Moving to the other side of the world

This interview is about my mother, Pema Yolmo. She was born and raised in a small town named Kurseong in India. After she completed her graduation from Loreto College in Darjeeling she moved to Kathmandu in Nepal where she met my father. After a courtship of 10 months they decided to move to Europe, the other side of the world in 1999. She had to start from scratch to build a new life in Belgium. Enjoy this short story about my mother immigrating to Europe.

How was your life back in India?

I was born in a middle class family with 2 of my sisters, Norkima and Nyima. We lived in a 5 story house with my parents, my grandmother and grandfather, my sisters and my apso dog named Puku. We went to study in St. Helens School which was a Catholic school run by the nuns whose headquarters was in Belgium. We had a very strict upbringing and disciplined life in the Catholic school. I was very good in sports and took part in numerous sports activities such as basketball, throwball and running. I was also elected as the sport captain and had to attend numerous tournaments in different provinces.

Once a month our parents came to visit us and brought a lot of goodies along with them. Since my parents had a restaurant in town, they brought Indian food such as momo, thukpa, noodles, and Indian sweets.

It was a very joyful and memorable time back there.

My mom and her sisters / my families house in Kurseong

How did u meet my father?

I met your father in Nepal when I had gone to visit Nepal as he knew my sisters husband very well. They went to the same school. From then we started dating.

How did u get the idea to shift to Europe?

We both found it difficult to find a good, decent paying job in Nepal and got the idea to immigrate to Europe. So in 1999 we travelled to Amsterdam. We went to meet a good friend of your father who used to live in Belgium and he gave us the idea of settling in Belgium as it was better. Above all your father knew a very good friend in Belgium who could help us settle. We stayed for a few days in Amsterdam before we moved to Belgium.

How old were you both when you moved to Europe?

I was around 25 years old and your father around 27 years.

How did you tell your family and did they accepted it?

I told my family about the good news about the fact that I was moving to Europe with your father. My family was very happy for me because it was always a dream of mine to live in Europe or America.

Were you nervous and anxious to shift to another country?

No I was not nervous, rather very anxious to know about my new life in a new country. I was very curious to know about how I would start a new life, make new friends, get to know the new culture, if I would get a better job,…

What did you do on your first day here?

We arrived and we went to your fathers friend house, who lived in Antwerp. We lived there for a couple of weeks before we shifted to our own small apartment. Then your father friends took us out to see Antwerp. I was all eyes open as almost everything was new for me. That day I learned that “frietjes” was a staple food of the Belgiums. I ate a “smos” and it was very tasty. It was my first time eating a “smos”. We didn’t get that in India. In the evening we went to visit the zoo from Antwerp, it was a very lovely and clean zoo. After our visit to the zoo we went to eat in a restaurant in the Grote Markt. There we met a Nepalese man who later on helped us a lot with settling in Belgium.

Was it difficult to adjust to a new life in Europe?

Yes it was very difficult as the language was the barrier factor. Luckily your father and I could speak very good English and the people in Antwerp also spoke English.

After a few months we got the news that we were both allegeable to work and stay in Belgium. It was not really a difficulty for me to get a job and it could be due to my luck.

After living in Belgium for 21 years I can speak Dutch language fluently and I got a job in a reputed firm, Gasthuisberg in Leuven. I feel more confident and independed and I know more about the rules and regulations.

Obviously there is a huge difference between India and Belgium, what did you find the pro’s and the contra’s of each country when we compare them?

In India there is a lack of good health care systems and the Indians should get better salaries. That was the cons of India, for the pro’s my family was living there and the lovely culture.

In Belgium you definitely have a better life, opportunities and health care system. As for the cons people have less time for families and a very very busy life. When you compare the culture of India, which has diverse cultures and the people respect their cultures. Here it is not the same.

Would you have rather shifted to America?

I would say maybe when I first came to Belgium due to the language barrier I would have go to America but now after living in Belgium for more than 20 years I would think and consider my option to move to America.

Was it difficult to be here without your family?

Yes of course and it still is. But we go to visit my family every 2-3 years.

What advice would you give to foreigners moving to Belgium?

Belgium is a small place where there is a lot of opportunities and where you can grow. The people are also very helpful. The only difficult part is the language. If you really want to live in a country with diverse cultures, a safer place, a close nit country and who also adores French fries then Belgium is the place for you to settle.

After all you’ve been through, would you reconsider moving back to you hometown?

If my family was also living here I would not move back but id rather say 80% I would live here than in my hometown. I am very thankful to the Belgium government and people for letting me have the opportunity to settle and work and integrate with the people of Belgium.

Interviewing my mother about her coming to Belgium was very interesting because I came to know things I didn’t knew yet. I am very proud of my mother and what she has accomplished in her life. She is a very strong women and a role model to me. Even though it was not always easy for her, I never lacked anything. She is simply the best mom to my brother and me.

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