Monday, December 24, 2007
Monday, December 10, 2007
Approximately 20 years ago, I was sitting on the Harwich-Hoek van Holland boat with two friends and a peculiar little guide book. We were taking turns to recite “Spher-ayhkt OO ng-gels ass-too-bleeeeft?” and other natty phases to each other. After a while, we began wondering if we were doing the right thing going to live in a country where people use words like ass-too-bleeeft, even if we were only planning to stay for a few months. Frustrated and slightly unnerved, we gave up and went to watch Robocop in the ship’s cinema instead.
I think that initial optimism followed by shock and awe is a common first reaction to learning Dutch. Ok – unlike me and my friends, not everyone is stupid enough to set off for a new country, thinking they can pick up enough of the language on the cross channel ferry to have a cosy chat when they arrive. The trouble with Dutch is that it is unlikely that you will have heard it anywhere else before you arrive here as it has a pretty small language area. Even if , unlike us, you are smart enough to listen to language CDs beforehand, this is no substitute for the real thing. Despite similarities to German and shared words with English, Dutch really is in a class of its own. The other, much-repeated problem is that most Dutch people speak such good English that you feel like an idiot for even trying and you feel like more of an idiot when they answer your stumbling attempts to speak their language with a smooth reply in near-perfect English and what often looks like a badly-concealed smirk on their faces.
People have different ways of reacting to this troubling situation and I’ve identified 3 distinct types: the integrator, the ostrich and the chameleon. The integrator gets down to work immediately. There are two ways in which to be an integrator – the sensible way and the silly way. The sensible way, of course, is to prepare yourself beforehand (those language CDs again) and get yourself into a good language course as soon as possible. Obviously, I went for the silly way. I wrote myself in for a bucket-price language course, got bored by the snail-like pace, dropped out and ended up learning Dutch from the other people in my living group. Everyone spoke Dutch to me all the time and when I finally got up the nerve to speak, each mistake was corrected mercilessly. After a few months, I spoke a sort of Dutch, so why is this the silly way? I could just as easily call it “the immersion in a tank of icy-cold water method”, or “the Sadomasochistic approach”. It was silly because I got pretty lonely sitting there for months, mutely trying to figure out what everyone else was saying. Moving to a new country is supposed to be fun, at least some of the time. Also, when I went back to doing language courses, I realised that my home-spun method had left me with several ingrained bad habits that took a long time to eradicate.
The ostrich takes the completely opposite approach, the “if I hang out with other ex-pats, watch enough BBC and refuse to learn a word of Dutch, then Holland is just a flatter version of home” approach. A few years ago, I had a curious conversation with a woman who runs a successful business in Amsterdam while having the ostrich approach down to a tee. She explained that she had chosen not to learn Dutch because it gave her ‘a better quality of life’. I can’t agree with her, but I suppose she had a point of sorts. Dutch is a difficult language to learn and you are unlikely to use it ever again after you leave the Netherlands. What’s more, everyone knows at least one English speaker who has lived and worked here for years without learning as much as a dank je wel. Maybe sticking to their native language acts as a comfort blanket for ostriches, giving them a feeling of security and control that would disintegrate if they had to negotiate everyday life in a ‘foreign’ language. Or then again, maybe they are just plain idle.
Then there’s the chameleons. This group mainly consists of people who have moved here to be with partners or family. Not under pressure to find work immediately and with a ready-made network in place, they have time to take lessons and practise their pronunciation, gradually blending in to their new environment. This is definitely the most pain-free way of learning Dutch and you can still use it, even if you come to the Netherlands on your own. Follow classes, allow yourself to acclimatize while listening to as much Dutch as possible and when you feel ready, start speaking to friends and colleagues who are less likely to answer you back in English. And above all, enjoy your stay in the Netherlands.--
Crossover Translations is run by Liz Cross, a native speaker of English with over 10 years of experience in translating and editing texts from Dutch into English. Liz has also worked as an interpreter since 2004.
Monday, December 03, 2007
As part of my research into 'global solutions for international assignments' at the Families in Global Transition conference in 2004, I found the 3 biggest challenges that accompanying expat partners expressed in our interviews were:
1. Feeling unrecognized and unsupported.
2. Having expectations that aren't met because of inaccurate or irrelevant information.
3. Feeling isolated.
Imagine how much harder it is for an accompanying spouse who thinks they will be able to work, and then finds out it is practically impossible; or a partner who assumes that internet access is readily available to maintain their home business, but it takes 6 months to get connected; or someone who moves to a new country to be with the person they love and wonders what happened to their real life after the honeymoon is over; or a newcomer who does not have an expat community around them AND can't speak the language.
These are every day occurrences around the world!
Everyone working together to understand and acknowledge the needs of partners and families; becoming informed and setting accurate expectations in order to make the best choices; offering support and help to build a community.
This is so simple - yet not so easy in practice. It takes a global team effort!
Val's Tips for Overcoming the Challenges Facing Accompanying Spouses
1. Employees or partners:
Find out about the issues that accompanying spouses face and recognize their new role. Your job may be exciting and a great opportunity, but not at the expense of your family falling apart. Be there for them, especially in the first crucial weeks.
2. Existing expats:
You may have forgotten what your own expatriation was like. Take a few minutes just now to recall your experience. Ask yourself what made a difference to you, or what you would have REALLY appreciated, then do the same for at least 3 new expats. If we all reached out, think of the impact around the world - WOW!
3. HR and support people:
Appreciate that the successful adjustment of the family is the number one factor for assignment success AND it takes time - it's more than arranging the move and handling procedures. Look into your heart in the midst of the red tape, pressure and delays, and reach out as you would want for yourself in the same position. Think of how to keep in touch with the family - not just the employee. Is there a way to introduce expats to each other? Offer additional support such as career and life coaching in the first year - even when it may not be your responsibility. This is a powerful and cost effective way to contribute to the overall success of the assignment.
4. New expats:
Educate yourself - there is so much information on the web, don't rely on others to give you what you may need, start exploring possibilities before you go. Make contact with people in the new country through groups and message boards. Don't assume it will be similar to your impressions - IT WON'T BE! Be curious and pro-active - it's great practice for when you get there too! Ask for help from those around you. Leave that stiff upper lip and pride behind and let others know what you need and want. It's more than okay - it can be a life saver and the start of true friendships and a great new life!
And finally...consider hiring your own coach to give a jumpstart to your overseas success!
Val Boyko is a Scot and an American, cross cultural consultant, facilitator and professional coach. In 1991 she gave up her management career to move to the Philadelphia area as a "trailing" spouse. As a consultant and coach, she has trained and supported hundreds of families moving around the world. She is a graduate of Coach University, a member of the Society of Intercultural Education Training And Research, and the International Coach Federation.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
World First, which employs 35 people, was founded in 2004. The company deals with private clients and businesses. They help private clients with foreign exchange transactions such as transferring money to buy property abroad, often saving them thousands of pounds. They are in direct competition with the major UK banks, and offer services, such as forward contracts, that banks do not tend to offer individuals or SMEs. The company has two offices, one in London and one in New Zealand.
and here's some information about the award:
Nick Robinson and Jonathan Quin, founders of Currency Exchange company, World First, have won an award for the UK's best young entrepreneurs.
The 'Young Guns Award', run by Growing Business Magazine, looks for young entrepreneurs who will become the business leaders of tomorrow. Past winners include James Murray-Well of Glassesdirect.co.uk and Richard Reed of Innocent Drinks.
The award looks for Directors under 35, who demonstrate 'high quality, innovation, uniqueness' and who are 'running companies that are attracting major investment, heading towards a flotation or just very profitable in their own right.'
"Each year we're quite simply astonished by the level of entrepreneurial talent out there. We shouldn't be, of course, as these youthful dynamos are driving the UK economy and will be the business minds behind many of the country's most recognisable brands for years to come," said Ian Wallis, editor of Growing Business magazine.
Over the years that World First has been our official foreign exchange partner the feedback I've received from our members who have used their services has been 100% positive and it came as no surprise to me that they were the recipients of this award.
Congratulations to both Nick and Jonathan and thank you on behalf of our many satisfied members!
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Beyond the warm feeling you'll get from helping others, what else is in it for you? Here are some possibilities:
- Make new friends or contacts. Thousands of people visit Expat Focus every day and anything you write will be available to them all as soon as it's published. If you want others to get in touch with you just ask us to include your contact details in your article.
- Feel that you're doing something useful with your spare time. If you're a trailing spouse, for example, with a lot of time on your hands don't let your valuable experience go to waste.
- Articles can be published not only at the Expat Focus website but also in our newsletter which goes out to over 6,000 subscribers every month.
- There's a certain satisfaction to be gained from preventing others from making the same mistakes you made when you moved to your new country. Equally, have you found a great tip to help others through the endless maze of paperwork you were required to complete? Pass it on!
- Impress people at dinner parties by telling them you write for a popular expat portal. OK, you might not impress them, but you can tell them anyway :-)
If the above sounds good, how do you get started? Simple - think about what you've learnt from your own experiences. It might be something applicable to all expats or maybe just something of use to those heading to your own country, city, town etc. It really doesn't matter, if it's something you think might help someone else and you're able to write at least 500 words about it then we're interested in publishing it at Expat Focus.
Don't think that just because no one else has written about a certain topic before, or you don't see an appropriate section for it already here, that we're not interested in what you want to write about. Remember, if it's something you would have found useful to know, someone else will too.
If you're not comfortable sending us a complete article straight away because you don't think your writing is good enough why not send in a short sample first? It can be anything - something you've written in the past perhaps on another subject or just a couple of paragraphs you've put together to see how it looks. Don't worry too much about making it perfect, although we do appreciate it if you can run it through a spell checker first!
If you'd like to contribute an article, or even start writing regularly for Expat Focus, please contact Jo James via our contact form.
Jo's a lovely woman and she'll be delighted to hear from you, we promise!
Monday, November 26, 2007
BE PREPARED - ...For anything and everything to go wrong. Don't assume that you'll be able to find the perfect job or house immediately. If possible make sure you've got enough money to see you through the first couple of months at the very least (preferably longer). And to do that you'll need to...
BUDGET - As unglamorous as it sounds, good budgeting could be what makes the difference between a successful relocation and a disaster. Before you go, work out what everything is going to cost during those crucial first months when you're trying to find your feet in a foreign land.
DON'T DELAY - Start preparing as early as possible, just getting all the necessary paperwork in order can take a long time. Make a checklist of everything you need to do!
CHECK YOUR BENEFITS - If your company has initiated your move you may be eligible for relocation benefits. Make sure you ask if they haven't told you already!
HEALTH - Make sure that the country you are moving to has adequate healthcare facilities and infrastructure to support you (and your family), especially if you suffer from a medical condition which requires treatment or medication.
YOUR HOME - Think about what you want to do with your current home (e.g. sell it, lease it, leave it empty) and what kind of accommodation will be most suitable in your new country. If you don't know anyone in the new country who can help find accommodation, consider the services of a relocation agent.
EMPLOYMENT - Will you be looking for work in your new country? If so, consider starting your job hunt before you go (use the Internet!) Will you be able to use your existing qualifications or will a period of retraining be necessary? If you're moving somewhere where they don't speak the same language as you then you should...
LEARN THE LANGUAGE - Few skills will have such a positive impact on your relocation experience as being able to speak, or at least understand, the local language. Getting to grips with the local lingo before you go is a great idea!
PAPERWORK - No matter how insignificant that old document at the back of the bottom drawer may seem now, take it with you, the chances are at some stage you'll have to show it to someone. Moving countries can be a bureaucratic nightmare at the best of times but if you come prepared with the necessary paperwork you stand the best chance of a stress free relocation. Things to think about include birth certificates, wedding certificates, educational certificates, medical certificates (including those for your pets!), etc.
FRIENDS & FAMILY - Don't forget to inform everyone of your new address and when you're going (unless you don't want them to find you, of course ;-) Seriously though, saying goodbye to friends and family can be the hardest thing about leaving, be prepared for an emotional rollercoaster ride as the day of departure draws near.
YOUR BELONGINGS - Will you be taking everything with you or leaving some items in storage (or even getting rid of them completely)? How will you move your belongings? Can you transport them yourself or do you need the services of a moving company? Set aside those things you need to take with you in person so they don't get packed accidentally (passports, tickets, etc.)
INSURANCE - Once you've decided what you're taking with you, insure it. If you haven't already arranged appropriate insurance (health/life/travel, etc.) for yourself and your family as well...DO SO!
BANKING - You may need to open a new bank account in your new country - look for information on the one which suits you best. Do you need to close your current bank account? At the very least you'll need to tell your current bank that you're moving.
CREDIT CARDS - Credit card companies need to be informed you're moving. Also, will the credit cards you're taking with you be widely accepted?
DRIVING - Depending on where you're going and how long you're going to be there you may need to apply for a new driving license or even take a driving test. Will you take your car with you or buy/rent/lease one when you get to your destination country?
UTILITIES etc - Gas, electricity, cable companies and so on will need to be informed of your departure and contracts terminated where appropriate. Make arrangements for final meter readings and bill payments.
POST REDIRECTION - Having your mail redirected after you leave can prevent you from missing something important.
ELECTRIC DEVICES AND MOBILE PHONES - Check whether or not your TV, video, hair dryer, alarm clock etc will work in the new country. You may need to take out a new network subscription for a mobile phone (or buy a new one with a subscription) - watch out for roaming charges with your current phone if you use it.
EMAIL - If moving means you can't keep your current email address, consider a free web based email account you can access from anywhere.
And finally, a couple of important tips for when you get to your new country...
MAKE FRIENDS - Whether locals or fellow expats, nothing will help you more than being able to rely on the assistance of your friends when you need it. Don't think that socialising is time wasted, it's what makes a new country feel like home.
DON'T BE TOO HARD ON YOURSELF - Moving to a new country is difficult. Even when everything goes according to plan it's still difficult. There will be times when you're physically and emotionally exhausted but try not to let things get on top of you. Don't be shy about posting a message to our forums to ask for help or support, we've all been there before.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Always remember that, although it is important to research your chosen destination carefully, you won’t know what it is really like to live there until you’ve actually made the move. You’ll need to give yourself at least a year or more in the destination to decide whether it is right for you and your family. Even if you plan to move there for good, keep your options open in case things don’t work out and you return home.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Consider your family circumstances and how these are likely to change within the next few years. If recently married, for example, do you plan to start a family, and if so, is there likely to be an acceptable standard of medical, educational and social support facilities available in your chosen destination? Will your family (still) be eligible for social security benefits and paid maternity/paternity leave?
Try to find out about the crime rate and personal security situation - in some countries petty crimes such as pick-pocketing and burglaries may be common, while in others there may even be a high risk of violent robbery or terrorist attacks. Consider whether the likely benefits of living in such a country outweigh the risks.
At a minimum, wherever you move you will find differences in the food, weather, social and business customs, and when the initial novelty wears off you might miss the familiarity of your own country and culture. Try to plan ahead for just such an eventuality and decide how you will react to feelings of homesickness and isolation.
More tomorrow but comments always welcome!
Sunday, November 18, 2007
Amnesty International report based on human rights abuses
Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (countries by how corrupt they are)
The 2007 Index of Economic Freedom measures and ranks 161 countries across 10 specific freedoms, things like tax rates and property rights
The Vision of Humanity Global Peace index (countries rated by violence)
List of Countries by Human Developement Index and how it is calculated and the tops
List of Countries by GDP (PPP) Per Capita
List of Countries by Population Density
Thanks to Andrew for those!
Friday, November 16, 2007
Consider whether you are likely to fit into the culture of the country you are thinking of moving to, particularly if is very different from your own. However, don’t forget that when dealing with the intricacies of daily life, there can be major differences even between countries such as Britain and America – to the frustration of many trans-Atlantic settlers! If considering a move to a very different society, such as from a liberal western democracy to a Middle Eastern Islamic society, you will likely face huge cultural differences. For example, women may have less freedom of movement in such societies, and the consumption of alcohol may be prohibited or allowed only in private homes. Similarly, in some eastern countries such as China, the concepts of personal privacy and freedom do not exist as they do in the west. In becoming an expatriate, you will become much more conscious of the need to observe cultural norms and traditions, something that you probably would never thought about when living in your home country.
You and your family may be involved in various organisations or activities at home that might not be available in your new country, including particular churches or other religious institutions. You should investigate what options are available in the new destination, and whether it would present any difficulties if you have to adapt your leisure, social or spiritual practices to the new environment.
It is important to research the year-round climate of your chosen destination, particularly if you have only ever visited during the summer holiday season. Life may be very different in the middle of winter, particular if the weather conditions are extreme. Take into account any environmental risks such as earthquakes or cyclones, and whether the level of risk would be a concern to you and your family. Try to find out whether there are other health hazards such as high pollution levels or high levels of pesticides in local produce. These may be a particular concern if you’re travelling with children, or if family members suffer from respiratory conditions such as asthma.
If you are thinking of moving to a northern European country, consider whether the lack of sunshine, and the relatively short daylight hours in winter, would be a problem for you and your family – remembering that it is often dark by around 4.30 p.m. On the other hand, summer offers the benefit of long light evenings in these countries, although it may be too cool to want to stay outside for long. If considering a move to a country with a hot climate, find out how high the temperatures and levels of humidity actually are and consider what it will be like to live and work in such conditions, bearing in mind of course that you will probably have air-conditioning to help cool you down when inside.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Whether you are considering a temporary or permanent move to a different country it is important not to rush the decision making process, especially if you are taking your family with you. Not everyone is suited to expatriate life, although for many it will be a thoroughly enjoyable and life-enriching experience. Find out as much as you can in advance about life in the country you plan to move to, and consider carefully whether it will suit you and your family.
Use the Internet to get as much information as you can about your chosen destination. Most countries have expatriate community websites with personal articles, blogs and lots of practical advice and information to help new expatriates settle in. You may also be able to find travel books, videos or CD-ROMs about the country you are thinking of moving to in your local library. Take the time to watch the videos or browse travel literature together as a family, and discuss the likely benefits of the new destination as well as any concerns that family members may have. If you are thinking of moving to a distant location, find out how easy and affordable it will be to make trips home, or for family and friends to visit you. You’ll need to consider whether there are direct flights or not, and what the overall travelling time is likely to be, as well as the cost. Remember how stressful long-distance travel can be, particularly if you are travelling with young children.
If at all possible, visit the country you are planning to live in before making up your mind, but remember that daily life there will be very different from your experiences as a short-term visitor. Talk to other expatriates about their experiences, and ask them about the best and worst aspects of life there. Even if you don’t have any existing expat contacts in the country, you will often find that expats tend to congregate in particular areas of town, or in favourite coffee bars or restaurants, where it may be easy to strike up a conversation with them. Lessons learned at this stage, before you commit significant time and money, may be extremely valuable.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
The largest single category of expatriates from western countries is almost certainly those who are posted overseas by their existing employer on a temporary basis - the staff of large international organizations or the diplomatic staff of overseas embassies, for example. However, more and more people are now choosing to move independently to another country, for employment or retirement purposes or just to experience a different environment and way of life. The decision to move to a different country might be based on:
- Better quality of life
- Warmer climate
- Lower cost of living
- Availability of more rewarding employment
- Interest in a different culture
- A relationship
Ultimately, everyone has their own individual reasons for moving abroad. What would it take for you to leave your current home and move to another country? If you did decide to go, how would you start?
I'll talk tomorrow about what I think is the best way to prepare for a successful relocation abroad...
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Monday, November 12, 2007
Sunday, November 11, 2007
Saturday, November 10, 2007
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
My encounter with China dates back to 2002 when I was based in Hong Kong and looking after business development for Infosys in the region. After months of shuttling between HK and Beijing, the time came to make a permanent move to Beijing. Unlike popular belief back in India in those days India was not that far behind China in infrastructure or development and prosperity. I had a sense of the difference between India and China and what to expect when I landed in that country for the first time. But nothing can prepare you for the full impact until you see it with your own eyes. Travelling from the airport to my residence—the experience was overwhelmingly world class. The question which puzzled me many times before haunted me again - why had we not been able to do this in India? This time the urge for finding an answer was much higher.
Saturday, January 06, 2007
Please remember that there is no requirement to add your location to the members map and that all locations are publicly visible. If you do wish to use the map you may wish to consider giving an approximate rather than exact location. Use of the map is at your own risk.
Moving around Google maps can be done via the mouse, keyboard or the built in controls on the map. Using the mouse, drag the map to center it where you want and use the mousewheel to zoom in or out. With your keyboard, the cursor keys move the map up, down and side to side while the +/- keys provide zoom in and out controls respectively. Each map also has built in controls in the upper left. Using your mouse simply click the appropriate icon to move, center or zoom the map.
Adding A Location
Adding your location to the members map will result in a marker with your username being placed on the map which will be visible to all visitors. Note: once you have added your location you may also wish to update your profile (see below) so that people can click on the location listed in your profile and view the location on a Google Map.
Locations can be added in 3 different ways: with your mouse, using the address entry box or via the Manual Location Entry Page. Using the mouse, navigate to the point that you would like to add a location. Next, simply click the map at your location. A window will pop up prompting you for the information pertaining to your new location. Simply enter the info and click the button to submit it. If you decide that you do not want to add the location, simply click the "x" icon in the upper right of the window.
Each map allows you to enter a location by typing in its location/address in the address entry box. Here are some examples of allowable syntax:
Cranbourne North, Victoria, Australia
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington DC
Astrodome, Houston, Texas
If Google recognizes the address you supplied, the map will move/zoom to the location and a window will pop up prompting you to enter the info for the location. At this point the same instructions as described above apply.
Updating Your Profile
Once you have added your location (see above) you may then wish to update your profile with a link to this location. This means that when visitors view your profile (either the full version or the mini-version next to each forum post) they will be able to click on your location and view it on a Google Map.
To update your profile firstly ensure that you have added your location as outlined in the previous step then click the "profile" button below the Members Map and enter the text you would like to appear as the location in your profile (remembering to click "Update Profile Location"). Note: you may then need to logout and log back in again in order to view the change in your profile.