’t go! And so, at sixteen I packed up a couple suitcases of belongings, said goodbye to my parents at the airport, and travelled to Finland to live for the next year of my life.
Exchange is an amazing thing, and I can’t do it justice in passing in this post, but let’s just say if you ever have the opportunity take it. You will learn so much about yourself and how strong you can be. I lived with three different families over the next year, met so many amazing people, and travelled throughout Finland and Europe with the rest of the international students.
When I came back, and it was time to choose a university, I really only had one goal in mind – there needed to be a great exchange program offered! It was a no-brainer, of course I would go away again. On top of that, I’m not sure when exactly it was, I realized that a life in Canada wasn’t going to do it for me. I love my country, so much! But working there was never appealing, the companies and what they were offering wasn’t enough.
My university exchange was to, surprise, Belgium! The lifestyle of an exchange year is so unique – you pretty much spend your weeks going to classes and planning where you will go on the weekend. In Europe it was one weekend Paris, one weekend Berlin, the next Dublin. Over the two weeks of Easter break I inter-railed from Zurich to Munich, Vienna, Bratislava, Prague, and Budapest. I was already trying to figure out how I could stick around permanently.
And then I met a guy; it was kinda messy at first. By that time I hadn’t secured anything in Europe, and instead had plans back in Canada for the summer. But with about three weeks left, we decided to really give things a shot. Yup, we are still together, almost seven years later!
I’m really grateful that happened, because while I did apply for some jobs in Canada after university ended (one year later), it was half-heartedly at best while my visa for Belgium was pending. I didn’t know what I was going to do, so “moving to Belgium” seemed like my best option. But I think if I wasn’t in a relationship, it would have been easier to find a job in Canada, and then just never leave, it would have been easy to be complacent.
It’s not always been easy over here, but I feel like I’m living my life how I always wanted to. I miss Canada like crazy, but I am much happier living in Belgium and visiting instead of the other way around. Here I can work a full time job and still city hop on the weekends – I don’t even need to go far to have a really unique experience!
So in the end, I’m not sure I can really pinpoint “this is why I moved abroad”. It’s more, I just knewthat this lifestyle was right for me, from the very beginning, even though I was never sure where I would end up (and heck, I’m still not sure where that will be!). So here’s to my home in Belgium – at least for now.