Friday, 25 February 2011

Guest Blogger Series: Introducing... Miranda Gulland

Miranda Gulland is a senior consultant who specializes in corporate communications for a leading global public relations firm. Having spent four years in the London office, Miranda secured a secondment to work in the firm's Toronto base in October 2010. Here she shares with us her experiences of relocating to North America.

Expat in Toronto

Having never left Europe before, the shift to a North American lifestyle from the UK was always going to be a bit of a shock. Having mentally prepared myself with a year of nail-biting visa ‘yes / no’ possibilities, the golden ticket was granted and I had three weeks to pack-up and say goodbye.

Once a series of ‘work’/‘flat’/ ‘family’/‘friends’/ ‘Toronto’ to-do-lists were completed, I found myself sitting on a plane realizing what little time had been given to thinking about what I was doing, where I was really going, and what I was actually letting myself in for.

So, funnily enough, the biggest surprise upon arrival wasn’t the different pace or newfound size and scale of everything. Instead, it was the barrage of questions received from anyone who could detect a slightly different accent and unfamiliar / lost face: why are you here… who do you know… where are you staying…. they questioned, when really, this was all I could ask myself.

Now five months in and feeling fairly settled I find myself asking the same questions as I walk to and from work - especially when the thermometer plunges to minus 20 degrees. But rather than gasping in shock I almost laugh at the sheer improbability and brilliance of this opportunity. Though it’s still early days, every ounce of fear experienced in those first few weeks has already been rewarded with an immeasurable experience which goes beyond anything words could ever describe.

Undertaking such a radical career and cultural shift not only forces you to look at things as they really are, but it helps you realize what you want and encourages you to work towards achieving it.

I sometimes think that becoming an expat is a bit like reaching graduation: it’s a turning point where you are rewarded with an open road and the choice is yours: rev up the engine and get going or sit back and enjoy the ride.

Monday, 21 February 2011

KEA Keeps Kiwis Connected

The expat population is one with huge economic potential as the latest findings from the Expat Explorer survey highlight. Countries have developed many interesting initiatives to harness their overseas talent but one that recently caught our attention is the Kiwi Expat Association of New Zealand.

The Kiwi Expat Association or Kea is a global network connecting New Zealand with the rest of the world by cultivating a community of enthusiastic Kiwi expats. New Zealand has always been a country of travellers and Kea’s aim is to see their global Kiwi contingent as a powerful offshore population at the heart of the global community.

One of the central aims of Kea is to leverage its global network to increase export trade and international investment by providing New Zealand businesses with greater access to international markets through the Kiwi expat community. This commitment has led to a new initiative led by Kea which will match would-be exports with offshore kiwi experts in an attempt to help the export sector.

Sue Watson the new chief executive of Kea commented, "We're developing a whole range of products that will help export-ready New Zealand companies, particularly in the SME sector, to connect with Kiwi expats who have capability, capital and connections, quite simply, to help them grow their business in offshore markets."

With a highly mobile population, New Zealand has often been perceived as one of the worst countries for ‘brain drain’ with a survey last year finding that it has the worst record among the developed nations for retaining its skilled workers, with nearly a quarter of them having left the country. Dr Watson says that Kea wants to take this worrying trend and turn it into a positive for New Zealand saying, "Rather than seeing it as a problem we're reframing it as an opportunity."

Kea is also investigating other initiatives based on the same principles including helping expatriates invest in venture capital opportunities and organising “in-market” video-conferences between Kiwis overseas and New Zealand based organisations. Through these programmes Kea is helping to prove that even when countries lose their human resources there are ways to harness an expat collective to their home country no matter where they are in the world.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Expat Excellence with Marcia De Wolf

This week author of the book Practical guide to a successful expat assignment Marcia De Wolf gives you her top tips on ensuring an expat posting has a positive effect on the family.

 Tips to ensure the expat posting has a positive effect on your family

The impact of overseas living on family

An expat posting inevitably affects family relationships. The good thing: they mostly change for the better. Families who put in some extra effort are rewarded with a bond that is stronger than ever before. Here are some tips to ensure the expat posting has a positive effect on your family:

1. Build excitement about the move and to be positive. There will inevitable be bad days, andyou have to find a way to go on, a good sense of humour will help.

2. Take advantage of the unique surrounding and explore all the new sites at your disposal.

3. Stay in touch with family as you are separated. Technology today makes it easy to stay
in regular contact with the ones you have left behind.

4. Never say "no" to an expat opportunity because of your children, who should instead be
a reason to go abroad. If you do accept the assignment, remember that the way you approachthe move will make an impact on the children and affect their experience.

5. Go with the right attitude:∙ Be open‐minded and courageous about this adventure.∙ Learn to embrace change.∙ Make the best of it while you can.∙ Consider it a once‐in‐a‐lifetime opportunity.

6. Although you do not have to "go native," do not try to keep everything the same as at home either because it will be different. Some things, however, will encourage familiarity and security.

7. Talk openly about everything, and be there to listen and support each other. Keep your
children informed before and during the relocation process. Get involved in your children's school.

8. Besides being flexible, maintaining routine, good communication, making life exciting and
staying in contact with home, it is better to involve children as soon as possible in the decision‐making process. Let them hear your arguments and let them state their opinion. They are important family members and they want to be treated that way.

9. The adjustment will also be easier if you give your children a little freedom and be flexible about the rules you had at home. Be willing to let them exercise more independence, even if it is a little frightening for them ‐ and for you. By using common sense, they will build confidence and develop a strong bond with you, based on mutual respect.

10. And if you're a non‐working parent, make the effort to be active, even if it is forced at first. Take the children on visits to the surrounding region and spend valuable time with them.

The book Practical guide to a successful expat assignment by author Marcia De Wolf is now available at Amazon

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Top 5 Expat Explorer Blog Posts

Time for another round up of last month’s most popular blog posts for those that missed them the first time!

1. Guest Blogger Series: Introducing...Karen Phillips Our first guest blogger of 2011, freelance writer, Karen Phillips who shared 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.

2. 5 (more) essential apps for expat following the popularity of 5 essential apps for expats we brought you the next best 5.

3. Expat Women Series: Expat career women we took a look at some of the issues women face when it comes to working abroad

4. Expert Excellence featuring John Falchetto The expat life coach gave us his top tips for starting a business overseas

5. Home comforts? Your native tongue? How long does it take for you to feel settled? You told us what you though in our mini poll

Friday, 11 February 2011

Expat Excellence featuring Stephanie Katz

Stephanie Katz is the editor of Expat, a site that publishes over 100 online destination guides to help global expats plan their move abroad and optimize their lives on arrival. Here she shares with us her top tips on easing the expat transition ...

Tips for Easing the Expat Transition

I just celebrated my four year anniversary as an American living in Africa - well, pseudo-Africa - okay fine, admittedly, Cape Town is more similar to a European fishing village than a mud-hut semi-circle with a water pump - but regardless, the fact of the matter is I'm nearing a critical time in expat living.

It's that point in the relationship when you bat around the idea of "taking the next step", of "settling down" or of pooling your resources and making some purchases "indicative of your intentions". Poop, or get off the pot, to put it lightly.

It's a crossroads that always seemed just past the 30-miles of horizon that your vision actually allows, and now that it's here I've found myself reflecting on my original relocation. In retrospect, a period of time that was more difficult than ever imagined.

The initial interval can feel like a wet blanket or an endless well - claustrophobic and disorienting in it's own right, and more than anything I wished I'd been more prepared to put one foot in front of the other and walk the line of expatriation clearly and confidently.

It follows that I'd be inspired to share a few of the secrets I've stowed away since that time in hopes that a few tips can help others ease their own expat transition.

Tips to easing expat transition

Talk the talk

According to the 2010 Expat Arrivals Expat Living Survey, the majority of those living abroad cited "Overcoming culture shock and forming social connections" as their largest concerns. Connecting with others on a basic human level is incredibly important, and in order to start cementing relationships it's necessary to speak the language.

· Enrol in foreign language classes before your move and continue sessions upon arrival. Giving yourself the ability to communicate with shopkeepers, to ask for directions etc. not only creates a sense of pride, it also eliminates that illusion of living in a black hole where no one talks.
· Interact with others and don't be afraid to use your new-found gift of the gab - even if it's broken and disjointed. Locals are usually receptive, and it's the best way to attain fluency.
· Speak some slang. Even if you're relocating to a country where they speak your language, there's always little nuances to pick-up. Incorporating colloquialisms into your vocabulary shows a willingness to integrate and allows you to relate to those around you on a level of shared understanding.

Make the circle bigger
Once you've managed to lift that "lost in translation" feeling, make an effort to widen your social circle. Understandably, this is easier said than done, but the fact of the matter is - extending yourself socially takes just as much time and effort as a full-time job. It's a task that demands attention and determination, and expats moving abroad should shelf their notion of "what makes a perfect friend" and take every opportunity to become engaged with what's happing around them.

· Start connecting with fellow foreigners and locals that share your interests beforehand via social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn)
· Seek out groups, clubs, and organisations to join. Whether it's a church, a sporting association, a rotary club or a group that caters to purple-headed, one-eyed spider people, these serve as great mediums to meet people.
· Search for expat blogs and forums and join in the discussion. Sharing your experience with other like-minded individuals is a great way to interact with others from the comfort of your couch, and is a fantastic method for finding out what's happening for expats in your area.

Realize a routine
Establishing a comfort zone or a safety net is just as important during transition as being adventurous and open-minded. Resurrect and recreate a routine for yourself in your new location. This can give you a sense of meaning and can reinstate a morsel of status quo even amidst a big, bad sea of confusion.

· Schedule the same sort of "obligations" you upheld in your home country. Find a gym, volunteer, or read the paper over coffee.
· Prioritize certain parts of your new life. Making the effort to suss out what's important and what you can let temporarily fall to the wayside allows you to exercise control of your situation.
· Visiting the same places and repeating the same actions may seem limiting to some, but in reality, familiarizing yourself with a smaller, more insular cross-section of your new destination can make relocation much more manageable. Getting to know your community first and foremost can be great way to develop confidence in your new expat life.

Expat arrivals is always on the lookout for new contributors to their key content sections so if you’re interested in becoming a local expert please visit Expatarrivals

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Offshore Offspring- Third Culture Kids or Expat Brats?

We have all heard the stereotype of the expat brat, the privileged child safely ensconced in boarding school and flown first class to experience all the 5 star luxuries the world has to offer. But is this really the reality of an Offshore Offspring and if it’s not then what is?

We came across an interesting article recently debunking the myth of the expat brat and introducing us to just some of the articulate and thoughtful young people that an international lifestyle produces. With this in mind we started thinking about Third Culture Kids (TCK’s) and the benefits of growing up as one.

The term third culture kid was first coined by sociologist Ruth Hill Useem when she spent a year researching expatriates in India in the 1950’s. She found that children who had moved from their birth place to live in the culture of another had developed a third culture of their own transcending the culture of their country of origin and their new country.

With more people becoming international professionals an increasing number of children are spending their formative years across cultures. Not only is their number increasing but debate rages about whether the term third culture is actually sufficient? As children move across time zones and geographies born outside of both parents countries of origin perhaps they start to see the world as their home. Brice Royer, founder of jokingly told the Telegraph ‘I’m from heaven,’ when asked where he was from.

Whilst some experts have found that TCK’s can experience a loss of identity and suffer from the constant upheaval of a life well travelled, most ATCKs (adult third culture kids) argue that they have grown up with a more complete world view and a greater understanding and appreciation of different cultures. The nomadic quality of ATCKs enables them to transcend traditional cultural barriers of race and class and become a true world citizen. This ability serves ATCK’s well in later life as they can be viewed as mediators for the modern world. The attributes of an ATCK can also be highly regarded in the business world with individuals lending global insight to initiatives and contributing creatively to projects.

As both articles discussed here conclude perhaps lessons could be learned from the TCK’s approach to life- with technology opening the world up for all of us perhaps the notion of a world community built on shared experiences is not such an idealistic thought. Our expat guest bloggers provide just a handful of examples of people who through blogging about their shared experiences are opening up a dialogue with the world not just people within their postcode. Perhaps we should all embrace our inner TCK and stop dismissing them as expat brats.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Social media a cure for loneliness?

For expats around the world the months between Christmas and the next public holiday can be some of the loneliest. Your loved ones may be hundreds or thousands of miles way and everyone is feeling the pinch too much to consider that next trip home. The rise of the global citizen means more and more of us are geographically separate from our families so is it any wonder that a plethora of expat services have appeared all offering help to the lonely...

Dubai’s new Fairy Godmother Club is one such service. The brainchild of British expat Andrea Guy, the group introduces experienced older expats to new expat families in what has been dubbed a grandparent surrogacy. The scheme is mutually beneficial with older empty nesters finding solace in providing a service and younger mums appreciating the friendship and advice that can come from an older woman who has been through the expat transition.

Perhaps the most prolific and obvious outlet for expat isolation is the internet with social networking and services like skype removing the miles between distant loved ones. The demand for online expat communities has resulted in 1000’s of blogs & websites designed specifically for expats to share collective experiences of readjusting to their new foreign lives.

We came across an interesting article this week which describes the UAE as leading the way in social networking websites designed to help expat integration. The transient nature of the UAE workforce can make it harder for expats to establish friendship groups and so networking sites like and have emerged aiming to help match arrivals with existing residents who share the same interests.

There is no doubt that social media has provided the expat community with a constant connection to the country they left behind. However be warned, your mother once proficient in facebook will forever grace your page with links of kittens doing amusing things. Sometimes you may just want to turn it all off and enjoy the solitude of your new surroundings!

Tell us how you keep in touch with your loved ones by taking part in our blog poll...

Friday, 4 February 2011

Expat Excellence featuring Loïc Dumas

This week, we have Loïc Dumas, talk about his involvement with Apéro Entrepreneurs and offer his advice for expats seeking to start a business overseas.

1. What is Apéro Entrepreneurs?

The Apéro Entrepreneurs are informal meetups for entrepreneurs only (no consultants, bankers, etc.) taking place on the first thursday of each month. In March, it will be the 6th Apéro Entrepreneurs gathering. As the name suggests, the atmosphere is relaxed but it is also a good opportunity to network and to share ideas and get advice for your venture.
Started in Paris at the beginning of 2010 by Guilhem Bertholet (Manager of the incubator at HEC business school) and Gilles Poupardin (Sencities), the concept is rapidly expanding to other cities in France (currently 18 but more to come). London was the first international city to have its Apéro Entrepreneurs with Brussels and Casablanca.

2. Who is this group aimed at?
The group tries to focus on entrepreneurs only and not to have consultants, bankers or politicians but it is difficult to stick to this rule. I don’t see myself asking someone to leave the “Apéro” because he/she is not an entrepreneur.
The aim is to network and have a good time between like-minded people. This does not mean that business is not executed at these meetups. For example, at the previous Apéro Entrepreneurs, a web developer recently arrived in London and got a contract to update the website of a business. It represents one month of work and for the new expat an opportunity to improve their credibility and CV. At the first Apéro Entrepreneurs, an expat who arrived in London a week before got his first job for a start-up in the renewable energy sector.

3. What was your inspiration for setting up the group?

In June 2010, I launched the blog Frog Valley, in which I write articles on French start-ups and entrepreneurs in the UK in addition to helping French businesses expand their business in the UK. Most of the articles I write are in French but I try to translate some of them to English. I also started interviewing some promising entrepreneurs of fast growing start-ups (ex: My last project has been a series of interviews with a panel of entrepreneurs who are at different stages of their business to share their advice with the audience. All the interviews are in English, that’s one of the rules.

As I started to build up more and more contacts with French entrepreneurs in the UK, I thought it was time to set up informal meetups for entrepreneurs. In September 2010, I heard about the Apéro Entrepreneurs and that it was growing fast in France. I contacted the organisers in Paris and asked if I could do the same in London. They agreed to the idea and in October, I organised the first Apéro Entrepreneurs. It made my life easier as they were providing the tools I needed (website, newsletter, etc.) and so far it is going very well. One of my friends proposed to help me to expand the concept here in London. I am also happy with the turnover of people, with a majority of new faces every month.

4. What kind of difficulties/challenges did you encounter while setting up the group?

Using an existing concept, it was easier to set up that group than starting from scratch. But I have identified three main challenges:
- Bringing more English people to the Apéro Entrepreneurs. One reason is that the word Apéro (short for aperitif) doesn’t mean anything in English and that they believe that it is for French people only. I try to pass on the message that it is open to all nationalities but it is not easy tpo convince non French speaking audiences.
- Quality over quantity of attendees. The Apéro Entrepreneurs is still a young concept in London but over time I want to have more quality atendees and to have as many entrepreneurs as possible.
- Communication. We use the usual methods to communicate for the event like Facebook and LinkedIn but there are other ways that we still need to explore. Obviously word of mouth is the best method.

One of the highlights last month was that the last Apéro Entrepreneurs was sponsored by a French company which wanted to reach our audience. I hope to do more of that but I will try to find the best sponsors as the objective is still to have quality over quantity.

5. What kind of people attend the meet ups?

Half to two thirds of the attendees are entrepreneurs, one third are consultants and the rest are contacts/friends of attendees. On average 25 people attend the Apéro Entrepreneurs, which is encouraging as we have just done the fifth one in February. Our objective is to organise something that people enjoy coming to and recommend to their friends who are also entrepreneurs.

6. From your discussions at these meet ups, what kind of challenges expats face when setting up their own business?
Every expat goes through a period of adaptation when they move to a different country. Even if France is an hour away from Ashford, it is still a different country and you need to adapt to the business practice. Regarding the UK, I believe it is probably one of the easiest countries to set up a business. For instance in France, there is a lot more bureaucracy than here even if the situation is improving through different measures put in place within the last three years. I think that the easiest way to adapt is to attend events and in London there are lots of them. By talking to people, you can learn and also get some useful contacts for the future.

7. What advice do you have for expats who are interested in setting up their own business?

I think that the most important is to get in contact with people who have been working in their industry / sector in the country they will be setting up their business. I also encourage them to do it before they come and set up some meetings beforehand as it will help to adapt quicker to the country code of conduct for business. I would also advise to do some research on the sector / industry in the country but it is the basics.

If they have already created a business in their original country, I would advise them to get in touch with professionals who can help them to “explore” the opportunities in that country. They are the best positioned to advise an entrepreneur on the best practice in that country and put them in contact with the right people.

My intention when I set up my blog was to show to French entrepreneurs in France that London and the UK as a whole is a very dynamic place to do business and that some of our compatriots have done very well here. I strongly believe that French (and expats from all over the world) have great ideas and that the UK is a great country to test a concept at the global level. Sometimes business people want to reach the US too rapidly and don’t think of the UK as an intermediate location before expanding to the US.

My services as a business development consultant at Frogvalley is there to help the French entrepreneurs to make their first move in setting up their business in the UK.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Freedom to Blog

When expats around the world log on to blog their experiences and opinions they may have presumed that their musings, negative or positive, were a fundamental part of their right to free speech on the internet. However, recent examples of legal action against the online community suggest that our perceived bloggers rights could be under threat.

The Middle East is a case in point with Saudi Arabia beginning 2011 by introducing a law to license website owners. The law that comes into effect next month will mean that anyone who writes on a blog will need to meet a list of obligations or face a penalty charge. Interestingly, one of the listed requirements is that they must be a Saudi national, so not overly encouraging news for expats then.

And it’s not just governments that are looking to control online conversations its big brands too with this week’s example of an expat blogger in Kuwait who has been targeted by Japanese restaurant chain Benihana for his ‘disparaging’ comments regarding one of their new restaurants.

Mark Makhoul and his blog, came under legal fire this week for posting a negative restaurant review of Benihana. The restaurant is seeking monetary damages and for the offending blog,, to be shut down. Not surprisingly Mark is less than impressed commenting “I thought it was a bluff, but yesterday a court order was served.”

We have all witnessed unfair bloggers rants online but Marks comments about the restaurants food were comparatively chaste even complementing the good service and friendliness of the restaurants staff. However Mark’s suggestion that future diners should seek out Benihana’s neighboring competitors for their Japanese fix angered Mike Servo the GM of the company who in a written response to Mark stated ‘You mentioned clearly on a detour way on not to go to Benihana and go to Maki or Wasabi or Chocolate Bar and we believe that this is against the law of Kuwait.’

Needless to say the online community has rallied round Mark expressing their outrage on twitter and sending his previous modest blog comments soaring with messages of support.
However regardless of our indignation at Benihani’s ill conceived legal vendetta the trial has been set for March the 8th leaving us worried about the precedent it may set for the expat bloggers of Kuwait and the future of our freedom to blog



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