Exploring Expat Life with Cheeseweb

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

What's one of the most challenging things you can do in life? For some, it's moving to another country. While it might seem like an ideal (who hasn't read Peter Mayle?), life in another country isn't all roses (not many books get published about the nitty gritty). But, as many have found, it's more than worth the effort. Since I lived in Japan, I've been all for the joys and challenges of living in another country. And, I can't wait to move overseas again (maybe Europe this time). Our New Expat Living Editor, Alison Cornford-Matheson, will be sharing stories of expat life in Europe (among other things) in her articles here on Wandering Educators. I'd like to introduce our Wandering Educators to her extraordinary resource for Expat life and travel, Cheeseweb.eu (What a great name!).

 

 

WE: Please tell us about your site, Cheeseweb.eu...

ACM: CheeseWeb is a combination of all of the things I am passionate about: Travel, photography, food, art and expat life. I am the primary writer and I try to keep things very personal and honest. I write about my travels, favourite restaurants and hotels, and my struggles and triumphs in my expat life in Brussels.


My husband, Andrew writes about all things technology-related that are of interest to expats and travellers. We also have some great guest post writers, covering everything from art to travel destinations to how to write about your own expat and travel adventures.


We have an active community of expats from around the world who comment and share their own experiences as well.

 

Groot Bijgaarden Castle


Groot Bijgaarden Castle (Grand Bigard in French) is open to the public each spring. The beautiful tulip gardens are located just outside Brussels, Belgium

 

 

WE: What was the genesis of your site?

ACM: CheeseWeb began way back in 2004, when my husband was on a temporary work assignment in Amsterdam. My blog was essentially both a letter home to friends and family and a journal so I could remember our experiences. I dubbed it CheeseWeb as a nod to the delicious Dutch cheeses. We enjoyed the 3 month assignment so much, we decided to try living in Europe on a more permanent basis. A year later we found ourselves flying back to Amsterdam to start our European life.


I resurrected CheeseWeb to stay in touch with family and as a place to share my struggles with life as an expat. What I found though, was a group of expats, around the world, who were reading my posts and sharing their own experiences. It became a real lifeline for me during the first difficult years.


As I settled in to expat life and began to fall in love with Belgium, CheeseWeb became my way of giving back to new expats. It has become a resource for expats in Belgium and elsewhere.

CheeseWeb has also evolved into much more of a travel blog. As both Andrew and I are fortunate to travel for both work and pleasure, we want to share these travel experiences with our CheeseWeb community. We've found that our readers enjoy exploring the world as much as we do.

 

The Belgian Royal Greenhouse is over 2.5 hectares of stunning gardens. It is open to the public each spring for several weeks.

The Belgian Royal Greenhouse is over 2.5 hectares of stunning gardens. It is open to the public each spring for several weeks.

 

 

WE: Life as an Expat is so very different from traveling. What are the biggest challenges you see for Expats?

ACM: As a traveller, you get to experience all of the fun aspects of a place, without really having to deal with the day to day issues. Although you are living in a place that is foreign and glamorous to friends back home, as an expat, you still have to do the laundry, pay the bills, go to work and often deal with mountains of paperwork - and you have to figure out how to do all of this in a different language and culture. At the same time, you have to make new friends, establish networks and still try to maintain your relationships with people back in your home country.


As you spend more time as an expat, you find yourself caught between two worlds. You will never really be a native of your new country but you find you don't quite fit in your home country either.

 

Brussels' famous square, Grand Place, is a magical place at Christmas time. An electric light and music show runs each evening for visitors to enjoy.

Brussels' famous square, Grand Place, is a magical place at Christmas time. An electric light and music show runs each evening for visitors to enjoy.

 

 

WE: What are the best parts of living in Belgium?

ACM: Although Brussels is often overshadowed by its more glamorous neighbours like Amsterdam, Paris and London, it's actually a great place to base your life in Europe.

·         It is more affordable to live in than the aforementioned cities.

·         It is extremely central and makes a great base for travelling. With several major airports, rail connections with the Thalys and Eurostar and with a 2 hour drive in any direction, you find yourself in another country.

·         Belgian cuisine is fantastic and, particularly in Brussels, you can find food from just about any country in the world.

·         The are many established networks and resources for expats here. With the EU, NATO and countless embassies, NGOs and international company headquarters based in Belgium, there is a huge expat community with lots of people willing to help out newcomers.

 

Vouliagmeni, Greece, near Athens stole my heart during a recent visit.

Vouliagmeni, Greece, near Athens stole my heart during a recent visit.

 

 

WE: What are your favourite places in Europe (and why?)?

ACM: This is a tough question because there are very few places I've visited that I haven't loved. As far as cities go, Amsterdam will always be my first love. I was also very taken with Barcelona and, although it took some time, Paris is a favourite as well.


For natural beauty I love the south of France, both the Provence area but also the Aquitaine region. The people there are warm and friendly and the food and wines are spectacular.


In the past year, I've had fantastic short trips to Sardinia, the southern region of Poland and mainland Greece. I would go back to each of them in a heartbeat.

 

Sunset over Alghero in Sardinia was a magical sight I was able to photograph this past spring.

Sunset over Alghero in Sardinia was a magical sight I was able to photograph this past spring.

 

 

WE: How can travelers get connected with locals, while traveling?

ACM: This isn't always an easy thing to do, especially if your time is limited. The best tip is to go where the locals go. See the tourist sites, by all means, but venture to some of the places that aren't in your guide books. Check out local blogs and see where people are going. When you get there, ignore your mother's advice and actually talk to strangers.


Some of the best resources for where the locals go are cabbies, bus drivers and the staff at your hotel. One of our best meals in Malta was a very unassuming seafood restaurant. We asked our bus driver were he would go for lunch. It wasn't a place we ever would have gone on our own, but it was perfect.

 

A recent visit to the southern border of Poland afforded some amazing photographic opportunities

A recent visit to the southern border of Poland afforded some amazing photographic opportunities

 

 

WE: What tips do you have for people just starting the expat life?

ACM: The internet is your friend. These days there are lots of blogs and resources for expats. Research your new location and try to connect with bloggers in the area. You might even consider starting your own blog.


But be patient and easy on yourself too. All the research in the world won't prepare you for everything. There will be hard days (months even). You will get lonely, frustrated, homesick and even depressed. It's common and it will get better. Try to reward yourself for the little triumphs like taking public transportation for the first time or a successful trip to the grocery store.

 

The ruins of Montaigle castle in the Wallonian region of Belgium are a popular picnic spot

The ruins of Montaigle castle in the Wallonian region of Belgium are a popular picnic spot

 

 

WE: Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?

ACM: If you are thinking of expatriating just go for it. It's a life changing experience. True, it's not for everyone but you'll never know if you don't give it a go. Worst case scenario you find it's not for you and you move home. Best case scenario is you discover a whole new lifestyle and are fortunate enough to have more than one place to call home.

 

 

WE: Thanks so much, Alison! We LOVE your site and highly recommend it to our Wandering Educators.


For more information, please see:
http://cheeseweb.eu/

Feature photo: Although it looks like Tokyo, the Japanese Tower is actually located in Brussels, Belgium


All photos courtesy and copyright Alison Cornford-Matheson

 

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