Late March 2016 Karen Henry, a founding contributor of Fortress Business & Philanthropy magazine, received a call from the Brussels-based African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Secretariat, informing her that she had been selected to be the new revisor and head of the English Translation Team at that organization. Needless to say, this was delightful news as it represented an important career move and would also give her the opportunity to live in Europe and experience new cultures.
Her enthusiasm was soon dampened however by the complicated visa application process. A word of advice: “Give yourself about two months, and set aside $50,000 – $80,000 Jamaican dollars (US $390 – $627) just to deal with the application, police record, translation of documents, and authentication of documents at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade. Get about twelve (12) passport-sized photographs as well, you’re going to need them, both for the embassy and for various procedures once you land in Belgium,” she said.
In Karen’s opinion the country of Belgium is, “a complex and very bureaucratic society, so every procedure involves mounds of paperwork and takes a long time, so try not to get sick after you get here, as getting health insurance and a residence card may take between one and six months”. On Henry’s first day at work, she was handed a hefty folder of forms to complete, and then realized that the visa application was just the warm up!
On her approach into Brussels airport, the Jamaican professional who previously studied in Spain, could not help but notice how green the city was, but of course, that comes at a price. “It rains about 60 percent of the year! I landed on the morning of July 15 and the temperature was 14 degrees Celsius! Obviously Brussels did not get the memo that summer had arrived. All of that aside though, Brussels is a pleasant city. It is very cosmopolitan, people are courteous and the food is good, though expensive. There are lots of accommodation options as well, so you won’t have any trouble finding somewhere to live. It is also a relatively safe city so violent crimes are rare and one can walk alone in most parts of the city without feeling or being threatened. There are beggars on the streets though, even though some are very clean and well dressed. Non-smokers might have a problem with the amount of cigarette smoke in the air,” Karen added.
If persons are only passing through Brussels for a few days, then there are some places that Karen recommends as a must-see:
“I would suggest that you purchase a Brussels.be card (48-hour or 72-hour) from the Tourism Office in Grand Place or another outlet. This allows you to ride on the red, double decker Hop-On Hop-Off bus and visit points of interest such as the Atomium, Bruparck, and Mini-Europe on the outskirts of the city, or the Museum of Musical Instruments, Parlamentarium, Park Cinquantenaire, Mannekin Pis (a sculpture of a little boy urinating), the Beer and Chocolate Museums in the heart of the city, and of course The Grand Place/Grote Market, one of the most beautiful squares in Belgium.
Grand Place is always abuzz with activity and hordes of tourists passing through to take pictures, dine, and shop and to just soak up the ambiance. Brussels also has an excellent public transportation system – buses, trams and subway trains, but unfortunately small fold out maps are not available at the bus and train stations so you would be well advised to map out your itinerary online before venturing out.
Summer is a great time to visit Brussels because of the relatively good weather, as well as the holidays and festivals held there, such as the National Day – July 21; the Colombian Village – August 5-6; the Flower Carpet in Grand Place – August 12-15; and other open air concerts, exhibitions and sporting activities.
The Belgians are very active people so many ride bicycles even if they do not own one. You can rent one from several points in the city, as part of the Villo network. These are special yellow bicycles, which can be collected and returned at any of the designated points. Make sure you have walking shoes too, you’re going to need them. If you have never considered Brussels before, it might be worth your while.”
Like a true French-Spanish-English language translator Karen recommends brushing up on your French, German or Dutch to optimize the Belgian experience.
Karen Henry is the English revisor at the ACP Secretariat in Brussels; a former World Bank staff translator and former presenter of “Spanglish” on RJR Radio in St. Andrew, Jamaica.