Houston, here I am
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.
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!
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….
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).
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!’
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….
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!
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