Darya (26), from Ukraine, in Brussels since 2017
“Four years ago, I arrived here on a student visa. There were a few universities in the running, but I’m so happy I decided on the VUB. I felt comfortable from the first moment I got here, in this city, in this country – and I still do!
Not having an EU nationality makes it really hard to stay in Belgium after finishing your studies. When you have just graduated, getting a work visa is mission impossible. As a sort of an in-between solution, I was lucky to get a traineeship at EUROCONTROL, which lasted six months. But after that, the quest to stay in Belgium started all over again.
When I ran out of options, the only way to solve that problem (in my personal situation) was through the help of my boyfriend: to get married. It was sooner than we normally would have, but we were in a loving and committed relationship. The wedding didn’t change anything in our relationship, but it took a lot of practical obstacles out of the way.
We live in Anderlecht, on the border with Flanders. We have a view of the fields, in the middle of nature, with horses running around. You wouldn’t expect that it’s still Brussels, but the city center is easy to reach. As my husband grew up in the countryside and I come from Kyiv, it’s a perfect combination; it has all the advantages of living close to nature, with access to the city. I never want to give that up – I love big cities. Brussels might not be the same size as Kyiv, but it’s big enough for me.”
“It’s a challenge to leave the EU neighbourhood. I notice that some of the expats don’t take the time to explore Belgium, even though they’ve lived here for decades. Especially EU citizens, who take every holiday as an opportunity to travel back home.
I didn’t realize this before I came to Belgium, but there also is a huge diaspora of Russians and Ukrainians here. It surprised me, because for people coming from Eastern Europe, Belgium is not on top of the list of countries to come live in, study in, or even visit as a tourist.
I’m trying to change the perception of Belgium by talking about my personal experiences on Instagram, to show people from other countries that it’s worth coming to Belgium to live here, to study here or just to visit. I want to convey a positive image and experience, talking about my personal story and discoveries.
The lockdowns forced expats to see things in a different light and discover the country we live in. I grab every opportunity I have to tell others how many places there are to explore – the list is endless. Every weekend, I visit something new. After four years, my list of places to go is nowhere near finished!”