Sunday, January 26, 2014

Five Recommended Expat Blogs – Canada

At Expat Focus, we like to keep an eye on the blogosphere and see who’s sharing interesting, up to date content about expatriate life around the world. In our internet travels, we come across blogs we’d like to recommend as excellent reads for anyone considering expat life. Today we’re focusing on Canada; here are five of our favourite Canadian expat blogs.

Colder Weather

A fun and quirky take on life in a busy apartment complex, Colder Weather details the adventures of Swedish expat Rebekah, her Canadian husband and her cat McDuff. Focusing on day to day life and finding pleasure in the small things, Colder Weather also takes part in Wordpress’ weekly photo challenge, and the pictures are definitely worth a look.

K & K Adventures

Karin and Kieran are two British expats residing in Ontario. With lots of practical tips on setting up a household, local cultural event guides and travelling on a budget, K & K Adventures is a must-read for anyone who’s thinking about living in Canada. The blog also features guest posts and interviews with other expats to give a well-rounded flavour and a good idea of what to expect when making the move...

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Expat Experiences - Mike, Perth (Western Australia)

MikeWho are you?

I'm a family guy first, trained as a mechanical engineer and working in the Oil and Gas services industry.

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

We were living in our home town of Edmonton, Canada and were offered a position by my company in Perth, Western Australia. The thought of having an "Australian Experience" on the company dime was too great to pass up.

What challenges did you face during the move?

The relocation company we worked with was very experienced moving people from the US but was very unfamiliar with Canada.

They caused us a lot of additional work and needed to be managed often. I highly suggest expats who have a relocation policy to read it thoroughly and push back on relocation companies asking you to ignore what the policy says.

The first 3 months in general was tough with temporary accommodation much smaller than the house we left and not knowing anyone or how to navigate policies and procedures and even where to buy things...

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Expat Experiences - Lauren Mokasdar, Nagpur, India

Lauren Mokasdar
Who are you?

Hello, my name is Lauren and I am originally from England. I have a master’s degree in pharmacy, but I have now left my career as a pharmacist behind and followed my heart on a one-way ticket to India.

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

Nagpur is now my home, known as the orange city (famous for growing oranges). It is located in the state of Maharashtra and is centre point of India. Since I was a child I had dreamt of travelling to this mystical land.

The more I learnt about the culture and spirituality, the more the country enchanted me. I knew it was inevitable that I would visit India someday. I did not expect that when my dream finally did come true, I would be going to India to meet my in-laws, get married to an Indian and I would be living here permanently.

After our marriage I had to return to England for a year for work purposes (July 2013). I soon arrived back in India in December after quitting my job in a well-known pharmacy multiple. I had become too stressed balancing work and a long distance marriage. As soon as I was reunited with my husband in Mumbai, I knew I had made the right decision for me. I chose my happiness over my career...

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Three Coins in the Fountain: Falling in love through faith, family & frequent flyer miles

Expat Focus talks to Catherine Tondelli about her book "Three Coins in the Fountain", a funny and helpful memoir of her life as an expat in Rome.

Catherine, please tell us a little bit about yourself.

I was born - along with my twin sister - into a large Irish/Italian family in Chicago, the ninth of 11 kids (six boys & five girls). Growing up as part of this large, chaotic family has provided me with many entertaining stories that are woven in my memoir. Most significantly, at the age of 13 my father walked out on us all and never looked back. Against all odds, my mother, a school teacher who made sure we all got an education, while raising us with no alimony or child support on her pauper’s salary.

From those humble beginnings and after having met my Italian Roman husband, I am today a cross-cultural expert, living and working abroad for the past 13 years with several multinational companies in marketing, PR and business development. I am an American living in Rome and globetrot as a luxury hotel expert and event manager, assisting companies with their meetings and events worldwide.

You recently published "Three Coins in the Fountain: Falling in love through faith, family & frequent flyer miles", what is the book about?

My book recounts how my entire life changed in one fateful trip to Italy, with my mom. It all started from the title, “Three Coins in the Fountain” where I threw them in -- in Rome’s Trevi Fountain, wishing for love and of course, a return trip to Rome. It is not just a love story but a story about faith, hope and survival. As they say all roads lead to Rome and my road went from Route 66 in California to Via Veneto in Rome...

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The Trouble With Truffles

Kim Defforge
by Kim Defforge

When I hear someone talking about truffles, it takes me a second or two to figure out which kind they are referring to: the confection or the fungus. This can cause trouble because, although the words are the same, their meanings are not at all interchangeable. The word truffle derives from the Latin word tuber, meaning swelling or lump, which later became tufer and eventually evolved to the current term in French, truffe.

The black truffle, referred to as l’or noir (black gold), are actually tuber melanosporum, a fungus that are harvested at the base of oak trees in winter and summer. Truffle production depends on just the right combination of soil pH, precipitation, and sunlight for a warm, dry environment and therefore, is rare. This makes them a highly prized and priced delicacy, commanding from $250 to $450 per pound.

Last summer I saw prices at 120 Euros for 100 grams. Summer harvested truffles are less flavorful, and therefore, are a little less expensive than in winter – Christmas demand can elevate the price from 500 to 1000 Euros per kilo (1 kil0 = 2.2 lbs.).

Truffles are hunted and harvested with pigs or trained dogs that able to detect the mature truffles strong odor from underneath the ground at the base of the oak trees. The odor is similar to a pig’s sexual pheromone, making their reaction a telltale sign - the trouble is trying to prevent the pig from eating the truffle...

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A Month In The Life Of An English Writer In Tuscany - December Reflections

June Finnigan
by June Finnigan

The continuing adventures of June Finnigan, her Man, and Farty Barty the cat.

Well, here we are again at the top of a New Year and looking forward to a gentle slide down through the seasons in Beautiful Tuscany. For years we had gigantic Christmas trees, however, that was when we had properties to match. Now a small tree takes pride of place on our former dining table, in the sitting room of our lovely little hillside villa. Christmas markets were on in most towns and villages. In Florence, one could visit the German (yes German) Christmas market, which is hugely popular. Germany is said to host the best markets in Europe! However, I do like to support the local shops, where things are very much the same as thirty years ago in England. Small shopkeepers still somehow survive and their window displays are lovely.

I was delighted to discover Richmond’s English Shop in Viarregio. It is too far away for us to visit; however, they sent me an lovely goodies box, which included Christmas Crackers, Mince Pies, Bird’s Custard, and Daddy’s Brown Sauce & Colman’s Mince Sauce. I have been drizzling the mint sauce over everything!

The Chianti countryside in December took on a gold, brown, and silver green glow. The sun was a russet gold and the light fantastic. Mornings of bright warm sunshine and freezing fog in the valleys below, made for some fantastic photos and lovely walks through the hills. These hills are not only vineyards and olive groves; in fact, a large area is made up of steep hillsides covered in mixed woodland and quite a few sheer crumbling inland cliffs...

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Exploring The Outskirts Of Phuket

Anne O’Connellby Anne O’Connell

When living the expat lifestyle it is important to establish a routine. Each time you move to a new country, routine is what will help you ease into life in a new place. However, try not to get too lulled by the boring rhythm of the coffee mornings, school pick-up if you have kids, stop ‘n shop, mani-pedi type routine. You’ve got to shake it up once in a while.

Now that we’ve been in Thailand for a couple of years, we’re into a nice routine. I’ve started a writers’ group that meets once a month and I also help out once a week at a local school. Then I work on whatever writing project I have under way the rest of the time. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I live in a different (even exotic) country and exploring beyond the local grocery store once in a while is highly advisable to have the most enriching experience possible.

I have a friend (also an expat) who has come to visit a couple of times and spurs this philosophy on. Last time she came we did a side trip to Phi Phi Island. This time, before she came she asked “What remote island shall we visit this time?” I had to put my thinking cap on.

We are blessed with being surrounded by natural beauty in our immediate vicinity but also with a veritable feast of options for places to explore, including hundreds of islands in Chalong and Phang Nga Bays. This time I chose the very remote, not touristy, peaceful island of Koh Yao Yai.

There are a few words of advice I’d like to share when planning to explore those ‘outskirts’ wherever you live...

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Saturday, January 25, 2014

Winter Comes To The Dominican Republic

Lindsay de Feliz
by Lindsay de Feliz

When you think of a Caribbean island the whole idea of winter does not enter your mind. This year, for the first time in my 12 years here, I am living in the mountains and the change of the seasons seems a lot more pronounced than on the coast.

The change in temperature and humidity has always been sudden, not a slow change as it used to be in the UK. On November 1st or a day before or after every year, suddenly the wind is cooler and the humidity less. In the mountains the temperature dropped sharply from around 90 degrees Fahrenheit in the daytime to 80 degrees.

Night time temperatures dropped from the mid seventies to the mid sixties. The sun is lower in the sky, it used to wake me between 5.30 and 6.00 as it streamed through the bedroom window, but now it doesn’t even make it into the bedroom. Nights draw in quickly and it is pitch black before 6.30...

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Tales From A Spanish Village: Two Old Fools And A Delivery

Victoria Twead
by Victoria Twead

It's an uncomfortable feeling being without passports. We applied a month ago, and paid a hefty fee to have them delivered by courier. Had we filled out the forms correctly? Were our photographs acceptable? Had the passports got lost in the Christmas mail? Were they destroyed in the terrible floods that the UK suffered recently? Receiving mail has always been a bit of a problem in El Hoyo, as it often arrives on the Fish Van or needs collecting from the Repsol garage at the bottom of the mountain.

One cold, but sunny morning, we heard a commotion in the village.

"What's going on?" asked Joe.

We could hear shouts, and a large engine revving.

"I've no idea," I said, shaking my head.

Curious, we went out into the street to investigate.

El Hoyo's streets are extremely narrow, and the corners are all sharp right angles. Cars negotiate them with difficulty. Only pedestrians, uncle Felix's mule and motorcycles sail around the corners with ease...

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Expat Writing – A Veritable Minefield

Toni Hargis
by Toni Hargis

I’m been writing about US/UK stuff for about ten years now, so what have I learned? (My spellcheck is American, by the way.)

You can make fun of your home country almost ad nauseam and you won’t get much of a backlash as long as it’s well informed. Being a British expat makes it easier because of our well-known self-deprecating sense of humor – most Brits chime in with me. Viewing the UK from afar as I do these days, I can see the strengths and the weaknesses possibly more clearly than I did when I lived there. I can also voice my opinion on the weaknesses without fear of insults, obviously as long as I’m not implying “I’m so glad I’m out of there” as some expats do. That must get irritating to read if you’re actually living in that terrible place.

However, the assumption, unless otherwise stated, is that even though you’ve left your country of origin, you think of it fondly and any criticism is either well-intentioned or just gentle ribbing.

But - No matter how long you’ve lived in your host country, and even if you’ve become a citizen, it’s not as acceptable to criticize it...

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Winter in Canada - We Hunkered Down And Pressed On...

Aisha Isabel Ashraf
by Aisha Isabel Ashraf


2014 has blasted in with extreme cold weather here in Ontario, Canada. Windchill is in the minus thirties/forties and you risk frostbite if you’re out for any length of time with skin exposed.

This is our fourth winter in Canada and we’re better equipped to endure it now than ever. The children all have snowpants, snowboots and frost-protective coats and gloves – a far cry from our first year here when we scraped by with no car and the bare minimum.

Our First Canadian Winter

I remember how the snow began falling in earnest on the first of December, cleaving to some indiscernible timetable, and we didn’t see the ground again until April.

The novelty of this meteorological test of endurance thrilled us. We marveled at the efficiency of snow-plows, especially the mini ones that cleared the footpaths. We loved them all the more when we discovered it’s near impossible to push a stroller through snow.

And so began the heroic quests that live on as cherished family memories, tales of our ‘pioneer period’ told with a wistful smile and knowing glances when someone asks “What’s winter like in Canada?”

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Top 5 German Reality TV Shows

Courtney Martin
by Courtney Martin

Since I need to pass a German fluency test in exactly one month, I am trying to go on an all-German diet. This includes only watching German movies and TV shows. While there are several popular action, drama, and comedy TV series in Germany, many of these are difficult for me to understand. I have tried watching “Tatort,” which is like German CSI, but between the police lingo and varying dialects, I can’t always keep up. But do you know what I can understand? Reality TV shows!

I loathe American reality TV shows, but for some reason, when it comes to their German counterpart, I just can’t get enough. So if you are looking to learn German yourself or want to brush on your Deutsch by watching some mindless television, here is my list of the top 5 German reality TV shows.

5. Goodbye Deutschland (Goodbye Germany)

As an expat, I find this show pretty interesting. It follows Germans that choose to move abroad for varying reasons from work to weather. Some of them end up having a very successful life. They find a great job, fall in love with a native, the whole shebang. Others realize that they can’t actually speak the language, have no practical skills, and end up moving back home. Unfortunately it is a cheesy reality/drama where everything is quite scripted, but it’s still okay to watch when nothing from higher on this list is on...

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Christmas Day As A Costa Rican Expat

Shannon Enete
My Christmas morning was not spent unwrapping gifts. Nor was there a traditional Christmas tree. I didn’t fight any holiday traffic, or wrap a single gift! There was no holiday stress, or rush. There was, however, abundant joy!

It can be a bit difficult to get into the mood of the season without a chill in the air and never-ending Christmas music played in every retail store. In an attempt to rectify this, my wife and I decorated a small palm tree, just outside of our house, with lights and ornaments. We also played our favorite Christmas music while relaxing at home. Since we moved abroad, Cammy and I have decided to exchange experiences rather than gifts. This new tradition works better for us in two ways. First, it helps us keep our life “travel-sized.” Secondly, we seek out experiences more than objects, understanding that we can cherish them for a lifetime.

Christmas day began with coffee on our terrace overlooking the largest lake in Costa Rica, Lake Arenal. The 26 mile-long lake boasts sapphire blue water that contrasts magically with the surrounding vibrant green hills. After soaking in the sights and sipping our coffee, we set out for our first caving adventure. Calvernas el Venado is located approximately 45 minutes from La Fortuna and one hour down a dirt road from Nuevo Arenal. On the way we met a friendly local, Helen, and offered her a ride. She was on her way from her house to her dad’s farm for the holiday celebrations. Walking would have taken her an hour and a half, so I guess there were presents after all!

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Applying For Residency In Panama

Susanna PerkinsWe’ve been living in Panama for almost two years now. Even though we’re here full time, year round, officially we are tourists. We’ve made no effort to “regularize” our status, as they say in the immigration biz, because we weren’t ready to commit to staying here.

When we arrived, a tourist visa let you stay in the country for six months at a time. Renewing it was easy – you made a border run. It was a simple, straightforward process that took us 5+ hours of driving each way, but only had us at the Panama/Costa Rica border crossing for about an hour.

A pain, but not a problem.

Now, though, Panama is making it much more difficult. So much more difficult, in fact, that we’re preparing to apply for residency rather than have to deal with the border issues...

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Why Expats Love Hong Kong

Joella HawleyHaving been an expat in Hong Kong now for 16 months, I am already planning where to visit next. That’s the thing about being an expat, every new destination has the potential to be your new home. When arriving in the country of choice, the first thing many of us will do, is see if it has the potential to be our new home. Does it have an English supermarket? What is the tax rates and transport options? But once you have seen how easy it is and how well you can adapt to the likes of Hong Kong and Thailand, the next move won’t be so stressful. You will already know what to expect.

For many westerners Hong Kong is a popular choice to move. Expats love it for its accessible transport service, diverse food and close proximity to other countries. Most weekends can be taken up with a quick trip to Taiwan and the Philippines or just a short boat ride to a surrounding island.

If you enjoy change, a fast pace lifestyle and a place that has many western influences as well as Chinese, Hong Kong is the place to be. The city is fun, exciting and on many occasions captures the heart...

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Thursday, January 09, 2014

Ring Out The Old Ring In The New

Christine Morgan
Ring out the old ring in the new. What a difference one non-descript day presumes to make. Suddenly we all want to resolve to do something; do more exercise, eat less chocolate, drink less wine (that’s mine). But it is easy to commit to resolutions from the depths of a sofa, wine glass in one hand, chocolate in the other. When, on the first Monday back at work, we have to drive through the sheets of rain (yes, the rain is back with a vengeance) over potholes down the darkening streets, desperately searching for a parking place. Then venture forth to get bashed around by blustery, wet gales as we struggle to cross the road and run for cover, umbrella whipped inside out. Suffice to say that our daily quest to get to and fro from work here in the north of Portugal is sufficient to make us think of returning home, sinking into that sofa, savouring a slice of Terry’s chocolate orange and uncorking a bottle.

How long did it take for resolve to disappear? 3 days?

Not that I didn’t have a good break. Actually it was more like a retreat because my household transformed into little Britain over Christmas, apart from a quick foray out into the land of boiled codfish on Christmas Eve, washed down with some good wine whilst cleverly avoiding the offers of Pão de lô (dryish sponge cake), Bolo Rei (dryish sort of fruit cake/bun) and Rabanadas (type of cold French toast). You guessed, Portuguese Christmas fare is not on my list of favourites. Christmas day however was a haven of roast turkey and all the trimmings, Christmas crackers, Christmas pud with brandy sauce (made by mum), sherry trifle (made by dad) and boxes of milk tray and after eight in front of the telly...

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Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Expat Experience: Lauren Kicknosway, Sydney, Australia

Lauren Kicknosway
Who are you?

Hi, I’m Lauren Kicknosway, an American expat living in Sydney since 2008 and owner of Sydney Moving Guide where I write and curate articles specifically for people moving to Sydney, Australia from all over the world. Sydney Moving Guide is exactly what I was looking for back in 2008 when we deciding to move to Australia even though we had never been.

Since launching SMG in April of 2013, I’ve built a network of migration agents, recruiters, shipping companies and other Sydney expats that contribute to SMG regularly. The best part is meeting expats face to face in Sydney that have used the site to help them with their move. I get personal emails from people everyday full of questions about their move to Australia. It’s the best feeling in the world being able help out others and decrease the stress of an international relocation.

Who are you?

Hi, I’m Lauren Kicknosway, an American expat living in Sydney since 2008 and owner of Sydney Moving Guide where I write and curate articles specifically for people moving to Sydney, Australia from all over the world. Sydney Moving Guide is exactly what I was looking for back in 2008 when we deciding to move to Australia even though we had never been.

Since launching SMG in April of 2013, I’ve built a network of migration agents, recruiters, shipping companies and other Sydney expats that contribute to SMG regularly. The best part is meeting expats face to face in Sydney that have used the site to help them with their move. I get personal emails from people everyday full of questions about their move to Australia. It’s the best feeling in the world being able help out others and decrease the stress of an international relocation. Believe me, I know, I’ve lived through it and survived...

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Friday, January 03, 2014

Spending The Holidays In Spain

Many of you fellow expats are going back to your home country for the holidays. But those of you who are spending the holidays in your adopted country this year will be able to learn about and explore new traditions there.

I have found that many of the Spanish traditions are quite similar to what I know from celebrating Christmas and New Year’s back in the United States. For example, going to midnight mass on Christmas Eve is not at all a culture shock for me. It was, however, fun to learn that they call midnight mass the Misa de Gallo, which translates literally to the “mass of the rooster.”

But there are other aspects that are indeed quite different. When we celebrate Christmas back in America, we sit down for a big meal on Christmas Day.

Here in Spain, the big meal is actually on Christmas Eve, or Nochebuena. The Christmas Eve feast is quite an elaborate affair, involving many courses and lasting several hours. Most families start with appetizers around 9 or 10 at night. That’s actually when people usually eat dinner here, and by the time I celebrated my first Christmas in Spain, I was already well used to the late dinners...

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Thursday, January 02, 2014

Expat Experience: Gary McMurrain, Bacolod City, The Philippines

Gary McMurrain
Who are you?

My name is Gary McMurrain and I currently live in Bacolod City Philippines. I have a 27 year connection with the Philippines, with annual visits and now living here year round. Before moving to the Philippines full time, I was a Mental Health Counselor and a Law Enforcement Officer in the USA and in China, I was an English teacher. In the Philippines, I am a writer and Agriculture Specialist. I enjoy writing about the Philippines and sharing with others about the grandeur of the country. I do not see writing as a job and I always look forward to writing 2-3 articles weekly on Retiring to the Philippines. I have also written several eBooks about the Philippines and I am still working on my complete series of eBooks to help others when they retire to the Philippines.

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

Since I have lived abroad several times during my lifetime in several different Asian countries, I will focus on my permanent move to the Philippines. My wife, our son and I moved to the Bacolod City Area in 2009 and we have lived here year round ever since. My wife is from the Bacolod Area and since I also love this part of the Philippines, this is the reason we moved here. The Bacolod Area has a robust economy and it is a great location for engaging in the Agribusiness, so these aspects were also important to us. My move to the Philippines on a permanent basis fulfilled my dream that I had chased since 1986! It is now a dream come true!

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