Over the past few months, strong and inspiring women I was fortunate enough to cross paths with have challenged me to journey to the past and reflect upon the ways in which my international academic and professional experience have shaped me into the person I am today. The first time I received such request was back in March, in the context of an International Women’s Day project my friend was working on, highlighting the experiences of women she deemed strong and empowered, which, clearly, was a label that honoured me deeply. Back then, I wrote the following:
“You have to lose yourself to find yourself, they say. As I was finishing my Bachelor’s degree back in Romania, I started catching a glimpse of what makes my heart ignite with passion. Anthropology – the science of humanity. My family encouraged me to pursue this passion and I found a Master’s programme in anthropology, in one of the most reputed European universities, in Leuven, Belgium.
That is how the process of “losing myself” began, in the best of senses. Anthropology taught me that our idea of identity is a social construct; we are taught to perceive our gender, our skin colour, our language, customs and religion, by comparison or opposition with those of others. I thus had the opportunity to learn how to deconstruct myself, in order to build myself back up in the form and shape that my Higher Self would approve of.
Belgium is a fantastic country to live in, in that its local culture isn’t aggressive or dominating, it is welcoming people coming from all corners of the world, who live together harmoniously, sharing a public space which is peppered with ethnic restaurants, cultural events, movie screenings, art exhibitions, music and dance shows highlighting the cultural diversity.
Being constantly exposed to this colourful social fabric has been a true blessing, because it has confronted me with my beliefs. My encounter with Islam has been particularly ground shaking and for a while, I considered converting, only to discover that I am leaning more towards philosophies such as Buddhism or Shamanism, and, am, in fact, an outcast to every religious system. I therefore took the path of mysticism and esoteric practices, such as meditation, divination, astrology and energy work, which have offered me more room to roam, only to discover that not all who wander are lost.
It has required a certain degree of maturity and ownership of my own personal and professional path in order make my stay in Belgium more permanent, because moving to another country, you find yourself alone, far from a family that can support you, whether financially or otherwise, in case of need.
It implies a struggle, learning to manage yourself and your resources, to find a steady source of income, to undergo all the necessary administrative procedures in order to benefit of all the advantages and privileges that the country has to offer. It implies learning to plan and to prevent, being careful and keeping yourself safe and strong, especially as a single woman.
Living alone abroad has given me a sense of agency and has allowed me to take my time to discover who I truly was, what I liked and what I believed in. I found that doing things alone, as a woman, still has a certain degree of taboo associated with it, and I decided to defy those restraints, by going out for drinks, lunches, movie screenings, concerts, dance classes and parties, by myself.
Furthermore, living in a foreign country, you don’t only represent yourself, but also your heritage and origin. As a Romanian, I still struggle when I hear people speak my language as they beg, curse or live on the streets of Brussels, vilifying the image of my homeland. It has thus motivated me to put my best self forward, to be hard-working, honest, open and kind to the people around me, in order to proudly represent my upbringing and the values I uphold, which have been instilled upon me by my loving family back in Romania.
In my experience, moving abroad is the most effective manner to discover your true essence, not by regurgitating a social persona that has been fed to you within a society confined by borders, but rather, by blooming into a veritable citizen of the world, appreciating the vastness of cultural and spiritual possibilities and finding out who you truly are. Discovering that the “other” is not an enemy, that different is not evil, that the unknown is not scary, that home is not a place, but a feeling is the most precious gift one receives, upon saying goodbye to their country of origin.
It is instead nurturing, soothing, enriching, because it means building upon the roots you have, to grow into someone stronger, someone more beautiful, someone more like yourself. To me, it felt like being a seedling, which daringly pierces through the soil, only to open into the vastness of the Universe. It felt like spring.”
As seasons continue to change, I have moved into the summer of my reflections, when the wonderful Françoise Falisse invited me to share my experience for an episode of her new podcast, Women Abroad (which you can equally follow on Facebook or Instagram). I met Françoise a few years back, during an instant of bravery, as I reached out to an inspiring stranger whose website I had come across by chance. Little did I know that, over the years, I would be fortunate enough to be featured in one of her projects, being given the safe space and the platform to find my voice and stand tall and proud, the woman I am today. And from that standpoint, I humbly praise and thank the Universe for every opportunity it offers me to tune in and experience the overflowing energy of Love.