Archive for November, 2008

Happy (belated) Thanksgiving!

Posted on 28. Nov, 2008 by in Blog, Expat Life

If you celebrated Thanksgiving yesterday, did you find all the ingredients you needed for your big feast? Did you have to ask around where to buy them? Who did you ask?

What were you grateful for? Even though our Canadian Thanksgiving was back in October, I wrote a gratitude entry in my journal. It always lifts my spirits to remind myself that I have so much to be thankful for.

Did you start a new tradition this year, or did you follow time-honoured customs without which Thanksgiving would not really be Thanksgiving? Do tell us about your celebrations!


Related posts: New Holiday Traditions

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Expat Skill: Asking Questions

Posted on 27. Nov, 2008 by in Blog, Expat Life, Relocation, Tools & Resources

Asking questions is a vital skill for expats. In an unfamiliar environment, the ability to acquire new information and clarify ambiguous situations is key, especially at the beginning of a new assignment.

As helpful as books or websites can be, sometimes you’ll have to ask people around you for help.

Unfortunately, many of us feel self-conscious about asking questions. We worry that we will appear incompetent, weak or too dependent on others. We think our questions are stupid or too obvious.

If you are used to performing efficiently, and you habitually feel secure and autonomous, you may find it particularly difficult to rely on others for help.

Keep in mind that this is a temporary phase. The more information and clarity you gain by asking questions, the faster you will master your new environment and regain your confidence.

If this touches a nerve, you are not alone. I too used to feel very vulnerable when I had to admit what I did not know. Now I see the ability to ask good questions as a huge strength.
It was a major shift in perspective and one that has served me well.

In my previous corporate career, I was paid to have the answers. These days, I am being paid to ask the right questions and help my clients find their own answers.

What information are you missing, and how is it holding you back?

It could be something as trivial as where to buy a mop, or as major as choosing the right schooling option for your children.

Who could you ask?
A local friend, a neighbour or a shopkeeper can probably help you find your mop. Before deciding on a school, you may want to talk to another expat family, contact your consulate or ask around at the local expat club.

Start a list, or create a mind map of what you need to know and who could help you.

My mind map currently has “Find a good financial adviser” and “Learn about incorporating a company in British Columbia” as my main priorities. What is on your list of questions to ask?


Related post: 4 Stages Of Competence

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The Expat Life: 4 Stages Of Competence

Posted on 25. Nov, 2008 by in Blog, Expat Life, Tools & Resources

The Four Stages of Competence model, also called the Conscious Competence learning model, relates to the process of learning new skills. It is therefore particularly relevant for expats, for whom each day is a learning experience.

- Stage 1
Let’s take learning Hungarian as an example. And let’s imagine that you are a British expat living in New Zealand. You cannot speak a word of Hungarian and you never even think about it because you do not need it in your daily life. The thought of learning the language does not even cross your mind- what use would it be to you?
This is the Unconscious Incompetence stage.

- Stage 2
Surprise! Your next posting is in Budapest. You realise that you have to learn at least some Hungarian if you want to make the most of your time there. And since the Hungarian language does not have Indo-European roots, forget about trying to guess the meaning of words. You suddenly feel like you know very little and the task appears a bit daunting.
This is the Conscious Incompetence stage.

- Stage 3
You have been hard at work learning the language for several months and you can now carry a simple dialogue in Hungarian. Your grammar is fairly good and you are picking up new words on a daily basis, even though every conversation still requires a great deal of concentration on your part.
This is the Conscious Competence stage.

- Stage 4
Congratulations! Your hard work has finally paid off. You are now fluent and speaking Hungarian has become second nature. You keep learning by osmosis, but it feels effortless and you do not have to think about it anymore.
This is the Unconscious Competence stage.

Stage 2, Conscious Incompetence, may well be the trickiest one for expats.
Some may simply resist entering this stage at all. This is usually when they start finding excuses and “good” reasons not to learn: “I can get by with English”, “Why spend so much time learning a language I will never use again?”, “I am not good at learning languages”.

To avoid this trap, it is crucial to be honest with oneself: is the new skill to be learned truly irrelevant? Or is there something else that is not being acknowledged, such as laziness, fear or low self-esteem?

Similarly, the transition between stage 2 and 3 can be uneasy.
A lot of negative self-talk may arise. Expats may start beating themselves up for not picking up the language faster. They may become very self-conscious about their accent and not dare open their mouth in front of native speakers.

However, if they push past this awkward transition, expats will eventually be rewarded with a greater sense of ease and mastery once they achieve a degree of competence, in stage 3 and 4.

Some authors have suggested adding a fifth stage to this model, which will be the subject of a future post.

In the meantime, try and identify the stage you are in with regard to the various skills you are picking up at the moment. If you find yourself in the “danger zone” around stage 2, you know what to do: persevere but learn at your own pace and remember to cut yourself some slack!


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The Expat Life: Cravings For Home

Posted on 22. Nov, 2008 by in Blog, Expat Life, Musings & Inspiration

After finishing “Expat: Women’s True Tales of Life Abroad” and noticing that most authors had written about food, I was reminded that culinary matters are, indeed, a recurring theme in expat conversations.

Escape Artist Travel Magazine has a good article about expatriate food cravings here.
What foods from your home country have you been craving lately? Have you tried cooking your favourite childhood dishes with ingredients available to you locally?

One could argue that, as a cultural marker, food is as central to daily life as language.
When you live abroad, the question is, how do you recreate the taste of home?

Like any expat, I have learned to substitute ingredients or to make them from scratch, as is the case with crème fraiche, a thinner, less tangy sour cream used quite liberally in French cooking.

I really cannot complain. Vancouver is a gourmand’s paradise that boasts a wonderful variety of restaurants and specialty shops. The only things I have not found here are: 1) a really good North African restaurant and 2) the right combination of lean and fatty meat cuts to make a proper blanquette de veau (veal stew in a white sauce).
Fairly minor grievances, as you can see!

So, what’s cooking this weekend? For all the American expats out there, how easy or challenging will it be to find all the ingredients for your Thanksgiving dinner next week?


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Book Review: Expat: Women’s True Tales of Life Abroad

Posted on 20. Nov, 2008 by in Blog, Expat Life, Reviews

“Expat: Women’s True Tales of Life Abroad”, edited by Christina Henry de Tessan, is a collection of essays by female expats, who write of their daily life abroad with simplicity and lucidity.

Beyond the variety of viewpoints, locations and writing styles, these short stories revolve around a number of themes that I believe are central to the expat experience:
– Fitting in;
– Coming to terms with one’s identity;
– Language barriers;
– Food, glorious food! How to shop for it, how to cook it and the memories it brings back.

These 22 accounts of life abroad are so diverse in their circumstances and eventual outcomes that you will likely recognise bits and pieces of your own experience throughout the book. I know that I found myself nodding in agreement more than once!

I would particularly recommend this book to first-time expats and to those who are contemplating expatriation, for a realistic insight into life overseas. Depending on your perspective, it could be both a sobering and inspiring read. It will be instructive in any case.


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The Expat Life: New Holiday Traditions

Posted on 18. Nov, 2008 by in Blog, Expat Life, Home, Musings & Inspiration

With the holiday season fast approaching, some of you may already be planning this year’s celebrations. Your new location may have impacted your family traditions, for better or for worse.

Are there some holidays that you have given up on celebrating because the people who make it meaningful are not there, the weather is “wrong” or specific foods are not available where you live?

Conversely, have you adopted some traditions from your host country? Even more creative, you could consider starting new traditions entirely of your own design!

How much tweaking, borrowing from other cultures and reinventing are you willing to do before you decide it is too much effort, or before the holiday loses its significance?

This is an opportunity to reflect on what is most meaningful to you during the holiday season. What does really matter to you in these celebrations? Is it family; togetherness; good cheer; nostalgia; legacy?

How are you expressing these important values the rest of the year, in other aspects of your life?


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The Expat Life: Travel Mementos In Your Home

Posted on 15. Nov, 2008 by in Blog, Expat Life, Home, Musings & Inspiration

Does your home décor read like a map of the places where you have lived? What mementos have followed you from one location to the next?

Do you gravitate toward beautiful objects that you can display in your home, such as artwork, decorative pillows, rugs or throws?

Are your shelves full of tongue-in-cheek souvenirs and little knickknacks?
Do you have a specific collection that you keep adding to when you change locations? I particularly liked the suggestion of this Apartment Therapy reader who buys a Christmas ornament every time she travels. I love simple traditions such as this.

As I left behind pretty much everything I owned when I moved to Canada, I do not have that many keepsakes in my home: a small sculpture of a cedar tree from Lebanon, a few Egyptian statuettes, half a dozen books I bought in Paris the week before I arrived in Vancouver.
I thought I had packed my little Dala horse from Sweden for the transatlantic move, but it is probably stored with my childhood toys somewhere in my mother’s garage in the South of France.

These are my little treasures. They have been packed and unpacked many a time over the years. I just cannot imagine leaving them behind. The memories they evoke give me a sense of belonging, a sense of home.

What are your treasures? How do you give them a place of honour in your home?


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Expat Skills: What Has Life Abroad Taught You?

Posted on 13. Nov, 2008 by in Blog, Expat Life, Musings & Inspiration

What is the most useful skill that expat life has taught you? Conversely, what skill did you already possess and had to draw on most when you became an expat?

Expatriation taught me how to let go and accept that things will not always go as planned. My life abroad has been too full of unexpected events and wonderful twists to hang on to my old perfectionism and compulsive planning tendencies.
I am also able to see the silver lining in most situations, a blessing that has definitely come in handy many times since I became an expat!

This quote by English writer G.K. Chesterton sums it up best for me:

“An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered.
An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.”

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The Expat Coach Blog: What’s In Store

Posted on 11. Nov, 2008 by in Announcements, Blog
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Now that this blog has been around for a few months, I thought I would give you a more precise idea of what to expect from it.

– For a taste of the topics this blog will cover, please refer to Expat resources, tools and inspiration.

– I will be posting three times a week, usually on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. You may want to subscribe to the RSS feed or via email to automatically receive new posts as they are published.

Comments are not only open, they are welcome and eagerly awaited! I will read every comment you leave and I will try my best to reply. Please feel free to use the comments to ask questions, share your personal experiences, and connect with like-minded expats.

– Comments will be moderated so that no one has to put up with abusive language, personal attacks or spam. I do enjoy a lively debate as much as the next girl though, so if you passionately disagree with something I post, speak up!

– I am aiming for a variety of post types: short and light-hearted pieces will alternate with longer posts. I will give you tools that you can use in your daily expat life; I will review books; I will point you to my favourite resources, both online and offline. I am also looking into doing interviews with fellow expats.

What else would you like to see here? Do you have any suggestions or questions? Please leave a comment!


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Good Quote: On Acknowledging Your Skills

Posted on 08. Nov, 2008 by in Blog, Expat Life, Musings & Inspiration

Are you putting your wide range of skills to good use? Are there some that you have been taking for granted, or that you have not acknowledged yet?

My bedside book these days is “The Third Culture Kid Experience– Growing up among worlds”, which is widely considered a must-read for those who spent their childhood abroad (review coming soon).

This quote struck me as being applicable to most of us, young and old:

“Growing up as a TCK [Third-Culture Kid] not only increases an inner awareness of our culturally diverse world, but the experience also helps in the development of useful personal skills for interacting with and in it. Some of those skills are acquired so naturally they aren’t recognized, acknowledged, or effectively used […] as the special gifts they are”.

There is no question that expatriation is a prime opportunity to broaden your horizons and learn new skills. However, because we tend to focus on what we don’t know (the language, the local etiquette, how the bus system works), it is all too easy to forget how much we do know.

Skills are not limited to professional or technical abilities. Think of the huge number of transferable and “soft” skills that expatriation allows you to hone: listening, asking good questions, solving problems, finding and using information… the list goes on and on!

Take an inventory of your skills today. Are there any that you had overlooked or forgotten about? How can you make them a part of your plan to live your expat life to the fullest?


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