Dutch habits

Speech at Conventa Crossover from Thiemo Giellissen Ljubljana (one of his slides) August 2019

Speech at Conventa Crossover from Thiemo Giellissen Ljubljana (one of his slides) August 2019

I remembered very well the moment Christophe was preparing his favorite dessert, creme brulee in the kitchen in our house in Belgium. We just moved into our new house. And suddenly he says, shit, we don’t have enough eggs. Oops, where do you find eggs on a Sunday afternoon in Oostakker? We’re talking about 10 years back. All supermarkets are closed, nightshops not open yet… what do you do? Christophe got annoyed and said, no creme brulee for you honey! What do you reply as a Dutch women; we have neighbours! In Belgium perhaps less common to knock on your neighbours’ door but I didn’t care (therefore I love the quote above). So I went in my sunday clothes, we Dutch dress down that day, comfy, homy clothes and no make-up. I saw the neighbours a couple of times, always well dressed and friendly.

So I rang at their door and Cathy opened the door, perfectly dressed, make-up, including high heels. I felt embarrassed but I really wanted the eggs so I explained that Christophe was preparing creme brulee, but we we were missing some eggs. She was super friendly and apparrently also surprised by my request but went directly to the kitchen and got the entire box with eggs. I said, we will give you some creme brulee to taste the results, she loved the idea.

I got home with a box full of eggs, and Christophe smiled. I said, I am and remain Dutch just for the next time I’ll visit the neighbours, just I sincerely need to change my clothes. Later that day Christophe rang at the door and shared the results of favourite dessert. 

The next day, working from home (again comfy clothes, no make-up, embarrassing). Cathy, our neighbour rang at the door. She entered with two empty ‘jars’ with a big smile on her face and said, it was delicious! Since then, our friendship with the neighbours started.  And everytime Christophe prepared creme brulee, we shared jars with the neighbours. We even invited them at home for dinner and never got away without creme brulee.

I know by living and working in different countries, it’s not always appropriate to go spontaneously to your neighbours. Of course it’s the way you will approach the people and what your question is.

When we lived in Houston, our neighbors above us made so much noise, it was incredibly. The apartment was made of wood (like you see in the moves if they knock hard on the walls, you enter the room next door, or the neighbours, for Dutch people a bit strange) and you could hear almost everything. I didn’t know what was appropriate and asked Christophe to join me. An excellent suggestion seemed afterwards. The first time we knocked on the door, no reaction (probably the noise) and Christophe wanted to walk away. I said, no, try another time,we knocked harder and a man opened the door very little, we could barely see his face. We explained that we recently moved in and asked if that was the same for them, he answered no. We asked if they could reduce the noise, and he blamed the kids. As we spoke, we created trust and opened the door further and I looked into his  eyes (another bad habit as a Dutch) and the only thing I saw was aggression. We wrapped quickly up the conversation and walked away. I decided never to knock on their door again, but the noise remain and only got worse.

Then I moved to the Netherlands and the electricity fell out, this happens (in my life it happened in every country). I thought, let’s check the meter cupboard and I saw everything turned red, switched it to green (logical). For 2 hours I didn’t had electricity, a bit strange. I went out to get some groceries and saw my neighbour entering the door. I asked if he had issues with the electricity and said yes. Got some groceries, went back and still no sign of life. I rang at the neighbors and asked if I could look into their meter cupboard, no problem, join me. I entered the house, without asking my name or what so ever. He was very friendly and opened the meter cupboard for me. Then I saw the issue, where I thought that green is go, in a Dutch meter cupboard it’s the opposite (talking about cultural differences) I thanked my neighbor and his wife. Entered my house, I switched the things and the electricity got running again. The way the neighbor treated me for Dutch people is very normal and common, it’s definitely not if you have lived in other countries.

But then I noticed again, yes this is Holland, I am Dutch and I love my country.


Dare to Say YES

Dear World foto 2019.jpg

I am ashamed… so long without a new blog. And in times where my life is perhaps more exciting and dynamic than in the US, it's definitely not the lack of stories, it’s just a lack of priority. 

This week I woke up from a repeating noise… I didn’t know what it time it was and noticed Christophe was not in bed. I got a bit irritated and couldn’t get back to sleep, checked my telephone, it was 05:30. I was almost sure that Christophe was making noise that early in the morning and almost wanted to scream with a Dutch expression : Doe even normaal! Just to be clear, he’s not noisy at all. After a few minutes I hear Christophe screaming: Mariska, HELP, I’m locked in the toilet. So I got out of the bed and noticed that the door of the bathroom blocked the door of the toilet, with no means he could get out. First, I laughed and made a joke and said, you can’t go far without me. But after analyzing the situation (and we even tried that evening to simulate the same situation, because we thought perhaps it was due to the early start), what if you were really blocked on the toilet and I wasn’t there? I don’t know which architect designed the appt, but he definitely never lived here. Imagine the majority of our neighbours are all above 60 years! I already saw headlines, Belgian man died on the toilet in the Netherlands, instead of breaking the world record ‘Belgian man sitting on the toilet.

It’s already 1 year ago that I prepared my departure to the US, time flies. What all can happen in 1 year, incredible. I slowly get the feeling that everything fell on its place. We will move again next month (we don’t want to be locked in the toilet again…), and the never ending story with the assurances and taxes will continue to chase us, I am happy to say I finally found a place where I feel comfortable, really at home. And where I will have the option to have a cat again (no I will not get my cat Loekie back, she’s completely at home in an all women's house, and I still see her very regularly). I think I can say I will slowly move to a more normal life, if you can call my life ‘uberhaupt’ normal.

In the meantime, my father in law is operated twice and has been in the hospital for almost a month, and he’s recovering well. Besides the long lasting effect of the narcose, he’s doing well. In December he will turn 86. 

Some people think I’m Belgian…. I understand because I use Belgian words after living  for almost 10 years, I'm still Dutch. Belgians still think I’m Dutch and Dutch people think I’m Belgian??? Just saying I’m taking the best out of two worlds. My passion for chocolate remains and my Dutch directness, and call to action remains.

And business, yes besides getting everything sorted, I also still run my business, which after more than 2 years it’s getting more shape, recognition and awareness,  I am very grateful. I am not there yet, I still have a long way to go but if you want to be a disruptor, changemaker and visionair, it requires time, effort, energy and much much more. I finally have the feeling we are moving forward because I have very long to do list. And again I’m not alone, I have two crazy guys who are a fantastic support! And those are not the only ones of course, because you really need people who believe in you and support you, especially in the early days.

If I look back I could never imagine that my life would change so much in 1 year. Excited and curious what the next year will bring? Actually, I don’t want to know I take the opportunities which come along my way. Dare to say yes has always been my slogan. You should try it, say yes to the opportunities that come along your path and you will see that those decisions will make you stronger, more flexible and gives you more confidence.

PS For Nextflix lovers; do you know if you are watching movies or series, that in some countries you can’t access certain series, despite your abonnement is the same? I knew there were some small differences, but when my best friend asked for recommendations on Netflix in the Netherlands and she couldn’t access the majority of my recommendations, despite the fact that we are now based in the same country, but perhaps due to the fact that the invoices are still paid in Belgium?


Everything happens for a reason

You got this.jpg

13th May 2019

What do you when you receive bad news?

My father in law who’s in an excellent shape for his age of 85, working everyday in his garden and also loves to enjoy the bourgondisch lifestyle in Belgium and drinks everyday his favorite vitamins called ‘Duvel’. It’s sad to see that at his age you have a tumor in your stomach. You never wish anyone this terrible disease, not even your worst enemy, and especially not your father in law. The good thing is he doesn’t have any pain, and the day after his operation he left the hospital he enjoyed his glass of prosecco surrounded by the family. Respect!

4 months ago I was still in the US and ; what had I done if I was still in the US? Would I have taken the plane and come over, or would Christophe go alone? I’m always forward thinking and an optimistic person, just sometimes it’s good to reflect and realize everything happens for a reason. It’s again a confirmation that we made the right decision. Of course at any age things can happen, and it didn’t prevent us moving to the US, just now you realize, yes, it’s nice to be closer to your family, especially in this situation.

When I lived in Morocco, locals always asked me how’s your health? It took me some time to understand their question. In the beginning I found it a bit weird. In Europe we ask how are you, but we don’t specifically ask how’s your health. In countries like Morocco (and I can now add the US) if you are not in a good health, it has a huge effect on yourself, your surroundings and also your income and future. Privileged to be born in the Netherlands where we have a good health system (yes, it’s changed a lot the past years and not always for the better) still it’s a huge difference between paying 600 dollars per month and the first 1500 dollars is for your own costs in the US and here. And now you understand why so many Americans don’t have a health insurance; imagine if you have to pay every month 600 dollars just for an insurance???

Now I’m getting older (yep) I understand more and more the importance of my health. And to see people in my surrounding who are having health issues, or even pass away at any age. Last 2 weeks I had back pain and had issues to put on my socks, I really felt old, very old. I even had to cancel some appointments because I was not able to drive, or to sit for a while. Then you realize, indeed my health is everything! When I look back now, I even have more respect for the Moroccan culture because they do understand from a young age how important your health is and how it affects your entire future.

And the paperwork is still chasing us… As we were so fed up with the leasing options, we followed the advice to buy a second hand car, which we did. We informed at the community if we needed a Dutch drivers’ license, that is not necessary. You are allowed to drive in the Netherlands with a foreign drivers’ license, ok. The day we came to pick up our car, they asked us for our papers and we showed both our Belgian drivers’ license… a problem. Apparently the garage can’t put the car on a foreign drivers’ license, which they didn’t told us. How should I know? We agreed that we can take the car and that the garage is the ‘owner’ of the car until we have visited of the RDW office in Amsterdam to put officially the car on our name. And they are only open during office hours. And first back to the community to collect the right papers…. Sometimes you feel like a foreigner in your own country. Despite that most people are friendly but they have absolutely no clue what kind of an impact it has on your life, time, energy and motivation.

In the meantime I remain positive because my father in law is not the only one who’s having serious health issues in my close surroundings.

And just received a call that the tax authorities come in for an audit of previous financial years…. another fantastic challenge ;-) Never a dull moment in my life……

Carpe diem


Home sweet home…..

24th April 2019

My life is not less exciting here in the Netherlands!

Some people might think that my life is less exciting now I’m back in my home country, the Netherlands after 15 years, actually the opposite is true! Or perhaps shall I describe my life this slogan :

“The purpose of life, after all, is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”

-Eleanor Roosevelt

We’re moving again… hopefully this will be the last time this year, I have had enough I must admit. We’re staying in the same city in the Netherlands. Our first place was only temporary, and I sincerely hope we stay here for the long term. It feels good our new place, a cosy place along the canals in Alkmaar, next to city centre, where the boots pass, especially with the summer coming, fantastic. And a warm welcome from the owner, a good bottle of red wine :-) A good new start.

And yes I feel lucky if you hear that more than 1000!!! people were interested in the apartment and we are chosen among all these people. Of course I did my effort but as the market here is so tense (also due to the Brexit because we’re only 30 minutes’ drive from Amsterdam) you can imagine that the owners are very selective. I really hope my life will be a bit more quiet…

As I’m writing the previous sentence down, I must be honest and say this is not true!  I accepted a new challenge together my friend to write a book. WHAT? Yes, I will spend my time in the upcoming months to write a book about B2B influencer marketing, this for several reasons, from receiving more awareness and recognition about B2B influencer marketing, and for the influencers and also for myself. Don’t forget if you write a book, you are seen as an expert in your field (never thought of this I must say..).  

Writing a book is like running a marathon, or losing weight. It’s not difficult, everybody can do it, just you need a lot of time, dedication and perseverance.

I’m travelling less abroad which gives me the opportunity to dedicate my time to this new challenge. One thing I know, it will be a huge lesson! And it’s fantastic to share this challenge with my friend, to keep each other motivated. Deadline for the manuscript is 16 september 2019, only a few months to go…..

And let’s be honest; it sounds very simple writing a book but I must admit, it’s more difficult than I thought….

Last but not least; I am so happy that I am now part of the community of speakers agency ‘zij spreekt’ together with other passionate female speakers. No complaints anymore if you can’t find any female speakers for your event or conference ;-)

PS: We are fed up with the leasing companies in the Netherlands, what a pain in the … to get a car and again a lot of paperwork. No leasing for us, we decided to go for a second hand car.

PS : Upcoming Saturday, 27th April it’s Queensday where the entire country is coloured in orange, a day of celebration, fun and joy. It’s been a while since I haven’t celebrated this special day in the Netherlands, my orange clothes are ready!


20th March 2019 - Naples, view from the Grand Hotel Vesuvio (picture  Alessia )

20th March 2019 - Naples, view from the Grand Hotel Vesuvio (picture Alessia)

MICE Experience in Naples

MICE experience in Naples

I love to travel, but also many of you know, I have a passion to support destinations with influencer marketing, that’s my mission. When the request came from the Convention Bureau Napels to participate in the MICE influencers trip to support the destination, and Giovanna Lucherini, the director insisted to have me in, I said directly yes.

Before departure…

As always I wanted to do something special, I wanted to attract the attention of the readers in a funny way, and in a business, appropriate way. At the time I was reading a management book and they focused on visualising. I made the link and thought why not create T-shirts with the hashtags of MeetinNaples & MICE? So I bought a sweater and 2 T-shirts and printed them with the hashtags before departure.

And it worked… at the airport the security man looked at me at 6 am in the morning, where are you going? Naples perhaps??

Here I am, in Naples

The program was composed by the Convention Bureau Napoli in collaboration with their partners,  the International airport of Naples and the Amalfi coast (they opened very recently a new convention bureau). From Friday morning until Sunday evening we (Alessia, another passionate influencer from Sicily and I) had an intense but very divers program. The goal was to discover the different ‘MICE’ possibilities in Naples and the region.

Just to mention a few highlights..

I love locations who are not obvious and I fell directly in love with Salone Margherita they are hidden under the famous  Galleria Umberto I [1] a beautiful gallery constructed between 1887 and 1890. This venue became the new symbol of the Italian Belle Epoque, which you can see back in the architecture and the paintings. The venue is used for parties, cocktails, dinners. As the venue is under the ground, there is no daylight, just be aware of this if when you make your choice.

If you want to use another prestige venue for a book launch, presentation, a formal cocktail, or even a small conference, this former bank building is transformed into a museum, art gallery and venue, called Palazzo Zevallos, situated in the old town, just next to the famous metro station Toledo  And the entrance is in the shopping street, if you don’t pay attention you would pass by.

Gastronomy

From a local cute and cosy restaurant in the old town of Naples to a high end Michelin ranked restaurant (on the list to be nominated for a star…).

The first evening we were treated like queens & king (we only had 1 men in our company…) in Grand hotel Parkers. After a short site inspection we went to the upper floor for our dinner with chief Domenico Candela in restaurant George. The people that know me would say, Mariska you never go to a Michelin star restaurant, indeed I was always very sceptical about it, until I had the opportunity to taste it myself. Everything was delicious, from the home made bread until the wine of the houses, the service, the location… I loved every piece of it!

This restaurant can hosts groups up to 20 pax.

PS The manager, Adele is a huge fan of opera (Naples has the oldest opera in Europe!!) if you’re looking to attend La Traviata or another famous classic opera, she would be delighted to support you.

Thank you for this great opportunity! And yes, of course we had delicious pizza and the local buffalo mozzarella which I love. Did you know the art of Neapolitan pizza-making, was added to UNESCO's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity? Nice idea for a cooking workshop for a group.

Naples has its challenges

On Saturday morning we want to visit Parco dei Murales Ponticelli and this was my personal highlight, to be honest, that is not exactly the right word to express myself. Street art is a hot topic and you can find it anywhere in the world, but this project is particular and unique. The neighbourhood who had major challenges (and still have) was very sad, isolated and by painting the walls, giving the children visibility, they believed, we can make a change. Indeed, by bringing people in the suburbs, people who would never enter this area, the children get in touch with different people from different lawyers of the population. This project is part of an entire project called ‘Inward - Osservatorio Nazionale sulla Creatività Urbana’ and street art is just one of the projects.

During our visit a mobile coffee bar came by, a guy who grew up in a similar area in town to give us a traditional coffee and of course local pastries (sfogliatella). And also, to share his story, his background. For the children in the neighbourhood, it’s important to have local role-models.

It was heartbreaking to get in touch with lovely children who are in a total different situation, then I realize how luckily I am to grew up in the Netherlands in a good area with no poverty.

I completely understand that this visit is not suitable for every MICE group, but by bringing a group, we support and donate directly to the local economy. Yes, Naples has its challenges, like any other city has just in different areas. If you’re group is interested in CSR programmes, this is a must to attend.

And the next day your are in little Paradise, the Amalfi Coast

Naples and its region is an area full of contrasts. One evening you’re having dinner in a luxury restaurant, the next day you’re in the suburbs of the city and the day after you’re in a little paradise.

In just 1 hour through a pittoresque route through the hills you will arrive in the beautiful area called the Amalfi Coast with one of the destinations called Ravello; you arrive in a total different world. This lovely village only consists of high level, small boutique hotels. Of course you have cheaper options but the image, the audience, the surroundings is perfect for a high-level market audience. This area is not suited for large groups (not more than 80 pax) but any group size smaller is more than welcome.

We visited an unique MICE location Villa Rufolo which is a stunning location with an amazing view over the coast line. This is not just a venue, but an old villa which goes back until the 13th century. The venue is used often for a small conference, just be aware that this venue has it’s limitation due to the history of the building and during the day it’s open for guests to visit the museum.

If you are looking for a large venue, this remarkable building build by Oscar Niemeyer is an unique piece of architecture. This venue is mainly used for events related with music but of course other types of events are welcome.

My conclusion

Yes, Naples is definitely a MICE destination especially with the central location of the airport in the city, no long transfers to arrive in the city center. If you are looking for something special, unique and not a common destination for your group, event or incentive which is full of contrasts and not ‘trapped’ by the mass tourism, this is the place to be. Especially with the beautiful surroundings you can create a very divers program which will definitely surprise your guests.


It’s hot in the Turkish Hamam……

26th February, Istanbul

26th February, Istanbul

When I travel for business as a speaker for an exhibition there is always a welcome committee at the airport. Also this time travelling for ACE of MICE to Istanbul. As soon as I came out of the doors and entering the hall, I saw the sign of the exhibition, nothing special. Next to the sign an old man of 85 years with a stick standing there to wait for someone. I had to laugh and wanted desperately to take a picture, but decided not to. I have seen many welcome committees, but not as charming as this old man. Behind the old men, there was a young men in a black suit that came to me… all fine at the end.

Staying in Istanbul, I really wanted to block the time to enjoy a hamam and massage and decided to stay in the hotel (the sales manager was so generous to give me a reduction). I booked the hamam and a massage. I came at the reception at the time I booked.  You always have to put that sexy ‘paper slip’, which I did. The lady took me to first to the sauna to warm my body, fine with me. So I took 2 towels and lay down and relax. Just a few minutes later a musculed man full with tattoos enters the sauna, sees me and goes out immediately. You stupid women!.. Lying in a hamam in your sexy paper slip, that is totally not appropriate in a public sauna! You could have created a heart attack. You should know better, this is not your first time …. 3 minutes later he enters again and created a burka of 2 hamam towels…. I had to laugh so hard, but couldn’t. I have seen a lot just this was missing…. So sweet and respectful towards me… Just it didn’t make me feel more comfortable, I couldn’t really relax anymore. I was really relieved when the lady came to get me out of the sauna and bring me to the hamam. Unfortunately you can’t bring your camera into the hamam… it would have been a bestseller. The tone was set! By the way, I had a great hamam and sauna.

When I came back from the hamam, the housekeeping knocked on my door with a gift. A mousepad as I was using the flyer of the spa as mousepad…. a link with Word of MICE???? It’s all in the details. So cute!

My day of departure was incredible, wet snow was falling down and so cold and windy, unbelievable! Time to say goodbye to this amazing city of 20 million people….  The transfer which was confirmed by mail didn’t came (not used to this in Turkey where I started my first job in 2003, yes already 16 years ago) so I ordered an Uber. The uber came, I entered and not even 5 minutes later it started already… I had to laugh, according to the driver I was very pretty and he wanted to join to me back to the Netherlands (number X in line, I have fans everywhere!). I showed him my wedding ring and we laughed again. After 2 minutes our conversation turned into a meaningful discussion about the current situation in Turkey, he was very open and clearly not a fan of the current president. Sad to see that we often don’t get to see the real picture.

Again proof of concept, I would love to do a campaign to support the country which clearly needs support to the local economy.

PS Turkey is also a cat friendly place… A public cat hotel :-)


Finally at home……

18 February 2019 - The European MPI Family

18 February 2019 - The European MPI Family

Do you know the feeling that you have taken a step aside, or out of your regular path to come at the end back on the right track? Stepping out of your daily routine, out of your comfort zone makes you stronger. And above that, it proves again what you really want?

That’s exactly what happened with me ☺️ By moving to the United States, giving everything up what we had, taking the step and now finally moving back to the Netherlands via Belgium, it was one of the best things happened to me.

Proof? I just returned from the European Meeting and Event Conference organised by the association Meeting Professionals International in the Netherlands hosted in The Hague. I didn’t want to go, I just moved 4 days ago in my new house…. I prefered to stay at home and enjoy my my house and unpack. Nevertheless, as soon as I arrived this feeling was gone! I meet people from all over Europe but mainly from the Netherlands, and again the reactions were overwhelming. Welcome back, great to have you, what happened, etc. After being abroad for more than 15 years I realised more than ever that I am perhaps more Dutch that I would like to admit ;-). The curiosity, being open and direct, but more over the courage to do things differently, that was the red line in the conference and an amazing success. That topic is also the red line in my life, I always want to do things differently and try new things. Changing the game is the theme I love, it’s in my DNA. I have been always a sort of black sheep, a strange duck in the water, but it feels damn good to be me!

Starting on the conference on Saturday afternoon. And after 4 days, at the closing session on Tuesday morning when all the volunteers came on stage, working for more than 3 years on this unique concept, you saw that some of the volunteers became emotional,  it hit me in the heart. I felt being part of this unique team, perhaps better say the family. And actually I am part of the MPI family. I know how much work, effort, energy, frustration it is to get it all done. Wow! You hit me in my heart me and many others. You gave me an amazing warm feeling of being part of an international community with fantastic people. WOW! Congratulations!

After all what happened in the past couple of months, you something doubt, am I still doing what I like? After such an amazing conference I don’t need to doubt a second if this is the right industry to work for. Despite the fact that I am now tired, after long intense days, I feel also energised after so many motivational conversations. I’m back definitely back on the right track in the right country!

Now time to recharge my batteries before I will go to Istanbul…. .

Still fresh the first evening at the conference… together with Amanda Armstrong

Still fresh the first evening at the conference… together with Amanda Armstrong


Home Sweet home…..???

29th January 2019

29th January 2019

Jozef and Maria have found a new home…

And the rollercoaster continues.. Never a dull moment despite the fact that we are now back in Belgium. The first and most important news is that my husband signed a contract and will start with a new challenge! No management anymore (what a surprise ;-) … but will travel again as a chemical engineer to support clients all over the world. He’s happy, I’m happy!

Besides we found a new cute, cosy house in the centre of Alkmaar. Although it’s only for 3 months, it’s a start. Alkmaar, for those who have no clue where this city is all about : https://www.visitalkmaar.com/en As big cheese lovers we’re on the right spot! From February on, Alkmaar is our place.

Since we arrived back in Belgium our social calendar is full! And I realized I missed it more than I would admit. Honestly, some things you only realize what you have missed until its back. Perhaps I’m getting older, or the Americans are friendly but very superficial and as curious Dutch lady, I missed the ‘deeper’ conversations with my friends. I can really say, I’m so happy to be back. And the food… everybody thinks we gained kilos in the US, it’s actually the opposite. We enjoy the quality so much now we’re back, and all catch up dinners and drinks we are gaining some extra kilo’s which I’m more than happy to accept :-)

On a business level for me lots has happened. In 2 weeks time for me, a collaboration with a new partner, new presentations on my agenda, a podcast, and more potential leads… 2019 is starting a bit chaotic but very promising!

The paperwork keeps chasing us…. We want to lease a car in the Netherlands as we don’t have any transport at the moment. In order to lease a car you have to show a contract for at least 1 year, preferably unlimited and 3 recent copies of your salary. Ehhh, we’re just moved back, we don’t have these papers.. And I’m not the only one. Also this system is the same for a house. I understand all these papers and procedures and of course again (or always) I’m an exception. Again, among the readers, If you are an entrepreneur, or want to become one; set up a company for people moving back into their home country and get them settled!! Just an idea….. I’m happy to be your first client :-)

Bye, bye, Houston

Houston Airport - Tuesday 8th January 2019

Houston Airport - Tuesday 8th January 2019

Our adventure is over in Houston… The moment you receive the news that your dream is finished.... I was out of the world for 2 days when I heard that the contract of my husband came to an end. All my emotions came out; sad, anger, disappointment and much much more. We were just getting settled and now we have to go in the rewind modus…

Do you know the movie ‘The Truman Show’ with Jim Carrey? You see things that are not correct, but you think it’s part of the process, or you starting doubting, perhaps it’s me? Or perhaps you don’t want to see them because you really want to accomplish your dream. Of course there were signs that our adventure would be shorter than foreseen but not that short!

Now, after the shock (yes, it was a big shock for me!)  I can think more realistic and perhaps it’s better like this. America was not our dream destination and the job they offered my husband was totally not according to his contract. For me, I thought that the American market had a lot of potential, but apparently I was wrong. Yes, it’s a large market and despite my international network, it was disappointing...lots and lots of promises but no business.

We always said, one day we will go back to the Netherlands, going back to the country where I grew up, back to my roots. Holland, here we come! But yeah this sounds simpler than it is; my husband doesn’t have a job, our house is rented, sold our car, our stuff is stored at my parents in law… I feel like Jozef and Maria (just I’m not pregnant and the donkey is missing)

Besides, you know as well to find a cosy place, furnished in the Netherlands is a huge challenge! Therefore dear readers; if you know a house/apartment furnished in the Netherlands, thank you very much :-)

Despite all the shit and disappointments I enjoyed my time in the US. I am happy that I have taken the decision: I know that I can go anywhere in the world with my partner, we went through a lot of ups & downs and saw his confidence grow, and also our relationship. I know so many people who only dream about moving abroad, at least we done it, and I am proud of it. It made me stronger, gave me more confidence and learned about the American culture.

And all heartwarming reactions of our friends and family that we are coming back, is really touching me.

If another challenge abroad comes along our way, we will definitely go into the other direction, perhaps Asia. But for now… first things first… a cosy place for Jozef & Maria.

See you soon in Holland!


Happy Christmas.jpg

I wish all of you a very happy Christmas and an amazing year full of joy, health and happiness.

17th December 2018
We’re approaching the end of the year, time for reflection, time to look back on a very dynamic and busy year. It’s been a year with lots of ups & downs in a very extreme way. I have travelled all around the globe for my company including India, moved from Belgium to the States. I have met amazing, wonderful people, have received lots of support and for my company and our move. In my spare time I took care of the chapter MPI (Meeting Professionals International) Belgium as the President and together with my team we organised an amazing conference. If I write it all down, I really did quite a lot ;-)

At the other side it’s been a year full with downs, stuck in administration processes (still waiting for someone who will start an online insurance company & bank!!) especially in relation with moving abroad. We came with a printed file of 250 pages to the American Embassy? Crazy! Also people who let me down on a professional and personal leavel, a big client who paid months later, cash flow issues, stress, postponed projects, different expectations from the clients, delays in communication and much much more.

I laughed, cried, panicked, it was also a very emotional year. I remembered the moment we wanted to give the key of our house to our ‘friend’ who came on 1st August to sign the contract after several conversations and visits, and cancelled the same day, just before our departure to the US! I was blown away and just didn’t know what to say, but cried when he walked out of the door. Through these experiences I know now even better who are my best friends, people that are always there for you, no matter where you are on the globe. Grateful that I’m surrounded by lovely people.

I’m a positive person and all these challenges on my road the past year, it made me stronger. The more I get challenged, the more confidence I get. My elephant skin is growing :-) As an entrepreneur, you get a lots of feedback, from very positive to extreme negative, it’s a tough road full with ups-and-downs. And despites all this, I can’t imagine to go back working as an employee….

At this moment I’m creating my professional and personal goals for 2019 & 2020. I know it will be another challenging year, especially for my business. As a visionair, a forward thinking person and ahead of the curve, it’s even more difficult. I have to create more patience, success doesn’t come overnight, it takes an eternity!! Anyway I have a positive mindset about 2019, according to my gut feeling….

On a personal level, I have to learn to listen better to my body and mind. It sounds so easy, it’s not. Eat healthy, do sports and get enough sleep. Travelling is fantastic and also exhausting, (don’t forget the jetlags). Sprint for your connecting flight, do the striptease every time you pass customs, get up at extreme strange hours, tired when you need be awake and awake when you need to sleep.. And I’m not getting younger ;-) Just I love travelling and I hope that I can visit amazing destinations next year.

Conclusion : My backpack with knowledge and experience is growing every year and I’m very thankful that I can accomplish my dream! Let 2019 rock & roll.

I wish all of you a very happy Christmas and an amazing year full of joy, health and happiness.


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Too much is too much! Sometimes I just can’t capture what happens in my life, I’m going too fast.

Let me try to summarize what happened in the past month. First of all I travelled a lot in the month October… Las Vegas, Denver, China and more. And yes, I received an award in Qingdao, China as the Annual Most Influential Conference Leader. Proud!!!

It’s crazy.. It’s like the weather! The month September it rained more than average, October was better, less humid and they all told, the summer is coming… November arrives and the temperature drops until 3C during the day. I never thought that I would need my winter coat. Climat change??? No all is normal, no worries!

To relieve the stress, after all what happened, we decided to go hiking during the weekend. Which is not an easy challenge, enough green area’s just no trails. Here in Texas they love their car, why should you walk? Anyway our friend Google has an answer for everything, and we found a forest with lots of hiking trails, 40 minutes drive from our appartment. We selected a nice trail, a loop. Prepared with a bag of food and drinks we start. It seems so simple : follow the orange flashes….OMG! It’s the first I panicked in the forest. After 4 hours of walking (and after 3,5 hours we didn’t see or hear anybody, just one hunter with a rifle) and we discovered, we are lost! No signal with 3 phones, it’s after 4 pm and in 1 hour it’s completely dark and we have no clue were we are in the forest. We have 3 options, go back, … to the left, again through the mud… No, we choose to go the left and after walking for another hour, we arrive on a dirt road and we start hitchhiking! After 15 min the first car stops (you can’t imagine how happy we were!!) and they were so kind to bring us back to our car (need to search were parked our car…) It was dark as we finally arrived at our car. We maded it!! What a relief. That evening in the Irish pub with our faces full of musquito bites, we were so happy we took the right decision. Now we understand how easily it is to get lost, and we have hiked many times before. Next time, we will definitely prepare better….. In my thoughts I was already spending the night in the middle of the forest between the wild boars, coyotes, and more mosquitos...and mud…snakes and other pleasant animals.

In the meantime the time passes by so quickly! And within 3 months we need accomplish our drivers’ licence (yes, we are already late) first the test and than practice. Again, I didn’t really study, but my husband as a real engineer read the entire book of 80 pages. I’m not crazy and did directly 2 tests and passed both. Just a waste of time to read all those pages with American English. So funny that we have sometimes difficulties to understand the people and have to ask up to three times what they’re saying. My English is not perfect, far from that, just sometimes we have communication issues. Especially with the insurance papers, how many times I used the translator… Hopefully next time you read my blog, I have passed for my drivers’ licencse.


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20 November 2018

Everyday is a new challenge, a new adventure……

Indeed, that’s typically me and my life. Always something new, or unexpected is happening. I just can’t help it, it’s probably written somewhere in my destiny. Who would thought that I will contact a lawyer within 6 weeks of my stay? This was the least thing I expected.

One thing I learned is ; expect the unexpected :-)

My working permit was still pending and the procedure just kept on and on, so my husband decided to contact his boss to receive more information about my working permit. His boss replied quickly and said, I will come back soon to you with more info. After an hour, (we’re Friday late afternoon) a reply from the same person saying that we misunderstood and that I’m probably not able to work, perhaps as independent. Ehh? We misunderstood? Based on your confirmation, by Skype, by mail and to us in person you confirmed my working permit, and based on your confirmation, we made our decision. And just before the weekend, by mail you let us know this is not happening? We are in the US, not in Belgium anymore. Thank you.. I don’t know if I have to become mad, crazy, angry, disappointed, or what...

Action, reaction! I contacted the Dutch community and asked for an immigration lawyer, I need professional assistance in this procedure, to know where I’m standing and what is true and what not. Because I’m totally confused! In the meantime the manager of my husband noticed something was wrong so he asked what happened. What are you going to do was his question? My wife is going to see an immigration lawyer and in case it would not be possible to get a working permit, she will leave the country. And you? I’m following my wife.

The Monday after, I travelled to Vegas to attend the largest exhibition in my sector for 3 days. On Wednesday morning I receive a phone call from my husband saying that my working permit has arrived!! I was perplex.. happy, but not really relieved. Out of the sudden an angel came from above with a working permit, in these times?? What I do believe if you you use the word lawyer in the US doors will go open. And I could cancel the appointment at the lawyer on time…. Like I have nothing else to do here in Houston….. And now the last step in the entire immigration procedure… a Texas drivers’ license.

Everyday we learn and we are challenged, never give up!

#neveradullmomentinmylife

12th October 2018

One of my missions is to open an office here in the United States, a very challenging one! It’s a lot, building up your social life, and a professional life (don’t even talk about my working permit, which is still pending for me, the spoussie..) and much much more.

It sounds all amazing and fantastic, which it definitely is (not allowed to complain) just it’s huge. By the way, it’s me myself and I (my team of freelancers are still in Belgium). Last Friday I was working and exhausted. The alarm goes off everyday at 05:30 am. I love what I do, just couldn’t find the energy anymore at 11 am to continue. This is the reality, I want too much in a too short amount of time and my body protests. I am human, not super woman (you might think… ) Took a bath, relaxed, got some energising food, finished my last mails and decided not to work anymore that day. Enough is enough.

It’s important to surround yourself with like-minded people, in my case entrepreneurs who are facing similar challenges. I decided in this early stage of my stay in the US to be part of a 2 day workshop in Denver organised by GAN, which is a network of start-ups, mentors and investors. Besides to learn, to talk openly about your challenges, to exchange experiences, I also received inspiration and ideas from other companies, and more important not related with the MICE industry. And perhaps even collaborations.

Arrived in Denver, my first time, and as I’m only living in Houston for 3 weeks, everything is new for me. I feel like a kid in a candystore :-) I love to discover new places, it gives me inspiration, change my mindset and not to think about the endless very long to do list. Besides, I’m a passionate traveller and grateful that I have the ability to travel all over the globe (Las Vegas next week, the week after in China…Barcelona..).

What have I learned after 2 days in Denver?

1.    Don’t be afraid to share your idea, go out, talk with others from different industries and you will receive valuable feedback, tips and support.

2.    Women, get out! Start-ups here in the US are for all ages, gender, colours. You are never too ‘old’ to start. This in contrast to Belgium where I usually was one of the oldest, and one of the few ladies, not here. Super!

3.    Corporates need start-ups and start-ups needs corporates. Be honest about the stage where you are at the moment, and share what you need exactly, be transparant. And don’t give corporates too much options, between 1 and 3 is enough.

4.    Don’t accept any customer because you need clients (or the money), they need to fit with your product. Unless, the client is willing to pay.

5.    For me, an important one: overcommunicate and set boundaries. Be transparent in your contract with clients, what is included and what not! If a client asks more than confirmed in your contract, charge more! Don’t become a victim of being too friendly, business is business.

6.    First time in my life that I have missed my flight… There is a first time for everything, no?

What I am going to do differently after this event? I need to be more visible, need to share more stories myself, about my life as an entrepreneur, about my company. I also noticed that I inspire a lot (mainly women) of people with my adventures.

Another priority : take a break this year… This sounds perhaps really strange for you. Although I travel all around the world, it’s always for business with ususally a packed agenda. Just for your information : I haven’t been on holidays since 2 years….

MPI Houston - 27th September 2018

MPI Houston - 27th September 2018

Building up a social life is key, the basis for integration and success in your new home country. For my husband it’s a bit different, everything is taking care of, well not for me. I have to start from scratch and where do I start? An important question to ask yourself! This means finding people who can support you during this journey, especially at your arrival but also later, this can be locals or expats and everything in between. I already started this process in Belgium, through all channels and not to forget sharing my story, my move everywhere I could. With this result, I already had calls and appointments at my arrival. Conclusion: drinking a lot of coffee (sorry tea for this lady) and talking a lot for the following weeks. It’s important, although it sounds relaxing, it can be intense, so much information that you need to digest, about all sorts of topics like; do you buy a (new) car or do you lease? Insurance related questions, but also where do I find a good hairdresser and delicious bread?

Yesterday, I was for the first time in downtown Houston, we live 50 km up north in The Woodlands and didn’t had the opportunity to really visit the city. I rented a car otherwise you can’t move here anywhere! Very convenient to drive, yes it’s busy but with up to 6 lanes, it moves forward. The main reason was to visit the MPI (Meeting Professionals International) chapter in Houston. I have been involved in Belgium for more than 5 years as a volunteer and here MPI is ‘a big thing’ . They gave me a warm welcome, great to see familiar faces. It’s all about the connections, and at the end of the evening I received a personal invitation for an exclusive party in an art gallery, more to come!

As a start-up founder I was part of Startit @KBC, a platform for entpreneurs with an innovative idea in Belgium. An easy way to start is to find a similar initiative. I reached out to Impact Hub, ‘the world’s largest network focused on building entrepreneurial communities for impact at scale — home to the innovators, the dreamers and the entrepreneurs. Yep, that’s for me! They have interesting events and support you with advice, mentors etc. Exactly what I need.

In the meantime I have to remain patient, it’s only a week since we applied for our social security number and my working permit is still pending, no clue when I receive the final approval. This can be tomorrow, but also in 2 months or something in between. I am still the ‘spoussie’ here…

Sometimes I’m feeling like speedy gonzalez, I want to speed up the system, just it doesn’t work. I have to accept it like it this! ^Be patient and keep breathing. After 3 weeks in The Lonely State I have the feeling I get a little more grip on my life, and slowly get a routine (as far as this is possible with my dynamic lifestyle).

Our hotelroom 14th September 2018

Our hotelroom 14th September 2018

Time flies when you’re having fun… I’m already 2 weeks in Houston and I have the feeling I have been in a rollercoaster. Moving to another country is not for everybody, that’s for sure! The first week we were staying in a great hotel, but it remains a hotel and not your own place. And I have seen loads of hotelrooms, stayed long enough to know how it is. You want your own place.

The company offered us an appartment and we went to check it out. At first sight, I thought… Ok… but now after a week actually I like it. You always get influenced by the furniture and style from the previous owners. Luckily (yes and no) we had the opportunity to buy our own furniture to make it our own. I’m so happy they have an IKEA here! After 4 times going back and forth , we got the most. And with the great support of the Dutch community, it was arranged very quickly. The complex is great, situated near a small lake, with a pool, fitness (open 24 hours) free meeting room and more.

Social security card is like the golden ticket, an ID to get your life started here. Without this golden ticket you can’t get anywhere, can’t buy or lease a car, can’t open a bankaccount or get a local number etc. Everything is connected with this golden ticket. Last Friday we finally went to the office and we had a friendly lady and the application is ongoing, fingers crossed!! More news in 2 weeks time.

Food! A very important item in our life (especially if you’re married with a Belgian man) where can we buy vegetables, fruits and some healthy stuff? I’m surprised by the choice and we have even a farmers market around the corner every Saturday morning. Perhaps this is also because the area where we live is full of expats (didn’t really knew that before departure) and the majority has or had a relationship with oil, gas or chemicals. Yep, including my husband. Althought we might be in Texas, not the most exciting state of the country, it has it’s advantages.  Prizes are reasonable comparing to New York or Los Angeles and it’s very green here ( I always thought that Texas was dry and full of agricultural area with lots of caddle, haven’t seen all of that yet!) it’s humid, warm around 90% is normal, rains quite often. It will be better they say….

Every day is a new adventure. This morning I wanted to go jogging outside, early of course, otherwise it’s too hot (31C and 95% humidity). Then I suddenly saw the sign pictured below. I thought it was a joke, than I spotted several others and thought: ‘don’t be better than the locals, nobody here is jogging outside, Mariska, be brave and let’s go inside for the first time!’

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Chill before departure
Ghent, 20th August 2018

Ghent, 20th August 2018

Exciting, thrilled, curious, a bit nervous…… Actually I don’t find the right words to describe how I feel when my long desired dream is no longer a dream anymore….. It’s a been a very long journey to come this far! Exactly 9 years of waiting, trying, emotions, lots of patience we’re moving abroad to the country where your dreams come true, America! The most challenging is that we will move to Houston, a destination where we haven’t been at all. My husband has never visited Texas before.. No clue where we are going, I like it, challenging.

The best feeling in the whole world is watching things finally fall into place, after watching them fall apart for so long.  It’s like bits of the puzzle fell into place. That you have to pinch yourself in your arm to feel, is it really true?? T

We just have a few days left to enjoy our beautiful city Ghent….. let’s chill before departure!

PS We are looking for a nice family who wants to take care of our crazy cat….

#stillsomanythingstodobeforedeparture #neveradullmoment


My visit at the American Embassy in Brussels
Brussels, 13th August 2018

Brussels, 13th August 2018

Finally, the last step before departure…. Or not?

Do you recognize the moment when all your efforts, work, energy is done for nothing? That the ground is moving away under your feet…  After following the entire procedure at the Embassy, registration, waiting, fingerprints, waiting, interview……. (tip, block at least 3 hours in your agenda!). You arrive at the final ‘interview with the consul’ and he said, ‘Madam with this visa your are not allowed to work’. I thought I’m getting a heart attack! Did he really said what I think he said? Do we speak the same language? I’ll think he saw that I was so shocked and checked quickly our papers again and apologized that he was confused and maded a mistake. We asked again; do we receive our final approval? And are we allowed to work? Yes, everything is confirmed replied the consul and you will receive your passports including your visa in a few days at home by courier.

After spending 3 hours inside, we were standing outside in frond of the Embassy. This was the moment where we have waited for so long, but it didn’t feelt as a relieve or as a milestone. Again, I’m feelting insecure… I would be relieved as soon I receive my passport with the right visa and working permit in it…. pff never a dull moment.

PS If you move abroad, be prepared!

#Entrepreneur #journey #exciting #landofthedreams #eventprofs #puzzle #personaljourney #professionaljourney #becarefulwhatyouwishfor #neveradullmomentinmylife