Brussels – the heart of Europe is an extraordinarily international, small city. The almost 1,2m inhabitants consist of approx 45% Belgians and 179 other nationalities, speaking more than 100 different languages.

I am from the significant minority that has named ourselves « expats » – a reminiscent word from a time before globalization when settling in a new country was extraordinary.

 

Parallel societies coexist with and next to each other. Besides at work, we often stick to our subculture. But expats come and go. I go to more housewarmings and farewell parties than birthday parties for one.

In other words, no matter how long or short you intend to stay, you’ll feel more at home here if you have someone to meet up with on a grey, rainy Sunday afternoon.

None of us wants to appear like desperate, lonely strangers looking for friends at any price. But to find people you click with, you must make an effort here like anywhere else in the world.

Photo by Aris Setya

Here are some suggestions to help you integrate better – from my three years of good and bad experiences and through the great help of several other expats and online communities:

The attitude – Forget about being an “expat.” You’re an international person living in Belgium along with all the other wonderful people there. I’ve been told that expats often come across as arrogant to Belgians. Prove them wrong.

The language – It’s a lot easier if you speak French or Dutch to convince Belgians that you actually want to be know more about Belgium than what is the fastest means of transport to the airport.

Be persistent – Prove to the other runners in your running club that you’re there to stay by keep showing up. After a while, they’ll realize that you’re not just browsing.

Use your networking skills  –  Most expats in Brussels are excellent networkers. Use these skills when you meet Belgians as well. Most people like it when you show an interest – especially if you go beyond the “which institution do you work in?” – type of questions.

Show up, also after a long day at work – Brussels is a city of endless events. These are not only there to entertain you. They are also perfect occasions for you to meet other people – expats and Belgians.

Volunteer in your local copropriété, your municipality, in an NGO, in the local community-house, etc. I am so lucky that my street has a community where we meet every other month to make our street prettier with flowers and take turns to invite each other for wine and talk on a topic like art, local food, etc.

Vote – There’s a local election in October. You can sign up until 31 July. Study Belgian politics, get engaged. The symbolic act is also emotional: You live here, so involve yourself.

Get a hobby and join a community – I for one fancy dance classes, meditation and yoga. In my meditation center, I’ve met like-minded locals with whom I have something in common.

Join some of the many social media communities for specific hobbies and interests in Brussels. Many require that you meet up and actually meet other people – in real life.