Category Archives: Social & Cultural Issues

Relocation & Expat Resources – Social and Cultural Issues. Information, Inspiration, How-To Guides and Tools for Trailing Spouses, Accompanying Partners, and Families in Transition and

The Fragile Finances of the Expat Trailing Spouse. Defining Moves, The Art of Successful Relocation

Women, Money and What ‘Dependent Partner’ really means. The Fragile Finances of the Expat Trailing Spouse.

The Fragile Finances of the Expat Trailing Spouse. Defining Moves, The Art of Successful RelocationUpdate: After considerable lobbying from consumer groups, the US Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection has amended the rule requiring evidence of independent income when applying for consumer credit, replacing it with a declaration of household income. This is excellent news for accompanying partners in the United States who had been denied access to credit and left unable to build an independent financial identity, in a country where a credit card or credit history is required for everything from hiring a car to setting up a cell phone contract. Sanity is restored…

I came to a horrible realization the other day that I was beholden to my husband. It sounds incredibly old-fashioned; even using the word ‘partner’ in that sentence would be wrong, because it implies an equality that I had let slip away.

The dictionary describes the term beholden as owing something to somebody because of something that they have done for you’, so if you view being shuffled from pillar to international post as a favour, the word pretty much covers it. I realized that although I live in California, where community property and a 50/50 division applies, I did not have the independent means to pay for legal advice. And when he leaves all his dirty breakfast dishes on the counter above the dishwasher for the 5 millionth time, there is a big emotional difference between don’t want to divorce my Other Half, and CAN’T…

As with the vast majority of dual career couples, when I agreed to the OH’s first relocation, I was aware that from now on my own career would take a back seat. Global mobility research discusses the change (usually reduction) in income when a couple relocate, but discussion centres around household income, rather than individual earning power.

Which is exactly what I have lost. I have never worked in professions known for lavish salaries (nursing or teaching, anyone??), but I was able to earn significant personal income with opportunities for promotion. Now, however, my sole income in drawn from the ‘household’, and as such, is vulnerable. And I’m not alone.

It’s not just those of us who relocate that are in this position. It’s anyone who has chosen to reduce or give up work to manage family commitments, whether you are in constant global motion, or have never set foot outside your home town. If you have no independent source of income, whoever earns the salary holds the keys to your supposed household income.  And while you are legally entitled to a portion of those, it requires court approval to gain access to them, whatever the circumstances. Which also requires legal counsel, who (funnily enough) will want to be paid.

Take credit cards. Over the last 20 years, we have become used to being approved for credit, regardless of our personal income; the household income has always been taken into account. Sure, the credit limit may be small, but it’s quickly increased once our payment history shows our ability to make payments and manage the account well. However change is afoot, certainly in the US, where credit card issuers are changing their rules, and making it far more difficult for the accompanying partner to gain credit (and a good credit history), unless they are employed outside of home.

Last year, the Fed ruled that credit card applications should ask about a consumer’s individual income or salary rather than his or her “household income”. This isn’t just for students under 21, but for everyone. That means that a stay-at-home parent is considered as unworthy of credit as an unemployed college kid–and seven out of eight stay-at-home parents are mothers. No one without a pay stub, no matter the value of her contribution to her household, can get a line of credit unless her spouse cosigns the account. (Anisha Sekar,  July 7, 2011)

Now, in light of the recent economic meltdown, placing more focus on individual income and ability to repay debts is no bad thing, but it does have ramifications for those of us who suddenly lose the ability to get even the most basic forms of credit like a cell phone contract or credit card. It also means that unless you are named on the account, you lose the ability to make financial decisions, access accounts and resolve disputes, which if, like mine, your partner spends a great deal of time out of the country and on air flights, can make financial management impossible.

The Other Half is also the primary name on the host country bank account, and I don’t have automatic access to his account. Typically, he goes ahead to take up his new post, while I remain behind with the children to finish up the school year and pack the house for the move. It works well for us, but does mean that he has sole responsibility for setting up basic financial services in the new location, so it is his name on the salary transfer and tax details, and therefore his name on the account, at least until we get around to updating it.

We choose to manage this by having me sign all the checks (if he signed one himself, it would probably be dismissed as a forgery), I have the ATM card and PIN number, and I’ve set up the internet banking with my passwords. And while this unusual state of affairs makes for amusing dinner party conversation, it gives me absolutely no legal right to the household funds in that account, nor access to them should he suddenly develop amnesia / get run down by a London bus / decide to trade me in for a younger, blonder model…

The mention of Tax ID and salary above should alert you to the fact that opening your own bank account is not necessarily as easy as it first appears. Requirements vary from country to country, but most require evidence of who you are, your legal right to be in the country, how you will pay tax on any interest, and how you intend to fund the account. So when you turn up with your passport and cash, you may be disappointed… However, it is something that is worth doing if you value your sanity, because things can and do go wrong, and I am willing to bet that it is you who will be left holding the can when it does. If the money is in your sole name, you have control over it; if it’s not, you don’t. Simple as that.

And finally, let me mention the dying thing. I have known a few situations where a spouse has died at a young age, and not once did I ever hear the words “well now, let’s get on and sort out the money”. What I saw were people who had their lives knocked out from under them, who were trying to cope with immense loss, overwhelming grief, and devastated children. Imagine how much worse it gets when you are overseas, your right to be in the country expired with the demise of your spouse, and all your assets (and therefore your ability to get home, to make funeral arrangements, to pay medical bills and to pay for normal household expenses) are now severely compromised. I have seen it happen, and it was horrific.

So, if you do nothing else today, do these things for me, wherever you are. Get started on your own personal credit history, even if you have to take out a secured credit card to do it. Promise to keep track of your credit score, every month. Get an independent bank account in your host country, and commit to funding it, every month. And finally, make a joint will, keep it simple and safe, and make sure it is legal in the country that you live in.

Oprah would be proud. I feel more secure already…

Expat Parenting – The International Peace Treaty..

expat parenting - how it takes more than one village to raise a CCK / TCK. Defining Moves, information, inspiration and resources for the global trailing spouse, accompanying partner, international assignment transferee..  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..

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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..

FIGT Conference March 22-23 2013

Why You (and every expat) Should Be Going to FIGT 2013

FIGT Conference March 22-23 2013It 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!

Global Expat parenting - Defining moves, the art of successful relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global trailing spouse, accompanying partner or expatriating family.

Expat Parenting. Just how far do you have to go to escape the PTA?

Global Expat parenting - Defining moves, the art of successful relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global trailing spouse, accompanying partner or expatriating family.No matter where in the world we live, there are some things that remain constant. The unwary fall into the trap of thinking that expat life might be different, or that this relocation will be the one where you have freedom to think, space to grow, and finally, a life that looks something like the ones in the glossy magazines. Think again. For those of you who are currently struggling with the school registration vortex, here’s a repost of one of my favorite pieces..  

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there was a life that didn’t revolve around a steering wheel. Life was peaceful, the land was quiet, and the people were happy.

But discontentment snuck in. “Where were the children?” they asked. They could play in the fields, and learn in the schools. They could be polite and cheerful at all times, and help in the house. They could go to college, become professionals, and keep their parents safe and dry in their old age.

So they had children. For four years, everyone in the land was happy. But then the children started school, and the letters began. At first the letters were happy tales of the children’s day, and invitations to meet the kindly teachers. But then, the dark times began.

“Your child” it said ” has headlice, and will need to be kept away from school until you have successfully treated them and been clear for two days.”

And then another. And another.

“Please submit your TB vaccination certificate to the school office by Thursday”

“We require forty-seven volunteers, seventy-three cupcakes and three tubs of glitter for the Halloween party. Please indicate your donation below.”

“Your child has been cast in the class Nativity play. Please send in a cow costume (with detachable udders for hygiene purposes) by tomorrow.”

“We need 6 parents to drive on the field trip next Monday. Please complete attached form, with evidence of public liability insurance, TB vaccination certificate, auto service history to the class teacher by Friday. You will be subject to a background check.”

On and on it went, until  the house was unrecognizable, with papers covering every surface. Soon letters were being lost, the forests disappeared, and the cries from parents all over the land could be heard. And so the search began for a new way, a better way.

At first, email was good. But then the evil force took over, and soon parents’ inboxes were filled with clamorous voices from every side. “Come and support your child in the band recital / mandatory meeting for parents of the drama club students/ volunteer sign-ups for the soccer team / Back to School Night / Halloween Party chaperones and donations /school registration requirements / Orientation days”. It never stopped. Parents knew that if they didn’t keep up, their children would no longer be happy and would never go to college, and so the parents drove and drove, until they no longer spent time in their homes, but simply lived in their cars.  And just when they thought they could take no more, the “Reply All’ button was discovered, and insanity triumphed.

But somewhere, in a hovel in a small corner of the kingdom, an old crone discovered an answer to the chaos that had taken over, robbing her of her family, her life and her health.

It was the delete button. And it was good.

 

The Expat Packing List- Household Goods. Defining Moves, the art of successful relocation

Unconventional but Essential Items for your Household Goods Shipment… Your Expat Packing List

The Expat Packing List- Household Goods. Defining Moves, the art of successful relocationMy Facebook page is bubbling with excitement this week, as three members of my friends and family are due to receive their household goods shipment. Somehow, the arrival of your previously treasured possessions brings home the reality that you have arrived somewhere for the long haul, and for the kids especially, it comes as a combination of Christmas and birthdays rolled in to one.

The flip side of course, is that the sea of boxes in front of you is a brutal reminder that you are not, after all on vacation, and there are three days of unpacking to be done. Which, when you get to it, inevitably leads to the question, “What on earth was I thinking when I packed that?!”

There are very few rules about what to take to a new location, and most will center around advice from other expats – all of which will be from their own personal perspective, not yours. So for those of you inveterate overpackers, here’s my list – the result of three continents-worth of accumulation, dejunking and general dislike for the unpacking process…

 

Stuff that makes you feel at home.

For me, this is white porcelain china, good silverware, bed linens and vases. My way of nurturing people is to feed them, so anything involving food preparation and service is first on my list. I do, however, only own 5 cooking pans –  Le Creuset saucepans, frying pan, and a wok and  huge stainless steel stockpot – and I have yet to need anything else.

I am ridiculed locally for my rather rigid approach to decorating; everything is either white, sand, silver or slate grey, but these are the colors that I find soothing, and after the chaos and confusion of packing, air travel, temporary accommodation and the endless form-filling, any serenity that comes from a packing box rather than a wine bottle is very welcome.

N.B. No matter where you are in the world, if your children go to school and you have any sort of non-local accent, you will be required to exhibit at the school International fair. Virtually every school (especially the International variety) hold one annually, during which you will be expected to represent your home nation with flags, costumes and other assorted paraphernalia. Using valuable luggage allowances to ship Welsh hats, dragons and love spoons was painful, so take it from the formerly unprepared; pack a box of anything that is traditional to your country now. Think 6ft x 3ft table with backdrop and go wild…

 

Photos.

An anonymous apartment quickly becomes home when you have photos of your family and friends in it. The good news with photos is that they are easy to pack; remove them from their frames, just in case and make scanned copies. I no longer bother taking many picture frames with me, instead buying local ones for each house.

 

Books.

I’d love to pretend that these were the collected sonnets of Shakespeare and a few Greek tragedies, but in reality, my literary tastes center around historical whodunits and the complete works of Janet Evanovitch. Hardly highbrow, but they provide escapism, humor and just enough mental activity to keep me engaged without keeping me up all night. And somehow, the sight of the familiar titles on a bookshelf anywhere reassure me that I will always have something enjoyable to read, even if I already know who killed whom, and how and where.

 

Board games and cards.

No family room is complete without a set of rarely-played board games, and they are the ultimate antidote to childhood boredom. The words “if you’re bored, we can always play a game” instantly empties a room of any moaning offspring, who disappear off in search of more understanding and less demanding company. Promises of a Friday Family Game night can be used to improve involvement in local community programs, after school activities, and extra credit homework. Unless you discover the “Settlers of Catan’ series, in which case you end up with a house full of wool-trading teenagers… I kid you not.

 

Personal Mementos.

Every expat parent will be familiar with the lament “you never kept my … ,” which arises every time a teacher sets some sort of personal history project. There is a teacher training torture center somewhere that collates all previous child memento projects, and in attempt to keep the children interested and the parents completely bald, changes the requirement every darn year. Last year it was their first shoes, this term it’s ‘first pictures’. Next year it’ll be the family tree, interview your grandma, or yet another task that we have no way of fulfilling without a private jet or a clairvoyant. So, before you put all your worldly goods in storage, put together a comprehensive memory box to thwart even the most tyrannical of kindergarten teachers. It should contain: first shoes, early artwork (scans or photos will do, providing you are willing to recreate them surreptitiously), any school certificates and trophies, no matter how precarious the pretext), photographs of the ENTIRE family (both sides) and any other items of specific religious or cultural significance, and dates of first steps, first words and first day of school, etc, etc.

In the event you are reading this 3,000 miles away from the storage unit that contains the above, there is still hope. It can all be found in the form of Google, a printer, the local thrift shop and the ability to lie convincingly. For more detailed instructions see “Relocation Dilemmas – Faking Your Family Tree”… You have my blessing.

 

Photo Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum 

 

Cultural Diversity - The Features we love and the story they tell.

The Features We Love and The Story They Tell.

Cultural Diversity - The Features we love and the story they tell.I was standing at the bathroom sink this morning, washing my hands, and I caught a glimpse of them in the mirror. It was strange, seeing them as others do, objectively. I liked them.

Usually, my hands make me feel inadequate – the nails are rarely the same length, never hold polish for more than an hour, and the backs of my hands are always peppered with reminders written in permanent marker. But this morning, for the first time in a very long time, I stopped to look at them, and I liked what I saw.

I like the story they tell. They have scars from old adventures, notes that reflect a life filled to overflowing, and they are hands that have cooked meals, cared for children, given gifts, stroked pets, signed forms, dropped balls, written stories and held many, many other hands. If I could pick the best part of myself, it’s my hands. They may not be beautiful in any traditional sense, but they define who I am.

My sister’s hair has similar properties. It is at once enthusiastic, rebellious, constantly escaping conformity, colorful and irrepressible. It has spirit, humor and power, and it constantly defies every effort to hold it down. It is lives life simply, and thrives when left to it’s own devices. It is hair that doesn’t demand much in the way of maintenance and withstands every activity. It is unbowed by the elements; come wind, hail, sun or snow, it never flattens, simply goes with the flow and springs back when the storm has passed.

Then there are S’s eyes. They are an incredible shade of blue; clear, bright and piercing. They’d be intimidating if it wasn’t for the crinkles at the corners, betraying a love of laughter and enthusiasm for life.  Those little lines are the dead giveaway that their owner has spent life out in the sun, not hiding in the shadows; that she has seen plenty and is still smiling. They were what drew me to her the first time we met – you don’t get eye crinkles from insincere smiles.  You get them from joyful grins, from constant laughter, the kind that is directed at yourself, rather than at others. The ability to constantly see the funny side, wherever and whatever that might be.

With H, it’s shoulders. She has a swimmer’s shoulders: broad, strong and seemingly able to hold up the world. And when I first moved to Kenya, that’s exactly what they did. They supported my world when it was crashing around me, and barely noticed the effort.

With K, it was the lopsided piratical grin, that told me here was someone who laughed in the face of adversity, and would stand shoulder to shoulder with you in a fight.

L, the eye roll, that gave away the irreverent, rebellious streak that I adore.

A, the twinkle in a pair of brown eyes that let you know that even though you may come from different places and speak different languages, you don’t. Not really.

E; eyebrows that dance with laughter, and occasionally draw together in advance warning of an impending storm.

S, a brain that combines klutziness, steely competence and complete naiveté in a hilarious mix.

It’s funny how the things we desperately try to change are often the ones that the people who know us love most. How the parts that are different tell others about who we really are, and what they will love about us. They are the doors to our characters, the invitation to know the real person.

Entrancing.

 

Photo courtesy of the Tyne and Wear Archives and Museum.

Camel train circa 1900's

Relocating? 9 Essential questions every expat should ask. (Part 1)

Camel Train circa 1900

 

When we think of living abroad, we instantly conjure up images of white sandy beaches, turquoise seas, friendly locals and a leisurely quality of life. That is, until we’re two days into our first relocation, surrounded by boxes, with no power, not internet, and no help in sight. By day four, the bloom has gone off this particular rose, and by day seven, we realize that we were possibly just a little naive in thinking that four bedrooms, a balcony and guaranteed sunshine were really all we needed to find our bliss. So for the anyone considering relocating, here’s part one of the ‘9 Essential Questions Every Potential Expat Should Ask’ series. And yes, the same rules apply for domestic relocations too..

1. Where am I going?

The standard ways of finding out destination information – travel guides, websites and maps – tell you very little of what you need to know when relocating. Visiting a country for a short period is very, very different to living and working  there, and it’s the challenge of day-today living that causes many assignments to end early.

To understand whether your new location is a good fit for you and your family, you need to do two things. Firstly, assess how your time is spent currently, including work, school, commuting travel, after school activities, sports, socializing etc. Using resources specific to long term living rather than short term visits, assess how much change you would experience, what benefits and disadvantages your new location has, and decide whether or not this is really the move for you.

This might be anything from a lack of sunshine /open space/daylight hours/ professional theatre to different education systems, religious practice or high crime rates. There is a whole world out there, and it’s better to keep your options open for a more appropriate assignment than be forced to terminate one early.

Ask your HR department about global information that the company purchases –  resources like Living Abroad, Expat Arrivals, the Not for Tourists guides and the Lonely Planet guides will give you much of the information you need, and online blog registries and expatriate forums have the real life experience. Consider joining a network like Internations to meet locals and expats from your potential host location.

2. How long will I be going for?

Notice that didn’t I ask how long was your contract was for?  Ten years and 5 relocations ago, we were offered a 1 year temporary assignment to Kenya. I have yet to return home, and all of our wedding photographs, birth certificates, photographs of our children as babies and furniture are still in a house in Wales. Contracts get extended, new transfers are offered, and if you are taking short term assignments, often all your belongings are not included in the relocation policy.

More importantly, you need to have a clear understanding of how long all members of the family are willing and able to participate a globally mobile life.

The long term issues surrounding schooling mean that your children may not have the required qualifications to attend the school of their choice (although colleges and universities are becoming much more flexible in terms of acceptable international admission criteria) or they may now be liable for higher ‘international’ tuition fees as you have lived outside your home country for too long to qualify for local fees.

The accompanying partner may have negotiated a year’s leave of absence, or may be required to maintain professional registration status, both of which become vulnerable if an assignment is extended.

3. What does the package include?

There are various types of relocation policies, including local, local plus and international, all of which give different levels of pay and benefits dependent on location. And while some will seem very generous in terms of base salary and hardship allowances, once on assignment you can quickly discover that the money is eaten up in unexpected ways.

If you have the information from the previous questions, you will have a better idea of what your new lifestyle will cost, and whether or not components that you consider essential are reflected in the assignment offer.

Key areas to look for are not just base salary, but frequently reviewed goods and services supplements (useful in less stable countries where the price of goods and exchange rates can fluctuate wildly) , health insurance coverage, childcare and school funding, whether you will be paid in your home or host currency, travel allowances, emergency evacuation policies, and repatriation assistance.

Talking to other expats will give you the best understanding of the real cost of living, which brings us neatly to the first question in Part 2 – “Do I get a preview visit?”

The Top 10 Concerns of Expats #1 – The Defining Moves Version

 

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..

Another happy day out in Wales.. Seriously.

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.

3) Career Concerns

Oh blimey. Where to start. Probably with Jennifer Bradley’s Free Career Mentorship Classes.. Just to make it even easier, they’re online.

 4) Language Barriers

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!

The Ugly Truth about Reinvention.

It’s the time of year when we are bombarded with “How to be Better / Smarter / Richer / More Efficient” articles, and I’ve had enough. I have been re-inventing on a global scale for the last ten years, and all it’s got me is tired, cranky and more aware of my own cellulite. Reinvention means that someone, somewhere is giving us a ‘C’ grade, and to make it worse, they are telling us lies. Every damn year..

1. We worship false images. One only has to watch the MissRepresentation video to realize just how susceptible we are to external influences – and they are no longer outside our homes, but are streamed in constantly via the TV, internet and even product packaging. Our idea of normal has changed, and we are intent on achieving a perfection that only exists in marketing storyboards. And it goes way beyond our physical appearance – now it’s the car we buy, the way our houses are decorated, whether our children are tall, muscular, acne free and getting perfect grades while setting up non-profits.. It never ends. But here’s the kicker – as Cindy Crawford famously said “Even I don’t look like Cindy Crawford”. It’s all an illusion, and we’re falling for it hook, line and sinker.

2. The harder we try, the more likely we are to fail. Robert Wiseman, author of 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot, points out that the minute we try to deny ourselves something, the more importance we give to it, and the greater the likelihood we will do exactly what we are trying not to. Parents realized years ago that if you want to avoid the toddler tantrums, distraction and reward is a far more powerful tool than denial. Perhaps if George Clooney made an exercise video, I might be a little more motivated..

3. It’s easier to follow than to lead. The easiest way to learn a new skill is to have someone skilled to teach you, but throughout our school life we have been taught (notice the irony here?) that copying is cheating. Yet watching and replicating behaviors is how the animal kingdom has evolved since life began, and it is by far the most efficient way of learning. So let’s raise a glass to all those who happily share their expertise on YouTube, online or in person, for no other reward than to help those of us blundering away in the dark.

4. 80% of the results come from 20% of the effort. The rest is just wasted in the hopeless quest for a perfection that we have already established does not exist. I was horrified to discover that in my son’s school, to get an ‘A’ you have to score over 90%. When did that happen? In my school days, a mere 75% got you there, and if your grade was above 80%, you were hailed as the next Einstein. I’m with Pareto, and I’m saving my 80% for the good stuff.

As you may already have guessed, this year, I’m not re-inventing. Instead, I’m ReBranding. I’m not going for slimmer, smarter or richer, I’m going for more interesting, and if I have to lie to do it, so be it. I’ve realized that I’m not perfect, and there’s plenty of room to change, but actually, I quite like me the way I am. I’ve spent every New Year for as long as I can remember planning to be different, and like me, it’s getting a bit old. So I reserve the right to appear in public in my pyjamas, to wear inappropriate clothing to parents’ evenings, and to refuse to attend lunches where only salad is served.

Here’s what I’m proposing for 2012. This year, we aim low. We ignore the stuff we don’t like, and just cut straight to the dessert menu.  We spend less time pleasing people we don’t even know, and more time having fun with people who love to laugh with us, however ridiculous we look. We recognise that most efforts above 20% are wasted. We learn to salsa, where copying is encouraged. We learn to use Photoshop, and use it ruthlessly for both good and evil.

This year, we’re Good Enough.

Teen Social Networking Infographic

It’s no longer just putting pen to paper – like many expat and TCK kids, mine rely on social networking sites to keep in contact with friends around the world. But while we keep track of them in the real world, Zonealarm’s infographic outlines just why we should be doing the same in the online one.
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