NRI Voice: Bowled Over by Belgium
Brussels-based Christopher Immanuel is fascinated by the diverse culture and social fabric of Europe.
Born and raised in Bengaluru, Christopher Immanuel has a diverse experience of living abroad. Immanuel started as a teaching assistant and personal tutor for students in Texas A & M university in Doha, Qatar, before moving to Finland to earn a masters degree. Two years later, he moved to Belgium where he works as a junior researcher in Royal Observatory of Belgium while pursuing a PhD in KU Leuven. Immanuel talks to Little India about his life as a Non-Resident Indian in Middle East and Europe:
Moving to Belgium
When I was pursuing my masters degree in Finland, I got involved in high level space plasma research. Before I could complete my course, I got offers from collaborators to continue my research in Belgium as a doctoral candidate. Belgium is a complicated place – it is a small country with a difficult political system, which barely keeps it together.
While daily life is not affected by these things, the cracks are noticeable in its people. I live in Brussels, the capital of Belgium and the European Union (bureaucratic). It is a very mixed world here. People from all over the globe make themselves feel at home here. A walk down the city streets gives ample proof.
The city is quite wealthy and has a decent standard of living — that is, of course, depending on the part of the city you live in. However, the social structure of the place has been nullified thanks to the number of European Union workers – who have driven most of the Belgian population away. The culture is so different that just a drive away to the nearby Flemish towns of Leuven or Ghent makes you feel like you are in another country.
An Indian in Europe
In my opinion, it is not very difficult to live here. It may have to do with leaving deadweights like fundamentalist elements and bigotry behind. As for racism, well, stereotypes exist. But they exist for everyone. The Flemish are inbred, Italians are poor, etc. What one can do to break away from these is to accept what they really are and try to eliminate the negative stereotypes that might exist – like Indians smelling bad or being sexually awkward. To be honest, after living in Finland, there are not many places which you can call better. I feel the same with Belgium.
Life in Brussels
My PhD is part of a larger framework called the CCSOM (Constraining CMEs and Shocks by Observations and modelling) which hopes to bring state-of-the-art space weather forecasting. In my free time, I love going to the art, music and cultural events that constantly pop up.
The greater variety of cheese, wine and beer is something I love so much about Belgium — and they are cheap, at least compared to Finland.
The language can be a barrier in communication. Not everyone knows very good English – especially in the public sector. In Brussels, everyone speaks French, which is is why I learn French in my free time. However, I have noticed that the language barrier does disappear closer to the Northern Flemish regions. The rule of living in Europe is – Live in the north. Fenno-Scandinavia is a proof to this rule.
The Indian Connection
I, of course, miss my friends and family. I miss the grandeur of the Himalayas, and trekking, travelling and exploring those regions. There is very little in the world like that topography.