One day in August 2006, my dad came home from work, gathered my mom, sister and I at the dinner table and asked us: "Would you like to go live in Belgium?" At the time, my 13-year-old self did not know what or where Belgium was. But I immediately got excited about moving there, because I was bored of my school, bored of the same routine. I wanted to go somewhere new and exciting. After my mother and sister agreed to move, we began packing our items, saying goodbye to our friends and closing up our home. We chose to leave during over Christmas vacation.
After a 12-hour flight, we finally reached our destination of Amsterdam. Any preconceived notions I had about Europe being a Narnia-esque wonderland disappeared the minute I stepped outside of the airport to a dark, dreary, cold and rainy day. It was eerily quiet, there was hardly anyone around, and it was a vast difference from the cheerful weather we’d been having in Texas. I remember looking around and wondering “Have we made the right decision?”
Things got easier once we arrived at our new home, but there were still a few issues to deal with. Since all of our items were still in the process of being shipped over from Texas, there was absolutely nothing to do besides read and watch TV. The hardest part, though, was the weather. Coming from Texas, I was not used to the shocking cold. In December in Texas, I would be fine walking around the house in jeans and a T-shirt, but in Belgium I found myself in sweatpants, hoodies and gloves! Jetlag made things even tougher.
About two weeks after we moved, my dad's sister and her children came to visit from London. With them there, we became a bit more adventurous and decided to take the train into the city of Antwerp. As we walked around the city, enjoying the fresh and warm Belgian waffles and seeing all the shops and Christmas decorations, I finally began to feel at ease in my new home. A few weeks later, when school began and our stuff was set up, I finally set up my own little routine. Life in Belgium was slowly starting to grow on me.
There were still barriers to overcome. The biggest was language. While my sister and I attended an International School where everyone spoke English, my mom was facing problems going about her daily business in a town where she did not know a word of Dutch. One instance she recalls is an evening when she wanted to catch a train from Antwerp back to our home in Kappellen. After looking at the train departure times and seeing that the last train left at 8:52 p.m., she went to confirm with the ticket master. She recalls having trouble explaining to him the information she needed. When he realized she spoke English, he began practicing his English on her. He ended up telling her that the train left at 8:25 instead of 8:52. We later found out that, in Dutch, they flip the minutes around. So he was saying 8:52, which, in translation, became 8:25. This is when we decided to take Dutch lessons. Soon we began to become comfortable with the language and were able to converse with the locals.
Another barrier I, personally, had to overcome was that of school. I had already moved once (from Louisiana to Texas), so I didn't expect settling into a new school to be difficult. Unfortunately I was starting at a place where the other students had known one another for over eight years. There was no way I wasn’t going to stick out. Starting in the middle of the school year didn’t help, and neither did being raised in the American culture than the Dutch one. It took me a good year and a half to fully settle down in school, and that time was the hardest thing to do in all my five years of living in Belgium.
There were so many cool things about living in Belgium. The best was the opportunity to travel all around Europe. We’d get a week or two off from school every six weeks, and we used that time to visit another country. In my five years I visited Italy, England, Norway, France and Germany. By the end of our sta,y it had gotten to the point where going to these countries was of second nature to my sister and me. In fact, I remember a time when a friend from Louisiana called and asked what I was doing for the long weekend. My reply? "Oh nothing special, just going to Venice." At the time, I didn't realize it, but now I know how lucky I was to be able to see the world at such a young age. It really put things in perspective for me, and it was nice to learn that there is more to the world than the place you live in.
Another bright point was the fact that I met so many people from all over the world. I made friends—both inside and outside of school—from many different countries, including Israel, France, Colombia, India and Germany. I am still in touch with a lot of these friends, and I know I always have a place to stay should I ever decide to go back.
When my family and I first arrived in Belgium, we were anxious, unsure and excited all at once. Despite being the most excited, I had the hardest time adjusting and settling down. But in June 2011, when the time came for us to leave, all four of us were sad. Those five years were the best years of my life so far. I would not trade them for anything in the world. I can't wait till I can go back.