Marine is someone I would call a serial expat as she’s been living this adventurous life since she was 2 years old when her family left her birth country, Belgium! After growing up in Africa she spent her teenage years in France and is now established in the US with her husband and their little girl. Marine describes herself as a World Citizen. Reading Marine’s interview you will discover expatriation can be a family trait and tradition passed on from one generation to the next. I have actually never met Marine in person or even talk to her! We are both part of Facebook group for bloggers. When I asked my virtual friends if they would be interested in taking part to my project Marine immediately said yes and we communicated through written exchanges. Reading her life story I clearly understand why! Marine is definitely an expat at heart. When referring to her home country, sometimes it is France, other times Belgium and sometimes both at the same time…
Marine, tell us a bit about you!
I am a 25-year old Belgian born in Brussels and I’ve been discovering the world since my early childhood. I met Mathis, my now-husband, in Rennes (France) almost 10 years ago; he is French and comes from Brittany. We got married in September 2014 and are parents to a little girl, Nora, who was born here in Philadelphia in November 2015. All in all I have spent very little time in Belgium. Traveling is my motto, I get depressed when I don’t explore the world. Yes, that bad! I have a permanent need for renewal and routine is definitely not something for me. I aspire to become a self-entrepreneur event organizer and I’m pretty happy to be in the US for that! I like photography, cooking, baking and I am really into home deco. I organize and plan everything I do to the point that sometimes I wonder if I don’t have OCD. But I’m working on it!
Do you think you always had it in you to live abroad?
For me it was obvious, yes! Since the cradle I grew up in that universe. Everyday I am thankful for my parents to have dared embracing expatriation and its way of living; especially at a time when it was a much more complicated experience and hard one to live compared to nowadays.
Is this your first experience abroad?
No, my first experience abroad was in 1993. Two years after I was born my parents took me to Nigeria. I’ve been an expat ever since! It’s a family trait that goes back to my paternal grandparents! They lived in Rwanda when my dad was a kid. I spent 11 beautiful years of my childhood in Lagos. In 2004 my father was transferred to Rennes in France where I pursued my studies, from middle school to higher education. A great traveler at heart I studied tourism. In 2009 I fell in love and we got married in 2014 before moving to Philadelphia (USA) in 2015. Today I have tons of projects in my head, as always! Some are more concrete than others.
Did you embark on the expat adventure on your own, as a couple or as a family? How did it impact your move?
I left with my husband and a baby in my belly! I don’t think I would have moved on my own to the US, I would have probably chosen another continent and would have gone exploring the world backpacking; something I intend to do later on but on a holiday mode as I still have so many countries left to discover. Having my own family I found it to be a wiser choice to settle down in a more “stable” country (if you can call it that!). Being with my husband and daughter makes the experience a little bit easier; it helped me more than once get over darker periods because sometimes the lack of support and the distance with our families is really hard to bear.
What made you move to the US?
We came here through my husband’s work. In 2014 rumor had it there would be some projects and opportunities in the US. It didn’t take long for me to encourage him to apply! I needed to move abroad, it was vital for me. At the time I wasn’t professionally fulfilled in France and didn’t see any solution to that “issue”. My husband had only lived in France but had travelled which is already something. I told him straight we needed to go for it: it would boost his career and our life. Philadelphia was not “our” choice per se as it was picked to be not too far from his work but we are really happy with it, we prefer a more “provincial” city. New York for example would have been too much for us, it is a nice place to visit but that’s it, not to live in!
In your opinion, what facilitated your move in terms of settling in? On the contrary, what made it a bit more complicated than expected?
To be honest, integration doesn’t come that naturally. One would be wrong to think that because they are moving to the US their life will be easier thinking people are more welcoming, open-minded and son on. It turned out that the American who is generally speaking smiling, positive, happy, welcoming in the movies is not necessarily all of that in real life! When you meet them you can actually observe those traits but then, suddenly, there is no one to help you. I wasn’t expecting that and it was really hard getting used to. You tend to think their behavior is fake when in fact it isn’t, it’s just part of their culture. That’s how it is. You have no choice but kick yourself in the buttocks to not let yourself be defeated and move forward! One thing though, don’t get me wrong, I really like Americans, they are much more than what I just mentioned! But it forced us to meet with other expats from all over the world; we need to stick together! Social networks really helped us connect with the expat community whether through Facebook groups, my Instagram account or my blog Flying to the USA (temporarily on hold). Some of the people who contacted me through my blog have actually become close friends in real life. We share many good moments with them and when the moral is a bit down we support each other, which is priceless when living an expat life!
Any experience related to cultural differences that surprised you?
I have so many stories it is difficult to pick one! What I find most shocking is that in some states it feels like you went back in time 40 years. Electric cables hang from poles, everywhere, visible to all; coins called “tokens” are used for the metro instead of tickets; you can walk around in your pajamas all day long and no one cares or judges! Everyone is wearing sweatpants (I can’t stand them!). Partying from 4PM till 2AM is hard, what happened to partying until 6 in the morning at the earliest?!!! The policy of “the child is king” rules everything here: don’t try to orally reprimand your child in public when (s)he does something silly, they will scowl you.
Have you experienced the work culture in your host country?
I haven’t worked yet but will soon obtain my work permit. I would like to start working so that my daughter can attend (the utterly expensive) daycare. I would also like to put some money aside to enroll in a wedding planner training at the Temple University in Philly. This certification is recognized worldwide and is much cheaper than the ones in France or Europe.
Do you consider yourself as an expat?
Oh yes. I have difficulties finding and defining my identity. I consider myself to be a world citizen. It is also classier I find!
What role do social medias play in your life if any and mostly, how do they impact your expatriation?
Social networks are very important for me, I am constantly connected, on top of it, ready! In fact I take a lot of pictures, it is my way of communicating with my close ones. With some of them we don’t necessarily call each other frequently but I publish as many pictures as possible to show them our everyday life. Instagram and Facebook are definitely the winners: they are at the top of the podium! They allow me to stay in touch with my family and friends back home and to meet other expats or even locals. It is really great.
In a few words, Belgium (or France, as you wish) is ….
The past. We find it hard to project ourselves (short-term that is) in our respective home countries. But it mostly remains linked to where our families live. We will always go back there although not every year, unfortunately.
When did you visit Belgium/France last? Missing anything from there?
I went back in September 2016 and then again in December 2016. Honestly, what I missed the most was family and friends. I had not been back for a year and that is what, as an expat, I miss the most. After that come the futile little things such as cheeses, wine, good bread, childhood candies, chocolate! Although all of that can be sent in a parcel by mail or ordered on Amazon, the famous platform.
What do people say when you tell them you come from Belgium?
Everybody knows Belgium since the terrorist attacks in Zaventem, Belgium’s national airport. But before that… people would look at me in such a way it was as if they were saying “tell me more, I’m a bit lost there”. Otherwise, I say the beer country and then it’s OK, they almost all know about it! I get upset when they tell me they go to France to eat cheese and French fries… You know, they say French fries because they think they are a French invention!!! Can you believe that? It’s actually a Belgian invention! Something to get mad about!!
Did moving away change your views on your home country (France)?
Yes, sadly so. Despite all I might have to say about America, the French people and how the country functions don’t make me want to go back. The cliché of the ever-grumpy Frenchman … I’m sorry to say but it’s true. When you are an expat in the US and you go back home you look really silly: you smile to everyone, you say hello and all you get back are those grumpy faces! Thanks but no thanks! I prefer the “fake” American to that!
I get to spend a day in the place you call home. Where am I? Where would you bring your visitors and what would you like them to discover?
Philadelphia. Hmm there are so many things to discover, especially depending on if it is their first trip or not to the US. I think I would start with a tour of my neighborhood, the oldest one in the all of the United States! So much history here! I would introduce them to American gastronomy, the good Philly cheese steaks on Market Street, the Amish doughnuts, oh yes, the Amish, I always take my visitors to the Amish market! We would go visit the Art museum, Rocky (the boxer, from the movie) climbed up these stairs!!! The Liberty Bell, the various parks across the city where you can spot many squirrels all year-long. I would take them to the Five Guys to eat good French fries! We would go to a rooftop to admire the view on the city. We would gaze at the sunset from the Benjamin Franklin Bridge and would then head downtown to drink beers and eat tacos at El Vez. Plenty to do and keep you busy!
Would you recommend living abroad?
Yes, definitely!!! The journey is difficult, very difficult but as they say: no pain, no gain, right? It is when you leave on expatriation but at the same time you discover your limits and by doing that you work a lot on yourself. It opens your mind, allows for very nice encounters, creates unforgettable memories, you get to learn a new language. All in all it is not always an easy path but it is all worth it! In the worst-case scenario you can always go “home”. At least you will have tried, no regrets!
Marine, thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions and being part of this interview series.
What is your experience of expatriation? I’d love to hear about it in the below comment section.
If you are an expat or once were and would be interested in being featured in an interview, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me, either via the below comment section or through my about page where you will find my email address.