Belgian Expat Living in France - Interview with Maya

Published: 24 Mar at 9 AM
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Filed: Interviews,France
Born to Belgian parents in the Middle East, Maya moved to Belgium when she was 3 months old and, except for a year spent in the US when she was 4, has lived all her life in Brussels. That is until she moved to France mid-2013. In another lifetime she was an HR professional and for 14 years worked for international banks. It all changed when she moved to the country next door, from the bubbling Brussels life to the somewhat calmer, greener and well, let's say it, countryside life in Chantilly, just North of Paris. Maya's expat blog is called A Belgian abroad (see listing here)

Here's the interview with Maya...


Where are you originally from?
I am from Brussels, Belgium where I grew up and lived until our move abroad.

In which country and city are you living now?
In live in France. In Chantilly to be precise, a small town located about 40 km North of Paris.

How long have you lived in France and how long are you planning to stay?
We've been in France for almost 4 years and I wish we could move and discover a new country in the coming months! But as you can't foresee everything in life I actually don't know how long we'll be here for! In the meantime I try to enjoy everything France has to offer.

Me (Maya)
Me (Maya)
Why did you move to France and what do you do?
I moved for (or because of) my husband's job. His company offered him a job in Paris he couldn't refuse. We had always wanted to live abroad so we jumped on the occasion. Back in Brussels I was working in the banking sector. At the time of our move I decided to take some time off. A bit later I reinvented myself and launched a food blog in French as I love writing, cooking and eating. I discovered the world of blogging and liked it so much I created a second blog, in English this time. Running 2 blogs in parallel, in 2 different languages and on 2 very different topics keeps me busy. It feels like I have a full time job!

Did you bring family with you?
Yes, I moved with my husband and our 2 kids.

How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
At first it was not too complicated. The common language was definitely something that helped. We understood everything that was going on, could follow the news on TV and read the local newspaper. Moving with our own furniture helped us settling in the house we had chosen and gave us a sense of home. It felt familiar. We moved at the beginning of the summer school break which was a good timing as I took advantage of our summer to explore the area with the kids, making sure we knew our way around and giving us a feeling of ownership of our new town and region. But then reality kicked in. Not having friends in the area was definitely the hardest part. Being alone at home once the kids went back to school and my husband was at work was not easy. I though it would be "simple" to meet the locals and make friends, especially with the kids being in a public school. It was not at all the case and I pretty much felt really lonely the first year of our stay in France.

Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
Despite the fact that I am quite a sociable person and speak the local language, it was difficult to make friends with locals. After a year I encountered the expat community in Chantilly and met my friends. So yes, I mostly hang out with expats.

Typical house in Brussels
Typical house in Brussels
What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
At the top of my list of places to visit and not to miss is the Chantilly domain. I particularly love the park around the castle. It has different settings depending on the direction you take when entering it. Some areas are more bucolic than others. There is a play area for kids with a big vegetal maze that is a lot of fun (I always get lost in there!). Once there you must eat Chantilly cream at the Hameau (in the middle of the park). It is quite expensive BUT, oh my, is that the best Chantilly cream you’ll ever eat! This coming from someone who doesn’t actually like Chantilly cream that much! Inside the castle you’ll find a large painting collection with pieces by famous artists. With a ticket to the domain you can also access the big stables and the horse museum. I also recommend this visit: the building has been renovated and is worth seeing, they present a very interesting collection of artwork from all over the world in connection with horses at different periods. You can also see a horse show under a big dome. This should fill your day!

What do you enjoy most about living in France?
Chantilly offers a great quality of life, especially for families. There are many options for after-school activities (sports, arts, music, ...). The forest surrounding the city makes it a green area perfect for outdoor activities. France is a beautiful country offering a vast variety of landscapes. Plenty of areas to discover and to fall in love with.

How does the cost of living in France compare to home?
Housing is definitely more expensive in Chantilly than in Brussels. Food is somewhat cheaper. After-school activities are more expensive, especially the music school. The tax on revenue is definitely not as high in France as it was in Belgium (but at the same time Belgium is known for the almost 50% tax on revenue, so not that hard to do better)! All in all we find it a bit cheaper to live in France compared to Belgium.

Chantilly castle and its reflection (upside down view)
Chantilly castle and its reflection (upside down view)
What negatives, if any, are there to living in France?
Chantilly is a fairly small town, great for families but a bit on the downside for cultural activities. After a while it can get a bit boring. If you are a positive person, the way people approach life can be a bit depressing (everything seems to be complicated for them and they definitely fear change). We find there are a lot of rules and many times you will get a "no" or "not possible" when you ask for something.

If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving to France, what would it be?
Be patient with all administrative tasks, everything takes time but you'll get there. Prepare yourself for the "half-empty glass" approach of life.

What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
Seeing my "expat" friends leave, it is always complicated as they represent so much more than friends. On another note, adapting to the French school system was not an easy task (both for us as parents and for our children).

When you finally return home, how do you think you'll cope with repatriation?
I don't want to go home!

What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
  1. Reinvent yourself.
    Reinventing yourself is a key factor in succeeding when moving abroad. Many people start a blog, do voluntary work, find a new hobby, develop artistic skills. It is vital to have a purpose to get going so dedicate some time to finding that one thing that takes you there!
  2. Wherever you go there is one thing you should not do under any circumstances: do not, I repeat, do not underestimate the culture shock you will experience! Seriously, don't underestimate it, ever! Even if you “only” move to the country next door (trust me on that one!). Even if you master the local language and, even better, if it is your mother tongue! Culture shock is so much more than that. It is about discovering your local supermarket, the way locals drive and therefore how you should cross the street, the mentality, the local customs, the eating habits and schedule, how they approach life (do they look at the world through a half-full or half-empty glass?), the climate... Similar is definitely not the same. My advice: spot, embrace and accept those differences, the sooner the better!
  3. Find the right way to balance expectations (yours and other people's)
    Expatriation is all about finding the right balance between the here (where you live) and there (where you come from), your desires and the expectations of those close to you back home.
  4. Friendships.
    Eventually you will make new friends and rush head first into those relationships with all your heart and they will become your everything. You will discover the fabulous and unsuspected support network of expats (worldwide, not only where you live). Some of those friendships will be temporary patches; others will be the real thing and last for life.
    At the same time be prepared to see your friendships from back home evolve, you might gain some friends but you might lose some as well.
  5. Be kind to yourself!
Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
On my blog "A belgian abroad" I write about my life as an expat. Some articles are related to my experience in France, others are more about the expat life in general. Some texts are very short and humorous, others are longer and more serious. I also interview expats all over the world to discuss their experience, how they perceive their new home, how their views of their home country might have changed and so on. I publish these interviews weekly or every other week.

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
You can contact me through my blog (http://www.abelgianabroad.com/about/) or by sending me a message on my Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/1abelgianabroad/). You can also get in touch with me via Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/onebelgianabroad/).

About the author

Expat Blog ListingMaya is a Belgian expat living in France. Blog description: A foreigner's musings. I am experimenting the French way of living and sharing my discoveries! But mostly I am working on a big project, meeting with expats and interviewing them to better understand what expatriation implies.
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