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...

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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.

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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...

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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...

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