Guest Interview-Séverine Dehon, Belgium Expat

It’s interesting how blogging and social media are bringing the world together! Séverine and I met through Twitter, and then LinkedIn, after I started building an online audience for my ebook. Since we really hit it off, we planned a face-to-face meeting in K.C. when I went there for a book signing. It was quickly apparent that Séverine is a passionate, enthusiastic person who enjoys others. She attended the bookfest with me and probably met FAR more people than I did while she was there!

Here’s a little bit about Séverine’s journey to the U.S. and the blessings and challenges that she’s faced in making such a huge move. Next week, I’ll let her tell you about the fascinating project she is tackling in the months ahead. (I’ll give you a hint: Séverine is an excellent photographer and blogger.) Stay tuned!
Q: Where are you originally from and where do you live now?
I come from Belgium. I have been living in the Kansas City Metro area for 3 years.

Q. Why did you move to the U.S.?
I came to the U.S. to follow my American husband. Although we are now divorced, I stayed because I did not know what else to do. Now I love my life here.

Q. What was the hardest thing about moving here?
You don’t know the price tag of living abroad before you pay it. You have to give up everything you are, everything you believe, and everything you know. I say that you have never heard yourself cry until you move abroad. Hearing about it and doing it is different, and it changes you forever. But it makes you a better and stronger person.

Q. What do you wish someone had told you before you moved here?
Belgium is a very openminded country; it is like Colorado and California together. I wish I had been told that even though TV shows display a real openminded culture the U.S. is a very conservative and religious place. It is what it is, and I embrace Americans for what they are. But I wish I had been told that they are more conservative than the other way around.

Now if you come from another country than Belgium, you may be shocked about how progressive the U.S. is. What all of this taught me is that every country has a different scale. What I find conservative can be considered provocative in Kansas City, and vice versa. Every place has its own sensitivity and scale.

Therefore, it is important to take each person individually. You can meet the most openminded person in the Midwest and stumble upon a super conservative person in San Francisco. Taking each person individually is the only way to navigate this country because you never know what the person’s background and story is.

Q. What do you like/dislike?

I despise the fact that health is a business like everything else. I despise the health care system; it is expensive, bureaucratic, and inhuman. Even without health insurance in Belgium my costs are 5 times less expensive than my co-pays. I avoid getting sick and make sure to go back once a year to have my health checked by my family doctor.

I really love the optimism of the American people. It is refreshing to live in a society that believes that anything is possible and values entrepreneurship. I just quit my job to make a documentary. My U.S. friends and co-workers thought it was the most awesome thing ever. My European connections think I am a unicorn farting rainbows. I value how Americans respect people’s dreams.

Q. What is the funniest thing you’ve seen here?
That is a tough one. For some reason, I can’t get used to the abundance of automatic toilet flushes. Even though I have lived here 3 years, I probably do something wrong because the toilet always flushes while I am using it. On top of that, since most public places have automatic flushes, I tend to forget to flush at home and my roommates hate that. I guess I get the worst of both worlds. But if you know the solution, let me know.

Q. What is the oddest thing?
The oddest thing is probably the originality and audacity of merchandizing and seasonal products. Just when you think you have seen it all, you see something different. Look at all the pumpkins products at Trader Joe’s, Christmas decorations, or Colleagues goodies. My latest find is a plastic wine bottle made of 4 pre-filled glasses with wine. I found it yesterday and thought, “WOW!” I hadn’t been that surprised for a long time.

Q. If you could ask an American “Why do you…?,” what would you ask?
I know the answer for this question, but I would ask “Why aren’t you more curious about what is happening in the rest of the world? and “Why is one of the leading world economies so monolingual?” Last July I was asked if we celebrated the 4th of July in Belgium. When I said no, my contact was shocked and replied, “But it’s America!” This is not an unusual comment; a lot of my international friends get the same feedback. Fortunately everyone is not like that, but I am still puzzled that only 25% of Americans have a passport… and a lot of the time it is used as a proof of citizenship, not for travel.

Q. If you could pick one piece of advice to someone moving here, what would it be?
Be your own best friend. Ultimately, even if you have an American spouse or lots of American friends, you will have different sensibilities and you will get hurt by things that are considered normal here. It will lead to a feeling of aloneness. Accept it; it is part of the process. After a few years, you won’t really belong in your home country anymore and you will never really be from here; you will be from neither worlds. Ultimately, this will give you the freedom to choose who you want to be, free from any cultural conceptions or expectations. You’ll get to create your own world, create your own rules, and really be you. The comfort brought by this emancipation will overcome all the pain and bring true happiness and real people to your life. It is a painful transformation, but I would not go back. I have never been happier than now. Also, Americans are super cool about letting people be. You can live in your own parallel world and be respected for your integrity in this country. Americans don’t think you have to copycat them to assimilate. That is super cool!