Meet the Glocals is a series of expat events in Ghent where newcomers meet more established expats and experts to talk about their burning issues. Organised by Community Gent, several rounds of the events will take place this year. Read on to learn all about them.
TheSquare.Gent caught up with the new head of the expat working group, Dobrinka Barzachka, who is bursting with positive energy and plans for 2018. Dobrinka knows the expat path to Ghent well: she met her Belgian partner while travelling for business and shortly after followed him to Ghent in 2013. She is a management consultant working mainly with startups and passionate for education. That’s why you can find her coaching students about business projects and lecturing at HoWest in Kortrijk.
So who are Glocals? “We come from all over the world to Ghent and after a certain time we become locals, but we still stay global,” Dobrinka explains. What attracted her to volunteer for De Community? “Because I was once a newcomer too and now there are people who are following in my footsteps. I want to help them on their way, provide some answers and support.”
For some nationalities, they can find support in their national groups, but others don’t have such a tight-knit network. And that’s where the Community can come in, providing a platform and opportunities to bring people together regardless of nationality.
Expat Café – what’s that?
The idea behind the expat cafés is to meet other people in a similar situation – with questions on daily life in Ghent, looking for simple solutions, share experience and get advice from people who have been here for longer as well as from local authorities and experts. The aim of these Expat Café’s is to help solve a practical problem while chilling out and meeting new people.
The atmosphere is relaxed and the group decided to organise the events at one of the leading Ghent landmarks – the Vooruit café and cultural centre which recently celebrated its 100th anniversary.
This free and cosy event is organised as speed dating: there are 4 tables with 4 experts at each table, ready to answer questions of expats around a certain topic. After 15-20 minutes the participants move to the next table. At the end everyone has basically spoken with each other and the networking part is with new friends, enjoying a nice evening.
What is troubling expats in Ghent?
What were some of the questions people were asking at this first event that focused on living in Ghent?
- How can I register for health insurance when I have just arrived?
- In order to get your health insurance, you need your national number. This number is automatically assigned to you by the Belgian state when you register at your local town hall (gemeente), so remember to ask your contact person to provide this number. What’s useful to know is that your health insurance will be backdated to the date of your registration in Belgium. So even if you have to see a doctor before all your paperwork is in order, keep the bill and request reimbursement afterwards.
- How can I understand the confusing traffic signs in Belgium?
- Well, everybody agreed that we do not understand them … A very helpful solution would be to get a little booklet when registering at the town hall, explaining the basic do’s and don’ts on the Belgian roads. Now the newcomers have no idea what the signs mean and feel like they are doing something wrong without knowing it.
- How can I adapt to the Belgian food?
- Food is always a grateful topic for newcomers. Some people even have a physical reaction to a new diets, while others need to observe their religion for their dining culture. One thing everybody at one of the tables agreed on: the Belgian beer is highly appreciated.
- Why don’t Belgians recycle more?
- While it takes a while to understand the Ghent waste sorting system, some newcomers feel that Belgians do not recycle enough. It would be interesting if Belgium could implement the solutions of countries next door.
- Why is Belgian bureaucracy so complicated?
- Administrative tasks at the town hall: nobody likes to do them, but it seems that the Belgian registration desks have made a sport out of making it extremely complex. Unless you have the luxury to be supported by a dedicated relocator, you soon start feeling like you are in the middle of a crossroad with tons of contradicting road signs … where to go to get what you need? Unfortunately, it still takes far too long for newcomers to get the necessary documents that they need to open a bank account, find a place to live etc.
Next Expat Café events
This year, the expat working group plans to organise a total of 4 such relaxed café meetings, each dedicated to a different topic that represents one of the biggest challenges for expats in Ghent. The next events will focus on the following topics:
- On the 25th of June, the expat café will focus on free time and leisure: how to register your children for holiday camps, how to find and register for sports activities, where to find information on entertainment.
- At the end of August, it will be time for a hot topic: the immigration questions: family reunification, visa, registration.
- In December, you will learn all about starting a business in Ghent: how to start a company, registering a company, freelance work, taxes.
Each event can host only up to 30 participants, so sign up in time! You can find the event calendar of Expat Community Ghent on their Facebook page.
But the volunteers of the expat working group don’t plan to limit themselves to the Expat café’s. There will also be 2 larger events for the Ghent expat community this year: on 27th May the Glocals Festival will be an outdoor meetup for expats and locals, their families and friends.
In October, the traditional networking event, entitled Expat Business Opportunities, will be held. At that event you can learn about all the main services and organisations that can help you build a life in Ghent: learning Dutch, studying, health insurance, work opportunities, volunteering options … Keep an eye on the Expat Community Gent page for more info on their latest events!
The not-for-profit organization Community Gent was the organizer of the event. Community Gent is a collaboration platform between the City of Ghent and various organizations. It organises activities around four different topics: digitalisation, social responsibility, diversity and glocalisation.
Special thanks to Dobrinka Barzachka and Heidi Devos for their generous contributions to this article.