Tuesday, October 1, 2013

On Being An Ex-Expat

Since moving back to the states from Belgium about 18 months ago, I've traveled back to Europe a few times and each trip has felt different.  The first time, was so soon after moving back to Connecticut and then on to Ohio, that I felt more overwhelmed than anything else.  I rented a car and drove through all the villages I had frequented while living in Belgium, went by our flat and stopped for walks around town in Antwerpen and Brasschaat.  We tagged a long weekend onto the trip and visited Brussels before heading back to our new hometown of Cleveland.  The trip was a blur of emotions, both the feelings of missing living there, but also being glad we were back in the states.  The next trip was better, I felt more like a tourist again.  But this last trip was wonderful.  Belgium finally felt again, like my home away from home.  I didn't rent a car this time, but instead jumped on buses and trains where I was closer to my old country-mates and I began to feel a sense of kinship again, the languages coming easier to me, my Dutch words coming back and French seeming to fall from my mouth with no trouble at all.  I'm not fluent in either language, but I found myself comprehending more than I ever had in the past.  I could understand people on the train, chatting with each other, groups nearby at cafes were somehow easy for me to translate.  I could order from the regular menu, not the English menu, ask for directions or how much something cost without any trouble.  It's almost as if being away long enough had taken all my anxiety away and now I was just blending in with everyone.  And it felt great.  This trip, I didn't go see our old apartment in Antwerp.  Instead, I stayed in Brussels first and took an 'official' tour of the city, and after dozens of times visiting the city, having already seen almost every inch I toured that day, now I knew the history of the buildings I'd been passing by for years.  I went inside beautiful old structures and talked to several people who worked at the government buildings, the palace, the museums and cathedrals.  After all this time, I finally felt like a local, like Belgium is my home away from home and so I took charge, and really enjoyed my time.  For several more days, I was in Leuven, capitol of the province of Flemish Brabant, and home to the oldest Catholic University in the world.  While Mr. Lane worked, I took breaks from the novel I'm writing, and walked through the Beguines (where semi-religous women lived in the early parts of the 13th century and beyond) and visited the late-Gothic designed St. Pieterskerk (built 1425-1500) and the beautiful, Brabantian late-Gothic style town hall, Stadhuis, both at Grote Markt.  I wanted to see the  famous painting of the Last Supper, by Dirk Bouts, but the chapel where it hangs was under reconstruction and the painting was covered.  Another day.  But I did learn, Father Damien, the 'Leper' priest of Molakai who served the outcast lepers, until his death, is entombed at St. Anthony's Chapel.  When I visited the university library at Ladeuziplein, I discovered that after WWI, the Germans had burned the building to the ground, which caused outrage in the US, so funds were raised and a new building was erected as a gift from the American people, which really touched my heart.  The names of several colleges and universities in the US were set into the stone walls of the building.  So many times, I see the good deeds of the American citizens on my travels, and everywhere I go, people tell me they love Americans.  I've never been treated badly like you see so often in movies, depicting foreigners as hating people from the states.  It's just not true.  I'm sure if I was rude, they wouldn't like me, but I find if I'm polite, so are other people, and this goes for anywhere.  I think people who complain that they were treated poorly when traveling were probably being jerks themselves.  Everyone I talk to is very happy to share information with me and they always have plenty of questions as well.  Smiling and being friendly is an international language that everyone can speak.  Listen to me, defending my home away from home, trying to convince you that the world and the low countries in particular are welcoming places.  Leuven is the center-point for the on-going controversy of whether Dutch or French should be the national language of Belgium.  Students demonstrated in the 60's and eventually the college was split in two and the French speaking campus is now just outside town while the Dutch speaking students attend classes in the center of Lueven.  The argument reminds me of growing up in California and the Northern Californians and Southern Californians always saying we should split into two states, and we had two languages as well, English and Spanish.  I'm sure the discussion will continue on in Belgium much the same way it does in California and the country will stay as one.  This time traveling and staying in the cities of Belgium, I felt a closeness to the people and could see and feel their lifestyles.  It was nice to see old friends for dinner and be apart of our life as expats even if for only a week.  When I was greeted upon arrival at the airport by the customs officer, he read all the stamps for Belgium inside my passport, and asked if I was living there, and I said, "Not any longer."  He said, "So you're an Ex-Expat...welcome back."  That made me smile.  My life on the lane is still getting settled but it's nice to know that my other lives on my other lanes will always be a part of who I am.


Grand Plaats in Brussels
It Never Gets Old

St. Peter's in Leuven

University Library in Leuven

Here and Below, Some of the Schools who Donated to the Rebuilding of the Library







University Life Belgian Style

University Library in Leuven

St. Peter's Leuven

St. Peter's in Leuven

Floor at St. Peter's in Leuven

Window in Leuven

Lunch in Leuven

Lace Shop Brussels

Needlework in Brussels

Brussels

Brussels

Brussels

Brussels

Brussels

Brussels

Above a Hallway to a Storage Closet

Brussels Door 

Above the Grand Plaats in Brussels

This is why Europeans are in good shape

Stained Glass at the Museum in Brussels

15th Century Door in Brussels
                  
Leuven


Grote Markt Leuven

2 comments:

  1. I enjoyed your post. I was fostered there as a child and still keep in contact and visit. It's a wonderful country. I bet the fries in Ohio don't taste nearly as good as fritten?

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    Replies
    1. Glad you enjoyed the post, Saskia. You're right, the fries are just not the same, nor is the chocolate!

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