At home abroad. Due to his father's job, Tom (22) grew up in four different countries before returning to Belgium with his family. Now he's ready to head out on his own. The choice for International Communication and Media was a deliberate one and serves as the driving force behind his next adventure.
Tom is an expat kid. He lived in Paris as a baby, London and Frankfurt as a child, and in the Romanian city of Sibiu as a teenager. ‘Our international adventures were incredibly enriching, despite never having left Europe. It’s a world of difference. I speak four languages and even know the traditional folk dance of Romania,’ Tom says with a smile. ‘I don't remember ever missing anything. Well, maybe Belgian food, but my grandparents would bring us curried sausages whenever they came to visit.’
Each house a home
Moving so often taught Tom how to make every house a home. ‘I adapt easily and so does my sister. Our mum encouraged us to take language classes and make friends everywhere we went. So, we did.’
His parents have made lifelong friendships all over the world. Tom, on the other hand, only kept in touch with his friends for the first year or so before things fizzled out. ‘I tend to close that door behind me when I leave. That’s just something you learn along the way.’ He met his best friend at Thomas More. ‘What I've built here will be a lot harder to leave behind.’
His father's job at General Motors meant the family never stayed in one place for longer than two years. The last city they lived in holds a special place in Tom's heart. ‘We lived in Sibiu for almost six years, which is longer than we ever lived in Belgium. I spent my teenage years there and I really wasn’t looking forward to moving back here.’ At the time of this interview, Tom was in Romania. ‘I have a special connection with this country and my girlfriend lives in Bucharest.’ Tom’s sister also longed to go abroad again and is currently studying law in Vienna.
‘The university encourages international internships, which I think is important. They want you to push past your own boundaries and they help you create the world you’ve always dreamed of.’
The world you dream of
In 2016, Tom and his family returned to Belgium for good. But he ended up choosing an international degree programme. ‘If you’ve lived abroad, an international programme is a great idea; not just for Belgians, but for foreign students as well.’ He studies with Brazilian, Portuguese, Polish, and African students. Most of them are younger, although Tom doesn't really notice a difference. ‘I have fascinating conversations with my classmates. That's another thing you learn in the programme: how to communicate in a group and work in a team. I realised that the foundation my expat experience gave me is priceless. I’m proud of my language skills and my open mind, and thankful to my parents for both.’
Whereas before, important decisions were made for him, now Tom makes these decisions for himself. Like choosing a study programme, although it made him feel like a bit of an outsider at first. ‘My advice to other students like me: don't be afraid to ask for help. The lecturers really are there for you.’ At the moment, Tom is looking forward to the international internships. ‘The university encourages them, which I think is important. They want you to push past your own boundaries and they help you create the world you’ve always dreamed of.’
Success is liking yourself
Tom clearly has an international future ahead of him; the Belgian market is too small. ‘I may follow in my dad’s footsteps and work in the auto industry, but then as a consultant. The sector is constantly changing, which I think is fascinating. Cars are my passion.’ Temporary relocation for work isn’t for him; he'd much rather live and work in the same place. ‘I had a great childhood, but I’m not sure I’d want the same for my children. My mum was always at home, but my dad was usually working, except on Sundays. That’s when we’d go cycling together. It’s hard to combine expat life and family life.’
Success is liking yourself, liking how you do it and liking what you do. That's Tom’s motto. ‘When I do something, I do it with passion driven by curiosity. I’m confident that this will make me stronger. No borders, no limits.’