Having moved from South Africa to Belgium, that’s the choice Michaela Osswald made. After completing high school and graduating, everything was already clear in her mind: to join the international communication and media program at Thomas More in Mechelen.
With a big smile and infectious good humor, Michaela begins to share her story with us. Coming from a small town in South Africa named Cape Town, Michaela quickly developed an interest in pursuing her studies abroad, as she mentioned, “since I was very young.” The move happened quite recently: “My father received a job offer in Belgium; my entire family moved in April 2022, and I started studying in September.” Living in Brussels upon her arrival for a short period before moving, the change went smoothly for the young woman. Although she describes her integration as “chaotic,” it was primarily the process of starting and learning new customs and cultures that proved challenging. Fortunately for her, being extroverted by nature, the courses and numerous activities offered by the institution made it easy for her to integrate: “[…] especially since my native language was Afrikaans, which is quite similar to Dutch. It helped facilitate my integration into this country,” she expresses confidently.
“It has been a big change to come here.”
It’s thanks to her new group of friends that she has been able to discover Belgium and Mechelen. They often meet in cafes or bars to have good times, like at Gouden Vis. It was her first experience where she could try Belgian beer! Knowing every nook and cranny of Mechelen, she now feels accustomed to the country’s culture. However, Michaela remains steadfast; the most significant upheaval she had to face was the food: “Compared to other countries where I stayed for a few years and to my country where one of the most important things is our cuisine, I think it was a real cultural shock for me when I arrived. Eating fries, pancakes, and chocolate is good at first, but in the long run, it quickly becomes monotonous,” she says disappointedly.
“Belgium is a renewal for me.”
Although having some stereotypes based on Belgium, what really struck her upon arrival, she tells us, was the discovery of a safe country. Something missing in her home country: “In South Africa, I had to be in some kind of bubble, always being vigilant depending on where I was going and with whom because crime and poverty are very present. I no longer have that fear when I go out in the city.” A step that allowed her to move more freely and appreciate its positive aspects. The Catholic church O-L-Vrouw located south of Mechelen is one of her favorite places in the city. “Every time I pass by this building, I’m just in love and obsessed with the architecture. It brings me a kind of peace,” she says thoughtfully. On a scale of 1 to 10, Michaela would give herself a 10 as an international student. However, she has still mentioned her desire for adventure: “It’s a great place to grow and develop when you’re a student. In the long run, it’s a bit more complicated regarding my life goals. It’s a place I highly recommend, but it depends on what you’re looking for.”
Text: Lenny Druelle
Pictures: © Lenny Druelle