ITAKA Zuidrand language school is pleased to announce that it will hold its annual ‘open door’ event on September 12th and 13th in Edegem. We will offer various activities throughout the day in the garden of the music academy. Visit our Facebook page or website for more information.
Tel: 03 457 59 22 (during the school year)
GSM: 04 86 53 09 15
Registrations are ongoing. Please rest assured that, in accordance with the government advice, all COVID-19 protective measures have been put into place. Please see the website for course offerings. The 2020-21 school year begins in the last week of September.
The school caters to adult learners, particularly for those over 50 years old and seniors. Courses include English, Chinese, French, Italian, Portuguese, German, Dutch, Spanish, Russian, Art History, Music History. The school has a no stress philosophy, which means no exams. ITAKA Zuidrand has four campuses in and around Antwerp.
This post originally appears on Wasapninworld blog and describes the writer’s experiences of looking for a home to rent in the Antwerp area a few years ago. It is not a very heartening read; we would all (I hope) like to live in a fairer country than the one described here, but as the writer of the post told me, “it’s one way of starting conversations” -and clearly this is very much a conversation that needs to continue in Belgian society.
I had lived at my parents house most of my youth life and then moved into my own property when I got married. I then moved abroad and my residence was always provided by my employer. All rights, contracts and viewing was always prior to my arrival to our new country and home. That was until I relocated to Belgium which was my first job in Europe outside of the UK.
We were allocated a relocation specialist who helps newbie arrivals find a new rental house/apartment and ease them in the country. We should have been greeted by the relocation specialist when we first arrived in Belgium but our relocation specialist was busy and could not meet us. During our first initial meeting we would have been given a new Belgian mobile phone Sim card, get help searching for apartment/house, be taken to the supermarket so we can be accustomed to the new area, and finally have a lovely dinner or lunch- all of which never happened with us because our relocation specialist was busy when we first entered Belgium. So neither did our first trip to a supermarket, and we were never given a new Belgian number so we could be contacted, nor ever shown any apartments for rent. We did all that ourselves. We checked into our hotel (allocated by the employer) and stayed there for a few days looking at our shortlisted viewings which we had done while we were in the UK. After being a few days in Antwerp, our relocation specialist messaged us to request if we could meet for coffee (instead of dinner/lunch) as there are no halal places in Antwerp. This was our first visit to Antwerp and we did not know anyone there but a quick Googling told us that there are plenty of halal places to eat. It was clear for us that the relocation specialist did not want to meet us, so rather than make a fuss we politely declined and that was the last we heard for a while.
Our experiences are limited to Antwerp renting while Muslim in Belgium. Below are just some of the scenarios that panned out.
At first, we decided to stay as close as possible to my new work place, which was located in a very white suburb of Antwerp.
NOTE: My rental deposit of 3 months’ rent is covered by my employer, who are also my reference. My employer happens to be a very reputable work place in Antwerp for over 50 years and my salary was well above minimum requirement.
1. We found this lovely house with a garden. Arranged to see the property and loved it. We agreed to take it but were told that there are other viewers and the decision would rest with the owner. We were told within days that the owner of the property decided to rent with someone else.
2. Arranged to view an apartment walking distance from the above property. There were two apartments available in the same block. It was a brand new apartment block. We were met by the same estate agent as previous. We liked the property and agreed to take it. We were told that the owner will let us know. The owner happened to be the uncle of the estate agent. Weeks went by and we heard nothing even after asking for an update. Emails and phone calls were not returned.
3. Arranged to view another apartment in the same area. Saw the apartment and agreed to take it. We were told someone would get back to us. Every time I would ring to speak to the estate agent, he was never available. We never did get that call back or the apartment.
4. With the above experience rather than go for a viewing ourselves we decided to ask the relocation specialist to visit on our behalf. When we asked about a particular property, she strongly discouraged us, as it is the centre of the town and there are works due to take place right outside of the apartment that we were interested in, which will cause major traffic and will last for months. Heavily reliant on local knowledge we decided against pursuing this further. (We later learnt that the roadwork did go ahead but was not a major traffic issue and only lasted about a month or so, much lower than the impression given to us)
5. We decided to search further away from the work place. A balance between the city centre and the suburb. Rather than pay for extra hotel accommodation we decided to go back home and search from London. We found a brand new block of apartments where three apartments were available. We rang and agreed to take the property without seeing it. We were told they would not rent without us seeing the property. I explained I was in London and it’s difficult to travel with a 3 year old child who is not well. The owner insisted. We had no choice but to make a last minute trip back to Antwerp. As expected, we liked the property and agreed to take it. We were told we would be informed of the update very soon. Within hours of leaving the property we were told that all three apartments had been rented out and they had not realised but other family members had rented them out without them realising it. (Note: These properties were unrented for 9 months as they were advertised on the rental website available for rent.)
6. The message was clear we were not wanted in certain parts of Antwerp. We then decided to search in the city centre or other areas that were predominately occupied with ethnic minorities. We looked at and investigated many properties but did not feel the quality was up to our standards. We also tried to rent in the city centre and during numerous calls; we were told they would not rent to Indians or foreigners. We were shocked to hear this as they did not know we were non-white foreigners because I sound British because I am. They were mentioning it as a selling point.
7. As a last resort I had to ask one of my new white colleagues to ring on my behalf and look at the property. Once we both agreed, it was acceptable I arranged to view the property without my family. I agreed to take the property because at that point no one would rent to us. As it turned out the landlord was very nice who is Jewish in faith and who had rented his property to a tenant who was Muslim in faith. Sometimes the glimmer of hope comes from communities that know what is like to be different.
All the while there were at least 4 other new colleagues coming from different parts of the world who very quickly were able to find and rent. Maybe it was a coincidence that they were all white but I clearly think not. Throughout this experience it must be added that everyone we interacted with was polite, smiling and courteous. On face value, there was no indication of anything being wrong. However, someone who has lived as an outsider all my life you quickly learn to read the body language and the other signs that are very hard to conceal. I know my British accent has made it much easier when interacting with the local indigenous population in Antwerp. I later learnt when making friends with the African, Moroccan and Turkish community of how frank and open the remarks can be. They had been told that renting would not be provided if their wives, mothers and daughters wear the headscarf or if they cook their local food in the apartment.
I clearly do not look white British but I do sound it and my wife wears the headscarf. On face value, we pass by as Moroccans or Turkish depending on the lens of the looker but our accent tells a different story. However, our face value determined our renting while Muslim experience and that was of racism and Islamophobia. The invisible cloak of freedom and equality was marred by another invisible cloak of racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia and the colonial mentality of being better than others are. Europe/Belgium has a problem of race and identity and the sooner we face up to it the sooner we can work together to eradicate it. To highlight the seriousness of the problem a report was published in 2017 where “Job applicants with convictions for violence are more likely to be taken on than those with Arabic surnames, criminologists have found. Applicants with a violent past and a Dutch name stood a better chance than those with an Arabic name but no history of violence, said researcher Chantal van den Berg.”1
I have lived as a ‘Paki’ in England and as an Englishman in Pakistan. We have always been outsiders to where I have been posted for my jobs. Identity is something I have had to question and have come to the conclusion that the world has more in common with each other but we focus on the smaller differences rather than the similarities. In the back of my mind, I thought at least it is not this bad back home. Back home for me was the UK but I had not lived there for over a decade due to work but little did I know that it too had changed for the worse when we relocated back in 2017. More information to follow soon.
On a positive note once all the renting problem was resolved at least until the next time we had to move, I found the local Antwerpians of all shapes, sizes and colours to be a lovely bunch so much so much I would much rather live in Antwerp than my home city of London.
It’s lovely to hear that Nessascityblog features on this selection of Antwerp blogs for 2020 – compiled by Spotted by Locals, which is a blog about art & culture trends in cities all around the world: check them out for your future post-corona travel plans!
I woke up this morning, sunshine blasting through the windows: I’m feeling good. I finally have that “second trimester superwoman energy” that I keep being told about. I’m on day 150 of this pregnancy, but things couldn’t be weirder with the COVID-19 pandemic in full swing.
So my topic is “A Day In The Life of a Pregnant Woman: week 4 -coronavirus outbreak”. Because -as good as I feel- I also feel a deep-rooted sense of anxiety that I can’t quite quash.
It’s a pretty strange time for all of us. Even if we have never felt anxiety before, these unprecedented times can make even the toughest feel anxious.
I know this is something that I am dealing with right now.
I am not usually one to share my worries and concerns to the masses on social media (that is a “treat” reserved mostly for those closest to me) but these exceptional times make me want to share how I’m feeling. I know I’m not alone in feeling insecure at this time and I think we all need to show sensitivity, and embrace the sensitive sides of others.
When I woke up this morning, despite being allowed the luxury of waking up one hour later due to my lack of commute, my first thought was “something is worrying me … what is it?” Not a nice way to start the day. But that worrying feeling is something that we are all living with, especially if you are pregnant, looking after newborns or managing an ongoing health condition.
Sometimes I cry or become super emotional all of a sudden, without any warning.
I can only imagine that what I am experiencing now is what those with permanent anxiety feel every day and I have never had so much appreciation for the way they carry on. But I digress – Of course, I am still able to function and I do so.
So I start work from my home-office and plough through the day (the highlight naturally being lunch and break times, as I am sure any expectant woman can relate to!). I have scheduled Zoom meetings (no sweatpants for me!) and I plod on with my regular other tasks.
I also keep up-to-date with the housework (with the help of my husband of course) – It’s amazing how much more washing and general untidiness you create when two people are living full-time in the house! Other than that, it is “business as usual” -whatever this “usual” now is. But throughout it all there is this unsettling feeling of insecurity, that I don’t know how to make disappear.
It’s the little things such as not going out to do the grocery shopping; not being able to plan as much for our upcoming baby as I would like to; my husband not being able to come to doctor appointments with me; not being able to share our baby’s first kicks with grandparents; not knowing if I will be able to go back to the UK to see friends and family before the birth; not knowing when my parents and sister will next be able to come see me. The list goes on and on and starts to cast a shadow over all that is positive around me.
Yes, I know that all that matters is that our baby and I are healthy (and so far- thank goodness -this is the case) but all of these thoughts worry me and give me a feeling of uncertainty that I am not used to.
I am used to being the friend that friends can rely on, and on relying on those friends in return. However, right now I am struggling to find that same sense of comfort that I usually get from my friends – I am a tactile person by nature and week 4 of quarantine is getting to me because I can’t see friends and hug them.
In summary: Week 4 of quarantine is making me have more questions than answers.
But – I am doing my best and being kind to myself.
So that is the message I want to end this post with: be kind, reach out to that person you haven’t spoken to in a while (they might just need it) but most of all – be kind to yourself. It’s OK not to feel OK right now. We all have our worries and anxieties and these are completely normal in such unprecedented circumstances.
Laura PS: Find me on Instagram @lauraowenonsea to connect and share positivity!
If your child is currently enrolled in Grade 6 in a local primary school – het 6e leerjaar – then it’s time to choose a school for secondary education, or secundair onderwijs. If you have not yet registered your child, you may have received a letter in the mail reminding you that this process should be completed before 5 PM on April 3rd, 2020, which is this Friday.
NB: Corona virus regulations have not affected the timeline of the registration process.
Should you miss the 3 April 2020 deadline, you will still be able to register with individual schools from 11 May 2020 onwards, but keep in mind that places will be full in some schools by this point. This late registration process closes 3 June 2020.
I found signing up on the website straightforward. You will need your child’s rijksregisternummer (national registration number) which can be found on their ISI+ health insurance card (or on the pink stickers used for doctors), or on the back of their ID card (see pic below).
If your child does not have an ID card yet, it is probably best to contact your local city council, or districtshuis.
Once signed up, you can select the schools you are interested in by typing the names into a search bar and selecting the schools you want. I’ve been recommended to list at least five schools by a representative of Meldjeaan. Then rank your schools by dragging a small arrow next to each selected school’s name up or down. This is an important step; the order counts. You are now ready to complete the process, though you can revisit the site any time and make changes, up until April 3rd.
Note about 1A and 1B streams
Most children who complete primary school will need to sign up for the 1A stream in secondary school. Children who are unable to successfully complete their primary education will most likely need to choose 1B. However, if you are unsure, it is always best to ask your child’s teacher for advice.
If you are unable to access the website or don’t understand a step in the process, you can call the Meldjeaan team or email them for help (see below.
Results and registration
Results will be sent to parents on 6 May 2020, after which you should register your child at the school you have been allocated. This should be done by appointment and by contacting the school directly.
If the allocated school is not your number 1 choice, you will automatically be put on a waiting list for the schools higher up your list.
Waiting list and follow-up process
This is where things may get a little complicated. It is possible to move up your waiting list, even into the start of the academic year. Please keep the following points in mind:
Always register your child with the highest ranked school on your list you’ve been allocated
By doing so, the schools lower down on your list automatically fall away; this frees new spaces for other applicants
You will automatically be put on a waiting list for schools higher up on your list
If a space higher up is freed up, you will be notified and can now register with that school; the previous registration is annulled
You cannot register with multiple schools
It is perfectly acceptable to annul registrations in favour of a school higher up your list, should they become free
If you want to see high up on the waiting list for a particular school you are after 6 May, log back into the meldjeaan.antwerpen.be website
Waiting list positions are valid until 7 October 2020 (note: this is after the start of the school year!). After that, it’s best to contact the school in question directly for information.
Overall, this seems like a fair system to me. It certainly beats parents having to camp out in front of schools, which I’ve heard so much about.
I have not included details about special education, or early selection for children who have older siblings already enrolled in a school, or whose parents work in Flemish education. Please contact the organisation for more information on that.
You can find a list of secondary schools in Antwerp here. You can find information about schools and subject choices here. You can find a current list of available places in schools here. From 10 AM 8 May on, the Meldjeaan website will publish a list of remaining free places for those who have missed online registration. You can also contact them by email or phone: 0800 62 185
Disclaimer: I am just a parent who has recently gone through and learned about the school registration process over a period of two years, by asking many people lots of questions (and taking lots of notes). I am not an authority on the subject, but I am sharing what I learned here. It is therefore always best to consult the helpdesk above for information.
As you can imagine, a blog which is usually devoted to sharing information about events, is not going to be very busy right now, so I though I would just do a general post about life in Antwerp and Belgium under the new restrictions, and share some useful links. I will keep editing this, so if you think there is a link I have missed, do get in touch.
The government website with information about Covid 19 is here and available in French, Dutch, German and English. You can also follow the Federal Health Department on Twitter.
(translation of text in image above: Stay home; do not gather with others; keep a distance of 1.5m; outdoor exercise is OK, with max 2 people; look after yourself and each other)
The Stad Antwerpen page is mainly in Dutch, but if you go here and scroll down, you will find .PDFs in a variety of languages.
Last week I published this blog post with information in English about organisations and help lines, if being at home is not safe for you or your children (or if you are anxious that someone you know is not safe).
Lessons are suspended and children are learning from home. Only those who work in essential services (and who cannot find childcare) may take their children into school. Colleges and universities are delivering classes and assignments online.
Lots of people want to help at this time. Others needs help. Stad Antwerpen has this page (in Dutch) for those either requiring help, or wanting to volunteer their help. In both cases you need to fill in a form:
These are slips to download and deliver if you want to offer help to your neighbours who may be in a vulnerable group. NB: you need to do this while observing social distancing as much as is possible. Other forms of volunteer work can be found here
At 8pm many people are taking to their balconies and windows every evening to applaud the frontline workers who are keeping essential services -especially health services – open and functioning.
It’s important to make time to Skype/ Zoom/ WhatsApp/ Facetime with friends and family. If your family is in an other country, you may have extra anxieties and feel home-sick. That’s very understandable – so if you are on Facebook you are very welcome in our group Expats in Antwerp. Not just for Covid 19 info- we have a daily chat thread each day, for general conversation, sharing news, recipes and -of course – pet pics!
Financial support and assistance for incomes and businesses affected by Covid 19
If you would like to help keep Nessascityblog going by writing a blog post for me, then now is the time! I welcome posts about how you are managing your time; the challenges and achievements of our changed circumstances; creative writing; how you are working and how your Antwerp business has been affected. Feel free to get in touch if you have an idea!
Violence & abuse in the home during confinement due to Corona pandemic: support in Belgium.
I want to post about a group who are vulnerable at this time, and may be in a difficult situation which is made more difficult if you don’t speak Dutch or French; that group is women & children in abusive family situations.
For people in this group, work and school are the safe places -not home. The added dangers to them during this period of confinement are obvious. Sadly, police and support workers are expecting an increase in domestic violence and abuse. Current circumstances mean that some women and children will find themselves spending the vast majority of their days and nights at home with their abuser(s).
If this is you, or a someone you know, please be aware that there is a number to call on this website:
There is an app called Bright Sky, aimed at helping those affected by domestic abuse, and also those concerned about a friend, colleague or family member in this situation: https://www.hestia.org/brightsky
PLEASE feel free to share this information in groups that you are in -or on your Facebook or Twitter status.
NB: If you supply this information to a woman or family you suspect may be at risk, please do so very carefully and discretely: abusers often monitor the communications of those who they abuse.
And if you have a young reader, then you should know that March is also “Jeugdboekenmaand” (Youth Book Month) which means that there’s plenty going on in Bib Permeke for children and young people throughout the month. The theme this year is ART. See the Permeke library website for events, activities and exhibitions taking place there, or the search the complete agenda on the Jeugdboekenmaand page.
Why not start your weekend at the pictures? De Cinema (at De Studio) is showing one of my favourites –The Big Lebowski (1998) – at 8pm. Tickets via the link. It’s conveniently located near a bar/ bistro I like too: Zeppos is just a few doors down and easily recognisable by its red exterior.
Proefkonijnen is a children’s theatre on Frankrijklei: maybe their show Drakenjacht (Dragon Hunt) at 2.30pm would be something for your 4+ year old(s) on a Sunday afternoon? If you want to check it out, find tickets here.
Now that the storms have (hopefully) passed, you might like to (re)visit Rivierenhof: every Sunday at 2pm at the “sprookjeshuis” there’s a fairy story read aloud (in Dutch) for children aged 6+. It’s costs 5 euros and you can register your child(ren) here, in advance. The Sprookjeshuis is near the Rivierenhof Kasteel and the playground, and there’s a vegetable gardening workshop going on at the same time -click the link; and then on to the Eventbrite link in order to register for this.
The weather will continue to be cooler this weekend max temps 11 degrees), with Saturday likely to be the best day – dry and bright, and showers expected on Friday and on Sunday morning.
Runners: You can now sign up for the Antwerp 10 Miles on 26th April 2020. It costs less if you sign up before the 6th April.
Critical Mass Antwerpen returns for monthly rides throughout 2020. Assemble on Theaterplein from 17.45 pm for an hour’s cycling en masse through the city. The theme for this month’s ride is reflection and visibility, so make sure you are there with your bike lights and reflectors working.
Today is the start of Antwerp’s annual Pateekes Week. Lovers of cakes and pastries can sample them at a discounted rate at participating bakeries, cafésand chocolatiers. To enjoy pateekesweek, you need to get a sheet of 10 vouchers (Pateekespass) for 10 euros. You can get these from the Visit Antwerp outlets at Central Station and on Grote Markt. They are already on sale.
For a philosophical discussion (in English) head down to Den Hopsack bar on Grote Pieterpotstraat for 2pm for their Philosophy Café. You can even email questions for discussion in advance: firstname.lastname@example.org
Chinese New Year celebrations may have concluded, but the Legends of Liondance expo is still on in Permeke library, and this weekend is your last chance to catch it (until Sunday)
This week I discovered this useful site: Toerisme voor autisme. This site helps you plan autism-friendly activities, visits and holidays in Belgium, to ensure full participation and inclusion of autistic visitors. The site includes destinations and activities which take into account the need for predictability and structure which visitors with autism often have.
As the UK drifts out of the EU with a whimper rather than a bang, British passport holders who are interested in retaining the advantages of European citizenship by becoming Belgian may find this recent article from The Brussels Times of use.
Well, I am taking some time off now, for a month or so, so here’s a grab-bag of useful links and information for a great Antwerp summer. I will be back in August. Until then, additional events will be posted on other social media, listed at the end of this post. For Antwerp pictures, don’t forget to follow me on Instagram!
Thank you for reading and following Nessascityblog; do please keep sharing it with anyone who might find it handy to have this information in English, especially if they are arriving new in the city this summer -WELCOME! -and have a fabulous summer 2019 in Antwerp.
Eat & Drink
… at Dokmarkt every Friday from 3pm until 8, and if you want to stay out later, you’re very close to summer bars like Jardim, Sommar and Bocadero -all of which are along the Schelde.
Check out Café Capital in the Stadspark if you haven’t already done so. It’s great if you are taking kids to the play area; for an evening out try Bar Jeudi on Thursdays.
Fiesta Europa is a popular, diverse and accessible five day food festival on Groenplaats which is on until Sunday 21st July.
Flying Pig are on Steenplein on the 2nd August; drinks, music, food trucks and general revelry from 5pm.
Bollekesfeest is an annual Nessascityblog not-to-be-missed favourite, celebrating our local beer: de Koninck, or Bollekes as it is known once served in its distinctive bow-like glass. Bollekesfeest is on the 16th, 17th and 18th August, and like other Stad Antwerpen events will be cashless this year. As well as the local brew there will be lots of other foods and drinks to enjoy. If you have kids to entertain (or are hungry) then the Steenplein is the best location for you -there you will find the Kids’ Village and all the food stands.
Experience the excitement of going around Antwerp’s best museums throughout the night on Museum Night on the 3rd August, and don’t forget that Stad Antwerpen museums are free on the last Wednesday of the month.
Enjoy Lambermonmartre the largest open-air local art market: on Leopold de Waalplaats (in front of KMSKA) on the 28th July and the 25th August. For the other regular markets in Antwerp, here’s a useful list.
Take a stroll along the renewed Scheldekaaien – the banks of the river from Sint Andries to the south of the city have been renovated with open spaces, places to sit, stroll or for kids to play (pic below).
If you are scratching your head looking for something cheap and cheerful to occupy the kids on their summer holidays, then have a look at Speel-O-Rama at the Zuiderpershuis, starting next week: it’s on from 15th July -9th August and costs only 2 euros per day, per child. It’s for kids aged 7-13, and offers workshops, activities, creative play, theatre and water games.
These Antwerp Sports Activities are for children aged 6-13. You need to register your child for a place on an activity. These usually mean a week sport sessions (Mon- Fri) in your chosen sport.
Bookish and creative kids might enjoy Bibfabriek at the Permeke library, on Wednesdays at 2pm during July.
Neighbourhood parties and festivals
The 21st of July is Belgium’s national day. Here are a few places which will be marking the formation of our relatively youthful nation.
You can find all you need to know about Antwerp Pride, which is celebrated in Antwerp from the 7th-11th August. Of course there will be loads of Pride-related events taking place around the city, but for many the most important is the Pride Parade which takes place on Saturday 10th August, starting with a pre-parade event at midday. See here for the details, including the route of the parade.
Sfinks Festival (25th-28th July) and Linkerwoofer (2nd -3rd August) are two popular Antwerp music festivals. Sfinks is a free four day festival, Linkerwoofer is ticketed. Both events are child-friendly.
Hi, my name is Jon Kemp and I moved from UK to Antwerp in 2014 to work as a marine engineer for International Marine Dredging Consultancy (www.imdc.be). I had only intended to stay for one or two years but I really like the city and now it feels like home.
Although not necessary for my job, I felt it was important to learn Dutch to better integrate into my new home and I have always believed that it is good to be able to speak the language spoken in the place where you live. So after six months of enjoying the Belgium beer, making new friends and enjoying the World Cup (although, not so much for the England performance in 2014…) I decided to enrol in a Dutch Language course and since then have tried many different courses. I felt it would be good to share my experience.
Essentially there are two main options, as explained below. These are the Linguapolis courses run by the University of Antwerp and the CVO courses (CVO Antwerpen, CVO Encora, CVO LBC & CVO Sopro), which are government subsidised courses, and so are cheaper (but not necessarily of a lesser quality). All have different options in terms of timing (day/night), number of classes per week, and locations where you can study.
Before comparing the differences in the courses, one of the main differentiators when learning Dutch is the teacher and your fellow classmates, and these can often have the biggest impact on your learning experience.
Atlas can help with integration and can find suitable courses (although they are unlikely to recommend the Linguapolis course). It should be noted that waiting times can sometimes be long or the place is busy, and if you are already working full time it can be difficult to get an appointment
Linguapolis runs the courses at the University of Antwerp and they state that you are supposed to have a university degree, and have learnt a second language, to enter but they don’t seem to check.
Generally their course notes are well-presented in a bound book for each of the 5 levels. These courses have a solid focus on correct grammar and generally provide excellent teaching and explanation of the grammar and the rules. The courses move quickly, and you will get quite a lot of homework, which you will need to do if you want to pass the exams and keep up with the lessons.
Their Level 1 course gets you to a Level A2 in 10 -15 weeks, which would typically take you longer if you followed the CVO courses. Although there is speaking in the class, correct speaking is a key focus (e.g. ensuring inversion is used) over general conversation and simply ‘getting by’. The method of marking exams is stringent and is called negative marking. For example, if you have 15 questions and 10 points, you get a minus point for every wrong answer, meaning you could have 5 correct answers but still score 0. The price is high compared to the CVO courses though.
CVO stands for Centrum Voor Volwassenonderwijs, and is essentially the umbrella name for adult education. There are several CVO schools in Antwerp and all follow, more or less, the same language trajectory i.e. 1.1 to 4.2 (see image above).
In Antwerp there are four institutions operating along this style: CVO Antwerpen, CVO Encora, CVO LBC & CVO Sopro and all have various schools located around Antwerp. CVO LBC and CVO Sopro have a nice bound book from which to work, while CVO Antwerpen and CVO Encora provide a folder and A4 handouts. Focus tends to be on using the language and learning by use with less in the way of detailed explanation of grammar and rules. The quality is mainly dictated by the teacher and the experience you have is also influenced by your fellow classmates.
Each course has its own advantages and disadvantages. The Linguapolis exams are more difficult (e.g. I passed level 3.2 at a CVO school with 77%, but failed Linguapolis Level 4 afterwards – they are both supposed to be to a B2 level in the European Framework of Reference for Languages). Anyway, I hope you find this brief overview of some of the available options for learning Dutch in Antwerp useful. In addition to these options, there are private teachers and a school called Berlitz. There are also Facebook and meet-up groups that organise social meet ups where you can practise your new Dutch skills. Happy learning!
1) Please tell us about Wwelcome: when, how and why it came to be established.
Wwelcome was established one year ago on April 1st 2018. While working for an insurance company, the two founders discovered a great need for personal assistance with the various sorts of documentation required of newcomers to Belgium.
Even though some organisations (including governmental) already provide administrative assistance, newcomers sometimes had challenging or negative experiences when trying to get their paperwork in order .
Our organisation supports immigrants to Belgium with whichever issues they bring to the table. It’s our mission to make them feel at home here: hence, Wwelcome.
2) What services do you offer and how are these funded?
Over the past year, we have noticed a great variety in the types of support that people need. Therefore we mostly operate in a Q&A style. Our members bring us letters, bills and contracts to translate and explain, or various application forms to enter. Sometimes, they ask for advice about immigration, naturalisation, buying a house or getting a divorce.
Next to explaining and offering advice, we mediate on behalf of our members with the government, insurance and energy companies, realtors, banks, employers, schools and landlords. Though we are not lawyers or accountants, we are the link between our members and these specialists.
All of this we provide for a monthly subscription of €10 (our “All-You-Can-Eat” formula!). If people prefer, we can also service for €10 per hour.
In addition we can accompany people to the hospital, police, OCMW, or any place else in order to interpret. We offer discounts at our partner organisations and various stores such as IKEA, Carrefour and Kinepolis. The more members we have, the bigger the discounts we can offer.
For business owners, we offer the above and a number of additional services. We support them with taking the first steps in establishing their business, creating financial plans, understanding social and health requirements, applying for loans and by advertising them through our media platforms. Business owners pay a different membership fee, depending on the type and size of their business.
3) What are the most common challenges or difficulties experienced by newcomers to Antwerp?
The most common challenges that are brought to our attention are firstly, communication and arranging matters with the government and aligned associations. Bureaucracies are not always open-minded or willing to communicate in English, and people often don’t know what they are expected to do next. Even for Dutch-speakers, it is often difficult to grasp what is meant by some of the letters newcomers receive. Secondly, problems with justifying bills: many people just pay the invoice as is, even though they could reduce a payment by giving the correct information and not have to pay the (entire) bill. This means they avoid paying for a service that they don’t receive or don’t want.
4) Many are concerned by the rise in populism across Europe at the moment, and the racism, anti-immigrant or xenophobic feelings which accompany this rise. Is this something that is a you notice here in your work, or in your personal experiences?
We don’t come across direct racism. However, many people experience discrimination at an institutional level (government or companies) due to the fact that they cannot advocate for themselves in Dutch.
We notice that sometimes organisations (also landlords, employers and even business partners) try to outsmart our members. However, when we make the call or write the mail, they are quick to respond with “sorry, yes, I understand…”.
There also happens to be a rule that for administrative *Artikel 60 work, Muslim women are required to take off their scarf. If they don’t, they are fired and lose their allowance.
5) In your line of work, what does success look like?
Everyday success for us is bringing peace of mind to our members, resolving their worries and offering an optimistic view of their future.
Long-term success would be a flourishing organisation throughout Europe where we can touch the lives of millions of immigrants; welcoming them with open arms and providing an antidote to the negative populist voices. When people feel welcome, they are keen to contribute positively to the communities that they have made their home.
Wwelcome is located at Bredabaan 371 in Merksem. If you’re coming by tram, then trams 2 & 3 stop almost outside our office at the stop called Burgemeester Nolf.