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A greek blogger in....Belgium



Το greekblogsbywomen παρουσιάζει μια Ελληνίδα blogger στο Βέλγιο. H Κατερίνα, ιδιοκτήτρια του blog "Kat_Ior" μας δίνει συνέντευξη, μοιράζεται εικόνες της καθημερινότητας της και μας μιλάει για την ζωή της στo Βέλγιο, πως βίωσε την αλλαγή και συμβουλές σε όσους θέλουν να μείνουν εκεί. Σε ευχαριστούμε πολύ!




About you

·         Where are you originally from? I am from Athens, Greece.
·         In which country and city are you living now? I am currently living in Belgium, in the area of Hainaut, Wallonie.
·         How long have you lived there and how long are you planning to stay? I have been here for 6 months now, and I am planning to stay for the rest of my life.
·         Why did you move and what do you do? I always wanted to gain working experience abroad. Being unemployed in Greece for a couple of months, I started looking for my options in the European countries. I had some skype interviews but then again no success. Last year, I was given the opportunity to work on a short-term project as a francophone assistant to groups of Belgian & French customers on the island of Naxos. It was there that I met my partner and I took the decision to leave Greece and move to Belgium in order to follow my heart!
·         Did you bring family with you? No, my dogs stayed at home with my sister who is looking after them!

About living abroad

·         How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country? Although I have the constant support of my partner, it’s really tough, especially the first three months. Some minor cultural differences can cause awkward situations. My native language is Greek, so imagine a life where you speak rusty French (after 13 years of uselessness) on a daily basis. I had studied French literature as a foreign language, I had learned about Camus et Beaumarchais…but no one ever taught me that “peignoire” is the bath-robe! Such simple things can get harder than what you can imagine in your daily interactions. I also spent a couple of hours in the super market the first days since I tried to figure out the way they organize their products. Not to mention they do not provide you with plastic bags (which is great) and you get bruises of the heavy stuff you just bought! Other than that, I strongly believe it’s a matter of will. How willing you are to adapt to changes in your life! If you encounter the change as a challenge, then it will eventually reward you.
·         Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialize with other expats? I actually live in the countryside, so automatically we forget all about the social life of Brussels. People are quite friendly here. Really stunning is the fact that they tell you “good morning”, “thank you” and “goodnight” with a single kiss on your cheek. There are no cafes and bars like in Athens but you eventually are getting used to it. This makes you want to look for alternative ways of entertaining! What you can find here is lots of cows and hectares of grass.
·         What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats? I did a research on the web/facebook etc and discovered that my municipality organizes weekly or biweekly workshops for arts. So, I grabbed the chance and got enrolled to scrapbooking since I adore hand-crafting! My friend (which I also met on Naxos island) discovered Zumba classes in the village next to our small city. It’s great! In Athens I might have never tried out Zumba (or anything alike cos I hate gym!)…Surely I would have not tried it out! But here I am trying to start anew and not follow the same roads… A recommendation to future expats? To be on the look-out for new opportunities that may come up and be open to change!
·         What do you enjoy most about living here? I feel free, people are easy-going in their majority
·         How does the cost of living compare to home? Food is relatively expensive but not extremely expensive. The train tickets to me are really expensive (eg. To travel to the airport which is 1,5hr away, I paid 25euros one way.) However, I do not have a car here, so I have lowered my personal expenses.
·         What negatives, if any, are there to living here? You are away from family and friends…
·         What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far? To master the language in a country that demands to speak French/English/Dutch in order to be able to find a decent job!
·         What do you miss most from Greece? Greek coffee, which I recently discovered I can order over the internet!

About work

·         Did you have a problem getting a work visa/permit? As a European citizen you don’t need a work permit or visa. However, you need to go to the “Commune” at your vicinity and be registered (eg. Declare change of permanent address, etc). To do this you need to provide them with several documents such as your Birth Act (translated in French by a local certified official translator), your Identity Card, as well as an official document of where you are living (street address etc).
ATTENTION! They will ask for a work contract and a health insurance programme (“Mutualite” is like IKA in Greece, which you can choose on your own.There is Mutualite Chretienne, Liberale etc). If you do not have these two, you cannot be permanently reside in Belgium. You have 3 months to provide the necessary paperwork, plus an extension on one month period. If you do not however find a job in this time-line, you have to provide sufficient evidence that you can cover your monthly living expenses or you have to leave the country (even if you are a European Citizen!)
·         What’s the economic climate like in the city, is there plenty of work? The results of the crisis have begun to be evident here as well. People have started being more cautious about where and how often they spend their money. To give an example, they prefer to go for three different day trips instead of going on vacation for a week. There are plenty of job advertisements, which are renewed quite often, mostly for the area of Brussels. It takes time to find a job and you have to be armored with patience and a huge smile!
·         How does the work culture differ from home? Unfortunately I have no personal experience yet but what I am aware of, the legislation here permits 38hrs of work per week. It’s also obligatory the one-hour lunch break (which was also often seen in UK). As for the holidays, think that you have to gain a year’s working experience to be entitled to.

About your blog

·         Tell us a bit about your blog. Why are you blogging?
It was within the limits of my boredom and my desperation that I am not good enough to get a job in Belgium. Although a master graduate in Organisational Psychology & Business, 3 foreign languages plus my native and a set of other skills and abilities I felt like I was nothing. This was hard to believe, even for a week! I had some interviews within a top pharmaceutical company in Brussels. The bad thing it’s not when they reject your application. It’s when they do not provide you with a constructive feedback! So, I tried to spend some more time online (via Skype mainly) with my friends in Greece for social supporting. I started feeling thrilled when explaining to them my routine and the weird things I met. Although highly significant, this support started being very time-consuming…So, there it was! I thought of  writting down my experiences on a blog where I could share them at once with all my friends. I searched online what it takes to start a blog. It was simple enough and made me feel productive once again!

And finally…
·         If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving there, what would it be?
Be sure you have a circle of social support (friends, partner, family…whatever works for you). You are going to need them!
·         What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
1. You will never feel 100% prepared to live your country and your beloved ones to move to another country. So, just do it! The rest is up to you!
2. Ask, ask, ASK for help/advice. Whenever, whichever, whatever! Word of mouth works in all countries across the world.
3. Be open to change! I love rollers but here the weather does not permit it. So, I started Zumba and I honestly enjoy every minute of it! What’s wrong with me? ;-)
4. Language is the second most important thing in a foreign country. The first is attitude. Be nice and kind. Respect people and they will help you learn the language at no time!
5. Always look for alternatives. If something did not work out, try something new!

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