Friday, 25 May 2012

Expat Excellence featuring Emily Wachelka

This week’s guest post is special one for Expat Explorer readers, and very timely for the weekend. We have Emily Wachelka at Wayfarers Handbook with a series of mini sessions to inspire you to get out, interact with locals and use your language skills.

Expat Challenger

Hi there! My name is Emily and I am so pleased to be guest posting over here at Expat Explorer today. I have been living abroad in Munich, Germany since 2005, and feel very comfortable in my home away from home. It took me a long time to feel like that, though, and I'm here today to talk about how I went from feeling like a foreigner to considering myself practically a local.  

In my experience, the only way to start feeling l really comfortable in your home away from home is to get over your fears and get out of the house. Easier said than done, right? Over at The Wayfarer's Handbook, I post bi-weekly "mini missions" that are meant to inspire you to get out and experience your new home, interact with locals, and use your language skills. Some of the missions are simple, like buying bread or watching a local TV show - others take a little more courage and time commitment, like becoming a regular and saying no to English

The mini missions are more than just ideas for mini adventures - they are meant to build your confidence and make you realise that, hey, that wasn't so hard after all! And really, there is no more empowering feeling, right? 
Today I have a special edition mini mission cooked up for Expat Explorer! Here we go...

Mini Mission - Give Directions

Do you panic when someone asks you for directions? I do! Especially in a new city, in a foreign language. But there is something so satisfying about knowing the way that makes you feel like a true local, and if you can communicate those directions in a foreign language, then even better. 

For this mission, you need to head out into the city (to an area you are familiar with!) and actively seek someone to give directions to. Of course, confused tourists with giant maps and baffled expressions are excellent targets, but you can also just look for bewildered locals. The key is to look for telltale signs of being lost - studying street signs, constantly referencing guidebooks, desperately glancing at passersby… 

Approach your chosen person or group and offer your help - and start in the local language unless it is glaringly obvious that you won't be understood. Remember, pointing and gesturing can go a LONG way. If you refresh your vocabulary for words like left, right and straight before you head out, you should be all set. If you repeat this mission often, you'll be ready to field any and all directions questions like a pro.
So how did it go? Did you find someone to help out? Did you feel like a true local?

Mini Mission # 2 - Buy some Flowers

Making a purchase from a local in a foreign country can be quite intimidating. It's one thing to cruise through a grocery store, gathering items in your cart and then wordlessly pay for them at checkout, but it's quite another to have to communicate what you would like to buy. Much like buying bread, choosing and paying for flowers at a shop might be scary, but the payoff is worth it, and it will undeniably make you feel like a local.

For this mission, locate your neighborhood flower shop and look up a few choice words for flowers that you like (but remember - point and nod works well too!). It also helps to be up to date on your numbers. That's all you need! Head to the flower shop, don't get flustered if the owner babbles on at you and you don't understand, just point to what you'd like and pay for your bouquet. If you're really daring, order more than one kind of flower! Before you know it you will be heading home with a beautiful bunch of blooms that will make your home abroad feel even more inviting. Who knows, maybe you'll even become a regular!

Mini Mission # 3 - Find a Local Band

Music might be as close to being a universal language as it gets. Even if you're not a huge music fan, getting to know a part of the local music scene opens up a whole new world: concerts, CDs, and feeling like you're in on a little local secret. You'll certainly impress at cocktail parties! 
For this mission, find a local music group, and become a fan. Pick a genre you enjoy - you can choose anything, from classical to jazz, to heavy metal. And remember, the genre you choose does not necessarily have to match the country you are living in. There are some excellent Bavarian jazz bands for example! Attend a concert, download a song, or buy a CD. If your first choice isn't a hit, keep trying. Before you know it you'll have an instant answer to "what on earth should we do this Friday night?" 

About the author
Emily Wachelka is an expat resident abroad in Munich, new mom, language junkie, lover of cozy cafés, and local festivals. Follow her @wayfarershb and her blog here.

Expat Explorer returns for another year – bigger and better than before! If you want to have a say in what it’s really like to live abroad and share your expat experiences with others, then click here to fill in the Expat Explorer survey for 2012.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Expat Explorer returns for another year!

It’s been hard keeping our plans under wraps, but after many months of planning and preparation, we’re excited to announce the return of the Expat Explorer survey for 2012. This will be the 5th year we’ve run the global survey for expats and to celebrate this important milestone, we’ve revamped the survey with a brand new look to keep it fresh and engaging for expats filling in the survey.

Last year, over 3,400 of you helped us build that story of life on the ground, looking at all aspects of an expat’s journey - from career opportunities to making friends, from lifestyle changes to raising children abroad. Expats from over 100 counties filled in the survey and we discovered that:  

  • Thailand offered great quality of life for expats, scoring top in the 2011 Expat Experience league table
  • Singapore offered the best of both worlds for career prospects and quality of life
  • France led the way as the best country for raising children abroad

You can check out the results from last year’s survey in our easy-to-use interactive online tool and see how your country fared.

This year the survey promises to be bigger and better than ever, and we want to hear from even more expats about what’s important to them. 

Make sure your voice is heard. Simply click here to take part in our new look survey and don’t forget to share the link with your friends and colleagues. 

Friday, 18 May 2012

Expat Excellence featuring Lexi Mills

This week, we have tips, tricks and ideas from South Africa-based expat Lexi Mills, on how expats can get the most out of their time abroad.
                              A Guide for Expatriates

Source: Creative Commons/Inky Bob

Living abroad doesn’t have to lead to homesickness after relocating if you are aware of certain facts about a country. This is something I learned the hard way when I moved from South Africa to London when I was 18. I was young and forced to move by my parents for a job, so I didn't know what was in store. For example, I wasn't prepared for city life, finding that the tube system was much more confusing that I anticipated. Similarly, I wasn't prepared for how cold Brits are compared to South Africans.

Moving abroad is a transition for anyone. I wouldn't wish the same experiences I had on anyone else, so I thought I'd share my suggestions to ease the transition. So here are tips, tricks, and ideas for expats who are hoping to get the most out of their time abroad.

Do your homework
Sure, once you learn you will be moving abroad you probably start searching about everything imaginable on the web. But are you searching for useful information that will ease your transition, or are you perusing the nightlife scene in the area?

Extensive research will prepare you for life in your new home. This includes everything from exploring the housing market to familiarising yourself with the languages spoken in the area. 

Here are some of the most important topics to research before your move:

Maybe you're one of the lucky expats whose employer sent them to a new destination, taking care of all the legal documents required. However, you might be one of the many who decided to take the leap and try your hand at living in a new country. Good for you! If this is the case, though, make sure you know what legal documents are required and obtain them before you arrive.

Too often I hear of people trying to wing it. For example, I had a friend from the States just fly into Amsterdam in hopes of finding work once there. Bad move. He was detained in the UK airport and now can no longer travel to Great Britain for up to 10 years. His dream was cut short, but yours doesn't have to. Know how you can become a legal expat, because trust me, you don't want to deal with an "illegal alien" brand for the rest of your life.

Many people go to a hostel and try to find housing once they arrive. While this isn't the most horrible idea, you should definitely have an idea of where you want to live before arriving. Look extensively into the different neighbourhoods and research facts like safety, transportation, vibe, and so on. One great way to find out from a local is to connect with local bloggers. They are easy to find on the Internet and usually love engaging with new people, so ask away to find the best neighborhood for your needs.

First, you should have a minimum of three months living expenses and one month emergency expenses before arriving. Do not just wing it financially, especially if you don't have a job secured beforehand. You may have to prove to the country patrols that you have sufficient funds by bringing a bank statement from your local bank.

You may be one of the fortunate expats to be in a country where your native language is spoken. However, you may be one of the expats who are faced with the culture shock that comes with not being able to communicate effectively.

This happened to me while studying abroad in Madrid – I expected everyone in Spain's capital to speak English, only to realise once I was there that they didn't. I'll never forget the cryfest I had while trying to purchase a mobile phone my second day there. So make sure you know which languages you can expect to hear. If you aren't familiar with them, at minimum make sure you have a way to translate important phrases, such as "help" and "hospital."

The healthcare system may be very different where you are going than it is back home. Know how to go about getting coverage and get it as soon as possible. Do not risk injury while uninsured in a foreign country where you may have no support system.

Similarly, make sure you know which vaccinations are required for your new area and get them before leaving. If you take long-term medications, make sure you know what it is called in the new country and how you will go about refilling your prescription.

The Job Market
Regardless of if you have a job or not, stay up to date with the job market. You don't want to have to come home because you couldn't find a job. In some countries, immigrants can only hold certain jobs so as not to affect the locals' job security. Be aware of trends and have a game plan. And while you're at it, consider staying up to date with all local news, including everything from local elections and weather/safety warnings. It will not only make you better prepared, but it will help you feel more assimilated quickly.

Support System
Do you know anyone where you are going? If so, make sure you know their contact details. If not, consider finding local support systems before leaving, including your country's embassy and organisations populated by your country's citizens. The last thing you want to do is to get to a country and not have a way to quickly find help when you need it.

Disconnect once you're there
Living abroad, while challenging, is one of the most rewarding experiences. So don't waste it. Immerse yourself in the culture. That means sign up for local interest groups, chat up everyone you meet, and be available. Don't wallow in your flat and Skype with family and friends from back home. In the most extreme cases, you may even want to hold off on installing Internet in your home, which will force you to make your way to local coffee shops or libraries to connect – meaning you might happen across your new best friend or significant other.

Embrace the differences
No matter how well adjusted you will eventually become, you will notice differences right away. Rather than approach it with negativity and cynicism, embrace the differences as a learning experience. Try everything and learn to let go of little annoyances, like not being able to find your favorite candy bar in your new home. If it helps, band together with other expats (find them on the Internet if you don't know them already!) and support each other. For example, to this day I find it difficult to let go of my cravings for some local packaged delicacies from South Africa. Thus, I looked for a way to spread awareness and get facts – where can I find these foods and am I the only one like with these cravings?

How did I do this? I was fortunate enough to work at an agency that represented a South African business. I rallied my client South African Hotels to conduct a study compiling what foods South Africans in London miss the most. I found it extremely therapeutic, and it helped me connected with like-minded expats from back home.

You may not have the same resources at your disposal as I did, but this shouldn't stop you. Scour the Internet for the food you are jones-ing for, and if you can't find it turn to forums to connect with other individuals with the same sentiments. You never know, you may be able to petition a local store to get them to carry your favorite native delicacies.

Remember, the expat experience is one you will never forget. It is an amazing experience that has its ups and downs, but with these tips, I hope you are equipped to take the journey with as little hardships as possible.

About the author

Lexi Mills is a PR professional in London via South Africa. When not connecting with interesting individuals, you can find her exploring London's culinary scene, looking to fill the gap that is missing in her typical South African diet.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Shanghai – living in the past, the present and the future

Continuing the “FT View from” series, supported by HSBC Expat, this week we take a look at expat life in Shanghai - a city that is as great for business as it is for socialising.

Providing the perfect mix of the past, the present and the future, Shanghai has become home to thousands of expats in search of a new life. The booming Chinese economy means that it is a great place to do business and a city where creativity can flourish without being dampened by financial worries.

Journalist Josh Noble, describes Shanghai wonderfully saying:“Wandering through the back alleys and side streets of Shanghai’s former French Concession, it is easy to forget that one is in China. Along the tree-lined boulevards sit wine bars, coffee shops, and small designer boutiques.”

Shanghai also fares well for those bringing up a family abroad. Expats living in Shanghai feel that it is an extremely safe place to live and for kids to grow up. In our own Expat Explorer 2011 findings, China ranked 5th for raising children abroad. Expats in China are slightly more likely (22% vs 21% average) to have seen a reduction in the cost of raising children, and at the same time are more likely to have seen an improvement in the quality of childcare (56% vs 48% average).

There is also a feeling that there are many fewer social obstacles when meeting people and making friends. From this audio slideshow, Where China bends to meet the world, it is clear how much expats enjoy life in Shanghai.

We’d love to hear about your experiences – have you lived in this incredible city? How did you find it?

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

What's in your suitcase?

Image source: Awards Daily

Those who have seen George Clooney's “Up in the air” will be familiar with the storyline.

In the film, Clooney plays the charismatic Ryan Bingham, who travels a more than 320 days a year for his job, flying from one city to another. He has perfected the art of packing a carry-on bag, breezing through airport security, and collecting membership points with the ultimate goal of hitting 10 million miles.

Expats who have moved abroad for work might find themselves flying frequently, be it to and from home for weekend breaks (if the distance is not too far) or making short trips to other countries for meetings and conferences. Whatever the reason, having one carry-on bag can shave off hours at check-in and waiting at the luggage carousel, allowing you to sail through airport lines and reach your destination.

So what should you pack? We came across this interesting article on the FT, suggesting that the best way to have a range of outfits for various occasions fit in one carry-on is to get the basics right.

“Packing a wardrobe that will produce the most versatile arrangements is the trick,” says one New York fashion designer.

To help business travelers pack the right amount for short trips, we’ve compiled some essentials for every suitcase, both for the ladies and the gents.

For Men

The FT article suggests that for male business travellers, you typically would want a medium-to-dark grey, three-button, single-breasted suit and a navy or black blazer and a pair of jeans thrown in the mix to have a smart outfit, a smart casual outfit and a more casual outfit for evenings.

A stylish, but fun t-shirt can help tone down an outfit for more informal events. The article also suggests that taking one pair of black loafers will suffice as they go with everything from jeans to a smart suit.

For Women

For the ladies, a little black dress never fails to impress in the day time when teamed with a smart blazer for meetings, which can be easily transformed into evening attire if you get the accessories right. A simple necklace and pair of earrings can add instant glamour to any outfit. Get the necklace right and it can double-up as a belt for day time outfits.

A well-fitted shirt or blouse with the blazer adds another variation to the work wardrobe, along with a pair of smart trousers.

Shoes can be tricky but two pairs are more than enough to survive a three or four day business trip- a pair a trusted heels, black and pointed never goes out of style and comfortable flats can see you through the day and night.

  Image source: Creative Commons/ BiggerPictureImages

A pashmina, in light and neutral tones and a more colourful work dress can add further combinations to smart, casual, smart casual occasions. Think pashmina+ dress, blazer + dress, shirt over dress + belt... The combinations are endless!

With the right pieces of clothing packed in your carry-on, the variations can see you through any trip you make, George Clooney style.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Expat Excellence featuring Gillian Kemmerer – Part 2

This is the second of Gillian Kemmerer’s three-part series on Expat Explorer. Gillian is the founder of Ready Set Jet - a fantastic resource geared towards Generation Y expats and looks at common concerns of expats under-29 encounter. This week, Gillian shares some top advice for young people to keep safe whilst studying and working abroad.

Top 3 tips to keep safe abroad

Source: Creative Commons/

1. How do you look? 
Image isn’t everything, but it certainly counts for something.  Regardless of whether or not you are consciously aware, foreigners attract attention.  Whether it’s your clothing, language or mannerisms that give you away, be aware that you may be under watch simply for walking through the door.  That being said, what type of behavior do you want to exude?  Expats are often stereotyped as affluent (in particular, to be carriers of large amounts of cash) and unaware of local language, customs and laws.  If you are behaving in a way that suggests you are alone, those stereotypical depictions could invite the wrong type of attention.  Be slightly more aware of your behavior while abroad to ensure that anyone pegging you as naïve (regardless of how much you know of local lifestyle) will not also view you as incapable of self-defense. In the same vein, avoid going out alone.  The larger your group, the less attractive you are to someone who is up to no good.

2. Top-Up Your Phone
Pay-as-you-go cell phones are not common practice until you spend a period of time abroad without a local cell plan.  Many students find themselves struggling with the fact that their texts are limited and their minutes require constant monitoring.  If you are living in a country where topping-up at a local cell phone store or kiosk is common practice, make sure that you top-up your phone before you head out.  You never want to be caught in a situation in which you cannot reach friends, family or the police.

3. Know landmarks, Not just addresses
Suppose you are living in a city such as Moscow where cabs with shady reputations are more prevalent than their legitimate counterparts. Or perhaps you are caught in a situation where there is no transportation to be found on a busy night.  Knowing your street address may not be enough information to navigate home, particularly if you live in a student residence or non-commercial area.  Be aware of the landmarks and major streets that are located within a five-block radius of your home.  When entering a cab, make it a point to write down the license plate number or taxi code, and pay attention to the route.  If you know your landmarks, you’ll be able to determine if you are being taken in the right direction (as opposed to an expensive and unsolicited city tour).  If you are ever in a situation where you must walk—and, as we would tell you abroad or at home, never walk alone—do not rely on someone else for your navigation.  Be personally responsible regarding your surroundings, and carry a pocket map whenever possible.

About the author
Gillian Kemmerer is the founder of Ready Set Jet, a resource geared toward Generation Y expats. She loves to hear from young people living out their dreams abroad on the RSJ Twitter (, and is both an avid compound archer and rabid FC Barcelona fan.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

The Expat Artist

Last year’s Expat Explorer revealed that one in ten expats (10%) worked in the marketing, advertising and creative sectors, compared to nearly one in three (29%) in financial services.

Whilst working in the arts may not be the immediate choice for people moving abroad, we came across some inspiring stories from expats on their experiences of working in the creative sector.
Claire Pamment, a theatre practitioner from England, for example shares a fascinating story of how she ended up working in a thriving grassroots theatre industry in Pakistan. In October of 2003, Claire was taken on by Beaconhouse National University to teach in their newly inaugurated theatre, film and television department. It was here where she fell in love with the flourishing theatre scene and decided to stay for long term.

Other avenues where expats have immersed themselves in the arts include those who go into writing or publishing. Serial expat, Jo Parfitt and writer, Chris Pavone are great examples of this. Chris recently completed his novel, The Expats during his time abroad and Jo is the author of nearly 30 books already, drawing from her life experiences in more than five countries.

In another example, Davina Garrido De Miguel from Russia turned her passion into her job having transformed her house into an artistic workplace. In the video below, from, Davina talks about her life as an expat in Russia and her love of Russian art and culture.

What sector do you work in and what have your experiences been? Leave us a comment below!

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Top 10 Expat Explorer blog posts

A re-cap of the most popular posts on Expat Explorer this month:

1. How to make a long distance relationship work - Making long-distance relationships work is tough, but not impossible. In this post, we share some advice to overcome the obstacles of trust, communication and distance.

2. Guest Blogger Series: Introducing… Ashley Thompson – Navigating a completely new country can be daunting, especially if you don’t understand the language. One expat shares her tips on how to get around the language barrier.

3. Are you an expat entrepreneur? – We’re looking for expats who have set up their own businesses abroad to contribute to a new series on Expat Explorer. Get in touch if you fit the bill.
4. Expat Excellence featuring Chris Pavone - Tips for expats moving to Luxembourg and New York with guest blogger, Chris Pavone - author of international thriller - “The Expats”  

5. Expat Entrepreneurs – Five top tips for prospective expats thinking of setting up their own businesses.

6. What is culture shock? – The four stages to culture shock every expat should be aware of…

7. Expat Explorer nominated for a Webby Award – Expat Explorer was nominated for the prestigious Webby awards due to take place later this month. The voting is now over and we came third overall for the People’s Vote award. Thanks to all those who supported us!

8. Expat Entrepreneur: Pierre Waters, founder of moving2madrid – The first in our series of Expat Entrepreneurs, Pierre Waters answers our questions on what it takes to run a successful business abroad.

9. The Rise of the Expat Mummy Blogger – We’ve enjoyed the laughter and tears of bringing up children abroad with these mummy bloggers. In this post we look at some of the best expat mummy blogs on the web.

10. Guest blogger Series: Introducing… Brittney Strange - Guest blogger, Brittney Strange of Life of an Expat Parent explores the concept of finding your sense of home and draws upon her own experiences of being on the move.



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