5 years in Brussels – should I stay or should I go?

10 06 2007

Today I celebrate five years in Brussels – not that I am going to do anything special, but I can’t believe that I have lived here for so long!

The 9th June 2002 I arrived in Brussels, after having spent five months in Geneva where I did an unpaid internship at a small human rights NGO (The International Service for Human Rights or ISHR). After my internship I was quite lost, I wanted to stay in Geneva but it was hard without a work permit (as Switzerland is not part of the EU, it is easier nowadays as there is some kind of bilateral agreement between CH & EU).

One day I received an email from a friend from my master’s programme who said that the College of Europe in Bruges, Belgium was looking for persons who spoke Swedish, Danish and Finnish to work in the European Commission as a legal analyst… Well, I’m not a lawyer (I studied political science), I don’t speak Danish but understand it quite well as I have a few Danish friends and my Finnish is limited to the classical Ei sa peitää (“Do not cover” which it says on electric radiators in Sweden) and Anna mun kaikki kestää (“Give me strength to bear it” from the book “A komikers uppväxt” by Jonas Gardell!). I still sent my CV to the College and one week later I found myself heading to Brussels with a contract as a prestataire de service (service provider) at the Secretariat General of the European Commission. In brief it meant that I had a “normal” Belgian salary, no Commission benefits but working together with the fonctionnaires (civil servants) that earned so much more than I, and worked less…

Even before arriving in Brussels I had decided that I wanted to stay here for a while, not because I knew the city from before but because I was tired of moving around. Five years later and I’m still here… I have had a great time in Belgium but after such a long time I think it’s time to decide: should I stay and try to get integrated, or move on? Integrated in the sense that I try to live a Belgian life instead of the European ex-pat life, maybe register to vote in the municipal elections (as a EU-citizen you have the right to vote in local elections), maybe start reading some Belgian newspapers, and do whatever it is Belgians do [eat frites with mayonnaise, drink blanche (wheat beer) and drive like a mad person]!?

Well, I don’t want to register to vote in the Belgian elections because then it becomes an obligation and I can be fined if I don’t (is that really democracy??), somehow international and Swedish news interest me more.. I do prefer my frites with mayo (not ketchup), I like my blanche but I still don’t have a car. Next Saturday I’m going to my first Belgian wedding and I did study Flemish/Dutch (Flemish is softer than Dutch, not so much down-in-the throat-pronunciations) for a year.

With a Spanish boyfriend who has been offered a job on the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico the choice is quite easy – I will go! But, I think that both of us will miss Brussels and it will always have a special place in my heart (together with England, Switzerland, Italy and France – it’s getting crowded in there!).


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