If I had to define what being a superwoman is about, I think I might take Véronique as an example, she is such an accomplished woman! On top of being smart, funny, successful and a caring mother, she is beautiful inside out. In today’s interview, we will follow the steps of a woman exploring the world for her job, leading the way to a better world and probably one of tomorrow’s leader! I had the pleasure of meeting Véronique around 2000, at the time she was a colleague of my husband, and she became a friend of ours. I hope reading her interview inspires you! It was conducted over email in English.
Véronique, tell us a bit about you!
I am an unusual suspect! I was born and raised in Brussels, Belgium, from a Belgian mother and a Congolese father who met in the early 60’s in a small town of the Dutch speaking part of Belgium. They have been married for over 45 years now and I consider myself a true child of Love. I am married to the best husband on the planet! We have 4 extraordinary children and a loving dog. Today I live in Washington DC and work for the World Bank as a Human Resources specialist. I am also the Chair of the African Society for the World Bank Group as well as that of the International Monetary Fund. This society is an organization promoting African affairs in the Bretton Woods Institutions. I enjoy reading, running and making other people successful! My goal has been to become the first woman heading the UN. Since the job has not yet been taken, I am confident I still stand a good chance!
Is this your first experience abroad?
No, we lived in Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) for seven years. Our oldest daughter was born there. We were evacuated during their first civil unrest and had to leave the country. I was pregnant with my son at the time; this was a very traumatic experience for the family and myself.
Did you embark on the expat adventure on your own, as a couple or as a family?
I never considered us as “expats”. I always thought we just moved to another place! The first time I moved was to follow the man I loved and got married to. We had our two children abroad. Then he moved to follow me back to Belgium when I was relocated. Later on he followed me again, to the US. We’ve been here for 8 years now and had two more children.
Would you consider moving again?
Maybe… To Asia? I know we would have to wait for our two teenagers to go to college. We were lucky that all our moves have been because of work and fully taken care of by the company I worked for. It has been quite comfortable.
In your opinion, what facilitated your moves in terms of settling in?
What really helped was that we agreed to move together and make the right compromises. We also stayed cool about the changes and made it fun for the kids.
Could you share with us a story related to cultural differences that brings a smile to your face when you think of it?
We had been living in the US for a couple of months, the kids were 5 and 8 at the time and had been sent to an American school where nobody spoke French! Everybody was very helpful to ensure that they would learn English quickly. One evening, we heard the kids repeating the “American pledge of allegiance” as they heard if everyday in school. And they ended by “This is the morning report. Please be seated”. We had to explain what the pledge of allegiance meant and that the end of the sentence was not part of it!
What was your first impression of the US?
Our experience of the US was one of a very inclusive society that welcomed our kids. Then unfortunately very racist movements became stronger and I don’t know what is going to happen. For instance, we lived in Molenbeek* for a while when back in Belgium. My kids were worried that their friends would know about it after the terrorist attacks in Europe. We arrived in the US when Obama was elected. Now we are starting to live in and preparing for a new era that scares people who look like us…
How would you describe the work culture in the US? How is it different to what you experienced in other countries?
I am based in the U.S. but work for one of the most global organizations…. so I could not really describe it as the US! I work with so many people from countries I’d never thought I would even go to that it probably is a good lab for what tomorrow’s workplace would look like.
What did you learn about the local mentality?
Washington DC is fairly international and you’ll meet people from everywhere in the world. Which means the “local culture” comes with many different accents. And if you have a French one… Wow! You can get away with murder! The “locals” just LOVE it! They are curious of where you come from and what you do. People are very open-minded and playful down here.
What do people say when you tell them you come from Belgium?
In a few words, Belgium is ….
… small, sweet, chocolate, coffee, food, funny (but not fun) and okay once a year.
When did you visit Belgium last? Missing anything from there?
Summer 2015! Was great. Missing my mom and dad, sis and bro (and their kids), grandma.
Did moving away change your views on Belgium?
Yes. I have mixed feelings about the country. On the one hand I know I could not live there anymore. It’s too small and too … you know … Belgian! On the other hand I miss the little streets, cafés and restaurants, etc.
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?
You are in Brussels. Visit the “Marolles” neighborhood on a Sunday morning during the summer. After the “marché aux puces” (flea market), go eat mussels in one of the restaurants in the adjacent narrow streets, listening to music, drinking white wine or a good “Bière blanche” (white beer).
Still on a Sunday morning: go to “Marché du Midi” (a very colorful market spread around a train station where you can find anything and everything from world food to new batteries). Buy anything and enjoy!
Would you recommend living abroad?
Absolutely. As an adult it forces you to constantly keep learning. As for the kids, they become better world citizens. All in all you help the world to become a better place to live in.
How do we now each other?
Your husband and I worked for the same company and … we just met! I can’t even remember anything else than … you were Maya, his girl he loved since always!!!
Véronique, thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions and being part of this interview series.
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.
*Molenbeek is a borough in Brussels that got a bad reputation after the dramatic events that took place in Europe in 2016