The Internet – An Expat’s Lifeline | Flashback

By alison - November 23, 2011 (Updated: June 15, 2015)

The Internet Saved My Expat Life

The Internet Saved My Expat Life

I wrote this post way back in 2006, about a year after we arrived in Belgium. I’m not joking when I say, I couldn’t have survived here without the internet. It was how I met friends, started a new career and stayed connected with friends and family. 

My dependence on the internet has become even more pervasive over my expat years. Now I’m connected 24/7 via my smartphone. We have Facebook, Twitter and blogs on every topic under the sun. Most of these things barely existed when I wrote this post.

 I can’t stress enough how much I admire the trailing spouses who followed their mates around the world pre-internet. Now those ladies were brave. I can’t imagine being without the internet for day, let alone a lifetime.


Over the past few days, I have come to the realisation that without the internet, I would die. Okay, maybe not die exactly, but I’m sure the deprivation would drive me slowly insane. As an expat, far from home, the internet is my lifeline.

I had this insight after watching the first two days of the Winter Olympics in Torino.

Some vigilant readers may wonder how I was watching the Olympics when I don’t have a TV. Others might be just wondering what the Olympics has to do with the internet. The truth is I have been rooting for my fellow Canadians while watching the Olympics live on my computer.

I suddenly realized, that a few years ago, without a TV, the only way to watch the action live, would be to drive to Italy and shell out big bucks for accommodation and tickets!!

Then I started to think about all of the ways that the internet makes my expat life easier.

First — and most importantly — it’s my telephone. There is no way that Andrew and I would be able to afford hour long calls to our families if we had to pay traditional long distance charges.

But with headsets and Skype, we are able to chat with the folks at home for as long as we want. I now actually talk to my parents on the ‘phone’ more than I ever did when I lived four hours away by car.

Second, it’s been a way to reach out and meet new friends in Belgium. While blogging kept me sane in the first few lonely months as an expat, it had the unexpected side effect of reaching out to others in my situation.

Women sharing my experiences felt compelled to write and reach across the internet to me and wonderful new friendships were formed. I know I never would have met these women otherwise and I am grateful they took the time to write.

As a trailing spouse without a work permit, the internet also lets me stay in touch with my career. Blogging keeps my writing skills honed and the internet allows me to promote and sell my photography. It also provides constant sources of inspiration, as I can peruse the portfolios of photographers around the world, with a click of my mouse.

Of course, there is also the entertainment factor.

Aside from watching the Olympics online, Andrew and I also subscribe to an internet DVD service. We can choose what movies we want to watch from the comfort of our living room and they are mailed to our door. Best of all, there are no late-night scrambles to get back to the video store to avoid late charges.

Then there is the shopping. If I was a weak-willed woman, this is where I would admit to late-night, pyjama-clad credit card binges, (a.k.a. a home shopping addiction). I can honestly say that this isn’t one of my vices.

For the most part, I prefer shopping in person. However, shopping online is great for hard-to-find items (such as English books in Belgium) and most of all, it beats going to the shops in December for those last-minute Christmas gifts.

I also enjoy the ease of booking travel online — not to mention the thrill of hunting down a last minute booking deal. Being able to see a hotel in pictures and read reviews from other travelers makes travel to a new place somewhat less intimidating.

In a sense, Andrew and I wouldn’t even be in Belgium if it wasn’t for the internet.

Andrew’s original company was the ubiquitous internet start up of the 1990s. Although that company was bought out and Andrew’s role has changed, it set us on the path that we are on today.

It also provides Andrew with the blessing (and curse) of being able to work anywhere in the world — from our living room, to a snowed-in airport in Milan.

So my hat goes off to all of the trailing spouses who coped before the advent of the internet — those of you who had to rely on handwritten letters home and meeting new friends the hard way.

I know I have it easy with my safety ‘net’.

Looking for more resources for living in Belgium? Check out our Expat Resources page.

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Big Cheese at CheeseWeb
Alison Cornford-Matheson is a Canadian freelance writer and travel photographer and the founder of She is the author of The Foodie Guide to Brussels: Local Tips for Restaurants, Shops, Hotels, and Activities. Alison landed in Belgium in 2005 and, over the years, has become passionate about slow and sustainable travel, in Europe and beyond. She loves to discover hidden gems - be they museums, shops, restaurants, castles, gardens or landscapes, and share them through her words and photos. She has visited 45 countries and is currently slow travelling through North America in an RV, with her husband, Andrew, and two well-travelled cats. You can also follow her work on Google+
I loved my time in Riga, Latvia a few years ago and Adi's post takes me right back. It's a European travel... - 5 hours ago


  1. Comment by Alison

    Alison February 23, 2006 at 13:08

    Christina: I was so excited the other day when I noticed some crocus poking through the ground. I thought ‘spring is here’ … Then I read the article and this morning it snowed. I think hibernation is looking like a good thing.

  2. Comment by Alison

    Alison February 23, 2006 at 18:43

    Sal: yes, only 5 more days is something to be happy about. March can only get better right? … right?

  3. Comment by christina

    christina February 23, 2006 at 11:51

    Lovely. Do you think Belgium could possibly be gloomier than Germany? That would be quite the accomplishment because it’s been VERY grey here lately. Spring CANNOT arrive fast enough for me!

  4. Comment by Sal DeTraglia

    Sal DeTraglia February 23, 2006 at 18:11

    Hey…thank God it’s only 28 days, eh?
    PS: If it makes you feel better, it snowed in Guadalajara today.

  5. Comment by expatraveler

    expatraveler March 1, 2006 at 05:55

    I’d say we almost had matching reviews for January out in Vancouver. Although I’m sure we got more sun that you, it still did rain a full 28 out of 30 days. And this month was sunny and so I was completely satisfied that I didn’t have to take out the umbrella because the month before was such a downpour you really needed it!
    I do hope March treats you better…
    And according to our 7th grader – today was Feb 29. And I thought that only happened every 4 years, but I guess some 7th grade Canadians think differently. ;0)

  6. Comment by Angela

    Angela November 23, 2011 at 13:27

    Internet dvd service? like netflix? here in Brussels? Where can I find that?

    • Comment by Alison


      Alison November 23, 2011 at 13:53

      Hi Angela – We haven’t used it in years but the service is

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