Expats in Flanders: in love with the country and a Belgian guy

Robyn Boyle is a journalist from Michigan in the US. She has lived in Flanders for the past eight years, first in Ghent and now in the countryside just outside of the city. Robyn describes Belgium like a cosy, gourmet and surreal country.

Robyn: “The decision was an easy one for me, as I was only 23 when I came to Brussels for a three-month internship. I ended up falling in love with the country... and a guy from Ghent. I think I'm here for good, at least I hope so.”

Like at home

“I have mixed feelings about people in Belgium. Some are welcoming, others not so much. You have to be strong to carve out a niche for yourself in Belgium; don't expect anyone to hold your hand.

It's taken a long time but now I can finally say I do have quite a few wonderful friends, including some locals but most are fellow expats. When I meet other Americans, it's like coming home. I can be myself, they get my sense of humour and they're laid-back - just the way I like it.”

Everyday fun

“I love living in Belgium because it's so festive. All over Belgium at any given time, you'll find that there are countless festivals and fun events going on. You have overabundant access to culture in the cities, folky cosiness in the villages and nature in between. I've lived in France and Greece before, but nothing compares to the diversity of Belgium.”

“We are really friendly!”

“I don't want to list clichés but there's some truth in the fact that Americans are friendly and Belgians are, well, not really. Belgians like to call our 'friendliness' superficial, but I disagree. You can strike up a conversation with strangers everywhere you go in the States. It's not meant to be deep and meaningful, but simply pleasant.

On the other hand, Belgians are very family oriented and quick to help one another out. I quite like that, as opposed to the typical staunch American individualism.”

It’s time to move out!

“Did I notice strange Belgian habits? Well, they don't seem so strange to me anymore, but the first thing to make an impression on me was the number of people still living at home with their parents up into their 20s and 30s. Most Americans get their own place the minute they turn 18. It makes sense, though, almost all Belgians end up owning a house at some point.

But then, most conversations revolve around money and renovations. I don't think this would be such a hot topic among my American friends. We tend to have more gypsy blood.”

Flemish fairytale

“My favourite place in Belgium, besides my beloved Ghent of course, is the area called the Flemish Ardennes. It's green and hilly and dotted with wind- and watermills, church towers and knotted willow trees. A typical pastoral Flemish landscape, in other words, and ideal place for long walks and bike rides which always end up on some small-town terrace with a cheese platter and a local beer.”

Advice for newcomers

“Dive in there head-first! Learn the languages the best you can; this will open doors. Be humble and willing to take on any and all work that comes your way. And smile, even when others don't.”

European trip

“This is a very special summer for me because my older sister, who lives in California, is coming to visit for the first time. We will have ten days together to explore Belgium and surrounding countries such as Switzerland, Italy and France. That's my big trip this summer!

For the rest, I'm just happy with a few long weekends here and there to take my dogs camping in the woods in the south of Belgium.”

Interview by Irina Rasskazova