That same evening I meet Tine, at the bar of a hotel. She’s working as a receptionist and offers me a conversation, a cocktail and a big smile. When she shares her life story I become so engrossed I lose all track of time.
When I drive up to my friend’s house that evening, I meet his roommate. Over the next few days, I’ll be sharing my accommodation with 28 year old Max. It’s his second season as a ski man and his eagerness to learn and climb the ladder strikes me above all.
The next day is my first day on the slopes and so I pick up my gear at a snowboard and ski shop Prosneige. Conveniently, they also offer classes to a newbie who is clueless as to what to do with two sticks and a bunch of snow. I get the chance to have a chat with Eric, who is a boot fitter for the shop. Essentially, he examines and measures people’s feet. Boot fitters match the shape of the foot to a specific boot shell, volume, and flex pattern that will correspond to people’s skiing ability. They’ll then scan your foot to create a custom foot bed that will help align your stance.
That question came to my mind when I first visited Val Thorens. I could never imagine why anyone would agree to a shabby wage, working ‘flexible’ hours (which means practically 10 hours a day) and not being able to spend time with family and friends for months. I drove 11 hours to Val Thorens in France, the highest ski-resort in Europe to find seasoners or ‘saissoniers’, to ask what about life here is so special they would come back every year.
Project Curant has come to an end. After three years, the last duos moved out at the end of October and the cohabitation project finished. From November 1, 2016 to October 31, 2019, 81 newcomers and 77 buddies had the opportunity to get to know themselves and other cultures up close. 37 couples stayed in an apartment with two or four bedrooms; six couples studied together in a student house on Antwerp’s Klapdorp; 16 couples were assigned a place in the brand new ‘BREM 16’ complex and 4 matched couples moved into homes that were already owned by the city of Antwerp. The aim of the project was to offer housing, education and a social safety net to newcomers who had a recognised refugee status or were entitled to subsidiary protection.
When I was first introduced to Izat, I was expecting to be faced with different cultural customs and habits. I had however not expected to live with someone for whom religion is such an important part of life. Call me naive, but I simply hadn’t considered it. Izat is an avid follower of Islam, but it took me a while to figure that out. Because we only talked about basic things such as housekeeping, school and work, I had no idea how important being faithful to his God was to him and how much that would end up influencing our living together.
I have never asked myself so many questions about the subject of relationships, as since I began living with Izat. Never before have I had so many problems expressing myself and explaining things to someone else when talk turns to the Belgian view on love and friendship. And to be honest, it’s the cause of a fair amount of frustration because our views on these themes are so vastly different.
Time is precious. For most of us probably so much so that it takes up a large amount of our lives. Making and planning our time for all sorts of things such as work, appointments, social occasions, ourselves and our partners, can be quite frankly, exhausting. Like no other people, the Flemish are masters at explaining why we really can’t meet for at least another three weeks because, well, our diaries simply won’t allow it.
It’s safe to say Izat experienced culture shock when he arrived here. Many of our habits and customs are completely alien to him. When I got home after a trip to Italy, Izat had taken his desk out of his bedroom. A bit awkwardly it stood there, pushed into a corner of the living room.
As professionals in the global mobility sector, we know all about managing culture shock, helping our assignees adapt to new environments, and spend a lot of time considering matters such as cost of living allowances and hardship locations. But what about those who move halfway across the globe with no help whatsoever? The people who leave their homes behind for entirely different reasons than a (temporary) foreign assignment? ReLocate spoke with freelance journalist and millennial Deborah Seymus, whose monthly column on living with a young refugee is published by Knack online and republished here with their permission. We look forward to bringing you her column over the coming issues as we explore a brand new view on life in Belgium.