Friday, 29 November 2013

Guest Blogger Series: Introducing… Rebecca Subbiah

Our latest guest blogger, Rebecca Subbiah, fills us in on her journey as an expat.

I have lived in the US for 10 years, having moved here shortly after I got married. My husband came here to do residency and I followed a few years later to start our life in Cleveland. In the first year I found it exciting to learn about the new country but also very hard, struggling with the small things like learning to drive on the other side of the road and being alone while he worked.
Cleveland - Picture source: Flickr
It was also very hard to get work initially and as a registered dietitian I had to take the RD exam here and then try and convince a potential employer to hire me while needing them to help me get a work visa. So for over a year I was out of work and it was a valuable learning curve and insight into life as an immigrant.
North Carolina - Picture source: Flickr
We then moved to North Carolina a small town called Elkin and my husband’s employer kindly offered to hire me too, I worked in a small hospital with a colleague and also did clinics for the doctors’ offices. Working again was wonderful and overall not that different from the UK.
I slowly smiled and began to say vitamins in the American way while I learnt about Southern food and culture, despite still saying tomatoes like a Brit! In 2008 we moved to a bigger city Winston Salem, a lovely place with more to do, a great arts scene, lovely parks and rich in history with the living museum of Old Salem.
Winston Salem – Picture source: Flickr
We now have two small children here who hold both an American and UK passport. It’s not been an easy journey and I have been very homesick over the years especially after the kids when I felt I needed more support. As an expat I think we all feel quite a bit of guilt about not having our kids growing up near family and living away. But little by little our adopted countries become home as we settle and make friends. Slowly the culture has soaked into us and I have spent most of my twenties and early thirties here developing more personally and professionally. I have networked with my profession at the State level, done professional speaking and have great opportunities.

Last week we took a huge step and became citizens which I will admit may not have been so easy to do had I needed to give up my British nationality. But becoming an American citizen felt right as it was about committing to our expat life. Taking the oath with 85 other people from 45 countries it was actually quite emotional. It’s amazing that after so many years folks come and join this country. I loved the sense of unity and that we are all in it together to help one another and share our talents.
No one knows what the future holds or where we will live but for now I have made the choice to make this home, not to keep looking back and pining for days gone by.

The UK is always my homeland and my first love but I feel that as an expat, feel, committing and making where we are now home brings happiness and a sense of contentment. Reassure loved ones that you love them and the place you grew up but don’t be scared of moving on.  Someone once said to me “it isn’t that you have decided to leave but that they have decided to stay”.
 About the author:
Rebecca Subbiah is a registered Dietician, mum, world traveller, speaker, writer, food blogger and gardener who loves inspiring foodies around the world. She is a British expat living in the US. Check out her blog and follow her @chowandchatter.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Expat SOS – Coping without technology

So interwoven has technology become in all our lives that being abroad with no way to ‘phone home’ might seem as terrifying and alien as being dropped on another planet. Video messaging services and time spent browsing through social media posts and photos helps you stay connected to friends and family many hundreds or thousands of miles away, as well as, occasionally, reminding you why you left!

But what of those who weren’t so lucky? Those who moved abroad before we had ubiquitous WiFi, roaming rates or even telegraph cables? What did they do?

For 21st century expats is there anything we can learn from this kind of isolation and hopefully immersion?

Image Source: Flickr

A message in a bottle: Romantic and fatalistic but a little unreliable, posting a message in bottles is probably better suited to stranded sailors than modern day expats. In terms of speed and efficiency you’d probably be better to pop home in person. When Christopher Columbus’s ship hit a storm and he feared for his life, he trusted the news of his discovery of the New World to a bottle, but, while he made it home, the missive has never been discovered. Maybe this one is best left in the past.

Letters (private): This is the stuff of many folk songs across the globe. The traveller goes abroad for work and writes his sweetheart letters promising eternal devotion and looking forward to return. There could still be something in this for modern day expats (even if their gender and industry is hardly so predicable).  Letter writing is great for fanning the flame of long distance relationships and setting aside the time to write about your experiences can be fun and rewarding.

Letters (public): Good news! You no longer need to be Lord Byron to publish writings inspired by your travels. Blogging can be a great way to share your personal expat experiences with your extended network of friends and the online expat community.  Just check out some of our guest bloggers for inspiration!
Moving abroad can be as scary as it is attractive, and as the date approaches, what felt like an adventure can start to seem like exile. But remember:

·         This isn’t the 16th Century! Your friends and family will always be just one phone call, or one click (and potentially one flight) away.

·         Taking the plunge will give you something worth talking about. Those you know at home aren’t going to forget you! They’ll be excited to hear about the amazing experiences you have to share.

·         Don’t be a tech addict! A lengthy letter can be better than hours spent messaging – and, what’s more, you’ve moved to see somewhere new! So get out there, get lost and see what you will find! 

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

What is jet lag and how do you deal with it?

Picture Source:

Jet lag can make travelling exhausting; jet lag + children is a different kettle of fish. It can result in a viscous circle of hunger, tiredness, liveliness and sometimes actual physical pain- all at conflicting times of the day. It isn’t unusual to hear stories of families being tucked up at 9, to find that mum wakes up 3 hours later with energy she never realised she had. Then after tossing and turning for 2 hours she eventually dosses of, only to be woken by child A moments after. Child B then wakes up the following hour by which point it is light outside and everyone is hungry.

Picture Source: OCweekly

Jet lag is medically referred to as desynchronosis, and is caused by alterations to circadian rhythms. The symptoms of "jet lag" range from disorientation, insomnia, fatigue, nausea, irrational behaviour, mental confusion and headaches.  So, children or no children, jet lag is something that most expats will need to learn to cope with; here are some helpful tips which should make your transition from one country to another a little bit easier.   

Jet lag is worse when you move from west to east because the body finds it harder to adapt to a shorter day than a longer one. A few days before you travel, start getting up and going to bed earlier (if you're travelling east) or later (if you're travelling west).  If it's daylight at your destination, try to avoid sleeping on the plane and If it's night time at your destination, sleeping on the plane is a must! Once at your destination don’t be tempted to nap in the afternoon (if you must make sure it’s no longer than 30minutes)- this will only damage your sleeping pattern further.

Keep hydrated on the plane
Dehydration will only intensify the effects of jet lag, especially after sitting in a dry aeroplane cabin for hours. Best to avoid alcohol and caffeine as they are both diuretics. 

Say no to drugs
Frequent travellers and airline staff often take melatonin, a hormone formed by the body at night or in darkness, to try to fight jet lag. Sleeping medication is best avoided as it doesn't help your body to adjust naturally to your new sleeping pattern. Headaches and dizziness are also common side effects of Melatonin.

Eat 3 meals a day
... at the right time! It is important to sync your body clock as quickly as possible and eating at the right time is just as important as sleeping at the right time. It helps your body to synchronise.

Stay Outside!
The cycle of light and dark is one of the most important factors in setting the body’s internal clock. Exposure to daylight at the destination will usually help you adapt to the new time zone faster.

It is important to remember, you cannot eradicate jet lag. It is a natural reaction to a change in time zone and the above pointers just provide ways to help speed up this transition process.

Bon voyage!

Thursday, 21 November 2013

To Tip or Not to Tip? – A Guide for Expats

To tip or not to tip…that is the question, and not just for those looking to tighten their purse strings post-recession or negotiating that awkward intermediary stage between student- and adult-hood. Eating out and taking cabs abroad opens up a whole new area of cultural confusion, and, while extreme generosity as default might make sense when you’re in the holiday spirit, living in a new country means you might want to brush up on tipping etiquette.

So to save yourself embarrassment, confusion and quite possibly money, be attuned to the cultural nuances of giving a gratuity.

Image Source: Halio Cab
American tipping is legendary, with at least 20% as standard in many settings, but, while that makes for smiley service, it doesn’t necessarily add up to well-paid staff. Waiters and waitresses often rely on tips to make a living wage, sometimes receiving as little as $2.13 an hour as salary, although it’s worth checking out the minimum wage laws in your state. For Americans abroad, it’s likely you’re prone to over-zealousness in the tipping department, so be careful and don’t be taken aback or force the issue if your tip is refused!

In other cultures, tipping isn’t normal and could even give offence. In China, Japan and Iceland in particular, be guided by locals and don’t tip. Remember that a lack of tipping culture doesn’t mean workers are underpaid. And they could see it as demeaning if you seem to suggest they are. Wherever you’ve moved to, don’t ask workers directly if they ‘require’ a tip – odds on the polite thing to do in many cultures will be to say no.

‘Service charges’ are a grey and confusing area. Most of the time it means a gratuity is already included so don’t pay twice (!), but in some countries (including Greece, Guatemala, Italy and Hong Kong) this charge doesn’t go to the servers so an additional tip may be required. Look and learn, expats – with this as well as many other things, making local friends will be the key to getting it right!

Monday, 18 November 2013

Families around the world

Around the globe, cultures have different attitudes towards the family, yet the concept is key to the culture of all societies. As an expat, you have to get to know the different family structures in order to understand the culture in your new home.


How the family is structured varies around the globe. In Western cultures, how extended relatives are seen differs from family to family. For some, grandparents are as much a part of the family as parents whereas in countries such as Russia, the core family is seen to include extended relatives such as aunts, uncles and grandparents.

In cultures like China that are traditionally based on Confucianism, filial piety is central to the family’s structure. This means being good to one’s parents, respecting them and looking after them, and this extends to grandparents as well. In many Chinese families, parents move in with their children when they get married. The parents help raise their grandchildren and the children provide care for their elders when the time comes.

Families also have different attitudes towards in-laws. In Muslim cultures, when a daughter marries into a family she is seen as part of that family and treats her mother in- law as if she is her own mother.  However, in the UK, a level of distance can remain between in-laws. 

Image Source: Flickr

In different families, there is a hierarchy that is promoted. In most countries, age is key to this hierarchy in that parents are in a superior position to their children. Then parents should defer to their parents, and the grandparents of the family.

In some cultures, gender still plays a role in the family hierarchy. It is common in many societies for the father to be the head, as seen in Chinese family portraits, when the most senior male sits in the centre. However, in some cultures, the mother is the ‘matriarch’ where she is in charge and makes all the important decisions.

Indian culture has matriarchal aspects in that the mother is in charge of arranging the marriages of their children.

In recent years, we have seen the growth of the ‘global family’, with people maintaining relationships across borders. As such, expats may have close relations living in several different countries which can be a problem as they might not see their family often, but still want to be close to their relations. This has become easier with video calling and cheap internet phones. These technological advances mean that expats can still talk to their family members regularly. 

Image Source: Flickr

One of the ways that we see differences between families around the globe is with how they celebrate their festivities. Whether this is Christmas, Eid or Hanukkah, these celebrations have become less and less secular in recent years and many people now use these opportunities to come together and enjoy each other’s company. Across the globe, weddings are a time when families celebrate together. Although these are performed differently around the world, it is a common for families to spend time together to wish the new married couple a successful life together. In the US, families gather on the third Thursday of November for Thanksgiving, when they feast on turkey and enjoy time with each other. Canadians observe a similar day on the second Monday in October. This day is a time for giving thanks for the blessing of the harvest and of the preceding year. Likewise people enjoy celebrating the new year with relatives.

For Chinese New Year, families see in the new year with a big meal and festivities. It is common in Hong Kong to take a family portrait after the relatives gather. The photo is taken in the hall or in front of the house, and of course, here the most senior male head of the family sits front and centre of the photo.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Retiring Abroad, Part Two

In the second instalment of our blog post about retiring abroad, we’re looking at how best to make friends, keep in touch and make the most of your new home. We’d love to hear your top tips for retiring abroad – you can share them with other expats here.

Making friends

Moving abroad at any age is an exciting prospect which offers adventure, excitement and fun – wherever in the world you go. If you’re moving to be with your family or partner, it might be that you already have a social network in your new surroundings. However, for many, it might be a case of starting from scratch. But never fear; lots of people believe that confidence comes with age so on that basis, you’re never too old to make new friends and try new things. Social media is a great way to keep in tune with your community – look for pages devoted to your town or city, keep an eye on local forums and seek out any community centres, libraries or leisure clubs which might hold events you’d be interested in. With increasingly vast numbers of people on social media, you’re never more than a few clicks away from someone like-minded, so it’s worth exploring digital channels to make new friends too. 

Image via Flickr

Keeping in touch
The rise of email and social media means that it’s never been easier to keep in, whatever the distance. A move across the world doesn’t have to affect relationships and many expats rely heavily on video calling and social platforms to keep up to date and in touch with their loved ones. It’s never been easier to get online (if you’re not already!) and with plenty of help and support functions available, you can be up and running in minutes. Who knows – you might find that you end up speaking more to your family through social media than you did face to face living at home!
Image via Google

Cost of living
If you’re considering retiring abroad, it’s important to consider costs and how this might affect your lifestyle. Certain areas, like Asia, offer a high quality of life for relatively little cost – your money will go a lot further than it might do at home. Depending on your age (and inclination!) you might even want to think about taking a part-time job – lots of retirees will see this as the perfect opportunity to indulge in hobbies, activities or past-times which they might have put aside while working on their careers.

Image via Google

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Food abroad

For most of us, food has a special place in our hearts. Often foods and the smells associated with them, can take us straight back to a certain time and place. We often associate different dishes with the different people that cooked them; grandma’s chicken dish, mum’s pork casserole, and the list goes on. Life as an expat often requires that your dietary requirements are somewhat altered. You may feel as though cereal for breakfast is a thing of the past and grandma’s chicken dish probably now impossible.

Image via Google
However, don’t fret! More often than not you will probably find that if you search hard enough you will be able to find similar substitutes so you can recreate home recipes abroad. Better still, if your friends and family back home are feeling generous, there is always the option of sending food parcels. There are various companies offering such a service, with a list of all the most popular snacks, sauces, drinks and lots more to choose from.

Image via Google 

Instead of shying away from foods where you can’t read the labels, or darting in the opposite direction to local markets, try to get to grips with the different foods on offer. It might be an idea to try and create a fusion of foods, mixing home recipes with some new, more exotic ingredients. Another idea would be to search for cooking classes so you can try and integrate yourself into your new culinary culture with the help of an experienced chef.  

If you’re moving somewhere which prides itself on its spicy food then here are some tips for coping!

·    -  Start small and build it up
-    - If you eat something that is overly spicy, have a glass of milk handy. Milk will more effectively relieve the burn on your tongue than water. The reason for this is that the burn is caused by a chemical called capsaicin in the spices. A chemical in milk, casein, disengages the capsaicin and allows it to be washed away. Water doesn't contain any casein, so it is not effective and will just spread the oils around.
·    -  Eat things that will absorb the capsaicin like bread or rice

·    -  The spiciest part of the chili is its veins and seeds so try to avoid if your heat tolerance is low.
Trying new cuisine can be very exciting but it is normal to miss home comforts.  Mixing and matching home staples with new ingredients can be a great way to strike a balance between the two and ease you into your supermarket struggles. Good luck!

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Guest Blogger Series: Introducing… Vinitha

Our latest guest blogger this week, Vinitha, gives us some tips on ways to handle stress when moving.


Packing up and moving is no easy task. It is a chore, a pain in the neck, a task that most people do not like to do. Add in a 4-year old to the mix, it gets complicated. There are days when I sort things and throw them into a box and then minutes later I see Kuttyma playing with it. It is like a never-ending game for her. As much as I want to sit and laugh with her, I end up getting frustrated.

Moving is stressful and after two moves (one done while solo parenting) with a toddler, here are some things that I learned

Image source: gograph

1. Get Professional Help
Please get movers to do the packing.  Many employers offer relocation packages and try to negotiate to get one. Having professionals pack and box up helps. Remember even when movers are involved, you will have to make the call on what to take and what to store/donate/dump. You will be involved every step of the way on your moving day and having movers tackle the hard parts is a boon. Knowing you will have movers help will also make you less stressed. For instance you do not have to worry about padding and packing the precious family heirloom vase (not that I have one).

Image source: wikimedia

2. Start Early and Sort
This is something I follow. I start a few months ahead, I have cartons put out for the donation pile, dump pile and move pile. As I go through my daily life, I start putting things into the boxes and it feels like I am doing a little bit everyday. I usually put away seasonal clothing, brand-new purchases in the move pile early on.

Image source: Flickr
3. Dream On
One of my favorite parts of moving is deciding what I want to do at the new destination. I usually get a couple of tour books and scour travel blogs to make a bucket list. I love reading about the places I will visit and gathering information. It makes the move less daunting and dreaming about something you will do does bring down your stress levels.

Image source: Flickr

4. Indulge Yourself
What are the must-do things in your current city? What are the restaurants with top ratings? Is there a spa that everyone is talking about? Is there a place you have always wanted to visit but did not have a chance? Visit the place. It relaxes and unwinds you. It helps you create memories about time in your city. It gives you an opportunity to re-group and rejuvenate your spirits. Looking at the beauty around you often de-stresses you more effectively than anything else.

Image source: Flickr

5. Cut some slack
Moving is a big bundle of issues. Cut yourself some slack and don’t be too harsh on yourself. I thought I was being smart and put all my glassware in a separate location so that they can be wrapped. I forgot where I put them and banged a door down came tumbling a glass bottle. Luckily, I was not hurt and the bottle was replaceable.

Image source: Loymachedo
6. Downsize
A move is a great time to downsize. As you reduce the number of things you carry you realize how little you can live with. This is the time you can connect with charities and give away things you are not sure about. Sometimes it might be better to buy a new storage cabinet at the destination after checking what storage options your new home has than shipping your existing cabinet.

I downsized rather drastically during my move to Singapore and the past two years consciously tried not to collect new things and I think that is one of the best decisions I have taken in life.
My moves have not been foolproof. I thought I covered every base this time around. A few days after the boxes set sail I realised that six library books were boxed up. Also I had managed to ship some of the things I promised to friends in Singapore. I live and I learn.

Do you move frequently? How do you handle stress?

About the Author

Vinitha is an opinionated mom, lifestyle blogger, environmental engineer, climate change believer, sustainability champion, book worm, expat wife, wanderer and dance lover. She currently calls Gladstone, Australia home but has lived in Singapore, Houston, TX and India previously. You can read more from Vinitha on her blog and follow her @vinitha



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