I bike to most places in town
You wouldn’t hear me say that three years ago. I wasn’t used to it and I honestly disliked cycling. Arriving tired and sweaty at work or a friend’s house felt ridiculous. However, I had to understand what thousands of other Ghent residents had: it’s faster than walking, cheaper than public transport and simpler than driving. It’s even a good way to stay fit and, I must admit, it’s pleasant.
I check the weather forecast every day
Gone are the days when I could just assume it would be hot and sunny, put on my jeans and T-shirt and go out for the day. Living in Belgium showed me that you might go from foggy, cloudy and cold in the morning, to sunny and pleasantly warm at lunchtime, to rain and hail on your way home, to snow at night. You shouldn’t get out of the house without knowing what to expect and what to wear.
I need to think about what to wear
Is it going to rain? Then I can’t wear these shoes. I’ll need my rain trousers and jacket if I’m biking. Will it get warmer later? Then a lighter shirt underneath this sweater. But let me pack my hat and gloves, just in case.
I rarely bother putting on makeup or jewelry
Back home, girls dress up to go eat pizza. Seriously. I used to stress about where I was going, how I looked, what people would think. Living here I learned not to care, because nobody does. My only pair of high heels haven’t been worn in more than a year and I have foundation that’s probably expired. I do give in to nail polish and lipstick – and that’s the extent of my beauty repertoire.
There is much more to beer than I ever imagined
Oh, the flavors, the textures, the aftertastes, the degrees of alcohol, the food pairing, the culture around it! A new and amazing world for a girl who only knew one kind of beer: the kind you drink “stupidly cold” on a hot day in Brazil.
I never thought I would crave sunlight
I avoided the sun at all costs between 10am and 4pm. You know, skin cancer and all. Sunscreen or umbrella if I really needed to go to work or University (I took the bus and walked everywhere). But here, well, I miss it the way they miss the rain in my hometown. I enjoy the opportunities I get to sit outside and soak it in, to have a picnic at a park or even go to the beach. The winter months can really get you down.
There’s nothing glamorous about living in Europe
Unlike what most people back home think, living here isn’t chic. I was unemployed for a while, now I work hard, I bike to work and get rained on a lot. I have been to Paris, London, Vienna and more, and there I stayed with friends or cheap hotels, bought bread and cheese and sat at a park to eat, only visited free attractions and walked a lot. Not glamorous but definitely wonderful.
I don’t belong in my hometown anymore
They call it reverse culture shock when you go back to your home country after having lived abroad. You don’t quite fit in anymore. You don’t understand people’s behaviors anymore. You changed, they changed. Every time I go back I feel the conflicting emotions of being home (the home of my memories) and being a visitor, a tourist in my own town.