Expat series: Meet Prof. Dr. Tatjana Parac-Vogt

16.06.2017 - Editorial board

Doctor Tatjana Parac-Vogt has had a storied career, having worked and studied in multiple countries before landing a faculty position at KU Leuven's Department of Chemistry. From 2012-2016, she was the president of BeWiSe, the Belgian Women in Science Association, a non-profit organisation that supports the role and position of women in science, and is currently a member of the BeWiSe steering committee. Born and raised in Belgrade (former Yugoslavia), Tatjana fell in love with Belgium, for which she's affectionately coined the term “Balkan of the West." Today she's known for interjecting a bit of mediterranean flair into her everyday life. We caught up with Dr. Parac-Vogt to learn more about her worldly perspective.

Belgian Boutique: Which opportunity/ reason triggered you to move abroad?

Dr. Parac-Vogt:
I left Belgrade, my hometown, more than 24 years ago, when I got fantastic opportunity to do my doctoral studies in chemistry in the United States. Since then I moved few times and was lucky to live in some great places such as Berkeley, which is in San Francisco Bay, and Germany, before moving to Belgium nearly 17 years ago. Here I am fortunate to combine “Best of Belgium” as I like to say, since I live in Brussels, which is a great and international city with lot of “ joie de vivre”, but I work at University of Leuven (KU Leuven), which is one of the best universities in Europe.


Belgian Boutique:
 Where should we definitely go when visiting your place? Any insider tips?

Dr. Parac-Vogt:
 Belgrade is one of Europe’s oldest cities, located at the crossroads of the East and West, and in the last years it has evolved into one of the hippest cities in Europe. It is often referred as “New Berlin”. It is a great weekend break, with lots of interesting sights and attractions, a fast-paced nightlife, great and affordable shopping, as well as a thriving cultural scene. If you go there, make sure you don’t miss Belgrade Fortress – Kalemegdan, which offers great views on the confluence of the River Sava and Danube. Belgrade is city that lives on water, so you can try to float along the Danube and Sava rivers on a cruise boat, or take a biking tour along the riverbanks, as it is a perfect way to see and feel the city. For enjoying the nightlife, there are many floating night clubs (splavs) where you can go dancing until early morning hours. If you want to stay away from water, try Rakia Bar where you can get introduced to the history and process of the national drink ‘Rakia' (plum brandy), but make sure you have dinner before, as this stuff is very strong.


Belgian Boutique:
 What do you still consider weird in your adopted country?

Dr. Parac-Vogt:
 That both Dutch and French are official languages in Brussels, but that nobody speaks Dutch. Even the Flemish tend to speak French per default. As I can speak both Dutch and French, I often switch to Dutch when I think that I am dealing with a Flemish person. I recently spoke Dutch to a Flemish clerk in a bank in Brussels, who was very pleased, but surprised that an expat living in Brussels made effort to learn Dutch. At the end he gave me a compliment “that I was speaking Dutch better than half of Belgians”.


Belgian Boutique:
 What new food/ drinks have you discovered?

Dr. Parac-Vogt:
 Mussels, and a rich variety of Belgium beers. When I sometimes go out in Leuven with my students, there is always a new beer to be discovered. If I want to try them all, I’ll either have to live very long or drink faster.


Belgian Boutique:
 Who recently amazed you in the fields of art/ design/ fashion/ architecture?

Dr. Parac-Vogt:
 I recently went to the retrospective of Rene Magritte’s works at Centre Pompidou in Paris, and was amazed by the variety and the beauty of his work. Unfortunately most of his paintings are either in private collections or spread around museums all over the world, and I think it would be great if Belgium would make more effort to bring more of Magritte’s works back to his home country.


Belgian Boutique:
 What can we always find in your fridge?

Dr. Parac-Vogt:
 Olives, eggs, feta cheese, and tomatoes, so that I can always make a perfect and quick Mediterranean meal. And a bottle of Champagne is always cooled, as I fully agree with Napoleon’s motto that in victory one deserves Champagne, and in defeat one needs it.

Belgian Boutique: What product or service should we consider importing to Belgium?

Dr. Parac-Vogt:
 
Brussels is a big melting pot, and I think you can find anything here if you look hard enough. I love the sights of Flagey or Chatelaine market and all the products you can find there. However, the service that Belgium, and especially Brussels urgently need is more traffic police. I have feeling that traffic in Brussels proceeds according to the “survival of the most aggressive or the most ignorant” rule.


Belgian Boutique:
What would you definitely not miss from Belgium?

Dr. Parac-Vogt:
 Rain and traffic jams. But there are many more things that I would definitely miss. Above all, the unique mixture of people, that one can find only in Belgium.


Belgian Boutique:
 Do you connect to the expat community? How?

Dr. Parac-Vogt:
 Most of my friends are actually expats. Both of our children were born here and are going to Belgian schools, but most of their school friends are from the expat families. Expat families tend to be more open to form new friendships as they all lack extended family ties, and I always claim that friends are family that you can create yourself. We have a very large circle of expat friends, and very often we joke that at our parties there are as many nationalities as there are people. When our children were younger and would hear that guests were coming over for a dinner, they would always ask: “Which language will they speak”?


Belgian Boutique:
 Which expat should people know of/ discover?

Dr. Parac-Vogt:
 Sonja Reed, a good German friend who works at NATO and has also lived all around the worlds before settling here in Belgium.

Interior design at Tatjana's place.

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