Category Archives: Relocating

Expatriate alphabet — the K, L, M that can make your expat experience better

Expatriate alphabetby Margarita

Expatriate Alphabet: K is for KINDNESS

Acts of kindness are something that we probably engage in on a daily basis. We are used to being kind to our family members, our friends, strangers in need, stray animals, the environment, etc, etc etc. Being kind towards others gives us a good feeling. Yet how often do we extend these acts of kindness towards ourselves?

I decided to dedicate the letter K in this Expatriate Aphabet to kindness to yourself precisely because very often we don’t know how to be kind to our own, sometimes fragile, selves. Especially as expats – when we go through more change and learning every time we move than most people do in their lifetimes – we tend to push ourselves really hard. We often expect to be fast and perfect in learning the culture and the language; in adjusting and bringing normalcy to our families in a completely different environment; in garnering that feeling of belonging; in excelling at work; in finding work; in creating relationships and friendships, in… this list can go on and on. And when we find ourselves to be less than perfect and less than fast (incidentally our saboteurs never let us think we are good enough), we embark on a journey of self-criticism, self-pity, and declining self-esteem.

When that happens, take a step back and think: Am I being kind to myself? What would be different now if I decided to swap criticism for kindness? How would that feel?

Being kind to yourself doesn’t mean giving up on whatever you’ve set your heart to do and be. It just means giving yourself some space, a supportive shoulder, and a lot of positive energy to continue your journey.

What have been your acts of kindness to yourself recently?

Expatriate Alphabet: L is for LISTENING and LANGUAGE

Ernest Hemingway once said: “I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.” And unfortunately he was (and he is still) right – most people don’t listen. They hear but they don’t really listen. Because usually this is what happens when someone is telling us a story: we engage in our own internal listening. We either remember that something similar has happened to us and we begin constructing an answer in our heads about our own story; or we find ourselves bored and thinking of something else; or we remember about something we need to do and begin to worry about it; or… etc etc etc. We are never really 100% there – focused on the words and the energy of what’s being spoken.

Listening fully is essential to understanding and establishing connections with people. And understanding and establishing connections with people are essential to creating a successful and fun experience as an expatriate. Next time you are engaged in a conversation, try this exercise: put your entire attention at another person and every time you notice your thoughts going elsewhere, bring them back. What do you hear? What do you observe? And what do you hear between the lines?

Listening fully means also listening to what’s not being said in words. It’s listening to what’s important to that person, to what makes them tick, to what upsets them. If you make an effort and really listen to someone next time, you’ll be surprised to find out how much you actually know about that person.

Knowing the language goes hand in hand with knowing how to listen. Each language brings with it a certain way of interacting – and, again, as you listen, you’ll be learning these ways and, in addition to connecting with a person, you’ll also be connecting with their language.

Expatriate Alphabet: M is for MEMORIES

Expatriates can consider themselves among the luckiest people on Earth because they get to generate the most exciting memories during their international assignments. Memories of new places, new people, stimulating challenges, exploration of the unknown, etc, etc, etc. And, if we are like the majority humans, for the most part we will remember the good parts and forget the not-so-good-ones.

Memories are important not only because they remind us of the fun we had, but also because they help us remember the journey we undertook to learn about and to adjust to every new place we’ve moved to. The journey is just as important as the destination (if not more sometimes), and so by collecting and preserving the memories of places and people, we also collect and preserve the memories of our learning and discoveries about ourselves.

So here is short exercise. Answer these two questions (and, please, share your answers in comments!):

(1)What do I most remember about my past assignments?

(2)What did I learn about that place and about myself in the process?

Thoughts, comments, additions?

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).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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?

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!

Useful quotes for (almost) every facet of expatriate life

by Margarita

I’ve been missing in action these last few weeks and with good reason.  I’ve been moving — relocating to a new country and a new post for another few years. Between packing out, a necessary vacation, and a rocky settling-in I just didn’t have much time to blog. I did, however, have time for finding ways to get inspired during this not-very-easy-transitional period.

And so here is my small collection of, I hope, inspirational quotes for those times when you need them:

Sadness of departure and good-byes

“Sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.” -Marilyn Monroe

“Let your mind start a journey through a strange new world. Leave all thoughts of the world you knew before. Let your soul take you where you long to be…Close your eyes let your spirit start to soar, and you’ll live as you’ve never lived before.” –Erich Fromm

Overwhelm of keeping it all under (some kind of) control

“All great changes are preceded by chaos.” -Deepak Chopra

“To get through the hardest journey we need take only one step at a time, but we must keep on stepping” –Chinese Proverb

Rocky arrival

“Bless a thing and it will bless you. Curse it and it will curse you…If you bless a situation, it has no power to hurt you, and even if it is troublesome for a time, it will gradually fade out, if you sincerely bless it.” -Emmet Fox.

“Every problem has a gift for you in its hands.” -Richard Bach.

Long settling in

“Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion . . . . I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward.” –Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

“Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God, do you learn.” –C.S. Lewis

Misunderstandings, miscommunications, mis… everything!

“In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” –Albert Einstein

“When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” –Alexander Graham Bell

Keeping your relationships strong

“There is no feeling more comforting and consoling than knowing you are right next to the one you love.” –Oscar Wilde

“Love is saying ‘I feel differently’ instead of ‘You’re wrong.’” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

Missing things and people

“Nothing makes the earth seem so spacious as to have friends at a distance; they make the latitudes and longitudes.”  -Henry David Thoreau

“Missing someone gets easier every day because even though it’s one day further from the last time you saw each other, it’s one day closer to the next time you will.”  -Author Unknown

Going for your dreams and being advised against it

“As soon as anyone starts telling you to be “realistic,” cross that person off your invitation list.” –John Eliot

“The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.” –Michelangelo

Living in another culture

“Enjoy life. This is not a dress rehearsal.” –Friedrich Nietzsche

And a poem (by yours truly):

Current of Change

Every day you know
That you can learn something
If you allow it
 
You wake up
The world is bustling beneath your window
And you realize
That you don’t know how to bustle with it
 
Life is different where you come from
You are different
 
Your choice is then
To close yourself up and turn away from new smells and colors
To continue to be as you have always been
 
Or to take the discomfort of the current of change
And produce light that will grow in your heart until you see your way around a little better
and can begin to bustle together with the street below.

Any additions?

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.

Home is not forever

It used to be easier.  The moving crew would come, box up everything we owned, and a few days later we would be gone.  Gone on our way to a new adventure, a new place to explore, a new home to build.  Sure we’d be sad but the excitement of things to come would overshadow the sadness in the same way a new infatuation makes people forget their past heartaches.

This time, however, I am finding it very difficult to let go.  Second day of the pack out and I am still fighting the urge to cry.  This isn’t like me especially considering that our next destination is on my top-ten-places-to-live-in list.

After careful examination of all the reasons that can be making me sad, I finally figure it out. I realize that I am in love.  In complete, total, and, alas, unrequited love with … my view.

And my apartment.

And my building.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I’ve lived in some amazing places over the years.  I’ve lived in historical downtowns of some great cities, I’ve lived among fascinating civilizations, I’ve lived in centers of great culture, and I even once lived across from the zoo where we would wake up to the sound of monkeys playing catch. Yet this was the first time I can say that I lived in a dream.

  • I woke up every day to the sight and sound of the ocean from every window of my apartment.
  •  I never had to wear anything more than a light cotton sweater.
  • My skin, which isn’t prone to tan, became and remained the color of golden bronze.
  • My office faced the water.
  • My terrace was perfect for coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon, and dinner in the evening – not to mention reading and writing during any time of day.
  • Looking out through our windows always made me feel complete, no matter the weather.

And so as I leave our now empty apartment and as I say good-bye to every room and every angle of my view, I feel extremely grateful and inexplicably sad at the same time.  Grateful because I was fortunate to live with this beauty and sad because this dream home wasn’t forever.

But I also know dreams are never forever. Dreams come, go, and evolve. They grow and change – and we grow and change with them. My years in this dream home were not only full of breathtaking views but they were also filled with an intention to see, smell, feel, and taste the life around me every waking moment of my day. This intention was only a shadow when we moved in and, thanks to my home, it became the way of life.

So I guess in some ways a home can be forever.