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  • annieniessen

#Expat - Interview Consulat Belge

I had the great pleasure of being interviewed by the Consulate General of Belgium in New York as part of its La Belge series that celebrates Belgian women in New York! 🇧đŸ‡Ș

I am deeply honored to have my portrait featured on the occasion of International Women's Day!

The full interview is available below and here.

📍United Nations 📾 Eva Depoorter


Happy International Women's Day!

It's been a year since we launched La Belge -a unique interview series where we celebrate Belgian women in NY. Thank you to all the Belgian ladies for sharing your stories! Let's make it another Women's year.

Today in La Belge:

Annie Niessen,  press officer at United Nations

Hello Annie! Since when do you live in New York?

Since early September 2023. Before that, I lived in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C..

How did you end up in New York?

I did a PhD in European Union politics in Belgium. After I graduated, my husband and I thought it would be nice to live abroad. So I applied for a fellowship from the Belgian American Educational Foundation for postdoctoral research at the University of Pennsylvania, which I got. Simultaneously, my husband got a fellowship to do an MBA in Georgetown University. My one-year fellowship got extended but due to covid, a lot of seminars were online
 The university was empty most of the time. That’s when we decided to move to D.C.. It turned out to be a great experience! After finishing my postdoc remotely, we both landed a job in NY. So here we are (laughs)!

Can you tell us a bit more about your job?

I work as a Press Officer in the Meetings Coverage Section of the Department of Global Communications at the United Nations. The meetings coverage is available in English and French, and I am part of the French-speaking team. We attend the official UN meetings, summarize the delegates’ speeches and write press releases that capture the main points. Thanks to efficient teamwork and polished organization among the press officers, editors, and proofreaders, every press release is published that same day on the UN website. At the crossroads of international relations, institutional communication and journalism, my job aligns perfectly with my diverse background, allowing me to delve deep into the UN priorities.

What's your favorite spot in New York?

Although we still lived in D.C., I remember accompanying my husband who had started working in the financial district. I really loved having a quiet breakfast at the marina near Brookfield place. It’s a great spot to do some people and boat watching!
 Compared to other places during the morning rush, the marina has a laid-back atmosphere. To this day, I still consider it one of my favorite spots in the city.

In this short period of time, has your connection with New York evolved?

Absolutely! Already as a tourist, I had fallen in love with the city. But I knew that living here would be a different experience. When we started looking for an apartment in July, there were lots of people everywhere, and NY felt very hectic. Eventually though, we settled in! And now, I really enjoy the big city life. As an expat, I also love to connect with people from different origins, and what better place to do so than NY?

What's your most memorable New York moment?

That would be my 30th birthday. We didn’t live in New York yet, but my family flew over to celebrate the Christmas holidays
 and my birthday! Together with my husband, they prepared a surprise, and we went to see a broadway show -my first! Even if they only stayed for a few days, I have very fond memories of their visit.

On a professional level, it’s the UN General Assembly in September. During that time of the year, the UN headquarters are just so bustling: heads of state, delegates, the US president,
. I loved it! Living these moments truly marked a new and exciting chapter in my life!

Has the city already influenced or shaped your personality?

I think it’s the entire expat experience that really influences my personality. As for NY, the possibilities are endless. But you still need to grasp them, and turn them into actual opportunities. It’s this thrilling aspect that motivated us to move here in the first place. It didn’t feel like I had to start all over again, though: Having moved around quite a bit had already made me more resilient and adaptable. That said, one always needs to adjust to a new home
 It’s the start of a new life. So moving to NY has definitely changed my personality.

If you only had 24 hours left to spend in New York, what would you do?

I have an entire program in mind! I’d probably start the day with eggs and bacon at a diner, and take a ferry ride to enjoy the gorgeous skyline.

I would probably go to Time Out Market in Brooklyn -also for the view, and check out a rooftop
 I love doing that! I’d also squeeze in a visit to the MET and have a large slice of pizza! Or pastries
 They have some fabulous Greek dessert places in Astoria!

Do you consider yourself a New Yorker?

New York is our home so yes, we consider ourselves New Yorkers, albeit with a Belgian and French-speaking foundation (laughs)!

What strikes you most when you go back to Belgium?

Belgium is more laid-back. When you go to a NY coffeeshop, you already know what you’ll have because you don't have time to think about what you’ll have! Here, the pace is higher, and things run more efficiently. So when I travel to Belgium, I always need a few days to adapt to the slower rhythm.

What strikes you when you come back to the States?

The culinary diversity and the international vibe.

Although Liùge is home to many different cultures, in NY it’s a whole new level. Here, I’ve tried food and things that I’ve never had in Belgium. It’s just such an international place!

What's the first thing you do when you go back to Belgium?

I hug my mom, catch up with my sister and answer the million questions my father has about the US! I also meet up with my friends. When I go to Belgium, connecting with everyone is my number 1 priority.

Which goodies do you bring back from Belgium?

Definitely chocolates! Here at the UN, I share them with my colleagues. Most of them are French-speaking but not Belgian. So I like to treat them to Belgian specialties. Last time, I also brought babeluttes and Saint Nicholas-shaped speculoos.

How do you describe Belgium to New Yorkers?

Many of my American friends are familiar with international politics, so most of them know about Belgium and will refer to Brussels and Bruges. But I also like to spotlight LiÚge where I grew up. The Liégeois are renowned for their warmth and friendliness, which makes the city a great place to visit!

When talking about Belgium, I also mention its complex political system, the culinary delights, and the linguistic organization of the country. Furthermore, I mention our education and health care system, which are very different from here.

Whenever I get the chance, I encourage people to add Belgium to their Europe trip. Our country has so much to offer!

What's the very New York thing you started doing?

Folding my pizza slice! And buying groceries with a hairband and no makeup -not caring about what I look like! I’d also add counting the streets to find my way. I’m a very ‘google maps person’. But here, it’s easier not to get lost.

Does Belgium feel different compared to when you lived there?

Not really. I still have my family there, many close friends, my sister,
 so it feels very much the same to me. The weather hasn't changed either (laughs)! And that’s fine. When I go back to my roots, I’m happy to find them intact.

When do you feel Belgian?

In my heart, I am Belgian
 It’s where I grew up and have my roots. Moving away didn’t make me less Belgian. I think we can even have a variety of identities that are not mutually exclusive. I feel LiĂ©geoise, European, and New Yorker!

What's the best piece of advice you ever got?

Don't compare yourself to others.

Growing up, I realized there are many different ways to reach objectives. What’s important, is to find a way that works for you without getting distracted by other people’s achievements. Life is not always easy, and everybody has their ups and downs. But I do believe that with hard work, you can realize your dreams without trading in your own values and vision.

How do you get inspired?

My main source of inspiration is people who achieve their objectives and remain honest about the difficulties they had to overcome. Success stories are easy to find. But what is really impactful, is when people open up about what it took to get there without sugarcoating the process.

Which achievement are you most proud of?

Making my journey international!

Although exploring opportunities outside Belgium was quite popular in my languages and communication studies, it wasn’t the norm in Liùge. But that didn’t stop me! Whenever I had the chance to go abroad, I seized the occasion. During my master, I did an Erasmus stay in the UK and an internship in The Hague. And a lot of my research was also conducted abroad: Amsterdam, Lausanne, Florence, 
 and finally the US.

Building an international career requires time, organization and resilience. And I had no idea whether I would like it or not. But I managed to make it happen! The international experience has been very rewarding and valuable. It has truly opened the door to seeing things differently.

In the city that never sleeps, how do you unwind?

Together with my husband, I love to explore upstate New York. It's so different from Manhattan and only one or two hours from here! We love to discover the small towns and parks: Cold Spring, Sleepy Hollow, Bear Mountain
 Next on our bucket list is Long Island! We also love to go to baseball and basketball games! And the MET is great too! Some of its galleries are very quiet and peaceful.

Which talent do you wish you had?

I don't believe in talent as such. Having a talent and not putting it to use will not get you very far in life. If you don’t want your talent to go to waste, you’ll need dedication and willingness to explore it. That’s why proper education in whichever talent you want to nurture, is key.

We shouldn’t refrain ourselves from doing something because we think we don't have the talent. I truly believe that with the right mindset, one can develop any talent, so wishing for it seems redundant. For instance, I enjoy painting. I'm probably not very good at it, but I really love exploring it. So even if I am not a natural at painting, it's not gonna stop me from doing it.

If you got to pick a famous Belgian to be locked up for a day, who would you choose?

With my background in European Union politics, I would love to spend time with Paul-Henri Spaak -one of the founding fathers of Europe. I would have so many questions, like how the European Integration came about. Against the backdrop of many ongoing wars and conflicts, I think it’s crucial to learn from history. But we also need leaders who inspire, and unify
 people with innovative ideas, like Paul-Henri Spaak.

I’d also love to meet King Philippe and Queen Mathilde. A while back, I was invited for dinner at the Palace together with other Belgian researchers. But then covid happened
 And eventually, the dinner got cancelled. I’m hoping that one day, I will have the opportunity to chat with them!


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