Stepping out into the world can be difficult as an expat, especially if you’re a woman. Women can make the most of their opportunities in Belgium by following a few tips for survival in the Belgian working world.
When you first arrive in Belgium, it is fun to explore the grandeur of Brussels, feast on famous hand-made Belgium chocolates, soak up the culture in the museums and take your time wandering through delightful Belgian towns like Bruges.
However, if you are not employed, once the initial excitement of your relocation fades, you might start to question your role here and how you can keep both your body and brain stimulated long-term. This is especially true if you were working elsewhere before arriving here.
Here are six top tips for expat women to make the most out of their time in Belgium.
1. Stay positive and keep motivated
Whatever the reason that you moved abroad, the most important piece of advice is to stay positive and keep motivated. Do whatever it takes to keep a smile on your face when you are feeling lost, homesick or frustrated. Exercise, join a Belgian sports club, socialize with new people, travel and explore, start a new hobby, write a blog, attend motivational seminars. Find a way to keep your brain active.
Inspiration is also priceless. Soak up some online interviews with women like yourself doing a range of amazing things in their new lives abroad. Read the monthly magazines of local expatriate groups, grab some books about women abroad, read local expat blogs, and join local Facebook, LinkedIn and Meetup groups to meet new friends in your local area.
2. Think creatively about work
If you do not have a job, think creatively about what you can do. Too many expats seem to limit their ideas or work abroad by what they knew before. If you cannot work here in your field of choice, consider working virtually, volunteer, study, learn a new area of work, or if your visa permits, start a business here doing something fun. You never know how the pieces of the puzzle will come together later.
Toma Haines of The Antiques Diva agrees. Toma is an American who now resides in Germany. Rather than looking at the loss of her traditional career as a sacrifice to her husband’s career, she looked at her time abroad as the perfect opportunity to pursue her ideas and passions – even if it took her a while to decipher what these really were. To illustrate, before starting The Antiques Diva, Toma thought about teaching gourmet cooking lessons, becoming a certified picture-framer, and teaching English as a second language. But, when she realized that her cooking efforts never came out the same way more than once, she hated measuring things (a disaster for a professional picture framer) and that she would pick up the grammatical habits of foreigners rather than correct them, Toma created her antique shopping tour business that now runs in four countries.
3. Build your identity
Everybody needs to be somebody. If your move abroad has stripped you of a lot of the identity that you enjoyed at home (from your workplace, school community, family ties, and so on), it is vital that you re-build your identity abroad as soon as possible so that you again feel like a valued somebody. If you do not own business cards, get some made. They can be just for your name and contact details, or they can also include details of your profession.
Expats need networks and they need them fast. Expat executives need to network to facilitate business and gain local credibility. Non-working expats need to network so they know who to call – especially if they (or their children) are rushed to the emergency room and need a translator or moral support. Make it a priority to get involved with some of the wonderful social, professional and/or women’s organizations here. Belgium has a very supportive expatriate community and new expats here will feel very welcomed.
5. Find mentors
In addition to friends, seek mentors. These are people that can offer priceless knowledge gained from years of living here in Belgium. Mentors can be the heads of local business associations, presidents of local expat clubs, Community Liaison Officers in your organization, independent entrepreneurs who might provide the necessary impetus for you to start a business here, and/or expat life coaches, who are typically longer-term, very well-connected expats who know all about the local culture, expectations, and challenges.
For our full listing of groups and clubs, visit Expatica’s A-Z listings.
6. Go forth and enjoy
Whether you came to Belgium for work, business, love, adventure, or just the chance to start a new life, this dynamic region offers a wealth of opportunities for you to recreate your life and identity here. So, make the most of your time here: be open to new ideas; think creatively about what you can do; try new things; believe in your abilities; and above all else… go forth and have the time of your life!
Andrea Martins is the Director and Co-Founder of ExpatWomen.com – the largest, free, global website helping expatriate women living overseas.