Guest Post: Laura Soave, designer and blogger from Italy writes about how there is no place like home …

Laura Soave is an Antwerp blogger and designer from Italy. Check out her blog: nonnative and find her on InstagramFacebook and Twitter  Read her story here:-

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No Place Like Home …

Breathless, I’m completely breathless, not because I’m admiring a beautiful view from a fancy skyscraper in some fancy big city like New York. No, the reason why my ex-smoker lungs are loudly screaming is because I have just ascended 65 stairs (yes, I counted) just so I could reach the top floor of a building in Kipdorpvest, a street in the heart of this small city. And all of this effort just so I could visit the last apartment available te huur (to rent). That day I made my first big decision in a foreign country: quit smoking! This is one of the first memories I have of moving to Antwerp and one of the first time I saw Leopold de Waelplaats. I thought it was one of the most charming places I had ever seen: foggy, a little grey, but incredibly charming. I remember I was sitting in this café while waiting to check the last apartment for the day. It has been a long time since I’ve thought of that first day in this strange, new land.

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Leopold de Waelplaats

My name is Laura and I am an Italian from Napoli living in Antwerp since 2011. When I moved here with my Italian husband we did it to get a better life, sure. But we weren’t running away from La Bella Italia; we were homesick everyday, and we still are. Were we leaving everything behind – family, friends, our apartment – in order to try this new experience that might get us a better job and a better future? The hope for better opportunities fused with a curiosity to explore a new culture won the battle between “shall we go?” and “we’d  better stay”.  

So the answer was yes. Even though during my first days of Belgian-life I perceived some kind of hostility, I wanted to feel part of the culture and understand the everyday mechanisms of a society that I could not yet comprehend. While observing people crossing the street I couldn’t help but wonder how could they go around with just a light t-shirt or shorts while an unstoppable rain was coming down! And as soon as a timid ray of sunlight emerged, everybody was sitting outside, no matter what temperature: that was a complete mystery to me. But yes, I now forgot cars and traffic and rode around Antwerp on my purple bike, crossing streets of a city so diverse that it can make your head spin. I noticed there is less queuing at the bank or at the post office, and less stress caused by things like late buses, however, you’ll feel the need to take advantage of enjoying a day outdoor in the sun, because it might be the last you’ll see in a long time. Due to this and many other reasons, I became passionate about this place. I started working as designer, began to attend Dutch classes and discover more of this new culture. I made both Belgian and international friends.

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When you live abroad for a while, you realise your life will always be split into two perfect halves. Half of me is still in my hometown; and then there is other half that has tuned out of my own culture a little, and has adjusted to a new way of life and new rules. At first, this new feeling created a sense of non-belonging, not belonging to Antwerp but also not to Napoli, because not living my culture for so long made me forget what’s it like to live there. A dawning awareness enabled me to at last realise that I do belong to both places at the same time, so to make a better record of my life here and experiences, I recently started a blog about Antwerp (nonnative.blog), which is a collective of expat voices. Nonnative is a place where people can write about this city from the expat point of view; it’s like an online home.

Sometimes I think of what Dorothy says “There is no place like home” right before clicking her heels for three times to go home. Home can be in two different places at the same time: in one place you have your heart, and in the other your have your soul. One cannot live without the other.

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Inspired to write a guest blog post telling your Antwerp story? Please get in touch via nessascityblog@gmail.com -I’d love to hear from you.

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Guest post: Dolrish Aguillon, vlogger and nurse.

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.

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Graduating, in 2011

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:

LANGUAGE

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.

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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.

FOOD

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.

WEATHER

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.

CULTURE

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.

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Dolrish in 2017 – ready to vlog!

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

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Vlog posts on Dolrish’s Youtube channel

Inspired by Dolrish’s post?

If you’d like to contribute and tell your story, please get in touch via nessascityblog@gmail.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.