Category Archives: Expat Women

Expatriate alphabet — the G, H, I that can make your expat experience better

by Margarita

Expatriate Alphabet: G is for GRATITUDE

Put simply gratitude is just another perspective on life. Just like different color Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 5.39.26 PMlenses allow us to see the world in different ways, the perspectives we hold at any point of time influence our views and feelings. Dr. Wayne Dyer once said “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at will change.”

Gratitude is the perspective that makes everything immediately better. Think about it: let’s say you lost your job or your business isn’t going as well as you had hoped or someone in your family is sick or… the list can go on and on. You can choose to bask in your sadness/frustration/anger/etc or you can turn around and think about what’s right with your life at that moment. What’s going well for you? What can you be grateful for?

You’d be amazed at how quickly the feelings of despair get replaced with feelings of hope when you employ gratitude.  And that’s why I think GRATITUDE takes the letter G in the Expatriate Alphabet.

What are you grateful for now?

Expatriate Alphabet: H is for HUMOR

When I think of the importance of humor while an expat, one story always pops up in my memory. When we were living in one country, we once went out to a restaurant with a group of friends. There were about six of us and, when a waiter brought only one menu to the table, we politely inquired after a few more copies. He looked at us as if we were crazy and said: “Why? They are all the same.”

We still laugh today when we remember this story.   Since then there have been many more stories and times when looking at things through the lens of humor was essential to staying sane. And that’s why I chose HUMOR for an H in the Expatriate Alphabet.

Humor makes frustrating and stressful situations a lot easier to handle. It almost creates an instant vacuum effect where all your anger and stress get sucked out of you and replaced with a feeling of lightness and a belief that it’ll all work out somehow. Since exasperating situations tend to happen a lot more often when we live in a foreign-to-us culture, humor can become a tool to use on a regular basis.

So next time you find yourself in a frustrating place, think of your favorite comedian/comedienne.   What would he/she laugh about here?

I conclude with another story told by a close friend – a story that still leaves tears in my eyes because I laugh so hard every time I hear it.

A friend of mine was living in another country and at one time desperately needed to buy a pair of sandals. She spent days looking around for a pair she’d like and finally she came across something that looked promising. As customary, the store only had one sandal on display, the one for her left foot. She tried it on, liked the way it looked on her, and asked the sales girl for the second one.

“We don’t have the second one. We only have this one,” said the sales girl.

My friend stared at her. “Come again? You don’t have the second one?”

The sales girl shook her head.

My friend, exhausted after several days of search and annoyed that this time it didn’t result in a purchase either, said “Why would you display it if it’s not a pair?!” She didn’t really expect an answer.

The sales girl stood there quiet for a moment and then said: “So, are you going to take it?”

What have been your stories when you were able to treat frustrating situations with humor? Share them please!  

Expatriate Alphabet: I is for IDENTITY

To quote the movie Fight Club (1999): “You’re not your job. You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You’re not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. … “ … Who are you then?

Losing one’s identity is one of the premier worries expats have when they face a decision of moving abroad. Who am I going to be there? What am I going to do with my time (for those who accompany their working spouses)? What will I relate to… if anything? What relationships will I form with people? And what about financial independence? This list of concerns can go on and on and, if you look closely, you’ll see that a lot of these questions relate to who we see ourselves as – and to how we preserve that in unfamiliar environments.

So how do we keep our identity and how do we feel good about ourselves wherever we may end up? I believe the key here is our relationship with ourselves. All too often moves and transitions produce feelings of doubt in our own abilities; feelings of guilt, feelings of low self-esteem; and feelings of “not being good enough, smart enough, etc.” No matter what we call these feelings, they are all about the same thing — we stop liking and set out to criticize ourselves. What kind of relationship is that? How much do we damage this most important relationship in our lives — the relationship of us with us?

The regular criticisms and nagging also create the recurrent feelings of “I am losing myself”, “I am no longer who I was before”, “my identity is slipping away” and so on and so forth. The self-critical mode takes over and it’s no wonder that we feel that our identity is no more.

Your thoughts?

These ABCs form part of the A to Z of Successful Expatriation™ Guide and Workbook which is available as a free download on our main site. This Guide and Workbook doesn’t only discuss the expat alphabet but also offers activities and exercises you can do to improve your expat life. Sign up for Expat VIP list and get this free download here (right hand column).

 

 

 

 

 

How are change and happiness connected — and is there a place for each in 2014?

It’s no secret that the one thing, which unites us all, is our desire to be happy.  New Year 2014It’s also no secret that at the end of each year we look forward to the next and consider the ways in which we can become happier.  Perhaps a change of job, or a change in relationships, or a change in business-as-usual approach to life, or a change of a routine, etc.  Change is central to our pursuit of happiness – for without change there is no progress.

All this seems pretty straightforward but it turns out that when it comes to initiating and maintaining change, we really suck at it.  Just think of the New Years resolutions that come and go.  As much as we, humans, always want to grow and evolve, when it comes to this growth being propelled by change we stumble.  In their book, Immunity to Change, Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey give an example of a study that showed that if heart doctors tell their seriously at-risk heart patients they will literally die if they don’t change their lifestyle, only one in seven, on average, is actually able to make the changes…”

One in seven!  Imagine that.  At the risk of dying, only 1 in 7 people would change their ways of being in the world.  How is that for resisting change?

Kegan and Lahey go on to say that one of the reasons changing is so difficult for us is that by not changing we are honoring a “hidden commitment” – a commitment to something entirely different, something that conflicts with our desire for change.  It’s hidden because it’s so deep in our subconscious that it resides completely outside of our conscious awareness.

Because this commitment is hidden, we don’t get to examine it closely.  But if we do, we may discover a couple of things:

1.  The hidden commitment is based purely on fear and/or guilt.

“How can I take time away from kids to have a massage, take a photography class, or a history course in a local university?  I am already not working so it’s my job to always be with the kids.  What would my friends and family back home say if they find out that I regularly leave them with a nanny even though I have all this time I can spend with them?”

2.  The hidden commitment expresses the things that are truly important to us – and the change we want to initiate doesn’t agree with them at all. 

“I must look for work in the new year – I can easily get hired here.  We don’t really need the money but I’ve worked all my life and not working feels kind of weird.  My friends back home are making fun of me for all the time I am wasting on my hobbies.  Although I really like concentrating on them now …”

In scenario 1 digging deeper helps us see that at the root of this “hidden commitment” is our subconscious understanding of what makes us safe – on physical, emotional and social levels.  We come to realize, thus, that we live our lives the way we do because we are scared.  And more often than not – we are scared of things that are either not really valid for us or seem scarier than they actually are.   Staying at home with kids at all hours of the day and feeling guilty when leaving them to take time for yourself may be scary in the realm of social acceptance/safety — yet it does nothing for either your or their happiness.

In scenario 2 digging deeper helps us discover the values that we hold dear and makes us realize that only by living those values will we achieve happiness and fulfillment.  Working because you’ve always done so isn’t a good enough reason to give up on what’s important to you now and what makes you tick.

So what can help us to initiate and sustain change – the change that will bring us closer to being happier in the new year?  Try these three steps:

Step 1: Learn your hidden commitment – what’s really stopping you from going for that change?  This isn’t an easy exercise and requires a process that’s like peeling an onion – digging deep until you expose the fear or the values at stake.

Step 2: Make a choice.  Either consciously choose to continue as before or commit to change.  Make it your choice rather than an automatic behavior you’ve engaged in until now.

Step 3: Get a support network together.  Surround yourself with people who will help you through this process of adopting change.  This is difficult, so make sure your support network is 100% behind you, holds no judgement over your choice and the outcome, and doesn’t have any hidden agenda.  Family and friends are probably not the best people to enlist here – a buddy system or a coach is your best bet in sustaining a new behavior.

Good luck on your dreams, wishes and aspirations in the coming year!  Remember that if you are not feeling completely happy in any area of your life – you can choose to make a change there and begin moving towards greater happiness.  Why continue to settle when you can create an amazing life for yourself?

Expat Mothers in Transition or “Where do I go from here????”

In the expat world we talk a lot about transitions. Transitions from home to a TRavelforeign country, from one culture to another culture, from one school to the next, from headquarters to a country office… I can go on and on. Yet today I’d like to speak about another kind of transition – a transition that’s very specific to mothers, and more so to expat mothers.

I’ve been off the radar for the last few weeks because I was co-leading a workshop for expat women looking at their next steps. Most of them were mothers whose children have reached an age where they no longer needed their constant care and involvement (read – teenagers!). And after dedicating their lives to moving their families from country to country, settling everyone in, caring for adjusting kids and spouses, running the household, and in general being the backbone of the family during the turbulent expat years, these women were finding themselves with additional time on their hands. And a huge desire to begin something just for themselves – be it go back to work, re-invent themselves professionally, or re-discover parts of themselves they’ve ignored and start something entirely new.

Many mothers around the world who have had the luxury to take time off work to care for their kids find themselves in the same predicament. In addition to the sadness of “one-moment-I-am-needed-and-the-next-I-am-not”, there is a lot of confusion over “where I am going?” What does this transition have in store for me? Where CAN I go?

And, I think, expat mother have it tougher. We are away from friends, family members, and support networks. Our resume is devoid of part time jobs and professional development courses… unless we count the freelance jobs of packing, taxi service, and nurse. Our confidence is often low because we’ve had our share of glazed over eyes every time we answer the question “and what do you do?” And our opportunities may be limited precisely because we might be living in a country where we don’t speak the language; have no permission to work; or if we already know that we’d be leaving within a couple of years.

Sure we’ve had an amazing life and sure we’ve had access to learning things that others may not have. And we are as resilient as they come. Yet this transition can be tricky.

Especially if we don’t give it proper attention.

Have you – or has anyone you know – ever go through this transition?

Note: the program we ran for expat mothers in transition will now be available to women around the world via the web! Please check here for more information. 

Grateful or in debt – what does it feel like to you? An accompanying expat spouse’s dilemma.

by Margarita

Much has been said about the role of financial dependence in expat marriages. FeeCultureOne spouse gets the transfer to work abroad, the other decides to follow thereby giving up his/her job and with that — the ability to contribute monetarily to the household.

Although situations vary, most non-working accompanying spouses contribute to the family in many other ways: they organize households in the chaotic “before” and “after” of a move; they take care of children and pets; they figure how things work in a new environment and smoothen transition for everyone else; they run the house and errands; and they play a very important supportive part that allows the other partner to work.

We all know they contribute – and they know it too – however, concerns of being financially dependent and spending “not my own money” has always been high on the expat spouse’s list of feeling unhappy. So why is it that perfectly accomplished people with a large list of things they do for the family still feel like they don’t deserve the money they spend? Why do they feel guilty not to make a paycheck?

Thinking about it a little more after a conversation I recently had with some fellow expat women, I came up with three reasons:

(1) In today’s society (the Western kind), you are only as good as the size of your paycheck and the title on your business card. Money you make elicits more admiration than the impact you make as a parent, a partner, or simply a human being.

(2) The reason above contributes directly to how accompanying spouses feel about their self-worth. Many a client with whom I’ve worked told me how they cringe when asked “what do you do?” – one of the first questions that you get in a gathering of any kind. Or how they notice that people’s eyes glaze over as soon as they mention that they are not working.

(3) And then there is the third reason – the most poisonous of them all. There are actually spouses that will hint or point out that they are the ones bringing home the bacon – and that no amount of support, or of household chores, or of parenting impact, or of simply moving around on a whim of someone else will ever be as important as their paycheck. And unless you make the same amount or more while doing everything else you are already doing, you should stop feeling smug about yourself and your contribution and start feeling very grateful.

My question is: grateful or in debt?

The answer is, of course, your choice! We can always choose the way we feel about our surroundings and the way we react to them. And perhaps it’ll work the first, the second, and the third time around. But then the fourth time, it’ll be harder. And the fifth time – even harder. Why? Because if you live near the toxic plant, you won’t be healthy no matter how many vitamins you take and how many vegetables you juice. The plant has to stop emitting toxins or you have to move.

Your thoughts on this “grateful” or “in debt” dilemma?

Celebrating dreams on this International Women’s Day

by Margarita

This year the UN has designated the theme for the International Women’s Day to Couragebe “A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women”. In my honest opinion the time to take action to end violence against women is long overdue but I suppose better now than never.

But this blog post isn’t about the violence or the UN theme or what can and needs to be done to eliminate attacks on women. This blog post is about the dreams – about daring to dream and daring to follow your dream.

Why dreams?

Because I think all too often violence against women is the direct result of FEAR by certain elements of society that women are daring to dream, that women are daring to follow their dreams, and that when women dream, things change. And perhaps change isn’t what those elements of society have in mind.

So they react – violently. And in the process of hurting people, they also try to stop other women from dreaming. Which is exactly what I’d like to prevent with this post.

And so here are a few quotes that, I think, are inspirational and that can help you continue to dare to dream and follow your dream:

“We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world.” – Marianne Williamson

“Self-trust is the first secret of success”. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius and power and magic in it.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” – Thomas Edison

“It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” – George Eliot

 “Don’t be pushed by your problems. Be led by your dreams.” – Calvin & Hobbes Quotes

Do you have a favorite quote to share? Contribute it in your comment below!

What can comedy teach us about expatriation?

I’ve always found humor to be at the forefront of tools that I turn to when I don’t Humor and Expatsfeel so well about my life. It helps so much, in fact, that I included it in my three strategies of managing culture shock. And so when at the last night’s writer’s group we had a session on how to write humor, I thought – why not find a few jokes that can help expats take another perspective on whatever is troubling them?

And while humor isn’t my talent and there are not that many (or any!) comedians that focus specifically on the always-on-the-move cohort, I found a few jokes that can still serve their purpose and help.

Feeling like you’ve given up a lot to move half way across the world? A job, a career, a family, and friends? Not to worry:

Cheer up! Remember the less you have, the more there is to get. (Unknown)

Having a frustration-full day? Cannot communicate with anyone? Want to lock yourself up at home and never come out again? Consider this alternative thinking:

Eat a live toad the first thing in the morning and nothing worse can happen to you for the rest of the day. (Unknown)

Experiencing guilt that you don’t have to clean your house and can hire someone to do it for you while all your friends at home don’t have that luxury?

Housework done properly can kill you. (Unknown)

Terrified to move to yet another place? To pack, to unpack, to start completely anew in finding friends? This may help:

I have a new philosophy, I’m only going to dread one day at a time. (Charles Schulz, “Peanuts”)

Worried about your next destination? Heard a few things you didn’t like and spending hours making assumptions on how they will affect you? Leave those assumptions behind because:

I’ve suffered a great many catastrophes in my life. Most of them never happened.  (Mark Twain)

This one needs no introduction:

There’s no such thing as fun for the whole family. (Jerry Seinfeld)

Tired of constantly receiving wise advice when complaining? Sick of too many expat coaches out there telling you to learn from your experience? Well, you don’t have to listen to them all the time. And not everything has to be for learning. Because:

“Sometimes the road less traveled is less traveled for a reason.” (Jerry Seinfeld)

And finally, there will always be times when your days will suck, when the outside looks grey, and when watching old re-runs of your favorite comedy shows is the only thing you want to do. Don’t worry. We’ve all been there. Give yourself permission to NOT be perfect and learn to swear.

Life’s disappointments are harder to take when you don’t know any swear words. (Unknown)

Any good additions?

Recreating is Creative Recycling: an Expat Woman Experience

By Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar

I’ve lived in the Middle East for seven years. Along with appreciation for flexible ColorfulPencilsstarting times, humus with meat, and the women’s garment, the abaya, I have developed a list of axioms for success as an expat.

Many of these apply directly to the setting of the Arabian Gulf and specifically to daily events in Qatar.

One: In a high concept culture, the absence of a yes can be read as a no.

Two: The longer you sit, the wider your hips.

Three: Expat life is like a pressure cooker, the pressure of the unfamiliar forcing out whatever is inside.

Number three, however, could apply to any country in the world. What happens when your creature comforts- in my case catchall stores like Target, and a wide circle of friends- are taken away? When you find yourself in an entirely new environment and have to invent your own fun?

There are two stages. In the first you may find yourself working and sleeping in copious amounts. I alternated between an eighty hour work week and a docile weekend the entire first year I lived in Qatar. Coincidentally I also gained 15 pounds from my suddenly sedentary lifestyle.

Eventually (read two years later) I was literally sick of sleeping. I forced myself out of bed and took stock of the situation. This is when I entered stage two: the stage of invention. I wondered to myself what was interesting enough to keep me awake. None of the ladies coffee mornings or social groups had what I wanted, some expat grousing and home sickness mixed in with cultural stimulation.

I did the only thing I could: I created groups of my own. I put a small, free ad in the local events leaflet, advertising a writing group.

Writing, it turned out, was the first of many activities I would embark on to keep myself entertained. And in the process I not only found friends, but made several career changes. I went from being a university administrator to the editor of a series of books. A few years from that transition I found myself talking to the CEO who published J.K. Rowling and agreeing to work for his new company starting up in Doha. A few years from that (yes, I mentioned I’ve been in Qatar quite a while) I resigned from that job in order to pursue my writing full time and publish seven Ebooks on Amazon.

None of this could have happened if I didn’t live overseas. Or perhaps to state more accurately, none of this would have happened as quickly if I were shopping in Target every weekend or flying to my college reunion. Not that retail therapy or friendships aren’t important: I enjoy them on our holiday trips home.

But I found the treasure of expat life is the very fact of being taken outside your comfort zone. Once the irritation, anger, and realization hat in fact, no, your life is not “just like it was at home” because there is a McDonald’s down the street, wears off, you may find you have the greatest gift a person can be given. You have the time to mindfully choose how you want to spend your days, weeks, months – all those hours that stack up to years.

The first few months of a new year are the perfect time to ask yourself how you want to showcase the new you. What skills, passions, or projects have you been talking about for years that now lurk in a back closet, shaming you into silence with their persistent procrastination?

I’ve been writing since I was in my twenties. It took me a twelve years and another continent to recycle that passion from a hobby into a full time occupation. I now teach writing to undergraduates and stay up late at night scribbling away at my own work.

What is it you love to do and yet never have time for? That’s why they call it the gift of the present.

Mohana is still in Doha. You can read all about it on her blog: www.mohanalakshmi.com or follow her on Twitter @moha_doha.

Mohana is also a co-trainer for the “Living and Working in Qatar” cross-cultural course available online 24/7.

What’s good about a disappointment?

Les Miserables came out recently and Anne Hathaway’s rendition of the famous

“I dreamed a dream” has been playing in my head ever since I saw the movie a couple of weeks ago. Of course I’ve been singing it to myself because of how beautiful and moving I find it, but after repeating the lyrics for the umpteenth time, I suddenly realized that there is a line in there that really speaks to me.

Remember at the end when she says “The life has killed the dream I dreamed”? Granted, the character’s situation has nothing whatsoever to do with where majority of people find themselves today. Comparing our lives to the misery on the screen would just be too far fetched. But what got me thinking is the idea of disappointment. Especially among expats.

  • How disappointed do we often feel that things we hoped for didn’t come to fruition?
  • How difficult is it for us to feel that disappointment?
  • How hard is it to be disappointed in ourselves and to think that people are disappointed in us?

As humans we always strive to be better, to achieve, to find, and to get somewhere. When we don’t, we feel that disappointment. Some of us feel it stronger than others. Some may even choose not to strive, to seek, and to try precisely because they want to avoid that feeling.

Which brings me to my point. It’s hard to be with disappointment. It sucks, it doesn’t feel good, and it’s something that we would much rather live without. But if we select to act with a goal of avoiding “being with disappointment”, how much of life will we experience? Can we actually live our lives fully if we keep trying to avoid things we find hard to be with?

Disappointment is there to teach us something. Other things we find hard to be with are there to teach us something. It’s our choice if we want to allow them in and learn – or to keep avoiding them at all costs.

What do you find hard to be with and how have those things shaped the way you go through life?

Like this post? Would like to receive expat tips and strategies from us? Sign up for our EXPAT TIPS MONTHLY and receive FREE “A to Z of Successful Expatriation™” Guide and Workbook. Based on experiences of expats around the world, it offers tools that help make your expat life the best it can be! Sign up here.  

How to take charge of your negative thoughts during expatriation

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when someone suggests something new? Like a new travel destination for the weekend, or a new restaurant for dinner, or a new activity to attend, or a new expat post to consider? If you begin to think of why you should not, may not want to, not really psyched about that new thing, don’t worry – you are very much like the rest of humans. If you say – great, bring it on – congratulations, you’ve somehow trained yourself to stay clear of the negativity bias so many humans suffer through not fault of their own.

Apparently the negativity bias is our natural inclination.  Being negative about change, being suspicious about new things, and giving more weight to the negative information rather than positive information is our inbuilt tendency. Just think about the proliferation of all the scary news reports on your local news channel – they do it because negative news sells better than positive.  Our brain actually exhibits more activity when we are receiving negative information, which means that we are hard-wired for negativity! This negativity bias is also largely the reason we tend to dwell on things people have done wrong and remember their wrongdoing better than those other good things they did.

Our natural predisposition to give more weight to negativity is the reason that a new thing may not excite us at first and that we are more inclined to consider the reasons for not engaging with that new thing. And that’s the bad news.

The good news, however, is that we are highly trainable species and, if we really want to, we can teach ourselves to ignore that negative bias. All we have to do is–

(1) notice the first thought that appears when something new is suggested;

(2) recognize the negative bias; and

(3) change our perspective and find some positive reasons why that new thing is worth doing.

Try it this week. Train your mind to recognize and switch. If you stay with this practice, pretty soon you’ll notice that your negative bias has been replaced with the positive bias.

Trust me, it works. And it makes you much, much happier as a result.

Want to get rid of your negativity bias but prefer to do it in a company of like-minded expats? Join our Expat Women Academy program in November! More information and to sign up here.

An open mind is a terrible thing to waste or one cardinal expat rule to observe

“You are kidding me,” I was thinking to myself as we were taking a relaxation pose for the THIRD time during the last 30 minutes of a yoga class. “That’s what they call yoga?!?!?!”

This was the third yoga class I was trying in a desperate attempt to find the one I am going to love. Yoga was a big part of my life at my previous post – the part that kept me sane, healthy and fit – and so naturally finding a yoga class was essential.  Little did I know (or rather little did I expect!) that what they call yoga here and what I am used to calling yoga is not quite the same thing.

Three trials later I am still frustrated with yoga classes.  I still don’t have the one I absolutely love. I am also really missing Whole Foods and the abundance of organic produce.  And judging from how disconnected I felt during the last night’s Rosh Hashanah services, I am going to miss my reform congregation too.

But this post isn’t about the things I cannot find in the new place. This post is about the attitude I insist on assuming when looking for said things. When the feelings of disappointment surface, I notice them and decide that having those feelings isn’t going to change much.  Yoga is still going to be the same, there will still be no Whole Foods, and the services at the Conservative synagogue are never going to replace the spiritual journey I experience at the Reform.

And so I do what I did that time at yoga when I was having to endure yet another relaxation instead of a downward dog – I say to myself: “I am going to keep an open mind. This may still turn out better… or different somehow. And even if it doesn’t and ends up being disappointing, I can write it off as an experience from which I am going to learn.”

Keep an open mind, baby.  You never know what you are going to get.

Are you an expat woman who is going through some challenges? Or do you know someone who is? If so, join our Expat Women Academy – a one of a kind program that provides expat women with strategies to overcome expatriate challenges. Three kinds of enrollment are available and all three offer money back guarantee!