In another couple of weeks, it will be April, 2010. This will mark the fifth anniversary of our expat life in Europe. I can’t help but feel introspective about this milestone.
In fact, I never really intended to have a five year anniversary of life in Belgium. Our plan was always to try and move on to a new location after three years or so. Well, you know what they say about the best laid plans.
For our first three years here in Belgium, I was sure that I didn’t want to stay here very long. Looking back now, although my first blog post in Belgium was filled with optimism, I can see with the 20/20 vision of hindsight how unhappy I was when we lived in Everberg.
Almost two years later my life is radically different. I am at a good place in my life. I have a circle of wonderful and supportive friends here in Belgium. I have a great network of expat blogger friends around the globe, who make CheeseWeb such a rewarding endeavour for me. I have a photography career that I am proud of that is slowly but surely building everyday. I’m excited about pursuing the artistic side of my profession and showing my work to the Belgian public. I live in a flat I love in an exciting and vibrant city that grows on me more every day.
But all of these positive things scare me – a lot.
I’ve finally hit the point in my expat life that living in Belgium is the easy option. And believe me, I never thought I would say that. After years of struggling just to get through the little daily struggles, I now feel pretty comfortable in this country. That’s certainly not to say our life here is without its challenges; but the day to day worries of getting groceries, surviving public transportation and meeting new people are things that I am comfortable with now. So why does this scare me?
It scares me because now, when I think about moving on to somewhere new, I dread having to build all of this again. I worry about surviving another three years of paperwork, learning a language, meeting new friends, networking with new clients. I also fear I would miss all of the things Brussels has to offer: increadible food choices, an endless cultural events calendar, ease of travel within Europe and a great expat network.
But I also fear standing still. I’ve met so many people who came to Belgium on a three year contract and are still here ten, fifteen, even thirty years later. As much as I’m enjoying my time here now, I don’t want to ‘go native.’ I don’t want to wake up in Brussels in ten years and wish I had travelled and experienced more when I was younger. And most of all I don’t want to let the fear of the unknown hold me back. After all, if I had have let fear stop me five years ago, I would never have had all of the incredible opportunities I’ve been blessed with these past five years – something I would never trade all of the stress, worry and sacrifice for.
At the end of the day, all of this introspection is purely hypothetical. Staying in or leaving Belgium depends largely on Andrew’s job. We could wake up tomorrow and be forced to move or find that we don’t have any choice but to stay. Still, I can’t help but wonder what the next five years will hold for us.
I’d love to hear your experiences. Have you ‘gone native’? Do you fear moving on or staying still – or both, like me? Please share your stories in the comments below.
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