Facebook have replaced Apple as the leaders in constantly changing terms and conditions, but with far greater consequences. Where their privacy settings previously allowed you to limit who saw what, now all bets are off and it only takes an ill-advised tag to have your worst moments immortalized.
So, while we are busy safeguarding our children from the perils of social media, a new challenge has snuck up from behind. Poor eyesight and the Facebook app…
I am now in the ‘of a certain age’ group, and frankly, things are starting to go a little downhill. Along with the anti-aging creams and the increasing reliance on Spanx, we are now seeing (or not) increasing use of reading glasses and the large font setting on your iPhone.
All very well, until you factor in the constantly changing privacy settings. It’s easy to pictorially record a moment for posterity and share it with the world, but when you are doing it on a two inch screen without your glasses on, it’s a recipe for disaster.
Now, when someone tags you in their status updates and adds a particularly awful photo of you, they may think they are only sharing it with their own friends, but they are not. They are sharing it with yours, and everyone else mentioned in that darn update. And as viewers around the globe share their condolences on the loss of your dignity, they just add fuel to the fire. Cos it’s now gone out to their friends, too…
[Tweet “A new social media challenge has snuck up on the over 40s. Poor eyesight and the Facebook app.”]
You know it’s bad when my sister (also known for her fetching array of dodgy photos) laughs solidly for 10 minutes. On an international phone line. She has grown up with me, and has thus been witness to some blinders, but even she was impressed.
While Facebook is a wonderful tool for staying connected with friends, families and networks, never forget that it’s primarily a profit-driven business. It makes money by leveraging your activity against advertising access, which means it wants as many people as possible to see what you are up to. It then charges businesses to gain access to you, your activity and your network, and the more unrestricted (i.e. tagging, liking and commenting without setting individual privacy limits) interaction you have, the more valuable you are.
[Tweet “Check your Facebook privacy settings now. Once it’s out there, it’s ‘shampooing-the-cat’ difficult to get back”]
Let this be a lesson to you: check your Facebook privacy settings every time you post, comment and like, and while you are at it, consider adding your own internal filter before your fingers hit the keyboard. Because once it’s out there, it’s damn near impossible to get back. (Think shampooing-the-cat difficult…).
For those of you about to embark on a birthday weekend away with friends, here’s my ‘How to Remain Friends and Not Humiliate People” checklist. You might want to print them out and distribute them with the boarding passes…
1. Agree a “Posting and Tagging” policy pre-departure. Facebook is a minefield when it comes to offending people whose city you are visiting – especially if you aren’t visiting them.
2. If you post status updates to Facebook, notify anyone pre-tag so that they can have editorial approval. Your friends may find your offbeat humor hilarious, but their co-workers / future employers / elderly relatives may not.
3. Check your privacy settings before you go, and select either ‘just me’ or close friends. This video will take you through the umpteen places you need to do this.
4. If anything untoward creeps through, untag yourself or ask the poster to remove it. Never comment directly on the offending pic/post; doing so triggers a notification to your network and makes it even more visible.
5. If you are over 40, posting photos of people from your iPhone is strictly prohibited… Seriously.
6. As a last resort, temporarily ‘unfriending’ your travel companions will prevent them being able to tag you, so your network will stay blissfully oblivious. The bad news is that you won’t be able to see what’s being posted, but any shared friends will…
So off you go. Now. Before Many Happy Returns takes on a whole new meaning…
I knew it. Finally, the insanity that is my expat life – and most of the website – has been vindicated, and it’s all thanks to Ellen Mahoney over at Sea Change Mentoring. She introduced me to the groundbreaking advice given by a tech start-up entrepreneur, as a recipe for global success and world domination…
Make your mistakes quickly
As a person whose family motto is “Disaster soon follows”, I have long been a proponent of this approach, with no idea that I was such thought leader. I had just assumed I was incompetent and (in a rare moment of self-acceptance) decided not to fight it. It’s a phrase that could be part of every expat mission statement, and should probably replace a lot of the well intentioned advice given in the all-too-brief briefing sessions; “learn the language”, “ get out and make friends” and my personal favorite “ join a gym”… Hmmm. Instead, the secret to expat success is familiar and effortlessly achievable – the global gaffe. And here’s why.
1. It reminds us that we will make mistakes.
In the assignment planning stage, it’s important to focus on the positive, but in doing so we often forget that expat life is still life. Mistakes happen, and when you are in an environment with unfamiliar language, culture, rules and expectations, they happen a lot. Making your mistakes quickly reminds us to expect – and even plan – for those mistakes. Whether that means working with a destination service provider or an expat coach, doing your own exhaustive research or simply being patient with yourself while you transition (or all of the above), it’s vital to acknowledge that perfection is impossible, and good enough is, well, good enough.
2. We focus on ‘right’ as a victory, rather than ‘wrong’ as a failure.
I once did a stint as a sales consultant and one of the job requirements was calling customers to set appointments. It was (and no doubt, still is) a miserable task – you knew that your cheerful introduction could be greeted with anything from interest, to polite refusal, to a torrent of abuse and a dial tone. Thankfully, I was armed with a secret weapon; the company set targets for calls made, and let the actual results take care of themselves. So every call made was a relief – one less to do, one step closer to reaching the goal. Acknowledging that mistakes are inevitable (and in the early days, we are more likely to get it wrong than get it right) is incredibly freeing. It gives us permission to focus on the actions and let the outcomes take care of themselves. It prepares us for failure, and when things do go right, we get to stop, acknowledge it for the triumph that it is, and celebrate.
3. It gets you out there.
Having taken away the fear of failure, there’s nothing like the element of competition to spur us on. Experienced expats (i.e. those who have been comprehensive in their cock-ups) can entertain for hours with hilarious stories of endless mishaps, miscommunications or general disasters; just visit the bar at any FIGT conference and listen for the raucous laughter if you don’t believe me. It’s the expat version of the Olympic Decathlon, with extra points for speed, style and variety. All that’s missing is the opening ceremony, the national uniforms and the lycra. But don’t let us stop you…
4. It helps you to bond.
If there’s one thing that unites the expat world, it’s our inability to watch people struggle without feeling some serious empathy. It’s one of the unwritten laws of expat life; we’re all in this together, and in my mind, there is a special place in Hell for expats who don’t help each other. Putting yourself out there and making mistakes publicly transports us all back to our early days and disasters, and gives us something in common that transcends language, culture or belief. It reminds us that we are human, and we love you for it.
5. It makes you brave.
Fear of failure is crippling, and stops us doing so many things that would take ordinary life and make it extraordinary. By contrast, being forced into situations where mistakes are inevitable and accepting them as a mere part of life’s journey gives us the motivation to be creative, to take risks and to try new things constantly. We dream big, and even if it doesn’t work out perfectly, we don’t go home. We learn that it hasn’t killed us, and we are really are stronger.
So there you have it – official permission to create chaos and have fun doing it. Providing of course, you follow our lead and share all your finer moments. Now we just need merit badges and an awards ceremony…
When I originally wrote this post, I had yet to hit the expat parenting minefield that is the adolescent CCK (Cross Culture Kid). I now know firsthand the dubious pleasure of putting a career on hold to focus on transplanting children, only to be calmly told that I have “ruined” their lives..
Thus comes the realization that parenting is a truly thankless task, and it’s only the support of fellow sufferers that keep one from running screaming to the nearest liquor store. It’s why expat parents become experts at nurturing a large group of people who will provide support, comfort, alcohol and surveillance services through our child’s teenage years, people who, regardless of location, language, culture or religion, follow the same, previously unwritten code. For those of you who we rely on for our daily dose of sanity, here it is..
Thou shalt not post pictures of home-made birthday cake excellence on Facebook, so that my children spot them and spend the next ten years bringing up my own birthday cake inadequacies.
Thou shalt not point out that your child is walking and talking while mine has spent the last three hours with his hands down his trousers.
When spying my child indulging in antisocial activities in public, thou shalt utter the words “her mother will be very cross when she finds out about that”; implicitly underlining that a) I am the all seeing, attentive parent, and b) I have high behavioral standards. It is irrelevant whether you believe this or not, and extra credit is given for saying it when other parents are present.
When spying my child inappropriately dressed, thou shalt sing out in a helpful tone “Would you like me to call your mother to drop off your sweater / trousers / anything that doesn’t look like a Britney Spears outfit?”, thus communicating to the child that a) she’s busted; b) you are willing to go there; and c) there are eyes everywhere. Extra credit is given for not telling me about inappropriate attire unless there is a repeat occurrence.
When my teenage child makes an inappropriate remark, thou shalt enter into a lengthy and awkward story about your own teenage angst, preferably with reference to kissing. The mental picture of adults ever indulging in such behavior is enough to silence any outburst, and serves as a cruel and unusual punishment which rarely has to be repeated.
When my child comes looking for sympathy about my latest parenting gaffe, thou shalt listen kindly and then retell the story about how aforementioned child once had diarrhea next to the deli counter in a crowded supermarket, and until life roles are reversed, I still have the moral high ground.
When my child comes looking for support in opposition to the latest parenting policy, thou shalt listen sympathetically, nod furiously, make noises of agreement, and then reiterate policy without the benefit of parent type shrieking. Extra credit is given if child thanks you for being so reasonable and fails to notice that it is the same policy.
When my child leaves home, thou shalt not mention how many times I uttered the words “I can’t wait for them to leave home” and instead hand over tissues and gin to drown my sorrows.
Should my child get married, thou shalt attend the wedding without publicly mentioning the pant fumbling, the diarrhea, the inappropriate clothing or the teenage years. Extra credit is given for having photographic evidence for use in ensuring timely Christmas visits etc.
When my child has children, thou shalt join me in watching them recreate all my worst mistakes, smile and enjoy the show..
Photo courtesy of Clare Kruse, who inspired this post by breaking Rule 1..
The years of intercultural miscommunication are finally paying off. Having created chaos and given offense across three continents, I am now the acknowledged expert in the art of the apology, and thanks to Wiggy One, yesterday I got to practice them, Yet again.
For those of you with teenage sons, I know you feel my pain. For those of you who have yet to experience the joy that can only be found in trying to raise an adolescent male, you might want to file this letter away for future reference, because you are going to need it.
Dear Ms X,
I was somewhat alarmed at The Wiggy One’s current English grade, and on close questioning he confessed that after completing what he felt was an inspired essay on the themes contained within The Scarlet Letter, he followed it up with the classic line ” And I didn’t even read the book”. I was unsurprised to see your “Let’s talk” response, and can only congratulate you on your restraint.
I can vouch for the fact that he has in fact read the book in its entirety, mainly because he generously shares his discontent with the writing of Nathaniel Hawthorne on a nightly basis at the dinner table, and has stolen all of my Post It notes. I can only hope that War and Peace is not on the curriculum this year, or I may have to abandon home cooked meals in favor of TV dinners and a locked stationary cabinet.
I have yet to comprehend the inner workings of the teenage male mind, and consider my day a success if no-one died and nobody got pregnant. Low standards, I know, but it’s either that or risk developing an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. What I am looking forward to is that pivotal moment in college when he realizes that all the interest, time and effort that others have invested in him over the years has been because we are all kind, good and caring people, and not because he is the Uncrowned King of the Universe or the Second Coming, both of which seem to be common delusions in adolescent males.
We have had a sustained discussion on the value of knowing the line between off the cuff humour and being a disrespectful arse, and how he has crossed it. I have also pointed out that if he fails to rescue the situation, his dreams of college may be rather closer to home (i.e the local Community College) than he anticipated. You will be delighted to know that not only did you succeed in fostering his understanding of classic literature, but also of the consequences of ill-thought out comments and a newfound respect for the role (and power) of educators in shaping one’s future.
At this point, I should probably be pleading with you to grade him on his written efforts rather than his verbal idiocy. Truthfully, I would rather not have to deal with the repercussions of a 0 grade for the next 18 months, nor his potential extended residence at home, so I do appreciate any clemency that you might offer. However, I must also thank you for teaching him a very valuable lesson about words, actions, consequences and adolescent insanity. I have a feeling that this will be one of his defining High School moments.
(Photo courtesy of The State Library of New South Wales)
It seems incredible that a year has passed since the last Families in Global Transition conference; forever infamous as the one where I had a complete (and very public ) online meltdown at the eminence and credentials of my fellow presenters, only to have my cover blown by one Judy Rickatson, (aka @wifeinasuitcase) who is the expat online version of Wikipedia. If it’s out there, she knows about it, Tweets, Likes and Pins about it, and, I strongly suspect, has superhuman powers. If she was in charge of the search for the Holy Grail, it would have been found years ago, and it has become my life’s work to try and find an expat blog that she hasn’t yet discovered. She is the Simon Cowell of the expat social media world, discovering talent from the four corners of the globe; only much, much nicer.
Hence my blubbering gaining the attention of various members and supporters of FIGT, who all headed across to the Defining Moves website to offer kind words, support and offers of hospitality. It was the single most generous spirited gesture, and it embodies all that is special about the FIGT organization. People with years of experience, a hugely diverse range of backgrounds and an incredible depth of knowledge, all passionate about making expat life better.
It’s why I can’t wait to go back this year, and why you should all be joining me too. It’s a two day whirlwind of people, presentations and discussions from every perspective; starting with a keynote presentation from the brilliant Pico Iyer. Whether you are an accompanying partner, a expat service provider or from corporate HR, you will leave with a wealth of information and a host of new friends and real, live expat human resources. The only dilemma is how to fit it all into two days.
As for me, I have very personal reasons to want to go there too. It will be the first time I will actually meet many online friends in person, both those who regularly pop up here in the comments sections, on the Facebook page and on my Twitter feed.
At the top of my list?
Judy, of course.
If you need more information about Families in Global Transition and the FIGT 2013 conference, here’s the link to their website, including information on registering, becoming a member (as well as all the other benefits, you qualify for a reduced registration fee), global affiliates, sponsorship, the New Attendees information webinar and the New Attendees welcome evening. I hope to see you there!
I’m getting better at this moving thing. This comes as something of a relief, because this is the 8th house in 16 years. And despite the fact that we have bought yet another fixer-upper (there will be comprehensive mutterings on the dubious wisdom of buying this type of property as an expat, mainly because one consigns oneself to a life of finally getting somewhere habitable, only to leave within the next 3 months… it’s like clockwork…), on the whole I have remained emotionally intact, with only the odd descent into babbling incoherence – and then only when the drains back up for the fourth time in a month. Predictably, in the bathrooms that we just finished remodeling.
The more observant amongst you will have noticed that this calm and serenity comes at a price – namely the complete lack of any activity outside the house-hunting/mortgage application/signing on the dotted line/painting/tiling/grouting variety. Hence the echoing silence on the blog, causing those who know me well to be concerned by what for me is a very unusual silence.
Those of you who noticed and enquired about my life/health/sanity, thank you. I am now back, and your email inbox will once again be cluttered with occasional wisdom and eagerly awaited tales of the Other Half’s latest foray into home maintenance…
In the meantime, here are my essential steps to remaining sane, whether you are moving across town, across the country or across the world.
1. Know yourself.
It’s the defining moment of your first expat move – what to put in your household goods shipment. Especially if (like us) you have two small children and a container the size of the average office desk. What’s so important to you and your family, that you can’t leave it behind?
Eight years of expat life later, I know the answer, at least for myself. Our sense of family is strongest at mealtimes, so our dinner service – the plates, the silverware, the serving dishes – all get shipped. So do family pictures, treasured mementos, Christmas decorations and the numerous animals, but that’s about it. Furniture, clothes, books are all replaceable, so instead we use our allowance to take things that will make our future life easier. Things like industrial quantities of chocolate, laundry detergent and Bisto.
For you, it will be different. It may be bicycles, board games, films. The good news is that there is no right answer, there is only the answer that is right for you – and the only people who will ever know about your inability to part with your treasured collection of china cats will be you and the customs official…
2. Understand what lies ahead.
We all do it. Someone says they are being transferred to Hawaii, and we groan with envy; mention Angola and we wince – reactions purely based on second hand media reports and the odd travel brochure. Not exactly the most reliable source of expat advice, now we come to think of it. But there are plenty of excellent blogs, websites, forums, Facebook groups and networking sites, full of information and real, live people who have been there, done that. So do your own research from a wide range of sources, understand that the information you get will be from someone else’s perspective and use that to guide you.
3. Set up an expat and local support network before you go.
This is the era of the internet, of social media and of cheap VOIP calling, so you have no excuse for not staying in contact. Create your own expat preparedness kit; get an independent email address, set up social media profiles, sign up to cheap calling, get a comprehensive contact list, and start introducing yourself to your new network before you set foot on a plane. If it all sounds too daunting to tackle by yourself, check out our guide and cheat sheets here and here.
4. Come prepared to make friends.
If you have done your research and made some social media contacts, you should know what other resident expats miss, what will be valued and what you can bring as ‘hostess gifts’. It’s an instant “in”, not because of the gift itself, but because you have shown you have what it takes to be a successful expat – the willingness to share, an interest in the welfare of others, and the understanding that not a single ounce/gram of luggage allowance should be wasted. Ever.
For those who are currently screaming the words, “I’m not moving to XXX just to mix with expats” at their screens, please don’t misunderstand me. I expect you all to get out there and meet whoever your heart desires, but take it from me, settling in and getting established is a whole heap easier with someone to point you in the right direction, who not only understands your language, but also where you are coming from. As a Brit in the US, I can assure you that there is plenty of scope for cultural misunderstandings, and I can only thank my lucky stars that the locals here are a forgiving bunch…
5. Know that you will have times when you want to go home.
That’s why you have set up your international communication strategy – so that when the rubber hits the road (or the other stuff hits the fan, and take it from me, it will, repeatedly), you have a voice at the other end of the line to help you get through it. In time, you will develop a local network, but for the first few months, use the “who wants to be a millionaire’ approach, and phone a friend. Preferably one who has the right answers.
6. Say yes.
You may have absolutely no interest in a tour of the local sewerage management facility / scrapbooking /fellwalking club, but if someone has invited you, say yes. It a) gets you out of the house, b) introduces you to a whole new set of people, c) shows that you are interested in trying new things (an essential trait in the successful expat) and d) if nothing else, gives you an excellent (and preferably hilarious) horror story to tell later (another accomplished expat characteristic).
7. Remember, it’s a numbers game.
The more people you meet, the greater your odds of meeting your expat soul mate, so the quicker you get out there, the better. No, you don’t have to commit to a lifetime study of yoga or the collected works of Agatha Christie – you just have to show up with a positive attitude, a desire to meet people, a willingness to go with the flow, and preferably, one of the aforementioned hostess gifts.
8. Give yourself space.
It’s the lesson that has taken me the longest to learn, because we all have such great expectations (some good, some bad) about our new life, but underestimate the amount of time, effort and sheer emotional energy that building it takes. For me, it meant taking an unplanned 3 month sabbatical from writing simply to move 5 miles across town. But I know from experience that my personal and family wellbeing are closely linked to a sense of home and a network of friends – and that takes work and commitment, so treat it like you would any other job and give yourself realistic goals, appropriate resources, and most importantly, time off. You need downtime, a moment or three where you are not on best behavior and where you get to please yourself and refill your cup.
As for me, things are gradually starting to get a little calmer; most of the walls are now painted, we have withstood the obligatory new home dramas and I am finally able to devote time to something other than project/crisis management. We are indeed, finally, settling down.
This post was written 10 days ago, when after nearly a year of negotiating, selling and house hunting and 45 days in escrow, the expat dream of actually owning our own home was still hanging in the balance. At the time, it seemed a little too much like tempting fate to publish it, but now that I have a) keys and a signed contract and b) the Other Half 4000 miles away and blissfully oblivious to the havoc that I am wreaking on our new abode, I am now brave enough to share..
Anyone who happened to be using the site last Wednesday would have left with a growing sense of confusion and a really good headache, thanks to a small, insignificant button at the bottom of my dashboard page.
It said “restore to default settings“.
Ironically, all I was trying to do was change the color of the page links from a difficult-to-spot-but-definitely-elegant gray, to a glaringly obvious red (I finally settled on a rather fetching lavender blue, but that’s another story). Try as I might, the tool for changing the color wouldn’t co-operate, and so remembering that the theme came with a red link text default, I resorted to pressing the aforementioned button.
Chaos ensued. My painstakingly crafted header logo (the creeping cat) disappeared, to be replaced by an advert for a website developer. So did the tiny logo that you see in the web address bar. The text reverted back to Times New Roman, strange boxes containing Latin gibberish appeared, and a whole drop down menu’s worth of content vanished.
I think the angels made it happen, in response to an impending “I’ve had enough, I want to go home’ tantrum that was brewing.
You see, we are currently trying to buy a house, something that (in theory) should be a happy and joyful event in expat life. It means we’re putting down some roots, taking some time to breathe, and in Wiggy’s words “finally getting to paint my bedroom a color that I like”.
Instead, it is turning into a harrowing catalogue of frustrations, starting with a real estate market that is so quiet it has crickets chirping in the corners, then finally finding a house – in the wrong school district, negotiating school transfers, discovering dry rot, navigating the ever changing rules of the mortgage lenders and finally, four weeks on, being thousands of dollars poorer with no sign of a completed house purchase on the horizon, and no printer ink left.
Yesterday’s debacle was a timely reminder that no matter how complicated it gets, you can’t go back. You can relocate or repatriate physically, but while the basic content may not change, the details have – the colors, the shading, the nuances that you have added along the way that makes you different from the person you were, and makes you view the world around you differently. And what surprised me was how important those details are once they are gone.
We forget that change is an integral part of life – not just for us, but for those around us. Friends from home have been traveling a similar path, and they view us differently too. Instead of the “I’ll just pop round for a cup of coffee/ borrow the lawnmower/drop off the kids for a playdate/” type friendship, it’s a relationship that has to be nurtured over distance, telephone lines and internet connections, and the supporting roles that we used to play in each other’s lives adapt and change. It’s not right or wrong, good or bad, it just is.
Life is messy sometimes. It’s what makes us grow, tests our strengths and reminds us that we are indeed alive. It’s why we travel, why we learn, why we uproot our lives and relocate to the other side of the world. It’s what helps us to embrace new ideas, new places, new faces, new challenges. It’s why we survive and thrive as expats, as parents, as partners.
And despite what you may have thought while watching the Defining Moves website disappear in front of your eyes, we’re not crazy. We’re just pressing all the buttons offered to us.
Photo courtesy of University of Washington Libraries Digital Collections
It has been echoingly quiet on this blog for the last month, with only the infrequent post and the odd lonely tweet. I’d like to blame this on the increased workload of the impending move (the eternal blight of the trailing spouse), my current role as co-chair of the Teacher Appreciation Committee (those of you who are familiar with my previous comments on volunteering will now be choking on your morning coffee) or my incredible behind-the-scenes productivity on the series of checklists that I am creating. Alas, none would be true.
The truth is far less glorious. I have lost my perk.
For the last month, I have looked like a wet hen, moping around with a downcast air, a surly temper and absolutely no interest in doing anything but watching reality TV and Downton Abbey reruns. It is the pre-move gloom, biting hard, and it’s crushing my creativity.
Thankfully, this morning, my pecker is back up, all thanks to a couple of wonderful websites that I discovered – none of which have anything to do with relocation, but everything to do with creating a home. Yourself. With tools.
It turned my thoughts to previous partners in DIY crime, Gill and Sarah. Gill, who at 6 months pregnant was heaving up floorboards in our old Vicarage (don’t feel sorry for her – she returned the favor by bestowing on me the dubious honor of spreading 10 tonnes of horse poop on her very large and prickly raspberry patch) and Sarah, who flew 4000 miles to grout my tiles. (Both of these activities sound like euphemisms for something far more fun and frisky, but neither are. They are grotty horrible jobs made only bearable by having good-natured, willing and long-suffering helpers, and copious amounts of alcohol at the end.)
Hence the title of this post. Sadly, Gill has the policy of generally ignoring any blog post with the word relocation in it, because she is happily settled in rural Wales (or, as we refer to it, God’s own country. Not particularly modest, the Welsh..), with a large vegetable garden and a now glaringly absent (and therefore completely useless) gardening assistant, currently writing these words from the comfort of a warm bed, 4000 miles away from the rampant raspberry bushes and piles of manure.Having witnessed so many of my epic disasters, she is only hungry for tales of chaos, knowing that they go hand in hand with a thriving, curious and spontaneous person who relishes making mistake because frankly, they make the best stories.
Which, as you can tell from the crickets chirping in the background, has been the person who got lost for a while there.
But thanks to a morning of excellent internet connection and the wonder of Pinterest, I’m back now, and this is very good news on two fronts.
The first is that in honor of Gill and Sarah, I am including the links for the two of the best DIY websites that I have ever discovered, full of projects that you would actually want to display in your home and very, very detailed instructions.
The second? We have spent the last 2 years in San Francisco in a rented home, so not one of my geographically convenient close friends is familiar with this DIY obsession, nor my complete disregard for life, health, personal commitments and designer clothing in my pursuit of a spare pair of hands.
These unsuspecting dears are coming over to the new place for dinner on Sunday. It’ll be like lambs to the slaughter. I sense some really good inspiration coming on..
When we first started gallivanting around the world, keeping in contact meant email and dial-up internet and very, very expensive bills. Thankfully for expats, global nomads, world travelers and their friends and family back home, things are now cheaper, quicker and far, far more convenient – provided you know what to use, where. By popular demand, here’s the Defining Moves guide to cheaper international communication. Complete with a lovingly handmade PDF cheat sheet. You’re spoiled, you really are…
If you are a landline lover (landlubber).
While most of us rely heavily on the internet for communicating, there are still plenty of places where the service is too slow / expensive / inconsistent to be reliable or who have loved ones back home who prefer a traditional handset. If so, you should be checking your provider for a reduced rate package that you can add to your plan – rather like the unarranged overdraft at the bank, spontaneous international calls are charged at prohibitive rates, while prepaid or pre-authorized ones are far cheaper.
If you can’t reduced rates, consider asking (and if necessary, paying for) family members to add international calls to their package at home and have pre-arranged call times – most landline calls are free to receive, regardless of whether they are local or international. Over the course of an overseas assignment, the savings will be significant, and you have the added advantage of guilt-free calls.
Combine this with a service from Rebtel, which offers cheap international calls from any phone, whether landline or mobile. It involves setting up an account online, entering the numbers you want to call, and then using the new local numbers that Rebtel gives you for each of your contacts.
It’s far less complicated than it sounds (especially when most phones allow you to store contact details) and Rebtel even offers you a free call to try it out. The even better news? It’s global, so you can use the new numbers anywhere in the world for local rate calls, and their website is incredibly clear and easy to use.
As a last resort, there are hundreds of international calling cards out there that in exchange for a prepaid card and a little inconvenience, offer a much lower rate. Try www.comfi.com for comparisons of rates – and again, don’t forget to check for connection fees…
If you have home internet but like to have a traditional phone and number.
It has to be Ooma. It’s a square device (about the size of an answering machine) that plugs into your internet router and allows you to connect a regular handset. The unit itself costs around $200, but allows you to make free domestic calls and very low-cost international calls while only paying applicable government taxes. What we like? You pay up front, all call costs, fees and taxes are clearly displayed and user reviews love it too. The bad news? It’s currently only available in the US. Sorry.
Alternatively, Skype offers a Skype To Go number to use with a handset – either buy one with Skype functionality installed, or use a phone adapter. You have to buy Skype credit online to both pay for the number and subscription/pay as you go credit, so if you are setting it up for your less tech savvy family members or friends, you might want to help them set up automated payments at the same time. In the interests of full disclosure, reviews were scathing, both about the call and product quality, and customer service. Eek.
If you have home internet and a computer / laptop / tablet with microphone and speakers.
The current market leader has to be Skype, who offer low cost calling, no set-up, cancellation or contract fees, and a variety of products and services to keep the most demanding amongst us happy. Calls can be made through most devices with a microphone and speakers – computers, laptops, tablets and even cellphones with wifi capability – and for those of us who prefer to use a regular handset, they sell those too.
Calls to other Skype users are free and if you have a webcam, this includes free video calls – fantastic for keeping track of growing children, changing hair colors or home improvement projects. Not so good if you forget that you have video enabled and make calls in your pajamas.
The good news is that Skype is widely used, so you will be able to make free calls to most of your global network. The bad news is that you will need a high speed internet connection to avoid distortions and dropped calls and if you have a usage limit, you will quickly burn up a significant amount of data with video calls. It is also prohibitively expensive to call cellphones, their calling rates are buried in the darkest corner of the website, and their customer service is run entirely via email and video chat. Hmm.
If you prefer to use your cellphone, but don’t have a data package.
Enter Rebtelagain, the patron saint of cheap international cellphone to cellphone calls. Sure, you have to sign up online and set up payment plan, but once you have a) saved their Rebtel number in your phone and b) practiced a few times, you can get regular cellphone to cellphone calls for local rates with no data, no hassle and great signal quality.
If you have a smartphone, data / wi-fi access, and love to talk.
Here’s where it gets really, really good, especially if your friends have smartphones and data packages (or wi-fi access) too, because there are some great products and apps out there. My personal favorite is Viber, which offers free cellphone-to-cellphone calls and texts to other Viber users. It integrates with your contact list so you can instantly see which friends and acquaintances have Viber, and offers you the option of free calls (for when you have plenty of data or a wi-fi connection) or a regular call for when you want to use your voice plan. We love its ease of use, the ability to easily invite others to join and the call and text reliability – but be warned; it looks very similar to your regular cellphone call application, so check twice before placing any international calls…
Next up is the Rebtel app – all the features of Rebtel, with the ease of an app. The calls are free to other Rebtel users and (Rebtel claims) 98% cheaper to non-users. We love the easy-to-use contact list, with clear labels about which calls are ‘free’, and which are ‘cheap’, and has the cost of each call displayed before you press ‘Call’.
Trailing in third place is Skype – the most well known (and widely available), but also the most clunky to use (you have to search for Skype user names or emails) and the least transparent in terms of cost. Like the previous two, calls are free to Skype users, and there is the added advantage of video calling for those of you with camera phones, the ability to using instant messaging and to send photos. The bad news is that video calling eats data, so make sure you either have unlimited data or are using wi-fi when making those calls, and that all of your Skype contacts are notified that your are ‘available’ unless you remember to change your settings. And its SMS feature is a pain to use, and at least in my experience, pretty unreliable.
For free international video calls, iPhone, iTouch, iPad and Mac users can benefit from Apple’sFaceTime application which again uses the internet to connect the call. For those of you using iPhones, be sure to click FaceTime rather than Call, unless, of course, you enjoy three figure phone bills…
If u prfr the writn wrd… International text messaging for free.
Viber is still up there for its free global messaging to other Viber users, but in terms of functionality, WhatsApp has to win the international messaging prize. It uses your existing contacts list to find other WhatsApp users, who can then be bombarded with texts, images, videos and goodness knows what else, for free. For those of you with TCKs, CCKs, global tweens and teens, it’s your passport to peace, family harmony, international communication, financial sanity and probably, Repetitive Strain Injury. Four out of five ain’t bad.
As a final note to those of you who travel frequently – consider getting your phone unlocked. While all of these features will help you save hundreds on communication costs, the savings are quickly overtaken by overseas data charges, and free wi-fi access is not always easy to find. An unlocked phone allows you to buy a Pay As You Go local sim card (cut it down to micro-sim size if necessary – instructions here) and stay in close contact with your network for less.
It’s good to talk. Or, for the more musically inclined…
Today we celebrate! All of us trailing spouse moms and dads, who have chosen to follow their spouse’s/partner’s careers over their own, who have sacrificed to keep their family living at one place.
Today is not about what we’ve missed out on but what we have tried to create. A home, a family, a sense of security for the ones we love and a sense of knowing that we will always be there for one another.
We don’t know what direction our families’ lives will take in the future but we all try to do our best to shape our tomorrows. We may or may not succeed but we have to give it the best we’ve got. We all make our choices and some of us choose to put family first because we believe that is the best thing for us. That it’s better for our kids if our family stays together, providing more time to spend together.
Thanks to the visitors from Freedom from Chemical Dependency (FCD) and, later, reiterated by the Director of our school, I now know that research has shown that one of the strongest factors “in protecting young people from getting into trouble with alcohol or other drugs are positive relationships with parents.” Again, according to research, if parents are uninvolved in their child’s life, it increases the likelihood of children becoming problem drinkers (http://www.fcd.org/content/resources/newsletters.asp).
There are varied norms in different countries and many different types of families all around the world. By and large, they are all very happy and successful. I am simply stating that involvement with kids is paramount to any society where people organize themselves in families, whatever the shape, size and nature of family it may be! Yes, parenting can be accomplished from a distance but many of us trailing spouses have chosen to keep our families close.
So when you are asked for the umpteenth time as to where do you work, what do you do all day, give a broad smile and answer “I work very hard at home!”