Work can be a comfortable place. You know your colleagues well, and when you go to meetings with your regular clients, you see familiar, friendly faces. Still, you sense there is room for improvement.
You would like to learn something new, meet more people who broaden your horizons. In short, your network is stagnating. Luckily, if you live in Belgium, there is a lot you can do. The expat community drawn to Brussels by the European Union institutions and the dynamic local economies in cities such as Leuven, Ghent and Antwerp offer many opportunities to extend your international network to other sectors and other spheres.
Social networks for expats
First and foremost, you have to talk to people. It needn’t be in a formal business situation – just test the waters around you. In Brussels, in particular, the international community is so densely packed that the person sitting next to you at a concert or invited to the same party is likely to have insights or influence in a sphere that will be new but useful to you. Sports clubs or cultural groups are also an opportunity to mingle, as are the school gates, particularly if you have kids at an international school. There are also sponsored cultural events, such as exhibition openings hosted by the ING and Belfius banks, that attract a business audience.
Digital opportunities to socialise in Belgium include meet-up groups, which co-ordinate social activities for people with shared interests, from cinema and sport to speaking a foreign language or different aspects of technology. There are also meet-up groups with a business focus, for instance bringing together women in business or people interested in start-ups.
Next, make the most of the professional networks in Belgium to which you already have access. Look out for events organised by trade bodies, national or regional chambers of commerce, or think-tanks kicking around topics relevant to business. And check to see if your university has an alumni association that is active in Belgium.
Brussels is also thick with networking events that bring together people with similar interests. The best are those with a broad outlook, such as the environmentally minded Green Drinks or the Aviators group, for people connected with higher education. A great way of getting out of the Brussels bubble is to check out the rest of the country’s universities. Leuven, Ghent and Antwerp universities all have top-rated researchers and a keen awareness of the need to bring their innovations to the market.
Look out for events that showcase R&D projects to the broader community or promote their entrepreneurship activities. These give you the chance to not only build a network at these Belgian universities but to meet other delegates who are also searching for the next big thing.
Expat knowledge networks
Another option is to go back to school yourself and follow a course that both builds your skills and helps you meet people with an enterprising outlook. For example, you might top off your language skills with a course in business French, English or German. Or take a short course in entrepreneurship or in an area that crosses business sectors, such as digital marketing.
The ideal option for an expat is to join an MBA programme. Not only will this bring you into contact with similarly ambitious people, it connects you with the business school’s network of contacts and alumni in Belgium. Enrolling for an MBA gives you a license to be curious, to knock on doors and to pick people’s brains. And the diploma you collect at the end is a calling card for building your network further in the future.