International talent propels the Ghent tech scene

Discover the appeal of Ghent to international talent through exciting job opportunities, natural beauty, and rich cultural diversity.

Ghent is not just a Technology Capital but also a city abundant in talent. People worldwide come here to work, study, or venture into thriving technological sectors. Some even decide to stay, drawn in by the high quality of life and our vibrant culture.

But how do we ensure that these individuals feel welcome? Do they want to build a home here? To support HR professionals within companies, we've created a comprehensive document with valuable links to streamline the administrative process. Be sure to scroll to the end of text for the link.

We contacted expats within our city to gauge their experiences and connected with Bart Vandesompele. He’s the driving force behind Community Gent, an organisation that facilitates the connection of international profiles and provides support in a new environment. During our interviews, we spoke with Ngoc Thuong Pham, a Food Tech student at Odisee, as well as Aruzhan BolatbayevaFrancois Bucchini and Aizaz Tanveer, who work at Trensition, a Ghent-based start-up.

  • People come here for various reasons. To a certain extent, this is thanks to our amazing tech companies, the University and our port, North Sea Port, with its international appeal.

    Bart Vandesompele, Managing Director Community Ghent

From suggestion to  success

Community Gent was founded some 13 years ago at the initiative of Henk Verhaest, who’d observed many (often young) people settling in Ghent. He’d also noticed that they often started their own companies, such as Teamleader, Showpad, and In the Pocket. Therefore, he started this group to bring all these people together systematically. Currently, Bart Vandesompele is the Managing Director.

"Several Ghentians launched this initiative with a great love for their city," says Bart. "In 2015 or 2016, there was a question about whether we could include something in the program that would appeal to international talent. At that time, we organised about 10 to 12 events for our 'regular operation' and added another 2 to 3 extra events."

"In the early years, I organised things myself, along with a colleague. But over time, we wondered if having the expats organise it themselves would be better. After all, they better understand difficulties they may need help with. This is where Dobrinka Barzachka got involved in the organisation. She had been volunteering for a while, and it seemed like a logical next step. In recent years, we have mainly left the events to them, but we can introduce them to new people, for example, or help find new venues."

"Currently, there is a stable core team of about 5 to 6 individuals who oversee everything, and several volunteers are also active around them. But we should always remember that these people can leave again; there's a lot of variation. Fortunately, over the years, we have also grown significantly. In the beginning, about 20 to 30 people attended our events. During the last editions, we had around 100 attendees. Meanwhile, we also have a database of about 2500 expats, which is quite remarkable. I always compare our operation to a bridge that connects different silos. You have the vertical operation of different organisations; those are the silos. Community Gent is actually a bridge that lies horizontally on top of them, allowing people to step from one silo to another if they wish."

For Bart, his role within Community Gent is enriching. "Other cultures look at our city differently and tend to put things into perspective more easily. They’re often quite critical, and that's necessary because that's the only way we can improve. People come here for various reasons. To a certain extent, this is thanks to our amazing tech companies, the University and our port, North Sea Port, with its international appeal. It’s no wonder that the major international film festivals are all located by the water. Think of Cannes, Venice, Rotterdam, and Ghent. Those cities have the DNA to open up to the world. Expats respond to that call."

At the events, practical tips are shared, such as 'The Glocals Expo,' their most significant annual event where service providers and employers can exchange information. There are also yearly events on real estate, taxes, and an 'International Talent Hunt.' In the latter, businesses within the Ghent region are connected with foreign talent.

Bart enthusiastically shares their involvement in promoting Ghent as the European Cultural Capital when asked about the future. "The theme is 'Sense of Belonging,' and we can certainly contribute to the socio-economic aspect. If we can provide expats with a meaningful fulfilment of their lives here—whether in terms of work, living, or leisure—then our mission is successful. Moreover, the vision of our members can be a real asset to the bid book being drafted. They see our culture from a different perspective. Additionally, we are the only city in Belgium with this concept of “community”, which can genuinely contribute to the candidacy."

  • My ultimate goal is to secure a job in the Ghent region, as I would like to build my career here, preferably in a food tech start-up in Ghent.

    Ngoc Thuong Pham, Student at Odisee from South Korea

From South Korea to Ghent

Ngoc Thuong Pham moved from South Korea to Ghent to study Food Technology at the Technology Campus of Odisee. "I quite like it here," she says. "Before coming to Ghent, I heard that Europe, in general, is unsafe (theft, not safe to walk outside after 9 p.m., pickpockets, etc.). But I have to say that I have never felt unsafe in Ghent. I feel very happy in this student city, especially because everything is close. The shops close relatively early (at 7 p.m. or 8 p.m.) but are often also open on Sundays. Additionally, I can approach anyone in English. Also, at school, they are very friendly towards non-Dutch-speaking students. Most announcements related to the campus are in Dutch, but then I use Google Translate."

"That being said, there are certainly some difficulties you have to overcome when coming here. For example, it isn't easy to find short-term accommodation. There are also many misunderstandings about the concept of 'domicile' in Belgium. It would be easier if there were a central and physical office where employees could consolidate all inquiries and provide unambiguous answers. An 'Expat House,' so to speak. The information is distributed among various entities, causing it to be scattered. A website with all updated information about housing, visas, insurance, and the like would be helpful."

“It would also be great to focus more on volunteer work for expats without needing them to speak Dutch. I have done some volunteer work in Ghent in the past, and I found it an interesting way to meet new people. That information could easily be shared through an 'Expat House'.”

"I’ll be participating in an Erasmus program for one semester. After completing the program, I’ll return to Ghent and pursue my master's degree. My ultimate goal is to secure a job in the Ghent region, as I would like to build my career here, preferably in a food tech start-up in Ghent."

  • Ghent is a city where past, present and future dance hand in hand. I love that the city aims to preserve its astonishing medieval architecture and strives to be Europe's Tech Capital.

    Aizaz Tanveer, Employee at Trensition from Pakistan

From abroad to a desk at a start-up

It's no secret that finding and retaining top talent is a never-ending challenge for businesses. We often hear about the "talent crunch" and its impact on companies across industries. No wonder our Ghent-based tech companies are turning to international talent to fill their more advanced technical positions.

Ghent-based start-up Trensition, for example, has infused a more diverse mosaic of global expertise into its core. They’ve created Trendtracker, a platform that uses artificial intelligence and quantitative methods to analyse trends and predict future developments.

For Aruzhan Bolatbayeva, it was essential to obtain a Western Master’s degree. In Kazakhstan, she conducted extensive research to decide which university and city to choose. “Between Germany, the Netherlands, or Belgium, my choice settled on Ghent University School of Law,” she says. “It was affordable compared to other countries, offered high-quality education, and ranked in the top 100 universities. Additionally, Ghent itself was a hidden gem for me. It might sound exaggerated, but I fell in love with this city from the first day. I’m very grateful to my parents for enabling me to study abroad. Many things were new, such as seeing the castle and medieval houses, meeting internationals, and improving my English skills.”

"I appreciate how clean and safe Ghent is, especially for women. The hospitals and administrative authorities work efficiently, and I have never faced any issues with them. There’s no housing crisis, and finding a great place at a reasonable price is possible. The salary is also quite good. However, making friends is becoming increasingly difficult, particularly with Belgians. That's why I am learning Dutch to connect with them better. Although a lot of bureaucracy is involved in obtaining documents, it's not a surprise, and there are ways around it. My goals for this year are to obtain permanent residency, have a more relaxed attitude towards my documents, and become fluent in Dutch.”

Francois Bucchini, from France, also came to Ghent to study. “After a few experiences abroad,” he says, “I wanted to discover a new city and culture. I did not know Ghent but decided to take a leap of faith. My girlfriend is also an expat and followed a similar trajectory. We both stuck around after our studies and found jobs here. The ability to commute by bike or foot to work significantly improves my daily quality of living. There is also an abundance of opportunities here. Despite its modest size, Ghent boasts many job opportunities, social happenings, and cultural engagements. It’s a very dynamic and vibrant environment. And for me personally, Ghent is still very close to my family, who live in the area of Paris.”

However, forming long-lasting friendships can be pretty challenging. “It’s easy to meet other people, both expats and locals, but the friendships are quite transient. Many expatriates only stay in a foreign country for a short period, usually until their temporary job contract ends. Moreover, the locals may assume you will also leave after a certain period, making them hesitant to develop deeper social connections. It’s straightforward to integrate, but only up to a certain point, after which there seems to be a ceiling which is difficult to cross. This is probably not specific to Ghent, though. It’s just the first time that I’ve lived that long anywhere abroad.”

For Aizaz Tanveer, Ghent is more than 8,000 km from his family in Pakistan. He’s also carefully considered his options in Europe. “In my quest for an affordable yet top-tier global marketing master’s program,” he says, “ I discovered that Vlerick Business School offered the best value for money. Little did I realise that this choice would lead to a beautiful journey, impacting my academic and personal growth. Ghent is a city where past, present and future dance hand in hand. I love that the city aims to preserve its astonishing medieval architecture and strives to be Europe's Tech Capital.
My experiences in Ghent are nothing short of amazing; I've had the pleasure of meeting wonderful people from Belgium, Europe and various parts of the world. The diversity of my class and office has been an enriching experience.”

Initially, it took him some time to adjust to the punctuality in Belgium. “One of the most valuable lessons I've gained in Belgium is the importance of time management and a strong sense of responsibility. There's a significant cultural difference in these aspects compared to my home country, and I am grateful for the enriching experience and learning. Moreover, Ghent is more than just a city to me; it's a mentor. I appreciate the structured government functions and the rule of law here. However, in the long run, I feel a pull to contribute to my home country, Pakistan. In 5-10 years, I contemplate a choice between a safe and secure life in Belgium or making an impact back home for the betterment of my people."

Discover what we can do for you

To support HR professionals within companies, we've created a comprehensive document (only in Dutch) with valuable links to streamline the administrative process.