Friday, 29 June 2012

Guest Blogger Series: Introducing…Aidan Larson

We’re in for a mouth-watering treat this week with expat foodie blogger, Aidan Larson at Conjugating Irregular Verbs as this week’s guest blogger.

The way to an expat’s heart…

Source: Creative Commons/ Xiaozhuli

When you move to a new country, you expect changes. You figure you’ll learn a thing or two, develop some new habits, maybe get frustrated and shake your fist at times, shed a tear or two. But if you can, you move to another place excited about the differences, ready to embrace the change and make the most of it. 

At least that’s how my American family has looked at our seven years of living abroad. We’ve had our share of hiccups, complications and second guessing our decisions, no doubt. But more than that, we’ve changed, taken on new ideas, altered our thinking, tried new things and some of us (the children) have mastered a new language.

All that is well and good; an enrichment of life and a shift in thinking have made our expat life worthwhile beyond measure, sure.

But I have to admit the thing that I enjoy most about our lives in the South of France is the food.  Ah, yes, my favourite topic of thought, conversation, study and practice—the French table.

Food, shopping for it, reading about it, cooking and eating it. It’s a popular past time these days. I love a cooking show as much as other ‘foodies’ out there; colorful cookbook towers stacked on bedside tables along with a mix of  beautifully photographed cooking magazines , food memoirs and the odd novel. This is what we fall asleep reading.

So, lucky me to live in France where food is one of the most seriously guarded and precious aspects of national image. You don’t mess with the French and their food.

Each region has its signature dish, produce and style of cooking. I made the grave error one night at dinner with French friends, five French women asking me what I thought about French food, when I said that the thing I miss the most about American food is the variety. Alors! But variety exists here in France, they said. You can find every type of food across all the regions in France. Variety abounds!

Um, yeah. If you only want French food. That’s the thing they don’t get. Their food is such a big deal, such a symbol of national pride, that they don’t see that for foreigners or ‘etrangers’ the whole of it falls under the heading, ‘French food’.

Some of us want Thai, Indian, Cuban and of course, this Texan girl wants her beloved Tex-Mex. All of which you can easily find in America. That’s variety, my French friends. Of course I would never say that. I only agreed, back pedaled, acted like they were teaching me something new about variety and the world of different food.

This protective pride is what makes French food special. Bestowing government protection on varieties of cheese, only one cheese in the world can be called Roquefort, safeguarding wine blends by allowing only certain varieties of raisins to be grown in certain regions, regions sometimes distinguished and divided by a creek or simple dirt path, making it a law for restaurants to print where their meat comes from and if they use frozen ingredients on their menu. All these things are what make French food, French.

For the most part, the French eat seasonally. You’ll find some exotic things like mango and passion fruit at the big grocery stores no matter the season. Maybe some green beans from Kenya when the French ones have all been canned or eaten up in nicoise salads, but generally the produce department changes with the seasons. What you won’t find are strawberries or stone fruits in mid-winter, no cherries in March, and absolutely no cantaloupe or melon until early summer.

All that makes sense, for a variety of reasons like the cost of flying out of season fruit and vegetables from the bout du monde, but the most important part to me is simply this. It tastes better when it’s grown a few kilometers away. The cantaloupe melons grown in a nearby village are the most delicious I’ve ever eaten.

My family has changed in the way we regard eating and meal times, especially snacking and when and how to do it. It’s subtle, like most resounding changes, and it has made a difference to the way we live and look. Yes, I said look. The eating what you want and not getting fat thing that you’ve no doubt heard of and wondered about yourself? That’s down to one thing--snacking. Mindless eating, the middle of the day, whenever the mood strikes you, nibble. They just don’t do it.

One of my daughter’s little friends was over one day after lunch (they would never schedule a play date during the lunch hours of noon and 2pm) and they were running around outside, swimming and playing. I figured they might be a bit hungry for a snack so I offered one. The 8 year-old French girl’s immediate reaction to this offer may shock you.

She didn’t immediately say non, merci. She didn’t jump blindly at the chance to eat something, either. What she did do was look at the clock. And when she saw that it was 3:30 and not later, she said no thank you. Simple. It’s just this. You don’t eat at 3:30. That’s not gouter or snack time.

My children eat at school most days, in the cantine, where they’re served a seasonal five course meal, where they eat with real utensils, course by course, over half an hour or more and  where no one puts fork to mouth without everyone saying, ‘Bon appetit!’ and beginning together.

They can ask for seconds of the starter and main course that are usually served family style in the center of the table. Things like beets in mustard dressing, radishes with baguette and butter and shredded carrots are typical starters or entrees. Main dishes of roast chicken, cordon bleu, and lemon fish are some of my kids’ favorites. The French eat like this most days at midday. This is the main meal, the one to sustain you until snack time. And it does sustain you.

My children have better table manners. Even the 4 year-old is learning. ‘Bon appetit!’ he shouts before every evening meal (of course he shouts it, we’re still Americans after all). But the days of wheeling the kids around in the grocery store trolley, quieting them with snacks of banana, apple chips, crackers and string cheese, torn and half empty packets lolling open and sticky on the checkout belt, are gone. French people just don’t walk around eating things at all times of day. It would be weird.

There’s a sea change all over I think. People are going back to farmers markets, growing their own (I could never do this as my thumbs are black as soot) and learning and trying new things. It’s exciting and fun and then you get to eat it. I’ve learned how to make things at home out of necessity that I would have relied on a restaurant to make for me before. We’re back to Tex-Mex again, you realise.

I’ve tasted things in French restaurants that have moved me. I’m talking close your eyes and savor the moment delicious. So sublime was one egg that I couldn’t stop thinking about it and had to make it at home. Something I never would have done back in Texas, maybe because I could always just pop back out and have it again. Also because I have never seen a soft-boiled egg breaded and fried and served over an earthy mushroom cream before. That’s France for you.

France has taught me how to enjoy food; portions, patience, and quality are the secrets of a good meal. Be it curry night or homemade pizza chez nous, the portions are reasonable, there’s not a lot of fuss or dishes per course and we eat slowly, savoring and talking as we go. Before France, we always ate together as a family so this isn’t new. It’s the way we do it here that’s different, that has changed us. It will be a part of my childrens’ relationship to food and fellowship forever.

Bon appetit!

About the author

Aidan resides in France with her family and blogs at Conjugating Irregular Verbs. Follow her @aidan_larson

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.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Johannesburg – The city of fortunes


In the latest ‘FT view from’ series, supported by HSBC Expat, the Financial Times takes a look at the buzzing South African city of Johannesburg with its 3.5m population. The city was developed in the 1880s for gold miners who flocked to the area in search of their fortune and whilst the gold has dwindled in recent years, Johannesburg still has the allure for people seeking lucrative openings.  

People travel from all across Africa in search of work in Johannesburg. External investors are also flocking to the city because of the secure investment environment, good financial regulation and its position in sub-Saharan Africa’s most affluent country in a continent which continues to see 5%+ GDP growth.

The newest addition to the city is the Gautrain, a train which ferries commuters between Johannesburg airport, the city centre and the political capital Pretoria. Johannesburg has also seen a number of international companies settle there and investment in infrastructure is producing a construction boom. 

The city highlights one of the biggest problems in Africa, inequality. The leafy suburbs of the city with their cafes and restaurants mask a slightly darker side to the city which has a plentiful supply of migrants living in chronic poverty. 

In the 2011 HSBC Expat Survey, 93% of respondents said that upon moving to South Africa they had a larger property and 68% said they now had a swimming pool. South Africa also rated highly for those with children; it was listed as the best expat destination in the world for arranging schooling and ranked number one for integrating in to the community. High important tariffs for consumer goods and lower wages meant that expats main grumble tended to be about having a lower disposable income.

Are you an expat in South Africa? Do you have friends who have lived there? South Africa needs more respondents to be included in the 2012 HSBC Expat Survey. Fill in the survey 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, 19 June 2012

The Reality of Rome

Italy has always been a favourite haunt for tourists; the food, the sun, the easy going lifestyle; but what about making a permanent move? What do expats really think about Italy as a place to not only relax, but to work and bring up a family?

According to the findings of the 2011 Expat Explorer survey, expats living in Italy find most enjoyment in the local cuisine whilst finding the local amenities the greatest problem. In fact, the contrasts in Italy were perhaps greater than any other country featured in the survey, scoring high for quality of life but less well for services.

Picture source – Creative Commons

100% of respondents said they liked the local food whilst 70% of expats said that Italy offered a healthy diet. In contrast only 32% of expats found setting up utilities straight forward whilst only 27% found it easy to sort out personal finances. What’s more, only 30% of respondents were satisfied with the healthcare standards and as few as 23% found sporting facilities satisfactory.  

Despite some draw backs expats find Italy a great place to live which is understandable given that the climate ranked as number 1 in the world.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Booming Bangkok – a haven for expats

The once small fishing village of Bangkok has boomed from the 1980s onwards to the high rise city that today produces between 15-35% of Thailand’s GDP. The Financial Times FT View From, sponsored by HSBC Expat, believes that Bangkok is one of the best places in the world to be an expat.

Alison Leary, from Kentucky speaks of the close knit and diverse English speaking expat community in which she has formed many close friendships. She is particularly fond of the golf which is good for both socialising and networking. “It is peaceful, much better than in a noisy crowded bar or restaurant.” Bangkok is also highly commended for its shopping which ranges from modern air conditioned malls to the old bazaar of Chatuchak market where a good haggler can secure a bargain.

The expat community in Thailand is particularly strong amongst those without children, Sarah Huang, an Indonesian-Australian, is considering her long term options now that she is 7 months pregnant. Whilst nannies are affordable, the cost of a good quality education in Thailand at high school age makes many expats consider more developed countries in the region such as Australia and Japan.

Thailand was ranked as the number 1 place for expats to live in the 2011 HSBC expat survey. Local services are well tailored to help the expat market; arranging healthcare and personal finances both ranked as number one in the 2011 survey. 78% of expats in Thailand said they are earning more since moving and only 16% noted that they had struggled to fit in to the community.

What have your experiences been? Leave a comment in the box below, or on Twitter.

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.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Expat Entrepreneur: Doris Fuellgrabe, founder of Building the life you want

Doris Fuellgrabe is an experienced expat and a skilled trainer and workshop facilitator. In an exclusive interview with Expat Explorer Doris reveals all about her extraordinary life as an expat entrepreneur.

Source: Creative Commons/Mike

Why did you decide to become an expat entrepreneur?

In short, to create a working environment where I have fun and create value at the same time.

To give you a little background, I spent about 10 years working in corporate Germany, UK, and Spain. All jobs have their ups and downs, but the two main negative factors draining my energies at the time were office politics and lack of freedom. When my boyfriend (now-husband) and I moved to the Canary Islands in 2005, I participated in a four-week self-coaching workshop to re-evaluate my options. And let me tell you, there are so many options out there. For all of us! We transferred to Mexico in 2006, and while I didn’t have a work permit, I used the time to obtain a coaching degree. Once we relocated to the USA and my Green Card came through, I started my own coaching and training practice.

Working for myself gives me the freedom to choose how to spend my days, and believe it or not – the politics in a one-woman-operation are bearable.

If you could give one piece of advice to other expats setting up their own businesses, what would it be?

Be mindful of your expectations.

What do I mean by that?

Our expectations have a tremendous effect on our well-being. They influence how we set goals, and how we feel about ourselves when we meet or don’t meet them. Making sure our expectations are on a realistic yet challenging, not-too-boring basis makes a big difference. Allow me to bust three of the most common bubbles:

  1. Running a business often isn’t as easy as you think;
  2. Establishing yourself often isn’t as fast as you project; and
  3. You’ll probably spend the majority of your time working on your business instead of in it.

How can you make sure your expectations are realistic and challenging? Research your chosen profession, and be honest with yourself. Questions to consider: Is there a need for what you’re offering? Who is your audience? Will they pay for your product or service? How much? How many hours a day can you realistically spend on promoting yourself?

Being optimistic and hopeful when starting out is essential, but you want to take off the rose-colored glasses. When starting a business, your vision has to be absolutely crystal clear.

What challenges did you encounter when setting up your business and how did you overcome these?

General top 3, in no particular order…

Challenge: Lack of vision, focus, and/or passion
Solution: Figure out what you want to contribute to the world, declare your niche specialty, and make sure it’s what makes your heart sing!

I started a coaching practice, knowing from personal experience that coaching is such a wonderful method and so versatile, I’d be able to support anyone, anywhere, with any area they’d like to improve upon. I coached a number of acquaintances on relationships and self-esteem issues, and had a few clients for time management and organisational topics. Unfathomably, my practice didn’t really take off, and I spent more and more time watching daytime TV, disillusioned and disappointed.

Eventually, I stripped away the non-descript “anything”-ness of this approach and started focusing on people like me: expats and accompanying spouses without work-permits, who are experiencing unexpected identity and adaptation issues. This is what I live and breathe every day, so I have no trouble staying engaged, reading, learning, and writing about everything to do with it.

Challenge: Unconscious incompetence, a.k.a: You don’t know what you don’t know!
Solution: Find people who do the same and never stop learning

Once I declared my niche as Expat Coaching, I googled the term and called up a handful of colleagues to ask for their advice. One person suggested I attend the FIGT Families in Global Transition Conference, which I did, and then some: I was actually accepted to present a concurrent session on the topic of staring your own business abroad. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive, and I was invited back to speak again.

At this conference, I learned much more about how the relocation industry works, who the main players are, and what the role division and boundaries are. This helped me in setting more realistic expectations. It explained why all the HR directors I had contacted never called me back! More than that, spending time with other expat aficionados reaffirmed my decision to stay in the field, to serve the community, and fill the need for the much-neglected intangible side of international support.

Challenge: Feeling lost at sea, alone in a little dingy of a boat with no one for company
Solution: Network, join groups, and participate in associations

This is an extension of the previous challenge, which other extroverts will probably resonate with, while people with preferences for introversion may not. As a cog in the machine of corporate anywhere, I always had someone to go to lunch or gossip at the water cooler with. As an entrepreneur, I spend most of my time alone in front of my computer. While online forums are a great invention, they can’t take the place of actual human interaction. In the beginning, I would slowly go stir-crazy and blow up in the face of my husband when he came home at night. Now I plan for excursions and interaction with others, especially those in my field of interest.

What common mistakes do expats, in general, make when setting up their business?

Mistake: Disregarding cultural differences
Solution: Educate yourself and practice shifting

If you’ve ever watched TV ads across the world, you know different audiences respond to different cues. Take toothpaste, for example. In some countries, an actor in a white coat, seemingly representing a dentist or a hygienist, praises the product’s effective ingredients. The ad has a very professional and scientific appearance. Other countries show happy couples smiling and kissing, families going on adventures together, or attractive 20-somethings at the beach. The ad appeals to the more personal side of fitting in and being part of a group.

When you go into business in another country, especially when you’re providing services, consider what your own cultural programming is e.g. regarding sales and marketing. How do you make purchasing decisions? Which provider do you tend to trust, the flashy one who has the biggest advertisement, or the quiet one with the long list of achievements on their website?
And then turn the table around: How does business work in your host country? How comfortable are you describing your own strengths or the advantages of your product? Do you state your background and experience and expect people to choose you based on your bio and their needs, or can you talk someone into considering what you have to offer?

Mistake: Ignoring tax and other legal frameworks
Solution: Google, research, and ask others

In the USA, entrepreneurs have various options to incorporate their business, many of them are pretty quick and easy to implement. Every choice of entity comes with different local and federal paperwork, as well as tax implications. Every state has different regulations about how much the legal entities cost and what the maintenance schedule is. Not every country makes going into business that easy, and rules change every year. Make sure you do some thorough research, or work with a professional to guide you through the process.

Wherever you start your business, here are some things to keep in mind: find out if your profession needs a license, where to obtain one, how much it costs to keep it updated, and who the governing bodies are. Find out whether your home is zoned to do business, what the restrictions are for putting up signs, and if the name you intend to use is available. Especially if you’re with a corporate expat, you have to know that there are short-term assignments and prolonged business travel regulations, and that five years tend to be the cut-off point for when an expat is considered local. I recommend working with an accountant specialising in international tax law, to help you keep appropriate records for income from different countries and pay the necessary taxes.

Mistake: Underestimating emotional effects of not working
Solution: Educate yourself and negotiate

I knew I wasn’t going to have a work permit for at least 12 months while we were in Mexico. Blissful in my happy optimism, I didn’t think that was going to be a problem. I was going to study, read novels, watch TV, and work on a tan or something. I had no idea I would get bored out of my brains without a “proper” purpose six weeks in. Again, this may not be the case for everyone, but if you have always been employed and all of a sudden you’re not anymore, planned or unplanned, there’s some adjusting to do.

Many couples relocate on their first assignment not knowing what to ask for. If the company doesn’t sponsor a visa or work permit for the spouse, it’s rarely encouraged to press the matter. I say, do. Ask your HR contact what it would take, how much it would cost, how much support the legal department would provide. Then research your embassy’s website, the other embassy’s website, and familiarise yourself with forms and procedures. If you have the means to pay for a work permit yourself, discuss in your family if having the option to work would help you feel more at home and adapt more easily.

Be honest about what you think you will need. Even if you end up not working throughout your stay, having the option to start your own business helps with peace of mind. 

What resources did you find useful or tapped into to get your business off the ground?

What would you do differently if you could do it again?

Manage my expectations better! Knowing what I know now about marketing and buyer behavior and the way the relocation industry works could have saved me a lot of agony in my first couple of years. Still, I don’t believe in regret so I wouldn’t have it any other way. After all, everything that happened helped shape my understanding today.

About Doris

Doris is an experienced expat (from Germany to Scotland, England, Spain, Canary Islands, Mexico, and now USA), a skilled trainer and workshop facilitator, an accredited Personal Coach; she has a BA in HR Management with Spanish, and holds certifications in MBTI® Step I and II, Neuroscience of Personality, and the Berens CORE™ Method. She currently conducts independent research into the expression of personality type in different cultures at

Building the Life You Want LLC is a coaching and training practice helping first-time expats feel at home abroad, faster. They also work with international teams who want to collaborate more effectively and have greater impact, and returning soldiers and their significant others to support reintegration after international deployment. Visit to find out more. 

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.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Top 10 Expat Explorer blog posts

A re-cap of the most popular posts on Expat Explorer in April:

1. How to make a long distance relationship work – For the second months in a row this is our most read blog post. Let us know if you would like to blog about how to make a long distance relationship work across different countries, time zones and lifestyles.

2. Expat Excellence featuring Emily Wachelka – The expat challenges Emily set herself – and challenges expats to do the same – have gone down extremely well. Settling in in a new country is not an easy task – if these challenges (or if you have your own) have helped you let us know!

3. Expat Excellence featuring Lexi Mills – Another expat guest blog tops the charts for May’s most read posts. Read all about her tips for moving abroad in an organised fashion – something many expats aspire to!

4. Guest Blogger Series: Introducing... Chelsea Christensen – This guest blog has been in the top 10 many times since it first graced Expat Explorer back in August 2010, a testimony to what a lovely story it is.

5. What's in your suitcase? – Travelling often makes up a large part of expat life, whether that is moving somewhere new, heading home to visit friends, or going on a well-deserved holiday to a new destination.  Our post on business travellers and what they put in their suitcase is a great read for any frequent flier.

6. Guest Blogger Series: Introducing… Ashley Thompson – Survivor of expat life in Japan, Ashley, reveals how to survive in a country where you can’t even read the local language! An interesting post, and well worth a read.

7. How to prevent the culture shock of repatriation and feel as if you’ve never left – Another post that has seen many top 10 posts lists. Whilst culture shock is in the forefront of many expats’ minds – repatriation often isn’t even considered. It is so easy to expect that “going home” will be a smooth and enjoyable transition.

8. I love Moscow because… - Based on an audio slideshow on the FT website, this post takes a look at expat life in Moscow, and all the vibrancy and opportunity that affords.

9. Are you an expat entrepreneur? – Looking at the stories of entrepreneurs taking on the added challenges of setting up shop abroad. If you fit this description let us know – we’d love to hear your experiences.

10. Top Tips for Repatriation – As the second post in this month’s top 10 talking about repatriation, it is clear that this is an important expat topic. Do you agree with these tips? Or do you have your own views?

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.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Dubai Baby

From desert to metropolis to bust – Dubai has had a whirlwind history to reach the glitzy city it is today. A new audio show on the FT view from, sponsored by HSBC Expat, reckons that expats are still flooding to Dubai because it is the easiest place to live in the Gulf.

Source: Flickr

Dubai is an expat hotspot where the arts are flourishing, says long term expat Simone Sebastian. She recounts from her own experiences of working and living in the city and thinks that it’s good that you can do things and find places that aren’t 100% commercially focused. Often perceived as a land of luxury, a shopping haven, full of resorts and gourmet restaurants; beneath it all, inhabitants of Dubai uncover a certain charm that you only discover once you’re in the city.

Dubai is still young city, a fantasy land in a rough neighbourhood.”

What have your experiences been? Leave a comment in the box below, or on Twitter.

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.

Friday, 1 June 2012

What are your top expat worries?

Moving abroad, whether for the first time or the fourteenth time, can be a stressful and hectic time for many people. Getting the logistics right, sorting out accommodation, notifying friends and setting up bank accounts… the list can be endless.

Source: McBunny

What’s on your list? 

Expat Explorer is reaching out to expats to find out what is at the top of the worry list – are you worried about cultural adaptation, fitting in with the local community or new work place? Or are you more concerned about the day-to-day living, getting around in your new hometown or furnishing your new home?

For expat parents, you may have a different set of worries and concerns to couples or single person moving abroad – perhaps find the right school for the children and concerns about their safety and whether they enjoy life in their new home?

Over the coming weeks we’ll be putting together a list of top expat worries – so have your say! Leave a comment in the box below or on Twitter.

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.



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