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Brussels, Belgium English Teaching Q and A with Marieke Lewis
Written by: Marieke Lewis
Last Updated: July 19, 2021
What is your citizenship?
What city and state are you from?
How old are you?
What is your education level and background?
Master's degree or Higher
Have you traveled abroad in the past?
Taught English abroad previously
If you have traveled abroad in the past, where have you been?
Tanzania, South Africa, Italy, England, Germany, France, Scotland, Spain, Mexico, Canada
If you have studied abroad in the past, where did you study?
Mali, Hungary, Austria, Russia
What sparked your interest in going to teach English abroad?
My husband was accepted into a PhD program in Brussels, Belgium. I had previously taught English in three elementary schools in France, so I thought it might be helpful to earn TEFL certification to improve my job prospects.
What were some of your concerns before teaching abroad?
Completing the practicum portion of the TEFL course and successfully finding work.
What did your friends and family think about you moving and teaching abroad?
They were supportive. My parents were concerned. Many friends and family members were envious.
TEFL CLASS INFORMATION
Why did you decide to get TEFL certified and choose International TEFL Academy?
I thought it might help improve my prospects for finding employment abroad. A friend was looking into the TEFL program and recommended it. We each took advantage of the program where people who sign up can each earn $50 toward the program.
Which TEFL certification course did you take?
Online TEFL Course
How did you like the course?
The instructor was super helpful and very quick to respond to questions. She gave great feedback. I found that the coursework took quite a bit more time each week than I had anticipated. It would be a challenging course to complete while working full-time. I was working part-time and struggled to get everything done.
Which city and country did you decide to teach English in and why?
I chose to teach English in Belgium in the city of Brussels because my husband and I had already planned to move to Brussels.
How long have you been in this country and how long do you plan to stay?
I arrived in December 2016, and I plan to stay for four years.
What school, company, or program are you working for?
I am self-employed as an editor, songwriter, and yoga instructor. I volunteer as an English teacher at the Fedasil Petit-Château Klein-Kasteeltje refugee asylum center.
Did you secure this position in advance of arriving?
How did you interview for this position?
In-person interview. I am hired to revise articles and papers written by ESL students, but there is no specific interview process. I posted flyers at a local university where my husband is a PhD student, and students typically email me to find out more and to hire me as an editor.
What kind of visa did you enter on?
My visa is contingent on my husband's student visa.
Please explain the visa process that you went through.
This process took a long time and a lot of patience. I wrote about it extensively in my blog, so rather than write it all out here, I will include a link to the blog post.
My visa was reviewed and approved only after my husband's student visa was approved, I could show proof that I was insured under his insurance plan, I could show proof of lodging after he found an apartment and signed a lease, and he had registered at the local commune in the community where we would be living. I also had to show proof of employment and money in my bank account.
What are the qualifications that your school requires for teachers? Please check all that apply
I do not teach at a school. The refugee center does not have requirements that I am aware of for volunteering.
What is the best way to apply?
Apply online. I have attempted to apply for positions at international schools in Brussels, which requires filling out online applications, but I have not been hired.
Please include any application resources (website, email, etc.) or other information here:
Part of my challenge in finding positions related to ESL work is that I have not had a great success in finding specific positions. It seems that many ESL teachers in Brussels work as freelancers. The TEFL website had very little information with regard to finding ESL-related work in Brussels.
Tell us about your English teaching job!
I volunteer every week with adults living at the Petit-Château Klein-Kasteeltje refugee asylum center in Brussels, Belgium. On Monday afternoons from 14-16h, I work with another volunteer to offer poetry and songwriting for the refugees living at the center. On Wednesday mornings from 10-11h, I offer a yoga class specifically for women living at the center. I have written about my songwriting on my blog.
COUNTRY INFORMATION - FUN!
Please explain the cultural aspects, public transportation, nightlife, social activities, food, expat community, dating scene, travel opportunities, etc...
Food is amazing! There are markets everywhere with every possible kind of food that is pretty affordable compared the restaurants, which can get pricey fast. Haven't traveled very much beyond Brussels because we are living on a student budget, but there is plenty to do in Brussels to keep us occupied. We live in Boitsfort right near a huge forest with lots of trails. If you like living more urban, there are plenty of places in the different communes that would make a good fit. If you like nature, I highly recommend Boitsfort, Auderghem, or Uccle.
COUNTRY INFORMATION - MONEY
How would you describe your standard of living?
I think we are fairly easy going when it comes to our standards of living. We are quiet, so we make good neighbors. We look for places that are quiet and near green space. It took a while to find what we were looking. Being patient is important, especially when moving to a new, foreign place. My husband and I were accustomed to living in our own home with a yard in a quiet neighborhood and nature nearby. It has been challenging for us to adjust to living in a city where nearly all of the houses are quiet, old, and also attached. We finally found a place we liked, and the proprietor actually invited us to spend a couple of nights before deciding so we could see if it was quiet at different times a day. When looking at places to live, I highly recommend going to visit at different times of day, during the week, and also on the weekend.
In your opinion, how much does someone need to earn in order to live comfortably?
That is a great question, and I think it really depends on what is important for the individual and how they define "comfortable." My husband and I rent our house in Arizona, which covers most of our rental costs in Brussels. I work as a part-time editor and yoga instructor, so we live off of my income. It isn't much, but it covers our groceries, a bit of eating out, and odds and ends expenses. We have been practicing creating more simplicity in our life by having less stuff, so it's no problem to buy fewer frivolities. However, it would be nice to have more income in order to travel more to other European companies that are so close. We have found that rent can range anywhere from 500 euro for a room in a house or apartment building into the thousands of euros. We found a nice, little house for 1100/month (originally listed at 1200, but we negotiated a bit, which seems possible if a place has been listed for a while). We spent quite a bit of time not only looking for houses that fit our parameters but also getting a sense from each proprietor for how easy they were to communicate with, how flexible they might be, etc. It's kind of like interviewing for a job. You want to make a good impression so they choose you, but you also want to be able to work well with your boss/landlord.
ADVICE FOR PROSPECTIVE ENGLISH TEACHERS
What advice would you give someone planning or considering teaching abroad? Would you recommend teaching in your country?
Find people who have lived there, and ask them lots of questions. Have patience. Don't expect to find the best place to live on the first round. If possible, rent a place that will allow a very short-term lease so that you can take time to get to know the different neighborhoods and find then find a more long-term place that is a good fit. Do the things that you love because you will likely find other enthusiastic people with similar passions. Don't be afraid to volunteer! If at first you don't succeed, don't worry. This too shall pass.
Marieke is originally from Arizona and took ITA's Online TEFL Course. She taught abroad previously in France before pursuing teaching English in Brussels, Belgium.
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