I am originally from Manila, Philippines where I am a registered nurse. About nine years ago I migrated to the Netherlands, where I got the opportunity to further develop myself professionally. After learning Dutch, I worked as a nursing aid for a home care company which primarily provides care for the elderly. While working, I also studied at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, where I obtained my Bachelor in Health Science and a Research Master in Global Health.
On my way to finishing my final research internship about two years ago, I came across the very interesting opportunity to do an EU-funded Marie Curie-Sklodowska PhD at the Vrije Universiteit Brussels in Belgium. This PhD programme particularly appealed to me because of its international character, the interdisciplinary and inter-sectorial collaboration among many public and private organisations and research institutes in Europe; and also the numerous possibilities for personal and career development (see www.dementiainduct.eu). I applied for the position, and when I was selected, the decision to migrate once more has been a breeze, because of the high quality of education in Belgium, the affordable cost of living in Brussels, especially compared to Amsterdam, and the small language barrier, since I speak Dutch.
The latter part turned out to not be entirely true. Brussels is part-French, part-Flemish, but a large portion of the people here only speak French, with English also being much less prevalent than in the Netherlands. Luckily, in the academic surroundings where I spend most of my time, this is not an issue, since people speak Dutch and English. However, I did take a French course to be able to better communicate with locals in places such as bakeries and shops.
Before moving to Belgium, I thought that there were hardly any cultural differences between Belgium and the Netherlands. Geographically, these countries lie close to each other and partially speak the same language. However, I still encountered some differences. Perhaps it is because of the Burgundian French influences, but I find the food in Belgium a lot tastier than in the Netherlands. Another aspect where the more southern influences might play a role is that people in Belgium are less direct in communication than the Dutch, although still much more direct than in the Philippines. Other aspects I like about Belgium are the grant and funding climate, the presence of many NGOs and employment opportunities thanks to the EU headquarters in Brussels, and the good work-life balance.
One thing that can be very inconvenient in Belgium at times, is the fact that there are many strikes, with Belgium ranking 3rd in number of strike days in the EU after France and Cyprus. Although I fully support and understand that these strikes are being done to improve the employment situation of many labour groups, they do affect people’s daily lives. Additionally, I literally spent my first few weeks in Belgium figuring out how things work. Among many other things, finding housing, registering in the municipality, finding healthcare insurance and opening a bank account were not selfexplanatory. These tasks required lots of reading and many telephone conversations. I would therefore highly advise anyone who is considering moving to Belgium to contact an expat who has recently moved there, and ask them about their experiences and any tips that they might have.
I would recommend Belgium to people looking to move abroad because of the good work-life balance, high quality of education and good employment opportunities in research and at NGOs. Just keep in mind that you might not receive as direct feedback as you may be used to; and depending on the part of Belgium, some knowledge of French or a French course might come in handy.
Written by Rose Miranda