Friday, 27 September 2013

Guest Blogger Series: Introducing…Brian Jamesson

Our latest guest blogger, Brian Jamesson, works in the moving industry. In this post, he gives an insight into what to look for when moving abroad.
Moving abroad in a nutshell

Moving abroad is an important step in anyone’s life, especially when it is for the first time. The idea of abiding by new rules and getting accustomed to different cultural environments can be both scary and exciting. Despite the excitement of living and working in a new place, it is important to consider the actual moving process, which requires a lot of effort and planning.

Where to start from?
The first thing to do is to decide whether you will use a full service moving provider to handle everything or use an agent and do the packing and logistics yourself. The first option will be more expensive but going for the second option always bears the risk of things getting complicated and elongating the process. Be considered in your decision.

Organised means effective
When you’ve decided what the best option is for you then it is time to make a plan: write down everything you need to do, the people and companies to call and the institutions to visit. Keep this list up to date and closely monitor the process to avoid missing an important step.

Choose only the best for you!
The smoothest move will be guaranteed by choosing the best international moving company. Conduct some online research and ask no less than three companies for an estimate. When doing your research always pay attention to the international moving companies’ credentials – in some counties an overseas move company must be insured and licensed by the respective government agency (for the USA it is the Federal Maritime Commission). Membership in international business associations is also a big plus. Start looking for a moving company at the earliest stage possible, preferably two months prior to the moving day as leaving it until the last moment will make moving more stressful.

Once you have decided on the list of international moving companies, it is worth checking their reputation. Search for ratings and customers reviews so you are clued up on any issues you may face with the company. Read both negative and positive reviews and try to create your own picture about company’s reputation. Bear in mind that an entirely positive image may not be entirely genuine and could be moderated, especially if on the company site. It may also be worth contacting friends and colleagues who will have first-hand experiences and information.

Keeping the costs low
Now that your list of professional  moving companies is finalised it is time to work out the ways you may be able to optimise your moving budget. Fill in international moving quotes and compare them and look for discounts.  Some companies not only offer relocation help but also provide discount coupons and vouchers for students and for their cross-country relocation services. When comparing quotes have in mind that the cheaper prices may come with a cost of lower quality so balance wisely between price and quality.  To minimise costs even more get organised and decide what items are really important to you – the less you take, the lower the moving rate will be. Knowing the factors that define the final price of the international move can help you make the right choice. The main ones are: the weight/volume of the shipping items, the distance of the move, the additional services (packing, storing, hoisting, etc.), moving insurance and customs clearance. Make sure to ask your mover for all the expenses you will incur in advance – sometimes the hidden costs counts for a significant part of the entire relocation budget.

The last from the list
As a final I would like to remind of some small steps that people often forgot to do but are inseparable part of the moving process. Do not forget to collect all personal documents that you’ll need in the new country of residence – these include doctor and dentists’ records, school diplomas, passports, credit cards, etc. Cancel all utilities (if nobody else is going to use them) and subscriptions, return books and DVDs and even cook up the frozen food in the refrigerator.

About the author:

Brian Jamesson works at Xpress Movers. He authors the moving related tips and articles at his blog. You can follow him on his corporate Twitter account @XpressMovers or you can find him on here.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Expats through the ages: The literary expatriates of the 20th Century

There are many reasons why people decide to move abroad. They might be sent by their company, to look for a change in their life or that they are seduced by the international lifestyle.

But what are the other reasons that have driven expatriation through the ages? This post looks into the expats who took Paris by storm in the 20th century.

Image Source: Flickr
In the 1900s, the public viewed Paris as a cultural capital and so thousands of tourists travelled there to take advantage of what the city had to offer. This reputation meant that intellectuals who felt that their home country lacked creativity migrated to Paris more permanently, enticed by the innovative spirit, freedom of speech and café culture. While artists and philosophers participated in feeding the cultural appetite, many people remember the authors and poets that made Paris their home.

Image Source: Flickr
There was a distinct wave of expat activity between the first and second world wars. Many creatives felt stifled by the practicality and frugality of post-war Europe and were enticed by the bohemian spirit of Paris. This wave of expats became known as the ‘lost generation’ and included significant numbers of literary figures including James Joyce, Henry Miller and Ford Madox Ford. The migration halted during the second world war but picked up again in 1945, as intellectuals - faced with the aftermath of another world war - flooded to Paris in nostalgia for the lost generation. Among this new wave of expats was Samuel Beckett who wrote with equal facility in French and English and whose avant-garde style and black comedy epitomised the sentiment of the time.

Image Source: Flickr
During both periods, the expats contributed to the energy and excitement of Paris, adding to the cultural buzz which drew in even more tourists and expats, and creating the audience for the works they produced. These groups hubbed into specific areas such as Montparnasse and Saint-Germain-des-Prés , and formed their own expat communities, working together to develop the cultural offering. Within these districts, the expatriates famously met to discuss their ideas in restaurants and cafés.

Image Source: Flickr
To this day, the expats legacy prevails with Paris’café culture still associated with the mystique of these famous authors. The modern expat can experience this creative spirit by wandering along the boulevards and taking in the mime artists and performers who entertain the Parisian streets. To delve even deeper into the lost generation, head to a café such as Les Deux Magots, which was once frequented by the likes of Hemingway and Camus. This café has become famous for being a place of rendezvous for intellectuals and still remains in the literary sphere by awarding an annual literary prize to a French novel every year, a tradition that has continued since 1933. 

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Country in Review: India

What do you think of when someone mentions India? The exotic country conjures many associations about its culture, people and food; with film and cinema also helping to popularise Indian life. The expat experience in India is filled with bright colours, bustling metropolises, epic train journeys, unusual animals and smiles.

Image Source: National Geographic
The most iconic image of India across the world is the must see Taj Mahal. It is considered one of the seven modern day wonders of the world, and it’s easy to see why. For romantics, it is the climax of a great love story, a mausoleum commissioned by the Mughal emperor Shahjahan in memory of the beauty of his wife Mumtaj Mahal. The Taj Mahal displays the diversity of Indian culture, combining several architectural styles that have historically influenced India, including Islamic, Ottoman and Turkish.

Image Source:
India is also famous for its food. Although delicious, the curry culture that is now so popular in the West is not a true representation of Indian food. In India, each area has its specific style of cooking, using local ingredients to make unique dishes. In Kerala, coconuts grow in abundance and feature in most dishes, whereas if you try a dish in Manipur it is likely to be very spicy. If you eat sensibly, you can avoid the dreaded ‘Delhi belly’ and indulge in exotic street food unique to India: tikka rolls, potato patties, spicy kebabs and garam masala.

Bollywood is another part of Indian culture that has been exported to the West. From its Golden Age following independence in 1940s-50s, Bollywood has been a glamorous dimension to cultural India with its glittering clothes and romantic love stories. Although it is only one part of the film industry in India, Bollywood has found fame globally and as the world is becoming smaller its popularity is growing further. 

Image Source: Lonely Planet
The friendly and welcoming people of India are another draw for expats and travellers alike, according to the 2012 Expat Explorer survey 43% of expats in India have a more active social life against a global average of 25% of expats. Visitors to India discover just how happy and welcoming the Indian people are. Although some may not have many possessions, they still have a smile on their face. Most Indians value the important things in life-family, good health, and are happy with their lot.

Image Source:
India is home to some of the most stunning beaches in the world. On the western coast of India, bounded by the Arabian Sea, Goa attracts 2 million visitors a year drawn by its white sands and sparkling waters.  As a solitary Portuguese outpost for almost 500 years, the evidence of colonial rule can still be seen everywhere, from the architecture to the East-meets-West style cuisine. Considering the charms of Goa, it’s easy to see why it attracts so many expats from Russia, the Middle East, and Europe, who are looking for a simpler way of life.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Cultural Clashes

Negotiating a new culture in a foreign land can be the biggest challenge for expats who have just arrived in their new home. Cultural clashes do not only mean a difference in religion, food, dress, and language but even the little things can make an expat feel completely out of their depth. If you are fortunate to speak the language, it is still necessary to understand foreign customs better than the average tourist. The most important thing is to try not to offend any locals whilst navigating this cultural minefield.

As an expat in a new country, communicating with locals can be tricky if you don’t speak the language. It can be tempting to turn to what you presume are international hand gestures to get your point across. However, the most innocent of gestures can cause offence once you travel across a border, which some expats discover the hard way. Here are a few examples of what to avoid….

The ‘OK’ sign used in some countries using your hand actually means many different things around the world. In Brazil, Germany, Russia and other places, it is an obscene gesture used to depict something very different! In Japan, the same symbol represents ‘money’, and in France it simply means ‘zero’. Beware that it is not ok to use the ‘OK’ sign in some places!

The gesture used to symbolise horns in the US that is commonly use in rock and roll has a very different meaning in Italy. The Italians call it ‘il cornuto’, which means that you are being cuckolded, that is, that your wife is cheating on you. Also, it is considered a curse in some African countries, and is an offensive gesture in many other parts of the world.

The 'thumbs-up’ gesture is commonly used in many cultures to signify that all is well. However, when used in Greece, the Middle East or Australia it is a very rude gesture. The ‘thumbs-up’ gesture can also be problematic when it comes to counting on your fingers. In Germany and Hungary, holding your thumb up is used to represent the number 1, but in Japan it means the number 5! 

Image Source: Wikicommons
 Food and Drink
When expats make the big move from home, they often find that the new culture of food and drink is different to what they are used to. Being invited for dinner at a new colleague’s house can be tricky unless you do your research into the correct etiquette. You need to know if it is necessary to take your shoes off when you enter the house and whether you should buy your host a gift. How should you greet your host- with a handshake, bow, one or two kisses?  Then it comes to eating the meal. In Japanese and Moroccan cultures, people tend to sit on cushions to eat but in the US and Europe, meals are usually eaten at a table. The way locals eat can be baffling to an expat. They might use a knife and fork, chopsticks or use their hands. Even then, this is subject to local nuances since Bosnian Muslims use their left hand for eating whereas in Saudi Arabia the left hand is dirty and therefore the right is used. It is important to understand the culture of eating your meal. Should you leave some on food on your plate or finish it all? In Thailand if you leave your plate clean it is perceived that you are still hungry, so guests in Thailand should leave some food on their plate but eat all of their rice, as rice is considered a  sacred essence.

The important meals of the day can also vary internationally. In the UK, Hong Kong and American cities, dinners tend to be the biggest meal of the day and friends use the opportunity to socialise over dinner in the evening. Yet, in many countries in South America, if you stepped out late at night to buy some food you would find that many restaurants are closed for dinner. This is because the big meal is at lunchtime, where on a long break from lunch or school, locals enjoy a three course meal with their families.

Image Source: Wikicommons
Some expats might hope to make new friends over a drink or two in a bar in their new home. However, a local bar can be difficult to find in some expat hotspots where alcohol is prohibited. In Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, alcohol is only allowed to be consumed in top hotels. Even where alcohol is permitted, there is sometimes a completely different culture of drinking since a bar culture might not exist if locals tend to consume alcohol at home. Participating in the local drinking culture can be a great way to make friends though. In Ireland you might go to enjoy a pint in a pub or in Russia you can take part in ‘zakuvskis’, by making many toasts with vodka throughout a meal. In Japan, Nomikai is a drinking practice enjoyed in business to aid team-bonding.

Getting around
When an expat moves to a new country, getting around can cause challenges in the first few months. Navigating a new place, potentially with a completely different system can result in a few expats ending up a bit lost along the way. The language barrier can make asking for directions challenging. A kind local might offer to take you to your destination, so you have to decide whether to trust them and hope that they understood you correctly.

Image Source: Wikicommons
Using public transport can be completely different to what an expat is accustomed to. Firstly, the form of transport might be unlike what is used at home - from trams in Hong Kong, subways in the US to minibuses and communal taxis in Peru. Then, the transport etiquette can perplex expats. How do you hail the taxi or bus? Do you pay for your ticket before, after or during? Can you get off where you like or are there particular stops? It can take weeks to figure out the procedures for using the underground in London (standing on the right on the escalators, letting people off before you get on the tube etc.).

All of these factors can make it difficult for expats to get along in their daily life in a new country. It takes time to learn about the new culture and therefore make local friends. However, the variety and diversity makes settling into a new country all the more exciting.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Second Generation Expats

The modern world is one where borders and distances seem to be but small obstacles and we are free to travel as far as our bravery, and pocket, allows us. The nomadic lifestyle of second generation expats is just one demonstration of this.  

In the wake of the Second World War, many people moved around the globe be that Brits taking advantage of cheap fares to Australia, or people from commonwealth nations travelling to the UK after serving in the army. While some of these émigrés stayed put, for many for it was the beginning of a new way of life. For the children of these expats moving between countries, continents and hemispheres, this was a normal occurrence. Now the children of these post-war baby boomers are second generation expats with children of their own.

Living the expat life opens up new horizons and it’s common for children of expats to inherit their parents’ desire to travel, discover and appreciate different ways of life. 

If you ask a second generation expat or their children where they come from they may well pause for a moment as, for them, this is no simple question. Do they answer their parents’ home nation, the countries they grew up in, or the country they are living in now? The ‘home’ their parents refer to may seem like a distant and hardly identifiable place, a place for summer holidays but not for life. They may have been born, raised, and educated in a range of countries. So what elements do they pick that defines their identity most strongly? This answer is further complicated as many are lucky enough to hold multiple passports. For example, second generation expats may have IDs or passports in the country they were born in or the country their parents were citizens of. For others, the cultural identity remains a lifelong question as they question whether they are still seen as a second generation “expat” or simply a citizen born and bred in that country.

However, as long as you’re happy not to get too hung up on this and instead embrace it then there is no denying that these second generation expats have a great range of life experiences being exposed to a home culture and the local culture. The expat attitude towards moving around the world is quite unique, and it seems that so long as you have a valid visa and an open mind the world is your oyster.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Country in review: USA

The USA is arguably one of the most diverse and interesting countries in the world. When you consider all that the nation has to offer it is not as surprising to learn that only around 110 million out of 313 million US citizens hold passports. From the natural beauty spots to the impressive cities America has something to attract everyone.

Breath-taking nature…
Whilst you can ski in the American Rockies or in the Lake Tahoe area on the border of California and Nevada you can also head to Florida and experience the tropical climate year round. The USA has 401 stunning national parks. Perhaps the most well-known is the Grand Canyon in Arizona. For those feeling fit you can hike in the park camping or staying in lodgings en-route and really soak up your surrounds. For those wanting to see the sights without quite so much hard work why not travel by mule? There are mule tours of the canyon running throughout the year. If you’re on a tighter time schedule you could just opt for a bus tour of some of the most beautiful view points. Whatever way you chose it is certainly worth a visit.
Another park that really shouldn’t be missed, particularly if you’re lucky enough to be an expat in the US, is Yellowstone. It was the first national park to be established in the USA in 1872 and boasts the opportunity to see an astonishing range of animals such as grizzly bears and elk.

Surprising cities…
There are many great cities in the USA which are worth a visit and, if you are an expat who has moved for work you are likely to be based in one of them. Whilst New York is probably the city that springs to mind straight away when you think of the USA, and certainly one that shouldn’t be overlooked, there are many more that are worth a visit. San Francisco is a great west coast city with many iconic sights. The Golden Gate Bridge is a staggering sight and the cable cars are sure to remind you of many a film. San Francisco certainly has a quirky side too. If you head into San Francisco Bay you will come across the Wave Organ, a 25 pipe organ made from the stones of a demolished cemetery and PVC pipes which emits sounds in response to the waves.  Apparently for the loudest performance you should visit at high tide.

Sporting spectacles…
If you are lucky enough to be living the expat life in America you will undoubtedly come across American football and basketball. If you have kids at school you may well find yourself talking about team try-outs and going along to watch a match. Watching sport is big business in the USA and the annual NFL Super Bowl attracts audiences of around 110 million- that’s the same as all the Americans who hold passports tuning in! The NBA meanwhile is home to the top 30 basketball teams in the USA and one from Canada, the Toronto Raptors. The matches are, like in the NFL, big events and like football in the UK they are taken very seriously. Even if you’re not a huge sport fan going along to your local team’s big match is sure to be a real American experience and as an expat one it would be great to enjoy.


So whatever your interests are I think it is fair to conclude that life in the USA is anything but dull and can allow you to experience a whole host of new and unique experiences. 

Monday, 2 September 2013

Cultural hubs of the world

What is culture? Culture itself is not necessarily something tangible, but made up of many factors. Fundamentally though, culture is fuelled by the people who live there. Having a strong expatriate population, full of different ideas and backgrounds contributes to a buzz of culture.  The attractiveness of these places to internationals, combined with the input they have in creating the culture, can mean that there are certain places in the world that have truly become cultural hubs. These hubs bring in and feed off the people who come and go.
If culture - be it music, art, literature or history – is important to you, then this should play a part in your decision-making process. While there will be great cultural discoveries in more rural or suburban areas, the scale and diversity that comes with cities lends itself to a buzzing culture. The large audiences of cities - both tourist and resident - fund and provide the need for cultural investment.
To help you make your decision, we have taken a look at some of the cities that have become true cultural hubs.
Image via Flickr
London has a strong offer in many cultural senses. Last year, as host of the Olympics, the city got a chance to show off its offering to a global audience in the jam-packed and memorable cultural displays of the opening and closing ceremonies. As well as a clear and celebrated history, London has great cultural infrastructure with an endless number of theatres, concert halls, opera houses and museums to keep any type of expat amused on their days off. Due to this array of cultural opportunity as well as the city’s position on the world map, the city attracts huge numbers of visitors. The volume of diverse people descending on London, bringing with them their own country’s influences, has really contributed to the modern day buzz of London, with amazing world food markets popping up all over the city and international festivals, such as Notting Hill Carnival, Chinese New Year and the Holi Festival become staple activities in the cosmopolitan calendar.
Image via wikimedia
Istanbul is a great example of a cultural hub. It celebrates itself as an ancient and a modern city and - having been at the centre of the Greek, Roman and Ottoman culture - has not lost touch with any of its influences. Today, Instanbul is still a hybrid for culture. Its physical location on the river Bosphorus means that it stands as a bridge between Europe and Asia. This position is clearly represented in the architecture of the buildings with the Roman Hippodrome, Basilica Cistern and Column of Constantine all still standing strong. Perhaps the most notable historic site, and one that has developed with the nation, is the Hagia Sofia, which, for a thousand years was the world’s largest cathedral before being turned into a mosque under Ottoman rule, and now hosting a museum. Despite having a significant historical presence, Istanbul is still very much a modern city and in 2010 the city was named one of the European capitals of culture. This led to new festivals, events and exhibitions being held and a culture of modern creativity being nurtured. One great addition to the cultural landscape was the establishment of two new museums including one set up by the Nobel-Prize winning novelist Orhan Pamuk looking at the development of Istanbul since the 1950s through the mediums of film and photography. This museum is an afternoon well spent for any expat wanting to get to grips with how Istanbul has changed over recent years.
Image via Flickr
While Mumbai might lack some of the infrastructure that traditionally provides the backbone to a culture of creativity, the city is a true example of a nation celebrating its own unique offering and exporting it globally. Despite having been under Portuguese rule for more than a century, and then leased to the British East India company, Mumbai’s foreign-born population remains relatively small. Despite this, the range of ethnicities from all over India, who moved to Mumbai for its commercial potential created a hybrid and mixing of ideas that sparked the beginning of Bollywood. Mumbai has become the hub of Hindi film-making and is believed to make more films than any other city in the world. With significant revenue coming in from the industry, it is a great example of how culture can have real financial benefits. 



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