I don't know whether this is the right forum for my question, but your website kept popping up in searches, so I thought, why not give it a go?
I am 23 years old, just finished a Master's degree in Translation English-Spanish-Dutch and hope to start working as a self-employed translator English-Dutch/Dutch-English soon. Please excuse the rather direct language I am about to use, but I am sort of beyond the beating about the bush stage and I want to start building a future, so being straight to the point seems the best solution.
I have been blind since birth and am perfectly okay with that. But my country is not. To put it bluntly, 99% of the natives have been treating me like thin air for most of my life. Exchange students and international people never do this, because, well, they have social skills. Especially in the UK, the different behaviour has led to little culture shocks. I have been on holiday to England five times now and simply can't believe how friendly and good-natured the British all are! Whether people ask me to move or whether I ask them to help me open a table on the train, everyone is equally charming and... human. Being in the UK is heaven. And on top of that, people also consistently talk to me as if I am a normal person. The British themselves underestimate those qualities, but they really are great. Also, had it not been for the UK, I would never have been able to watch films like other people do thanks to their fantastic audio description services.
I have always dreamed of leaving Hicksville and starting a life in England, but sadly I am not independent enough for that yet as all support ended the moment I went to mainstream education. Britain actually tries to integrate disabled people into society, whereas our government - and this was recently confirmed by a report - only invests in keeping us separated from other people and the less we know and the less educated we are, the better.
Apart from the cherished holidays in England and elsewhere, I only talk to people who live abroad on-line. I am no longer wondering why things aren't working out in this place and am desperate to meet British people in my own city. Whether it would be for leisure or work purposes, to help them with Dutch, or even religious groups, you name it, I really do not mind (if there was a company with lots of British employees that would be interested in hiring me, I would drop my self-employment plans right now.)
I have been doing some research which so far has not been too promising. The British embassy thinks that about 50/70,000 Britsish people are living in Belgium but because of the freedom of movement principle, they do not know who is working/living where. They did refer me to the Antwerp British Community Association. I got in touch and they told me that they have a fairly large amount of Belgian members and that most of their members are over 50 years old. I would have loved to meet British people in the age range of 20-60, but am rather hesitant to join a 50-90 group. So now I can't help wondering where the younger people are 'hiding' and if/why there isn't an organisation that attracts them.
I had originally planned to study another degree at the Univeristy of Manchester, but even though I got an unconditional offer, tuition fee costs skyrocketed and I had to abandon that plan. Moving to England now would be a leap in the dark because I would first need to become a British citizen before councils could offer me practical assistance and the idea of moving to a completely unfamiliar area without any acquaintances does not really appeal to me either.
I do know, however, that if I choose to remain in this Belgian bubble, I'll inevitably end up in one of these wretched day-care centres where they shield you from normal society. I would do absolutely anything in the world to meet more native English speakers here, so that I could improve my English but also for the social aspect. If anyone has any ideas, I am open to everything. As long as my future would involve interacting with the English there is nothing I wouldn't try.
Thanks for your message. I'm not 100% sure that I'm the right person to answer your question but I'll do my best.
One option might be to use meetup.com and other similar services to find British events/dinners/nights out with people that might be closer to your own age. There should also be a few expat Facebook groups/pages where they might advertise events. Internations should also have something like that but I'm not sure if those would be expat only, and I've got no idea of possible age groups.
I do think teaching expats Dutch is also a great way to meet foreigners. Again, British expat groups on Facebook are probably a good place to advertise that sort of thing if you're looking to make friends from the UK.
Regarding your idea to go to the University of Manchester, have you looked at international bursaries? Commonwealth and Chevening both come to mind. There's obviously tough competition for these bursaries but if you can manage to get one, they pay for everything and you get to stay in the UK for as long as you're studying there. It's true that you wouldn't be eligible to receive benefits/support from the government but as I understand it, universities in the UK are quite accommodating when it comes to helping out people with disabilities or difficulties so you'd have support in that sense.
I really hope you manage to find a way to feel more integrated and appreciated, whether in the UK or Belgium. Best of luck.