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So my newest venture is an online video series called expaTView where we interview expats, experts and global mobility specialists to find out the most effective tips, strategies and advice for successful expat living.

In our second show we talk to the famous Apple Gidley, writer and serial expat and Joanne Hughes, International Connections of Houston president.

After all I have to follow my own advice don’t i? Dive into something new and learn as you go? That is exactly what Renee Lederman and I are doing. Neither of us are interviewers or have experience on TV (though I can be a bit of an exhibitionist) but we want to share other people’s ideas and talents – and reach out to expat women everywhere.

We also want to encourage expat women everywhere to pay it forward and support our global sisters at Kiva where we can provide microcredit loans to women in developing and third world countries to enable them to become self-sufficient.

Please help us spread the word by sharing the interviews with your colleagues, adding our link to your websites and blogrolls and joining the discussions on our Facebook page… we also welcome your suggestions for interviews. What would you love to know about expat life and overcoming its many challenges?

Lastly, we would love to find some sponsors to help us continue with the programs… we are funding this ourselves at present but need sponsors to continue!

Enjoy and looking forward to hearing from you!

Did your face kind of screw up as you recalled that list you wrote, committed to, then filed under ‘OK well that’s done’?

The home of my resolutions - where did you hide... sorry, write yours?

Chris Marshall from The Telegraph writes about the difficulties expats in particular have with keeping New Year’s resolutions. If you look at his initial list of regular players you will note they relate to… weight loss, reduction of alcohol intake or smoking and a more balanced fun life. Any of this familiar?

I got a lovely new journal – red, made of leather – for my Christmas and decided it was going to be used for my annual resolutions. And monitoring of said resolutions at the end of every month. And today is 28 January and that dusty little book is sitting there in my peripheral vision begging to be opened. But back to why it is so hard for us….

Marshall attributes these expat specific difficulties to lack of support, constant unpredictable events and the need to socialize in local bars, restaurants and with various groups in order to meet and settle (and therefore have all those temptations within our reach). Valid reasons however it may go a little deeper.

Accountability is always a significant part of the resolution process. The more people we tell we are going to do something, the more likely we may be to do it. When we don’t have too many – or any – accountability partners, it is easier (or so we think) to just let ourselves down. No telling what damage that does.

Personally I think it has to do with an expat malady that is a common ailment – we tend to live in the future rather than the here and now. The next trip home, the next move or the next stressful – yet secretly desired upheaval in our lives. That little adrenaline rush that the constant possibility of moving sustains.

Starting new habits – or stopping old ones – means creating and maintaining new rituals and behaviors that often require some level of stability to ensure success. As soon as something changes – our partner goes away for a week, we go home for a vacation, we have to move house because the company forgot to renew the lease – we find that the first thing to go is the last thing to change.

My suggestion and perhaps my not-New Year’s resolution, is that you make New Location’s Resolutions. A new environment can be stimulating and very conducive to stopping old habits and replacing them with new ones. I struggled with giving up smoking many years ago and managed to do it by coinciding it with a move. New environment with no history of smoking meant no constant reminders. And I haven’t had another cigar (yes I smoked cigars…) in many years.

And if you have no chance of moving soon… then I suggest you go find that little list and do some housekeeping.  Oh and get an accountability partner – I am here :)

So don’t use it as an excuse, use your expatriateness and unique ability to adapt to and thrive within change as your strength and not your weakness. After all it is just a matter of perspective.

Now where is that little red book… right… Item one….. I promised to do WHAT?????

Serendipity and dogs

One of the reasons we don’t have any pets is because of the possible six month quarantine required when we move back to Australia. But that hasn’t stopped me from wanting one.

Maxxy making himself at home on my kitchen floor.

I have heard so many stories of pets in quarantine losing all their hair/fur, not remembering their owners, changing personalities that I resigned myself to a petless expat life.  I do have friends however that have travelled and relocated well with their pets. One has two cats who moved from the UK, to Oman, to Malaysia then Indonesia then back to the States. Another took her two large dogs to live in India with her. And yet another refuses to leave her home country because she will not move or leave her aging cats.

Pettravel and other websites provide extensive information on immigration and quarantine regulations by country so you have the facts. The facts however do not help much with the emotional decisions of whether or not you travel with or without them. Will they get sick, traumatized, become unhappy (one friend had her dog on doggy Prozac) will they even survive the journey?  Would it be better to leave the pet behind and how can we do that? As the old saying goes, pets are for life and not just for Christmas. When we have children it adds more heart-string pulling factors to the decision.

For each expat family it is a very personal decision – and for some it is a no brainer. Have pet… pet part of family… therefore pet will travel. I personally decided against it – yet I wondered last week if the universe was telling me otherwise.

A cute little pooch (and believe me I am a cat and NOT a dog person) followed me home whilst I was out running the other morning and refused to budge. I got him a little food and he followed me around the house.  He also followed/wormed/snuck deeper and deeper into my heart chambers as the day and owner-search wore on. By evening, I had grown ridiculously attached to him and was quite sad when I took him for a walk near where he had latched onto me in the hopes that kids or neighbors out in the evening would recognize him – and they did. He was duly returned to his rightful owners who were still at work and blissfully unaware of his absconding.

And the serendipity (… a propensity for making fortunate discoveries while looking for something unrelated.) piece? As I said I am not a dog person but last week I wrote a blog – Old dogs new tricks - and a FaceBook wall post – What does an agnostic, dyslexic do when he can’t sleep? Stays up all night wondering if there is a dog. Which is two more references to dogs than I would normally make in about ten years. And then the day after Maxy went home, I found another dog happily at home in my back yard.  My dear friend Heather sent me this set of questions one must ask themselves if they find a dog has entered their lives….. so just in case a dog ever follows you home ask yourself…

, there is a long passage about dogs, which concludes with the suggestion to ask yourself these questions if a dog has come into your life.  Please take with a grain of salt -
  • What is this saying about your need for or lack of companionship?
  • Are you being faithful?
  • Are others around you?
  • Are you showing unconditional love, or receiving it?
  • Do you need to be more protective of your territory?
  • Do you need to play a little more?
  • Are you being faithful to yourself?
  • Does your spirit need bolstering?
  • How about those around you?

(from Ted Andrews “Animal Speak”)  And that my friends,  that gave me a lot to think about! I wonder if that means there is a God….

Tip 1 for 2011: Observe the coincidences or serendipitous events that are punctuating your life, and reflect upon them with curiosity.

 

The things you fallen love with about a person when you first meet them, are very often the things that end up driving you utterly mad about them. And vice versa. The same can be said of new countries.

Nooooooooooo................

I fell in love with the fact that you can buy anything you like whenever you want in the US – and now it drives me mad. Stuff stuff stuff…

When I moved here, I looked at 65 houses before we bought this one. Not because I hadn’t found the one I wanted. I had. I looked in them because I was overwhelmed, bewildered and various other adjectives by how much stuff they had and how they needed whole cupboards labelled Halloween, Christmas and other holidays just to keep all the decorations in.  And I just couldn’t stop looking at them. Don’t tell my real estate agent that…. One cupboard for each holiday in many households! How could people have so many decorations when the rest of the world got by on four pieces of tinsel and a few strands of Woolworth’s Christmas lights come December!

I also didn’t like soft ‘cookies’ (because biscuits are supposed to be hard), ‘biscuits’ (because they were pseudo-scones), and other strange food items masquerading as something they were not. And now, I do.

Never ever say never because as soon as you do, you have to eat your words (and cookies and biscuits…). The next time you go to a new place, take particular note of all of the things that look the weirdest, the funniest, the most out of place, the most talked about by expats and… hmm, the most sneered at. For those things dear reader, will be the things you come to love.

Now I must away and find a place to put my ENORMOUS pile of newly acquired Christmas decorations that I just had to buy in the New Year Sales, for this is the time of year, that one finds a dead tree in their living room and all those shiny things must be stored…. in a cupboard…marked ‘Christmas’.

Oh and….. Yes I do plan to write this year – just not every day… watch this space…..

Well here we are, 365 days later. We have arrived at my last post for the year. It is a little terrifying because I feel that I have to be profound and descriptive and draw all previous posts together for a grand finale. Or not as the case may be…..

Avoid being a Miss Haversham - the expat recluse is a lonely creature...

In actual fact I have drawn my inspiration for today’s post from the author of the book from whose title I borrowed to name this blog.  I have consulted with Mr Charles Dickens – himself not an expat although he moved from country to city at one stage in his life. I looked at his characters, and wondered how their personalities would survive the expat experience… I looked at some of the well known quotes from this book and considered how they relate to rising above a life interrupted and some of my favorite tips this year…

I never had one hour’s happiness in her society, and yet my mind all round the four-and-twenty hours was harping on the happiness of having her with me unto death.

Be surprised by the diverse Star Wars Bar friends you tend to meet and keep – even though they may not be as you would have chosen at home-home their strange behavior will make you feel normal again.

So now, as an infallible way of making little ease great ease, I began to contract a quantity of debt.

Try not to use money as a cure-all, as a comforter or as a distraction when there seems little else to do. It doesn’t work and time would be better spent with above-mentioned Star Wars friends.

…feeling it very sorrowful and strange that this first night of my bright fortunes should be the loneliest I had ever known.

If your partner is more like GE's Joe, your expat spouse gripes just may fall on deaf ears...

Very often, the night is darkest before the dawn.  Sometimes it might feel like nothing will ever seem normal again. I promise you, it will be.

. . .suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but – I hope – into a better shape.

Everything you learn, overcome and integrate into your inner self as a pioneering expat will serve you and your family well – if it doesn’t kill you first.

We spent as much money as we could, and got as little for it as people could make up their minds to give us.

Someone, somewhere will always try to rip you off if you are a foreigner. There are worse things that can happen. And of course, there are somewhat better things.

We were always more or less miserable, and most of our acquaintance were in the same condition. There was a gay fiction among us that we were constantly enjoying ourselves, and a skeleton truth that we never did.

If this is, has been for many years and continues to be your expat experience, you may suck at this. Perhaps it is time to call it quits.

Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for they are rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlying our hard hearts

Cry when you need to cry, laugh when you need to laugh and keep moving forward. Avoid doing this in front of small children, wild animals and those who have the capability of locking you up. For a long time.

But that, in shutting out the light of day, she had shut out infinitely more; that, in seclusion, she had secluded herself from a thousand natural healing influences; that, her mind, brooding solitary, had grown diseased, as all minds do and must and will that reverse the appointed order of their Maker.

Do not aspire to be Miss Haversham – you do have an amazing opportunity to live, love and grow differently. Be careful not to fall, and stay, in big holes.

My guiding star always is, Get hold of portable property.

An expat Estella would remove herself from the experience, never engage the locals and never feel at home anywhere...

Create an identity that you can take with you anywhere – one you can mold and re-evaluate and one that is open to whatever. And change your hairstyle in every country you go to.

All other swindlers on Earth are nothing to the self swindlers.

Don’t fool yourself that it’s always going to be easy or always going to be hard. Just learn how to see it as always amazing.

That was a memorable day to me, for it made great changes in me. But, it is the same with any life. Imagine one selected day struck out of it, and think how different its course would have been. Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day.

The day you took your first step towards this life in a new world was the beginning of everything. If you didn’t have the guts and the ability to do it, you wouldn’t have.  You are challenged, but you are lucky. Very lucky.  Someone in an HR apartment somewhere wrote the beginning for you, it is up to you to write the ending.

GE's PiPip resembles most expats I know ... a powerful conscience, expects more of himself than others and is always working the self-improvement....

Rising above a life interrupted requires a sense of purpose in everything you do, deep connection with others and a structure in your day and life that includes both connection and purpose. Those of you who have followed my journey, know my love of singing has been a constant during my expat life. It has and does give me all these things. I recently started singing lesson with a new teacher who said I am singing at 20% of my capacity. And that I have sung the ‘wrong’ way for 50 years. The old me would have been devastated but the new me is excited – I get to find my voice, my new voice  all over again. Just like every time I move.

I wish you well in finding, tuning up, reinventing and reinvigorating your voice wherever you are in the world – keep in touch, I have loved your company.

And to all a good night…..

Tip 365: My final gift to you – long before you write your New Year’s resolutions, write your past year’s successes. Every single glorious one of them.

Check out Rebel Women Cafe for a great template to help you with 2011 New Year’s Evolutions.

Grateful and enormous thanks to those of you who have been beside me on my journey this year… Naomi, Maria, Grazia, Richard, Jennifer, Marie, Catherine, Rachel, Haether, Laurel, Vanessa, Earl,  Marina, Anastasia, Gwen, Judith, Andrea, Evelyn, Kirsty, Judy, Sarah, Las, Alejandra, Mirko, Benito, Dimitrina, Deirdre, Nicola, Arwa, Comtese, Theresa, Julia, Louise, Nicola, Aida, deirdre, Don, Crystal, Piter, Karen, Cindie, Zaria, Alaine, Zander, Christina, everyone I have missed who read or commented, and mostly Tim.

Have you ever felt secretly relieved to have escaped the rituals, routines and ruts you were in at home-home? Part of you is happy to have gotten away from all those unwritten expectations and secretly feels sorry for all those still participating in the dance.

Illona Morrice's Circle of Life...

And another part of you misses it and wants to find that again in some way shape or form because it is an aspect of our natural way of being. Whether we knew it or not, much of this ‘rut’ was actually a welcome rhythm. A partly natural yet mostly created ebb and flow that gave us a reason to get up in the morning.

And  whether we realize it or not, when we moved away from the routines, the perceived expectations and daily requirements, the pattern and form we had created around ourselves, we moved away from that which makes us who we are. And if we do not re-create at least some of that structure in our new locations, we become aimless, lost and directionless.

A structured day that includes planned, purposeful events yet allows for some spontaneity and play is missing from so many expat lives. Our adventurous spirits resist it, yet it is often one of the key missing pieces. I know people who get up in the morning and check their emails – and hours later are still on the internet. Others stretch out the house-cleaning, say yes to every uninspiring invitation, sign up for things they don’t really want to do just to do something.  Carefully crafted meaningful, purposeful structure can save us from ourselves – literally.

Some of the most unhappy times I have had personally as an expat have been a solid reflection of aimless days. These days are of course a reflection of what lies deeper – the lack of career, overwhelm, not knowing where to start and even the sheer numbers of hours in the day that scream to be filled. Yet carefully fill them we must.

This year has been one of many challenges yet writing this blog, practicing singing and piano daily, coaching on certain days and training on others, volunteering on particular days of the week and connecting with friends on others has sustained me. Even when I haven’t seen my kids for months.  The need for structure has become a focal point for me – a so-called spontaneous Saggitarian :)

When considering how to structure your days, it is important to keep the following in mind:

  • Always include doing something you love.
  • Exclude perceived obligations that you dread, avoid and procrastinate over as these will derail everything.
  • If you have obligations that must be done – do them as early as you can in the morning or they will sabotage your day.
  • Exercise consistently – and with a friend to help you to stick to your routine.  The earlier you exercise, the better you set up your metabolism for the day.
  • Join a class or an activity series that you are excited about – and have to pay for. Paying is investing and we are more likely to go to something we are invested in.
  • Replace shoulds with wants.
  • Clean the house routinely – for a fixed amount of time each day.
  • Connect to friends or family in some way EVERY day – do not miss this step.
  • Set aside a specific amount of time on the internet and answering email. Turn off the computer when you are done as a turned off computer is more difficult to ‘just have a quick look’ at.
  • Read something made of paper every day – especially if it is a newspaper you enjoy.
  • Call your Mum/best friend/sister/most loved female at least once a week.
  • Plan non-negotiable date nights with your partner – take turns planning the content.
  • Plan something to look forward to for next week – and every one thereafter.
  • Read something in bed on a Sunday morning.

Yesterday we talked about the importance of connection and how rich relationships are one of the keys to happiness.  Some of these connections are deliciously random and others must be structured. Creating a regular time, place and emotional space for those you love creates a natural cycle that our minds, bodies and souls respond to. What goes around comes around – and back around again. Or like Elton John says, and at the risk of sounding like a cliche …

It's the Circle of Life
And it moves us all
Through despair and hope
Through faith and love
Till we find our place
On the path unwinding
In the Circle
The Circle of Life

One more sleep – how can it be that 364 days of this have passed?

Tip 36something: Craft the structure of your day with great care and attention to detail.

With only 3 days remaining of my 365 day challenge, I want to share the 3 major things that I have learnt, re-learnt or consolidated this year that help me to rise above a life interrupted. Let us start with the obvious one.

Non-surprising research reveals the quality of our relationships is in direct proportion to the quality of our happiness.

Mystics and philosophers, religious leaders and even company CEOs have been heard to say that human connection – quality relationships – are paramount when it comes to the pursuit of happiness. Interestingly, researchers – actual scientific researchers – have come up with the same thing. Amazing.

An Emotional Life was a television series released earlier this year which explores this ‘breakthrough’ scientific research (and it appears to be viewable online for a small fee). Amongst other things, how well, how deeply and how intimately we relate to others is a non-negotiable when it comes to feeling happy with one’s life.

When we remove ourselves voluntarily from our families, our support networks, our socially constructed fortresses to live in a place where we only know the members of our immediate family, we experience an incredible sense of loss. Even though these networks and people still exist, we no longer exist in their immediate circles of influence and this for most of us, is experienced as almost a physical pain. In many ways we spend the rest of our expat lives trying to reconstruct that previous base of human connection in order to feel whole again. Sometimes we get close, we have it back temporarily or we gain it for a while and then we or others move on and we suffer the loss again. Some expats begin to resist and close off from truly close relationships in the hope of preventing these deep feelings of loss when they or others move on.

One of my most simple and most favorite tips this year has been – do not do this. Additional research suggests that humans behave emotionally first and rationally second – thank goodness. Love good, love hard and love long whether people are in your immediate space and sphere or not. Seek like-minded and like-hearted people out, make that first move, open yourself up to loss by inviting friendship in. When it doesn’t work, don’t walk away – give it time and attention and then make a decision as to whether it feeds or frightens you. Reach out and look to others who are reaching out to you. We are all we have got – even when that friendship gene pool seems mighty shallow.

And with your intimate relationships – maintain strong, healthy, honest, fearless, cherishable communication. You have already proved just how important that person is to you – you have chosen to walk the road less travelled with them. Risk all emotionally with them to love and be loved deeply.

I asked some expats I know to see just how well their partners knew them and how they felt about their expat experiences. What I wanted to know was, if they would answer questions about each other’s feelings in the same way.  So often we feel close to our life partners and feel we understand each other, yet how often do we actually check in just to make sure? To make sure there are no misinterpretations or assumptions?

This New Years, I challenge you to check in with your significant other – and vice versa – to see if what you think you know and understand about each other is in fact true.  Here is what one expat couple risked and I believe, won….

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

‘Dan’ 50 years of age – British and has lived in England, Japan, Norway and U.S.for 13 expat years – 10 with his partner Sarah.

‘Sarah’ 56 years of age – German and has lived in Japan and recently the US as an expat for only 9 months.

1. On a scale of 1 – 10 (with 10 being ecstatic) how happy do you think Sarah is as an expat spouse and why did you choose that number?

Dan: 4/10  Because she’s not very happy being an expat. (Sarah: 4/10  I think he’s spot on…I’m happy being with him, but don’t feel like I’ve found my life here yet…still feel like I left a lot back in Japan…)

2. What are the three top things Sarah loves about the expat lifestyle?

Dan: She doesn’t like the expat lifestyle…so how can you have 3 top things..?  (Sarah: 1) We have more time together in the evenings, 2) I am closer to my daughter in New York  3) …?)

3. What are the three worst things your partner dislikes about the expat lifestyle?

Dan: Being away from Japan, not having true independence and having to start a social lifestyle from scratch again. (Sarah: Being away from my mother and friends, having to depend on him for everything and not having close friends here… I think he understands.)

4. How long do you think you will continue living as an expat and what would make you give it up?

Dan: Might be forever…?  Losing my job would make me give it up. (Sarah: As long as his work is abroad we will live abroad.  If he were transferred back to Japan, I would gladly go back…!)

5. What are the three top things that you feel your partner believes attracts you to the expat lifestyle?

Dan: I think she feels that better pay and working conditions,  more opportunities for travel and a multi-cultural environment attract me (Sarah: I think that more challenging work,  being part of a larger technical community and more opportunities for advancing his career are what attracts him.)

6. If you could change one thing to improve your partner’s quality of expat life, what would that one thing be and why?

Dan: Help her to feel more independent and make new friends, because I feel that she would be happier that way. (Sarah: Not sure what he could do for me…it’s more my attitude that needs to change and I’m working on it!).

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Whether the ‘right’ or the same answers are there or not, there is genuine care and compassion within those answers. And that is the silver lining on both their clouds. Sometimes even the most basic things we feel are shared understandings and knowledge however, aren’t.  Filling in the gaps or finding out new information can be both enlightening and consolidating. I am so grateful to ‘Dan’ and ‘Sarah’ for sharing their honest answers – and I challenge you to ask those same questions of your partners to find out how aligned your answers are – risk all and see where it leads you.

Coaching question: How helpful do you think it would be to truly understand our partner’s viewpoints and how could this help our most intimate connections support us in our expat lives?

Tip 36something: When you think your are deep enough, see if you can go a little deeper. There just might be gold down there.

A good friend is a connection to life – a tie to the past, a road to the future, the key to sanity in a totally insane world

 

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