Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Home comforts? Your native tongue? How long does it take for you to feel settled?

In a recent poll on Expat Explorer, we asked how long it takes before expats feel settled into their new country of residence. The results revealed that there is no clear time limit to complete this complicated change. Not surprisingly, most of the votes indicated that it takes at least a year to feel comfortable in your new home, and undeniably there are a lot of factors which need to be taken into consideration.

Nearly one in four (23%) ticked the 12-18 months category, whilst another 23% of votes show that people only feel settled after 24 months of living in a new country. Perhaps this first peek exemplifies the opinions of expats who have moved to a country where the culture is relatively similar to their country of origin, where there is no language barrier and their professional and social life can become stable quite quickly. Dave Hampton tweeted that he felt settled when ‘surroundings stop being different or exotic’, about 12 months in his case.

On the other hand, the reason for many not feeling settled until after 24 months could be because of a larger ‘culture shock’, and this is the time it takes to finally feel at ease with the day-to-day language and lifestyle of a new country.

As the widely spread results show, every case is different and there are a multitude of aspects to life as an expat which can affect this feeling of being settled. For example:

· What are the reasons for moving and how long had it been planned?

· Are you going into the same job?

· Are you retired or are you starting afresh?

· Do you have family in the country you are moving to?

· Is there an established expat community?

· How old are you and do you have children?

· Does the country you are moving to have the same cultural norms?

· Religious beliefs or speak the same language as you do?

· Are there any preconceptions of you, such as was shown in previous blogs within our Expat Women Series, regarding gender?

Alternatively, ‘does anyone ever feel settled?’, as Andrew Couch tweeted in response to our poll.

We’d love to hear your opinions and stories on this diverse topic.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Expat Excellence featuring John Falchetto

This week, we have John Falchetto talk about his experiences as an expat life coach and what he does to help people looking to advance their career abroad and entrepreneurs seeking to start or grow a sustainable business overseas.

Q&A with Expat Life Coach- John Falchetto

1. What is an expat life coach?
I help expats or future expats handle the challenges of designing an international lifestyle.
From childhood we are brainwashed to think we are not good at certain things but we are quite clueless about what we are really great at. My focus is on defining what their expat unique competencies are and developing a strategy to create their dream lifestyle abroad.

2. How did you become an expat life coach?
I have been an expat all my professional life. I left Canada after I graduated and worked in Jordan first, and then moved to Cairo in ’97. I wrote for the Associated Press and did my masters at the American University in Cairo thanks to a fellowship from Sheikh Kamal Adham.
I moved to Dubai in 1999 and worked in public relations until 2003.
In 2003, I l traded my corporate suite with a PR agency for a fleet of Land Rovers and started and outdoor coaching company. We took executives from multinationals in Dubai and helped them get past their limiting beliefs by experiencing the wild mountains of the UAE. Taking them outside the four walls of their offices helped them put a lot of things in perspective. One of our most sought after program was a breakthrough event culminating with a descent into the world's second largest cave.

In 2009 my wife Ameena and I decided we wanted to live in the South of France. That summer we renovated a 200-year-old Templar farmhouse. I now run my coaching business almost entirely online, and try to travel less to spend more time with my 8 month old daughter.
3. What kind of expats comes to you for advice?
I work with seekers, expats who are unhappy with the status quo and who want more from their life abroad. The two categories of expats I work with are the:
  • Professionals who are looking to make a move in their expat career and want help growing and reaching their career goals.
  • Expat entrepreneurs seeking to start or grow a sustainable business overseas.

4. What kind of advice have you given to them?
Most of my advice deals with their fears, hopes dreams and frustrations. We look at strong points in their career or business, and develop a model to achieve their career or business goals.
We also deal with their challenges along the way. The essence of coaching, as opposed to consulting, is not to impose a cookie cutter model on people’s lives. Everyone is different and faces different challenges but I focus on stimulating innate knowledge everyone has to create a sustainable result.
Among others, I use models like the GROW process for problem solving and goal setting. Each expat has a unique set of success skills which allows them to succeed when

5. What kind of problems/issues do you deal with on a day-to-day basis?
Everyone has different challenges. Fears and frustrations of expats cover a large spectrum from health issues to financial difficulties.
As a business and career coach I deal mostly with the business end of expat’s lives. Some common challenges are:
· Finding the right balance between work and family life,
· Creating a healthy lifestyle,
· Dealing with overwhelm due to work, financial or career stress.

6. What has been the most interesting issue you had to deal with?
I had a client who almost lost members of his corporate team in a mountain hike. The event really affected him and he wanted to find a way to give back by creating a mountain rescue team. We worked to create a fundraising strategy for the first mountain rescue team in the UAE. I provided pro-bono rescue training for first responders; other sponsors came onboard for rescue equipment.
It was really great. It showed that expats, who are often compared to mercenaries by the nationals of a country, can bring a lot to the local community.
I believe in helping expat clients, which have a greater purpose and want to be a force for good in the local community they live in. Even if that purpose can be elusive at the beginning, creating a strong vision for an expat business is a crucial sustainability factor.
7. What advice would you give to readers of the Expat Explorer blog?
Expats are a great bunch. But more often than not we live in a box. Even when we move abroad we choose to build a box around ourselves, by looking for home products, befriending compatriots, or becoming a cubicle farmer in an exotic location. The box we build around ourselves defines how we think about ourselves. I believe it is important to find out what makes us unique in life and discover what we can do to bring the most value to those around us. This is much more than thinking ‘outside the box’, it is about looking deep inside ourselves.
We need to stop being terrified of discovering what we are meant to be. Becoming an expat is a great step in that direction.

About the author

John lives with his wife and daughter in a scenic village of the South of France. You can find more about John on his blog and Twitter- @JohnFalchetto

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Expat Women Series: Expat career women

In most places with large communities of expats there are generally a number of activities and established social networks to entertain the accompanying wives of men expatriated abroad for work. However, what about when the roles are reversed and it is a career woman who is expatriated?

In part three of our Expat Women Series we take a look at some of the issues women face when it comes to working abroad.

Source: Randy Kashka

One problem many women seem to encounter is the different cultural attitudes to women, particularly in the workplace. On expatwomen.com there are useful tips offered by ExpatWomen Girlfriend to women who find they suffer from a lack of respect from their male colleagues on the ground in their foreign work environment.

As well as the usual culture shock of working in a completely new environment, women often face additional barriers when relocating abroad, especially when expatriating to traditionally patriarchal societies. The advice we have is to do as much research as possible before posting. Read widely and learn about the country’s traditions, customs and culture before arriving and most importantly is to be open-minded about your secondment and remain flexible and patient.

There are many great resources out on the world wide web to help women who want to experience the challenge and excitement of living abroad. Wendy Enelow for example shares some of her top tips for writing a resume for an international audience.

If you are a woman considering taking on a placement abroad then Leslie Strazzullo’s survival guide is also well worth a read. She offers a range of advice including questions to ask yourself before you make the decision to go as well as survival strategies for when you are out there.

Are you an expatriated career woman? Or are you thinking about moving abroad for work? Leave us a comment and tell us about your experiences.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Expert Excellence featuring Stephanie Katz

In the third instalment in our Expert Excellence series, we have Stephanie Katz, editor of ExpatArrivals.com on dealing with culture shock.

Culture Shock: from the inside out

Expats often underestimate the challenges of culture shock, and even those who've mastered adaptation are often unprepared for the adjustment the expat bubble itself demands.

A glazed stare, withdrawal, excessive sleep, overeating, under-eating - these aren't side effects of some ill-fated psychosis, but believe it or not, symptoms of culture shock.

Sure, not every expat assumes zombie status post-arrival in the their new location, and each may find different degrees of homesickness and feelings of helplessness defining their transitions, but ultimately, this hurdle to adjustment is often much higher than most anticipate.

In fact, results from the 2010 Expat Arrivals (EA) Art of Relocation Survey showed that when participants were asked just what factor they'd "wished they'd known more about" in hindsight of their move, the biggest proportion cited "Overcoming Culture Shock" (46.7%). Five other factors, ranging from "Arranging a Visa/Work Permit" (24%) to "Education and Schools" (13.3%) received considerably less attention.

Rightfully so, the shock of moving to a new country can cause immense anxiety and frustration. Depending on just how different a new location are the day-to-day experiences, simple tasks and normally low-maintenance logistics can be clouded in confusion and consternation.

What's more, even though loss of routine and general disorientation can certainly be dizzying realities that often leave expats spinning, challenges created by an external environment aren't the only source of culture shock.

Life inside the bubble

For many western expats, life in even the strangest of destinations can be lived in a self-contained sphere of cultural familiarity. It happens most commonly when foreigners perceive an uncrossable cultural barrier and in response create an isolated expat community to regain a sense of control over their cultural environment.

These expat bubbles are commonly represented by physical space - expat compounds in Saudi Arabia, homats in Japan, or secure, gated communities in Nigeria. It follows that these shared spaces then act as a platform for a social subculture; a place where expats search for the lowest common denominator and form friendships accordingly.

Subculture shock

In destinations where insular expat communities are the norm, the effect is a close, tight-knit network. Most social interaction is within the group, most expat families send their children to expat schools and, in some cases where the subculture is especially strong, the community takes the place of family.

Though this system can be supportive at first, it can also become potentially poisonous.

In a sense, intensely insular expat communities can transform into "golden ghettoes". Feelings of insecurity and notions of being completely removed from the world in which you live may be more apparent than ever before.

Unlike immigrant societies, which are “secluded”, expatriate communities are “exclusive,” writes Eric Cohen in 'Current Sociology', in that they close off or exclude an authentic experience of local life and its people.

This disconnectedness can begin to feel deliberate, even if it isn't; guilt can get the better of even the most stubborn expat, particularly when so much affluence resides inside the compound walls relative to the standards of living outside.

Furthermore, interactions within the bubble can become blasé, and expats may come away feeling their environment has turned too one-dimensional. In some extreme instances, there are those that would describe their relocation as a period in time in which they felt trapped.

Bursting the bubble

There are plenty of simple steps to waging war against standard culture shock, but when it comes to digging in and doing battle against the ill-effects of these insular communities an alternative approach is often needed.

In conjunction with culture transitions strategist Heather Markel and Intercultural Trainer Anna Maria Moore we've come up with a few key ways to burst the expat bubble.

stay updated on current events so you can speak intelligently with locals

show curiosity, interest and allow locals to express their opinions

continue to learn the language, no matter the sacrifice it requires

be willing to meet and mix with locals in even in the most basic of situations

Often expats entering into an insular community have little choice upon initial arrival, but finding little outlets and making sure that you don't feel boxed in and boarded up can be the difference in overcoming culture shock or sinking completely.

About the author

Stephanie Katz is the editor of ExpatArrivals.com, a site that publishes over 100 online destination guides to help global expats plan their move abroad and optimize their lives on arrival. City-based experts works with the editorial team to produce key content sections. If you’re interested in becoming a local expert contact, please visit their site.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Guest Blogger Series: Introducing...Karen Phillips

Our first guest blogger of 2011 is freelance writer, Karen Phillips who shares a heart-rending account on dealing with the loss of a loved-one and the struggle of whether to stay-put in a foreign country or to go back home.

Should I stay or should I go?

We were lifestyle expats my husband and I; we didn’t move abroad to a job, we didn’t leave our country for money or love of anyone other than each other. We left it for the fun of it. For gentle adventures, discovering new countries and building the kind of houses no one else would bother with and just for the joy of having a whole world to play in.

We picked slightly offbeat places, a little strip of an island off Mexico, a traditional village in Turkey on the Aegean coast. Places with an appealing quirkiness. We built a villa in Mexico overlooking the great Mayan Reef and then a boutique hotel in Turkey in the ecological village of Kirazli and then having fallen in love with the village we took on a complicated rebuild of an old stone house, turning a tumbledown heap into a characterful home. And then things turned for the worse.

One warm spring evening, whilst sipping tea with the neighbours on their porch, looking up at the minaret of the mosque against the blue Aegean sky and listening to the surf sound wave of the wind through the pine forests that surround our village, he died. With no warning, he just passed away.

I flew him back to the UK for the funeral and then I wandered around my house there like a little wraith and all everyone ever said to me was “You’ll be coming home for good now then.” It wasn’t a question; it was assumed that I would now come back.

I felt as though I was supposed to creep quietly back into my old life, the normal life, the one I had before we went off junketing irresponsibly around the world. As if my expat life had been one long holiday with no real meaning and now it was over and I should sensibly retire back to the UK. And I just didn’t want to do that.

We struggle enough with feelings of failure and guilt and a sense of being diminished when we are bereaved, to give up my life overseas would have compounded that, it would have made me feel that the things Phil and I did and the choices we had made were bad ones, ones that lead to him dying!

Because, you see, all the things I loved about being in another country were still there, the landscape, the beauty, the culture, the food, the sense of exploring and adventure. Those hadn’t gone away in the same way that the reasons we went abroad in the first place hadn’t gone away, the UK still felt weirdly controlling, heavily regulated, watchful but detached, and it really wasn’t home any more. So I came back to Turkey and my stone house in my little village and I set about living the life we had chosen.

There are a lot of stereotypes about expats, that they are hard drinking party animals in the tax free desert states; that in the retirement havens under the Mediterranean sun they are fixed income moaners propping up the bar and putting the world to rights, rubbishing Blighty and their new home in equal measure. And in some respects that is true, it wouldn’t be a stereotype if there wasn’t an element of truth in it although god knows I’ve always been a useless drinker myself! But I’ll tell you one thing about expats, boy do they rally round when you need them.

In the small communities overseas you find a deep and overwhelming kindness. At home in Wales, a country famed for close communities, not even the local vicar bothered to call out and see me and it took my next door neighbour 14 months to offer his condolences, whilst here on the outer fringes of Britishness people called, and offered help, and kept offering, and kept helping, and kept caring whilst I went through the long long process of grieving. They do it not just because they are intrinsically kind but because they know that chances are, one day, the choice I made they will have to make themselves. Will I stay or will I go when I am alone?

I chose to stay because whilst I lost half myself when my husband died, it turns out that the half that remained was the bit of me that he liked most, the bit that is interested in everything, the bit that wonders why and where and how and wants to make things and learn things and finds endless fascination in new countries and societies and the way they function.

There is nothing wrong with returning home to family and friends when you lose your partner, it is immensely comforting to have the option, but it is only one option and it isn’t an automatic choice. There are women like me everywhere, remaking themselves after bereavement, but choosing to do it in challenging, stimulating, foreign places.

It is nearly three years since Phil died and whilst there are still bad days when I can't hold back the tears, I am comforted by the fact that I didn’t throw away everything we valued, I still have that spirit of discovery, I still believe that life is too short (hell yes!) to watch it happening to someone else. I am what he made me, a modern nomad, and I’m going to keep being what he wanted us to be, world citizens.

About the author

Karen Phillips is a freelance writer and researcher living in Kirazli Koy in Aegean Turkey. She will write most things for money but draws the line at advertising blurb for off-plan property because she’d never feel clean again. She is a former social care professional and property developer who with her late husband specialised in one off relocation projects abroad. She writes a popular blog on living in Turkey called Being Koy, which can be found at www.kirazlivillage.com. You can also follow Karen on Twitter @Kirazlikoy.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

5 (more) essential apps for expats

Happy New Year! Hope everyone had a good break over the Christmas and New Year period.

Previously on Expat Explorer, we blogged about 5 essential apps for expats, which was one of the most read posts of 2010. We thought a follow up of 5 more essential apps for expats would be a nice way to start the year.


There are a plethora of apps out there that make it easy to remain connected with friends and family back at home. Take Viber for example. Viber is an iPhone application that lets you make free phone calls to other iPhone users who also have the app installed. This means international calls to other Viber users using 3G or Wi-Fi is completely free!

Having tested the app, we were surprised at how clear the sound quality is. A great app for saving costs when calling internationally over a Wi-Fi connection. Check out this video for more details on how the app works.


Connecting with loved ones back at home couldn’t be easier with WhatsApp. WhatsApp is an app which allows you to send messages, photos and videos to any smartphone without having to pay for the cost of a SMS or MMS. Ideal for sending quick messages to friends and family back at home without needing to wait for a suitable time to call or email.


Another nifty app we’ve come across for expats is iMetro. With iMetro, expats can access nearly 90 metro cities around the world including Paris, Berlin, London and Beijing. The maps are nice and easy to read and because you don’t need an internet connection to access the maps it’s very handy when you’re underground with no reception.


Geocaching is an app that makes exploring your new city fun! Geocaching allows expats the chance to find nearby treasures using your smartphone’s GPS tracker. The basic idea is to locate hidden containers, called geocaches, outdoors and then share your finds and experiences online. It’s a great way for expats to familiarise themselves in their new environment as well as discover hidden gems.

Google Earth

Similar to Geocaching, Google Earth is ideal for new or current expats looking to find out more about their new environment. Free to download, the app allows you to view different locations from around the world as well as to find out additional information about various geographical features.

Google Earth is also helpful for those who have arrived in their new country. The app can provide information about various places of interest as well as finding nearby places and local amenities.



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