Time to Start Saying Good-Bye
This isn’t good-bye, au revoir, vaarwel… just yet. But, our farewell to #Brussels is coming.
Jim and I consider Brussels, our residence since January 2014, our home. We made that adjustment fairly quickly.
To make our new life work, we knew that the physical move was only one dimension. In addition, we needed to make a strong emotional connection to #Belgium. And that we did. We both love living here, warts and all. Of course we faced some settling-in pains including my bout with depression, but we forged through those. We’ve both been very productive, working and playing hard, and sharing our new life with many, many visitors and houseguests.
I’ll remember my time here as very fruitful. I’ve written various drafts of three books in Brussels, and with None Shall Sleep set to launch in weeks, I’ll have published two books during our tenure. I also chair the Tuesday night session of the Brussels Writers Circle. Many of our circle of friends come from this talented group of writers. And while not fluent, I can read and converse in French with proficiency. Flemish? Well, that’s another story.
As for Jim, I couldn’t be prouder of the work he’s accomplished. Against all odds and prior roadblocks, he fulfilled a lifelong dream and brought us to Europe. Despite the challenges of working in a culture that isn’t always kind to foreigners, and Americans in particular, Jim never surrendered. An Australian friend and avid golfer describes the anti-American bias—‘Everyone envies the club leader’. Jim works hard, consistently clocking in sixty, seventy and eighty hour work weeks; what he saw as the cost of an Expat life. But working hard is in his nature. He’s smart, focused, tenacious, nurturing and kind—a great leader who pursues results and relationships with equal, uncompromising fervor. He earned the respect of his diverse team who is now bearing the fruits of a longterm strategy. He will leave Brussels in triumph with the satisfaction of knowing that his hard-fought strategy worked.
As good as our life is, change is indeed the only constant. Earlier this year, Jim realized that the project that brought us to Brussels was coming to an end. As with most Expat assignments, the task of finding a new job fell to him. I learned this nuance of Expat life at United Airlines, two decades ago, when I worked in our International Division. Our head of International HR advised our legion of Expats that the task of securing a good job upon repatriation was primarily theirs. They better be good long-distance networkers.
So like many Expats before him, Jim put out feelers to his external network here in Europe. We both knew that the odds of finding a place for an Expat in Europe, with its high costs and own vast pool of talent, would be nearly impossible. But we held out hope. While the prospect of another job in Europe remained a possibility, we avoided discussing a move back to the US. We didn’t want to jinx the chances of remaining in Europe, nor did we want to damage the emotional bond with our new life.
Jim continued to work his network. In early fall, his employer offered him an excellent, new opportunity, a job Jim has wanted for some time. Unfortunately, the position is based in the US. Although disappointed that we can’t stay in our adopted home, Jim and I are preparing for our departure.
Full steam ahead! In four weeks, the movers come to pack up our things for their return trip across the Atlantic. In five weeks, we fly back to Chicago. We’re frantically trying to sell those appliances bought here which are incompatible with the USA’s alternating current. And as we wait, I measure the time remaining: four more Sundays in our beautiful townhouse that we made into a comfortable, welcoming home. We depart two weeks short of our second anniversary of living in Belgium.
Other repatriated Expats have warned us. “Once you tell people you’re leaving, they’ll start treating you as short-termers. That is, if they don’t consider you gone already.” You can understand that reaction. Why invest emotionally in a short-term relationship? In many ways with its huge percentage of Expat residents, (EU and NATO headquarters), Brussels is a city of interminable good-byes.
But this isn’t good-bye yet. Jim and I have a bit more time till our final farewells. I have too many photos, memories and pent-up words not to offer up a valedictory blog at a more appropriate time. The definitive Adios will have to wait. Between now and then, there are still: a month of writing sessions at my favorite cafe, Bocca Moka, three more Tuesdays chairing my local writers’ group; a few more trips to afternoon markets; a couple more outings to our favorite Italian restaurant, Nuovo Rosso; several coffees/teas and maybe wines with our neighbor, Barbara, one more haircut; one last houseguest… Many, many more velcro moments to last a lifetime.
Despite the remaining time, we’ve already started to prepare ourselves emotionally. It’s only natural—smart, healthy, sane. We find the word, ‘home’ that creeps into our conversations refers to both, Brussels and Chicago.
Our thoughts and plans are turning to resettling into our home and rebuilding our lives in Chicago as we shut down our life here. It won’t be easy to say good-bye to the many new friends we made. In a way, our life here is just getting started. Things in Brussels aren’t perfect–sneers versus smiles; poor customer service; a culture slow to welcome outsiders. But Chicago isn’t idyllic either. Every place has its strengths and weaknesses. That’s another healthy perspective one learns from living abroad.
Repatriates have warned us that our return home won’t be smooth or wart free. “You and Jim have changed,” they say. “New experiences, perspectives, insights. But people you left behind won’t understand that. They think you’re stepping right back into your old life.” Stay tuned for more on that subject once we resettle into our house. After all, I’ll need something to blog about.
So although we must say good-bye, Jim and I will leave Brussels having learned valuable lessons about ourselves, and about each other. Our excellent adventure has shown us that we are flexible and can adapt to a new environment. We can survive and flourish outside of our comfort zone. There’s a certain confidence and strength that comes from knowing that about yourself. Most importantly, we learned that, together, we can make our home anywhere. Our home is as much about us as people as it is a physical locale. And how fabulous to learn that the person with whom you’ve decided to share your life is indeed a perfect fit.
So as we prepare to return to Chicago, yes we think about our lovely house that awaits us and our dear family and friends, but we also ponder the inevitable questions. When will our Brussels friends visit, and what will be our next adventure?