Already a third of my time in Belgium? — Carolina Bettencourt - Curious Person & Designer

Already a third of my time in Belgium?

Already a third of my time in Belgium?


It’s been 4 months since I started my European Voluntary Service. Sometimes it feels like 8, rarely feels like 2.

I am in Nokere, a small village that has one street, one church, one cemetery, one bar, no bakery.

Living in a secluded farm has its ups and downs. You really feel the days pass by and there’s a lot of time to think about whatever you didn’t have time to think before.

Almost every day I remember things I hadn’t thought about for years, things that were wandering down memory lane and that now come to surface. That part I like. I also think about different outcomes to situations I lived and start to question everything, mostly related to how I dealt with friends, boyfriends, family, co-workers. That part I don’t like, but I know these reflexions make me grow so I try to embrace them.

I’ve also been diving deep in the art of patience. Nature takes care of us — it gives us food, shelter, warmth, cures, serendipity. But my work here is to take care of her. And she takes her time to give us all those things in the perfect conditions. So I just have to do my work and respect that. And then the same goes for people. We are a small community of three and we also take care of each other in a non-dependent way. We live in the same house and we work where we live, sharing meals, workload and a roof. Inevitably, we share problems too, but when you put all that pressure in such a small group, energy flows are very volatile so the last thing you want to do is affect them in a negative way. Whereas before I could just change the scenery by meeting friends or going somewhere else in the evening, here I need to adapt to the isolation and deal alone with whatever is bothering me. When there’s a setback, I really have to go through all the steps in my mind to untie the knots and be cool with it instead of overriding all those steps by distracting myself with something else. It’s a challenge but, once again, it makes me grow so I try to embrace it.

I miss Lisbon, I miss my friends, I miss my nephews, I miss live music, I miss red wine, I miss painting my nails, I miss my dog. I miss a lot of things but I also get a lot of things here that I wasn’t getting before. I get to stretch every morning in a huge field surrounded by forest, I get to eat what I planted in my first week back in October, I get a lot more time to read, watch movies and documentaries, I get to work outside instead of sitting in front of a computer all day, I get to feel stronger physically, I get to taste the most wonderful wild mushrooms I’ll probably ever eat, I get to learn practical things like how to use a driller, how to properly store wood or how to make chutney, I get to see the animals starting to get fond of me, I get to knit my own sweater, I get to be a lot more creative in the kitchen, I get to make new friends and visit some old ones that are closer now, I get to do things I was afraid of… I get really a lot more than I give up. But, truth be told, sometimes it feels the other way around because what I’m getting now is not what I was used to get for the last 30 years and sometimes it may feel like I’m giving up everything.
It’s hard and the cold winter doesn’t help but, once more, it makes me grow so I try to embrace it.

I start to meet more people now and have plans for several weekends in a row. Feels good to start having a network and finding my way in work and out of it. Permaculture really is an interesting way of living and makes more and more sense the more you learn about it. I still don’t know what I’ll do when my volunteering here ends but what I’ve been learning here will definitely be useful and part of future projects, even if in a small scale.

Cool things about Belgium? Apart from the basics like the amazing beers, chocolates and waffles, I’d have to say the people. Before coming here I heard several times Belgian people were crazy, only when I arrived I understood it was the good crazy. The people I’ve met so far don’t conform with the norm and do what they believe in and feel strong about. They don’t rely on their government or a “superior” entity to do things for them, there’s a lot of an entrepreneur vibe connected to all aspects of life. And the people that check the tickets on the train are the happiest I’ve ever met in my life, it’s really contagious. You also gotta love Belgian supermarkets, there’s samples to taste all over the place, and they don’t even give you parts of cookies — it’s the WHOLE cookie! And wine, coffee, cheese, nuts, cake, chocolate….everything! Also, Belgium is a small country and transportation works very well so there’s one more thing to love here.

Not so cool things about Belgium? The cold. It’s not even that cold, between -3ºC and 6ºC in the last weeks, but it’s more than I can take for such a long period. I’m the one at fault here, not Belgium.

Holidays in Portugal await me in a little more than a week. I also happily embrace that (but it doesn’t make me grow).


  1. Que lindo Carolina. Adorei o texto, seja pela verdade e naturalidade que carrega, seja por me trazer notícias tuas.
    Beijos desde São Paulo.

  2. Very nice to here that you’re time over there seems to be troubling in the good way…..a lot of free time does funny things to our brain.

  3. Querida Carolina, obrigada pela tua partilha desta reflexão tão serena e tão profunda. Fez-nos crescer também!
    Que continues a olhar para a experiência como ” it makes you grow so you try to embrace it.”
    Beijinhos nossos e saudades.
    Artur e Isabel

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