Moving abroad in search of a better me...
I don't like who I am in Europe... In fact, for quite a few years, I've hated myself. I hated the way I thought, the way I acted, the way I interacted with people, the way I looked, what I was doing in life... I was lost and didn't feel like I belonged... I felled judged and neglected... This really reached it's low about a year after dropping out of high-school. I must have been 14/15 years old and I remember feeling so frustrated all the god-damn time. I was upset about being upset and not knowing how to get over it... Something had to change. Or maybe everything had to change?
My first trip to New York (07-04-2014) Finding a goal worth aiming for...
I love planes... I mean, what 15 year old boy doesn't right? One day I was watching this documentary on National Geographic on the Boeing Mega Factory in Seattle. "I want to go to Seattle!" - I said... - Which turned in to "I want to go to the United States" - Which eventually turned in to a trip to new York City. My parents found this 10 day trip with a group of youngsters exploring NYC, Washington DC and Philadelphia. I can talk about this trip for hours, but the one thing relevant here, is something I said in my first 30min on US soil:
"Man... I'm so gonna move here one day..."
Being whoever You want to Be...
I remember thinking to myself, "This is my chance to be someone else and to be who I want to be". Which is how I feel every time I go abroad. No one in this group of people knows me, no one cares about me, I can be whoever I want to be, at least for this trip... I clearly remember that feeling of freedom. For the first time in a very long time, no one was judging me. This was a big breakthrough. I found a way to 'escape' my past self. To escape who I really was and to focus on working who I wanted to be instead, without being judged or measured along the way (Which I really feel is something big in our Belgian culture that needs to be worked on). And that became one of the primary reasons of wanting to go back, which I did, 6 more times...
How do you know?
After going back to Belgium after this trip, I couldn't shut up about it... "I want to go back!" "I want to live there!" "It's so much better then here..."But how do you know? How do you know if this is just a dream that will never come through, or if this is something worth fighting for or at least worth exploring deeper?
"When to push; or when to let go?"
I guess the only answer I've found to this question is to at least give yourself the freedom to gather all the peaces, to try it out, to explore the option... Which is by far the hardest step in the decision making process. I want to say that that's what I did, but it wasn't... In fact, it took me another two years to get back to New York City. And it took a whole lot of diversions/mistakes to get there...
Starting a company in a place you don't want to stay
A few months after this 10 day trip to the East-Coast, I actually did go back to the United States, but not to New York, to California. I was 16, turned 17 about one month into my trip, and learned how to build Tiny Houses. Returning from this trip, I started building my own Tiny House.
"I'd tasted what freedom felt like and I couldn't go back"
few months into my own Tiny House build (and 3 months of trying out University) later, I was contacted by a small magazine who wanted to write an article about me. "Me?" And it didn't take long before national and international press started to pick up my story.
"17 year old wants Flanders to live smaller"
"Big attention for Tiny houses"
"Living in a house on wheels"
So this was a thing... I was the 'Tiny house guy' now. What am I gonna do with that? I remember the day that I started working on a website www.tinyhouseprojects.org. I don't think it still exists today, but that website was the start of Tiny House Belgium, a company I ended up running for a little over a year. The day I wanted to publish that website, I was upset.
"Is this what I'm gonna do now for the rest of my life, or do I want to go live in New York and do something totally different?"
That's literally what I was shouting to my parents right before I published the site. We came up with this bullshit plan of working on this Tiny House thing for 3 years to have something to show for myself and then move to New York. Because, you know, all the typical things, I was to young, I didn't know what I wanted to do there, I didn't have a degree, I didn't know anyone there... But I did it, I neglected my New York calling and started building out a company in a place I didn't want to be.
When things got serious
It took a few years for things to go from 'a great vacation' to 'I might be able to move here'. From that first trip in July 2014 to the next two week trip in September 2016. This was my second time in New York City and about one year after starting Tiny House Belgium. I went to NYC, Chicago and California. It was emotional, seeing how much the City had changed, and to have that exact same feeling of freedom I had 2 years earlier... This time I knew, I had to try. I consider myself a bit of an introvert when I'm in Europe, but whenever I'm back in America, that sooo changes. I met some amazing people on this 2 week trip; a film-producer from LA in Chicago, Tiny House builders in Fresno, and a bunch of international people in NY that wanted to move there too.
I decided then and there, I'm moving to f*ing NYC! I flew back to Belgium, told my parents there's no way to change my mind, finished the ongoing projects with Tiny House Belgium and found someone to sell my business and my own Tiny House too. And there I went, back to NYC just a few days before Christmas. I think these next two months were the second hardest times in my life.
Now what? I basically just told everyone who loves me to go F themselves and now I'm completely on my own. I still didn't know anyone from NY, just a lot of people that were traveling there. I was still staying in hostels and I met some amazing people from Australia, England, Austria and from all over the USA... I celebrated Christmas and New year without my family, on the other side of the planet, with some strangers I'd met a few days earlier... I was in NY for about a month and I had to return because I ran out of money (which is a story for another time). But I returned to Europe more determined then ever that NY was my place and I had to figure out how to stay there...
I worked my ass off for the next 4 months (Thanks to my cousin who has always accepted me for who I am and always welcomed me back). I ran out of money because some key payments weren't coming through because of bureaucratic reasons, but that wasn't gonna hold me back! So I made enough money to go back to NY with or without these payments, that eventually did come through, but I didn't know that of course.
April 1st 2017, this is it...
Here we go! I have the money, I have my ticket and I found a place to stay on Air-bnb for at least one month. I'm set! This trip ended up being a six-month endeavor of finding out what I like, what I don't like, what I want to learn more about, who I want to be... I've met some of the most amazing people I've ever met on this trip:
Jacob, Kaylen, Lamar, Stefano, Achmed, Sarah, Ryan, Miryam, Jerry, Finn, Jay, Eric, Sa'ad, Laura, Bieke, Tacia, Farhan, An, and so, sooo many others.
6 months turned in to 9 months, vacation turned in to internships, consulting jobs, being a co-founder of a co-living space and so many other opportunities. I knew it now, I can make it here! And more importantly, all these experiences made me value myself much higher then before. I finally felt like I was a person other people wanted to be around. For the first time, I had a social life. I could pick up my phone at any given time and meet with someone that appreciated me, appreciated who I was, who appreciated my thoughts and insights.
It was a challenge, a rollercoaster through every emotion a human being can experience, but I've never learned more about the world and myself then on this 9 month journey. I'm not afraid of saying anything controversial, I look for it now, because I know there are people out there who think the same, and I know I throughly believe it.
Thank you New York City for being this incredible diverse, creative, inspirational meeting ground for people all over the world and I can't wait to see you again soon!!!
Related Article: Why Canada?
About Louis De Keyser
Louis is a 20 year old, in the process of moving from Belgium to his dream city, New York. He was the founder and CEO of Tiny House Belgium, a Tiny House Design and Construction company that focused on promoting the idea of 'smaller living' and 'living life without a mortgage'. He sold his business in January 2017 to pursue his dream of moving to North-America. Right now, Louis lives in Toronto Canada. Stay up-to-date by signing up to my Messenger List!