Archive for October, 2009

DIY Holidays (World Blog Surf Day Post)

Posted on 31. Oct, 2009 by in Blog, Expat Life, Musings & Inspiration

This post is part of World Blog Surf Day, an online event where expat bloggers from all over the world post about a specific theme (this time around, Holidays & Celebrations), and form a worldwide blog chain by linking to the next blogger in the chain.

Today, our Twitter reporter is Karen of Empty Nest Expat. Karen is an American expat blogger last seen in Prague. The Wall Street Journal said, “Her blog makes a fun read for anyone looking for reassurance that change can be a wonderful thing–and also for anyone interested in visiting the Czech Republic.”

3rd World Blog Surf Day logo

If this is your first time here, hi! And if you took part in the previous WBSD, welcome back! It’s good to see you again.

My name is Emmanuelle, and I am a French expat living in Canada.

DIY holidays

Flashback to the winter of 2001, my first holiday season in Canada. Sitting in my still half-empty and sparsely-decorated apartment, the cat and I had a house meeting. We decided that, due to our total lack of family and (at that point) friends in Vancouver, we weren’t really going to do anything special for Christmas. Or New Year’s, for that matter.

The holidays came and went. I didn’t really feel like I was missing out, partly thanks to my kind-hearted neighbours who invited me over for Christmas dinner, and partly because, well, these celebrations just aren’t the same anyway when your loved ones are thousands of miles away.

There was only one problem: I love celebrating. I love parties. I love having people over. The “Bah, humbug!” approach could easily lead to not celebrating anything anymore – and there was no way my fun-loving side would ever sign off on that!

Fun-loving, patriotic Canadian dog


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Book Review: I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was

Posted on 30. Oct, 2009 by in Blog, Reviews, Tools & Resources, Working Abroad
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For a change, today’s book review is not directly related to living abroad. But it’s still a wonderfully helpful resource for expats of all stripes.

I could do anything if I only knew what it was

If the emails and questions I have been getting recently are any indication, you may be among the many, many expats who are currently going through big transitions:

– A move to another country,

– A career change,

– Pondering what to do with yourself now that you’ve gone back home…

Well, don’t sign on the dotted line just yet – instead, go get yourself a copy of Barbara Sher’s excellent book, I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was (affiliate link).


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The Introspective Expat

Posted on 28. Oct, 2009 by in Blog, Expat Life, Musings & Inspiration

While still musing on the subject of expatriation and introversion, I happened upon this quote by Lawrence Durrell:

“Travel can be one of the most rewarding forms of introspection”

An expat writer and lifelong nomad himself, Mr. Durrell certainly knew what he was talking about. And I couldn’t agree more.

After all, the underlying theme of this blog, and a big part of the work that I do with my clients, is knowing yourself better, becoming more aware of your patterns and understanding how you respond to unfamiliar, sometimes challenging circumstances.

If that’s not introspection – and of the most rewarding kind – I don’t know what is.

What has life abroad taught you about yourself? Any big surprises, or insights that you wouldn’t have had back home? Please share them in the comments!

Introspective train trip

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Image by ! *S4N7Y* !, via Flickr Creative Commons

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Living Abroad: What Is It Like When You’re An Introvert Or HSP?

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

Random question that recently crossed my mind: what is it like to live abroad when you’re an introvert or a HSP (highly sensitive person)?

Consider, for a moment, three top items on your average expat’s to-do list: making new friends, building new networks from zero and practicing your language skills on unsuspecting locals.

These prospects can strike fear in the hearts of even reasonably extroverted folks. So what must it feel like when you’re an introvert and “putting yourself out there” is not, shall we say, your favourite pastime? Talk about uncomfortable!

On the flip side, do introverts, being more inward-oriented, cope better with the loneliness of the first few months? Is it welcomed as “me-time” and a needed respite from the whole meeting-new-people thing, or is it still hard and, well, lonely?

So many questions!

White wall and silence...

And then there is high sensitivity. As we can all attest, your senses work overtime when you live in a foreign country. Expatriation is a jolt for the senses, what with all the unfamiliar sensations that surround you everywhere you go.

But what do you do if your senses are triggered more easily and more intensely than those of your average person? What happens when, say, you’re very sensitive to noise, and your company sends you to a Mediterranean country where drivers honk non-stop, and talking loudly is the norm?

Do the HSPs among us walk around in a quasi-constant state of sensory overwhelm?

Having said that, I can also see how HSPs are uniquely positioned to fully experience the world that surrounds us. When your senses are this finely-tuned, you can pick up on nuances that the less perceptive (or more jaded) among us would just miss.

You get glimpses of insight into the true spirit of the place. Little moments of grace, here and there. Ultimately, I believe that high sensitivity allows you to connect with your new country on a very deep level.


If you are an introvert or a HSP living overseas, I would love to hear your thoughts. Not so much because I am looking for answers to my own questions, but because I am sure that others who are in the same situation would greatly value your input and your suggestions.

I look forward to hearing from you.

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Images by Charlyn W (top) and DCvision2006 (bottom), both via Flickr Creative Commons

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Feeling Stuck? Watch Your Language!

Posted on 23. Oct, 2009 by in Blog, Tools & Resources
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As a follow-up to Monday’s post on self-imposed labels and limiting beliefs, here’s a quick tip that’s simplicity itself:

Whenever you feel stuck or in procrastination mode, replace the word “can’t” with “won’t”.

For example, “I can’t picture myself ever being happy here” becomes “I won’t picture myself ever being happy here”. “I can’t learn how to speak the local language fluently” becomes “I won’t learn how to speak the local language fluently”.

Hiding - I can't and I won't

Well, why won’t you?

Why are you not putting in the effort? How truly committed are you to making it work? What is really holding you back?

With “can’t”, you can hide behind all sorts of excuses. With “won’t”, you have to get to the root of the problem and face your own resistance.

Besides, plenty of expats have learned how to speak the local language before, so it’s not like it’s impossible – therefore it’s not a real “can’t”.

It always seems impossible until it's done

This little trick with words is nothing new or complicated, but you’ll be amazed at how powerful it is. I find it much more effective than overused and overly simplistic self-help stuff like positive affirmations – maybe it’s just me, but positive affirmations feel super cheesy to me and they fail miserably at shifting the way I think about my own limitations.

Have fun hunting down all those “can’t” and replacing them with “won’t”! And if you would share how that worked for you, that would be really great!

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Images by ~Jetta Girl~ (top) and BIGben. (bottom), both via Flickr Creative Commons

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Canadian Tylenol or French Efferalgan: Which Painkiller Shall I Try Next?

Posted on 21. Oct, 2009 by in Blog, Expat Life, Tools & Resources

I am writing this in bed. Not that I’m trying to have a bed-in a la John and Yoko, mind you. It’s just that I’ve spent the past two days in a complete fog, lying in the dark with a migraine. Ouch.

So while I’m working on de-zombifying myself (ten days before Halloween, oh the irony!), why don’t you head over to Expat Calling to read my recently published article, Keeping in touch with the folks back home – a gripping tale of homesickness, mail steamers, and why you might have to drag your teenagers away from the computer, kicking and screaming.

Through the screen

Have a great day (or evening if you’re somewhere in the Americas), and see you on Friday when, hopefully, I’ll be able to sit in the upright position once again.

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Expat Skill: Ditch The Labels

Posted on 19. Oct, 2009 by in Blog, Musings & Inspiration, Tools & Resources

So, I want to get myself a sewing machine. I mentioned it in passing to my mother yesterday, and she almost fell off her chair with astonishment.

Sure, my sewing skills don’t go beyond putting a button back on a coat (which is why I want a machine to learn on), but that’s not what puzzled my mother so much.

No, she was stunned because in her mind, I am not the kind of person who sews – whatever that means. I suspect that her mental image of someone who sews is a cross between an over-the-top domestic goddess a la Martha Stewart and an old maid who sits at home all day stitching tea cosies.

Sewing station

Erm. Right. I was thinking more funky recycled clothes and decorative stitching on mixed-media art myself…

But mostly, I wasn’t thinking in terms of labels. “Domestic”, “someone who sits at home all day”, “someone who does or doesn’t sew” – those are all labels, and like all labels, they are also limiting beliefs.

Labels = Limiting beliefs

Just think of all the labels you carry about yourself, and how they limit what you think you are capable of: foreigner… accompanying spouse… introvert… not good with languages… procrastinator… do you see how these beliefs about yourself impact your self-image?

Even “positive” labels can be limiting. If you see yourself as effective and hard working, will you be able to relax enough to enjoy a different pace of life in a less work-oriented culture? If you see yourself as very self-reliant, won’t you end up isolated because you didn’t make finding new friends a priority?

Want to thrive in your life abroad? Ditch the labels!

Here’s a tip: Every time you catch yourself thinking “Oh, but I’m not the kind of person who…” (talks to strangers / asks for help all the time / is comfortable going out on her own / insert self-limiting belief du jour here) – pause and ask yourself what you may be missing out on.

I am not advising you to blithely say yes to everything – you have every right to be uninterested, uncomfortable or simply not in the mood for certain activities. If your instinct says no, then don’t do it.

But if you realise that the only thing that’s preventing you from seizing an opportunity is your self-image (a.k.a. not being the kind of person who…), then please do yourself a favour: forget the labels, and go for it!

Every time you stretch beyond your limiting labels, you will strengthen and expand your self-image. You will develop a keener eye for the near-unlimited possibilities that surround you. You will get better at noticing opportunities and seizing them.

Ode to courage

And on that note, I am off to research sewing machines – lack of skills and tea cosies be darned!

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Images by Laurie :: Liquid Paper (top) and *TreMichLan* (bottom), both via Flickr Creative Commons

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Post #169: The Expat Blogger Edition

Posted on 16. Oct, 2009 by in Announcements, Blog, Tools & Resources

WBSD update

If you are an expat blogger who’d like to take part in a fun online event, meet new bloggers, and get a bit of extra traffic in the process… then don’t delay – sign up for World Blog Surf Day!

3rd WBSD

You only have a week left – the deadline for signups is Oct. 24, and World Blog Surf Day itself is on Oct. 31.

The theme this time around is Holidays & Celebrations – a topic that I feel well prepared for, what with having spent all day today putting together my Halloween costume. (Yes, there will be pictures. No, I am not telling you what my costume is just yet – stay tuned!)

Shopping usually isn’t my cup of tea, but when it comes to outrageously silly costumes cultural integration and participation in the local celebrations, I do what I have to do. It’s all in the name of field research, you see ;)

Did you say expat bloggers?

You may have noticed that I recently added a blogroll to the site. There, you will find the expat resources/general advice sites that I recommend, plus a handful of personal favourites that have little to do with life abroad, but are just too good to pass up.

While we’re on the subject, BootsnAll Travel just published a list of 15 of the best expat blogs out there. I regularly follow several of them, and if all 15 are the same high quality, we have some great writing and beautiful pictures to look forward to!


What are your must-read expat blogs, and what do you like best about them? I love discovering new-to-me blogs, so please share your favourites in the comments!

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WBSD art by Beka (top) and picture by Kristina B (bottom), both via Flickr Creative Commons

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Homeschooling Expat Children: Perfect Solution Or Missed Opportunity?

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

Homeschooling children seems to be a growing trend among expats, especially those who live in developing countries.

Educating your children at home can be an attractive proposition, particularly if local schools are substandard and no international schools are available nearby. And I certainly understand being reluctant to ship your kids off to boarding school, or leaving them back home with relatives!

I went through something close to homeschooling (albeit unofficially) for a few years, as I was frequently sick as a child and had to miss school often. Luckily, my parents were both willing and able to help me catch up on my lessons, and they never missed a chance to broaden my horizons way beyond the standard curriculum. I loved every moment of it!


All of that happened in my home country, though, and I cannot help but wonder: aren’t homeschooled expat kids missing out on a lot of what makes living abroad such a fantastic experience?

Expat children who attend local schools have the opportunity to deeply engage with their host country, both by studying the local curriculum and by interacting with their classmates. Those who go to international schools do get a chance to come into contact with students from all over the world.

By contrast, homeschooled children will spend more time around adults – parents or tutors. Even if there are other students in the “homeschool”, they are likely to be the same nationality – at the very least they will all share a common language – thereby reducing the diversity of cultures to which the children are exposed.

Diversity chicks!

I would love to hear your thoughts: do you think that homeschooling is a perfect solution… a missed opportunity… or a necessary evil for expat children?

Do you have firsthand experience with homeschooling? What are the pros and cons in your opinion?

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Images by Mwesigwa (top) and chrisjfry (bottom), both via Flickr Creative Commons

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Time To Give Thanks!

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

Thanksgiving celebrations have been going strong all weekend in Canada. I celebrated yesterday with a group of expat friends, but between the lively conversation and the impressive spread of dishes from all over the world, we never got around to giving thanks.

So today, on the official holiday, I would like to take time to remember how much I have to be thankful for.

The great people in my life

Where to begin? I am surrounded by so many good people it’s almost ridiculous.

  • My partner, who is one of the most intelligent, reliable, kindest men I’ve ever known
  • My friends – new and old, far and near – who are upstanding, creative, fun-loving individuals
  • My business advisors and peers, who are dedicated, generous and genuinely supportive
  • Last but certainly not least, my clients who – like most expats I know – are strong, resourceful, always willing to learn and all-around gosh darn inspiring people. It is a blessing to work with individuals you truly like, and I am deeply thankful for all the great people I’ve met through my work.

Thank-you notes

A sense of place

As a fellow expat, I know you’ll understand how much it means to me to have found my place in life. Professionally, spiritually and geographically. My adopted city, Vancouver, BC, deeply feels like home, much more so than my official hometown in France ever did.

For a semi-nomad like myself who moved more than ten times in her twenties, that means a lot (I initially wrote “it means the world to me”, but I have decided that holiday posts shall henceforth be free of bad puns. Bad punnery can resume on Wednesday. We will see how long this resolution holds – I make no guarantees).


The growth. Oh, the growth! Frankly, it’s been a little crazy this year. But I am thankful for all of it, even when it felt hard and painful.

Not that I’m complaining – most of it was mind-blowingly good. Like learning how to ask for help. And learning how to receive it, instead of consistently choosing the hard, exhausting, “dutiful” way. Come to think of it, this is one of the first years of my working life when the threat of burnout has (mostly) been kept at bay. Now that’s something to be thankful for!

Also, choosing to say yes to more things that sound like fun – parties, road trips, new hobbies, what have you. At the same time, listening more closely to my body so that I know when to rest and when to take time for myself. I guess all this has to do with having clearer boundaries. I am really thankful for that too.

Healing some family issues was a big theme this year. It’s been awkward, painful, cringe-inducing at times. But it was time to deal with that ever-looming tangled mess. I’ve written before about the necessity of being at peace with your past if you want to be content with the present. It was time to walk my talk. So we’re untangling, a little bit at a time. It’s going great. Everything feels healthier, not to mention much lighter too. So thankful for that one!


Then there was the kind of growth that only comes about when hard, painful stuff happens. Losing a close friend to cancer back in March definitely falls under this heading. What I know today about fear, acceptance and life transitions, I owe to our last few moments together. So I am reverently thankful for that. And for the fact that the excruciating physical pain he had to live with is now over.

Oh, and let’s not forget about mistakes, failures and just plain bad decision-making. They’re the shortest path to growth… if you’re willing to face them honestly, instead of sweeping them under the rug. I think I’ve gotten better at letting myself make mistakes (that is, experimenting more and taking more risks, even if it means that I may fail), assessing said mistakes without beating myself up (which is how I would avoid looking at them too closely), and hopefully learning something in the process.

The 2009 award in this category goes to my failing to deal with a web designer who was not a good match for my company at all. Why I let this situation drag on for so long, I have no idea. All I know is that I wasted a lot of time, energy, and ultimately money when I had to hire another designer to redo the project.

However, during this period I learned ten times more about blogging, social media and online-based business than I would have otherwise, since I had to do a lot of research on my own. So that’s really good. And because that was a pretty big and costly mistake, I can assure you that next time I find myself in that situation, it will be dealt with swiftly and firmly – as Alice Cooper would say, No More Mr. Nice Guy, although I doubt that he had web designers in mind when he wrote this song…
Gratitude flower
Wow, this ended up much longer than I intended – sorry about that! But what can I say? There’s a lot to be thankful for!

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Image by KisforCalligraphy (top), Olive Talique (middle) and Creativity+, all via Flickr Creative Commons

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