Living Leeside: Warm and bubbly Belgian enjoys Cork's wit

Living Leeside: Warm and bubbly Belgian enjoys Cork's wit
Vicky Janssens at home in Cork.Picture Denis Minihane.

ORIGINALLY moving to the Rebel County for the love of a good Cork man, Vicky found her affection for the people and city outlasted her relationship and although the romance ended, her love affair with her adopted home continued.

The UCC lecturer described how she came on a roadtrip with some female friends to the South West coast many years ago, when she met a Corkman who she began dating long-distance from Belguim, where she was working at a secondary school teacher.

Vicky was looking to move to Cork and had been keeping an eye on jobs as they arose in the region.

Then she saw an advertisement in an Irish newspaper for a Latin and Greek lecturer at UCC, “I was a secondary school teacher in Brussels with a Masters and no PhD, I didn’t think I had a chance.” The Belgian, who has studied Latin and Greek since secondary school and majored in classical studies at university, said she had been hoping to pick up a job in a call centre and all her friends told her she didn’t have a chance at the university vacancy.

“I applied and I got shortlisted for the position. Three people were called for interviews and I got it. I must have made an impression!” Nineteen years later, Vicky is still working at UCC, teaching Latin and Greek and she said she loves her job.

“There is a phrase in Antwerp, ‘I must have fell with my bum in the butter’ which means I was extremely lucky!

“I love everything about UCC, it is a nice place, a nice college and there is no stress. It was more stressful being a secondary school teacher, I had been a teacher in inner-city Brussels. you don’t have to deal with discipline in university.” Vicky is also the Director of a Latin and Greek Summer School run at UCC every summer. Although this summer it will not be going ahead due to Covid-19.

“It is an intensive eight-week course. It is two years of tuition in eight weeks. The students are very driven, it is a different audience to undergraduate, I have met some very interesting people through the course.” Explaining the importance of learning the classical languages, Vicky said learning Latin helps you to think differently about English.

“65% of our vocabulary comes from Latin, Learning Latin helps you to expand your vocabulary in English and helps your brain work in different ways.

It helps you to think in different ways, learn to analyse language and think in a more organised way.” 

Vicky said she enjoys her job, but since the lockdown, she has found it difficult working online.

Vicky Janssens at home in Cork.Picture Denis Minihane.
Vicky Janssens at home in Cork.Picture Denis Minihane.

I love teaching, it is a vocation but I am wondering what is going to happen next year. I am not looking forward to online teaching.

“I would be old-school, like markers and a whiteboard and being able to react to things happening I am not looking forward to staring at a screen, languages need interaction.” When she is not labouring over the ancient arts of Latin and Greek, Vicky said she spends a lot of time hiking or at the beach.

“ I love Love walking and exploring new pathways. Sometimes I head off on a drive and see where it takes me. I love the scenery of West Cork and Kerry.” Vicky, who has stage four cancer, said she is aware that the clock is ticking and she tries to make the most of every day.

“I had breast cancer in 2013 and it spread. I had a double mastectomy, radiotherapy and two years ago, it came back. It is incurable, but they are keeping it in check “I get a scan every three months and I am on medication, to stop it spreading. If it spreads they will try different medication.

Vicky said the medication she is on suppresses the oestrogen in her body, which is receptive to the cancer and basically starves the disease.

“I have hormone injections, so I am basically going through menopause with all the side effects, joint pain, tiredness, weight gain, pain all the time.” 

Living in Ballyphehane for the past 10 years, Vicky said her neighbours really look out for her and her 13-year-old daughter Lena.

“I know my neighbours very well. When I bought the house 10 years ago, all the neighbours knew each other and I thought I would be an outsider, but they accepted me straight away, they look out for us. One neighbour is a fisherman and he often brings me fillets of fish.” 

During lockdown, Vicky has been exploring and rediscovering the Cork City.

“I have been rediscovering walkways, I love Garyduff and all the wildlife in the city, seals, herons, otters, etc. The Glen Park is a lovely spot, I didn’t know it was there.

“Thankfully the good weather throughout lockdown has been keeping us sane!” Vicky gets home about twice a year to see her parents and brother and social media helps them to stay in touch.

“It is awkward to get home, you must fly Dublin to Brussels or Cork to Amsterdam and then get a train to Belgium.” Vicky said she enjoys Cork people and is fond of the accent, which she sometimes seems to have adopted herself.

“I love the accent, I think Corkonians are very witty friendly people, In Belguim, people are different, here you can say hello to someone on the street without someone calling the police!” 

I have a few phrases picked up and I say ‘byebyebye’ five million times on the phone now, they don’t do that in Belgium, it is a uniquely Irish thing.”

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