I am originally from Mauritius (Beau-Bassin), lived in France and recently moved to Belgium
Where are you from, Kerry-Ann, and what are you doing nowadays?
I'm a Mauritian and I come from Beau-Bassin. Mauritius is a small island, lost in the Indian Ocean. It is a highly multicultural place where people live in peace and harmony. Thus, I have high adaptability and can integrate in a new culture without the difficulties that people without my background could have. I am now a post graduate looking for a job in the finance sector. I have been living in Belgium for almost 6 months now.
Why did you choose to expatriate to Belgium?
I came to Belgium to move in with my boyfriend, who I met during my postgraduate studies.
As a Mauritian, what where the procedures you had to follow to move there?
Actually, I was a student in France before moving to Belgium. Thus, I have a valid visa from France which allows me to travel freely all around Schengen countries. To be able to stay longer, though, I had to apply for a cohabitation visa. I am still waiting for the visa to be processed. I am currently using my French visa to travel around.
What has surprised you the most at your arrival?
I would say that it was probably the culture and the attitude of the people here. They are not extremely warm and welcoming. I have had experienced situations where people were almost rude in their ways, but I guess, it is a cultural clash.
Was it difficult to find accommodation there?
If you are not a student, accommodation search can be a hassle. Prices are not as high as in Paris or Brussels, but they remain a sensible part of one's budget.
Is it easy for an expat to find a job there?
From what I understood, it is crucial to speak Dutch to be able to find a job in Leuven, unless you are hired by an international firm. Unfortunately, following the financial crisis, it is never an easy task to find a job, whether here or elsewhere.
How do you find the Belgian lifestyle?
Flemish people are quite cold and reserved. It really renders the integration easier if you know people. Otherwise, Belgians are quite easy-going and proud of their country. They love their beer and fries.
Have you been able to adapt to the country and to its society?
I can't say that I'm fully integrated in the country and its culture since I've been here only for a short time and I'm still learning the language. However, it is getting better now and I feel more at ease with living here.
What does your every day life look like in Leuven?
For the time being, I attend regularly speaking groups to practice the language. I also follow several online courses and try to keep fit.
Any particular experience in Belgium you would like to share with us?
Belgium has a very personal and diverse architecture and city style. I have visited Bruges several times and I like it very much. It's worth the trip, whether you have to drive or travel by public transports.
What is your opinion on the cost of living in Leuven? Is it easy for an expat to live there?
Belgium, like other western European countries, has a very high cost of living. The government provides several facilities such as financial aids to facilitate the life of people here. However, an expat should be prepared to have to spend a whole lot on rent and living expenses. Saving is not really possible at first, but it becomes possible later on.
How do you spend your leisure time?
Leuven is a bike city, just like Amsterdam. Thus, I sometimes ride my bike and go to the city-center to walk around and explore. It is quite a small city, so visiting does not take a lot of time. I generally go to the gym as a leisure and to keep fit. At other times, I catch up with my new friends around a cup of coffee. Otherwise, I stay at home and watch my favorite series together with my boyfriend.
Your favorite local dishes?
This is very "cliché" but I enjoy the Belgian fries. However, I limit myself to having them once or twice per month, or less frequently. On the other hand, I can't say that I am a big fan of the Belgian cuisine. I find it quite bland and boring. It mainly comprises potatoes and meat.
What do you like the most about Leuven?
The city is cute and cozy. It has a very impressive city hall building where ceremonies are celebrated. The good thing about this city is that it is a young one and there is always some student activities going on. However, it becomes empty in summer when the student leave the city to go back to their hometowns. The city also provides several facilities to help newcomers to settle down and learn the language.
What do you miss the most about your home country?
The main thing is the sun! The weather is so bad here. I also miss my family, but we keep in touch via several social networks and communication apps. I also happen to be a dog-lover and my dear pooches are at home with my parents. I really miss having a pet here, and the unconditional love they can provide you with.
Would you like to give any advice to soon-to-be expatriates in Belgium?
If you plan to settle down in the Flemish part of Belgium, you might have to learn the language quite early. You should have a significant amount of savings in your bank account so that you will not be over whelmed by the standard of living here and the outflow of cash you will face. Also, be prepared to have a culture shock and don't feel offended if Belgians do not treat and welcome you as someone from your home country might. If you feel like you cannot make friends very easily, it's not you! It's them. You can always subscribe to several activities such as gym to try and meet new people. A good idea would be to try to contact people from your country and meet up. It will be reassuring.
What are your plans for the future?
I intend to get a job in Brussels and maybe move to the Walloon region.