Honey and dirty laundry.

Hoping to find someone who is willing to offer some valuable minutes of their time for the second interview, I came across a man who chose to remain anonymous. Let us call him Josip. The tattooed, talkative and sportive looking bloke, who was folding his clean clothes in front of me, frequently pays a visit to this laundromat. He left his country, which was a part of former Yugoslavia, to get his master degree at a Belgian university and has been living in Antwerp for approximately two years.

Josip pursues a career in computer science because he believes that it will help him to survive and balance his personal and professional life. It was not a passion for the subject, but rather the belief that it will be easier to make ends meet that drove him to obtain a degree in this field. Throughout the years, he also learned that you gain a lot more than just knowledge. The math and programming trained the logical part of his brain, which now proves to be useful in everyday life.

Before he came to Belgium, he was playing guitar in a metal band for a while. After which he switched to the soothing tunes of Jazz. At the time, Josip is trying to find a new place in another city. With the high hopes that this change of scenery will help him to find a job in his field. Consequently giving him the legal means to stay permanently in Belgium.

Paper trails.

Belgian immigration laws are incredibly complicated, and numerous companies are considerably reserved when it comes to foreign employees. Therefore, Josip lives with the stress that he might not find a job before his temporary student visa expires. The bureaucracy is proving to be a nightmare for this creative soul who has trained the logical half of his brain.

The student. Photo Copyright © 2015 Sven Van Echelpoel. All Rights Reserved.
The student. Photo Copyright © 2015 Sven Van Echelpoel. All Rights Reserved.

The immigration legislation is currently his primary concern. Because he has his roots in a safe non-European country, he can only acquire the necessary papers when a company decides to hire him as an employee. He hopes to find such an employer after finishing up his studies this summer.

The majority of the jobs in computer science allow him to move abroad and earn a steady income, but they are hard to wheel in. Nevertheless, Josip has high hopes and proclaims that “Finding a job is a matter of luck, being at the right place at the right time. I have graduated from a top university, so I hope my lucky day will come soon.”

He also states that “The financial possibilities combined with the logical thinking that you train during your studies make a professional career in this field very interesting.” Hence, a steady income that will help him to provide for himself and his girlfriend remains his cardinal objective. Although the fight against bureaucracy appears to be a never-ending struggle for this student.

Advice for all.

His home country is very different from Belgium. What he misses most of all, is the traditional food from the Balkan’s. The deep-fried Belgian diet doesn’t impress him at all. Compared to the delicious barbequed meals back home, which also serve as a type of social glue, the deep-fried food is more expensive and less tasty.

Josip also mentions that it is easier to get to know new people and make new friends where he comes from and the surrounding nations of ex-Yugoslavia. Here in Belgium, it has been hard to connect with the locals. If you’re not part of a particular social niche, you are left out in this self-contained society. Many groups are unwilling to let in new people.

Another observation that has boggled his mind is the way how Belgians tend to schedule their lives. “Everything needs to be planned ahead. Friends scarcely meet up casually. Going out for a refreshing beer needs to be recorded in synchronised agendas. Even grabbing a quick bite needs to be discussed ahead of time. There is hardly any room for spontaneity and creativity when it comes to managing personal time. People are all about working hard and the little time they have for their private life is being scheduled meticulously.” All the same, while spending two years submerged in our society, Josip concludes that despite this orderliness, people in Belgium tend to have a hard time balancing their careers and private lives.

“Enjoy life a bit more. I understand that you need to provide for your family. You have to work to bring food to the table, but do not become a robot. Enjoy life a little more. A healthy balance between our personal and working lives is essential,” he gleefully declares and continues: “A while back I was surprised when I saw a documentary about Laura Dekker, who sailed the world by herself. The effort people put into trying to kill this young girl’s dream because it was not in line with how a girl ought to live her life at that age, appalled me. Why would society do that? We should encourage people to follow their dreams not hinder them. Such conventional patterns are like a bodice that squeezes the life out of our existence. Laura even exclaimed that she doesn’t like living in Holland. That the people are like machines and that they are all about work. Our limited time on this planet is not all about work. Go out, experience life and be social. Live! Last but not least, be more open to different cultures. Don’t get me the wrong way; I have no problem with Belgium in general or the locals. These words are just based on my personal experiences.” Is our contemporary educated world too obsessed by efficiency and gathering riches or is the genuine joy of life our chief focal point?

Love.

When I ask him the daunting question where he would like to be in five years he explains with a determined voice that he hopes to have a steady income and will be able to reunite with his girlfriend. As he mentions his soulmate, a sparkle appears in his eyes and swiftly his modest answer is followed with insight on long distance romances. Present-day these two young lovebirds live miles apart. Cheap flight fares and new technologies make it easier for them to keep their love alive.

The challenges of a long-distance relationship scared him at first when he moved to Belgium. Rather soon he came to grips with the fact that he had to actively and decisively choose for his partner on a daily basis. Josip believes that “it is a must to remind yourself why you want to share your life with this person. It helps you to be faithful and keeps you from teasing yourself by looking around for the next best thing. It is also important to invest plenty of time and energy into making your partner feel that you only want them.” His view on his long distance relationship inevitably reminds me of a quote from Roger de Bussy-Rabutin: “Absence is to love what wind is to fire; it extinguishes the small, it inflames the great.”

With this in mind, we each go our separate ways. As I head out to the busy streets and ponder about the interview, I hear someone shouting out loud, commanding me to stop. As I turn around, I see Josip running towards me, with my camera in his hands, smiling. He hands it over and wishes me well. A wonderful selfless act and possibly the highlight of my day.

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2 Comments

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  1. Love this vivid description of the conversation! It absorbs the reader in and makes him/her wants to read more. It also shows the amazing curiosity of the writer who has the ability to present this “everyday” story in a very interesting way. A story, where everybody can find themselves in.
    I am very much looking forward to the upcoming interviews and texts! Keep up the good work!

    Like

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