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Be inspired by the expat story of these global citizens, Gilles and Martine.

‘If you aren’t having fun, are you really living?’ The motto of Gilles Schmit, a man with a passion for limitless possibilities, comes up often during the interview. Gilles explains: ‘It was the driving force in my search for happiness for myself and my family.’

He has worked on almost every continent and his wife and three children reinvented themselves again and again. ‘New countries and cultures - it forces you to create a home away from home. And that's not often easy.’ From Asia to Saudi Arabia, they learned what it meant to be a citizen of the world. They always knew that they had Overseas Social Security behind them. ‘For an expat adventure to succeed, you have to open up and literally leave your Western mentality at home.’ Each new destination still feels as exciting to Gilles as the first day of the new school year. ’Expat life is like a 'school of life'.

Thailand: a home for the children

Gilles grew up in a family of adventurers. His grandparents traversed the Middle East, North Africa and even travelled to distant Russia. Additionally, his parents often went trekking to the Himalayas.

The idea of working as an expat developed during his studies, but only became a reality later. ‘I had one very strong conviction: I wanted to leave Europe.’ Armed with his family history and thirst for adventure, Gilles applied to Solvay. He was given the opportunity to complete an internship. A few years later, a new world literally opened up for him.

His first major project led him to Thailand, where, with his wife Martine and his two young children aged 1 and 2 - a third on the way -, he took his first steps in a career that would take him across many national borders. They did so together with Overseas Social Security. ‘While working for a big company like Solvay a lot of things were being taken care of. For example, my family was always surrounded by the best medical care wherever we went.’

‘In retrospect, Asia felt like our home away from home. Our children still consider it their homeland, so deeply were we rooted in Thailand's warm culture and hospitality.’ Like Marco Polo, Gilles carries Asia in his heart.

To all corners of the world

After Asia, his professional path led him and his family to Brazil, Argentina and Russia, with stopovers in Europe. He eventually settled in Saudi Arabia.

In hindsight, I've grown immensely and learned what really matters in life.

And his wife Martine? She followed him to almost every new expat country. The role of the partner is often crucial to the 'success' of the expat journey. ‘While moving wasn't always easy, each place gave you a chance to discover a new side of yourself every time.’

As an expat partner, you are thrown even deeper into the adventure. ‘Often you leave without a job to go to in a completely foreign country, where you are forced to redefine the meaning of your existence. However, finding a purpose in a new environment is no easy task. It can take up to six months to find something you really want to do. But that never discouraged me. In hindsight, I've grown immensely and learned what really matters in life.

Martine blossomed in each new environment. From volunteering to caring for their children, and even pursuing an interior design course. ‘It wasn’t in my nature to sit still. Even in Brazil, I started studying again.’

Expat children

In the expat world, it is not only the adults who are part of the expat community. Their children, also known as 'third-culture kids', experience their childhood steeped in cultural diversity. New environments, languages and traditions alternate on a frequent basis. As a result, they often develop a high level of adaptability. ‘Our children entered into our expat adventure from an early age and they don't know any other way. My family has never restricted me in my work. On the contrary, our children were a driving force that helped us integrate into our new homeland.’

Gilles and Martine's children gained a rich cultural background - it was often they who opened up the world to their parents even more. ‘Our children were the facilitators who settled us into the new expat country again and again. While we brought the world to them, they taught us to dive into the social aspects of that world through their contact with other expat children and the local population via education and hobbies.’

As Gilles and Martine grew between borders, their children developed a global mindset that set them apart from their peers and prepared them for a life of limitless possibilities. ‘Our children have embraced their nomadic existence and now live scattered around the world: in England, Belgium and Réunion Island.’ Talking about a ‘full circle moment’.

School of life

‘We've travelled a lot, but above all we've been living.’ Meeting different cultures and people has shaped the couple. ‘I'd recommend taking the plunge to anyone. Often people are held back by fear of the unknown, but 'the first step is the hardest'. From the moment you take that first step, you've come a long way.’

What was their best expat experience? ‘They all taught us something. And each experience was different - certainly at family level, with everyone reacting differently at each encounter with a new country. But always with a positive attitude.’

The children have now left home, and the couple resides in Saudi Arabia. That meant an adjustment for Martine. ‘The style of dress and local customs are different, but the hospitality here is tremendous. You can simply knock on any door and sit down at the table.’


Finally, we asked them about their vision for the future. And that’s still wide open. ‘Even after spending many years as an expat, I’m still happy. So as long as my job keeps me here, I’ll stay.’ Nevertheless, they are slowly searching for their last home. ‘I’ll retire within the next five years, and ideally I'd like to buy a ruin in Tuscany and do it up.’ Gilles is also an avid art lover, so it seems logical for him to return to Europe. ‘I’ve always missed something, and that is the art of Western Europe.’ The couple came back at the end of the year specifically to visit some museums. ‘Brittany and Normandy also look promising.’

Is Belgium on their wish list? ‘It’s not the country we are interested in at the moment, but we’re not ruling anything out.’

In any case, Gilles and Martine will remain members of the OSS for a while. ‘Until I retire. Because for all these expat years in different countries, my membership still entitles me to a pension.’

Currently, Gilles is covered through a local contract, and he also believes it is important to remain a member of the OSS. Because as we all know: the journey is never really over - only the destination changes.

Would you like to share your travel experiences?

Are you an expat or do you know someone with an inspiring experience abroad? Please don't hesitate to contact us at overseas-expat@onssrszlss.fgov.be. And who knows, you might inspire future expats with your story.

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