BEING AN EXPAT
What’s it like being an expat? What are struggles you’re likely to face when you leave your country of origin? How would you start a new life when all the things you’ve cherished, treasured and loved are 10, 718 kilometres away?
I am Dolrish Aguillon, a Filipino. And this is my story.
It’s September 2011, and I’ve just got my license to practise as a registered nurse when I decide to leave everything behind and go to Belgium. The reason is to have immediate work and earn. My mother was already working here so bringing me from the Philippines wasn’t a big deal. I didn’t have much time to prepare, to say goodbye to my friends and loved ones. I’ll never forget the day when the plane took-off: I was crying like a baby; it hurts so deeply.
The first week of staying here was exciting and full of promise. I was curious and anxious at the same time. The separation, anxiety and sadness came after a month and it lasted for almost four months. Every night before I went to sleep I would think about how life might have been if I hadn’t left The Philippines. However, I used all my uncertainties as a fuel to become a better person and to succeed. Here, I’d like to share the things which totally caught me off-guard when I came here:
Learning Dutch or any foreign language isn’t that simple. During my first months here, I experienced the frustration of not understanding others, and not being understood. I’ve gone to different evenings schools, followed intensive courses (university and adult courses) just to learn the language. After four years, I got my level 5 certificate from Linguapolis in Antwerp.
MAKING FRIENDS AND MEETING PEOPLE
What makes it harder is the fact that you don’t know anyone in the city. There is no one with whom you can spend time and enjoy activities. There is no one who would give you a tour of the city, nor advise you on how to live and survive there. Being new to a country, without acquaintances, is hard.
I have made friends through attending Dutch lessons, going to events and activities in Antwerp and by joining groups like Expats in Antwerp on Facebook. My friends are mostly foreigners, like myself.
All of us can relate to the experience of suddenly not be able to get the foods we are used to. I didn’t eat much potato before. I am used eating rice and noodles; they have both here but it was seldom cooked at my new home. One dish I really miss is chicken adobo (chicken prepared with soy sauce and bay leaves) – a typical Filipino food, usually served with rice.
Belgium is known to have pretty terrible weather; a lot of rain, cold, wind and snow. You can’t plan anything without consulting the weather first. This is a problem I never had when I was in the Philippines, so it really took me some time to get used to it.
Different country, different culture. What do I expect? I had to accept, mingle and respect the new culture I found myself in. Throughout the years I have seen a lot of Belgian culture and their way of living. I would say that they are very organised and careful in all aspects of their lives. Something that we Filipinos don’t have. We are used to living day by day; not worrying about what tomorrow may bring.
Those are the 5 things what made my integration process challenging here Belgium. I wish I knew those things before I came here and had researched more deeply about Belgium, its people and its culture. And for these reasons I decided to produce a Youtube channel which gives insights and tips about being an expat – not only in Belgium but also in general. I make 1-2 videos per week, so don’t forget to check out my channel
Inspired by Dolrish’s post?
If you’d like to contribute and tell your story, please get in touch via email@example.com
If you are on Facebook, you might also like to check out Expats in Antwerp and connect with people from all over the world who have made Antwerp their home.