I’m an historical consultant and researcher on a mission to help people (re)connect with their cultural surroundings. Through the Belgian Academy of Culture and History I help people feel at home in this wonderfully surreal country we live in. As a former expat, I understand the struggle of fitting in.
Who am I?
Hi, my name is Mirella Marini. Not exactly Belgian is it?
In fact, my name is Italian, just like my father. Through my mother I have German, Belgian, Dutch and French roots. No wonder I have always been attracted to all things ‘international’!
In 2006, I married an ‘expat-child’. My husband, Michael-Washington Serruys, is a maritime historian, a French-speaking Belgian who grew up in the Netherlands. He boasts a Belgian, Dutch, English, Jewish and American heritage. We have a wonderful trilingual daughter who is just as much a (time)traveller as we are.
I speak 4 languages (Dutch, French, German and English), Dutch is my mother tongue. And no, unfortunately I do not speak Italian!
I obtained a Bachelor in Law and a Master in History at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (Catholic University of Leuven) in Belgium. My Master’s thesis was awarded the ‘Duke of Arenberg’ History Prize in 2006. I started my doctoral research on the religious identity of high noble women at the VU University Amsterdam (the Netherlands), where I experienced expat life first hand. Later I also worked as a researcher at the University of Antwerp. I’ve published in a number of national and international academic journals and published my first book in 2015. I also blog at www.wearsunscreen.be.
Why a History Academy?
In 2007, I felt like the king (well, queen in my case obviously) of the world. I had managed to win a post at the VU University Amsterdam, the sort of junior academic post that 100 people will apply for and just a handful will get. I felt great. I was going to work abroad, I was going to start a PhD, I was not going to have any problems, because hey, it’s Amsterdam! They speak my language there! I know these people!
Or, so I thought.
Despite speaking the language, despite the fact that I know the history of the Netherlands (I should, it’s my job), I felt more and more ‘out of place’. I never discussed this with anyone, it was not the sort of information I wanted to share with colleagues/possible competitors. And because I never talked about it, I assumed it was just me.
I was wrong. Feeling out of place, understanding the language people speak, but not understanding what they are actually saying, or what they mean, is nothing new. Had I spoken to other expats, I would probably have found like-minded people.
But if you don’t feel that well, it’s hard to be happy about where you live, or where you work.
And that was a Belgian going to the Netherlands.
If I had problems going north, how about all those people coming to Belgium? Not the easiest country in Europe I would say.
That’s why I decided my mission would be to make people happy. I believe history is the ideal instrument to explain the underlying cultural motives of a people or of a country. It’s important to translate this history into the ‘language of the other’, to bring history from the perspective of the outsider. When these underlying motives, or the Belgian Culture and Identity, are analysed in this way, I believe it will help people to understand Belgium and the Belgians better.
A better understanding leads to less misconceptions, less conflict, less communication problems, as well as an improvement of the relation you have with your cultural surroundings here. Improving your cultural well-being, also means helping you to become a happier person.
And that’s why I do what I do.
How I help:
I understand you, because I’ve been an expat myself. So I know what kind of information you need to feel more at home. I assist you in your ‘homecoming’ process and help you burst that expat bubble. Finding your way in a foreign country is tough and finding information about Belgian culture and history in English (or in your own language) is not easy. Especially not because that information is fragmentary at best, difficult to locate to say the least, or too often limited in its scope.
I create a story for you that helps with your cultural integration and I do so without resorting to platitudes or limiting myself to a regional view. With me, you have a safe and fun environment to learn, to ask your questions, to share your doubts or your criticisms. Through me, you access a world of information, years of studying and research – and all that in just a few weeks – with the luxury of a personal approach and lessons that have both the benefits of private tutoring AND the advantages of group dynamics.
What I have to offer:
A 4-month program designed to make you feel more at home in Belgium, through the study of its history and culture. After this course, you will have a better understanding of the country’s state organisation, of the complexities of Belgian society, and of the different narratives that exist in Belgium in regard to its (long and rich) history. This will help you communicate better with Belgians, as well as stimulate your ‘homecoming’ process.
See you soon!
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Do you need consulting on certain historical topics? See here.