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…
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.
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…
You’ve spent the first half of your life learning acceptable social behaviour, the last ten years telling your kids not to care what people think, and then wham! Relocation. Suddenly you’re stuck right back where you were on the first day of high school, having to walk into places you really would rather run screaming from, and make nice with a sea of people who have no idea who you are. Welcome to our world.
If your cultural orientation training was anything like mine, it revolves around the country currency, demographics and religious practices. What it might not tell you is how to find the people with whom you can laugh, cry, and everything in between with. So here’s my best advice, based on years of social gaffes, awkward situations and offending people.
It does get easier. Just as the first day of school was the worst for most of us (apart from the boy who had diarrhea in assembly in 9th grade – that’s a tricky one to beat), the first few weeks of any move are the hardest. The quicker you get out there and start circulating, the quicker you will find your first friend.
It’s a numbers game. You didn’t expect to like everyone in high school, and nor will you like everyone you meet, but you have to go through the numbers to get to one who will become lifelong friends. Go to as many gatherings as possible, safe in the knowledge that somewhere out there is someone who is doing the same thing and hating it every bit as much as you do..
Talk to a cherished friend beforehand, so that you are
more confident about yourself and will present yourself in a more relaxed way
have vented all your relocation angst so that your new acquaintances don’t think you are a moany old whingebag and hereafter avoid you and,
so you have someone impartial waiting to hear all the gory details. Knowing that you have someone far, far away who relish all the post party gossip and can never tell makes putting up with the fifteenth “what does your husband do?” far more palatable.
Go to where people gather to be social. This issue cropped up the other day – in Europe there are higher numbers of dual income families, so there are fewer opportunities to meet socially through school, and so a friend with school age children is struggling to meet new people. Instead, take a class, or do something that people go to alone. And no, I don’t mean bars.
Be prepared to watch, learn and smile. There will be new social rules (cute does not have the same implicit meaning in the UK and the US), a new dress codes, language differences. You may be an avid taxidermist, but that’s probably not going to be your best icebreaker at the school social. And if you are anything like me, try to avoid sarcastic, flippant or hilarious remarks, such as “Will there be alcohol served?” at the new parent breakfast. My strategy is to seek out the person that sparks the most antipathy, and watch for who else in the crowd is wincing. Instant friend, right there.
Don’t undervalue yourself. Most relocation advice suggests voluntary work as a great way to develop a social network, and while this may be true, I have seen more people than I care to count take on the first volunteer opportunity that comes their way, only to end up in glorious isolation doing the photocopying for the PTA. (Actually, I met one of my favorite people doing exactly that, but I just got very lucky..). Find something that both gives you a sense of fulfillment and attracts like-minded people, and feel free to test drive opportunities before you commit. Tell them I said so.
Talk to anyone. My mother does this, and it drives me nuts, but she can find a friend faster than anyone I know. Her favorite targets are anyone with a British accent, anyone in a book store, anyone wearing Marks and Spencer clothing, and anyone with grey hair. And if you happen to have a baby, your chances of escaping uninterrupted are nil.
At all costs, avoid asking “What does your husband do?”. A little piece of my soul dies every time that question is asked in social circles, as if the person being spoken to is unworthy of interest. Add in the fact that you are assuming that they are a) married, and b) they don’t instead have a wife. My personal answer when asked is “Put a gun to my head and I still couldn’t tell you”; it conveys accurately both my knowledge of what he does, and my interest in finding out. As yet, no-one has taken me up on it, but feel free to find your own, less dramatic response.
In the interest of fulfilling the entire title, when you do finally get out and meet people to talk to, the basic etiquette rules of introduction are as follows:
“Hi /Hello / Nice to meet you”, “I am XXX”; and then a single descriptor (e.g. “friend of the host”, “so and so’s colleague”, etc.)
Introducing Others: Generally, men are introduced to women, younger people to older people, and lower-ranking individuals to more senior – think of it as presenting a subject to the queen. So it would go: “Your majesty, this is my husband, the Other Half.” In a social setting, it is considered good form to give the newly introduced couple something to talk about. And no, that does not include politics, religion or embarrassing facts about each other..
I would like to pretend that I know these facts from early presentation to the Queen and life in elevated circles. Alas not.
One of the most important parts of successful relocation – establishing a new social and support network – can also be one of the most difficult, especially when you first arrive. Social media is an excellent tool for expats, transferees and accompanying partners all to make their own connections and get established.
For those of you who missed this my not so quiet meltdown, I’m going to be presenting at the Families in Global Transition conference in March, and I don’t know a soul there. Enter Social Media – in my case Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin, and the miracle that is the search feature. I still haven’t met any of my new friends face to face, but instead of quietly dreading the event, I now have a list of people that I really, really want to meet.
The same strategies that I used are just as helpful when you are relocating across the city, the country or the world, and frankly, if I can manage it, anyone can. There will be hoards of you out there who are far better at this than I (hints and tips in the comments section are gratefully received!), but for those of us not so technically gifted, here’s the Defining Moves guide to Social Media and Relocating.
The two most useful for the accompanying partner are:
Facebook. There are 517,760,460 Facebook users – about 7% of the world’s population – and all of them are using it to connect with others.. So if you don’t currently have a Facebook page, now’s the time to start one. Here’s a great how-to link, and here’s our online security guide.
Twitter defines itself as “a service for friends, family, and co–workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent messages. People write short updates, often called “Tweets” of 140 characters or fewer. These messages are posted to your profile or your blog, sent to your followers, and are searchable on Twitter search.” If, like me, it’s all very new, check out their FAQ page for more details.
Once you have an account, make it expat network friendly:
Post an appropriate photo of yourself. People feel more comfortable connecting with someone they can see, but make sure it is one you would be happy for your mother / employer / youngest child to see. Social media is all about sharing, remember..
Safeguard your personal information. Avoid entering very personal information such as contact details, religious and political philosophies, family member details and personal photos. There are control buttons to the left of all the information boxes which allow you to decide who can access your information, but it’s better not to enter it at all – accounts can and do get hacked.
Watch your Wall. The incoming information on your Facebook page is referred to as your ‘Wall’, and any of your friends can post something on it. As many have found to their cost, this is not always a good thing. Before you explore new networks, consider ‘hiding’ posts that may cause offense (there’s an X to the top right of each post), or where you have repeat offenders, an entire newsfeed. With Twitter, it’s called a Timeline, and you only have the option to block ‘tweets’ by specific people, but the same rule applies – carefully choose the company you keep, and if you inadvertently post something offensive, delete it immediately.
Use the Search and Hashtag (#) options. These are invaluable to relocating expats; searches involving ‘expat’, your location, and any hobbies or interests will quickly give you a list of people and groups who are delighted to hear from you. If you want to keep track of ongoing responses to a search term, a (free!) service like Hootsuite will allow you to have all your Social Media accounts and searches in one place, and update them for you. Be warned – it’s a little overwhelming at first, but is seriously useful if you want a constantly updated list of potential new friends.
Reach out. It’s not just enough to simply lurk in the background – you have to make contact with people. The best piece of relocation advice I was ever given related to making new friends; “it’s a numbers game”. The huge advantage with social media is that you have millions to choose from, so reach out to anyone with whom you may have something in common and introduce yourself. Not everyone will respond, but on the whole, if they exist on social media, it’s because they want to be social..
Network. Don’t limit yourself to the contacts found by your search terms – look at the groups they are involved with, their contacts etc. Just to start you off, here’s Defining Moves on Facebook and Twitter – feel free to Like and Follow. See? It’s working already!
When it comes to international assignments, relocation policy is not just a ‘one-size-fits-all’ affair. Not only is there flexibility to cater for specific individual needs within the various policies in use, there are also plenty of potential pitfalls to consider too. So what are the main areas that you need to understand when negotiating your expat assignment contract?
Home or Away. There are now a number of different types of contracts being used by the HR and relocation companies to manage your assignment. The two most common are local (including local plus) and international. Local means that you will be temporarily governed by the employment pay and conditions of the host country, and aims to ensure parity among employees within a specific location for the duration of your contract. It can mean a increase in salary for more expensive regions, but a decrease for less expensive, and can significantly affect annual vacation entitlement. Local plus provides for additional needs or expenses incurred because of your temporary expat status, such as international school fees and trips home.
An international contract means you continue to work under the terms and conditions of your home location, regardless of the salary and benefit entitlements in your host location. As a comparison, European employees on an international assignment in the US would probably be entitled to more annual leave days than their American counterparts, whereas US employees heading to Europe would find the opposite was true.
Matching Up. Once you have established what type of contract you will be working under, you need to look carefully at the terms and conditions of that contract, most specifically with regard to equalization. You need to be sure that the package provided gives you the same (or better) standard of living as you would have in your home location. It is more than just the immediate basic requirements – housing, healthcare, schooling, transportation, financial and legal status – you also need to consider the longer term: school planning, college eligibility and fees, provision for dependents becoming legally adult, access to legal services should you need them, long term medical and social care, financial planning, tax implications and superannuation (company pension plan). You will need to do detailed research in advance with reference to your specific individual and family needs, and if you have a preliminary visit, try and talk to resident expats to get a realistic picture of what the cost of living in your host location might be, and what challenges to expect. Don’t assume that the information given by the relocation management company is accurate – they use a generic formula that may have little relevance to your situation and needs. There are plenty of resources available to help you – Living Abroad, the ExpatInfoDesk , Journeywoman and Expatwomen all have country specific information and contacts that can help you understand what you are getting into.
“There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.” – Nelson Mandela
What happens when your contracted assignment is over? In an ideal world, there is a clear progression that goes beyond your repatriation, and provides for a smooth transition back to your home location. Even with successful international assignments, many people have discovered that repatriation is as hard as expatriation, and there is an increasing awareness that companies need to provide similar support services to move employees back to their former home successfully. And finally, ensure that you are supported should the assignment not go to plan, and either the whole family or the dependents need to repatriate early. If the situation is serious enough to make you leave, the last thing you need is to have to manage and fund your own return journey..
The HSBC’s Expat Explorer survey describing the top 10 barriers to relocating was recently discussed over at ShelterOffshore.com, who very kindly put together professional, well thought out advice for the 4100 respondents to the survey. Here’s the first part of my quick and dirty version, for the lost souls who stumble upon this site..
1) Re-establishing a Social Life
41% of all those surveyed advised that this was a key concern for them prior to and initially following their relocation abroad…highlighting just how important it is for us all to have friends and social contact.
Get out there. Bottom line, the only things you will make friends with in your own home are the TV and the refrigerator. The best piece of advice that I received on my somewhat less than comprehensive pre-assignment briefing was that “It’s a numbers game”. You have to filter through the masses to find the ones you want to spend time with. Put another way, if you want to find the diamonds, you have to go down the mine and get dirty. So, trite cliches aside, join the PTA /PTO, call the international school and embassy to see if they have lists of expat groups, take a class, join a sports club or gym (last resort for me due to ingrained laziness) and if all else fails, go and hang around the international food market and start up conversation with anyone who buys the Branston Pickle / Vegemite / Reeses Peanut Butter Cups / whatever your preferred food item might be. Many a lasting friendship begins over a a bar of Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut, as Suzanne (Kenya), Liz & Kate (Los Angeles)and Emma & Staci (San Francisco) will attest.
2) Feeling Lonely / Missing Family & Friends
This of course ties in with the above point, and 34% of expats surveyed by HSBC highlighted this as a genuine worry. Recent statistical evidence from the Centre of Future Studies also reveals that the expats who adjust most successfully and quickly are those who relocate with families..
One word. Skype. Your job before you leave town (or on your first trip home) is to insist firmly that all family members and close friends download Skype. (Boy, do I wish I was on commission right now..). This magical form of communication means that with the simple addition of a webcam, you can not only talk to loved ones, you can see what their hair is doing today. And nothing says togetherness more than commiserating over your “I’m new in town and can’t find a hairdresser” motif. Should you have a social group that is stuck in the pre-technology age, Skype does offer a monthly subscription that allows unlimited calls to landlines in 34 countries for ‘free’ (obviously you’ve paid a subscription, so it’s not really free, for the accountants amongst you) and cheap calls to cellphones. The bad news is that you will require internet access, so if that’s not possible, use Rebtel, which only requires a cellphone, and handles the internet bit for you.
30% of those surveyed stated that they were worried about language being a barrier to their successful integration abroad – with many Brits relocating to Europe particularly concerned.
Learn the language as you will use it, and get used to feeling ridiculous. There are some excellent resources out there, the more formal being Berlitz and Rosetta Stone, but there are also endless apps, podcasts and online resources, so you have absolutely no excuses. One of my favorites is Fluent in 3 Months, which requires you to spend a lot of time feeling foolish and inept, but long as you have a sense of humor and a willingness to make mistakes, you will develop reasonable fluency in a very short amount of time.
Part 2 of the Top 10 Concerns of Expats (Defining Moves version) continues on Thursday. Don’t want to miss it? Subscribe on the right!