Interview with Celine Lebel from Canada living in Maastricht.
Seven years ago, back then 24 years old, I arrived in Maastricht will all kinds of travel plans in mind. I never would have guessed how quickly I would fall in love with the city, the region, its people and its way of life and become a permanent resident.
My name is Celine and I come from a French speaking lobster fishing village in the East of Canada called Petit-Rocher. This village is located in a province called New Brunswick where around 33% of the population are French speakers and the rest speak English. We call ourselves Acadians.
When I first arrived in Maastricht with my then partner –who wanted to do his PhD here – I had to find a job. Even before landing, I knew it was not going to be easy to find work as a French speaking high school science teacher in Maastricht or in the area, because of the obvious language barrier. I looked on a map and saw that this city called Liege in the French part of Belgium would be a perfect place for me to look for work since it was very close to Maastricht.
I got several interviews which – to my surprise – all concluded with job offers to start on the 1st of September which was a week away. I just had to pick the one most to my liking.
What I didn’t know about the French part of Belgium called Wallonia was that they have many immersion schools for English and Flemish. Which means that the French speaking students learn their subjects in another language as a way to learn a second language. They are therefore always looking for English native speaker. What they needed was someone who could both speak English to give the different lessons in English and who could speak French to be able to communicate with the colleagues and parents and who can teach science, history, geography, computers, etc. Without knowing it I was a rare thing that they needed in the region. I have to admit I am not an English native speaker but as a French Canadian we are almost born bilingual or we need to become bilingual.
I ended up choosing the school which was the nearest to the train station for practical reasons and since then I take the train every day to go to work and back. A 30 min ride and I am in another country working. Quite incredible for a Canadian who thinks a short trip inside of Canada is a 10 hour drive.
Portugal, Spain, France, Greece, Italy, Ireland, England, Scotland, Latvia, Lithuania, Czech Republic, Poland, Belgium, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Croatia, Turkey, Germany, Slovenia, Austria, Monaco.
I have been to these places once or several times. It’s so easy to travel and very cheap. I love flying from Eindhoven airport, but you can fly from Maastricht/Aachen Airport, Charleroi, Brussels, Amsterdam, etc. And with the low cost airlines the possibilities are unlimited.
When I go back to Canada, I don’t like talking about my European life as I feel that anything I say sounds as if I am bragging. I am really not. I am just telling about my life which is now so different than what a Canadian life could have given me. The fact is that I am also very different then when I left. I became an expat. It’s a very strange feeling you have as an expat. You feel at home everywhere and nowhere at the same time.
Food and Wine
The discovery of the century for me. Even though I was a little disappointed by what the country national dish or product like Gouda cheese and Stampot. South Limburg is a foodie’s paradise.
In summer time you will get wonderful cherries, strawberries and dishes like fruit vlaai which is a kind of pie with custard where the pastry is halfway between pie and cake. And the famous haring of course.
In autumn you get all kinds of game meat like wild boar, rabbit or pheasant. Mussels & fries is also a must to try.
Winter food is a lot like Canadian winter food with a lot of root vegetables that can survive the winter. Plus you get the horse meat stew called zuurvlees (‘zoervleis’ in Maastricht dialect).
Spring will give you the white asparagus and all restaurants will make it their duty to have as many dished containing this ingredient on their menu.
Other than the food, Limburg made me discover good coffee thanks to Blanche Deal, whiskies thanks to Bams, wine thanks to Thiessen near the market square and Wijn & Antiek in the Wyck neighbourhood.
A great way to observe these Limburgers is in their natural environment called the terrace. Compared to the rest of the Netherlands, the Limburgers are known for their Joie the Vivre and their Bourgondish style of life. A typical man from Limburg that you will certainly encounter if you come in the area will most definitely have pointy brown leather shoes, colored pants, and a white shirt with a brown belt, round colored glasses and be bald.
When I arrived in Maastricht, I took as a hobby and also out of respect for the country I moved into a Dutch class called Inburgering. This turned out to be a very good decision when it came to applying for residency. This class taught you Dutch and Dutch culture. I even had to make a portfolio that entailed going to different authorities in Maastricht and talking to them in Dutch. For example I had to go to the police office to report my stolen bike, to apply for a job at a super market, to register a baby, to open a bank account while speaking Dutch and then –afterwards – tell these good people: “Sorry it’s not true it’s for my inburgering. Could you sign my paper?” That was a very “interesting” experience.
After that class I took other courses and now I am proud to have my B1 level –but there is still much more work to do.
Dutch is a difficult language to learn. Not because it’s difficult in itself, but because you could live in this region only speaking English since most Dutchmen speak English (and German, French) and love to practice it. It really comes down to you to keep on speaking your broken Dutch even if they speak English to you so you can get a minimum of practice.
Moving in another country is always a big adventure, but somehow any adventure is always more fun with good friends. The things is that making friends when you don’t speak the language or its dialects has proven to be impossible during my first year. I decided then that I would try to make friends by joining a watercolor painting class. I did make friends but they were all over 60 years old. Then I decided to join salsa since – in my head –this was a sure shot to make friends my own age. And I did, but they lived in the Flemish part of Belgium so it was a little far for someone with no car. Same goes for all the wonderful Belgium colleagues I have in Liege.
And then came the International Women’s Club South Limburg (IWC). I met people there who became such good friends that they became my witness when I and my Dutch partner got our registered partnership. I met people who I know I can call in case I get stuck in a random Belgium station. I met people who can listen when robbers came into our house. I met people who can run with me through the hills of Limburg. I met people that will go out till 5 am dancing. I met people with life stories you wouldn’t believe. I met friends for life.
We would like to thank the International Women-Club South Limburg for their support!