In a new series of articles, black women living outside of Europe share their views from the other side. In our third article, Shaniqua Farrior lays out her plan to move to Belgium and why.
I have always been an adventurer. Often time taking on challenges that sometime seem insurmountable. But, as all adventurers know, the journey will be filled with moments of euphoria, while other times it will be a discouraging struggle just to get to the next step. But we also know the reward of meeting the challenge with the strength and ferocity of a lion makes it all worth it.
Because, I’m never one to shy a from a challenge, I decided to accept the opportunity to share my goal to relocate to Antwerp, Belgium. What makes this goal rather different, a bit intimidating and so worth it, is I’m attempting to accomplish this as a young, black single mother of two.
For years I’d been entertaining the idea of permanently relocating to Europe but didn’t really know where. I know that I want to live in a lively city, that has a multicultural atmosphere and to dwell in a society that is forward thinking and value its inhabitants. I also know that I want to be surrounded by fashion, art and delicious food. As well as live in a thriving community of progressive entrepreneurs who are offering innovative goods to consumers.
Day after day I engross myself in online research of European countries that spark my interest. Visiting government websites gathering information on visas, work permit laws, permanent residency laws, marriage laws etc etc.; I scour websites and forums seeking information on job opportunities, housing, demographics, schools for my daughter and son, age appropriate activities that they may be interested in, the best neighborhoods, race relations and articles on expatriation with children.
But online research can only provide so much.
From 2004 – 2006 I visited several countries on my list:
Although I’d lived in Denmark in the mid 90′s as a student attending the International People’s College, and then revisiting in ’06, the lovely fjord just didn’t feel right for the long term, even though I have friends who are almost like family that still live there. Plus, my ex fiancé still resides in Copenhagen and his family resides in Aarhus and the thought of dwelling in the same country and perhaps the same city and possibly running into him is just too emotionally taxing. Next!
Amsterdam reminded me a lot of New York, for obvious reasons. But the atmosphere of separatism, and racism was uncomfortably palpable; ESPECIALLY during the month of November, when St. Nicholas (Sinter Klaas in dutch) the patron saint of children and sailors, and his band of mischievous helpers in black face – think sambo – known as the Zweite Pete’s roll into town. I also had the double misfortune of being called the N-word, while strolling along the leidseplein on a Saturday night. One gentleman even asked for directions to Nigeria, before simulating punching me in the face. * Feel free to gasp here* . The upside…the Heineken was out of this world. But I was happy to leave and never come back.
France is beautiful but too expensive. However, it is a real asset to the industry i’m in. Germany is crazy fun. But I still felt there was a county and a city better suited for me.
ENCOUNTERING A SINJOREN….
Fast forward to 2007, while sitting in the Hong Kong Airport engrossed in the story of Cupcake Brown, a Tyler Perryesq book on steroids, a young…very young backpacker sat down next to me determined to strike up conversation. After resisting for about an hour I finally relented. Surprisingly his conversation was very engaging. We chatted for hours ( our flights weren’t departing until the next morning) while gazing upon the neon lit skyline that Hong Kong is famous for.
We talked about my work as a massage therapist, my children, and life back in New York. He shared stories about his life in his beloved town of Antwerp, Belgium. He told me how much he loved his hometown. How nice the people are. How relaxed and friendly the atmosphere was and how I would fit right in. He talked about the opportunities available there and how it was the diamond capital of the world. Once he said that, I was intrigued.
Later that year my backpacker friend invited me to visit him for a few days in Antwerp. I accepted his offer and am so happy I did
LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT
The moment I arrived by train into the seaside city, I was greeted by the architectural wonders of the Antwerpen Centraal railway station with its 144 ft dome constructed of steel and glass. The natural light that floods through, gives the station a very ethereal feel. I don’t know if it was the vitamin D from all the sunlight in the station, but a strange sensation of belonging and calm washed over me, that let me know that I had found what I was looking for. My feelings were confirmed every moment of the 10 days I spent there.
Traveling on public transportation, shopping in the local grocery stores with the backpacker. Discovering interesting boutiques along the Meir – the main shopping street in the heart of the city – and feeling like I blended in with the locals, gave me the confidence to know I wanted to write a chapter of my life there with my babies.
What also made the trip significant, was the fact that I created and facilitated the first infant massage seminar for expatriates. For 3 days I was able to visit homes of people who were in the position I want to be in. Many of them gave me great advice regarding raising my children there. Such as it is better to place the children in a local school versus a private school, this will ensure the children will be immersed in the dutch language. It was also said that patients will be a virtue when dealing with the snail paced bureaucracy that is in charge of processing visas and reviewing permanent resident applications.
HAVE A PLAN
The expats that attended the infant massage seminar, stressed the importance of having multiple plans especially when traveling and moving overseas with children… I was advised to:
- Start the process at least one year or more
○ Learning the language
○ Gathering documents
○ Securing health insurance
○ Making sure finances are secure
○ Preparing the children for the move (which I heard is more difficult on teenagers)
○ Have an emergency fund just in case we have to fly back to the states on short notice. i.e death of a loved one. As well as life insurance.
○ Copies of all of our medical records, shot records, prescriptions ect.
Having a few solid plans will give us the confidence in knowing we are prepared to face any obstacle.
So far we are just at the beginning stages of our relocation process. I am planning a 3 month stay next summer which will serve multiple purposes :
- I want my children to experience Antwerp and formulate their own opinion about it. As well as create a network of friends that will help familiarize them with the country.
- To explore neighborhoods that will best suit my small yet lively family.
- Visit schools both private and local to gain insight on how best to assimilate my children into the Belgian educational system. And if there will be any drawbacks that I can help to thwart.
- Networking with members of my profession who are veterans of the massage and skincare industry who will be asset when securing a work permit.
- To connect with other BWIE members in person who may give me better insight regarding black life in Europe.
In conclusion I want this article to serve as an inspiration to other single mothers that may have a desire to travel with their children, but felt afraid to do so. I know it seems impossible but through faith, perseverance and preparation there is nothing that can’t be accomplished.
Shaniqua Farrior is a Licensed Massage Therapist and Paramedical Skincare Therapist who is considered an expert in her field. She holds a Degree in Liberal Arts from NYU’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies. She is also a Certified Educator of Infant Massage, and an avid traveler, mother and world citizen.