We all heard of it. Living and working abroad will bring you places, introduce you to new cultures, give your professional career a boost and allow you to meet new people. And after spending two unforgettable years in Belgium, I can confirm that all of them are true. But if there’s one thing that the brochures didn’t include was that there is a good chance that you’ll gain weight. (or was it just me?)
I left the Philippines for my AIESEC internship in September 2008 roughly weighing 120 pounds and came back to Manila two years after with 40 pounds extra baggage.
I never thought I’ll gain weight that much and that fast.
I left the Philippines looking like a malnourished and sickly kid so there was a heavy room for improvement. I remember my friends joking often that I look 16 rather than 21.
But how did I gain those pounds in that span of time?
Well, for one there was the lifestyle I was living in. My dining routine usually involvedh lazy lunches of sandwiches & McDonalds burgers and capping off the day with frozen food dinners or pizza deliveries. The reasons I’m going to point out was it was the lack of time to prepare something good, but if I’m going to be honest to myself, it was because of laziness. 😉
I have no one to blame except myself on how I got into this situation. I lived a lifestyle of eating frozen food, and 4-day binge drinking and partying. Add to that I rarely went to do sports, exercise or jog.
To add, Belgium isn’t exactly a country for the healthy too. The temptations for beers, fries and chocolates are everywhere, and you can easily be enticed to dive in to a gluttinuous afternoon. It’s everywhere that they even considered it be the country’s culinary pride and glory.
Fries, for example, actually should never be called “French”. The Belgians claim that it originated from Belgium and would correct you if you call it ‘French fries’. We get our share usually from the best frites place in Brussels’ Place Jourdan. The fries are huge and usually placed in a cornet (paper rolled into a cone). Plain frites is already delicious but what makes the frites more special is the sauce. Most fritkots (fries place) offer more than 20 kinds of sauces. There are the classics like ketchup & mayo, the uniquely Belgian sauce like andalouse, tartar, piquant, curry ketchup and the outrageously named yet interesting concoctions like sauce Brazilian and sauce Samurai.
Any good frites won’t be complete without drinks to drown it down. And as AIESEC interns, your experience won’t be complete without the crazy nightouts, the never ending AIESEC parties and intern’s drinks. And Belgium’s diversed selection of beers, makes it a great place to be an expat! In the supermarket, there are aisles specifically dedicated for beers – and there’s even a bar in Brussels called Delirium that serves more than 2000+ kinds of beers.
There are the fruit beers pêche (peach), kriek (cherry) and framboise (strawberry). There’s also the bière blanche (Hoeegarden), blondes (Duvel, Leffe Blonde), pales (Stella Artois, Jupiler) and the bruin (Triple Westmalle, Orval, Kasteel). Alcohol content level ranges from 4.3% to 12% and each beer has to be drank from its own specific glass. Going out for a drink is staple to most interns’ activity.
Finally, chocolates, the most known Belgian delicacy worldwide, is practically available anywhere. It comes with your coffee, your bread, and even in your beer (there is a chocolate flavoured beer, never tried it). I did my internship in an office with a pantry that has an overflowing chocolate supply. The Red Cote d’Or milk chocolates were my lifeline on those long meetings & strict project deadlines.
But despite gaining 40 pounds, I look down into my increased waistline not with a sad disposition but a consideration that the food I consumed came with memories. And perhaps a portion of this increased weight was just my mind getting heavier from the global professional mindset, key business learnings and of course the unforgettable internship memories that I have captured from probably the best years of my life. But then again, it may really be the food and alcohol – mais non, je ne regrette rien.
BEFORE & AFTER: Photo of me back in 2007 and then when I arrived August 2010
*DISCLAIMER: Post was originally written for my AIESEC internship testimonial blog. I wrote this post last year and have since then lost a few kilos by hitting the gym and continuous exercise. But I still enjoy my fries, Belgian beers and chocolates when I get the chance. 🙂
As an expat, what changes have you observed after your life abroad?