5 Surprising Ways That Living In Belgium Changed Me For Life

February 19, 2015
5 Ways that Living in Belgium Changed Me for Life

On my twenty-first birthday, I celebrated a little differently than most by leaving my home in California for a country that was brand new to me. I had recently graduated from an equestrian university and had somehow lucked into landing a job in Belgium with a four-time Olympic horse rider. Things have certainly changed since my first journey across the Atlantic, and the best part is that there’s no going back. Five years and twenty countries later, here are some of the most valuable experiences I gained from living in Belgium:

5 Ways that Living in Belgium Changed Me for Life

1. Discovering what local foods really taste like

When the waitress brought me my first Belgian waffle, it was the beginning of a magical relationship with food. Take full advantage of the opportunity to stuff your face with as much Belgian chocolate as you can. The second you leave Belgium and try to eat a waffle, you’ll only be thinking of how it isn’t the same. Of course, I also learned that American food just doesn’t taste quite the same outside of America either.

2. Learning to adapt

When I initially attempted to pack my bags for my very first trip abroad, I was completely overwhelmed. My two fifty-pound suitcases were bursting with shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, clothes and shoes for every occasion. I felt a sense of satisfaction knowing that I wouldn’t leave any of the essentials behind while making my “big journey abroad.” It hadn’t occurred to me that shampoo, beauty products, clothes, and shoes could all be purchased abroad.

After day one of exploring the cobblestone streets of my new home in Belgium, I was eager to swap my favorite brands and products with some of the less familiar, but more exciting European options. I felt as if my heart and mind had expanded and suddenly there was a whole new world of sights and smells and tastes that I hadn’t realized I had been missing.

3. Learning more than you ever imagined

During my first working experience abroad, my fellow co-workers were not only from Belgium but also from Romania, Germany, France, the United States, and the Netherlands, to name a few. I became fascinated by their stories, experiences, and customs. I had only ever read about World War II in books, for example, but I had not been prepared for the idea of living in a city that had once been entirely destroyed by the war. Nor had I met people whose relatives had fought for the other side.

My other co-workers lived in foreign places and knew languages I had never even heard of, like Flemish, spoken in northern Belgium. I learned about Gypsy gold and about getting sweets in your shoes around Christmas.

I was overwhelmed with how much I didn’t know. The more people I spoke to, both my knowledge and my lack of knowledge grew as each person shared something special with me I had never known. Thanks to my German-speaking co-worker, I learned a word that best described the feeling I was experiencing: “fernweh,” which means “a feeling of homesickness for a place you have never been.”

4. Going through reverse culture shock when you return home

After my three month taste of living abroad, I returned to California with a fresh pair of eyes. Suddenly, I wondered, why don’t we have fresh bread vending machines in the States? Why don’t we walk everywhere or ride bikes instead of driving? Why don’t we have cobblestoned streets and quaint little roads? Even my bulk grocery shopping habits now stood in contrast to daily purchasing fresh produce as I had done in Europe.

I had grown accustomed to the European style of living, such as an apartment equipped with a washing machine but sadly with no dryer. Hanging my clothes out to dry had seemed strange and uncomfortable during that first trip to Belgium, but upon my return to America, I found myself in utter shock when my mother handed my laundry back to me clean and dry and on the same day.

5 Ways that Living in Belgium Changed Me for Life

5. Changing your habits and perspective

Even three months in a country is enough time to make an impact on someone’s life. In Belgium, I became accustomed to small pleasantries like spoiling myself on my day off with a cup of hot cocoa or a delicious desert. I no longer felt it socially acceptable to wear my sweatpants in public to a place other than the gym—European women dress to the nines even when shopping for groceries!

I appreciated sitting in a cafe for three hours having a coffee with my friends and talking continuously without being bothered or rushed by the wait staff. To this day, I still reflect on all the life lessons I learned thanks to my first time living abroad in beautiful Belgium.

5 Ways that Living in Belgium Changed Me for Life

5 Surprising Ways That Living In Belgium Changed Me For Life

Have you traveled to Belgium? How was you trip? Email us at [email protected] for information about sharing your experience and advice with the Pink Pangea community. We can’t wait to hear from you.

 5 Ways that Living in Belgium Changed Me for Life photo credits: Krytal Kelly and Unsplash. 

About Krystal Kelly

Krystal Kelly is a Californian girl determined to see the world on the back of a horse. She has traveled solo (mostly) to 50 countries and counting and has worked internationally in over a dozen. She promotes women empowerment and encourages women to see the world and follow their dreams. She continues to travel to this day and is on a quest to see every country in the world!

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