Thursday, 28 May 2015

Me, myself and I - Going native without losing your identity

For a lot of expats, a sense of ‘going native’ is the ultimate goal – and from day one it’s all about immersing yourself in the local culture and community.  But when you reach ‘native’ status, is there a chance of losing yourself within your new identity?  Expats can often experience a confused cultural identity; adapting to a new country whilst keeping hold of a past identity can be a challenge, in terms of self-perception, but also when it comes to repatriation.  Here’s some ways of retaining a sense of who you are whilst going native.

The importance of routine

Keeping hold of even the smallest parts of your daily routine is a way of living your new life, whilst keeping segments of your old lifestyle.  This could be going for a daily run, having a morning coffee, or having catch ups with family members on a particular day of the week.  This is a great way to still feel like you, even in new surroundings. 

Remembering your Mother Tongue

Dreaming in the local language is often identified as a way of feeling completely settled in, and by moving to somewhere where speaking a new language is necessary, you’ll probably pick it up pretty quickly.  From this, a lot of expats make a habit of thinking in their second language.  Feeling like you are losing touch with your mother tongue can be quite stressful, and feel like losing a part of yourself.  Therefore, speaking a few times a week in your first language can be a great way to keep in touch with your roots, and gives another excuse to catch up with friends and family at home. 

Don’t forget about your interests

Becoming immersed in a new culture and community is as exciting as it is enjoyable, and you will no doubt pick up lots of new interests, routines and hobbies.  However, picking up these does by no means mean that you can’t keep hold of your old ones.  Seek out clubs or societies in your local area which will make it easy for you to keep up hobbies – be that playing sport, music, or painting.  Alternatively, make sure you schedule some time into your day for you to focus on these yourself. 

Keep up with the news

With so much of what’s going on around the globe available to view online, it is easy to follow on the events which are happening in your home town.  The ability to keep up with your roots this way can be a surprisingly effective way feeling closer to the place you’ve left behind – you might even find you’re more in the loop on what’s happening at home than you did when you lived there…!

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

"The first time I felt like a local" - Expat Milestones

For people moving abroad, especially those with families, it is important to make a new location feel like home quickly. It’s through reaching certain milestones that a land which at first seemed completely foreign gradually becomes familiar and starts to feel like home. This post looks at four of these milestones – what are yours?  


In addition to being a valuable skill, learning the local language can also do so much to assist you integrating into and moving around within society. A language barrier in some instances can become a literal barrier, and that is why when people are able to speak the local language it can feel like this barrier has been torn down.  Try using the new language when out shopping or running errands, and if you’re unsure of what an item is called or how to say something, just have a go…!

Local Friends

Although there’s a tendency for expats to cluster together, you can’t underestimate the importance of making local friends who know the area. For one they can provide emotional support at a time of change and adjustment. They can also show you around, making sure you see more than just your new desk. Another way that local friends can help expats to feel like locals is by helping with the previous point, learning the language. One of the best ways to learn a language well is to use it in everyday conversation and receive correction with specific pronunciations and local friends can help with both areas. The help and encouragement of local friends can do so much to help expats out of their expat bubble and add to the quality of life in their new setting.

Local customs

There’s no two ways about it; understanding the local customs is a surefire way to helping you make the transition from expat to native. Mundane everyday actions can quickly remind you how different the country is when they are not familiar. For example, in Venezuela, dinner guests are expected to arrive late as arriving early implies that you’re greedy, and in Japan the direction of your chopsticks can secure your food on a shared plate. Read up and ask your network for insight on this, and don’t be afraid to learn from your mistakes – most people will be very forgiving in the event that you make a faux pas!

Flickr – Nicoleyfun

Knowing your way around

Knowing your way around the new city you’re living in and learning about your surroundings is another step towards feeling like a local. Navigating through any new town can be puzzling at first and the complexity could even be increased by road signs and maps in different languages or even a completely different transportation system. But the only way to solve the puzzle is to explore. There is also the ultimate sense of accomplishment that comes when you are able to provide directions to someone else unfamiliar with the area. 

What was the moment when you started to feel like a local? Tweet @expatexplorer your top tips for finding your feet. 

Friday, 22 May 2015

The easiest places to settle into expat life

Moving abroad and voyaging into the great unknown can be a daunting experience, but there are a number of things that can facilitate this period of adjustment, some of which is not immediately obvious. So in this countdown, we’re trying to help make life a bit easier by listing the easiest places to settle into, based on what expats told us in our 2014 Expat Explorer survey. We also discuss the factors that have made these countries easy to settle into in an effort to shed light on areas that can turn an upheaval into an incredible adventure.

1.       1. New Zealand – The great outdoors

The stunning backdrop and fresh open spaces are not only for fantasy films, wild imaginations and children’s books. The great outdoors is one of the biggest draws to expats in New Zealand and has contributed to why they have found it such an easy place to settle into. A great diet coupled with more opportunities for physical activity not only makes it easier to settle into life there, but is also an added bonus for those in search of a healthier lifestyle. In addition to an amazing environment New Zealand also offers more opportunities for a better work life balance and higher quality of life.

Creative Commons/Google Images

2. Bahrain – Warm weather, warm locals.
Bahrain’s active and welcoming expat community means that many new arrivals will find it an easier transition. The lively social network prevents the feelings of isolation or culture shock that often concern expats considering moving abroad.  As well as having fellow expats to bond with the Bahraini people are often known for being warm, hospitable and helpful.  This gives people who wish to do so the opportunities to truly immerse and integrate themselves into Bahraini society making newcomers feel both close to their country of origin and their new home.

Creative Commons/Google Images

3. Singapore – South East Asian melting pot & paradise for foodies.
Singapore provides expats both greater economic gain with its ever growing economy and as well as a wealth of multi-cultural experiences from the many expats that have influenced the country. The country is truly the definition of a melting pot. The combination of English, Mandarin, Tamil and Malay language speakers has given rise to a new English based creole language known as Singlish. The mesh of cultures has not only created Singlish but also contributes to a diverse choice of cuisines available to the countries residents which are an important part of the Singaporean lifestyle.

4. Australia - City life, break breaks and even the less travelled outback!
Australia is a hybrid that gives expats the option to explore its metropolitan cities, such as Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide or venture into the untouched outback. A country with an active and diverse community of expats it gives many chances to establish lifelong friendships with people from across the globe, as well as fellow expats. The shared experiences provide the opportunity to create a new family away from home and also establish a truly international network of contacts. Although the economic gain in Australia may not be as high as countries in Asia, the higher quality of life, pleasant climate and relaxed pace of life are invaluable.  For those headed to Australia, or considering making the country their new home, there’s an added bonus – expats in our survey said that they found setting up and registering for financial services & utilities is fairly easy.

For more information about the easiest expat experiences, why not take a look at our hints & tips tool?  

Thursday, 21 May 2015

First time VS. Serial expats – Pros and Cons

The chances are that you’ve come across lots of different types of expat – some of whom will be living abroad for the first time, and others who are serial expats who’ve had multiple postings.

Whichever category you fit into, the number of stamps that you’ve got in your passport is always a great talking point – particularly when it comes to exchanging stories about how you came to be where you currently are. Whether you’re a serial expat or a first timer, there’s plenty to be gained from the experience either way. Here are a few of the pros and cons and how to navigate them – wherever you are in your expat journey!

A common feeling amongst people who are stepping out of their comfort zone for the first time is anxiety, and this is certainly to be expected if you’re moving abroad for the first time. The inexperienced expat may be anxious about something as trivial as enjoying the food or more serious worries such as finding suitable accommodation, but the feeling is normal no matter what your concern is. Doing your research and sussing out any existing contacts will always be reassuring – so get swotting and explore your network to see if anyone can give you some insight before you get there.

Another emotion common amongst first time expats is homesickness. One might wonder how one will manage without their creature comforts, and some may even go as far as plotting how they’ll pack everything and everyone from home in their suitcase. As tangible as they may seem the feelings of anxiety and homesickness are often short-lived.  There are lots of different things you can do to help these fears melt away – but one of the best is to distract yourself by exploring your new surroundings. Benefit from your curiosity; be in awe of your new home and enjoy the novelty of being somewhere new, instead of worrying about packing your old life in your suitcase.

Image source: Flickr / Rob Faulkner

On the flip side, being a serial expat comes with a lot of different advantages. These global citizens may be seasoned travelers, professional packers and even know all of the apps to keep connected to friends and loved ones at home. But whilst previous experience causes this type of expat to be quicker to settle in and to adjust to their new surroundings, they might have become desensitized to the opportunities available to them.

After a few goes at expat life, although everywhere is different, it’s likely that some things might start to feel commonplace or routine - so there’s something to be said for shaking things up. That is why it is important to always continue stepping outside of your comfort zone, and also exploring every location you are posted to; find something new to do that you haven’t previously as an expat, and try to incorporate this into your day-to-day life.

Another brilliant benefit for the serial expat is that you’ll be more adaptable and good at finding change easy to cope with – even if it doesn’t always feel that way!

Are you a first time expat or a serial expat? Let us know your experiences in the comments below or by tweeting @expatexplorer

Friday, 15 May 2015

Expat Routines: Mourning Morning Coffee

Expat life will certainly bring about new routines and new experiences, from the big to the small. These smaller cultural and everyday changes can often form a significant part of how expat life differs to being at home.  Here’s our latest guest blogger, Garrett, talking about one of the biggest changes to his daily routine since becoming an expat –the morning coffee run!

When I lived in Boston, I was used to grabbing large drip-brewed coffees to go. I am a huge coffee fan, and I often indulged in flavored takeaway coffee treats.  There is nothing better than heading off to work with a giant caffeinated beverage in hand!

Then I moved to Italy - a country that is proud of their espresso (and rightly so) and abhors coffee to go. Italians don’t typically walk around with beverages, and the coffee culture there entails going to a bar for a quick espresso in the morning, usually consumed on your feet while checking Facebook or having a brief 3 minute catch-up with a friend.  It’s a quick stop in, drink up, head off procedure.

When doing the homemade coffee thing, Italians will usually make it in this little stovetop device called a moka. The first time I used one of these things, I forgot to put the rubber ring back on it before closing it and putting it on the heat. After about 5 minutes, the moka usually starts making a sputtering sound, letting you know that the coffee is ready. However, forgetting a small detail like the rubber ring means that instead of sputtering, ready-to-drink coffee, you hear more of a “PONF” sound as the wet, hot, steaming coffee grounds explode from the pressure built up inside the moka and spray all over the kitchen, sticking to the walls and even (sigh…) the ceiling.

Ok, so I learned from my mistake and never had to impale a sponge on the end of a broom to clean coffee grounds from the ceiling ever again. I learned how to use the moka correctly, but something was still not right. I was feeling weird during the day - sort of anxious and flighty and easy to anger. My friends would ask me what the problem was. Did I miss home? Was I stressed out in my new apartment? Was Italian life throwing me off balance? I couldn’t figure out what was making me feel all … weird.

One day, I invited a friend over for lunch and decided to make us some nice coffee once we’d finished eating. After I had poured the contents of the moka into one American-sized coffee cup, I filled up the moka again with more coffee grounds and water as I prepared to make another one. I mean, we were two people after all. My Italian friend looked at me in horror and said “Che cacchio fai?” (What the heck are you doing?).

Apparently, there are different size mokas. The one that I had and was using by myself every single morning was for a family of 4 people. Yes. I was drinking the equivalent of 4 times the amount of espresso that I should, and the caffeine overdose was what was making me crazy.

I got myself another, smaller moka (see picture below, conveniently placed in front of my American coffee maker to show the size difference) and can proudly say that I can finally make myself espresso at home without ruining the kitchen or getting the shakes. Though sometimes I still burn my tongue trying to take a piping hot shot of espresso as I run out the door, late for work. Some things I’ll never learn!


About Garrett
Originally from Boston, Garrett lived in Italy for almost 8 years, and he is now living in Zürich, Switzerland. His blog offers the point-of-view of an outgoing extrovert who loves diving head first into his new host culture(s).  Tweet Garrett your views on expat life @GarrettMcK.


Monday, 11 May 2015

Dealing with expat emotions – the best things in life are scary… at first!

Whether it is moving away from home to go to university, working up the courage to strike up a new romance or uprooting your family to pursue a new life abroad - the three very different experiences can lead to very similar feelings of doubt, fear and worry. Looking back a lot of the life changes we initially feared turned out to be unbelievably beneficial and now we wouldn’t even think to question them. This is the view that new expats need to keep in mind as they approach the unknown.

Initially we might have worried about whether we would enjoy these different, new experiences and become preoccupied with fear or doubts. We fear that we’ll not enjoy the university experience, be awkwardly rejected when pursuing a new romantic interest, or not enjoy or benefit from becoming an expat. This fear causes us to forget that change can be incredibly rewarding and there’s a lot to be said for stepping out of your comfort zone. But it can be daunting – and often we’re likely to question our ability to handle the challenges ahead and question whether the risks or upheaval are worth the reward.

When you’re moving abroad, there really isn’t any other option but to jump straight in at the deep end and go for it – think of what you could be missing out on! Everything from making brilliant new friends, meeting a new partner or experiencing exciting new things which are all part and parcel of relocating and establishing yourself in a new country.

When looking at a problem from this vantage point it is very easy to psych ourselves out of the risk, and take what we see as the safe and familiar option. When making decisions such as these we also need to consider the joy, courage and strength we gain when the risks lead to rewards.

To keep you motivated and inspired ahead of your move abroad, here are a few of the best words of wisdom we’ve collected from other expats who’ve already started their journey:  

There is some fear that comes as a result of making major life changes, but it is those changes that make life worthwhile. Find more inspiration using the hints and tips tool

Friday, 8 May 2015

Six ways to explore a new city

Arriving in a new city is an exciting time – but with so much to do and see, where do you start? After all, you probably want your new city to feel like home, rather than somewhere you are visiting.  Here are 6 great ways you can explore to really get to know a city, and familiarise yourself with areas tourists often overlook.

Trails left by others

Discovering cities through street art and graffiti is becoming an increasingly popular as an alternative way to discover a city.  Some of the street art in many cities is really incredible, and can give insights into the multiplicity of cultures that exist in one city.  Following trails left by others can lead to interesting new discoveries for you, and give a new appreciation of some different and perhaps overlooked areas of a city. 
Creative Commons / Google Images

Going underground

Most cities are interconnected by an astonishing network of underground transport which we often take for granted.  This underground network tells a completely different tale of a city, and provides an alternative means to visualise the space.  The underground transport network is a quick, easy and cheap way to get to the outskirts of a city; stay on the tube, metro or subway until the end of the line and see where you end up. 

Through taste

Researching the best places to eat will take you to new corners of the city.  Pick a cuisine and head to the area which is renowned to do it best, whether it’s street food stalls, or high street restaurants.   Chat to other people eating there, and get some new recommendations of places to go. 
Creative Commons / Google Images
By listening

Audio tours are widely available to download cheaply on app stores, and give you the freedom to follow a guided tour at your own pace.  Audio tours give your exploration a new angle, and can focus on topics from history, to architecture.  Learning more about your surroundings will give new meaning to things you come across whilst in the city.   

By coffee

Or tea! Cafes are great spaces to relax and have conversations.  To explore like a local, talk to a local!  Ask someone in that café where their favourite spot in the city is, and make that your next destination.  Make this method a way of getting to know new people, as well as places.  
Creative Commons / Wikimedia

Start walking

It’s time to go retro!  Leave your phone at home and buy a street map; draw out a route on and see where it takes you.  Walk with the purpose of simply walking, and take the time to explore hidden parts of the city.  Walk without a time limit and direction, allow yourself to get little lost, and see what you find.  

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

City in Review: San Francisco

Once the homeland of hippies, and now the hub of technological innovation, San Francisco certainly has a colourful history, which makes the city such a unique place to be.  San Francisco has a long history of attracting people from all over the world, and this continues today with expats, particularly in recent years with the career opportunities growing in the city.  The diversity of people, enterprises and things to do is what makes San Francisco and its liberal spirit one of the most sought after cities in California.    

 Source: Creative Commons / Wikipedia

Living in a new city is a great opportunity to discover new places which are a little outside of the tourist bubble – but there are a few things that you really have to do in San Franciso. The Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and Fisherman’s Wharf really are spectacular, and worth visiting at least once.  We suggest a cycle over the Golden Gate Bridge, going on a guided tour around Alcatraz, and eating Clam Chowder in a bread bowl on Fisherman’s Wharf. 

Source: Creative Commons / Wikimedia

The Marina area, west of tourist hotspot Fisherman’s Wharf, is a popular destination for expats to live. It boasts spectacular views of the Golden Gate Bridge but rent in The Marina doesn’t come cheap; expats on a lower budget tend to look for accommodation in the Southwest district of the city, known as the Outer Sunset.  Public transport in San Francisco is a bit more exciting than buses; the city is connected by a cable car network.  This unique transport system is one way in which the city works towards sustainability, but it is also a fantastic way to get around.  

Climate-wise, it’s fair to say that most people would associate life in California with sunshine all year round, but San Francisco is infamous for its cooler summers with heavy fog.  San Francisco is situated on the San Andreas Fault so it’s likely that you will experience an earthquake of some magnitude at least once while you are living there.  However, due to the sophisticated early warning systems in place and structural integrity of buildings in the city, these mini earthquakes aren’t usually anything to worry about, and shouldn’t put you off. 

Source: Creative Commons / Wikimedia

A large part of the city’s growth is down to recent expansion of the technology, finance, and media sectors within the city. Silicon Valley, in the northern part of San Francisco, is home to technology giants such as Apple, Google and Facebook, and was seen as the pioneer of the technological boom.  The finance industry is also a large part of San Francisco’s economy, and the city is often referred to as the ‘Wall Street of the West’ – so there are opportunities a-plenty for expats who follow their careers to this golden city!

Friday, 1 May 2015

Five things to expect from expat life in Brazil

Brazil is one of the most vibrant cultural centres in the world, home to beautiful landscapes and some of the world’s most delicious cuisine – so it is not a surprise that the country is one of the most popular expat destinations.  However, expats are not just travelling to Brazil for its culture; the country’s competitive economy is the seventh largest in the world, and with Rio de Janeiro set to host the 2016 Olympics, this metropolitan hub is becoming one of the world’s most fashionable international business hubs.

Here are 5 things you can expect from expat life in Brazil: 

1) Day Trips
With so much to see in Brazil, expats in Brazil treat the weekends as an opportunity to explore more of the country.  Taking weekend road trips is an important part of expat culture in Brazil and is made easy by Brazil’s excellent transport links.  Don’t just tick off postcard destinations like the Corcovado or Copacabana beach, however. Discover your own corner of Brazil from the winding back streets of Slalvador to the “Boteco” (Brazilian bars) that only you and a handful of locals know about.

2) A warm welcome
Respondents of the 2014 Expat Explorer survey commented that Brazil is one of the friendliest countries in the world,  scoring highly for making local friends and integrating into the local community. 

As one Expat commented:

3) Falling in love with the local cuisine
Over eight in ten (83%) expats told us in the 2014 Expat Explorer survey that they enjoyed Brazil’s local cuisine, (compared with a global average of 72%), with 73% commenting that they shop for local produce at independent markets rather than supermarkets as much as possible.  Sao Paulo is the country’s cosmopolitan expat hub, and also provides the most varied dining. Whether you’re splashing out in the city’s world class restaurants or opting for simple street food, Sao Paulo combines Brazilian cooking with European, Indian and African flavours. Don’t be surprised if you end up falling in love with Brazilian Pizza…

 Ulrich Peters/Creative Commons
4) Learn to love lunchtime
In Brazil, the term ‘lunch hour’ is extremely loose.  Brazilians like to enjoy their local cuisine as much as possible, and often indulge in ‘kilo buffets’ over their lunch hour.  Check out our blog for more tips on adjusting to the more thoughtful pace of working life in Brazil.

5) Becoming a part of the chaos
Expats in Brazil comment the only way to settle in is to get stuck in!  Brazil’s loud culture can be overwhelming, but do not be off put by this.  Locals will admire your attempts at the samba and joining in with festival celebrations.



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