Friday, 24 July 2015

Remembering your first expat experiences – From surviving to thriving

The first six months of expat life are such a whirlwind that often there is no chance to stop and reflect on all of the changes, both big and small. Every expat is reminded of the distance when that weekly video call home disconnects unexpectedly, or a once routine lunch-break call to your best friend wakes them up in the middle of the night.  Cut off from friends and family by oceans, time differences and unreliable broadband, an expat in their first few months is well and truly in survival mode.  But with your head down and focused on getting through the challenges of expat life, it’s easy to miss just how much you’ve grown into life abroad.

Image source: Creative Commons / George Pauwels

Take navigation. Every expat knows what it’s like to set off with a spring in their step to meet a new friend, only to end up lost and more than a little late. Perhaps that map would have made more sense if you’d thought in kilometres instead of miles. By the end of the first 6 months however, it’s difficult to even think back to the first time you ventured out from the comfort of the airport to find your new apartment. Expats quickly progress from needing colleagues to map out each and every route on the metro, to knowing the quickest routes and even which carriage to stand in for a quick exit. All of a sudden there’s a switch, and you’re no longer asking for directions but giving them - to tourists and expats newer than yourself. When hosting guests, and taking them through the hidden entrances of bars and restaurants known only to locals, you may have a moment where you sit back amazed at the fact that you’ve become a local.  Only then do you realise that for while you’ve been able to traverse the city with the same calm once felt in your hometown.

Image source: Creative Commons / Kevin Dooley

The first meeting back with relatives is when many expats realise just how much they’ve changed. There’s only so much from home that you’re able to fit in your suitcase. It’s impossible to carry your sports teams, dance class or favourite theatre shows with you. When you relocate to another country you go from knowing what you enjoyed doing and the people that added so much value to these activities to a blank slate.  Expats adapt, discovering a talent for softball, a knack for Hong Kong’s fashion or perhaps even a taste for chillies they never knew they had. They find new things in their current environment to enjoy, and discover new people to enjoy those moments with - whether they’re other expats or locals.


So even though the first six months were a whirlwind, every second was worth it. The first six months aren’t just about exploring a new home, but finding a new you.



Monday, 20 July 2015

Being a parent to third culture kids –bridging the gap from here to home?

As a parent there is nothing more important than the happiness and wellbeing of your children, so moving abroad can be a very daunting prospect. It’s normal to question how well you and your family will cope but these nerves can be eased with our top tips for bridging the gap between here and home.

One of the worries for a child moving abroad is losing touch with friends and family. Whilst a short 12 month expat jaunt might not damage your long-term friendships back home, for children a year apart can feel like an age. In the digital age, there no longer needs to be a clean break, but that certainly doesn’t make staying in touch easy. Social media, photo sharing sites and video calls might cross vast distances effortlessly, but they still can’t time travel. Before you decide exactly where you will move to, remember to work out when exactly your children will be able to schedule the odd video call with home.

Although, social media has completely changed the way expats of all ages keep in touch, it’s still no substitute for seeing each other in person. Without face to face interaction any child’s friendship can start to fade, so it’s vital to take regular trips back home during school holidays or even consider inviting school friends up to visit.

Creative Commons / Lzy881114
It’s also important to make your host country feel like home, no matter what length of time you are there. If you’re in India pick up a taste for Tarka dal or build snow sculptures during Japan’s Sapporo Snow Festival. It’s great to share these new experiences with your little ones but other young expats from school can help to guide your little ones through new experiences. Embracing the new culture doesn’t have to mean losing touch with the latest trends and fashions back home however. Culture moves quickly, especially for teens, so make it as easy as possible to sit down and watch the latest blockbuster or import the new big children’s book.

Cutting the dead time is a good way to ensure your children quickly get into the swing of their new lifestyle. Move your family a week or two in advance of a new school term. This way your children have time to recover from their jetlag and explore their new surroundings before going off to school. By moving close to a new school term your children will quickly start to make friends and settle into their new daily routine. The best way to stop children from being home sick is to occupy them.  If their busy having fun they’ll forget to miss home.

Finally, just relax and try not to worry too much! In the long run your children will appreciate the experiences that come from living abroad. No matter how hesitant they are now, in the future they will see the advantages that come from living abroad. Living in a foreign country can be a rollercoaster of highs and lows but children often come out the side a little wiser than their parents.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Ten phrases every expat needs to know

When it comes to learning the language, a little goes a long way. It can feel alien at first, but having a go and trying to get stuck into the local lingo will usually strike a chord with natives and you’ll often find that people will be keen to help you if you do struggle. In our 2014 Expat Explorer survey nearly two thirds of respondents said that they were using the local language – which we think is pretty good going! If you’re still trying to get to grips with learning another language then not to worry: no one expects you to know everything instantly and it doesn’t happen overnight.



To give you a head start, we’ve put together a list with of some of the most important phrases to know, wherever you are in the world: 

Hello, goodbye, thank you and see you soon!
Friendliness and manners can be crucial to making a good first impression. Try to nail that greeting and be ready to follow up with a goodbye when it’s time to part.
“Hola, Adiós, Gracias y Hasta Pronto!” - Spanish

How are you today? How are your family?
Do your best to get to know your neighbours and members of the local community, they will be very useful during your transition – mastering some basic ‘small talk’ will help you to build some relationships even if your grasp of the language is fairly limited.
“Paano kayo ngayon? Kamusta ang iyong pamilya?” – Filipino

It is very nice to meet you!
Again, showing your interest in meeting new people will help you to make a good impression - starting new encounters with a friendly gesture means you’re setting a positive precedent for all future meetings.
“Det er veldig hyggelig å møte deg!” – Norweigan

Can you help me?
Never be too shy to ask for help – the best way to learn about your new home is through the people that have lived there for a long time and if you ask for help in their language they’ll be happy to assist!
“Pouvez-vous m’aider?” – French

Where is the…?
This phrase is endlessly useful, rather than spending hours running round like a headless chicken looking for something – just ask someone where it is! You’ll save yourself some time and who knows, you might just make yourself a new friend along the way.
“Kde je…?” – Czech

This city is beautiful! I love this city.
There is nothing like a bit of flattery. Show your appreciation for the city – if people can see you’re enjoying what their home has to offer it will please them. Keeping an open mind and trying to see the positives, even if things get challenging, will always make a big difference.
“Questa è una bella città! Amo questa città.” – Italian

This tastes delicious! Did you make it yourself?
Showing an appreciation for the local cuisine is another great way of declaring your steadfast intentions of buying into their way of life – not to mention the increased likelihood of a tasty meal in the near future!
“Det smakar gott! Har du gör det själv?” – Swedish

I would prefer to speak in the local language!
If it isn’t made obvious by your wonderful attempts at small talk, publicly declare that you are actively trying to speak their language and they are far more likely to give you a hand!
“Én inkább beszélni a helyi nyelvet.” – Hungarian

Where is the nearest toilet?
This may seem a little silly now, but we’re certain you won’t find it as silly when you’re desperate in the middle of a new city!
“где ближайший туалет?” – Russian

I need a drink!
This phrase is invaluable, whether you’re lost in a boiling hot city - or just want someone to point you towards the nearest pub!

“Jeg har brug for en drink!” - Danish

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Country in Review: Malaysia - Old Traditions and New Discoveries

Malaysia is a unique meeting of old and new, where established traditions blend with a new, constantly evolving metropolis. Everything from shopping, food, dress, culture and architecture showcase both Malaysia’s rich history and the modern state it has become.

Whether you’re a career expat navigating the fast paced city, retiring to a carefree island or on an expedition in the captivating rainforest, Malaysia has got all categories covered. The country is perfect to move to if you want to be in the middle of the city or if you want to escape it. Expats can take advantage of Kuala Lumpur’s transit network, Rapid KL and explore the capital cities or venture further afield for a more relaxing trip.  

Creative Commons - Mohammad Zaidi Photography
On your commute home from work, against the backdrop of the Petronas twin towers, you can see the latest expansions of international companies standing streets away from smaller outdoor market stalls that have been part of Malaysia’s daily life for years. All the variety can mean a very active diary. You could spend a weekend revealing in the sheer speed and power of new technology by watching Malaysia’s very own Grand Prix. Then you can finish the month taking pictures of the intricate limestone patterns whilst exploring the Batu caves believed to be over 400 million years old, and still have so much more to experience.    
                                        
Creative Commons - Seam Maynard - Main Cavern of the Batu Caves
Food enthusiasts also stand to benefit from the variety that is available to them.  Expats in the island city of Penang can gorge on an array of street food, from marinated Batu Maung Satay to sweet Apom Balik pancakes. Meanwhile, back on the mainland, the sophisticated expat can take a lift up to one of Kuala Lumpur’s famous skyscraper topping restaurants. Malaysia’s diverse history which has seen India, China & Thailand influence its cuisine and is also why Malaysia is referred to as Asia in miniature.

Creative Commons - MM
So whether you’re a history buff mesmerised by the architecture of the past, or a faster paced city dweller, Malaysia offers something for the very many types of expat. 

Friday, 10 July 2015

5 worrying thoughts people have before moving

So, your big move is gradually getting nearer and nearer and the nerves are kicking in. The good news is that feeling a little bit scared is a totally natural part of the exciting process of starting a new life – so we’ve put together this post to help you clear some of the typical worries that future expats feel before moving, and better understand how to overcome any anxiety you might have about making the leap:

‘I can’t speak the local language…’

Worrying about not knowing the first language of your new host country is normally the first thing potential expats will think of. But we are certain that you will surprise yourself! Current expats recommend doing a little preparation before moving in order to familiarise yourself with the mother tongue, then once you arrive and are surrounded by people that speak the language you’ll find that you quickly start picking it up. Try starting small, by going to your local convenience store and speaking to the cashier in their language. Immersing yourself in the language and jumping straight in will mean that common conversation will start to come naturally to you and after a few months of practice, you’ll wonder what you were ever worried about.


Creative Commons - Wikimedia

‘It will be tough to make new friends…’

Another big step you have to take when moving abroad is leaving friends and family behind – it’ll be emotional, for sure, but the process of making friends in a new exhilarating environment is one of the best parts of being an expat. Whether you mix with fellow expats from around the world or dive into local circles, you’ll meet some amazing people who can share their learnings, experiences and cultures with you. Just be confident and don’t hold back, the friends you make will have a positive impact on your overall experience abroad – so make the most of these new friendships to learn new things about the world as well as a few things about yourself!

‘How will my family adjust to life in a different country? ’

Moving abroad with children, or even with the intention of having children later down the line, could mean that you’re moving abroad with an entirely different set of reservations; education, childcare, social life, whether they’ll speak the language or not… There’s a lot of ground to cover. But a huge number of parents around the world can vouch for the fantastic quality of life their new host country offers their children and, depending on where you are, you may find that the costs of bringing up a child are actually cheaper. Similarly, you’ll be surprised how quickly your children will pick up the language too – if they’re still quite young when you move it’s likely they’ll actually pick it up quicker than you do!
Creative Commons - Wikimedia

‘Our cultures are so different…’

Culture clashes are an inevitable feature of becoming an expat. In order to avoid isolation and to submerge yourself into the local way of life – it’ll take a bit of effort on your behalf. You’ll have to embark on your new journey with an open mind and be prepared to adjust to the people around you. Current expats would advise you to be flexible and open to fit your new culture, don’t expect it to accommodate you! By accepting your new culture with open arms, you might learn to love and appreciate what the rest of the world has to offer.

‘It’s going to be expensive…’

Being prepared goes a long way! Many current expats have emphasised the importance of doing your research beforehand, make sure you know exactly how much things will cost in the foreign currency. The key is to make sure there are no surprises – if you know exactly how much you are likely to earn and have a good understanding of how much you’re likely to spend on living then there should be no cause for worrying at all!

What was your biggest fear before making the move abroad and how did you get over it? Share your tips with other expats by adding them to our Expat Hints & Tips tool.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Bangkok: City in Review

Fantastic, I am enjoying every moment of it’ - Expat currently living in Thailand

Bangkok is the beautiful capital city of Thailand with a population of more than 8 million. Its culturally diverse environment provides a familiar landscape of an international city whilst offering a stunning variety of streams, markets and even countryside just a short bike ride away.

Whatever you’re looking for from an expat posting, be it a fast-paced, high intensity career or a more tranquil, mellow livelihood – Bangkok has something for you.  Whilst there are plenty of jobs in the financial and logistical industries, a huge number of expats are choosing to teach in local schools – earning enough money to make a living and enjoy Bangkok in all its cultural glory without any distractions.

With canals breaking off from the Chao Phraya River all over the city, you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to forget you’re in the centre of one of the busiest tourist centres in the world. The river, which runs directly through the middle of the city, offers a great opportunity to travel around on a floating taxi – a mode of transport that is highly recommended for current expats who like to avoid the busy streets!

Creative Commons - Flickr
Thailand boasts more than 40,000 temples across the country and Bangkok is famous for its incredible additions to this collection. The magnificent architecture of these awe inspiring buildings really is a sight to behold, each is perfectly unique - adding even more beauty to an already vastly attractive city. There are almost too many to count in Bangkok, so visiting them all may seem a little daunting but we would recommend making a special effort to visit at least a handful, especially Wat Traimit, Wat Arun and Wat Phra Kaew - they will blow you away.

Creative Commons - Wikimedia

With a cost of living that’s dwarfed by that of a typical European capital city –you’ll have plenty of spare cash to spend at one of the largest markets in the world. Chatuchak weekend market is incredible; it really is no exaggeration when we say that you can literally buy anything there. Delve into some of the best local cuisine whilst sifting through old vinyls or petting animals at nearby stalls. To beat the crowds, aim to get there early - there are endless stalls that you’ll want to explore and it gets busy during the day!

But there’s more to life in Bangkok than shopping – it’s the central hub of education in Thailand, with two of their universities (Chulalongkorn and Mahidol) featuring in the QS world top 500 universities. There are a number of international schools in central locations, as well as a vast choice of very high quality local schools – so if you’re moving with your family, it’s good to note that Bangkok offers a lot of different educational routes which gives you and your children plenty of choice to find the one that’s right.  

So whatever it is you’re looking for in your journey to becoming an expat – Bangkok has it all. Throw yourself into everything its wonderfully diverse atmosphere has to offer and you will find yourself falling in love with it very quickly. 

Friday, 26 June 2015

Get out and explore - How to get the most out of your experience

So you’ve moved abroad – congratulations! Perhaps you’ve now established a pattern in your new home or immersed yourself in a new routine in your new surroundings, which is great news. However, feeling a little more settled sometimes means you might start to feel the initial excitement and curiosity wearing off.  While this is good – as it means you’re feeling more at home in your new country – there’s an argument which says there’s always something new to see or experience, wherever you are and however long you’ve been there for.

Here are some top tips for breaking out of your routine and exploring your surroundings to make the most of the experience whilst you have the opportunity to do so:

There’s no shame in joining the tourists…

Once you have established where to go for life’s essentials it is easy to then stop searching for more, but there is no reason to. When you first moved to your new destination you may have enquired about which sites to see and which areas to explore but as you’ve settled you might have lost that enthusiasm.  A way to snap out of your routine is with the help of a guide book. Committing to see the sites listed in a guide book is an amazing way to ensure you make the most of your surroundings.

….But don’t be afraid to stray from the beaten path!

When you’ve gotten more experience at moving around your new city you may want to be a bit more adventurous and search for some hidden gems. One advantage of moving away from the long lines of the recognisable tourist sites is that the places you uncover by chance are as equally interesting and (very often) less costly or crowded. Asking your colleagues or other ‘natives’ for their top recommendations of things to see and do is a great way to start – be it new shows to attend, restaurants to eat at or walks to take. 

Flickr - Toshlo


Remembering what you know can help to open new doors

During a move abroad there’s a lot to think about and some things can get left behind by mistake – particularly old hobbies or pastimes.
The good news is that you’ll quite often find new things which can fill that gap – and discovering new local sports is one example.  Whether that’s cricket in Australia, netball in the UK or hockey in Canada watching or even participating in the sports local to the country that you are in can open up a whole new conversation amongst colleagues.

Culinary expats might at first find it frustrating that they are unable to locate all of the things that they need to cook the meals that they enjoyed in their home country. The solution to this could be going to a local cooking class, to learn new recipes, discover new spices around you and even fuse the cuisines of your home country and your new country to create something new, unique and reflective of your experiences. Perusing your interests abroad, be it sport or cooking, can help you establish new friendships and above all help you to explore your new country in a different way.

Flickr - Matt365230

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