Moving to Belgium, the case of the trailing spouse
Moving to another country, away from one’s own is a big leap of faith. Higher education, employment opportunities, entrepreneurship requirements, wanderlust…any of these could inspire a move. Moving abroad - be it as a single person or as a family has its own unique challenges.
The case of the trailing spouse needs some special attention. In their own nation, every individual can and does live up to their full potential more easily because it’s home ground. Moving countries come with their own baggage of stresses, learning and multi-fold adjustments, and none feels this more than the spouse who stays at home.
Unlike their working spouses, he/she does not have access to a transition support system typically facilitated by work place or helpful colleagues. Often the trailing spouse feels lost - left grappling with empty hours to fill in a new country, at least in the beginning. Especially when one has younger kids, one feels the need of having a social structure in place, some friends to call on, some informal support systems to get you going. Lack of these make one feel isolated, and can often result in depression, loss of self-esteem…
For anyone who has just moved here, the commune of the place where you live is a first stop to seek information. The integration programme or ‘Inburgering’ offered by commune gives information on living in Belgium – covering health, education, administration, employment, etc. Besides trying to find a job, there are lots of things one can look at based on the time and interests one has.
There are language schools run by commune, and private schools for those who want to pick up a new language and develop first nodding acquaintances. Most communes have a library and an academy which offers courses for music, art, dance, etc, open to children as well as adults. The commune sports Halls also offer many sports activities for children and adults alike. If higher studies is your interest area, it can be a great investment of time … many trailing spouses have reskilled in this manner, increasing their employment chances post a Belgian degree.
For expectant couples and families with young children there is the Brussels Childbirth Trust and its associated coffee circles in different communes which can be a good place to network. If your child/ren go to a crèche/school, that is one way you get out of home and meet with other parents. Volunteering with parent groups for school is also a good way to meet people.
For the Indian diaspora in Belgium there are numerous groups and associations now than before. One can register with the Indian Embassy by email to be invited for events/cultural programmes organised by the Embassy. There are many groups (via Facebook) where one can connect with fellow Indians like IndiansinBelgium, Brussles Indian Ladies Events (BILE), Indian Confluence, Indian Student Association of Leuven (ISAL)…to name a few. The IECB (Indian Education Center Belgium) is a weekend school for Indian children and parents, a community initiative with a primary objective to promote and preserve Indian culture for the younger generation.
Moving abroad often has a filtered Instagram pics connotation. Transition is never easy and takes time. Take your time. Slowly, expand your comfort zones. In adult lives, it is often not so simple to find like-minded people and friends for life probably take a lifetime to make. Look for broader circle of friends or acquaintances based on common interests/hobbies, as they tend to be more enduring. A running group, swimming group, baking group, Scouts-parents group, photography group, etc …should work well. Meetups.com offers many interests based networking options. Pursue any or all creative passions you have – drawing, writing, blogging, photography, learning languages, experimenting with local produce, yoga, etc. Be happy with small successes you have made in feeling at home in your new address. Be mindful of all those who have helped you in getting acclimatised to the new way of life and pass on the good deed to anybody else in your shoes. Journal your journey through the phase, and enjoy the newness of it all.