If It’s Tuesday…The Saga Continues

BrusselsI’ve been writing periodic posts cataloguing my previous three-year secondment to Brussels. Check out the series here. It’s been a while since I’ve posted but the saga of jumping through hoops to work in Europe continues.

At this point, I had been running around town fulfilling the fantasies of bureaucrats.  Over a few days I had:

1) Gotten a medical exam from the only doctor in Washington DC approved by the Belgian government for “official” exams (there are only 7 in the entire US). The odd thing was the doctor seemed like he was old enough to be in medical school around the turn of the century – the LAST century (1900).  I literally was reviewing CPR procedures in my head while he was examining me in case he were to suddenly keel over. It was a close call but both of us escaped from the room upright.

2) Gotten a chest X-ray at a separate medical office to prove I didn’t have anything I was going to spread to the Belgians. A blood sample went to a third lab for analysis. Apparently they don’t want my deadly germs spreading to “the old countries.” Perhaps they remember Columbus.

3) Returned two days later to the doctor to pick up my signed and stamped medical certificate, which I then had to run up to the Belgian Embassy (one of the benefits of working in DC is that just about everything needed is right here). Given that the Embassy was only 3/4 mile from the nearest Metro stop (and the fact that all the taxis were on strike that day), I decided to walk there and back. Naturally it started to rain just as I left and continued until just after I returned….and I hadn’t brought along an umbrella because there wasn’t any rain in the forecast.  Oh well. I was a bit damp but the trek was successful.

4) Running out again to the now defunct Ritz Camera to get two ID photos taken for my passport visa. I’m not particularly photogenic and the photographers seem to capture that deficiency well.

5) Sending all of this along with my CV, copies of my college diplomas, copies of every single page (even the blank ones) of my passport, and a few other pieces of paper to the Brussels office so I can get a work permit. [Of course, I still couldn’t get that until the FBI ran a background check on the fingerprints I had taken a couple of weeks before.]

Once the work permit was issued I had to take that up to the Belgian Embassy again to get my visa. Once I (finally) got to Brussels I had more paperwork to do in order to get a residency card. That excruciating process that had to be repeated every year for my three years there. Anyone who thinks America’s bureaucracy is burdensome needs to live in Europe to appreciate just how easy we have it in the states.

I began to see why some immigrants to my own country choose to take their chances bypassing the official procedures….you could grow old waiting for all the paperwork to be filed. And I’m only going over for a few years. And I was working for the same firm, just changing offices.

But it was worth it.

More to come.

David J. Kent is an avid science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, now available. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

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If It’s Tuesday – Networking, Networking, Networking

Brussels, Belgium, TuesdayNetworking is your best friend!

In real estate they say “location, location, location.”

When moving to another country they say “network, network, network.”

In the continuing saga of my three-year long working life in Brussels (based on the movie, If It’s Tuesday, This Must be Belgium), one of my first concerns was the fact that I would not know anyone. How would I find a place to live? How would I deal with the foreign language? Buying groceries? The foreboding bureaucracy?

Who could I call on to help? After much thought and a whole lot of asking around, this is what I came up with to give me a hand as I prepared my international adventure.

1) The company office in Brussels: The obvious first stop was the European office of the company I worked for at the time. After all, company business was the reason I was getting this opportunity. I had met a few of my soon-to-be office mates when I attended a conference the year before, so had high hopes that they would be dragging me along to pubs and parties. That didn’t quite work out the way I anticipated (most had families and the requisite attention to those families), but they became a great resource for me.

2) Ex-Pat connections: No, these are not people who are no longer Patriot fans, but expatriates, who are people who live outside their native countries. Because Brussels is the capital of the European Union, there are networks of Americans (and Canadians and Aussies and Brits, etc) living and working in the city. While in the end I spent less time with native-English speakers than with other expats, it was nice to be able to sit in an Irish pub occasionally and hear mostly English-ish. A useful website to help locate expats is expat.com. [More below the photo]

Brussels, Belgium, Tuesday

3) Friends who have friends: Because of the global nature of many businesses these days, I’ve had a chance to meet people who work for multinational companies, international government agencies, and nongovernmental organizations. These groups were a great help in linking me with colleagues and friends in Brussels in particular or in Europe in general. Added to my own European friends, colleagues, and acquaintances, I started off this venture in pretty good shape. Or at least that’s what I thought.

4) Colleagues who have lived there: The firm I worked for had several partners who temporarily relocated from the Washington, DC to the Brussels office. Each of them in succession stayed only one year (I was there for three) and lived in a company-rented apartment (I needed to find and pay for my own apartment), but their experiences did give them wonderful insights, which they happily passed along to me.

5) Scientific organizations: I belong to, and have been active in, two major international scientific organizations. Both have European divisions, and the Executive Directors have helped introduce me to key folks in Europe. I had also been president of the regional chapters of both organizations, which helped my build a network of contacts, many of whom offered advice and strategies. [Others were simply envious of my opportunity and promptly invited themselves to stay with me at their earliest convenience.]

6) Social media: You guys! The assistance, support, and insights I received from online connections was invaluable. At the time I was active on a now-defunct posting and comment site called Gather, and the online friendships I had built all offered amazing support and suggestions. That site is gone but a large number of the people I formerly interacted with on Gather are now active connections on Facebook. I felt truly privileged to have “met” so many people who were willing to offer their experiences, travels, and passions to this project.

[Click and scroll for more in the If It’s Tuesday, This Must be Belgium series. More coming soon.]

Meanwhile, check out my Goodreads author page. While you’re at it, “Like” my Facebook author page for more updates!

David J. Kent is the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, scheduled for release in summer 2017. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

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If It’s Tuesday – Whose Stuff is This, Anyway?

In the continuing saga relating my three-year long working life in Brussels (based on the movie, If It’s Tuesday, This Must be Belgium), just getting there was a chore. I’ve mentioned the bureaucratic process I had to go through before they would let me move, but when the actual move got closer I realized that all my townhouse stuff was in no way going to fit into whatever apartment I might find in Brussels. This revelation led me to wonder:

Whose stuff is this anyway?

Stuff

I blame all of my stuff on my parents (which is some sort of Freudian thing I’m sure).  My mother was one of 9 children, and my dad was one of 12 children. They were both born during hard times into blue collar families (assuming that a 2-acre subsistence farm serving 14 people even rises to the level of blue collar). Growing up in families the size of small Midwestern towns led to the tendency to hoard everything passing their way. And in positive proof that clutter is hereditary, I followed suit…or at least it seems that way at this moment as my eyes scan the mountain of stuff on which I have to make “keep” or “go” decisions.

Keeping in mind that I have a decent sized 3 bedroom townhouse full of “American male” furniture (i.e., big) that likely won’t fit into the tiny European-sized apartments, it seems that my first step is to separate stuff into several categories:

1)     Stuff that I should have thrown out ages ago (old magazines, holey clothes, and anything left behind by old girlfriends)

2)     Stuff that can be donated to charity or given away to friends (perfectly good clothes from the back of the closet that “I know I will fit into again some day”)

3)     Stuff that can be freecycled or sold on eBay or Craigslist (books, records, chachkas)

4)     Stuff that I want to keep but can’t take with me due to lack of room and so will likely have to put into storage (king size bed set with dressers and side tables, couches, my Abraham Lincoln book collection)

5)     Stuff that my company will ship to Europe for me (some furniture, some books, PhD stuff, and of course all my work stuff)

The hard part is deciding what fits into the first category – stuff to be thrown out.  It’s hard for me to throw out things because I see it as wasteful…surely someone can find a good use for each (seemingly) precious item.

So how do I let go of all my “valuable” stuff?  I addressed this problem in a recent post called “The Minimalist” on my writing blog, Hot White Snow. I’ll have more on how to deal with stuff in later posts.

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His next book, Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, is scheduled for release in summer 2017.

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If it’s Tuesday…A Quick Look At Brussels

As my “If it’s Tuesday, This Must be Brussels” adventure memory continues to unfold (see here for an explanation), the first step was to get orientated and find housing. That required a trip a month before the actual transfer would take place. Unless you have a place to stay for a while (like, say, two months), you’ll need to take this step.

Others from my company had made short visits prior to my transfer, so there was already an arrangement to stay in a “hotel” used many times before. The place was less of a hotel than a converted old European townhouse with a restaurant on the first floor and single apartments (two room suites) on each of the other two floors. A tiny elevator, when it worked, brought me to the third level where I took up temporary residence for several days. More on this hotel in later posts.

Brussels Office

Then, despite the rather unwelcoming weather (which I would soon find to be the norm), it was off to find the office about a quarter mile down Avenue Louise toward the Bois de la Cambre, a sort of mini-Central Park stretching south away from the “central” part of city. A nine story building with just enough glass to offer a “city view” – check! Desk and chair and spot for my computer – check! A few phone calls and some work not finished on the flight over – check! Now to explore the neighborhood.

Brussels Tram

Good. A tram line runs the length of Avenue Louise, with a junction in front of my new office. That will give me options as I look for a place to live. I also liked the fact that there are many statues and original artwork dressing up the streets. I’ll see a lot more of this in Europe.

Getting off the main avenue I traipse through the gardens of the Abbeye de la Cambre and follow the quiet road past the two ponds of Ixelles and into Flagey, a square and neighborhood featuring a large church.

Church in Flagey

More about Flagey in the future; let’s go back to the ponds. I looked at an apartment, really a garret, in an old house overlooking the pond. The view was beautiful. The ceilings were low. And by low I mean low enough to cause me to involuntarily duck, and low enough to knock out my rental agent when he didn’t duck. Once he regained consciousness, even he admired the lush greenery around the ponds.

Ponds in Ixelles Brussels

From Flagey I would head back across the main road, check out the Chatelain area, and then follow Avenue Louise down to the office. Not bad. This initial exploration was helpful. I got a feel for the area and the limits of how far I wanted to live away from the office. Eventually I would choose a place on the Rue du Magistrat, about 1.2 kilometers (0.75 miles) from the office, which I could walk or hop on the tram. But that is getting ahead of ourselves. There is so much more to do before making the move.

[This is part of a series on living and working in Brussels, but also some hints on how to do it the right way if you’re considering such a big career move. Keep checking back here for more articles, all of which are included in a category called “Tuesday.”]

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His next book, Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, is scheduled for release in summer 2017.

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Moving to Belgium – The Process

A while ago I had the opportunity to move to Belgium for three years, specifically, to Brussels. I wrote an introduction to the topic and called it “If it’s Tuesday, This Must be Belgium,” based on an old movie by that name (see the link for more). My intent was to write a series of posts, and then, not ironically, traveling got in the way and I never really got the series started. Until now.

The Atomium, Brussels, Belgium

The Atomium

 

The process of getting ready to move and work overseas for an extended time was an adventure in itself. So if you’re planning on working in Europe (and other places), the following is what you’ll have to go through. Oh, and while doing all of this I had to continue working on my projects, including many very early morning conference calls with European colleagues and clients.

Luckily, my company at the time sent me a checklist of things to do for the work component. This list doesn’t count all the things I need to do to offload a lot of my home stuff or arrange to rent my house.

  1. Obtain moving quote and submit to Administrator: It was good to know my [now former] firm was paying to ship my stuff to Brussels. Unfortunately, since most of it wouldn’t fit into a European-sized apartment, I had to get rid of half my belongings.
  2. Make flight arrangements for arrival in Brussels: Prior to actually moving there I had to make a trip over to find an apartment.
  3. Set up European bank account: So I can do direct deposit and automatic bank transfers. Interestingly, my rent and utilities were included in those automatic payments. I rarely saw actual cash. Money went in and out of my accounts for major recurring income and bills, and my debit card was used for nearly everything else. I also had to keep my US account open and work out logistics of accepting rent/paying mortgage, etc. (I rented my house out to tenants while I was away).
  4. Provide information for my work permit, including:
    a) Medical certificate (filled out by a doctor and officially notarized by the Belgian Embassy):  I’m not sure why the Belgian Embassy had to stamp my form since they didn’t actually check to make sure the doctor wasn’t lying.
    b) Copy of all pages of passport: Not just the name and address page, but every page. Is someone really going to look at all of the stamps from places I’ve been? Not that it mattered because many of the visa stamps are already unreadable on the page, so photocopy just made everything completely illegible.
    c) Copy of diploma(s): Which degrees wasn’t specified, so I assumed it meant high school, BA, MS, and PhD to date. I guess this was to verify that I was qualified to work for the company that I’m already working for. [As it turned out, it also was to get some sort of special tax status for highly skilled workers, much like the H-1B visas in the US.]
    d) Copy of resume: Ditto verification…come on people, my firm was already paying me to work for them and all I’m doing is transferring between offices. I was pretty sure they checked my credentials. In any case, my then-26 page CV went on record.
    e) Nationwide criminal history record (FBI Identification Record): This was the real kicker. I can understand (sort of) that the Belgians don’t want some criminal moving there, though it seems to me that since the law firm I worked for didn’t have any concerns than it should be good enough for them. The real problem here is that it supposedly takes 16-18 WEEKS for the FBI to run a background check on me, and only after I provide them with my original fingerprints. Well, first off, where do I get my fingerprints taken? Can I walk into a police station, say something like “Book ‘im Dano” and they take a full set for me? Second, if it takes 16-18 weeks for them to do a background check on me (who was born and raised and lived all but 3 months of my life here in the US), what does this say about the FBI’s ability to do background checks for potential terrorists or even for people buying handguns? In any case, they got it done in exactly 17 weeks.

So if you’re planning to work overseas, plan well ahead of time. Other countries and continents may be different, but I doubt you’ll get into China, for example, faster than into Belgium, home of the EU and friend to the USA (well, at that time, at least; no guarantees about the current “friendship” situation).

I’ll have more on the “If it’s Tuesday, This Must be Belgium” series, including tons of traveling to other European countries during my stay.

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His next book, Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, is scheduled for release in summer 2017.

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Feeling Brussels

My feelings about the events of yesterday remind me that I’m coming up on the fifth year anniversary of my return to the states after my 3-year stay in Brussels. It hardly seems possible as I feel it was just yesterday I was admiring the biennial flower carpet in the Grand Place.

Flower carpet in Grand Place

Four months ago I scrambled for news that friends in Paris were safe after the November attacks. Today I repeated the now-too-frequent scurry for information, this time friends and former colleagues in Brussels. In both cases all were fine. My heart then turned to those whom I’ve never met but instantaneously became close to on these fateful days.

Brussels is a beautiful city. In some ways it’s typical of old European cities with its central plaza (the Grand Place), impressive cathedrals, and amazing architecture. In other ways it is supremely atypical. As both the capital of Belgium and the capital of the European Union, the city has the aura of Washington, DC with its international flavor and populace. Away from the old city sits the EU quarter, glass skyscraping office buildings replacing the ancient mix of Gothic, Baroque, and Louis XIV edifices. Like DC, the city features the embassies of virtually every foreign nation. Even Belgians are multinational, with three official languages reflecting its Dutch, French, and German heritages.

I have fond memories of the city, the people, and my former colleagues. I have the urge to see them again, and so will put a return trip on my busy travel calendar. For now, my feelings for the events of yesterday are best represented by one of Brussels’s most iconic landmarks, the Manneken Pis.

Manneken Pis

Until we meet again, mon cher.

David J. Kent has been a scientist for thirty-five years, is an avid science traveler, and an independent Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (now in its 5th printing) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His book on Thomas Edison is due in Barnes and Noble stores in spring 2016.

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Looking for Housing in Brussels (from Hot White Snow)

Brussels flower carpetThud.

Yes, I actually heard a thud, just like you hear in the old movie reels. So loud it seemed to resonate in my ears, echoing off the walls of the attic room I was evaluating as a possible living space during my impending three-year secondment in Brussels.

On the floor was my guide, his hand to his forehead, his eyes glazed over in partial coherence; clearly concussed.

At my height I rarely worry about low-hanging beams, but he was near two meters easily. Clearly not paying attention he had marched confidently into the center beam of the room, solid and stalwart in its insistence of that space four inches down from the low ceiling. I had walked under it; he found it squarely.

It wasn’t a bad place, really. Tiny in retrospect, but quaint and old-fashioned in a European sort of way. A simple garret with a single window, though grand in size, overlooking one end of the converted attic. Nice enough, and I was considering it, until it took out the man who had been assigned to show me living arrangements. The decision to not take this apartment became clear just as my guide’s vision was doing the same. We would look some more.

In all we looked at a dozen apartments, some impressionably bad…others less obviously insufficient. At one point I decided on one apartment, only to find that it had been rented in the hours I had looked on indecisively. Even the final choice was indecisive. I had agreed to take an apartment in a new building half a block from the main road that led to my company’s office building. It was the only modern building we had seen, and I looked at two or three apartments there. On the second day of looking I asked to go back there and after deciding on an apartment on the fifth floor, had my guide negotiate the deal. An hour later I called him to renege, though just to take a different apartment, this one on the second floor, in the same building.

[Continue reading on Hot White Snow]

The above is a partial of a full article on Hot White Snow, my creative writing blog. Please click on the link above to read further. Thanks.

I’ll have photos and stories from my most recent science traveling trips to Scandinavia and Quebec shortly.

David J. Kent has been a scientist for over thirty years, is an avid science traveler, and an independent Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and the e-book Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time. He is currently writing a book on Thomas Edison.

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If it’s Tuesday, This Must be Belgium

In 1969 there was a movie by this title (“If it’s Tuesday, This Must be Belgium“) starring Suzanne Pleshette. It was a comedy about Americans experiencing Europe for the first time. Not long ago I had a chance to live out the idea behind the movie – the company I worked for at the time traded me from Washington DC to their office in Brussels (presumably for a scientist to be named later). I lived in Brussels for three years.

During that time I traveled as much as I could squeeze in between a heavy work load and limited finances. While in retrospect I wish I had traveled even more, I treasure every second of the time spent hopping from one country to the next.

Flower carpet in Grand Place

In future posts I’ll talk more about specific places I visited. And, of course, I’ll also be talking about some of the cool science experienced on these travels. My base of Brussels was well positioned as a starting point. Most of Europe is within two or three hours by plane and the train system in Europe is tremendous, so it’s very easy to get around. Over my three years I took train trips, driving trips, flying trips, and even an occasional boat (though no long boat trips).

Brussels is not only the capital of Belgium, it’s the capital of the European Union. The former is reflected in its “old town” central square called Grand Place (pronounced with a French accent, n’est-ce pas?), while the latter is reflected in the tall steel and glass buildings more familiar to modern cities. The site of the 1958 World’s Fair, Brussels proudly shows off one of its most famous attractions – the Atomium, whose nine spheres form the shape of an iron crystal (see, I told you there would be science).

Atomium, Brussels

 

Bizarrely, Brussels’ other most famous attraction is the Mannekin Pis, which everyone rushes to see, then wonders what all the hubbub is about. I’ll talk about that later, as well as have much more on Brussels and my European adventures in future posts. Meanwhile, I’m planning my next European adventure (along with a few south of the equator). Back soon.

David J. Kent has been a scientist for over thirty years, is an avid science traveler, and an independent Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and the e-book Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time. He is currently writing a book on Thomas Edison.

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A Little Bit of Mini-Europe

For three years I lived and worked in the European Union capital of Brussels, Belgium. While there I traveled as much as my workload and finances would allow. But I can say that one day I saw all of Europe. Yes, in one day.

Technically it wasn’t all of Europe; it was more of a highlights tour. But in the shadow of the Atomium (that big bunch of silver balls that makes up this website’s background photo), there lies a small park called mini-Europe. Mini as in miniature landmarks representative of the major vistas and capitals of the continent (and the UK too). Here is what it looks like from high up in the Atomium.

Mini-Europe in Brussels

Since this is Brussels, they of course have the Grand Place…the big square that sits in the center of the city.  You can see the detail that went into these models.  Check out the gothic style city hall, decorated with 294 statues from the 19th century, which dominates one side of the square.  This particular display shows the carpet of flowers that graces the Grand Place only one weekend every two years. A grand site to see. (And as an added bonus, the famous manneken pis is just a short walk away).

Grand Place Brussels

Heading north gets you to the Castle of Olavinlinna, built in 1475 in Finland.  It used to form part of the frontier defenses against Russia.

Castle of Olavinlinna Finland

Some countries have only one or two landmarks (Luxembourg’s contribution is a single highway bridge).  France is well represented with several landmarks from around the country.  Here is the church of Sacre Coeur, which sits high atop Montmartre Hill in the northern part of Paris.  On a clear day you can see 50 km away.

Sacre Coeur Paris

Moving over to Italy, I’m sure everyone will recognize Pisa.  The Piazza del Duomo is pretty much the attraction in this northern coastal city.  The campanile (leaning tower) is 55 meters in height and has never been straight since its construction.  Behind it is a Romanesque Cathedral built to celebrate the victory of the Pisan fleet over Palermo. The model is made entirely of small marble blocks and weighs 800 kg. Consider that the next time you complain about doing a mere 1000-piece puzzle.

Leaning Tower of Pisa

Last stop on today’s tour is Athens, Greece.  Situated on the highest point in the city is the Acropolis, which was built in the 5th century B.C. as a national sanctuary for the worship of the twelve Greek gods.

Acropolis Athens

I’ve been lucky enough to have visited all of the landmarks above, with the notable exception of the Olavinlinna Castle (though on more than one occasion I was in Finland’s capital, Helsinki). There are many more mini-landmarks in mini-Europe, so I’ll be coming back here periodically. In fact, I’ll be showing photos of the model along with my own photos taken during visits to the real places. I have to admit, after seeing the models it’s is very cool to see the leaning tower, the Acropolis, Sacre Coeur and more up close and personal.

David J. Kent is a science traveler. He is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity. You can order a signed copy directly from me, download the ebook at barnesandnoble.com, and find hard copies exclusively at Barnes and Noble bookstores.

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