Jessica: Adventures of a Puertorican Girl in Brussels
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Belgium, etc.
My name is Jessica DeJesus. I am American, I grew up in Puerto Rico and Upstate New York. I moved to Belgium in 2006 after leaving active military service with the US Marine Corps and to attend graduate school full time. In 2008, I left to Stuttgart, Germany to return on active duty with the Marine Corps for a year and returned in 2009 to Brussels for love. The love part did not work out, but I enjoy Brussels so much, I decided to stay. I currently work as a civil servant at NATO and a reserve officer with the US Marine Corps.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I wanted to share my experiences in Brussels, the positives and the negatives. I remember arriving in Brussels and feeling kind of lost. I did not know a soul and had to learn some things the hard way. As a student, it was even tougher as I did not have the support of a company to become settled. I felt it was a great way to chronicle this experience not only to my friends but others who share common interest or need some advice on where to go in and around Brussels. There are many things I am engaged on, so the blog is a little mix of everything: travel, running, food, social, love, and other miscellaneous subjects.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours? Please add the URL as well.
Of course! I love my “J’adore Bruxelles” series, because I love to share my positive experiences in Brussels.
Tell us about the ways your new life in Belgium differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
I lived in Okinawa, Japan and Seoul, South Korea before coming to Brussels, so living abroad was not new to me but it took some time to get used to the culture. I had just moved from Seoul, so coming from the Asian to European culture was a little challenging. Also, I did not speak French at the time, so communication was difficult at first. Overall, the first months were difficult but once I had my routine and made friends, things went very smoothly.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Belgium? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
Not at all! I came to Belgium just as I had left my active military service therefore a lot of changes in routine and lifestyle at the same time. I was a full time graduate student at the time, so it was a complete change for me. I wish I would have enrolled in French courses as soon as I arrived to Brussels. In 2007, I started going to the Alliance Francaise, which helped me a lot with my language skills. Additionally, language classes are a great way to meet people in Brussels.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
Coming from Seoul, businesses are very service minded. I remember my first grocery trip to the supermarket, where I made a pretty big purchase and did not realize that there is no one to pack the groceries for you. So when it was all over, I had the line waiting as I had to put everything in the bags myself.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Belgium?
- Take language courses upon your arrival if you don’t speak French or Dutch. Knowing the language makes life much easier.
- Live in temporary housing your first month. During this time, walk through the neighborhoods to see where you want to live. I also discovered that you get also cheaper rents from calling the landlords directly from the signs posted on the windows.
- Build a social circle. It makes things much easier when you start to know people, makes you less homesick.
How is the expat community in Belgium? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
I think is great. When I spent my year in Stuttgart, it was difficult to build the same circle I had in Brussels. I love that people are very open here to meet other expats and also social networking makes it easier to meet people. I am the admin of a Facebook group called “Brussels Expats” and I see a lot of people connecting through the page. The sad part is that is that I have made good friends and then I have to see them go. I even wrote about it on a blog post.
How would you summarize your expat life in Belgium in a single, catchy sentence?
Brussels life: scratch beneath the surface to have a good time!