As I looked around the crowd before me, I counted 9 different nationalities (10 if you count the dual passport holder twice) from 3 continents. There were bureaucrats, NGO workers, computer geeks, even a CEO and a couple of photographers.There was enough food to feed an army (but it was certainly better tasting than army food). We weren’t at a NATO conference or a gathering of UN officials. In fact, we were crowded around my over-flowing dining-room table, hosting the first (hopefully) annual Cornford-Matheson Multi-Cultural Mingler.
Every now and then, since my expat life began, I have a ‘how the heck did I end up here?’ moment. I’m not referring to geographic location (usually anyway), but rather, I’m marvelling at all of the seemingly random things that had to happen in my life to land me where I am at the moment. Saturday night was definitely one of those moments.
Andrew and I used to throw (slightly legendary) Christmas parties back in Halifax. But if someone had told me, four years ago, at our last party, about the crowd I would be hosting in Belgium, I would have laughed and passed them another drink.
When I think about all of the events that had to happen for me to meet the people I now know, and to end up exactly where I am now, it’s rather incredible.
A few of the people that attended our party were old friends (one attended Junior High School with me and we found each other again both living in Brussels), many were new friends and some we just met as they walked through our front door. They came from all different walks of life, were a wide range of ages and had a very eclectic mix of accents.
In the past, the vast majority of my friends were a lot more like me. We grew up on the East coast of Canada, went to the same schools, share similar histories, experiences and family backgrounds.
Now, I am friends with people who come from countries I had barely heard of before my expat life. Our histories, before arriving in Belgium, are as diverse as our nationalities. But we are drawn together by our experiences with discovering (and in some cases surviving) Belgium.
Then there are our Belgian friends – the ones who have taken us under their wings and helped us see sides to the country we would have never found on our own.
I have to wonder what would happen if these two realities collided – if we could somehow host a party with our friends on both sides of the ocean. What would the people who knew us then have to say about us to the people who know us now? I’d like to hope that, despite all of our new experiences and challenges, we remain fundamentally the same people. Although there is no denying that expat life changes you.
Having this multi-cultural circle of friends is one of my favourite things about my expat life. There is no better way to experience a new place or culture than having a friend guide you.
But despite the excitement of our Multi-Cultural Mingler, it’s this time of year that we miss our Canadian friends and family the most. Although we won’t make it home for the holidays, home will definitely be in our hearts.
Maybe I’d better start planning that Trans-Atlantic party. After all, there’s only twelve months until next Christmas.