Kristina Stoyanova, 26, is originally from Bulgaria. At the age of 18, she decided to leave her country to broaden her horizon and pursue a university degree. She enrolled in "European Studies" at the University of Maastricht and later joined her sister in Belgium. She currently works as a lobbyist in an NGO active in the public health sector.
Kristina, what does your job as a lobbyist entail?
Kristina: As a advocate in the public health sector, I try to influence the development of stronger EU policies in order to achieve the best public health outcomes for European people. Practically speaking, this means that we meet European policy makers, write letters, publish articles, work with media and also use social networks... There is a coalition of organisations from different countries who work together in order to achieve the same goal.
Did you encounter any difficulties during your first experience as an expat in the city of Maastricht?
Kristina: I would not use the word difficult. Yes, it was different. I was only 18, I had never travelled and everything was new to me, especially the educational system here. But you quickly get used to it...
And in Belgium? Did you find it difficult to deal with all the paperwork?
Kristina: Not really... It's true that at that time we still had to get a work permit and a residence permit. But today, if you come from the European Union, things are much easier. In the beginning, I stayed at my sister's apartment for a while. Then I quickly moved in with a friend.
Why did you choose Brussels?
Kristina: I chose this city for several reasons. First, as a student of "European Studies", Brussels is "the place to be”. And my sister was already living here. I came to visit her once. I remember walking to the Grand Place, in the middle of all these beautiful buildings. The sun was shining and people were sitting on the cobblestones, admiring the splendid architecture. And then I thought: "Yes, I could see myself living here".
Did you have any preconceptions about Belgium?
Kristina: Not really. I knew about its specialties, like beer and chocolate, and I thought that people there were certainly nice... And they are!
Did you easily find a job?
Kristina: First I did some courses and then yes, I found one easily. I answered an ad posted on a website for job advertisements and then I had a job interview.
Are your friends also expats or were you able to make Belgian friends?
Kristina: Most of my friends are expats. I have some Belgian friends, but not many. When working in the middle of the institutions, you are kind of in a bubble... And I just think that expats and locals do not frequent the same places. There is also the language barrier...
Did you learn French or Dutch?
Kristina: Although I do not need it every day (my friends are expats and my working language is English), I try to learn French. I am enrolled in a course at the moment but it's not easy!
What do you do in your free time?
Kristina: Like all young people, I love going out with my friends, going to movies. I am interested in the culture, I try to visit all the museums in Brussels. I also like to paint and I discovered my favourite artist in Brussels: Magritte.
A strong point of Belgium?
Kristina: The standard of living. At home in Bulgaria, one is either rich or poor. There is a large gap between the two classes. Here, the middle class is very important. I also appreciate the healthcare system. You can easily get reimbursed for most of the healthcare!
What advice would you give to those who think about coming to live in Belgium?
Kristina: I would tell them to come!
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