As you probably know by now, this year I decided to move to Brussels, where my husband was offered a position at the Directorate-General for Translation (DGT) at the European Commission.
So, we arrived in Brussels on 16 February 2017 with some luggage, lots of anxiety and not quite knowing what to expect: the first days were filled with new information, some culture shock and lots and lots to do: finding a home, buying furniture, learning to get around the city. My French is not that fluent and I don’t speak a word of Flemish, so that made things a bit more difficult.
I love traveling and living in another European country seemed nothing less than great, but it turned out to be a bit harder than I expected. The first weeks (months!) weren’t easy. Never having lived abroad, I was a bit homesick and not knowing anyone in town made it all a bit lonely. As I learned recently in a meeting for spouses of EC officials, almost everyone goes through this stage, so that was kind of a relief. Anyway, with my husband working full time in a demanding new position, I was left with all the chores and trying to get back to work as quickly as possible.
Here are some of the ways I found for coping with this transition:
1- Before leaving, let your clients know that your availability will be somewhat reduced for a while. Set a time and be realistic. Don’t assume you’ll be back on track after a day or two, so let your clients know you’ll be reachable but may not have the time to take on as much work as usual.
2- Set up your “office” as soon as possible: even if you’re staying somewhere temporarily until you find a more permanent residence, make it a priority to find a space where you can sit and answer e-mails, check social media, etc… this will give you a sense of routine and normality.
3- Look for a community of translators (chambers, associations, Facebook groups) and start networking. These people will understand some of your struggles and may share some useful tips to help you get settled.
4- Search for coworking spaces: this will give you the opportunity to meet new people in other business fields and give you the chance to get out, talk, relax, and make new friends.
On a more personal note:
5 – Try a little Hygge: if you’re familiar with this Danish trend, do some things that will help you feel cosy. When I came to Brussels, it was still very cold, so I enjoyed snuggling up in a blanket with a hot drink. That gave me a chance to stop and take it all in and feel comfortable at the same time.
6 – Take care of your health: take enough time to rest, try to get all the sleep you need, and avoid the temptation of eating fast food all the time. It may be hard, but try to cook healthy fresh food. Try to do a little exercise whenever you can, even a short walk or some stretching will make you feel better immediately.
7 – Be nice: coming from a different country, you may find other cultures not as welcoming. Don’t take it personally and make an effort to be nice to everyone… sometimes, it’s contagious.
Of course, I’m by no means an expert on living abroad and there are still a lot of aspects to cover when you’re a freelancer and move to a different country (legal and tax issues, for example), but this emotional part was what really affected me the most so I decided to share my ways of coping. Share this article if you think it could be useful to someone who is struggling to adapt to a new country while trying to maintain focused on work. Also, I’d love to hear about some other experiences of living abroad as freelancers and how you managed it. So don’t hesitate to get in touch. Who knows? Maybe we can come up with a complete survival guide!