Paloma is from Spain but moved to Belgium in 2015. She has been living there ever since.
This is her expat story.
Tell us about your expat move.
So it started when I did an Erasmus study year in Gent. After the summer, I met my boyfriend during a festival. I kind of thought that Belgium would be a nice place to come back to but I still had to finish my studies back in Valencia. I spent one year in a long distance relationship with him before deciding to make the move.
It wasn’t a difficult decision for me, I felt very welcome in the very first moment I came to Belgium. I felt it was a nice place and I was in love with both the country and of course my boyfriend! So that’s how I ended up here and it was almost 5 years ago now.
What was it like settling into living in Belgium?
My story is maybe a bit different to others because during the year that I had being in a long-distance relationship, I got to come and visit Belgium a few times. So when I moved, I kind of already knew the people here and knew about what the culture was like.
I felt very welcome by my boyfriend’s friends and family here. I always thought the linguistic aspect of living in Belgium was always very good. There are three official languages here.
I liked it a lot, especially because I speak French and English, and almost everyone speaks English here. I was attracted to the fact that learning another language, Dutch, would be great for my career.
I’m a translator and right now, I translate from Dutch to Spanish. So that was really cool!
I just also very attracted by the lifestyle here. People really like to enjoy. As Spanish people, we like to go out, and attend parties and events, and all those sorts of things. But here as well, whenever there is sunshine, people like to go out and enjoy.
There is a great feeling of socialising here. There is a lot of getting together and spending time together. For me, that was really nice and helped me to feel at home.
Was there anything you missed from Spain?
Well, one thing would be that Belgian people like to do many things and everything has to be planned in advance, in my home-town, I would maybe just call one of my friends and go and meet. Here, things are a bit more planned out in advance.
Also the climate, the rainy days were quite tough in the beginning and winter can be quite hard.
Even in Valencia, it is very sunny in the winter so that affected my mood. It still does affect my mood if I don’t see the sun all week!
So I would say definitely the weather and spontaneity.
What have been some of the biggest highlights from your expat journey so far?
Belgium has given me almost five years of professional and personal growth. I feel very settled in my life here. I purchased an apartment together with my boyfriend.
I have some really good friends here and make me hardly miss my life in Valencia. I am happy to go back there and visit but I am also happy here. I have a good social network here and I can say that I really feel at home here. For me, that is most important!
What advice would you give to those considering an expat move?
Definitely learning the local language is very important. It really helps to become part of a country and I think you need to speak the language. I feel like learning the languages has really helped me to adjust and be myself.
The more you can be connected to the people that will help and I think the people really appreciate it a lot too. You can really settle quickly just by integrating and by learning the language.
How much do you enjoy your role in Cigna?
When I moved to Belgium, I signed my contract at Cigna one week later. I was so grateful for everything that they did for me, all my colleagues that helped me so much. I learned a lot from my experienced colleagues.
Also during my time here at Cigna, I was granted a two-month deployment to Cigna’s office in Nairobi to train the communications team. This was an unforgettable experience! It was, apart from meeting amazing colleagues, the highlight of my working experience at Cigna.
The way that I have grown in my role is really great and there is a long list of things I am grateful for at Cigna!
Finally, how would you describe your expat journey in 10 words or less?
Amazing people, great memories and so much fun!