Ghent looks to expats for bright ideas


A local non-profit is organising a meet-and-greet to find out how expats feel about life in Ghent, and how it can be improved

Dialogue between internationals and the city’s service sectors

Despite the chance to travel, learn new languages and build relationships with people from all over the world, being an expat can also be an isolating experience. Language difficulties, cultural differences and a lack of information about the city limit the ways new residents can engage with their adopted community.

If you ask De Community Gent, a non-profit platform for community co-operation, exchange and consulting, this isolation is not only difficult for the expats but is a disservice to the city as well.

Later this month, De Community Ghent will try to remedy this. Recognising that expats often find themselves on the outside, unaware of or unable to interact with the organisations and people that run the municipality and its services, the non-profit is inviting internationals living and working in the city to spend an evening at the Ghent Museum of Fine Arts with representatives from the various sectors that surround, serve and employ them.

More than your average meet-and-greet, De Community Gent has a clear, constructive agenda with this event: to find out from expats from all walks of life – from employees of multinationals to independent artists – what they think of life in Ghent and how it can be improved.

“A lot of expats are interested in what is going on in the city,” says Anne Lybaert, event organiser and managing director at De Community Gent. “They are not only there to work. They live in the city, they do sports, enjoy cultural activities, use services. So we want to bring people into contact with those who provide these services.”

Unique cross-sector approach

From the expat perspective, Felicia Benefield, an American who has been living in Ghent for almost five years, describes the frustration that arises in trying to get information about how she can, or is expected to, take part in her community. “I think that for such a small city, it is missing some clear common channels of communication,” Benefield says. 

We believe in co-creation and co-working, and that good ideas come from all over the place

- Anne Lybaert

Giving the example of local elections, she says, “It is not 100% clear what, as an expat resident, I am allowed to take part in. I have been told that I can participate in local politics, but the facts behind this are not very clear in terms of how do I register or if I am required to vote, like Belgians.”

Lybaert sees this lack of dialogue between the expat community and the city and its service sectors as a disadvantage for a city trying to position itself as an advantageous place to invest. “We realised that there are lots of expats working in the harbour and lots of expats, of course, at the university. But there are many more. There are musicians and people who work in film, in the opera, in the research centres. These people are also living and working in Ghent, and they also might have bright ideas about how we can become better. But we do not know them. If you do not know them, you cannot get their input.”

While not exactly Ghent’s first expat event, this is the first of its kind, Lybaert says, in its cross-sector approach – connecting expats to representatives from the city, the university, the harbour, entrepreneurial organisations, research centres and the cultural sector. 

“We believe in co-creation and co-working, and that good ideas come from all over the place,” says Lybaert. “Expats can bring really bright ideas because they have another outlook, other ambitions.” She also makes the point that Ghent is already considered a good city in which to live, always ranking highly among Belgian cities in standards of living benchmarks. “But we can do better,” she says.

20 March, 19.00
Museum of Fine Arts
Fernand Scribedreef 1, Ghent


photo courtesy of Visit Flanders

A local non-profit is organising a meet-and-greet to find out how expats feel about life in Ghent, and how it can be improved.

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