The Husband’s grandmother was an extremely cultivated and passionate woman. I only met her two years before her death but we made the most of that time and spent hours chatting on her sofa about the world. Her favorite subject was religion. Born at the beginning of last century in a part of the world where religion shapes your identity even more accurately than mere nationality, she was obsessed with conversion. Or, more precisely, the possibility of conversion. Everytime I pointed out to her things that I found pretty cool about religions other than Roman Catholicism she would narrow her eyes and take a suspicious tone: “You aren’t thinking about conversion, are you?”. “No, I am not. Why would I?”. I find difficult enough to cope with one’s own upbringing, let alone going back to school to absorb another religion, another world, another way of conceiving life and its purpose. Once I stated without doubts that mines were simple speculations and that they did not conceal any actual interest to embrace a different spirituality, she would make more tea.
Those moments spent together looking at different beliefs came back to my mind the other day when a friend announced me she applied for Swiss citizenship. She’s been living there for a long time, works there, had children there, built a life there. Getting a passport is just the following, natural, step. Still, I was somehow touched. As an expat-at-heart, embracing a country you were not born in resembles conversion to another belief. It means actual involvement, participation. Leaning In.
I toyed with the idea of applying for Belgian citizenship for some time. When I couldn’t (because I had not lived in the country long enough and I hadn’t been married long enough) it looked very exotic and interesting. Once they told me I could get a Passport, I hesitated. As a EU citizen, my rights are already pretty similar to those of a Belgian citizen. I can’t vote at political elections but since the political architecture of the country is extremely complicated, I don’t regret it. When there are not practical issues at stake (as getting a permit to work or a permanent residence permit), applying for citizenship becomes a mere intellectual question. I realized I am not ready. Living in Belgium has certainly shaped my life in the past decade and influenced my point of view. I have a Belgian husband and Belgian children. I am just not ready to join them in their Belgitude. Partly because I don’t know yet if Belgium will be my last stop in expatriation.
Have you “converted” to another citizenship? What prompted you to do so? How was the day you became something else than your birth nationality? I’d love to hear your stories about this crucial step in an expat’s life.