Friday, 30 August 2013

Throwing a good housewarming party

Moving to a new country can be a lot of work with paperwork to complete, things to unpack, schools to sort out and new jobs to start. It’s likely to be a very hectic time with huge amounts to think about.
However, once the dust has settled, why not take the time to celebrate your move with style? There’s no better way to do this than by throwing a housewarming party. 

Here are a few tips to make sure yours goes with a bang.

Picture source: Google Images


Now that you’ve been in your new home for a few months, chances are you’ll have had the time to make a few acquaintances and friends locally. The housewarming party is a brilliant opportunity to bring all these people together. Inviting a mixture of local friends and fellow expats from home and work should mean that guests will have lots to talk about. Be sure to give plenty of notice when sending out invitations to ensure that everyone can make it. It might also be worth setting up an online invitation or creating an event page on social media channels. That way, you can easily direct guests to your house, as well as keeping them updated on the date, time and all-important party news. Asking guests to bring a plus one is another way to broaden your local network and make new friends – just ensure that the invitation isn’t opened up to too widely though it would depend on how big you want your party to be…!


The cuisine on offer at any party can often make it or break it. Your guests will usually thank you for avoiding food which needs cutlery, or is difficult to eat while standing – so while you could easily stick to serving chips and dips, why not venture outside the norm? Have a browse around your local neighbourhood shops and see if you can find any local produce to serve up. Choosing food that’s a talking point is also a good idea, as it will often generate discussion and encourage your guests to mingle. In Korea for example, fried squid is a popular delicacy; and in the Philippines, guests may prefer ‘Balut’ (fertilised chicken or duck eggs)! If you want to play it a little safer, why not try presenting food in an unusual way or experiment with colours and texture to create something that looks (and tastes) really delicious.  

Picture source: Google Images


A lot of parties will quite naturally flow of their own accord but sometimes it’s a good idea to have a few ideas up your sleeve to get things going. Giving your party a theme is one way to do this; for example, you could throw a retro-themed party with some popular childhood games from your native or expat home. Games are always a good icebreaker and it’s often a case of the sillier the better…! Background music, of pretty much any genre, is another way to maintain a nice atmosphere and might even encourage people to throw a few shapes too. Put together a playlist and have your music player of choice ready to go. Odds are, your neighbours will be invited but if not, it’s worth mentioning the party to them out of courtesy so that they can be prepared for any extra noise. 

Going to someone else’s party

If you’re going to someone else’s party in a new country and are not very familiar with the culture, it’s a good idea to do some research which will help you to avoid making any faux pas. Is it acceptable to bring a plus one? Should you get a gift for the host? How long should you stay? Often, party etiquette tends to differ from place to place. In some countries, you can find that friends are welcomed, but in other countries this may be considered rude. Other dilemmas, like whether you’re expected to bring something to the party, such as food, drink or a present of some kind, are other tricky areas. If you’re unsure on anything, it’s always a good idea to double check with the host beforehand – allowing you to focus on simply enjoying the party! 

Picture source: Google Images

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Five things you might not know about…China

Picture source: Wikimedia

In this blog post we take a look at some of the interesting facts which make China, ranked 11th in our 2012 Expat Explorer league tables, such a culturally fascinating country. These little-known facts contribute to many of the country’s cultural references and sense of community.

As an expat it is important to show your interest in the cultural idiosyncrasies and differentiate yourself by knowing a little more than the average tourist. If nothing else, they may even prove to be great conversation starters. 

1. One time zone

Picture source: Wikimedia

China is the third largest country in the world and Chinese people now account for about one in every five people in the world. Despite its size, those travelling cross-country needn’t worry about jetlag as the entire place is located in the same time zone. This means that expats living there benefit from being able to travel around the diverse regions without spending weeks catching up on sleep afterwards. Expats in China also noticed they travelled more since relocating. According to the findings of last year’s Expat Explorer survey, 78% of expats say they are travelling more compared with the global average of 61%.

2. Red is the new green

Colours carry different associations in different cultures and it is always good to have a grasp whether they have any symbolic significance in your new country. Although many Westerners view green as a lucky colour given its association with four leaf clovers, nature and life, the Chinese see red as the colour of luck signaling happiness, joy and celebrations. It is also tradition to wear red during Chinese New Year and to give lucky red packets (and indeed receive) for birthdays and weddings.

3. The sky is the limit

The Chinese are famous for their innovative spirit, and they have invented some real treasures over time. These include paper, gunpowder, the compass and - one that is especially close to our hearts - the kite.

Picture source: Flickr

While we might all associate kites with windy days on the beach as a child, they were not invented with such innocent intent. When they were first created more than 3,000 years ago, they were used to scare off opponents in battle. Marco Polo also tells us that kites were used among the Chinese to predict the success of a voyage.

4. Toilet paper
Did you know that the Chinese are also responsible for giving us toilet paper?

Picture source: wikimedia

Toilet paper was first invented in China in the 14th century but at this point, it was only used by emperors. Although we’re not all of imperial descent, that is one invention that certainly caught on!

5. Good fortunes?

Picture source: Flickr

Despite the common misconception, one of the things the Chinese did not invent is the fortune cookie. The first fortune cookies appeared in America and while they are often served as a dessert in restaurants in the US, they are not commonplace in China. Make sure you don’t fall for this misconception and you should be stood in good stead.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Guest Blogger Series: Introducing… Rebecca Haddad

We have the pleasure of introducing Rebecca Haddad tweeting @bechaddad as our guest blogger today. Here, expat, Rebecca, shares her tips for discovering the real Dubai…

No doubt when you hear about Dubai, the word calls to mind images of gleaming glass towers, sophisticated beach clubs, larger-than-life malls and man-made islands, all of which sprouted from the exotic desert landscape at record speed. With architectural world records seemingly broken here every month, a tourist will have to do a bit of digging to find the ‘real’ Dubai. It’s all too easy to get swept up in the modern glamour to realise that just some 40 years ago, Dubai was nothing more than a small fishing village with history dating back a few centuries. Since arriving in ‘The Sandpit’ in April this year, I have made it my mission to find the hidden gems that still show evidence of what was. Here are my top things to do and places to go to soak up true Emirati culture (without visiting a single mall, promise).

Tour the old quarter
Dubai’s saltwater creek was the first settlement site for the Bani Yas tribe, who arrived to the area in the 19th century. The creek quickly became a key port for dhows (traditional wooden boats) from India and Africa, as was the site of a flourishing pearl farming industry in the early 20th century. Although the banks are now home to many top hotels, you can still catch glimpses of what life was. Pay a visit to the Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Centre for cultural understanding – there, you can enjoy a meal in a traditional wind tower house, hosted by an Emirati, or embark on a guided tour of the historic district of Al Fahidi, now a tourist village of galleries, restaurants and the iconic wind tower houses that defined Dubai’s skyline long before the Burj Al Arab and Burj Khalifa.

Bargain like a local
Take a dhow ride across Dubai Creek to Deira, Dubai’s former main commercial hub. The area is famous for its historic souqs, all of which really come alive in the evening. The most popular of these are the spice and gold souks, where you can engage in some spirited bargaining and pick up some fabulous souvenirs. You’ll find plenty of downloadable walking tour maps online, which will take you through winding narrow streets past Heritage House, an example of a 19th-century pearl merchant’s residence, and one of Dubai’s oldest schools, Al Ahmadiya.

Art attack
Of course, Emirati culture isn’t just found by exploring the city’s past. Dubai’s industrial area of Al Quoz has evolved into the city’s art quarter, with many regional galleries taking up residence in the area’s warehouses. Art Sawa and Ayyam Gallery are just two spaces exhibiting works from contemporary artists from around the Middle East and Africa.

Dine on local cuisine
Given the myriad cultures that make up Dubai’s populace (some 80 per cent of the population is expat), you can be sure to find eateries specialising in any and every type of cuisine of the world. But where to find the authentic, Emirati stuff? Al Fanar Restaurant and Café in Dubai Festival City is a great place to start. There, you can tuck in succulent grill meats and hearty rice dishes. When you’ve eaten to bursting point, there are plenty of shisha bars nearby where you can find a cushion, sit back and wind down with the locals.

About the author

Earlier this year, Rebecca Haddad decided to swap the sun in Sydney for the sand in Dubai. She's currently on several missions: to discover Emirati culture, to learn Arabic and to find the best shish taouk in the Middle East. You can read her ramblings on life as an expat at and follow her at @bechaddad.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Sporting heroes from around the world

It may be more than a year since the Olympic Games in London, but there’s no doubt that enthusiasm for sport remains at fever pitch across the globe.

Many expats will agree that playing sports is a brilliant way to get to know your local community, broaden your network and make friends locally. According to last year’s Expat Explorer report, more than one in four expats (27%) say they are participating in more sporting activities since relocating.
If you’re thinking of taking up a new sport to help you settle in, take a look at our round-up of some of the most inspiring sporting heroes and the role that their home country played in helping them on their way.   

Embrace athletics like Jessica Ennis
Since Jessica Ennis won a gold medal for athletics last year, British enthusiasm for athletics has been infectious. With many young children being encouraged to take a foray into the field and have a go at hurdling, long jump and sprinting, the wide variety of activities within athletics means there’s a sport for everyone.
Although UK weather isn’t always conducive to getting out and about, there are many indoor facilities and sports clubs which offer shelter to even the most fair weather or sports players. Most large towns and cities will have local athletics clubs – signing up on your own is a great way to meet new people and doing activities as a group will help you to maintain that willpower…! 

Image source: Wikicommons 

Run like the wind – or like Usain Bolt
The Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt is almost an emblem for his country, well-known for their scores of sprinters. With its rural landscape, Jamaica offers plenty of open spaces where runners of all abilities can hone their technique, whether it’s long or short distance. Competitive and track running is a big part of the small island’s culture, with numerous tracks and schools devoted to supporting budding athletes. Children are encouraged from an early age to embrace the sport, keep active and maintain a healthy diet, perhaps explaining the country’s propensity for breeding Olympic stars. But it’s not just for the pros; amateurs can find like-minded running buddies by joining a running club. Alternatively, hit the beach or the gym and see who you can get talking to!

On guard… Ready… Fence! – Elisa Di Francisca
Italy’s prowess for fencing is deeply rooted in the country’s medieval history. The performance of gold medal winner, Elisa Di Francisca at last year’s games goes to show that this tradition remains very much part of Italy’s present. Many often associate fencing with a sense of romance and chivalry, reflecting associations with Italy’s reputation for courtly love – and perhaps part of the reason why expats in Italy choose the country as their new home. With a warm climate and an abundance of green spaces, it’s of little surprise that fencing clubs are becoming increasingly popular in the country.

Image source: Wikicommons 

 Dive in à la Lochte
With Ryan Lochte flying the flag for the USA at last year’s games, swimming has since become extremely popular. There are more than 2,800 swimming clubs scattered across the States, with many offering good deals for regular swimmers, as well as particular classes and programmes for those looking for more of a challenge. For those who prefer to escape the chlorine and swim al-fresco, the USA has dozens of beautiful lakes and beaches where you can take a dip - just be sure to take care if you’re swimming solo.  

Image source: Wikicommons 

Friday, 16 August 2013

Guest Blogger Series: Introducing… Cheylene Thongkham

We have the pleasure of introducing Cheylene Thongkham tweeting @wanderbliss as our guest blogger today. Here, expat, Whitney, shares her tips for adapting to city life…

At The Tower of London: Image via wanderbliss

Growing up, I had a pet chicken named Bubba. I think that pretty much says it all. For me, becoming an expat wasn’t just about adapting to a new culture; it involved a complete lifestyle change. Having lived somewhere between rural and suburban America for almost my whole life, I suddenly found myself in the middle of central London at 23. In an instant I had swapped a comfy freeway commute for a cramped journey on the Tube, and a roomy 3-bedroom home for a ramshackle room in a shabby post-war duplex.

Homesick didn’t even begin to describe my first few months in London. It wasn’t that I found England or British culture difficult to adapt to, it was that I was just not accustomed to living in such an urban setting. Initially, everything felt like a struggle. I was worn out from all the walking, worn down by all the commotion of the city, and frustrated with having to rely on public transport.

Finally, after several months and more than a few tears, things started to turn around. While I can’t say that I’m a full-blown London city slicker, there are a few things that I managed to do to make my transition into city living easier.

The city: Image via wanderbliss

Vent, Problem-Solve, then Celebrate
I am a firm believer in engaging in a healthy amount of venting. It feels good to get complaints off your chest, just make sure you don’t get carried away. Vent to your partner, your friends, or your parents in person, on the phone, or via the Internet. It will make you feel better.

Once that’s out of the way, put on your thinking cap and examine the issue at hand. Can you live with it? If not, how can you improve your situation? For example, in the US I would buy huge cases of bottled water as I needed and drink them at home. Because I didn’t have a car, I began buying the 1 litre bottles when I moved to England. This quickly became a burden as these bottles were heavy and I needed one almost everyday day. After a few weeks of frustration, my boyfriend and I solved the issue by purchasing a refillable water jug with replaceable filters. Now all we have to do is pour in water from the tap and order new filters online when we need them.

That example may seem trivial, but I think expats learn to enjoy the small victories in life. Little improvements here and there really add up quickly. Some fixes are less obvious than others, and many of them have to take place over time. The main thing is to focus on making improvements as well as the positive aspects of your newly adopted country. 

New Forest: Image via wanderbliss

Get out of town . . . for a weekend
London may be a dense urban metropolis filled with millions of people, but it’s almost completely surrounded by beautiful countryside. When I’m tired of the sound of ambulance sirens blaring down the street and the feeling getting crushed on the tube, I head out of town. My favorite spots are Epping Forest and New Forest - both under 90 minutes from central London.

Epping Forest: Image via wanderbliss

Bring the outdoors in
If urban life seems a bit too cold and clinical, bring the outdoors in. I spent the better part of 20 years living in agricultural communities, so there’s something about greenery that makes me happy. To add some warmth and life to our current flat, my boyfriend and I spent next to nothing on a few potted herbs at the grocery store. Our little garden has grown since then, and I’m happy to say that I now have more than enough mint leaves to make a few mojitos.

About the author

Cheylene Thongkham is a California native by way of Germany. Working as a technical writer and editor by day, she spends her evenings blogging about her life as an American expat in London - challenges and all - on her site

When she’s not in London, Cheylene travels the world and records her experiences at

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

How to make a long distance relationship last

All expats will experience some form of long distance relationship as they move away from their family and friends to another country. But what about those who leave their partners, boyfriends, copines, mariti or wives behind? How can these people make sure that their relationships not only survive, but flourish as they span the seas? We put together a few more pointers that should prepare you for your long distance relationship (LDR) as well as offering a few handy tips that will bridge the gap.
Picture source: Flickr

Make sure you both know where you stand and set out the parameters before going away. It is worth making sure that you know what you mean to each other, so before leaving, take a bit of time and spend quality time together. Go out for dinner, talk about how you both feel and where you see your future going. Making these sorts of commitments, and understanding each other will go along way to tackling any insecurities that may get in the way later on. Ensure that you are prepared for the difficulties and be willing to make a lot of effort initially as you both adjust to this new stage.

Picture source: Flickr

By the very nature of an LDR, it is unlikely you will be able to see one another very much, so offset this issue by speaking as much as possible. It might not be as easy to call someone for a chat as it was when they were just down the road, so it is important to set aside time to talk. Make use of the modern day technologies on offer and communicate through online video calling so that you actually see each other. Order the same takeaway and watch the same movie for a fun date that will remind you of the quality times spent together. In general though, just speak as much as possible, in as many ways as possible and invest in instant messaging apps on your phone that can keep you connected more easily.

Picture source: Wikimedia

Pursue common interests
Try to enjoy similar things and make sure you pursue these common interests. Tackle the distance by closing in on things you can both appreciate, separately but together. Go see the same films, share new musical discoveries and read a book simultaneously. Even if you’re doing things apart, you are still doing things together so you can talk, agree, and even argue over your own experiences and opinions, keeping conversation lively and interesting.

Image source: Flickr

See the benefits
Whilst the benefits of a LDR might not be immediately recognisable, there are some real advantages to this type of relationship. Relish the fact that you do not have to fight over household issues like cleaning and finances and can make the most of the moments when you are together, truly enjoying one another’s company and creating some magical memories. Although you might not be spending a large quantity of time together, the time you do spend can be of a higher quality. Equally, while it is always going to be hard to miss someone, make the most of this emotion. Think of missing that special person as you are being reminded that there is something worth fighting for. 

Friday, 9 August 2013

Music from around the world…

Music is such a huge part of many people’s life and is a pivotal element of many societies. Music has the power to transport and evoke memories of places and people in a way few other things can.

Hindustani music is one form of music from around the world that has influenced the musical styles of elsewhere. Classical north Indian music is formed of two primary elements, the raga which is the melodic structure of the piece, and the tala which is its rhythmic cycle. The distinctive sound of the sitar is for many synonymous with Indian music. One of its most famous players is Ravi Shankar. After a successful early international career he was catapulted into the popular awareness by his association with the Beatles. As most Beatles fans will know, the band travelled to and embraced the Indian culture in the late 60s and it is therefore unsurprising that the influence extended to their music. George Harrison has said that he was inspired by Ravi’s playing when writing tracks such as the 1966 ‘Love To You’, which was the first of the bands attempts at recording a piece with Indian styling. 

Picture source: flickr  

Reggae is another form of world music that has transcended border divides. The Jamaican musical form is commonly identified with the Rastafari religion which sought to empower young black Jamaicans. Reggae as a form encompasses ska, dub, and dancehall among others. Ska gained in popularity in the 1950s and 60s with its upbeat and distinctive sound catching on. Traditional Jamaican folk music, known as mento, was a major influence upon the development of ska along with American jazz and R&B. Ska music continues to influence the work of bands such as Madness and Paulo Nutini. But undoubtedly the most famous of all reggae artists is Bob Marley. Marley was born in a rural Jamaican community to a young mother in 1945 but moved to Trench Town as a teen and it is from here that his most distinctive music derives. He often paid homage to Trench Town in his music and this is clear in tracks such as ‘Trench Town Rock’ and ‘No Woman No Cry’.

 Picture source: flickr 
So even though you may think you know nothing other than the music you grew up with you might surprise yourself with your awareness of international music styles. As an expat you are in a unique position to immerse yourself in a new culture and music will be a major part of this, so why not go along to local festivals or concerts and give it a go?

Monday, 5 August 2013

Getting involved in the local community…

One of the best ways to really become a part of the local community is to get stuck into the popular local activities. Whilst in cities there will be a wealth of clubs and activities to get involved with, moving to smaller towns can present an additional set of challenges.

In the UK for example, village life is often still centered on the parish council which will help to keep you up-to-date on local issues and upcoming events. Elsewhere in the world, towns and villages may well have their own versions of these institutions or other community opportunities too for those who are keen to get involved.

 Picture source: wikicommons

Join the sports club

By joining the local sports club you can play and so get to know people who share a common passion or, equally, the frustrations of a missed goal or putt with you! Team sports offer an opportunity to join in the camaraderie with like-minded individuals. The other great thing about getting involved in sports such as football or soccer is that on match days, the whole family can come and watch and get chatting to others on the sidelines. If you don’t already play a sport then don’t let that put you off. Learning a new skill with others in the same boat can be a unifying experience too. 

Meet the parents

If you have children then being very involved in their lives can help you to meet new people too. Picking them up from school offers an opportunity to chat to other parents at the school gates. Equally if you take them along to other activities, such as swimming lessons, there are likely to be other parents sat waiting for their kids too, and offer a chance for you to meet other mums and dads.   

Live like a local
Picture source wikicommons
By adapting your life to run in time with that of the locals you can create a more natural and relaxed way of meeting others. If there is a thriving local market for instance why not go along? It is likely that the same people, both punters and stall holders, will be there week on week. Try and get chatting to them whilst you shop. Also why not look through local magazines and community notices? These often advertise local groups and publish information about when and where they are meeting.


Help out

Picture source: wikicommons

You may also want to consider volunteering at a local charity. Volunteers are usually very friendly outgoing people and charities always appreciate another pair of willing hands. This is a real win-win situation- not only are you doing a good deed, you are also likely to make new friends whilst doing so. 


Find the expat hub

Most expat communities are friendly and willing to show new arrivals the ropes. The embassy can offer a community base for expats in some nations and so they are worth finding out about.

So whether you want to immerse yourself in the local community more generally or the local community of expats, going along to community events and activities can be a really great way of doing just that.  



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