SignMyCar! Belgians Living in the US.


SignMyCar! Belgians Living in the US.


Karlien Van Hees - Jacksonville, FL

Story Published in May 2016  | Interviews conducted in July 2015

SignMyCar! Belgians Living in the US.

Karlien and her family [“The Petra Clan”] welcomed me last summer to document their lives. Each family member let me follow them in their daily activities for a week to really capture the essence of their Belgian American Life. I followed Karlien to her cheerleader practices and family events. She shared with me what it was like moving to the United States at age 8. Karlien’s story is part of a multi-generational documentary. Don’t miss out and read all five stories!

SignMyCar! Belgians Living in the US.
Changing life

Karlien moved to the United States when she was 8,5 years old. The family had lived one year in Pennsylvania in 2002, but as Karlien was only 2 at that time, she doesn’t remember much. You can watch her mother’s interview to hear more about that time period.


As Karlien spent most of her life in Florida, she is often called “the American girl” by her family. But she doesn’t feel out of place at all. “I feel 50% Belgian/50% American. But when we moved here in 2008, it was hard the first year. I couldn’t speak the language and I couldn’t understand my “assigned friends” in school. I was referred to as the “weird kid” in 4th grade. Classmates would ask me to speak Dutch and my friends were sometimes annoyed at my different ways. ”


Karlien remembers being shocked by all prevention drills in school (hurricane, fire, tornado, shooting,...).“I was so scared of being kidnapped and shot” Karlien explains with a smile. “The truth is that school shootings are really rare, actually. But we practice the drills so often that students don’t take them seriously anymore. They should organize less prevention drills”.

SignMyCar! Belgians Living in the US.
Staying herself

Karlien quickly lost her Dutch accent and people stopped asking where she came from. Karlien learned to stay herself and not change who she is to fit in. “It is important to understand that you do not have to change yourself just because you are different from people around you. You need to adapt and keep an open mind but you must not conform for the sake of it. Stay yourself and you will find friends that value your difference” Karlien explains.


The hardest challenge according to Karlien was “learning to be polite”. Karlien is very energetic, very frank and sometimes impulsive. Her authenticity comes across as very raw, even more if taken for comparison with the American culture. “My friends have gotten used to it but I know I have to be watchful of what I say and how I say it”.

SignMyCar! Belgians Living in the US.
All-Star Cheerleading

One of the things that have helped Karlien make great friends in the US is cheerleading. Karlien joined an All-Star Cheerleading Gym in 2013. Cheerleading is her favorite thing in life! This sport gave her a lot of confidence in herself and a second family to be part of. Karlien loves the combination of athletics, dance and rigor that goes into it. Team and trust are the two pillars of the discipline. Karlien is a base in her cheer team: she helps the flyer during her stunts and catches her afterwards.


All-Star cheerleaders are very different from High School cheerleaders because they do not cheer for other sport teams such as football or basketball. All-Star is focused on competition and are dedicated to practicing and performing. The level of skill required is very high as competing is their main focus.


An all-star gym often has different types of coaches on staff such as a tumbling coach, a stunting coach and a choreographer. All-Star cheering also involves a lot of travel to attend all the competitions and can be one of the most expensive sport, once you have added up the tuition, the costumes and travel costs. “People think that cheerleading is not a sport because of all the glam. Yet the physical condition, strength and flexibility involved in performing all the routines is impressive. It takes years of practice to achieve. I am so proud of Karlien for all her hard work!” Petra says. Karlien's gym won the Florida State Championship in February 2016. You can see a video made by Karlien’s Gym by clicking on this link. It will make you feel awe too.


Aside from cheerleading, Karlien likes to make art. Her art projects have won many awards in school. While she does not have a favorite medium, she enjoys drawing a lot. The key is just to create when she feels the inspiration. “I can’t draw on demand for example. If I feel like sketching a flower, the flower will look good. But if I don’t feel the burst, I will not be able to draw it well. The same applies to many things I do” Karlien says.


Karlien is now a sophomore in high school. She is now the only sibling living full time at home: Simon studies architecture in San Luis Obispo, California; Nele is in New Brunswick, NJ studying pediatrics while Maarten is pursuing a degree in engineering in Erie, Pennsylvania. Karlien is still soul searching for a path to take after her high school graduation in 2018. She would like to find something that is both engaging and creative. We wish her good luck!


Don’t miss out on the stories connected to Karlien's story! Discover the documentaries on each member of the “Petra Clan”:

SignMyCar! Belgians Living in the US. SignMyCar! Belgians Living in the US.
SignMyCar! Belgians Living in the US.
SignMyCar! Belgians Living in the US.
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