April 7th, the day I first arrived in Belgium (in 2011) was the day I picked up my shiny, green id card. There’s some symbolism there.
One year and three months, a denied application, a lawyer, hundreds of euros, two orange cards, a lot of back-and-forth and a lot of tears later, the Kingdom of Belgium decided to welcome me as a legal citizen. No more uncertainty and anxiety (related to that, at least). We can now relax and move on with our lives.
Looking back, off course we could have done some things differently – like hiring a lawyer. But at the time we didn’t know better and it was the best we could do when I got a letter saying I should leave the country in thirty days. We could have married from the beginning. I could have waited a bit longer in Brazil. We could… we could... What’s the use of looking back, anyway? It’s all good now and we did our best with what we knew.
Since I wrote Cohabitation in Belgium I got a lot of messages and met a few people. I said it then and I’m not tired of repeating: you must be patient. Yes, bureaucracy sucks, but it has to be done. Yes, the requirements seem ridiculous, but it’s their way of making sure you’re a legit couple. Yes, the waiting period is long and stupid and kinda puts your life on hold, but there are plenty of things to keep you busy (like learning Dutch or French).
On one hand, I believe that everyone should have the right to live anywhere in the world they want, as long as they work, learn the local language and be part of the community. It shouldn’t be so difficult, frustrating and tiring. Many times I felt it wasn’t fair that I just wanted to be with someone I love, get a job and live my life but they were giving us such a hard time.
On the other hand, I do understand that the government has to have a system for letting people stay or not. But it’s screaming for change. There is definitely something wrong with the way immigration, integration, welfare, work and education is happening. But I’m not going to pull this thread now.
I’m going tell you two things: 1.What have I learned from this? 2. What now?
The most important lesson for me was that things don’t always happen the way you want, when you want. I admit that I like control. I like planning. I like knowing. I like being the boss of my own life. So you can imagine how a year of waiting and not knowing freaked me out.
I have been unemployed all this time (check out The Stay-at-Home Expatriate) and we lived with his family for a year. Picture this: I was a 27 year-old woman who started working at the age of 19 and always took care of herself, now living with her boyfriend’s parents. I haven’t lived with my own parents for a year straight since I changed high schools (it was in another town). It was weird and many times I didn’t know how to behave. I tend to care too much about what people think of me and I need more quiet than most.
But it was amazing too. I became part of a family. I got to know them and understand them. I was supported and loved. We had structure and comfort. I will never thank them enough for all they did for us in this tough beginning.
Last year I read a lot, wrote a lot, networked and learned about blogging, entrepreneurship and personal development (Recommended: Leonie Dawson, Marie Forleo, Ash Ambridge). I also learned some Dutch and decided to take my writing more seriously. It was a good year in terms of reflecting and learning, but I’m happy it’s over. I’m happy we’re moving on.
So, what now?
I’m still not clear about what I want to do here because it all depends so much on what I can do. My Dutch is not fluent enough for me to apply for most vacancies I see; language schools won’t hire me as an English teacher because I’m not a native-speaker (total bs); I’ve never taught Portuguese in my life and the demand here isn’t that high. I had a look into becoming self-employed but that scares me to hell (taxes, quarterly social contributions, etc).
So I’m still a bit stuck work-wise, but I know I’ll figure it out.
I just finished Dutch level 3 and will start level 4 in the end of the month. My next step after we are registered in Ghent is to take the Integration course. I hope that by September I can start a professionalizing course or actually find a job.
Otherwise I better finish that novel I’m writing and start selling! ;)