Two weeks was the longest I’d ever been away from Western Pennsylvania until I moved to Belgium.
Today marks my third year living here: my third anniversary (which is the leather anniversary, hence the title) as an expat.
Three years ago I spoke one, and only one language. I knew about 20 words in French and how to count to ten in several other languages, and colors in Spanish thanks to Dora the Explorer.
Now I speak English and Dutch and can operate semi-functionally in very basic French. I can also understand chunks of German news reports and advertising.
Three years ago I couldn’t imagine going anywhere if it wasn’t in my car. The bus scared me and bikes were toys of childhood, meant for racing friends down steep hills and jumping homemade ramps.
Now I’ve lived virtually car-free since moving here. My main means of daily transport are my 6 speed bike and the Flemish department of public transportation (trams and buses).
Three years ago, had you asked me if I wanted to go have a drink, I’d have assumed you meant a night out binge drinking on the southside of Pittsburgh. If you had mentioned sitting out on a terrace, I’d have just looked at you quizzically.
Now I find sitting out on a terrace with a view on a city square or a waterfront with a nice glass of pineau or a cold Rodenbach the perfect way to spend an early evening out. Unless it’s cold, of course. Then I opt for a seat indoors with a koffie verkeerd or a cup of tea.
Three years ago, a fifteen minute walk was long, annoying, and often not worth bothering with. If it took that long to walk somewhere, you could make it less than half the time if you took a car, so why walk?
Now, I often prefer the half hour walk home from the city center as opposed to taking the bus. Even the hour long walk home from the train station isn’t bad if the weather is decent and I’m not carrying anything too heavy. It’s not abnormal anymore to go on a walk just for the sake of walking.
Three years ago there was HOME and there was here. When I was upset or tired or lonely, I immediately pined for HOME and hated here.
Now, there is home and there is home. I confess, there are still times when I get utterly fed up and long for home: for my parents and my friends and my old job and so many of the familiar things I grew up with my whole life. But there are plenty of times when I think about home and that means thinking about Belgium, more specifically Gent.
One of the few things that has stayed the same over the past three years is that no matter where I go, what language I speak, what lifestyle I grow accustomed to, there is one essential component necessary for me to live a happy life: