Monday, 30 July 2012

On your marks, get set…

Right back in 2010 we blogged about the London 2012 Olympic Games being ‘just around the corner’.  Two years feels like a lifetime ago now considering that, as you read this, billions of pairs of eyes are watching athletes from all over the world competing for their country.

It’s true that London has been ‘gearing up for the Games’ for years and now the time has finally come for it to host thousands of Olympians from across the globe, many who don’t speak the language and are unfamiliar with the country – much like the average expat, you could say!

To kick the whole thing off, we witnessed the Olympic Opening ceremony, directed by British director Danny Boyle, proved to be every bit as spectacular as we had been promised and those that had already witnessed the rehearsal did well to #savethesecret.

The show was a wonderful mix of nostalgia and history with appearances from famous characters such as Mary Poppins and Mr Bean and who could forget Her Majesty herself whose appearance alongside James Bond was truly fantastic.

The Ceremony also featured the Olympic Parade of Nations which saw athletes from every qualifying country parade the stadium preceded by their national flag. In total there were over 200 participating countries – a true demonstration of the international stretch of the Games.

If you were competing in the Olympics, what would your sport be? Let us know in the box below or tweet us at @expatexplorer

Friday, 27 July 2012

Guest Blogger Series: Introducing… Amy Lucinda Jones

It seems like we just can’t get enough of expat life in Italy here at Expat Explorer. This week, Amy Lucinda Jones from takes us on a whirlwind adventure of an English girl in Southern Italy.

What mischief can Amy possibly get up to?

Pizza and Polenta – Expat life in Southern Italy

Ahh…small town Southern're walking along the street, gazing at crumbling but charming buildings with painted shutters and flowers on the balcony, women sat outside on wooden chairs exchanging words (and many hand gestures) with their neighbours, who also happen to be sat on wooden chairs preparing some kind of tasty vegetable that's in season.

You smell some good, hearty, Italian home cooking and see shops selling incredible looking gelato. So, you decide to go into one of these shops and buy said incredible looking gelato. You choose something that looks like chocolate. The woman smiles at you and asks you what you want. Or at least, you think that's what she asks you. You panic. You don't understand a word. You start pointing, hoping this will communicate your ice cream desire. But then she asks you something else. Why is buying gelato so complicated?!

If only you'd come in with your big group of English speaking friends. But wait!! You haven't got any English speaking friends in this small, southern Italian town! There's a distinct lack of fellow expats in this traditional, Italian community! How on earth am I going to fit in if I can't even buy gelato successfully, you say, whilst coming out with something that looks and tastes remarkably like strawberry...?

Before you start panicking because - maybe soon - you’re going to be in the same situation - don't worry!

As a resident of a small, southern Italian town, I can reassure you that such experiences (involving gelato or otherwise), even if they do occur, don't continue forever. I moved here just over 18 months ago to take a teaching job at a private language school. I knew nothing of Italy or the Italians, only that summers were hot; people ate lots of pizza and - language wise?? Well, 'ciao' was pretty much it. But being thrown in at the deep end, which was definitely what happened to me, is definitely the best way to be thrown in. Yes, you might cough and splutter a bit, and have to put in a fair amount of effort to swim to the top, but once you surface, you'll feel pretty good about yourself.

Moving to another country, and not even to a big city where you may have the chance to find more English speakers or other expats, but to a little town right off the tourist trail, is challenging. I remember many, many occasions in which I nodded and smiled whilst people were talking to me, not understanding a single word. I would go into shops and use an embarrassing amount of hand gestures to try and get what I wanted, and even then coming out with the most expensive/completely wrong thing.

People laughed (albeit kindly) when I got the pronunciation wrong or said entirely the wrong word. But before you think it's simply too difficult, I can assure you that it's not. 18 months later I can now communicate. I can ask for what I need, understand what is being said to me, and say if something's not quite right. I had the good fortune of finding a tutor who, for a long time, spoke at me in Italian (and only Italian) while I sat there not understanding anything. But eventually I started getting it. And eventually I started being able to reply.

With a grasp of the language, it's obviously easier to meet people, and to start forging friendships. Small towns, particularly these southern Italian ones, are home to groups of people who have been friends since their first day of school. They are traditional. Becoming part of one of these circles of friends takes time. You are foreign, you don't understand all of their jokes and to put it plainly, they don't know you.

But if I can do it, anyone can.

Talk to people and get involved, even if you feel silly at first. They will be interested in you, if only because you're different. So use it to your advantage! Should they continue to just stare at you (which they tend to do quite a bit here), just smile. Then, even if they do talk about 'that person who's not from round 'ere', at least they can't say you're a grumpy so and so!

But it's not only the language and making friends which can be challenging. Yes, conquering it is a fundamental part of being able to enjoy your experience abroad, but there are other things to think about too. It goes without saying that you will be faced with a whole load of cultural differences in your small town, more so than the bigger cities.               

In Milan for example, they've actually heard of Starbucks. The shops don't all shut in the afternoon, and I'm pretty sure they eat non-Italian cuisine and packaged sandwiches. Some cultural differences will be barely noticeable and actually really pleasant. Others won't.

Down in the south of Italy, you come across a lot of people with more traditional views, who aren't so ‘open minded' (as admitted by many southerners themselves). The trick to dealing with differences that you aren't used to, or dealing with people who have very particular ways of thinking is of course, to do just the opposite.

Be open minded!

Small town, off the tourist path locations may be even harder to get used to. I'm not the most patient person. But exercising patience and tolerance will not only make your day much easier, but people will respect you. The distinct lack of queuing abilities here and the absence of friendly service in restaurants still irritate me somewhat.

But it’s pretty much made up for by the incredible food, amazing wine, tolerance of lateness (you always have that 5 minutes) and the 2 hour nap that you are almost required to take in the afternoon. Now, that I don't have a problem with!

It's not all going to come at once. You aren't all of a sudden going to be catapulted into a glorious world of al fresco coffee drinking with friends, sharing jokes in the native language and being able to do your shopping without the fear of accidentally asking for horse meat when you want beef.

But it will happen.

Just get yourself out there and embrace that other culture, that other language and those other interesting people who may not be quite like you, but are certainly interested in getting to know you. Once you've got the hang of small town living, it really is incredibly fulfilling.

And if all else fails, gesticulate. That's what I do!!

 About the author

Amy is a British expat and English teacher, living and working in a small town in southern Italy. When she's not teaching, she likes drinking coffee, eating too much gelato and generally enjoying la dolce vita. She regularly blogs about her experiences in Italy from and can be found tweeting at @BritInItaly

Monday, 23 July 2012

London Calling

In the new “View from London” series, supported by HSBC Expat, the FT takes a look at London in the run up to one of the biggest sporting events in the world.

London has always been a city for expats. For hundreds of years people have come from all corners of the world seeking opportunities.  In recent years this has only accelerated with London now as one of the few ‘global cities’ where multinational companies whizz in executives as a middle ground for meetings between east and west.

As a result London life has adapted and now offers some of the best selections of entertainment out of global expat locations. Nine in ten (90%) of respondents in the 2011 Expat Explorer survey were impressed with the cultural offering of London.

London undoubtedly caters fur a truly international audience with cuisine and expat communities from almost every country in the world helping expats feel at home in London. From a work perspective London offers everything the career seeker could wish for.

                                                                       Picture link: Here

One of the largest expat groups in London are the French. London is often regarded as France’s 5th city with an expat population of over 300,000. Corners of London such as South Kensington now have the feel of a Parisian street; the French Parliament even has its own MP for London.

The downside is its infrastructure, particularly the transport network in the capital which still relies on its Victorian foundations. The tube network, despite the frantic pace of upgrades to allow modern features such as air conditioning and mobile phone signal, still lags behind many cities. Airport capacity is also straining the capital. New arrivals frequently have to wait hours to get through customs and passport control and the debate over a new runway means this situation is unlikely to get better any time soon.  

Despite the drawbacks in transportation, James Pickford at the FT writes, “Expatriates who decide to come to London can be certain of one thing: they are arriving in a city that has had centuries to hone its appeal.”

Do you agree? Share your experiences with us by tweeting @expatexplorer or leaving a comment below!

Friday, 13 July 2012

Guest Blogger Series: Introducing… Scott Bergstein

This week’s guest blogger features Scott Bergstein, over at Souloftheheel – a blog featuring stories of a lovely American couple in Puglia, Italy. Puglia, known as the “heel” of Italy is a relatively undiscovered corner of Italy of unspoilt views, rustic feasts and friendly locals. Here, Scott gives our readers a first person experience of the charming region of Puglia.

Life in the heel of the boot

It started in Las Vegas over a Fourth of July holiday weekend. My wife and I sat at a restaurant, shared a bottle of chilled white wine, and talked about the next chapter of our lives: retirement.  The subject of the conversation was where we would live during our leisure years. I had actually been thinking about that quite a bit and took the leap.

“What about Italy?” I asked.

“I would love to move to Italy,” Jessica responded, with more enthusiasm than I expected.

Two months later we bought our house in Puglia, the heel of the boot that is the Italian peninsula.

Why Puglia?  Two reasons: Quality of Life and Cost of Living.

A major contributor to that quality of life is the food and drink that abound in the area. Puglia is one of the most productive agricultural regions in Italy with 40% of the country’s olive oil and much of its wine originating in the area. It is estimated that there are 60 million olive trees in Puglia, one for every man, woman and child in Italy. And, where there are no olive trees growing, it seems that vines have been planted. The white wine of Locorotondo is developing quite a reputation and the big reds from the central part of Puglia—negroamaros, primitivos and salice salentinos—already have strong followings among oenophiles. 

The Pugliese diet takes full advantage of the seas that surround the mini-peninsula, with the Adriatic on the east and the Ionian on the west. Mussels, squid and octopus, fresh from the water, are on the menu in every household, along with orecchiette (“little ears”), the pasta of Puglia.  And, with a year-round growing season, fresh vegetables are always available.  I recall our first trip to Puglia when, as we drove along the autostrade from Rome, we noticed a beautiful, anise fragrance that came and then disappeared. A bit later, we sensed it again and, again, it faded away. On the third occasion, we figured it out. Every time we got a whiff of the liquorice scent we had been passing a produce truck. It seemed that the fennel was in season and the harvest was in full-swing. In Puglia, something is always in season.

The weather in Puglia reflects its relationship with the Mediterranean Sea. Winters are cool, but rarely cold. Summers can be brutally hot with temperatures surging into the 40s. The rains start in October and fall until March, but the summers are typically dry. For locals, this is quite convenient since spending time at one of the many beaches in the region is a favourite pastime.

As for the cost of living in the heel of the boot, we found that housing and food are much less expensive than they are in our part of the US. Electricity, gas for cooking and heating and gasoline are higher, but these expenses can be managed. In all, we can live in Puglia for much less than we could in the States.

Not all is roses, however. Our home is in a village just outside the town of Cisternino and, typical of the South, no one in our village speaks a word of English. Our Italian is elementary, to say the least, and one flirts with danger in a language where “penne” means pens and “pene” is a naughty body part; where “anno” means year and “ano” is a naughty body part; and, where “fico” means fig and “fica” is a naughty body part.  So far, though, we have been able to survive the challenges and we look forward to many more to come.

Life in the heel of the boot is, indeed, la dolce vita and, every morning that we awaken and see this old olive tree just outside of our kitchen door, we are reminded of how dolce it is.

About the author

Scott Bergstein is a writer and former real estate developer who, among other activities, maintains a blog that can be found at Follow him @Pugliabound

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Singapore – strictly business?

The latest instalment from the FT View From series, supported by HSBC Expat, focuses on one of the world’s most densely populated cities, Singapore. The state boasts 5.1m people in 272 square miles – that’s an area half the size of Greater London and a third that of Tokyo. 

Singapore is largely, and perhaps mistakenly, thought of solely as a hub for finance and family upbringing and in the past has failed to excite and enthuse a new generation of expat. However, perceptions may be set to change as culture and the arts continue to reinvent the city as the next big thing. 

Singapore arts festival (source

Unfortunately, the heat and crowded conditions often mean that expats, especially those not able to travel on business, struggle to stay in Singapore for lengthy periods of time succumbing to ‘island fever’. Luckily Singapore offers escapes in the form of Bukit Timah nature reserve and with so many budget airlines expats are never far away from respite. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly then, in the 2011 Expat Explorer Survey, Singapore ranked 4th in terms of travel opportunities, with 79% of respondents saying they have travelled more since relocating. Singapore ranked 3rd overall proving that the city still remains a popular expat hotspot, despite the sometimes challenging conditions! 43% of respondents said that they had a better work life balance since moving to Singapore and half admitted to living in better accommodation than in their home country. 

What do you think of Singapore as an expat destination? Share your thoughts with us in the comment box below or tweet us on @expatexplorer.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Expat Entrepreneur: Tara Agacayak, founder of Globalniche

Our latest Expat Entrepreneurs installment features Tara Agacayak, founder of on lessons learnt on the road to becoming an entrepreneur.

Source: Creative commons/arlen

Why did you decide to become an expat entrepreneur?

It wasn't a decision, but a survival skill! I had moved to a very small town in Turkey and felt isolated with limited professional outlets. At the time eBay was becoming mainstream so I started making trips to the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul and buying pashminas to sell through online auctions. The freedom and flexibility that e-commerce gave me opened up many opportunities.

In 2006, I attended a women's leadership program where they stressed social responsibility and global citizenship which really shaped my business by changing my focus to locally-produced artisan goods.

With my background in psychology and information technology I'm now the co-founder and COO of; an educational ecosystem that utilises the life hacks well-known and devised by expats and other operatives who have found themselves at cultural disadvantage as an approach that many people can benefit from.

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

Be creative in coming up with a business idea that will fit your situation and your aspirations.

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

I've tried many different business ideas, and it took me many years to figure out what I was good at, what I enjoyed, and what would make a good business. Building my web platform and my global niche community helped both in supporting and connecting me with others, and acting as a sounding board for decision-making.

At the moment a big challenge is a legal one - since I'm living full-time in Turkey I have work permission issues I'm sorting through. Thankfully I've got a good team of advisors who are helping me figure out the best option for working on a US-based internet business while I live here in Turkey.

I've also been challenged by people who don't understand what my business is about and ask why I don't just get a regular job. Overcoming this challenge has meant staying dedicated and committed to the vision of what I'm working on. This is hard to do when the business idea itself is still coming together.

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

I wouldn't call them mistakes as much as missed opportunities - assuming they don't have as many choices as they do when it comes to the kind of business they can establish; staying under the radar, thinking too small, waiting until things are "perfect" - we can always find ways to be better and to grow, both personally and professionally.

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

Having a good management team and building a community of knowledgeable people around the world to ask advice of. For our particular business model, we spent a lot of time studying content marketing, e-commerce, using a variety of social media tools to add to our web platform, and trying lots of different techniques to figure out what works. We're fans of the lean startup methodology offered by Eric Ries.

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

I would have been more strongly grounded in my ideas and not have given up so easily when faced with a challenge. I would have sought help earlier to get through the challenges. I would have taken more risks in order to make faster progress.

About Tara

Tara, an American-born expat living in Turkey, has a background in psychology and information technology. She draws on her background in database design as the COO of, an on-going interactive, on/offline educational channel that teaches self-agency to reach personal and professional fulfillment.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Expat Excellence featuring Julia Stagg

This week’s Expat Excellence features author of “L’Auberge” and “The Parisian’s Return”, serial expat Julia Stagg, on her life as an auberge owner in the French Pyrenees and the inspiration for her French-based books.

Q&A with author Julia Stagg

What made you take the step of moving to France to run a country inn?

It sounds so reckless, but my husband and I were looking to run our own business, preferably something that would give me time to write. So we bought an auberge (country inn) with four self-catering cottages in the French Pyrenees that needed a lot of work doing to it. It was a while before I managed to get back to writing!

Weren’t you nervous about making the transition to another country, another language?

I’ve been asked that so many times and my answer always sounds flippant: no! I’ve spent most of my adult life living abroad, including periods in Japan, the USA and Australia, so I suppose I didn’t see the move to another country as daunting. Even the language aspect seemed a walk in the park after mastering Japanese the hard way. What was far more terrifying was being asked to reopen the restaurant at our auberge once we’d moved in. It was never in our plans as I really wasn’t a cook. But anyone who has lived in France (or read my novels!) knows that when the village mayor asks you to do something…I learnt to cook and we duly opened the restaurant!

Both L’Auberge and The Parisian’s Return, set in the Ariège-Pyrenees region of France where you lived, focus on communities dealing with newcomers. Do you think your varied experience as an expat has influenced your work?

Totally! I’m also the daughter of immigrants so I think from an early age I’ve been aware of the differences you carry with you when you move from the culture you were raised in to one you don’t know. I’m always curious about the relationships between newcomers and established populations and find the clashes that arise from them fascinating. I love the way that both sides of the equation, given time, can benefit from the change.

In all your time as an expat, what is it you like most about living abroad?

I love life in a foreign language; the fact that the mundane becomes exciting. Paying my electricity bill in Japan was a thrill. Writing a cheque in France never became ordinary or rote. That buzz never leaves you, even when your language skills improve.

And what’s next? Another move abroad?

At the moment I’m quite content, dividing my days between the beautiful Yorkshire Dales in the UK and the Ariège-Pyrenees. However, I do have plans for a series set in the USA which might mean a return trip and I’ve got a couple of books set in Japan that really need writing… So possibly but who knows? When you are born with gypsy feet like I was, you never look beyond the horizon when predicting the next move!

Finally, have you got any advice for anyone about to take the plunge and move to France?

Do your homework. It’s said so often but it really is true. The better prepared you are, the easier the move will be - and the more chance you will have of success. Bonne Chance to all those about to take that step!

About the author

Cursed from a young age with itchy feet, Julia has lived abroad most of her adult life. She has worked as a waitress, ‘check-out-chick’, bookseller, pawnbroker and as a teacher of English as a Foreign Language.

Tempted by a love of cycling and a passion for mountains, in 2004 she moved to the Ariège-Pyrenees region of France to run a small auberge. And it was between summer seasons working in the hotel that she started to write the Fogas novels, set in the area she adores.

Julia currently divides her time between the Ariège and the Yorkshire Dales and for a short while at least, those feet have stopped itching. Visit

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

4th July: What does Independence Day mean to expats?

Picture Source:

The 4th July, Independence Day is one of the highlights in the US calendar where the corks are popped, the fireworks lit and people come together to celebrate. National holidays are always a time for family and friends to relax and be merry and there are few greater or better well known national holidays than US Independence Day.  

But how does it feel to be an expat in the US during Independence Day? Pretty good one can imagine if we look at the results from the 2011 HSBC Expat Explorer Survey, the US ranked as the best place in the world for expat entertainment, as one tweeter @JeremyBurcher listed his 4th July as being ‘beer, baseball and barbeque’, which seems pretty accurate.

Other cultural aspects of the US also make it seem like an easy place for an expat to fit in during celebratory occasions, 62% of expats said it was easy to learn the local language whilst 87% said they were made to feel welcome. The US ranked low for a healthy diet, only 25% of respondents thought that food in the USA was healthy, but anyway, who wants healthy food on the 4th July!

How will you be celebrating Independence Day? Leave us a comment below.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Top 10 Expat Blog Posts

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

 Picture Source:

1. How to make a long distance relationship work 
Now for the third month in a row this is our most read blog post. Love and relationships are obviously a key topic for expats, let us know if you want to share a story.

2. What are your top expat worries?
Our second most popular blog post looks at expat worries. Sorting out schooling and fitting in with the local community are all things for new expats to worry about.

3. Guest blogger series: Introducing...Chelsea Christensen
Chelsea Christensen guest blogs on her move to Italy for romance. Chelsea's story is a brave tale of giving up everything and making a big move for love.

4. The Rise of the Expat Mummy Blogger
This post is always a favorite, the top mummy bloggers give a rundown of their stories and the daily challenges they face as a mummy expat.

5. How to prevent the culture shock of repatriation and feel as if you've never left
Moving back home is a concern for many expats, for some it is as daunting as becoming an expat for the first time. Our 5th most popular blog post this month gives practical advice for those making the big move the other way.

6. Expat Entrepreneur: Doris Fuellgrabe, founder of building the life you want
For many moving abroad the question of work and having enough money to live is a big factor. Doris Fuellgrabe decided to switch countries and set up her own firm. Read her story.

7. The reality of Rome
One of our new blogs in June, we take a look at life in Rome and how it fares as a destination for expats. We take some figures from the 2011 expat survey about life in Italy.

8. Expat excellence featuring Emily Wachelka
In this guest blog Emily Wachelka discusses how to make your expat home feel like home, her top tip - get out as much as possible and talk to old people.

9. Expat women series: the truth about expat housewives
Is being an expat housewife all about going for lunch, shopping and sun? These women discuss leaving their career for a life abroad.

10. Top tips for repatriation  
Our second blog on repatriation in the top 10 this month, we offer more tips for those moving back home.



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