The Pursuit of Living in Belgium

Text and photos by Ranida Ponbuddhichai

When you hear “woman immigrant,” what image comes to mind? You might initially think of women fleeing war-torn countries, seeking asylum and aid. However, that’s not the entire story. Consider Bennaree Awarun, a dentist from Thailand, for example. As a skilled female immigrant, she arrived in Belgium in 2016, eager to advance her career.

Bennaree aimed to be more than just a migrant; she wanted to be a respected ‘global expat.’ With her dignity and awareness, she was determined to contribute positively to society. She began her journey as a student at KU Leuven (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven), navigating through a maze of documents and procedures before seeking employment. The formidable requirements, strict deadlines, limited resources, doubts, stress, homesickness, health issues, adapting to new educational and professional environments and other numerous unforeseen challenges, marked a period of great uncertainty. She adapted to the local weather, food, and lifestyle, built a network, and made friends. Crucially, she committed to learning Dutch and understanding Belgian culture to fully integrate and meet employment criteria. Alone in the darkness, she summoned her inner strength and persevered through numerous challenges. At times, her goal seemed nearly impossible, but her resilient mindset, tenacious actions, and the support from others allowed her to overcome many obstacles and stay on course. After navigating all regulations and processes, her Thai dental diploma was recognized, her medical work permission and license number were granted by the Belgian government, and she has been working in Belgium as a dentist for over six years.

Speaking as a change-maker in the ‘Vote with Her’ project and a fellow Thai dentist aspiring to work in Belgium I follow the same path as her and truly realise all the difficulties.

Good intentions and robust actions alone are insufficient for immigrant women to achieve their goals. Well-structured regulations and supportive policies are critical in this journey and are often beyond individual control. Thus, politics plays a pivotal role as a game-changer.

This year, Bennaree will vote for the first time in the Belgian and European Elections. As the elections in Belgium approach on June 9th, it’s crucial to remember the importance of voting to support and protect the rights and opportunities of immigrant women like Bennaree. Whether you’re Belgian or have an immigrant background, if you have the right to vote, please do so. Every vote counts in shaping the policies that will impact their lives and the broader community.

Make your voice heard and participate in shaping a more inclusive and supportive society.

#VoteWithHer is not just for someone or a particular group but indeed for society in the big picture.