Global Estonians: Liisbet Sooaluste (Brussels, Belgium)

Hi Liisbet, what made you to leave Estonia?

During my final year of BA studies at the University of Tartu I developed an interest in European affairs and when the time came to choose a Masters programme, I decided to make my way to the heart of Europe with a dream to pursue a career in EU affairs.

Where are you based and how long have you been there?

I am based in Brussels, Belgium. I have been residing in the country for 3 years, 1 year in Leuven, where I studied, and 2 years in Brussels, where I work.

What made you to choose Brussels?

It all started in Sweden where I was studying via Erasmus programme and developed close friendships with a bunch of people from all over the world. A very good Belgian friend of mine was a student at the University of Leuven. When I was choosing a Masters programme, I noticed that his home university offered an exciting programme on EU external relations. As my job contract was about to end, I decided to take a risk and start a new challenge abroad.

What is it like to live in Brussels and what challenges have you had?

Brussels is great. Although, I must say it is not a place that instantly neither sucks you in nor does it give you a warm welcome. Once you get out of the Euro quarter and start exploring the hidden corners of the city, you begin to realise what a versatile and unique place it is.

As for challenges, I was lucky enough to make a rather swift landing and life gave me opportunities to gradually advance on my career ladder. However, as every young person trying to figure life out, I’ve had my ups and downs. But I think it has all contributed to my personal and professional development in a positive way.

Was it easy to integrate in your current environment?

Yes and no. As a “eurocrat” you are spending your time in the “ Euro bubble” with people from all over the place. Young people are easy-going and fun; you make a lot of friends and have an intense social life. This is, of course, if you want it. From time to time everyone gets homesick and you may get the “Brussels blues”. Then pick up your phone, text a friend and enjoy a nice Belgian beer together. Or chat with your loved ones back home.

How do you make your living and what has been your best experience in your work life?

I work as a communication officer at Europe Direct – the information service of the EU institutions. Before that I was an intern in an NGO active in international conflict prevention called Independent Diplomat. I’ve had the opportunity to work with super-international and super-qualified staff, meet people from all over the world and broaden my knowledge in world and EU affairs.

Have you had any setbacks?

The job market in Brussels is harsh and young professionals often struggle to find their place. Advancement in your career takes a lot of time, there is a lot of work to be done and the reward is not often worthy of your effort. It is not easy to manage your work and personal life at the same time and a multicultural environment can sometimes work for and against you.

What’s your recipe for success?

Stay realistic, but dream. Dreams and goals are what motivate you and drive you forward. Define for yourself what you want to achieve and don’t lose sight of your ideals. Also, cherish your nationality and be proud!

Do you still have a connection with Estonia?

Yes, of course. Actually I don’t consider myself as “having left”. As long as Estonian Air flies to Brussels, Skype works and Postimees gives me news, there is no need to worry.

Is there anything special you miss about Estonia and do you plan to return?

I miss the nature and the peace and quiet. Also the sarcastic humor which, at times, I have to practice with caution here. I like the concept of “omnipresence”, to share my life between different places, including Estonia. So far it has worked out. We’ll see what the future brings.

So what are your future plans?

I plan to stay in Brussels for now and see how things work out here. The one good aspect about living abroad is knowing that you have a “real” home somewhere and you can always return if you do not succeed abroad. However, I have never regretted moving abroad. It’s tough, but it’s worth it.

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