Friday, 21 December 2012

Top Ten Expat Explorer Blog Posts of 2012

As we approach the end of 2012, we bring you a roundup of the most popular blog posts of the year...

Image source: Creative Commons Axel-D

Our February blog post on long distance relationships was the most popular of the year. If you’re after some advice on overcoming obstacles of distance, trust and communication? Then take a look at our post.

We looked at the emerging breed of expats – the expat entrepreneur, and shared some top tips for anyone thinking of starting out. It’s definitely worth a read if you’re an expat thinking about starting up your own business abroad.

As part of a brand new series on Expat Explorer for 2012, our Expat Entrepreneurs series calls for those who have pursued their business dreams and set up a business overseas. We’re still interested in hearing from anyone, so get in touch!

Italy – cultural hub, foodie paradise or sun-kissed paradise? We take a closer look at this popular cultural haunt for tourists and expats alike.

Another popular blog on a city theme… This time it’s London! Find out more about what the city is like for expats, whether it’s entertainment, work, infrastructure or expat communities.

Our top guest blogging post of the year featured Sine Thieme, who told us all about her experience living in South Africa. Take a look at her first-hand account to see why she finds it such an incredible place to live.

Ashley Thompson’s unconventional how-to guide for living in Japan proved popular for our readers. In this post, Ashley describes navigating freelancing, transport systems and Japanese food labels… It provides some great tips for both new and serial expats alike.

What’s the Digital Sizzle? Read seasoned guest blogger Bryce Keane’s account on how he set up his own community when moving to the UK.

It’s been a great year for our Expat Explorer survey. We’ve had over 5,300 respondents from all over the world take part in the survey, making it the largest sample yet. We rounded up the highlights of this year’s report and you can re-cap them here.

If you want advice on how to get out, interact with locals and use your language skills, look no further! Emily Wachelka has the answers…

Friday, 14 December 2012

Guest Blogger Series: Introducing…Anna Power

This week’s guest post features Anna Power who talks us through how she is adapting to expat life in Bangkok.

How Life Has Changed

It is almost 6 months to the day that I became an expat.

It has gone so fast, yet it is also difficult to imagine a time not living in Bangkok. Life no longer revolves around a 9-5, 5-day working week (or more realistically 7-7 and often working on weekends), blinking and missing “summer”  or waking up in the middle of the night full of anxiety about work. Instead I now feel I am embracing life – discovering all that Bangkok has to offer from the amazing temples (in my humble opinion Wat Arun is the best) to the shopping malls to just wandering down an unknown soi to see what’s there.

Wat Arun temple Source: Prachanart

Don’t get me wrong, life over here is not always easy. My friends back in the UK see me as being on a permanent holiday and that can make it hard to talk about feelings of loneliness or not belonging. The standard response is but you live in a sunny place and have your own swimming pool – what is there to complain about. And I understand that. 6 months ago it would have been my reply too. I think only someone who is or has been an expat can understand how hard it is to literally start your life afresh at thirty two by moving to a place with no job and no friends and just how difficult it is to live somewhere and not understand the language. I also now find myself living in the year 2555 (the Buddhist calendar is followed here – year 2012 in Europe is year 2555 in Thailand).

However I have no regrets.

The quality of our lives has improved tenfold. I am almost embarrassed to admit how much we were ruled by television in the UK. We currently have very little material items as we are still waiting for our shipping but the only things I really want are our pictures and photographs. Everything else seems irrelevant. I cannot imagine what we have in the forty eight boxes on their way to us.

Life as I left it in the UK was getting hard. Bills were rising but my salary was both cut and then frozen. People were miserable. It was also boring. To an extent it felt like Groundhog Day – get up, go to work, come home, eat and watch TV, go to bed. Repeat next day. When I now email friends full of excitement of what I have seen and done and ask what they have been up to the response seems standard: “same old, same old, nothing has changed since you left”.

Equally, there is the risk of this happening in Bangkok – despite what my friends think I am not on a permanent holiday. We still have the mundane tasks of cleaning, washing and paying bills. However I refuse to return to Groundhog Day. There is just too much to see and do than just sit in my apartment all day playing on Facebook. That is of course also the case in the UK; I just became too stuck in a rut to see it.

I acknowledge how lucky I am to have been given this opportunity, but having now made some friends here; I see just how easy it is to become an expat. So many people from the UK successfully apply for postings based in Bangkok or work hard for 6 months in their home country and then take a break here, in the knowledge their money will stretch further in Asia than in Europe. I now actively encourage family, friends and acquaintances to take the same chance that I am glad we did!

About the author

Anna Power is an expat freelance writer and blogger following a move to Bangkok in June 2012. In her previous life she worked as a lawyer but when her partner’s career took her to Bangkok she decided to make the most of living in the Big Mango.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Boomerang Brits

Source: Wikicommons

Quick to go abroad but equally quick to return home. This is the impression that a segment of the British expat population has given in a recent survey, earning themselves the moniker ‘Boomerang Brits’.

There have been a number of reasons bandied about to explain this behavior which has seen British expats return home from destinations like Australia after just a year of living. Is it because Brits get particularly homesick? Perhaps they miss a good cup of tea and simply can’t cope? Perhaps not.

One slightly more feasible reason is that the UK recession has made it incredibly hard to get a job. This has prompted many people to move abroad and look for work on a short-term visa. This has been especially relevant for university graduates who have found themselves competing against hundreds and sometimes thousands of candidates for just one role.

Despite this trend findings from our 2012 Expat Explorer survey found that  89% of British expats have actually been in their host country  for over 3 years compared to a global average of 76%. The survey also revealed that whilst 78% of British expats reported having a  strong connection to their home country this was less than the global average of 84%. In fact, 72% reported that they felt a strong connection to their host country – higher than the global average of 64%.

Finally, only 7% of British expats that took part in this year’s Expat Explorer survey said that they are actively looking to move back home or to another location and 71% are looking to stay put.

It’s possible that the younger generation of expat are responsible for the ‘Boomerang’ claims as further findings from this year’s survey revealed that moving for short-term career gain was most popular among those expats migrating to the Middle East.

Do you think we are becoming less inclined to settle down? Or are you a long-term expat who is happy staying put? Leave us a comment below. 

Friday, 7 December 2012

New Year, New You?

Image Source: Creative Commons Niklas Bildhauer

In the lead up to the New Year, thoughts can easily turn from new resolutions to new challenges, which in turn can trigger thoughts of new jobs and even new countries. It’s easy to get caught up in the idea of a big change, so to help you we’ve put together a series of questions that you should ask yourself before committing to a new life abroad:

People become expats for all sorts of reasons, but the principal motivators tend to be a new career, moving to be with family or a desire to change lifestyle. If any of these sound familiar then make sure that your decision is justified. If you’re moving because you think there might be better job opportunities abroad, do your research first and try and find a job before you move. Also, check that the lifestyle is really as much of an improvement as you think – a good place to start is the findings from our annual Expat Explorer survey, as this is compiled from our survey of over 5,000 expats and should give you some valuable insights into the work culture and lifestyle in your chosen destination.

Keep an open mind. Research the opportunities that each country offers – tempting though it may be, try and avoid setting your heart on a place before you really know what it’s like. For a useful background on countries, we’ve also got a number of country guides you can look through, and you can also compare countries and filter them by economics, experience and raising children abroad. Once you’ve narrowed it down, you can then look to compare two countries in detail, or view in-depth analysis of our findings.

What first steps?
We’ve said it already, but we’ll say it again: research, research, research! Social media is a fantastic resource and you can use it to contact expats in the country you’re set on to get their opinions and advice. You can also read expat blogs, of which there are hundreds of thousands, to give you a good idea of what life is actually life on the ground. Travel guides will also be a useful resource so stock up on those too. Perhaps most importantly, try and make a visit to your chosen country first. You may find that it really isn’t what you were expecting although on the other hand it might everything you have dreamed of – and more! Lastly, do your best to save money before moving, just in case things don’t work out. This will give you a security blanket in case you have been unable to secure a job or a permanent home prior to landing.

These are just a few of the things that you should be thinking about before you even consider taking that big leap to becoming an expat. There’s many, many more but hopefully this post has gone some way to making you plan for that all important journey!

If you want to read more on how to research a location, take a look at our blogpost on the topic.
And most importantly - good luck!

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Bringing up your children abroad

This year’s Expat Explorer survey found Canada to be the top country overall to raise a child, while Hong Kong comes top for safety, and Australia and Canada are joint top for being the most active countries for children. Moving abroad often involves more than one person, especially those thinking about relocating with their whole family.

Here, we’ve pulled together some of our top tips for expat parents on bringing up children abroad:

1. Safety

Safety is always top on the worry-list for parents, but moving to an unfamiliar country can often turn this worry into paranoia. Talk to other parents to see what precautions they take, and bear in mind that something that seemed safe back home may not be safe in your new country – and vice versa. If you are making your children change their behaviour drastically, tell them why but make sure you don’t scare them – it will help them understand. If you’ve got very young children, take a look at this article on toy safety

2. Health
Make sure that your children have all the necessary injections before they leave. If the water isn’t safe to drink, then buy bottled water or a filter and keep your children hydrated. If you’re concerned about hygiene, buy a hand sterilising gel, and antiseptic wipes in case they fall over.

3. Emotional health  and integration
Expat children often miss home a lot. Social integration is one of the areas where expat parents in the Middle East reported their children had most difficulty, where just under half of expat parents in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and UAE reported that the social integration of their children had become worse since relocating. Address this by talking to them throughout the moving process, encourage them to invite new friends home, send them to local language classes and encourage them to take part in activity groups.

4. Activity
Canada and Australia both score highly as a place for active families, with expat parents here reporting their children are more active in sports and playing outdoors since relocation. However, this doesn’t mean that children in other countries don’t have the opportunity to do sport. Take active weekend trips into the countryside (which will also mean you can see more of your new country), sign them up to activity classes such as swimming, dance or tennis, and consider limiting their time in front of the TV and video games.

5. Food
If the food is different in your new country, some children may take to it like a duck to water. Others, on the hand, may need some coaxing. Try adding some of the new ingredients into standard dishes and see what your children think. Alternatively, get them involved in cooking the meal and maybe they’ll get so caught up in the excitement of preparation that they’ll be more willing to try their culinary creation!

If you’re interested in finding out more great tips for expat parents, don’t forget to check out our posts on budgeting for your children abroad, overseas versus local schooling, helping your child settle in at school and the phenomenon of ‘Third Culture Kids’.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Navigating Expat Dating

Moving to a new country with a new culture can be a difficult experience on its own, but how do expats who are looking for romance navigate the expat dating market?

Dating a local is undoubtedly a great way to improve your local language and broaden your social circle, not to mention tapping in to the local knowledge for those hidden gems such as a restaurants and bars that are often hidden to newbies.

Taking a language course is one of the best ways to meet new people and gain an invaluable skill, especially in non-English speaking countries.

According to our Expat Explorer 2012 survey, the Cayman Islands is the easiest place to make new friends with 73% of expats reporting it to be easy, this was followed by Bermuda with 68% finding it easy and Thailand with 64%. Those in Hong Kong, 60%, and Thailand, 53% have more active social lives than in their home countries.

And when it comes to finding love, half (49%) of expats in Germany, 48% in the UK and 43% of expats in the USA agree that they have found their life partner since relocating.

Do you have any tips for expat dating? Have you found local love? Leave us a comment in the box below.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Guest Blogger Series: Introducing… Michela Mantani

This week’s guest post features Michela Mantani, who talks us through navigating daycare and nurseries in Geneva.

Child play in Geneva
Image Source: Creative Commons Abby Batchelder

Finding a good school is always a top priority for expats moving abroad with children. However, nurseries and daycare are equally important for expat families with very young children, especially as they may be without the help of family and friends at first.

Geneva used to have a shortage of nursery places for children under the age of three, but this has recently changed after a Referendum held last June. So, if you are moving to Geneva in Switzerland with young babies or toddlers and you’re considering a nursery or daycare centre to help out with your childcare arrangements, here are some useful tips.

1. Crèches
All crèches located within Geneva’s city centre must be reserved through the BIPE (Bureau d’information petite enfance), but the waiting list is quite long. It’s a good idea to look at rental properties in some of the communes (municipalities) around Geneva because crèches in these areas can allocate places independently, but will obviously give priority to families living in the area.

2. Location
If you haven’t moved yet, research thoroughly beforehand and find the communes that offer more childcare options so that you will have priority as a local resident. Some communes don’t have any crèches for children under the age of two whereas others have several. Usually, communes with more childcare facilities will also offer a range of other baby-friendly structures such as toy libraries, playgroups, mum and baby activities, which will of course be of tremendous help to new expat parents moving to Switzerland.

3. Childminders
If you’ve already moved and are finding it difficult to find a nursery place, look at alternative options such as mamans de jour (childminders) who take care of children in their homes.

4. Garderie autogéré
Speak to other mums who live locally. What saved us was discovering that a group of local mums had set up their own part-time nursery in a nearby commune, which took children from the age of 18 months for 3 hours in the morning. This wonderful initiative is called a garderie autogéré (i.e. run on a cooperative basis) and there are a few in Switzerland and neighbouring France too.

5. Private Nurseries
Look at private nurseries. Although they are very expensive, they allocate spaces independently from the BIPE so you might have more chances to find a place for your baby.

About the author
Michela Mantani is an expat freelance writer, blogger and mum-of-three living in Geneva since 2008. Before moving to the beautiful shore of Lac Léman, she lived in London and worked at the BBC for many years. Always on the look-out for cool, family-friendly activities she’s an absolute design, food & travel enthusiast who tries to involve her children in everything she does. You can read more about her expat family adventures in Switzerland at Geneva family diaries

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

No doubt someone you know has told you how many sleeps it is until Christmas Day. At the point of writing this it’s exactly 35 days, 10 hours and…21 minutes.

Even though it’s only just November and the majority of people are far too busy to even think about putting their decorations up, you could argue that expats need to start thinking about Christmas plans earlier than most. With family and friend spread across the globe, the holiday period can often turn into a frantic tangle of logistics as you attempt to organise gifts and get-togethers whilst simultaneously dealing with day-to-day tasks – like your job.

Source: Markb

One of the first questions and expat should ask themselves as early as possible is where will Christmas day be spent? If you plan on travelling home, it’s worth bearing in mind that flights book up fast, and increase in price rapidly. If purse strings are tight and you can’t afford to fly to family could they afford to come to you? Another option could be meeting halfway and renting a house for you and your family to stay in. Again, you have to keep ahead of the game when it comes to holiday homes so don’t leave it until the last minute!

The second most important task after deciding on location is to work out how long it will take your gifts to reach their required destination. Once you’ve chosen some socks for your Uncle and a box of chocs for Granny get them in the post! Mail ordering can take time if presents have to travel halfway round the world. Be sure to find out exactly how long your packages will take so that you can plan around that. It’s also crucial to insure anything you send against loss or damage.

We all know that Christmas can be a very, if not the most, expensive time of the year. Drawing up a budget that takes into account everything mentioned above as well as food, Christmas activities and even winter clothes if it’s your first year in a cold country!

After the all wrapping, sticking, decorating, cooking, singing and shopping is done you can relax…only 365 more sleeps until the next one!

Are you spending your first Christmas in a new country? Let us know how it will be different for you and your family!

Friday, 16 November 2012

Guest Blogger Series: Introducing… Evelyn Simpson

This week’s guest post features Evelyn Simpson who shares her views on the benefits and challenges of expat life and why the ‘trailing spouse’ moniker doesn’t apply to her.

Source: gem fountain

Not such a trailing spouse

Having the opportunity to experience life in so many countries and cultures is an amazing privilege. If someone had told me as a child growing up in a very small village (officially a hamlet) in Scotland that this would be my life, I’d never have believed it. I’ve done so many things that I never dreamed I would do, been to so many places that I’d only have read about and had the opportunity to explore interests that I’d never have time to pursue had I not moved.  I’ve met so many amazing people with whom I’d never have otherwise crossed paths. 

Living in other countries has changed me. I was shy as a child but there’s no room for shyness when you need to create a new life every few years. I’ve also discovered a passion for languages that would astound my high school French teacher. My husband would probably tell you that I am much more patient and tolerant of chaos than I used to be. Living in a culture that is not your own, speaking a language that you are just learning teaches those attributes. I’m not sure my children would concur.

In the HR Lexicon, I’m a “Trailing Spouse” but I’ve never really felt that term accurately reflected my role. In fact it really annoys me. The decision to relocate has always been a joint decision for us. Some moves have required more thought and discussion than others but I’ve always felt that I could find opportunity in the countries we’ve moved to – and, yes, we have turned down an assignment that really wouldn’t have worked for me. It’s clear to me that the role that I’ve played in relocating is key in making our assignments a success. If I hadn’t had the flexibility to manage our moves and ensure that our home is set up and our children are happy and settled in their new environments, there’s no way my husband would have been able to jump straight in to each of his assignments. 

The transitions in expat life have not always been easy. Moving to a new country challenges your identity in so many ways, especially if you are making another transition in the process. I took a break from my career as an investment banker to spend time with our daughter when she was a baby, but during that time we moved. The further I moved geographically and emotionally from my old career, the harder it got to go back, so I didn’t. My career formed such a large part of my identity leaving it behind was a massive challenge to my sense of self and my confidence. Now my identity is woven around the skills I have as an expat and as a mother but it’s taken me years to work out a way to have a career that could accommodate the demands on me as a consequence of expat life.

I feel lucky to have discovered coaching; it’s a powerful, transformative process. Looking back at my own moves and transitions, I know that if I’d worked with a coach through each of them, I would have avoided a lot of angst over rebuilding my life and my identity. Once I understood how coaching works by experiencing the benefits of it myself, I wanted to learn those skills so I could use them to help other accompanying partners navigate through their own transitions and that’s what my business is all about.

Through coaching, blogging and social media, I have “met” some amazing expat women. The communities of expat women and of coaches online are incredibly supportive and generous in sharing experiences. I’ve now had the privilege of meeting a number of them in real life. It was online contact that got Louise Wiles and I working together on a careers and expat partners report. We’re working hard to get a report out within the next two weeks and we think that it will make interesting reading for accompanying partners and HR professionals alike.  Louise and I are also joining forces to launch some other exciting projects in the autumn so watch this space.

For me that’s been the key to successful expat life - learning to focus not on what I’ve left behind but on the opportunities and challenges in each new place. 

About the author

Evelyn Simpson is founder of The Smart Expat through which she helps the accompanying partners of expat manage the transitions that come with international relocations that are driven by their partners’ careers.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Brides Abroad

It’s not unusual to find a future spouse when living abroad. In fact, this year’s Expat Explorer survey found that a third of expats have found a life partner since relocating. Of all the countries that made it into the league tables, the UK that came top in the romance stakes with half of expats finding true love.

Source: CreativeCommons Ewen and Donabel

As we approach the winter wedding season we take a look at what you need to consider if you find yourself planning a wedding in your host country…

1. First and foremost, make sure that all visa applications are sorted well in advance and, if necessary, your embassy is informed. This is particularly the case if your future spouse is either a national of the country or doesn’t have a visa

2. Check all of the legal details to ensure that your marriage can go ahead and is valid. For example, in the UAE the bride must provide her guardian’s approval for the marriage, and both bride and groom must be UAE residents

3. As you may live several time zones away from your friends and family, make sure that you give them sufficient notice of your wedding date. Even if your invitations aren’t ready, send them a ‘save the date’ email with the details. That way, they can book flights ahead of the big day

4. Work out a budget for your wedding. Some things may cost more or less than they do back home so make sure you factor in everything from flowers to rings

5. Make sure that you’re familiar with marriage etiquette, particularly if you’re marrying a national. This can range from asking her father’s permission to being to financially supporting the bride’s in-laws

We love hearing your views. Is there anything you’d recommend that other expats bear in mind before the big day?

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Talkin’ the Talk

Picking up a new language can be one of the most difficult things you’ll do in your life - especially if you’ve forgotten most of your school-taught French and German! But you’re not alone, the findings of this year’s Expat Explorer  survey revealed that just under a third of expats surveyed found it difficult to pick up the local language once they had moved to their host country.

Source: CreativeCommons StreetFly JZ

Out of the all countries we surveyed, expats in South East Asia were amongst those most likely to struggle with the native tongue. Over half of expats in Hong Kong and Vietnam found learning the local language very difficult compared to just 14% of expats globally.  Furthermore, only between one and two out of ten expats in Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong  agreed that they try to use the local language day-to-day.

So, if you’re concerned that you’ll never be able to chat with ease in your new country here are some tips to help you get started:
  1. Take a language course before you leave regardless of your ability. If you speak the local language well, this will give you a chance to refresh your knowledge. If you’re a beginner, you’ll quickly find that a little can go a long way
  2. Stick with it! Even if you’re speaking the language every day, a course will give you a real grounding in grammar and stop you from slipping into bad habits. It will also give you a chance to meet other expats in the same boat as you
  3. Make local friends. Not only will they be able to help you pick up the language quickly, the chances are they’ll be able show you some great local places to visit, eat out or drink
  4. Have the confidence to speak the language wherever you go, even if it’s just nipping out to buy some bread. It will also show that you’re willing to make an effort to fit in
  5. Completely immerse yourself by watching TV and listening to the radio in your local language. There’s also some great language apps available that you’ll be able to use on the go
If you missed it the first time, here’s a  blogpost from guest blogger Ashley Thompson on what it’s like moving to Japan and not even being able to understand the characters and letters, never mind words!

Monday, 5 November 2012

Expats shift to real estate investment

Image Source: Creative Commons/Moyan Brenn

In our blogpost Economic uncertainty leads expats to choose longer term investments we discussed how this year's survey has shown that expats have gradually made the shift from cash investments and towards property based investments, or ‘real estate’. One in five (22%) of expats surveyed said that the highest proportion of their investments is now held in real estate, compared to just 16% when they first relocated.

This change in money management is most apparent in European countries where more expats than average have increased the proportion of their investments in real estate (France 29% v 37%, Germany 14% v 19%).

What’s more, even high earning expats are choosing to split their investments over time. Expats earning $200,000-250,000 per year have moved from cash investments to a relatively even mix of cash, real estate and equities. So why is this? One possible explanation could be that expats see a wider spread of investment opportunities as a safer option, most likely in response to economic turmoil.

For more results from our Expat Explorer survey, visit our interactive tool. 

Friday, 2 November 2012

Guest Blogger Series: Introducing… Dragan Palla

This week’s guest post features Dragan Palla of Domains Flow. In this post, Dragan shares five tips to help you set up and manage your own blog.

Top five tips to help set up a blog

 Source: Creative Commons: theparadigmshifter

Blogging is one of today's easiest ways to build an online audience. However, setting it up does require attention to certain details, as well as how you manage it regularly. The existence of convenient and user-friendly platforms means you can start out with minimal experience as well.

1. Be specific in your blog niche and you'll attract a more loyal audience

As you're setting up the blog, you'll be asked to define its content. It's easy to set up a general topic such as "the love of horses." While this may be common, it's only going to draw a few visitors and not the niche audience you're looking for. Most of the time, people look up specific topics, such as "how to brush Arabian horses." This fills an immediate need and also encourages them to come back to your blog for future grooming tips.

2. The domain name of your blog is just as important as your content

This should be something that is unique, easy to remember and also brings up your site in search results. By combining all of these features into your domain name, you're paying for more than just virtual rent of merely $10 a year (or equivalent). Instead, this becomes another way to promote your online presence to potential blog followers and subscribers

3. There are free platforms available to use, but there is an advantage to using a self-hosting service for your blog

When you work with some well-known sites, you follow their rules and agree to their service agreement at all times. If you break the rules, they have the permission to shut your site down. To prevent this, consider using sites where you have full control over your site and the type of content posted. Basically, it's the difference between renting someone else's house and owning your home

4. Remember this is your "story" you're sharing with the world
Your voice needs to be authentic and real and if you copy someone else's material, you're only regurgitating and not creating. Don't earn a reputation for copying material - be authentic and honest in your posts. Your readers follow you because they enjoy your voice, tone and personality. If you don't give them that, they might as well read the local news page and get the same kind of information. It's also necessary to research whatever information you post so it's valid and current and guaranteed to answer their questions honestly

5. Once you've found your voice, stick with it
Be consistent with the information you give and how you share it. There are a lot of reasons people start blogs, but yours will be particular to your needs. Give yourself a challenge to see how many new readers you can get in a month or how many comments you can get on a single post. This teaches you marketing in the process while creating another potential stream of income. As long as you're passionate about your subject and stay on track with your subject, it will become a very successful project

About the author
Dragan Palla is the founder of Domains Flow



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