“Antwerp feels like home” for Polish expat Bartek Kozicki
After his PhD in Japan, Polish expat Bartek Kozicki wanted to move “closer to home”. He settled down in Antwerp: “The perfect middle ground”, he says. “We felt welcome right away.”
Bartek, you were born in Poland and studied in Denmark and Japan. What made you choose such an international lifestyle?
“That all started when I was a student. I’d always been fascinated by telecommunications. When I got the opportunity to study in Denmark as part of an Erasmus program, I jumped at the chance. For my PhD, I wanted to find the best professor to help my research along. He happened to be in Osaka, Japan. We stayed in Japan after that because I found a job that was perfectly in line with my research. It wasn’t until we started a family that I felt the need to move closer to home. Antwerp ended up being the perfect middle ground: there was an interesting job for me here as head of research at Nokia Bell Labs and Poland is only a few hours away.”
Did you experience culture shock when you moved from Japan to Belgium?
“Honestly? The transition was so smooth that I didn’t feel culture shock at all. Antwerp felt like home. I find, having lived in a few places in Europe, that most European cities are alike. You’re more or less accustomed to the way the railway will work or on which corner you might expect to find a cafe. It’s familiar territory.”
“What I enjoyed about Antwerp is how willing people are to speak English. They’ll say ‘Oh, but my English is terrible’ and continue to have a perfectly fluent conversation with you. It helped us feel welcome right away. Now, my children attend a good school and my wife and I both love our jobs. So it looks like we’ll be hanging around for a while. We’ve bought a house just south of the city.”
What do you think of Antwerp as an innovative city?
“Bell Labs is contributing to a city-wide project called City of Things, where tech entrepreneurs can use data from smartphone users all over the city to test their projects. It’s the Internet of Things applied to a city. Antwerp has the right scale to be a testing ground for such experiments. But I’d say that the true innovative potential is at the Flemish level. There are so many universities and facilities doing fascinating work in Flanders. I believe there’s a role for Antwerp as a meeting ground and a central hub for Flemish innovation.”
Do you have any advice for other expats?
“It’s always a bit of an adjustment to pack your bags and start over somewhere new. I think it’s all about keeping an open mind. What’s crucial is choosing the right place to live. Find out beforehand where you might want to live and how you will get to work or where your children might go to school. Definitely ask for advice so you make the right choice.”