Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Very Foreign Christmas

by Expat Focus columnist Toni Hargis

Whether you relocated two years ago or twenty, Christmas can always be counted on to remind you of “home”.
Holiday attire in the States does that for me.. Oh yes, it’s not just the people standing in for Santa who dress up around here. For the subtle look we have ear-rings that look like they belong on a Christmas tree, some take it a little further with red scarves, perhaps a little sparkle here and there, and then there are others who feel the need to remind everyone about Christmas – on their chests.

American author Mike Harling, now resident in England, just can’t get used to fireworks at Christmas time. “I have willingly absorbed most of the Christmas traditions of my adopted country, and the holiday season is richer because of it. But the one thing I continue to find jarring is all the fireworks. The towns set them off when they light the Christmas lights (or they used to before the money ran out) and they are a feature of many holiday parties. Watching fireworks in the damp and cold, however, without a barbecued hotdog in one hand and a plastic cup half-filled with warm beer in the other just isn't the same. Fireworks mean...

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Monday, December 27, 2010

Expats bring Christmas cheer to orphaned children in Bulgaria

by Charlie

To all you fabulous, wonderful, kind and generous people out there who donated to Kalofer orphanage, you have made this Christmas for the children the best one ever!

Ok, from the beginning;

Sam, Richard and Roger, our friends here in Bulgaria, came along to help me and Chech load up all the donations. There was a fair bit!! We took our convoy to Kalofer and for the first time ever I think, no one was there to greet us!! Well it was a little on the cold side!!!!

Normally, when we go, the kids are clambering over each other to help unload the car, sneaking a look in the boxes, typical excited children! But this time had to be different, the Director enlisted the help of the older children,(although the older girls wanted to keep posing for photographs, ha ha) and all the others were asked to wait in the classroom, well, not a classroom as such, but it has desks and chairs so somewhere for all the children to have their own spot. I was then introduced to a French lad who was there volunteering, then a girl, then another lad, then another 3 girls ….. I had to find out more. They all spoke excellent English. They work for an engineering and technology company in Lyon and the company has projects that they can take part in. One of the projects is a week in Bulgaria volunteering at an orphanage. They are spending Christmas at the home and leave on 26th December. I asked them what they thought, they said it was good but very cold. The corridors have no heating at all, I think it was definitely an eye opening trip for them. They said they communicate with the children and staff via charades and say the children are great.

So, between us, we took everything upstairs, ready for the big hand out!...

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Friday, December 24, 2010

Feeling Alien in France at Christmas

by Expat Focus Columnist, Sharon Revol

The end of the year is a time for family and tradition for most people, but when you’re an Expat things are never quite the same. For one, not all Expats get to be around their family at this time of year and the feeling of loneliness can dampen the seasonal cheer, not to forget that sometimes the host countries traditions or religions are totally different to those that an Expat is used to, making you feel quite alien.

I have been living in France since I was 16 so have had plenty of time to get used to the French way of doing things at Christmas time, but still each year I spend Christmas here, I find myself longing for a Christmas with my family like it used to be back in England.

It isn’t so much that the French are very different in how they celebrate Christmas, of course they have Santa Claus and nativity plays, traditional meals and Christmas parties, but it is the little traditions from my childhood that are missing for me; no carol singers, not sending Christmas cards (the French send out cards to wish a Happy New Year in January), no mince pies, Christmas crackers or Christmas pudding.

But it’s of little surprise these traditions are uncommon here: A Christmas card is sold individually most of the time at a cost of 2 or 3 Euros as opposed to twenty for the same price back in the UK. Mince pies and Christmas pudding whilst delicious to me as a Brit, fall into the category of disgusting English food for most French people who try them and are never finish them, so hardly surprising that the shops don’t stock them.

However, Christmas in France is in no way lacking in tradition and is much less commercial than in the UK. You would never expect to start finding Christmas goodies in the shops at the end of September and Christmas lights do not get turned on until December ...

Read more about Christmas in France:

Monday, December 20, 2010

Victoria Twead: From Spain to Bahrain - Christmas cancelled for the Two Old Fools

Christmas in our little Spanish mountain village of El Hoyo is a low-key affair, but charming. A banner pronouncing ‘Feliz Navidad’ is hung across the entrance to the village and the trees in the square are decked with white fairy lights. Although people don’t send each other Christmas cards, they do decorate their houses with a Belén, or intricate, miniature nativity scene. Our neighbours always proudly show us theirs, displayed in their living rooms in pride of place. Unlike the UK, where Christmas is a massive commercial event, Christmas in Spain is much quainter and focuses far more on the religious significance.

Joe and I love Christmas in El Hoyo, so it’s quite a wrench to be here, in the Muslim Kingdom of Bahrain for Christmas. However, we’ve been quite surprised. Funny little Christmas trees have sprung up in odd places, like our hotel lobby, and some of the bigger stores are actually selling Christmas merchandise. Bahrain is home to thousands of expats, so I guess that’s to be expected.

Checking exactly when public holidays fall in Bahrain is not a simple matter of looking at the calendar. Islamic months start when a crescent moon is actually sighted by the appropriate religious authorities. Some festivals and holy days might fall a day before (or after) the predicted dates because if the moon is obscured by cloud, the holiday cannot be declared until the moon is actually visible to the naked eye. So you can imagine our confusion.

Some holidays are only officially announced 12 hours before the start of the day, frequently leading to great uncertainty on the part of schools...

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Sunday, December 19, 2010

An Australian Christmas on the Gold Coast

by Tracie Hocart

Christmas on the Gold Coast is really something special. People ask me “Are you heading away over the Christmas break?” and I always say I would rather be here than anywhere else this time of year. Why would I head away when there is such a great atmosphere in the air? It’s that special time year when everyone is friendly & smiling (except for the usual grumpy people who have lost the smile reflex somewhere along the way.)

For us, living on the Gold Coast at Christmas time has always been a pleasure. Even when we lived in Brisbane we still managed to find ourselves down here at Christmas time. So many of our friends and family head to the coast and we find people landing on our doorsteps trying to organise get togethers everyday of the two weeks before and after Christmas. Thankfully most of our friends either have their own accommodation arranged or have holiday homes here. We generally have family staying here and there, but do not find that a problem. Happy to have them!

It’s really starting to get hotter that’s for sure. We have noticed the humidity during the past week after the rain. Like most people, who end up living on the Gold Coast, we have great insulation (keeping the house cool in summer & warm in winter), a pool, a covered outdoor entertaining area (patio) and air conditioning. So for us the heat isn’t too much of an issue – in fact I love it when the temperature hits the high 20s (28+°C) and early 30’s.

In the summer months around Christmas our social activities consist of lots of BBQ’s, sitting outside for meals, enjoying a ...

Read more about Christmas on the Gold Coast

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Expat Experiences: Ecuador - Gary Kesinger, Cotacachi

Who are you?

My name is Gary Kesinger. I worked as a middle school teacher for nearly 20 years, traveling internationally nearly every summer. After tiring of the stress of modern life, my wife and I decided to start a new life in South America.

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

I had been interested in the idea of breaking away from the rat race and retiring early for several years. After much research and discussion, we made an exploratory trip to Cotacachi, Ecuador during a week long break from school in 2008. We immediately fell in love with the idea of spending our days in this beautiful mountain town. Within a few days, we had purchased an apartment and made plans to move at the end of the school year.

What challenges did you face during the move?

Some of our family and friends thought we were crazy to quit our jobs at the age of 43 and move overseas. However, we knew that we did not want to look back someday and wonder what our life could have been like if we had followed our dreams. Sink or swim, this was something that we felt that we had to do, and we have never looked back.

How did you find somewhere to live?

On our first trip to Cotacachi, we looked at several properties through a local realtor. We settled on a new development that was under construction in town. The prices were so low that we felt confident that it would be a good investment. We closed on the property just before we had to leave and...

Read more about Gary's life in Ecuador at

Monday, December 13, 2010

The French Medical Experience - Culture, Language and Posteriors

By Expat Focus Columnist Sharon Revol

If you were looking to experience new cultural experiences would you really expect to find them at the Doctors surgery?
Nearly everyone in the Western world is bound to hear about France’s extraordinary reputation for exemplary healthcare at some point in their lifetime. High standards come at a price though. It’s one of the causes of the country’s large deficit and the reason behind some of the additional taxes that the French have to pay, but very few people would expect going to the Doctors to be a cultural experience as well as a medical one.

Most new expatriates arriving in France are likely to be surprised by certain things in the French healthcare system and I can clearly remember my first experiences even though they were a long time ago now. Experiencing medical care in France is a lesson in language, being discreet and becoming comfortable with one’s body.

The majority of French doctors work independently as opposed to being part of large medical centre, meaning most of the Doctors and specialists work from apartments or houses often where, or nearby to where they live. Not quite what you would expect if you are used to clean, clinical looking medical centres with neutral decorations and plenty of mod cons. My current Doctor’s premises look like a throwback to the 1970’s complete with original wallpaper, furniture and plastic plants.

As a first experience this can be quite nerve wracking as there usually aren’t any receptionists. You just ring the doorbell and ...

Read more about the "French Medical Experience"

Friday, December 10, 2010

Expat Experiences: Peru - Tony Dunnell, Tarapoto

Who are you?

My name is Tony Dunnell, I’m an Englishman and full-time freelance writer living in Peru. I live in Tarapoto, a mid-sized town in the Peruvian jungle. This is my base of operations, from where I write primarily about travel and history while continuing to explore Peru.

I freelance for various websites and publications, and also have two blogs of my own. The first, TarapotoLife, is about this particular region of Peru and all the fun and frustrations of living here. The second,, is a site for backpackers in Peru, an honest travel advice blog written from experience.

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

Well, the “why?” involved a girl, as is often the case. Before living here I had backpacked solo all over South America for about a year. During that trip, I met a girl in Tingo Maria, another Peruvian jungle town. We made our way up through Ecuador and Colombia together, before heading back to Peru. By this point I was out of cash, so I went back to the UK for seven months, scraped some money together and came back out (in May 2009).

We chose Tarapoto because it’s a very relaxed place, it’s not too far from her family (and not too close!) and it has decent connections with the rest of Peru (by air, land and river).

What challenges did you face during the move?

I came back out to Peru with my backpack, not much money and no real plans. It was all a bit sketchy, really. We travelled up the north coast from Lima, cut inland, and headed towards the jungle towns. We didn’t know where we were going to live at that point, but after a few days in Tarapoto we decided to stay put. We were travelling so light that any normal problems associated with relocating were not really an issue.

How did you find somewhere to live?

We stayed in a hostel for about a week, all the while looking for a place to rent. We wanted a cheap mini-apartment or something similar, but people here generally rent out small, single rooms, while the modern apartments were beyond our budget. Luckily, I stumbled across two rooms for rent on the top floor of a building. The stunning views...

You can read more about Tony's life in Peru at

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

How to extend your Employment Pass in Singapore

by Bryan Norman

Previously, up until about a year ago, extending your EP used to entail various trying trips to the Ministry of Manpower building on Havelock. The one overwhelming memory I have of this exercise is the busy cacophony of the place and the mind-numbingly long waiting times. From the queue at reception and the queue number dispensers to the seemingly endless waiting before your number is flashed to submit your documents.

All paperwork submitted, the card was then produced, which in most cases would take about a few hours. This was the good news, i.e. generally, you were able to drop by the MOM building again that same day in order to pick up and pay for your new EP card. The bad news was that this would mean queuing up all over again.

Then the MOM went high-tech.

Nowadays, extending your EP is a much less painful process. Of course you still need to await your extension application letter that MOM sends you. This, amongst other things, determines which medical test - if any - you need to undergo. Once the medical procedures are done, you log onto the MOM website on and register for an...

Article continues

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

The Shopping Experience in Turkey

By Margie
Forum Leader for Turkey

I think shopping is fun anywhere in the world. Shopping in a country like Turkiye is amazing and varied. The country is so vast and full of contrasts. There is literally something for everyone!

From the chic, luxury shopping centres in Istanbul to the tiny open all hours grocer’s shops sprinkled in every hamlet, village, town and city. From the little old man who sells vegetables door to door to the garish sights and sounds of the local weekly street market. From the mysterious alleys of Kemeralti in Izmir to the smart boutiques of Alacati. From the Society Bazaars that sell genuine fake Louis Vuitten handbags to the newly popular Outlet Centres.

Bakkals are great, really handy grocery stores. You can buy anything from a packet of needles to a jar of pickles. There are thousands of them all over the country. Usually run by men and sometimes by women. Open all hours; in the winter from about 7 am until 10 pm; in the summer from 6 30 am or so until midnight or even later!
One may pop there to get a fresh loaf and a newspaper before breakfast.
At lunch time if one needs a pot of yoghurt and a lemon, just nip out and pick them up!

Picture the scene, it’s Sunday evening, 7 30, your little girl suddenly tells you she needs a new exercise book for school the next morning! Typical! What to do? Dash a couple of yards to the Bakkal and pick one up. While you’re at it get her a bar of chocolate to go in her lunch box and a couple of beers for you and your spouse to enjoy later! No need to get the car out and drive all over to the nearest supermarket. Mehmet Efendi, your friendly Bakkal Amca is at your service!

The photo is of a Bakkal in Golcuk. That’s a small village near Odemis, about 100 km from Izmir. It’s by a lake and up a mountain, so it’s a popular picnic area. Notice the bottles of drinking water and bags of charcoal on the pavement. In the summer ice cream firms supply freezers and umbrellas. Other firms provide stands for packets of crisps and snacks. That’s the owner’s moped parked outside. There’s a barber’s shop next door, with the clothes dryer arrayed with towels.

In spite of all the shopping malls and mini express markets opening everywhere nothing can replace Bakkals. They provide a vital service and are the hub of the community. They deliver to people’s homes. People even lower a basket on a rope from a higher storey with cash and a list in. The grocer fills the basket with the required items and Ayse Teyze pulls up her shopping!

Sometimes customers are given credit and the shopping and amounts listed in a book for monthly payment. Generally no interest is charged. This is a life saving system for students at university far from home or blue collar workers on a tight budget.
Years ago Bakkals always had a phone that members of the public could use. Nowadays they sell mobile phone cards as well! Even though they sound as if they belong in the past, they are actually very up-to-date!

Long Live Bakkals!

Would you like to know more about everyday life in Turkey? Introduce yourself on our Turkey forum where you will receive a warm welcome.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Repas de Noel

By Harry P
Forum Leader for France

Our invitation arrived in the post, inviting us to attend the "REPAS DE NOEL"

"REPAS DE NOEL" is a Christmas dinner offered to all citizens of the village who are 70 years of age and older. We were looking forward to it as we had been invited to last years occasion and thoroughly enjoyed it.

The snow was still on the ground, making it quite dangerous underfoot, so we weren't sure if it might have been cancelled. However, when we arrived there were quite few cars so we knew it was still "on".

We were the only "English" couple to attend, which didn't worry us as we were the only English people there last year and the reception we had, from the local French people, was fantastic.

We walked into the hall, there were about 50 people milling around. Not quite sure what to do, we hesitated, looked around for a familiar face, then decided to hang our coats up. I helped my wife take her coat off and was just about to hang it up, when came a tap on the shoulder, I turned to see the ruddy face of George and his wife.

"Hello my friend, we thought you might not come because of the bad weather" he said, smiling his head off and offering his hand to be shaken. All this was said in French, and my French isn't that good. His wife came up and offered her cheeks to be kissed, THREE times, that meant - you have been accepted. My wifes turn next, and the ice was broken, nearly everyone in the hall shook our hand and welcomed us. We really did feel "at home" with our French neighbours. We sat down at 12.30 after being pulled this way and that way by friends wanting us to sit with them.

An aperitif arrived, a duo had set up their gear and were playing music as we sipped and chatted. Then came the "entree" with a glass of wine to complement it. The duo were getting into their stride now and playing those songs that everyone sings along with. Another course arrived, with wine to complement it. More music, more courses and more wine to complement each one!

EIGHT courses and five hours later, the coffee arrived, all now had the blush of either satisfaction, or alcohol on their faces. The food was excellent, prepared by local people in their homes.

Looking back on it, I was amazed at the number of people that came up to where we were sitting and chatted with us. Some we knew by sight, others we had never seen before, and those that could speak a few words of English just had to try it out on us, smiling with pleasure as they did. But nobody, apart from my wife and I, could speak, conversationally, so it was up to us to speak THEIR language. By the time we came home my head was buzzing with the exhaustion of translating English to French in my head, but it was a very satisfying and worthwhile exercise.

The day was memorable, and await with eager anticipation, for an invitation to come in the post for next years gathering.

If you have any questions regarding life in France please visit our French Forum where you will also receive a warm welcome!

Friday, December 03, 2010

Expat Experiences: India - Dave and Jenny, Delhi

Who are you?

We're Dave and Jenny, two ex-New Yorkers who felt that the Big Apple just wasn't big enough. And so it was off to India...!

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

We left in November, 2007, for Dave's job: he worked for an advertising agency, and they needed some help in the Delhi office.

What challenges did you face during the move?

All of them, I think. :)

How did you find somewhere to live?

We got lucky: at the time, there was one and only one real estate broker who had discovered Delhi's Craigslist. He found a terrific place in Hauz Khas Market at a ridiculous price, but then he negotiated the rent down on our behalf. It took us a few months before we realized that the landlord and the broker had clearly established the target price ahead of time. But we were quite happy, so we chalked it up to our naivete.

Are there many other expats in your area?

No, hardly any. We intentionally chose to live outside of the main expat haunts. What's the point of moving to India to live in Tucson?

What is your relationship like with the locals?

Indians are the...

Read more about Dave and Jenny's life in Delhi

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Australian Life Readiness Test

by Sarah Husselmann

It’s fair to say I was unprepared for my new life in Australia. Not that I wasn’t organised on some level – belongings were shipped, finances were in place, and my old life in London wrapped up – but when it came to familiarity with my new country, my knowledge was lacking.

Five things I knew about Australia

To give you an idea here’s a quick list of what I knew about Australia before moving here;

1. From a 2 week stint in Sydney, I knew that Sydney is physically stunning. I climbed the Harbour Bridge on a sunny winter’s day. That experience alone that made me want to live here.

2. In Sydney, I stayed in a Backpacker’s in China Town and concluded that there are loads of Chinese in Australia. Not wrong, but not based on the most thorough research.

3. I spent a week in Melbourne and concluded that the Southbank is like London, and the city beaches aren’t as good as Sydney. I plan to spend more time in Melbourne very soon.

4. I spent four days in Perth on a visa validation run and felt unnerved by this peaceful city. I wondered where all the people were and decided, until they’d been found, Perth wasn’t the place for me.

5. Finally, a key source of my insight into Australia came from the Aussies I knew in London. They taught that Australians like beer, watching sport, and like to drink beer whilst watching sport. Sure, this is a stereotype but it’s not wrong.

None of this exposure to the Aussie way of life is particularly practical, and I’m sure my summaries of Melbourne and Perth are far from accurate.

Australian Life Readiness Test

Once I arrived in Australia, my lack of practical knowledge caused me concern so I decided to get up to speed. Here are some of the first things I looked up upon arrival.

1.When do Australian seasons start\finish?

Summer: December to February, Autumn: March to May, Winter: June to August, Spring: September to November.

Article continues...

Monday, November 29, 2010

Expat Experiences: Switzerland - Chantal Panozzo, Zurich

Who are you?

I’m an American writer and copywriter living in a small town near Zurich, Switzerland. I write about life in Switzerland on my blog, I also write about how to survive (and thrive) as an international creative person at Writer Abroad In addition, I’m the co-founder of the Zurich Writers Workshop

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

I moved from the USA to Switzerland in 2006. Why? Curiosity more than anything else. My husband had a chance to take a job there and while I was worried about giving up my job as a copywriter, and therefore what seemed like my entire identity, I knew that if I didn’t go, I’d always be haunted by the “what if?”

What challenges did you face during the move?

Well, for one, our shipping container had “China Shipping” written across it in big, block letters, which seemed awfully suspicious at the time. I had nightmares that involved all my stuff being sent to China while I sat in an empty Swiss apartment with nothing to show for my life but a fondue pot. Luckily, this didn’t happen and our stuff arrived seven weeks after we did. But sadly, not before our inflatable air mattress broke.

How did you find somewhere to live?

We had a relocation agent. We thought we wanted to live in a house (we were Americans, after all), but then we realized most of the houses in Switzerland were in the middle of nowhere and that sheep cut the grass instead of lawn mowers. So our agent found us an apartment in the center of town. We had to complete several forms stating salary, nationality, how long our fingernails were, well, ok, maybe not the latter, but boy are you scrutinized before you’re allowed to live anywhere in Switzerland. It took so long for the powers at be to approve us, I thought we’d become the first homeless problem in Switzerland in the process. Anyhow, we didn’t, and we got our chosen apartment, which was near a clock tower that dinged every 15 minutes. I assumed they would turn it off at night. Silly me. I had a lot to learn about...

Read more about the challenges of life in Switzerland

Friday, November 26, 2010

Victoria Twead: From Spain to Bahrain - Two Old Fools and Kids

In our little mountain village in Spain, children rule. They run wild in the streets, get up to all sorts of mischief and are regarded as little angels by their doting parents. And they are. Joe and I have always found Spanish kids to be delightful, polite and charming.
So when we signed our contracts to teach for a year in an International School in the Kingdom of Bahrain, we wondered how different the kids would be in the Middle East.

Well, their life-style is certainly different. In Spain, kids’ lives are governed by the seasons and their huge families. Fiestas, football, grape pressing, endless summer weeks romping in the village, the beach, Christmas... all important times for Spanish children. Here in Bahrain, the children we teach come from wealthy families. They have every material possession, are looked after by maids and brought to school by drivers. It’s too hot to play outside, there are no nice beaches and leisure time is spent in the city malls.

Surprisingly, Arab kids love football too, and support teams like Manchester United, Arsenal and even Barcelona. The long summer break is usually spent traveling with their families. Many have already visited Europe and America

English is their second language, and their dream is to be accepted into an American University. However, like kids all over the world, only a small proportion are actually motivated in school. Homework is rarely produced, class discipline can be a struggle and cheating in tests has been honed to a fine art that often leaves Joe and I breathless. While his back was turned, one quiet little mouse of a girl erased her grades from Joe’s open gradebook and substituted much higher ones. My eleven year olds write spelling test words on their ankles. Some girls conceal cheat sheets in their hijabs (head veils) and it is rumoured that the school computer is frequently hacked and grades changed. We roared with laughter when one student accidently handed Joe his cheat sheet along with...

Read more:

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Interview with Sylke Riester, Managing Director for Europe, Rosetta Stone

Sylke, can you tell us a bit about your background before joining Rosetta Stone?

Before joining Rosetta Stone in 2009 I worked in telecommunications – so you could say I am very enthusiastic about getting people talking. I worked for a company called Tele2, a leading Swedish telecommunications company active in 11 European countries, for six years. In my time there, I worked in different roles, including Marketing and Sales Director, based in Holland, Chief Executive, based in the UK, and Director of Sales for the Tele2 Group, based in the 30 million-customer company’s home country of Sweden.

What services does Rosetta Stone offer?

Rosetta Stone® provides interactive language-learning solutions. The company was founded on the belief that technology can replicate the way we all learnt our first language as children and we still work to that founding principle, evolving as technology allows.

Rosetta Stone is unique. It uses a systematic sequence of images and words, without translation, to help you rediscover your natural learning ability. A unique speech recognition tool compares the pronunciation of the learner to that of a native speaker so they get precise feedback, too.

This intuitive and innovative approach to language learning is what draws learners to us. More than 5 million people use...


Monday, November 22, 2010

Expat Experiences: Slovakia - Margarete Minar, Bratislava

Who are you?

My name is Margarete Minar. I'm a native Californian who decided that I wanted to have a year abroad to experience life from a different part of the world, and to gain a new perspective on how things can be done differently. My year abroad turned out to be five years in total. I simply loved it and one year wasn't enough.

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

I moved to Slovakia in central Europe in 1999 and stayed until 2005. I chose Slovakia because I had known some Slovak Americans (Americans of Slovak ancestry) in my home town and was somewhat familiar with the country. Also, I wanted to teach English and knew that my chances of finding work would probably be easier in "Eastern Europe" rather than in the west of Europe.

What challenges did you face during the move?

I faced A LOT of challenges. First off, I didn't know anyone when I arrived in Slovakia. My job as a teacher was secured before I moved and so I had to rely on the principal of the school to help me get settled. That was fine, but I didn't speak a word of Slovak and was on my own quite a lot at first. Also, I moved to a small town where everybody could tell I was a foreigner and probably knew I was the new English teacher. It was pretty tough in the beginning, feeling alone and a bit intimidated by my new surroundings. After a few months I made good friends with several of my adult students and they helped me get acquainted with life in my small town and more comfortable with things.

How did you find somewhere to live?

For my first teaching job the living arrangements were already taken care of. I had an apartment that I shared with another teacher and it was very comfortable. When I moved to the capital, Bratislava, a year later, I was responsible for looking for my own place. I looked at real estate sites on the Internet and found something very decent. I decided I would...

Read more about life in Slovakia

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Two Years to Decide

by guest blogger Genevieve

I’m often asked what I miss about living in Canada now that I live in Honduras, on the Island of Roatan.

I miss being able to spend time with my family and friends in Canada. I miss going to watch a movie at the Cineplex Theatre - big screen, surround sound. I miss going to watch a play at The Centre in the Square (fantastic live theatre venue.)
I miss my mom’s Summer Supper, a meal she makes that’s kind of like Thanksgiving dinner, except, it includes; cucumber salad with fresh dill, sliced field tomatoes, corn-on-the-cob, home-made potato pancakes or fried potatoes with onion, local summer-sausage, and Canadian cheddar cheese. I’m not sure when or why my mom started this tradition - but I miss the Summer Supper. I miss Blue Jays and Cardinals (the birds not the sports teams.) I miss squirrels coming to my door for peanuts, and raiding the birdfeeders I use to have strung up around my yard (yup, I miss the squirrels!) And I miss the springtime - digging in my garden.

When I first moved to Roatan I was advised by my new friends that it would take me two years to decide if I would want to continue to call Roatan, Honduras home. Two years...? After two years would I have had enough of; checking under my pillow every night for scorpions? Being woken by barking dogs and crowing roosters? By the way - roosters don´t just crow when the sun comes up, and there’s always more than one. Would I have had enough of not being able to watch HGTV - House Hunters, I love that show, or being so hot sometimes that breathing makes me sweat. Would the frustration of trying to communicate with someone who speaks a different language make me want to move back to Canada? Another by the way; I’ve tried to learn Spanish; I now know that I’m not language oriented.

Two years to decide?

Right around the same time that the two years were up, I went to Canada for a visit. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there. I hung out with my family and friends, I went to the movies, didn’t make it to live production though. I still checked under my pillow for scorpions - habit! I enjoyed my mom´s cooking. I fed the squirrels, and helped my oldest grandson choose what plants to start for his own garden.

And while I was in Canada, I realized, I had been considering - two years to decide from the wrong point of view...

My decision had nothing to do with would I have had enough and want to return to Canada. My decision had nothing to do with what I miss and what I don't. My decision was - could I give up the Roatan way of life! After two years, I knew without a doubt... Living in Honduras, on the Island of Roatan is my norm! My decision...

"Roatan, Honduras is my home!"

Read more about life on Roatan

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Expat Experiences: Spain - Jennifer Lo Prete, Catalunya

Who are you?

Jennifer Lo Prete.

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

I moved from California to Barcelona, Spain in 2009 with my husband and two young children. My husband was offered an interesting position at a Catalan company. We couldn't refuse the opportunity to live in Europe, to experience life in a foreign country and to have our children learn Spanish. Little did we know at the time, that Catalan is the more dominant language in Catalunya! A year and a half later, my children are trilingual!

What challenges did you face during the move?

The list was long! We moved several times across the United States without a hitch. Moving ourselves, children and most of our household goods to another country was a big challenge. Dealing with bureaucracy and bureaucrats in the United States can be frustrating, but it is usually a clear process. In Spain, the process is extremely frustrating and not at all clear. My biggest frustration was finding reliable information on the various steps of the process and the long length of time it takes to get anything bureaucratic done in Spain. I relied heavily on information from other expats in online expat forums and moving-related forums.

How did you find somewhere to live?

At first, I thought we could handle our home search on our own. We rented a furnished apartment in the center of Barcelona while we looked for a house. We searched housing listings online and contacted properties on our own. We were surprised when people failed to return our calls or emails asking about renting their house. We were even more surprised when we had appointments with owners to see their property, but they failed to call us back with the property address so we could meet them!

After a couple weeks of frustration, we turned to a real estate broker who spoke English and works with expat families. In two days, she booked a full weekend of property showings. We rented the first house she showed us. Unfortunately, we had to pay her, plus ...

Read more about Jennifer's life in Spain

Monday, November 15, 2010

Expat Experiences: Jordan - Julie, Amman

Who are you?

I am a thirty-something stay-at-home mum who has been a kind of expat all her life. It all started when I was 5 and my parents decided to leave Denmark for sunny south of France. That's where I grew up and thought about a career that could allow me to travel. Eventually I studied and worked a bit in Switzerland, left for Los Angeles and then London, Paris, London again and now because of my husband's job we are settled in Amman, Jordan.

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

We moved in January 2010 for 2 years. So far so good, I really enjoy it. We had been on the look out for quite some time for a move from London, but the economic situation was not so good so it took some time. When the position opened in Amman, we got really excited. For us, it was the best country in the Middle East: history, central, not too hot!

What challenges did you face during the move?

It was quite easy actually. Got some quotes, chose a company, and off we were. The trouble was on the other end! There are a few rules to get goods into Jordan...

First of all, each box must be labelled with what is inside. Also, take care of censure: I didn't take many books or DVDs with me. You are allowed 2 electrical goods per person. More than that, it is the time it takes to get the things out from Aqaba or Amman airport.

You need to be there when the boxes are opened (or send someone you can trust!) and might need to pay a few Jordanian Dinars here and there to get...

Read more about Julie's experience of life in Jordan

Thursday, November 11, 2010

South Korea or South Africa?

by guest blogger Jade Scully

For a while now I’ve been considering taking a bit of a leap and going over to South Korea to teach English. I know a few people who have done it, and people who know people who have done it, and it sounds…interesting? Intriguing? Um, try downright scary!

A close friend of mine, Holly, has been staying in South Korea with her boyfriend for a good few months now, teaching English. I asked her to write a little bit about her experience living so far from home, and here’s what she had to say:

“There are tall concrete buildings everywhere, neon lights glow on the streets, every town and city looks the same and everyone has black hair…clearly you’re no longer in South Africa. Instead you find yourself in the other South, South Korea, teaching English. And despite the many terrible things you’ve heard and read it’s actually a little bit of alright.

People told me that I would struggle to fit in here, that basic groceries are ridiculously expensive, I would get stared at on the streets, and my students would be a nightmare.

I have to agree that I don’t really fit in; I have blue eyes and light brown hair – not the recipe for blending in over here. But despite that I’ve come to feel comfortable in my life in Korea. People are really friendly and are fascinated by me, and other foreigners. Children say a shy ‘hi’ as you pass them. Old women stand and literally stare at you, for as long as you’re in their line of vision. You stick out in a country where conformity is the word of choice. But any of these people are willing to help you out, to take time out of their day to direct you to wherever it is you want to go…provided they understand you.

Yes, occasionally I wish I could give my students a swift kick to the shin, or an elbow to the face – but I think that can be expected of any children. Actually, because education is taken so seriously and students spend so much time studying, the students in Korea are more innocent than those back home which is quite refreshing.

The language barrier – or in Konglish languagey barrieru – is one of the most difficult things for me. More comprehensive English education has only been introduced more recently, so most of the older (by that I mean adult) generation speak very little English. Menus, ingredients, directions, movie names, they are all written in Hangul (한굴) which to be frank, I don’t speak. But I can still get by, and for when I just can’t I can call on one of my Korean co-teachers or friends and they will gladly help out.

Living in a foreign country can be difficult at times, but it’s also dependent on the type of person you are. If you think every country should be westernized, I don’t recommend coming to Korea.

The food is very different – red bean paste in pastries anyone?

The culture is far stricter – you should bow respectfully to your elders.

The housing is definitely not the same – high rise apartment blocks, for everyone.

And most of the men and women are impossibly small and slim – anyone up for added insecurities? Could I live in Korea forever? No. But right now being here makes me happy, and believe it or not is pretty easy too.”

After reading through her story, and of course hearing the many more little tales she has to tell on a daily basis, I’m so torn between what I want to do. On the one hand the thought of dropping everything and everyone I know and adventuring off into a distant and exotic place sounds so appealing.

On the other hand, I’m very comfortable here in Cape Town; I live 1 minute from the beach, am very close with my family and friends and have an amazing boyfriend (who I’d have to leave behind me if I left).

I think what scares me the most is the thought of the unknown: of not having my support system of friends and family when I need them most. I’m scared to be on my own, and am anxious about not fitting in, or not liking the food (I really, really enjoy food so this is a big deal for me!).
But then I think about all the amazing experiences I’m missing out on because I’m too scared and I think: “Why not?”

So I’ve downloaded the entrance form and have decided to apply to become and English Teacher in South Korea, let’s see how it all goes.

Jade Scully is a copywriter, blogger and online marketing enthusiast who has published her work on a series of online publications and websites including Leeulekker who provide a range of travel and touring information for southern Africa travelers

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Expat Experiences: UK - Kym Hamer, Kingston Upon Thames

Who are you?

I am a 41yr old Aussie girl from Melbourne who has loved living in the UK for the last 7 (almost) years. I love reading, cooking, eating, music, travelling, watching tv talent shows - oh, and blogging!

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

I left my settled and comfortable life in Melbourne and arrived at Heathrow Airport in January 2004. The catalyst for the rather sudden decision (a week in November the previous year) was running late so me and my 2 super huge suitcases sat in the grey dawn of Terminal 4 and wondered how all this was going to work out. But I just knew that this was the next 'journey' for me, no matter how it looked right then or turned out in the future.

What challenges did you face during the move?

Said catalyst was pleased to see me but not very supportive (we were only in touch for about 6 weeks after I arrived) so I just got on with trying to get work (unbelievably tough at a senior level), build a network of friends (through contacts people from home had given me) and working out where I might want to live. On top of this I broke my elbow a week after I arrived by slipping on a patch of ice the morning after an incredibly beautiful snowfall so that was a 'conversation starter' to say the least and people give you a bit of space on the tube if you are sporting an obvious injury.

How did you find somewhere to live?

Jobs for me were likely to be on the West side of London so that's where I focused my search. I never house-shared before and that's all I could afford with rents being so high so my first year in Brentford was a shock to the system and made me determined to...

Read more about Kym's life in the UK at

Sunday, November 07, 2010

How to avoid "Dodgy" Landlords in Singapore

by Bryan Norman

Looking at the latest round of numbers, it appears as if more and more expats are becoming the victim of dodgy landlords, bogus lease agreements, deposits that simply disappear and a host of other rental issues that leave fresh arrivals swindled even before they have a chance to settle down in their newly adopted home.

In fact, Consumers Association of Singapore, CASE, a consumer advocate organisation there that keeps track of complaints logged by people that have been duped, found that in the October 2008 - March 2009 period foreigners lodged 32 out of the total of 365 complaints against realty agents. This constitutes a 23% increase from the 26 out of 516 complaints in the same period a year before.

Meanwhile, the Institute of Estate Agents in Singapore received five complaints from foreigners since last October. Perhaps tellingly, none of the agents involved was IEA registered. The most common complaints were overcharging and not honoring agreements made, especially when it came to returning deposits and advanced payments.

Another ruse you see here is the fake landlord. Recently, the Singapore Straits Times reported on a suspected fake landlord who claimed to be the owner of an apartment on 14 Scotts Road and was looking to rent out his unit. However, this address is actually the location of a shopping centre called Far East Plaza. After pressing him for more details, he hung up and never replied to the paper's inquiries again.

As expat populations grow, conmen like this are seemingly becoming ever more numerous and ever more brazen, targeting foreigners in particular who are looking to rent a property. New arrivals are especially easy targets because obviously they're not as clued in to the property industry as the local population or long-term expats.

Read more

Friday, November 05, 2010

Expat Experiences: Taiwan - Dan Chapman, Nangang

Who are you?

I am a guy from the west of England who has lived in Taiwan for more than 15 years. When I started my stay here I was in my mid-twenties; unfortunately, I have now hit the big 40.

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

These things rarely have a grand plan – after all it takes some resolve to say I am going to up sticks and move to another country for the rest of my life. I was traveling through Asia and I needed to stop somewhere to earn some cash – and some said to me to go to Taiwan to teach English. I then did what a lot of people did: plan to stay for two years, extend for one more, then another because you haven't actually saved that much money; start to worry you don't know what you will do when you get back so you look for a job in a local company for some business work experience. Another two or three years goes by, you get married; visit the UK in the winter and decide you are never going back.

What challenges did you face during the move?

The usual practice for people coming to Taiwan looking for teaching work is to enter on a tourist visa, look for a school, and let them organize a working visa for you. It might take up to a month to go through this process in which case you have to make sure you have enough money to survive in that time. If you or the school are slow, then you might find yourself having to go to Hong Kong to renew the tourist visa and this is an annoying waste of time and money.

How did you find somewhere to live?

It all comes back to how you arrive in Taiwan – 85% of the expats in Taiwan are English teachers; 10% are English teachers who have moved on from teaching into probably working for a local tech company or are...

Read more

Thursday, November 04, 2010

The Biggest Challenges of Moving Abroad

by Paul Allen

A couple of months ago I was interviewed by the features director of the UK’s Good Housekeeping magazine .

She was writing an article on the pros and cons of moving abroad, and wanted my “expert opinion” on the topic … which naturally I was more than happy to provide (not least since the magazine has a monthly circulation of half a million readers!).

The article has just come out, featuring in the October 2010 edition of the magazine. And – leaving aside my own contribution – it makes for fascinating reading.

Top Expat Challenges

The main body of the piece features case studies of various expats, relating the experiences they have had in their respective destinations – France, Italy, Spain, Australia and the United States.

Although they went to diverse locations, and were confronted with different circumstances, they all commented on the challenges they have come up against (many of which echo the topics I address in my book, Should I Stay or Should I Go). Relocating overseas, they found, turned out to be harder than they had anticipated.

Among the biggest issues the expats encountered were...

Read more

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Expat Experiences: Italy - Sarah and Tony

Who are you?

I am Sarah, married to Tony. We have a daughter (Axa Elisabeth, born 2005) and a son (Raj Dominique, born 2007). We are originally from San Diego. I home-school our children and my husband does marketing for an Italian company.

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

We first moved to Italy in 2008. Tony is of Italian descent, and I've always wanted to live abroad, so Italy was the natural choice. We spent seven months living in two different towns in Piedmont (Saluzzo and Chiusa di Pesio) and trying to convince them to recognize Tony's Italian citizenship jure sanguinis (by descent). His citizenship was finally recognized just as the business we were still running in Southern California failed during the Economic Downturn of 2008. We spent a year back in the United States tying up loose ends, and finally made it back to Italy in April of 2010. After a couple of months in Florence, we decided that what we really love is the beautiful North of Italy.

What challenges did you face during the move?

Learning Italian from scratch was an adventure, as were a lot of other things, like discovering that shops and restaurants were never open when we wanted them until we became more Italian in our habits. We quickly learned that the easiest and most enjoyable way to do things in Italy is to make friends. In my experience, Italians are almost without exception friendly and helpful. And they love to practice their English and talk about what life is like in California.

How did you find somewhere to live?

We initially wanted a short-term rental, but found out that they just don't do that here, especially if you're not in a tourist spot. Just like with everything else, we found a nice Italian real estate agent who was willing to take us under his wing. He helped us get a codice fiscale and open a bank account, as well as (of course) finding us an apartment...


Friday, October 29, 2010

New guide to advertising at Expat Focus now available

By popular request our page for advertisers at has been revamped and a new guide to advertising at Expat Focus is now available for download at

Questions/comments to please.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Halloween, American Style

by Expat Focus Columnist, Toni Hargis

Despite having lived in the States for twenty years, you’d be surprised at how many bits of American culture I still haven’t embraced. Top of that list is marching bands, which are ever-present at college football games and positively set my teeth on edge. They’re loud, and not particularly pleasing to the ear – especially when they attempt the ubiquitous “Rock n’ Roll”, by Gary Glitter. Fortunately I only ever come across college football on TV where there is an “Off” button.

Parades are another pet hate – perhaps because they include marching bands? For many important days in the US calendar (Thanksgiving, Christmas, St. Patrick’s Day) there’s a parade. The big ones in New York City are televised, but many cities and towns across the land have their own parades. Unfortunately, many of them are during our winter months, so not only would I be required to stand on the side of the road with crowds of other people, but we’d usually be in sub zero temperatures. I think not.

One piece of American culture I have wholeheartedly embraced however, is Halloween. Yes, I’ve stepped over to the dark side. I know many people (usually not in the USA) think Halloween is just one big commercial hijack, and indeed, Hallmark makes more money from this “holiday” than all the others combined, but it’s not like that. Really.

Since my seventeen year old was a baby, I have immersed myself in coming up with Halloween costumes for my kids (did I mention that these costumes don’t have to be scary? The world’s your oyster.) I’ve sewn Red Riding Hood, Bo Peep and Marie Antoinette for her, glued robots and monsters for the boys, and painted a new toilet brush black for a chimney sweep outfit. The school has a Halloween parade for the younger kids, and everyone else in the building comes out to see them walking around, grinning from ear to ear. We decorate our house (tastefully, of course), put polystyrene gravestones in the front yard/garden and make black paper bats to hang from the light fixtures (we will not be...


Monday, October 25, 2010

Two Old Fools Go Shopping in Bahrain

by Expat Focus Columnist, Victoria Twead

October is the month for stock-piling firewood in our little Spanish village of El Hoyo. Evenings are very cool, and by the end of the month we would be lighting the wood-burning stove nightly. Not so here in the Kingdom of Bahrain where, for just one year, we’re working as teachers in an International School. For the first time in six years, we don’t need to think about logs.

Here in Bahrain it is cool inside, thanks to A/C, but step outside and the heat still produces an instant sweat. Clothes, too, are a problem. The showing of arms and shoulders is unacceptable but neither is it comfortable to wear too much. The clothes I brought with me from Spain were inappropriate, and I needed some more to wear to school.

The shopping malls in Bahrain are beautiful; huge, lavish, marbled affairs packed with clothes stores, so I didn’t think refreshing my wardrobe would be a big problem. Wrong. I’m not a city gal, and I don’t enjoy shopping, but needs must, so I put a day aside to hunt down some new outfits.

With Joe trailing behind me, I rifled through racks and racks of clothes, trying to find something suitable. To my surprise, everything on display was low-cut, skimpy, glittery or a combination of all three. Rack after rack of exotic-wear. How is that possible when Muslim ladies are dressed from head to toe in black, with only their faces (or just eyes) showing?

We deduced something that day. Outwardly, Muslim ladies are the picture of anonymity and decorum, but underneath those veils...who knows what secrets are lurking?

And these ladies, all dressed in black, posed yet another problem for me this week. It was...


Friday, October 22, 2010

Gender equality in France - Fact or fiction?

by Expat Focus Columnist, Sharon Revol

When I first moved to France aged 16, I was too young to realize what a male chauvinistic, male dominated country I was living in, probably because I had no reference points to compare it to. So my first few years here were spent in total oblivion to the plight of fellow females and the difficulties they encountered on a daily basis.

I first realized how sexist France was when I was living back in England for a few years, aged 22. I was dealing with French businesses on a daily basis and as a joint partner in the company I worked for; I was entitled to make a certain number of decisions or to sign contracts without consulting my business partner. Yet, the French companies would never accept my word or signature until they had confirmation from my partner. It was like being considered a child or as being incompetent, they were always checking that what I said was true, thus undermining any responsibility I had.

Frustrating as this was, alarm bells should really have started ringing very loudly during one of my first French business meetings which I had set up and prepared. I was supposed to lead the meeting but I quickly realized that there was little point… The men from the other company were openly staring at my chest area whilst ignoring anything I had to say. Their questions and answers were addressed to my business partner and despite my efforts to regain control of the meeting and my partner’s constant deflection of all their questions back to me, nothing changed. Needless to say polo necks quickly became a staple part of my working wardrobe.

Thankfully, I am not a feminist although I am a strongly independent female willing to constantly battle for my rights. I will stand up and be heard and will stand firm if people do not wish to deal with me because of my lack of testosterone. France is definitely not a country for the faint hearted feminist that is for sure...


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Finding a therapist while living abroad

by Expat Focus columnist and Expat Expert, Robin Pascoe

During the many years that I traveled globally to lecture to expatriate clubs and international schools, I would always try to make time to sit down with mental health practitioners working with expatriates.

These informal sessions - where I could put on my journalist’s cap and ask a lot of questions - would include school guidance counselors as well the many qualified therapists living abroad. They all recognized the urgent need for expatriate families to be aware of trained professionals in their communities who understood the unique needs of the expatriate family.

Now, Josh Sandoz, a Seattle-based therapist, well-versed in the issues of the expat family and in particular third culture kids through his work with Interaction (the organization started by the late Dave Pollock), has put together a tremendous gift to the expat world at large.

He has set up a website called the International Therapist Directory at where professionals can list their services, and those in need of that assistance, can find them.

I ‘chatted’ with him recently via e-mail about the directory in general and the challenges of finding the right therapist far from home:

Robin Pascoe: How difficult is it for expats and their families to find therapists abroad?

Josh Sandoz: One of the main reasons I started the International Therapist Directory was to help ease the difficulty that so many expats have had in trying to find an understanding therapist. Many internationally mobile adults, families, children, and adolescents desire therapeutic supports in their locations abroad or once back in their country of passport.

My primary goal in developing this resource has been to create a comprehensive well-maintained online listing of mental health therapists around the world who self-identify as having experience working with TCKs and the internationally mobile community. Hopefully, because of this directory, the answer to this first question is: much less difficult.

RP: Besides the obvious challenge of finding the right person, are there other obstacles facing expats?

JS: Health care in general carries many various stigmas, depending on the culture of a particular community. Unfortunately, some attitudes are quite discouraging.

If someone I care about, however, experiences a broken leg, I would encourage him or her to seek health care from a professional who can facilitate a healing process. In my way of thinking, the same principle applies to mental health.

If you find yourself in a situation where you are concerned about community attitudes as you begin therapy, I would recommend talking about that dynamic with your therapist directly. Deciding how you will navigate those realities early on in your process will serve you well over time. After all, no matter your age, for better and for worse, peer pressure never really does go away...


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Expat Experiences: Cyprus - Roseanne Sherman

Who are you?

I am a 51-year old single woman from the United States . I have travelled extensively and have a bit of an adventurous nature.

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

In 2004 I moved to Moscow, Russia for my job. I lived in Russia for 2.5 years, then I was transferred to Slovakia where I lived for 1 year, and then I was transferred to Sofia Bulgaria where I have been living for 2.5 years. In between Slovakia and Bulgaria, I lived in Cyprus for 3 months while I looked for a home and decided whether to move there permanently or not. I have just moved to Cyprus permanently.

What challenges did you face during the move?

Finding out information on what a US citizen needs to do to establish residency in Cyprus. There are plenty of Brits in Cyprus, but I have yet to meet another American.

Can you tell us something about your property?

I spent 3 months in Cyprus looking at properties. I worked with several estate agents. One day I was checking into the costs associated with buying a car and the salesman asked me about my home. I told him I was looking and he told me his daughter-in-law worked for ERA. I was just being polite and took her number, but then he called her and so I explained how I had already looked at many properties and was doubtful that she could show me something that I had not already seen. I was wrong – she found me several that I liked and I ended up buying one of them.

It is a 2-bedroom 118 square meter semi-detached villa in a development of only 5 homes. All of my neighbors are Cypriot, which should help with my attempts to learn to speak Greek. The buying process was easy. Just make sure that you get a lawyer and that the lawyer has no association with the builder or the property owner. My house was scheduled to be finished September 2009, but was not finished until January 2010. No problem for me because I was flexible.

What is the property market like at the moment?

There are many properties on the market right now. The prices are down a bit, but not as low as they...

Read more at:

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Expat Experiences: New Zealand - Jared Gulian

Who are you?

My name is Jared Gulian, and I’m still not entirely sure how I ended up living in paradise. My partner Rick and I are two American city boys who moved to rural New Zealand in 2006. We live on 20 acres with an olive grove just outside the charming wine village of Martinborough, at the bottom of the North Island.

We sell our olive oil commercially, and we commute into Wellington for our day jobs. We've got chickens and there are cattle and sheep grazing in our paddocks.

I write about our life on my blog Moon over Martinborough

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

Rick and I were living together in Chicago when I became restless. I had always wanted to live overseas for a year or two, but had never managed to do it. Fortunately for me, Rick said he'd join me. We moved to Japan in 1998, when we were both 31. We ended up staying a lot longer than expected.

During our time there we heard really great things about New Zealand, and we met a lot of very nice Kiwis. When we were finally ready to leave Japan, we decided to give New Zealand a try. By then we'd both fallen in love with living overseas.

We moved from Japan to New Zealand in 2003. We started out in Wellington city, but in 2006 we moved out to Martinborough, which is in the Wairarapa valley about an hour outside of Wellington.

For more about how we ended up here, read my 'life story as recipe' in the blog post - 'Make your own olive oil in 23 easy steps'

What challenges did you face during the move?

We tend to leap-frog across the planet. I moved from Chicago to Northern Japan first, then...


Friday, October 15, 2010

Split between two worlds

Article by Tiffany Jansen

We met. We fell in love. We got married. I moved in with him… to his home in the Netherlands.

For months before the wedding, I was so excited. Nervous, but excited. I had met at least one other woman who had done what I was about to do and she was well-adjusted and happy. Naturally the same would happen for me, right?

The day of the wedding, it hit me. It was huge what I was about to do. My mother and I sat on the edge of my bed and cried together. We agreed that I would give it 2-3 years and then I would move back to the US with my husband. After all, this was my home. I couldn’t stay away forever.

When I got to the Netherlands, however, I fell in love. I met remarkable women in the same or a very similar position to that which I was in and made some really excellent friends. My husband’s family and friends took me in and really made me feel at home. It came as a surprise to everyone – myself included – how quickly I adjusted and came to love my adopted country.

“No way am I going back,” I’d tell everyone (except my mother, of course).“I like it too much here.”

I became overly critical of America and the Netherlands could do no wrong in my eyes. I didn’t understand the other expat women I spoke to who used the word “home” to refer to both the Netherlands and their countries of origin.

As far as I was concerned, “home” was the place I was living. Where my husband and dog were and where we wanted to start a family of our own. When you move out of your parents’ house, you don’t continue to refer to it as “home” for the rest of your adult life. Why should it be any different in this case?

My first 6 months in the Netherlands, I had no desire to...

Read more about Tiffany and her life in the Netherlands at

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Magic of Malta

Article by Derek Wells

If you are looking for a retirement destination or maybe somewhere to buy a holiday home, then Malta may just be what you are looking for.

Malta is a tiny archipelago in the middle of the clear blue Mediterranean Sea, some 60 miles south of Sicily. It consists of Malta, Gozo and Comino. Malta is 95 square miles, Gozo is smaller at 26 square miles and Comino is barely over a mile square.

The island has strong links with the UK. It has always been a popular destination for individuals from over here and it’s not hard to see why. English is widely spoken, driving is on the left, medical care is top class and most important of all, the Maltese are a welcoming and friendly people who will help you settle easily on their island home. Through its long and colourful history, the islanders have come into contact with numerous ruling nations, all of which have contributed to Malta being an historical oasis. Despite its history, the Maltese have remained steadfastly independent, proud of their cultural roots yet hospitable to visitors.

Malta is an island of contrasts, which is all the more interesting when you take into account its tiny size. From Neolithic temples to 5-star hotels, from imposing fortifications to yacht marinas, from tiny cafes to top class restaurants, the island has it all. Life can be as lively or as laid back as you wish it to be, as sophisticated or as rustic as you choose.

Malta’s climate is warm and healthy, with mild winters and dry hot summers. No frost or snow and that’s a promise. Temperatures between November and April average around 15oC with temperatures between May and October averaging around 23oC.

As you get older, you will quite naturally be concerned about healthcare. Well, you need not worry. Medical services on the island are...

Read more about the magical island of Malta here

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Interview with Robin Pascoe, Expat Expert

Robin is well known abroad for her inspirational and informative articles, corporate presentations, and best-selling books. She is the author of five widely-used books on global living. Since 1998, her popular Expat Expert website has served as an international meeting place, discussion group, and source of advice and information for hundreds of thousands of expats world-wide.

Robin, can you tell us a bit about your background?

My husband used to be as Canadian foreign service officer (he's been in the private sector now for many years with his own global company) but during his time as a diplomat we were posted four times to Asia. As a journalist of more than 35 years now, at the time, I was not allowed to work as one given I carried a diplomatic passport!

So I initially started working in expat family support when our daughter was born in Bangkok and I wrote a newsletter for an international mothers group I helped start (and is still going strong after 27 years!) Later, I decided to write books, initially for the spouse, but the enterprise just kind of blossomed into five books and a website (sounds like a movie). Of course, because of the books, I was invited to lecture to expat communities in the schools, to clubs, and to international HR groups.

What products or services does Expat Expert offer?

Primarily, as a writer and journalist, I offer content in the form of my books and now a video lecture series. But along the way I also wrote hundreds of articles and conducted a major family survey that is still valid (and on the site for free) to give some statistics and a chance for families to give their point of view of the kind of support they need and the kind of support they received (or didn't!) I suppose I was also considered a bit of an advocate for expats because I didn't care what I said if it meant waking up organizations to the needs of the family. Mostly, I think of myself as a resource where people come to ask questions and to be reassured that their challenges are very similar if not often exactly the same as expat families living anywhere in the world. I like to think I make people's feelings real.

Tell us more about your books and what it's like to be an expat author

I was only going to write one book (because they say, write what you know!) and ended up writing five non-fiction books plus an expat novel that was serialized years ago on my website. Being an expat author back in my day was very isolating because there was no Internet, no Amazon, no connection between me and my readers. I used to joke I had a life I didn't participate in!

A writer's life is hard enough as it means going into a deep dark hole for a few years to took me years to write each book because once I started to travel to lecture, I was always either getting over the jet lag and exhaustion of one trip or planning the next. Vancouver is always a 10 hour flight to wherever I was going, often longer. And the lecture tours, while sounding terribly glamorous, were brutal. On some, I would deliver over 30 talks in 5 countries in two weeks! But it was worth it because the audiences were so appreciative of my speaking to them. I only took a decision this past year to stop traveling because it was killing me to be on the road, all alone, boxes of books everywhere (I forgot to mention that I decided to become my own publisher in 2000!!), and I also experienced a lot of food poisoning! I could go on and on about my fear of flying which was not helpful either. I called it 'the flaw in my business plan.'

Video lectures are a new addition to the Expat Expert site - what prompted you to make these videos?

I was very blocked in my writing, not recognizing it was more exhaustion from traveling too much and not having the time to just think and write. A cousin of mine who is a career counselor of many years suggested I try working in a different medium, like video. I used to be a television reporter and documentary writer in another life so the idea of working again in video appealed to me (or certainly didn't scare me). I knew how to do it (but of course, had to figure out You Tube etc...)

So, coupled with the fact that I had taken the decision not to travel anymore, I thought putting together the lecture series would be a win/win. I could check out working in video, and my lectures would be available for free to anyone who needed to hear my messages (and could do so in private, not in a public setting). Having been through the exercise, and watching myself over and over again on video during the editing process, I have decided no more video for me! But hopefully, if people can find the lecture series (it's hard as you know to get anything new 'out there' these days with so much information bombarding expats) they will be helpful to families, especially spouses...

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Monday, October 11, 2010

Interview with Alan Bentley, MD International Personnel Management Ltd

Alan, please can you tell us a bit about your background before you joined International Personnel Management Ltd?

My career has focused on financial services and travel. I have experience in all aspects of Human Resources at a senior level, including international and executive compensation for local nationals, expatriates and third country nationals with HSBC and Thomas Cook.

What services does International Personnel Management Ltd offer?

IPM Ltd specialises in handling overseas staff placements for companies. That means sorting all the ‘red tape’ associated with, salary packages, home and host country tax and social security, cost of living, visas/work permits, accommodation, and schooling. We do all that is required to ensure a successful outcome for both employer and employee. We handle the movement of staff for multi-national companies as well as smaller businesses that need to project manage one-off overseas contracts. We will ensure that you are compliant in all aspects of home and host country tax and social security as well as immigration. We are currently managing international assignments in more than 50 home and 60 host countries around the world. Established in 1995, our experienced team of specialist consultants is based in Peterborough. We benefit from low operating overheads but pride ourselves on delivering personalised, quick response, client management. That translates to excellent value for money. We provide both an...

Interview continues here