Friday, 24 October 2014

Getting Sporty in the Swiss Alps

Most people are guilty of including ‘exercise more’ in their list of New Year’s resolutions only to find their trainers remain in their box. Work takes over, excuses come out and the resolution is resurrected the following year – but not for expats in Switzerland. This year’s Expat Explorer survey found that the country is home to the sportiest expats, with almost half claiming to be more active since moving to Switzerland (43% compared with a 29% global average). With the better work/life balance expats say they have since moving there (51% report an improvement, compared to the global average of 40%), expats are well placed to take advantage of the amazing outdoor activities the country has to offer.

For anyone wanting a glimpse into the sports expats in Switzerland have available to them, we have created this Swiss seasonal sports guide:

Snow sports

Image source: Pixabay/hslegergr1

Switzerland’s striking mountains and incredible lakes no doubt contributed to why over three-quarters (77%) of expats associate the country with a pleasant climate and charming scenery. Not only are these mountains picturesque but they are also the perfect setting for winter sports. One such sport is skiing. While it can be an expensive interest, expats in Switzerland are well-placed to afford it, with over two-thirds finding they have more disposable income than they did before moving to the country (68%) and 85% associating Switzerland with higher salaries than their home country.

Most mountains are easily accessible by train or car - if you’re not used to driving in snowy conditions, taking in the stunning scenery on the train may be your best option. It is well worth getting acquainted with the different resorts, as they all have slightly different offerings. Zermatt is a very pretty car-free village by the Matterhorn, while Verbier attracts the young and athletic. Wengen is perfect for relaxing and St. Moritz boats a host of activities with its frozen lake for curling and skating and the famous Cresta Run toboggan track.

Image Source: Pixabay/Wikilmages

For anyone who prefers to observe, you can participate in Switzerland’s sporting culture by going to watch an ice hockey match. For the past 13 years, SC Bern has held the highest attendance numbers in Europe for ice hockey matches, creating an impressive atmosphere

Sun sports

When the snow melts and the ice thaws, Switzerland’s mountains become a great spot for hiking and other outdoor activities. With three-quarters of expats (75%) saying that the local air quality and pollution level is better than in their home country, there’s little excuse not to go out and explore the 60,000 footpaths that Switzerland offers. Another sport to try when the weather improves is the Swiss Schwingen. As the national sport, the traditional folk wrestling is still popular, with competitions taking place every three years. If folk wrestling isn’t the ‘embracing the culture’ you had in mind though, then there’s still plenty of opportunities to play football, rugby and tennis.

Image source: Wikimedia/Wiki4you

Fun for all the family

It’s not only the adults reaping the benefits of Switzerland’s active lifestyle and fresh air. Three-quarters of expats observed that their children’s health has improved following the move (74% compared with a global average of 56%). With ski resorts offering ski schools for little ones and ‘Sport-gymnasiums’ available, all the family can benefit from the active lifestyle in the alps.

Check out the latest findings of the Expat Explorer 2014 survey on our interactive tool here. Share your experiences of sports abroad with us in the comments section or on Twitter (@expatexplorer).

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Expat Explorer 2014 launches today!

Expats face unique challenges when moving abroad, often having to make important decisions without really knowing about life in their new country. Trying to help make the move that little bit easier is why we created the Expat Explorer survey, and we are very excited to announce that the 2014 results are in! This is the 7th year of the survey, with 9,288 of you telling us what life is like abroad. We heard from expats from all over the world on why you made the jump, how easy it was to settle in and what the impact of this has been on your kids.  Thank you to all of you for sharing your experience, helping to create this valuable resource for expats across the globe – we couldn’t do it without you!

Click to view the full infographic!

Over the next couple of weeks, we will be sharing some of the findings on the @expatexplorer Twitter and – of course – here on this blog. However, to whet your appetite, we thought we’d give you a quick snapshot of some of the key findings:

  • Switzerland tops this year’s Expat Explorer league table, emerging as a destination to advance career prospects and receive a healthy salary while also maintaining a good work / life balance.
  • Another country to shine this year is New Zealand, which came 1st in both the Expat Experience and Raising Children Abroad rankings.
  • Expats who tell us that quality of life is more important tend to be attracted to the more relaxed lifestyles and slower pace of life found in New Zealand (54%), Australia (46%) and France (43%).
  • For expats living in the Far East, life is sweet and – often – comes at a lower price than it did at home. In Thailand and Vietnam, for example, almost three quarters find they have higher levels of disposable income since moving to the country!

Whether you’d like to see how your country fared, use it to help plan your next adventure or you are just interested in hearing about other expats’ experiences, be sure to check out our interactive Expat Explorer tool here.

We’d love to hear what you think about this year’s findings – tweet us your thoughts @expatexplorer and use the hashtag #EE14!

Friday, 17 October 2014

Guest Blog Post: Expat Mottos to Live By

Our latest guest blog post comes from Katarina, a 25 year old Canadian who has been an expat for the past 8 years. She has zigzagged across the globe from Croatia, to upstate New York, to Paris, and is currently living in London. Traveling is her greatest love, and she is lucky enough to have family and friends scattered in great places worth visiting. She has a passion for nature and architecture alike and isn’t sure if she’ll ever truly settle in one place for too long! Here are her five top tips for making the most of expat life:

1)      Learn the language… or attempt to
My biggest regret is never having mastered the French language. After living in Paris for two years, I can fully comprehend a French speaker, yet am completely incapable of replying. I was attending an American school and working in an American company… virtually everyone I knew in France was American or a fellow expat. I honestly thought I had almost no reason to learn the language – you can get around just fine with English alone. Retrospectively, there is so much that I missed out on simply because I had no idea it was happening. Parties this weekend, new exhibits, pop-up sales, jobs I couldn’t apply for… I can honestly say that I have missed out. Locals appreciate the effort, however poor your French/Spanish/*insert language here*is. They are generally happy to help and take it as a fun challenge to teach you a phrase or two. Take a course, find a language partner, just speak the little you know every day and before you know it, you will be miles ahead.

2)      Break free from the expat bubble
It’s much easier said than done, but really make an effort to immerse yourself in the culture. It’s great to have fellow-expats that you can relate to, but it is important to truly live in the new environment, not try to replicate your homeland on new soil. Meet people from your new city, and also from all around the world. These people will help you learn so much more about the city and also about yourself. Imagine all the cool, hidden, local gems you can find with your own personal tour guide!

3)      Wander aimlessly
Get out of your flat and just go! Take a left where you normally take a right. Take the metro and get out at a random station and explore the new neighbourhood. Take the bus and soak in the surroundings. There is beauty in the architecture, landscaping, markets, cafes, everywhere! This is also the best way to learn the new city… before long, you will be showing locals directions to your new favourite spots.

4)      Try new places everyday
Stay away from the typical tourist chains that are so tempting due to their familiarity in a place that is so foreign. When I first got to Paris, I found a Canadian pub that was always full of expats and generally a really great atmosphere. I started going there very often and before long, I had a wonderful group of expats as friends. This was the safe option. After a few months we started trying different bars/restaurants/cafes and I realised how much I had been missing. There are so many options in your new city, and I’m sure you will find your favourites, but don’t be afraid to add to the list!

5)      Stick it out
Things always seem tough at first, and even when you think you have finally settled, it’s normal to get a wave of nostalgia. It’s important you understand that all of this is normal and you just have the ride it through – don’t throw your hands up in the air in defeat and go back to your hometown!

My second year in Paris was completely different than the first. I was much more comfortable in the city, I had an established group of friends, and I even met a guy I really liked (we are still together… expat-long-distance-relationship style). I enjoyed every single moment. Even the rainy days provided me opportunities to spend the day wandering museums. I had stopped being homesick, embraced Skype and WhatsApp as the norm, and formed a life for myself in my adopted hometown of Paris.

What are your top tips for living expat life to the full?

Thursday, 16 October 2014

An expat guide to the quirkier side of Japan

Japan is known for its vibrant cultural heritage; traditional scenes include beautiful temples, the tea ceremony, cherry blossoms and the incredible mount Fiji. With culture and adventures galore, there’s no doubting that expat life here is particularly exciting. Once you have seen the traditional, it may be time to experience something a little… different. Japan offers some unique experiences you won’t forget anytime soon, here are a few things you might want to put on your to-do list!

Grab a coffee with a cat
If you’re craving some furry friend love but don’t want to commit to a long term pet, the cat café is the place to go. Tokyo is estimated to have around 40 of these quirky cafes, with the popularity put down to it being difficult for people to keep their own pets in what is a very urban location. If cats aren’t your thing, don’t worry - there has also been a rise in popularity of bunny cafes.

Image Source Flickr/sprklg

Dinner with a difference
Ever dreamed of dinner in prison? Or having your food served by a masked ninja? No, probably not, but Japan’s themed restaurants still shouldn’t be missed! From making magical stories come true, to distinctive and unforgettable experiences, a themed restaurant is worth checking out.  If you feel like eating in, you can always count on being able to find something: Japan is known for being able to offer almost every kind of food in a can, with canned bread being one of the strangest and also tastiest offerings.

Shake things up
The Earthquake simulator truly is a distinctive experience, allowing you to experience a 7.9 magnitude earthquake for 30-40 seconds then make an escape attempt as the world shakes around you. While providing an interesting experience this is far from merely being a tourist fad: the earthquake simulator provides essential education and safety awareness in a country which is prone to severe earthquakes.

The national sport of Japan involves two wrestlers (rikishi) trying to force each other out of a ring on the floor (dohyō). With Japan being the only country where the sport is practised professionally, it is something you have to witness while you live there. The outfits the wrestlers wear aren’t exactly big so be warned that you should expect to see a lot of them!

Image Source: Wikipedia/ Utagawa Kunisada
Time for a sleep
After all of your exploring, a rest is well deserved. Cheap and basic, the capsule hotel is one of the quirkiest places to stay in Japan. Whether you’ve had a night on the town, or just fancy the experience, this hotel is like none you will have ever seen before, with each capsule providing just enough space for you to get some sleep. If a capsule isn’t your idea of a relaxing sleep, try an overnight stay in a Buddhist temple.  Don’t expect a lie in though; morning prayers begin around 6am!

What do our expats say…?

If you go with an open mind, you’re bound to find that there is much more to Japan’s culture than meets the eye - so get out of your capsule, grab your tinned bread and have an adventure!

Share your insights into Japan with us in the comments section or on Twitter (@expatexplorer).

Friday, 10 October 2014

‘A cockroach is a man’s best friend’: Expat Pets

Becoming an expat can have its lonely moments - and even if you’re moving with family or a friend, there are bound to be times when you might fancy some different company. One solution for this is to get a pet. A pet can be a welcome distraction for unsettled kids and a chum to make that house feel like a home.  Nothing’s better than coming home to your doggy pal rushing to greet you, or curling up with your feline friend as you unwind. However, as you move abroad, you may find a few unusual offerings to take that spot, which couldn’t be further removed from your typical cat or dog….. 

Image source: Wikipedia commons
 A little birdie tells me….
Most chickens are known for laying eggs or as the basis of a Sunday roast, but the Silkie breed has become a popular pet. Bad layers and overly broody, this fluffy chicken was traditionally rumoured to be the mythical product of a chicken and a rabbit. In recent years, western countries have become endeared to them and many households have started taking them in as members of the family.

Image source: Wikipedia commons

In Hong Kong….
While pet birds are by no means unheard of, in Hong Kong they get given some extra special treatment. The Yuen Po Street bird garden is not only a bird lover’s paradise selling all sorts of exotic bird species, it is also where the locals bring their birds for some fresh air. That certainly makes a change from walking the dog….

Image source: Wikipedia commons

Pests become pets
One of the most common household pests is now considered a pet, owing to the Madagascar Hissing Cockroach breed. Seen as low maintenance, they have grown in growing popularity across Australia and the United States, where celebrities have even been known to take them down the red carpet.  If you’re thinking of getting a cockroach though, check out the local laws, as some states have restrictions.

Image source: Creative Commons/Hans