Christel and I met through a book called A Belgian Attempt at American Motherhood by Hélène Toye. In 2014, Christel’s friend, Hilde Van Den Eechhout, came up with a brilliant idea. She bought a copy of this book and decided to pass it along to another Belgian under the condition that they ought to sign the book; then give it to a fellow Belgian after they read it. Christel was the second owner of the book. I had interviewed Hélène Toye on my intercultural blog in 2014 and got so excited about this traveling copy that I contacted Christel to be the next temporary owner.
When Christel learned that I had started to tour the US, she offered to meet in person to hand me the book instead of mailing it to me. She offered me to spend the night to help me in my adventures. This is how Christel got involved with SignMyCar! without knowing it. The day before we met, she discovered the official website of the project, got a little anxious but decided to go with the flow. Oops. That was my bad.
Christel and her family have been in the US for 6 years. In April 2015, the entire family obtained their dual citizenship. Christel appreciates all the opportunities for hard working people and the optimism of the American people. She tries to go back to Belgium once or twice a year but she feels really happy to come to come back home in the US. She likes to be a visitor but is really prod to call Michigan her home.
The family moved to the US when Christel’s husband, Mark, was offered a promotion. At that time, Christel was working in Belgium as a nurse with a team she really loved. She is still in touch with them to this day. Leaving that good job behind was very difficult. Christel decided to apply for a one year sabbatical to test the waters in the USA.
Her two children were not very happy in the Belgian school system. Her daughter was an out-of-the-box thinker while her son was very introverted and reserved. After one year in the US, Christel observed both her children grow as individuals. They became confident and pro-active. They started to be good at public speaking and picked up sports and arts. The American school system and lifestyle was really beneficial to her children.
Mark’s career was progressing as well so it became clear that the family was to stay in the US. Christel officially resigned from her position in Belgium (her hospital could no longer hold her position). It was a difficult move for her. Christel never regretted this decision though and considers that moving to the USA is one of the best thing that ever happened to her and her family.
Yet the story of their journey is not a perfect fairytale. Mark needed to work long hours and travel extensively for his job. This success put a lot of stress on everyone. Then in 2011, Christel got diagnosed with breast cancer. Her following year was rhythmed by daily radiations and monthly chemio. She lost all her hair and her medication made her gain weight. It was really an awful time.
Christel got a lot of support from her family and old friends. They sent her a lot of encouragement letters. Her previous team in Belgium sent her a customized blanket. She keeps all those memories in a red box. She reaches out to this box when she feels down. The sight of it still brings emotional tears to her eyes.
During that period, Christel found a lot of comfort online. She established a deep bond with a blogger, Nora, who wrote about living with cancer. Nora was only 22 but she was full of life despite her cancer. Nora encouraged and inspired many people across the globe. Nora gave interviews on the radio and invested all her time to raise awareness about cancer. Nora became friends with Christel. Their friendship really helped Christel go through her disease.
Unfortunately, in 2012, Nora passed away. It profoundly impacted Christel. She placed Nora’s picture on the fireplace next her father’s picture, who also died of cancer when she was only 20. She thinks about them almost every day and truly misses them.
Christel’s treatment is now over and her last check-up exams were excellent. She will be declared cancer-free in a year. Whenever she goes back to her doctor, she bring him waffles. Her waffles are a hit every single time! Christel made me some and they take like cookies!
Moving abroad and surviving cancer really taught Christel to take it one day at a time and not to worry about the past or the future. Life is a flow. Sometimes it is good, sometimes it is bad, but it is always a wave.
Christel now spends a lot more time with her family and she enjoys taking care of them. Her daughter recently moved out on her own. The family has slowed to enjoy the present moment. Christel now accompanies Mark during his business trips whenever possible. They are making plans for retirement. They are building a home in Florida. Whether they move there full time will depend on where their kids establish. Either way, Christel is happy with her life and she enjoys living in Michigan for now.