Flemish people through the eyes of a Korean expat

Eun Jung Lee is a South-Korean who is now living a happy life in Belgium. Coming from New York, she settled with her husband and children in Antwerp. "I am fascinated about how diverse the city is." Eun Jung is looking forward to the clash between Korea and Belgium at the football World Cup, although it will be very emotional. "Maybe one daughter will support Belgium with daddy, while the other will stick with me and support South-Korea."

This is the final report in a series of 3 for the occasion of the Brazil World Cup in football. After highlighting the Algerian and Russian community in Belgium, the focus is on South-Korea now.

It started in New York

Eun Jung met her Belgian husband in New York, where she took a Master in English Education at New York University. They later travelled to London for work, but decided to move to Antwerp - where her family-law lives - in 2010.

She picked up the Dutch language through the Linguapolis language programme at the Universiteit Antwerpen - "I took level 3 and I passed!" - and also followed an integration course. She teaches Korean at the Korean cultural centre in Brussels (photos) and has two daughters. 

A Fleming: different from an average Dutchman or American

Moving to Antwerp gave their life a new direction. "Until then, Antwerp had been like a holiday scene to me. We had travelled there for Easter or Christmas. Suddenly it became a real deal. I had to learn the language, and get to know the people and culture."

The Flemish people were quite different from Dutch or American people, Eun Jung soon found out. "Americans are very open-minded, talkative and emotional. It's different here. I remember I told a Flemish friend I would have a baby. She just said "good!", while an American would have jumped up and got emotional. On the other hand, Flemings are less superficial."

"Flemings are very calm people. It takes a while to build a kind of deeper relationship with them, but once you get to know them, you know you can really count on them. They will be very supportive if something happens."

"A good quality of life"

Flanders is also a good place to get some quality in life, Eun Jung explains, in the sense that there is more time to develop your life and to do things outside your work.

"In Korea we work very hard. Taking up 4 weeks of holiday per year like in Belgium is not done. 1 or 2 weeks is the maximum. They take it for granted that you work weekends. Koreans usually don't leave from work unless their boss has left first."

"Americans also really work very hard, while in London, my husband was working up to 12 hours a day. We decided to move to Belgium. Belgians take their work seriously, but also take their holidays seriously. You have a good quality of life. And I think the work efficiency is higher here in Belgium than, for example, in America."

"Your school system is excellent"

It's really working out for Eun Jung and her family in Antwerp. Apart from the family link and her husband's plans in starting up a clean technology venture, it was Belgium's good educational system and health care that brought her to Flanders. "My husband told me several times how good the education was that he received."

"The Flemish school system is really convenient. The children can stay there before and after school hours, which gives you, as a parent, more time. Flemish schools are good, and not expensive. It's almost free. And there's the high level of good solid Flemish education. Apart from that, Flemings have good work ethics and culture." 

There is a big difference with Korean culture though. "In Korea, business really goes really fast. Hurry up, we often say. We are very efficient. If you want to order flowers or a gift set, it goes fast. Here in Belgium, it's different. When your lamp breaks and you need to have it fixed, it can take up to two weeks!"

Fascinated by Antwerp's diversity

Eun Jung is fascinated by Antwerp's cultural diversity and how the different nationalities and cultures live together - Antwerp is on number 2 of the world's most diverse cities when you look at nationalities. "

"You can walk through the Lange Leemstraat and pass an Orthodox Jew, and next a Moroccan family. The city has a sizeable Chinese community and welcomes refugees from Asia, Africa etc."

"The former Burgomaster Patrick Janssens made this slogan which said "De Stad is van iedereen" (The city belongs to everyone), which I really embraced."

When football becomes a family matter

Eun Jung is an ardent World Cup football fan. She is really looking forward to the game between Belgium and South-Korea in Brazil. "It will be very emotional. I may start to scream."

Things are rather delicate though, considering she is married to a Belgian and living in Belgium. "People already wished us good luck with our marriage. And what about our two daughters? Maybe one will stick with daddy, and one with mum."

Do South-Korea stand a good chance to beat Belgium? The question is a tricky one for Eun Jung, although that doesn't stop her from choosing Korea. "You know, we Koreans have a rich past and a rich culture and we are proud of this. I believe more in the Korean team than in Belgium. (...) I hope this won't be a problem! (smiles)"

Korean culture in Brussels

There are about 850 registered Koreans living in Belgium, explains Eun Jung. "One group is here to study, while a second big group is here because they married a Belgian, or to work. Many students are staying at the Catholic Leuven University KUL. Art and music are popular subjects, and let's not forget Antwerp's Fashion Institute." 

There are also a couple of Korean churches in Brussels. "They organise a kind of "bazar",  a big annual event where you can get to know Korean culture, and taste Korean dishes."

However, as a whole, the Korean group in Belgium is rather small. While we have a small China town in Brussels or Antwerp, there is no such thing as a particular Korean town.