Archive for February, 2009

The Expat Life: Those Emotions You Are Feeling? They Are Normal.

Posted on 28. Feb, 2009 by in Blog, Expat Life, Musings & Inspiration, Tools & Resources

I spend a lot of time reading, thinking and writing about expatriation. I also talk to a lot of expats, be it through my expat support services, through my friendships, and sometimes while waiting in line at the bakery.

If there are two things that my immersion into expat life taught me, it is that:
1. Nine times out of ten, emotions and feelings are what makes life abroad challenging. Loneliness, homesickness, feeling incompetent. It is hard, it is painful and it cannot really be avoided.
2. And yet, the experts – published authors, academics, relocation specialists – handle the subject of emotions rather inadequately.

To tell you the truth, it looks like relocation experts are afraid of emotions.

At one end of the spectrum, many authors simply choose to ignore the emotional aspect. Oh, they will give you plenty of fiscal advice and packing tips, but when it comes to that funk you have been in for a few weeks? Their advice is simple: Get. Over. It. As an alternative, wait until it goes away. Then resume your normal life – you know, the one without messy feelings and strong emotions. Not very helpful.

At the other end of the spectrum, some experts almost make it sound like culture shock is a mental health issue. They are likely to point you to a therapist or a counsellor to “cure” your homesickness or your feelings of overwhelm. How disempowering. *

*This is not to say that therapy does not have its place. If you are not coping at all and it is affecting your health, you should seek professional help. What I am talking about here are the offhand “Oh, if you’re feeling blue, go get a prescription from a doctor” comments that close the door to better-tailored, gentler helpful techniques.

You know from personal experience, though, that the “expat blues” is not a trivial matter. You also know that you are not ill, just temporarily disoriented and trying to figure out how to adjust to your new life. Most of all, you know that forcing yourself to get over it or turning the whole thing into a medical issue is not the answer.

So what can you do?

First of all, I want to make it clear that no, you do not have to “get over it” and that no, there is nothing wrong with you. The expat blues affects most, if not all of us at some point. It is perfectly normal and unfortunately, fairly unavoidable. You just need the right tools and techniques to deal with it.

Second, if you are frustrated or worried because you are not adjusting as fast as you expected, I would recommend picking up one of Robin Pascoe’s books. Of the many expat writers I follow, Robin consistently does the best job of describing the emotional ups-and-downs we all face. While her books are aimed at accompanying wives, I think any first-time expat could benefit from reading them, just to know what to expect down the road.

Third, I am working on some kind of programme to bring you the most helpful techniques I use with my individual clients. A central theme will be expat happiness and how to handle the emotions that are holding you back.
I have not decided yet on the format of this programme – it could be as simple as a series of posts or a teleclass, or as ambitious as a full-length book. If you have a preference, let me know in the comments. And do not forget to subscribe to the RSS feed so you can stay tuned for more details!


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The Expat Life: Pulling My Hair Out, En Français

Posted on 26. Feb, 2009 by in Blog, Expat Life, Musings & Inspiration

February 21st was International Mother Language Day.

From what I understand, this initiative is mostly aimed at preserving linguistic diversity. By pure coincidence, I recently came across several articles about endangered languages (Gaelic is one of them), as well as an interesting piece about the dilemma facing Nigerian youths who want to retain and speak their heritage languages.

I am a bit of a language geek, so naturally I am all for keeping linguistic diversity alive. I would like to believe that I have contributed to the cause, in some minuscule way, by learning some Breton before I left France to move to Canada.

In case you are wondering, no, I do not get to practice my Breton very often! Maybe I should organise a fest-noz (traditional Breton festival) one of these days…

Meanwhile, not all is well on the home front. After eight years in an English-speaking province, French and English are competing for memory space. I am ashamed to say that French may be losing the battle.

I am currently working on the French version of my expat coaching website, and I sometimes have to rely on good old Google and a couple of French grammar guides to double-check what I am writing.

Never in a million years would I have thought it possible- I mean, how can you forget your mother tongue, especially when you emigrated as an adult? It is puzzling, frustrating and a little sad.

Thankfully it is only my spelling that is affected so far. My spoken French has never failed me while I was on the phone with a francophone client (thank goodness!)
I guess I’d better start reading French newspapers again, something I had completely given up for the sake of assimilating into an English-speaking society.

Has anything similar ever happened to you? What circumstances were you in? Did you do anything about it, or did you just trust that your mother tongue would come back naturally once you were immersed in it again?


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The Expat Life: The 5th Stage Of Competence

Posted on 24. Feb, 2009 by in Blog, Expat Life, Tools & Resources

Writing about the Four Stages of Competence last week, I suddenly remembered that I never did post about the Fifth Stage, as promised back in November. Oops.

[Go ahead. Insert all sorts of (well-deserved) jokes about my being a coach and still procrastinating/forgetting to do things… and maybe you will see why I have my own coach who keeps me accountable!]

So. A little refresher on the different stages of competence:

– Stage 1: You do not know how to do something and you are not even aware of it, because that thing is not on your radar, or it is not relevant to your life.
– Stage 2: You are now aware that you do not know how to do that thing. You recognise that you lack that specific skill or knowledge, even though you are not trying your hand at it yet.
– Stage 3: You have now learned that new skill, even though using it takes quite a bit of effort or concentration.
– Stage 4: The new skill has become second nature and does not require much concentration anymore, if any. You have achieved what psychologists call “Unconscious Competence”.

The limit of that model is that Stage 4, Unconscious Competence, is well, unconscious. Sure, for you the new skill has become effortless, but do you know exactly how you learned, applied and practiced it? Would you be able to teach others?

This is the same reason why not all native speakers of a language are able to teach it. It is second nature to them, yet they are not consciously aware of all the rules and inner workings of the language. Therefore, they are not able to properly teach someone else how to achieve the same level of fluency they possess.

In other words, to be able to teach someone, you have to become consciously aware of your competence – this is the Fifth Stage of Competence:

– Stage 5: You are aware of having reached Unconscious Competence. You are able to reflect on your new skill and teach others. This is also a level where you are able to recognise and develop Stages 2 and 3 in others.

This is the stage that teachers, coaches and mentors work from.
I love this level, because this is where you can start giving back.

How could you start giving back? How could you reach out to newcomers and help them along their own learning curve?

I know that “skills you have mastered”, “competence” or “teaching others” may sound pretty big and intimidating.
See if using other words helps: what have you finally figured out, that you wish you had known from the beginning? What are some tips and tricks that only someone who has been here for a while knows? How could you make a fellow expat’s life easier by sharing what you know?


Related posts: 4 Stages Of Competence and Good Quote: On Feeling Incompetent

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International Women’s Day

Posted on 21. Feb, 2009 by in Announcements, Blog

March 8 is International Women’s Day- a global celebration of women’s social, economic and political achievements.

There is a handy event locator here. So far, 378 events being held in 31 countries have been listed, with more yet to come.

For women expats, this could be a great opportunity to network, meet new people and perhaps get involved with the organisations hosting the events.

If you are in or near Vancouver, BC on March 4, the central branch of the Public Library is hosting an event called “Celebrating Women’s Achievements Past and Present”. I will be volunteering at the University Women’s Club table that evening. Please do not hesitate to introduce yourself if you see me there, I would love to meet you!


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Good Quote: On Feeling Incompetent

Posted on 19. Feb, 2009 by in Blog, Expat Life, Musings & Inspiration

“Accustomed to being efficient, competent, articulate, and able to navigate the various logistics of American life, in Paris I was often flummoxed: by doctors, medical insurance, renter’s taxes, voice mail, the laundromat and that wretched foreign keyboard which turned all my letters to gibberish.”

Christina Henry de Tessan – Expat: Women’s True Tales of Life Abroad

If this is where you are at in your expat life right now, please do not forget to be gentle with yourself. Even though you are not yet performing everyday tasks smoothly and effortlessly, this does not mean that you, as a person, are inefficient, incompetent or stupid. It simply means that you have to learn new ways of doing things, and that you need time to practice them. Without beating yourself up.

Are you beating yourself up for not being a faster, smarter, better learner? Maybe this post about the four stages of competence can help you remember that feeling incompetent is necessary and unavoidable during the learning process. In fact, two out of the four stages are about incompetence… in other words, when you are conscious of feeling incompetent, you are already halfway there!


Related post: 4 Stages of Competence

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The Expat Life: Online Groups And Social Media

Posted on 17. Feb, 2009 by in Blog, Expat Life, Tools & Resources

Many online conversations revolved around Facebook yesterday. Users are none too happy with the new terms of service and worry about the privacy of their data.
I will leave it to the specialists to say whether this uproar is warranted. However, all this talk about online social networks reminded me of how useful and important those sites can be to us expats.

As much as I love sending and receiving “real” (i.e., handwritten) mail, I have to say that sometimes nothing beats the convenience of looking up a former colleague in France on LinkedIn, or sending a quick update via Twitter to friends on the East Coast. Online message boards aimed specifically at expats can also be a great way to meet friends, build new networks, obtain hard-to-find information or find a sympathetic ear when the expat blues gets too much.

What sites, message boards and social networks do you use on a regular basis? What do you like best about them?

Facebook is not for me. LinkedIn on the other hand…

I never got into MySpace or Facebook- they are too cluttered for my taste. They also do double duty with other online tools. For international business networking purposes however, I am an enthusiastic LinkedIn user. Their greatest asset may be their Q&A feature, that allows you to ask questions of everyone in your extended networks. Extremely valuable if you are looking for input from people in many different countries.
My LinkedIn profile.

Twitter: a revelation

Like many, I resisted Twitter for the longest time, fearing that it would be nothing but stream of consciousness ramblings and random updates on who ate what for dinner. When I finally took the plunge, I realised how wrong I was. In hindsight, I am kicking myself for missing out on such a fantastic tool for so long.
OK, there actually are some useless ramblings, but once you spot interesting people to follow, you will be amazed at how much value you get out of Twitter. New perspectives, links to fascinating sites and books, immediate feedback on your latest idea, there are no limits to the inspiration you can find there.
My Twitter profile (@emmanuelle_a).

Expat sites: ready-made networks

One of the most common challenges that newly arrived expats face is isolation and lack of support systems. Expat message boards and websites can help you build networks fast and almost effortlessly. They are also a go-to resource when you cannot find the information you need on Google. If you have no idea where to shop for furniture or light bulbs, ask away on a message board you frequent; someone is bound to know.

Here are a few of my favourite sites:
A very active message board that regularly organises local events so that members can actually meet each other in person. Access to the site is by invitation only. If you are interested in joining, please let me know in the comments and I will be happy to send you an invitation.
Particularly helpful for pre-move planning and support, as members tend to primarily focus on the relocation stage.
Expat Interviews Forum
A rapidly growing forum, with an interesting range of locations. Recent discussions featured Belize, Romania and Uruguay. A good resource for those heading to off the beaten track destinations.
Lonely Planet Thorn Tree
Yes, this is primarily a travel forum. However, many members are former or current expats who will happily share their knowledge of a particular area. “Tell it like it is” is very much the motto there, so do stop by if you need a little reality check concerning cost of living, safety or accommodation.

What helpful websites and message boards would you add to this list?
Is there a type of online expat resources that you wish existed but cannot seem to find anywhere?

I am always happy to get to know readers better, so do not hesitate to connect on LinkedIn, Twitter or on any forum where you may find me (my user name is usually Emmanuelle Archer). Please feel free to say hi and let me know how things are going for you!


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Are ambassadors irrelevant in today’s world?

Posted on 14. Feb, 2009 by in Blog, Expat Life

If you are in the mood for a bit of controversy after all the Valentine’s Day saccharine sweetness, I have an interesting article for you!

Do you think it’s time to scrap ambassadors and their embassies?

In his provocatively-titled article, former British diplomat Carne Ross argues that conventional diplomacy, with its embassies and their ambassadors, has become utterly irrelevant in today’s world.

Rigid hierarchies, a stifling bureaucracy and a lack of accountability have led diplomats to increasingly operate in isolation (“diplomats speaking to other diplomats”), losing both effectiveness and credibility in the process.

A more crucial- and scarier- consideration is that embassies have fallen out of step with the current state of international affairs.

Ross describes today’s political and diplomatic landscape as much more fragmented than it used to be, due to the mounting influence of non-state actors such as paramilitary groups, NGOs and global activists. Conventional diplomacy is ill equipped to deal with these actors and is therefore losing some of its power and its relevance.

Finally, in a world where “more and more people live away from countries of their birth, and more still assume multi-cultural identities, [Ross] find[s] it less and less convincing that national governments, and thus national diplomats, can legitimately claim to speak for and act on behalf of such heterogeneity.” Many expats and TCKs will recognise themselves in these words. I know I certainly do!

So what is the solution, then? For Ross, networking and an altogether more humble and interactive approach are the way to go.
He does however warn us, tongue firmly in cheek, that this does not mean that foreign ministers or ambassadors should start blogging!

You can read the full article on


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The Expat Life: Are You Using The “Economic Climate” As An Excuse?

Posted on 12. Feb, 2009 by in Blog, Musings & Inspiration

You may (or may not) have noticed it, but I have refrained so far from alluding to the financial crisis in any way, shape or form. For one thing, I do not feel that you need yet another voice to join the chorus of fear-mongers out there. Another thing is that I do not share the belief that steady, uninterrupted economic growth is the only alternative to chaos – being from Europe and having lived through several recessions there certainly helps with this one!

So I was not going to even go there. Until yesterday.
Do you sometimes spend an entire day feeling like you are having the same conversation over and over again? Well, yesterday was like that.

Clients, friends, relatives, all they wanted to talk about was what they were not doing because of the “economic climate”. Never mind that their jobs were fairly secure, that they had savings and that they had not been significantly impacted by the current economy.

They were all willing to set aside their goals, pass up on opportunities and generally play small… all in the name of fear.

Now don’t get me wrong. We all have our fears, be it fear of rejection, fear of failure, fear of being vulnerable, you name it. However, this “fear of what could happen because of the financial crisis” proves particularly paralyzing, because it sounds reasonable and therefore, it is socially acceptable.

I bet you usually do not go around telling people “I am not starting my own business here in my host country because that would mean making sales calls and I am afraid of rejection”. People would encourage you to look for solutions, work on your fear and find ways to get that business started. Now tell them “I am not starting my own business because of the economy” and everyone will nod gravely. No one, or very few people, will help you look at a different perspective.

In other words, the recession is the perfect cop-out. There, I said it.

Instead of launching into a whole sermon (because preachy and lengthy do not make for very good blog posts), I will link to an excellent article over at Get Rich Slowly: The National Economy Versus Your Personal Economy. J.D. is writing about personal finance, yet his article could be applied to many areas of your life. His final advice? “[…] make your decisions from a position of knowledge and strength, not from a position of fear.”


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The Expat Life: Location Independent Lifestyle

Posted on 10. Feb, 2009 by in Blog, Expat Life, Musings & Inspiration
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They go from country to country. Six months here, two years there. They are not corporate project managers, nor high-profile special envoys. And they are a far cry from backpackers working in bars to support themselves during their round-the-world trip.

In fact, most of them are self-employed: freelance designers, coaches, virtual assistants, writers, social media experts. They have specifically structured their businesses to be able to work from anywhere in the world, provided that they can find an internet connection. They call themselves Location Independent Professionals, LIPs for short.

Claiming Freedom, Flexibility and Choice as their core values, LIPs have embraced the idea of custom-designing their lifestyle to create a life that really suits them. Hats off to them for living their dreams and finding practical ways to make them a reality! I have a lot of admiration for their commitment and determination.

Admittedly, a location independent lifestyle entails certain sacrifices. Lea Woodward, editor of the Location Independent blog, writes about five challenges that LIPs must be prepared to face.

Still. For someone with a bad case of wanderlust like myself (to say nothing of my equally mobile boyfriend and globe-trotting cat), such a lifestyle sounds highly tempting. My favourite travel blog, Vagabondish, has also been tempting me with intriguing-looking destinations and stunning photographs. Hmm. Time to check off a few places on my To-See list!


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Destination: Beirut

Posted on 07. Feb, 2009 by in Blog, Musings & Inspiration

The New York Times ranked Beirut as its #1 place to go in 2009!

This makes me very, very happy and excited, as Beirut happens to be one of my three favourite cities in the world (in case you are wondering, the other two are Vancouver, BC and Stockholm).

Oh, how I love Beirut! To call it a city of contrasts would be a cliche… and an understatement. It is sophisticated and raw, cosmopolitan and parochial, bustling and leisurely. Beirut is one of those places where you go for the culture and you end up staying for the incredible nightlife, or vice-versa.

I was lucky enough to be there in the late ’90s / early ’00s when the downtown area was being rebuilt. I saw entire neighbourhoods spring back to life. There was no farmers’ market back then, though.
The Souk el Tayeb market seems to be garnering press attention these days – I recently saw a mention of it in the December issue of the always interesting Monocle magazine.

Well I think that seals the deal. My boyfriend and I have been planning a getaway to Lebanon for a while now, time to make it happen!


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