Archive for 'Reviews'

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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Book Review: A Portable Identity

Posted on 01. Jul, 2009 by in Blog, Reviews

First of all, if you are a fellow Canadian, I wish you a Happy Canada Day!
If you are not Canadian, no worries – we Canucks are known for being a nice, welcoming bunch, so please grab a chair, get yourself a drink and stay for a while!

Happy Canada Day, eh?

In case you’d like something funny to read while we wait for the fireworks and the barbecue, I would recommend this excellent post by James Chartrand for Copyblogger: Old-School Marketing No Longer Working? Blame Canada.
I loved the bit about startling the wildlife and being – politely, of course – shown the door by Mounties. Then again, I am easily entertained.

And now, it’s time for a book review!

I have a really good workbook to recommend today. Not exactly a light summer read, but if you are ready to do some serious, powerful personal work to better understand how expatriation has changed you, I cannot think of a better starting point.


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Book Review: The Grown-Up’s Guide To Running Away From Home

Posted on 24. Mar, 2009 by in Blog, Relocation, Reviews

Aimed at midlife people, empty nesters and retirees, “The Grown-Up’s Guide To Running Away From Home” by Rosanne Knorr is a practical guide to relocation for adults who long to live abroad.

A big strength of this book is its accessible, engaging tone. Rosanne Knorr keeps things simple and straightforward. Her “You can do it!” approach is resolutely optimistic. Her message in a nutshell? Better to go see for yourself if overseas life is for you than to be stuck with regrets and unlived dreams for the rest of your life.

This Grown-Up’s Guide is not meant for single, broke thirtysomethings. The assumption is that you have family ties to deal with, life experience to guide you and at least some savings to make your adventure possible. You do not have to be independently wealthy or receive a sizeable pension to live overseas, obviously, and Knorr discusses a number of ways to finance your expatriation.

Other chapters deal with seldom-raised subjects such as family planning and handling finances from a distance. Health care, medical coverage and safety concerns are also discussed extensively.

This book’s primary concern is relocation. All aspects of pre-departure planning, packing, travelling and getting started in your host country are discussed at length. By contrast, settling in and returning to your home country only get a scant 10 pages between themselves. Culture shock gets half a page.

Even though it only pays lip service to the emotional component of expatriation, this guide is a good, easy read for mature, first-time expats looking for reassurance and sound practical advice on how to handle the nuts and bolts of international relocation.

Make sure that you get the 2008 edition- the first edition dates back to 1998 and is quite dated by today’s standards.


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The Expat Life: Love (Or Hate) At First Sight

Posted on 06. Jan, 2009 by in Blog, Expat Life, Home, Relocation, Reviews, Tools & Resources

Funny how your perception of a new place can be forever coloured, for better or worse, by your early impressions.

For me, the decisive factor is often the quality of my interactions with local people. After just a few days in Vancouver, I knew that I would be happy living here. Everyone was surprisingly welcoming and helpful, from the immigration officer who greeted me with a big “Welcome to Canada” and sounded like he really meant it, to my next-door neighbours who insisted on having me over for Christmas dinner very shortly after I moved in.

I could hardly believe it, especially considering that I had just moved from Paris where there is quite a bit more, ahem, protocol and reluctance to approach strangers. So on went the rose-tinted glasses and I set out to discover what other pleasant surprises the city held. Call me a Polyanna if you must, but I am sure that it helped me make new friends quickly. After all, a smile is more attractive than a scowl, isn’t it? Naturally, this only led to more “Wow, people are really friendly here!” and “What a nice place to live!”

Unfortunately, self-fulfilling prophecies also work the other way around.
If you spent your first six weeks trying in vain to reach particularly inefficient utility companies, you may be dreading what the next three years are going to be like. If your new home is broken into within days of your moving in, you may start seeing your new country through the prism of fear and distrust, which will compromise your long-term enjoyment of living there.

If this is your case and you wish you were thousands of miles away from your current location, how can you make things better? Here is a suggestion, broken down into four steps:

1. Allow yourself to be upset. Acknowledge the fact that you are furious, shocked, on the verge of tears… whatever emotion is present, allow it to be there. You may have noticed that I am not a fan of “Shoulds”- as in “I should be able to handle this better” or “I should not be this angry”. Please do not beat yourself up for feeling what you are feeling.

2. Dig a little deeper. Are you furious because you fell prey to a scam and now feel that you cannot trust anyone? Are you shocked because you witnessed something incomprehensible or incompatible with your own values? Are you on the verge on tears because you feel completely overwhelmed and do not know who to ask for help? You get the idea. Try and see what lies underneath the main emotion you are experiencing.

3. What would be most helpful right now? This is not about looking for quick fixes. It is about giving your emotions what they need most, so that they can dissipate or at least become more manageable. If you are experiencing distrust, you may need reassurance. If you are struggling to understand something, you need an explanation or some way to make sense of it. If you are feeling overwhelmed, you may need support, clarity and simplification.
What small, practical steps could you take toward helping your emotions dissolve?

4. Keep separate things separate. Hopefully the simple steps above have helped you distance yourself a little from your raw emotions. From this vantage point, try (I am not saying this is easy!) to keep in mind that these emotions are temporary. The negative experiences you had were isolated events. They do not get to have a say in everything you do, nor do they get to define all your interactions with the country.

In other words, if the cable company kept you on hold for two hours before hanging up on you, your anger does not get to seep into the non-cable company-related areas of your life. It does not get to tell you: “Oh, the nerve! What kind of place is this? What are we doing here? I am feeling terribly resentful and I sure hope you do too- so please do NOT enjoy the local food while you are out tonight and do NOT say hello to the neighbours if you run into them, because remember, you are really angry and besides- these cable people, what idiots!!!”

Yes, in my view, anger is a little petulant, not to mention long-winded, but you see what I am getting at: it makes absolutely no sense to miss out on enjoying delicious food or a friendly chat with your new neighbours just because your anger wants to follow you everywhere, like a black cloud over a cartoon character’s head. If at all possible, leave it at home and enjoy yourself instead.

I wanted to add a little anecdote to end on a lighter note, but this is getting quite long already. So I will tell you my story illustrating all of this in the next post. If you do not want to miss it, remember that you can subscribe and receive new content as I post it, either by email or via the RSS feed. (← now was that a smooth transition, or what?)


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Book Review: Diplomatic Baggage- The Adventures Of A Trailing Spouse

Posted on 13. Dec, 2008 by in Blog, Expat Life, Reviews, Tools & Resources

Many expat clubs around the world recommend “Diplomatic Baggage- The Adventures Of A Trailing Spouse” by Brigid Keenan as a must-read for diplomatic wives and accompanying partners in general.

Let us get a warning out of the way right now. If you have no patience for complainers, stay well away from this book, as it will probably infuriate you. Mrs. Keenan, a former fashion journalist and the wife of a British diplomat, whines a lot and spends much time crying, especially in the first few chapters. Some anecdotes read like a laundry list of her phobias: entertaining, flying, heights, robbers, sharks, snakes… as the author says herself, it seems like on every posting she discovered “new ways of dying to worry about”.

Her self-deprecating humour does make her sound more likeable and is sometimes genuinely funny. However, it does become a bit too systematic after a while. About halfway through the book, the many variations on “I am such a sorry excuse for a journalist” and “I am the most useless hostess you will ever meet” start to wear thin.

In spite of these quirks, there is no denying that “Diplomatic Baggage” is fun and easy to read. While I did not find it quite as laugh-out-loud hilarious as many reviewers did, several anecdotes made me smile and I loved the husband’s tongue in cheek sense of humour. I finished the book in two evenings and it kept me entertained the whole time.

Beyond its qualities as an autobiography, I found “Diplomatic Baggage” to be a valuable account of the ups-and-downs of life as an accompanying partner: loneliness. Homesickness. Boredom. Marital tensions. The sometimes daunting etiquette. Having to manage domestic help when you have never had staff before.
Throughout her book, Brigid Keenan weaves in pithy, lively descriptions of the various locations where she and her family lived. Be forewarned that she tells it like she sees it and that she is not shy about stating her political views. Some of her remarks will be seen as controversial; some others verge on patronising, especially when she writes about her staff.

Surprisingly, there is no mention of the impact of expat life on the couple’s children. The two daughters are more or less invisible for two thirds of the book, until they hit the teenage years and begin to act up. Even when the girls run away from boarding school, refuse to study for their exams and are eventually expelled, the challenges faced by Third-Culture Kids are never explicitly brought up.

In summary, there is a possibility that “Diplomatic Baggage” may turn you off, or even offend you. At the same time, it will entertain you with its accounts of postings as radically different as Belgium, India and Kazakhstan. Former and current accompanying partners will find their experiences, emotions and challenges mirrored in this book and will realise that they are not alone. Considering that supposedly “spoilt” diplomatic wives do not always get much sympathy or support, this alone may make reading this book a rewarding experience.

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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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Book Review: The Power Of Full Engagement

Posted on 21. Oct, 2008 by in Blog, Home, Reviews, Tools & Resources
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Last week, we were talking about the importance of balancing stress and recovery, so that you can focus and feel energised when it counts.

If you would like to learn more about these concepts and the research behind them, here is a good resource to design your own energy management plan: “The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, not Time, is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal” by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz

According to Loehr and Schwartz, there are four dimensions to optimal energy:
– Physical energy
– Emotional connection
– Mental focus
– Spiritual alignment
In each of these dimensions, we must learn to balance energy expenditure with intermittent energy renewal.

Most of us tend to expend too much mental and emotional energy, without sufficient recovery. Conversely, we do not train our physical and spiritual muscles enough to build optimal capacity.

The energy management strategies proposed in The Power of Full Engagement are based on alternating energy expenditure and recovery, much like you would alternate weight training and rest if you wanted to grow your biceps.

The book is ostensibly aimed at corporate employees, yet anyone who wants to increase their energy levels can apply its principles.
The authors draw on their many years of research and experience training elite athletes and executives. Worksheets help you identify your strengths / weaknesses and allow you to design daily rituals that anchor your energy management plan.

I have been incorporating new, simple rituals in my workday for a week now. I take short breaks every 90 minutes. I make a point of eating a proper lunch. I do not work past 8:00PM. Yes, all of this is common sense, yet given my tendency to push myself until I burn out, it looks like I can use a bit more common sense in this department!

So far, my energy levels have indeed increased, and creative ideas seem to come to me more easily. Time will tell what the long-term gains are, but in the meantime, I do recommend reading The Power of Full Engagement if you would like to create better flow in your life.


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Book Review: The Expert Expatriate

Posted on 11. Oct, 2008 by in Blog, Expat Life, Relocation, Reviews, Tools & Resources

“The Expert Expatriate: Your guide to Successful Relocation Abroad: Moving, Living, Thriving” by Melissa Brayer Hess and Patricia Linderman

Clear, easy to read and practical-minded, this book should be on every expat’s shelf. Not only do the authors provide a step-by step approach to relocating, they also strike an excellent balance between practical advice and psychological insight.
In other words, this book does not leave you with yet another to-do list to stress over, all the while asking you to check your emotions at the door. I believe that this dual approach is the key to a successful international experience.
I appreciated the concrete suggestions on such topics as learning the local language, making the move less stressful for children and what to do if, in spite of your best efforts, you are still not adjusting to your new environment.

The Expert Expatriate is primarily aimed at employees sent on an international assignment by their organisation. However, anyone moving abroad with children and/or pets will find much of interest here, as entire chapters are devoted to these subjects.

Readers looking for country-specific information or emigrating without the support of an organisation may want to supplement this book with other resources written with their situation in mind. They will still greatly benefit from what The Expert Expatriate has to offer, such as strategies to cope with disenchantment once the honeymoon with the new location is over.
Highly recommended!

Please note that the edition I read and reviewed has since been revised and expanded, under the new title “The Expert Expat: Your Guide to Successful Relocation Abroad”. The new edition includes a chapter on safety as well as updated information on relocating solo.


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