Born to be nomad: expat and local at the same time

“It struck me already at that early age what a melting pot the World really is” — Eric

On their explorations of California Eric and Vero found Half Dome in the Yosemite Park to be one of most fantastic places they ever visited.

The Expat Earth Interview Series #2

I’m interviewing my French expat friend Eric in his apartment in Potsdam, outside Berlin. Eric is a true modern nomad. He was brought up that way. His wife Vero, on the other hand, had never moved abroad before their stay in Chile, but she too is now an experienced expat.

Expat Earth: Eric, tell me about your first expat experiences?

Eric: My family lived abroad for most of my childhood because of my dad’s job. We lived in Morocco, Jordan, and Senegal, with in-between stays in France. We stopped our expat life and moved back to France for good when I was 12 years old. At that time I knew exactly what I wanted: I wanted to be an astronomer and I wanted to live abroad! Guess I was born to be a nomad!

So when I was offered a position in Chile after my PhD, I was very happy. Vero was a bit skeptical because it was her first stay abroad, but I persuaded her, and we had a wonderful experience in Chile.  After Chile we moved to California, and a few months ago back to Europe: Vero is working in Switzerland and I work in Berlin. We hope to have our jobs converge sometime soon, so we still lead a nomad life, not quite done moving yet.

EE: You’re a seasoned expat! Did your lifestyle and your habits change in the course of your moves as an adult?

Eric: Yes, our way of living has undergone big changes. In Chile I had a good job, a very good salary, and we quickly got used to not thinking about money – since we could easily afford whatever we wanted to do. So our standard of living increased, but at the same time we were losing sense of a “normal” life. That was the first time we ever had money, and we didn’t know how to handle it – we spent it without thinking. We dined at the fancy restaurants, stayed at the nice hotels, treated our parents to luxury when they came to visit us.

In California, I had a normal entry-level research salary, Continue reading

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Ohana means family!

Great line from Lilo & Stich. But this Hawaiian word means more than just family. “Ohana” is family, community, a sense of belonging, but it’s at the same time much more than these words can express.

There is no Paradise on Earth…

Seems like there is always something to complain about wherever you go, right? In Hawaii we dealt with the mosquitoes and the humidity that crippled our books. In Santiago de Chile we endured the heavy smog. In the Canary Islands we dreaded the kalima (the winds from Sahara, carrying ultra-fine sand). So is there no paradise without thorns then?

They say that the only Hell is what your mind makes for you. Likewise, don’t we make our own Paradise? Continue reading

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When you move, move for real

“We were prepared for change when we moved from Denmark to Australia. The change we were totally unprepared for was the move from one place to another within Denmark!” — Rolf & Jane

Enjoying the snow near Munich

Rolf, Jane, and their two boys, enjoying the snowy alps near Munich

The Expat Earth Interview Series #1

Rolf and Jane are Danish. On their way to Munich where they currently live, they’ve explored city and country life in Denmark, the Big Unknown in Australia, and a short stay in Bern (Switzerland). In Sydney and Bern, Rolf was following his career, but now they’ve swapped roles with Jane justifying the career move. They’ve got two boys aged 15 and 12 years. We interviewed them during a nice dinner at their home

Expat Earth: What was your main motivation to move abroad? Adventure, career, escape,…?

Rolf & Jane: It was a mix. It was a good career move for Rolf, but the main motivation was adventure! We had been travelling the world together before we had children and that’s where this idea of living abroad took root. On our world tour we passed through Australia and we liked it a lot. When we left the country, the lady at the airline counter asked us “Will you be coming back to Australia?”, and we immediately answered “yes!” So it wasn’t really hard to decide when Rolf was offered a job in Sydney, even though we had a 1-year old at the time. Continue reading

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Mental tsunami – when disaster strikes

A scary scene during the March 11 earthquake in Sendai.

People take shelter in a Sendai book store during the March 11 earthquake. (Photo by euronews on flickr)

When a natural disaster strikes somewhere in the world, everyone is saddened. We were too of course, but perhaps more personally touched than most people who live far away. Because we’ve been there. We’ve lived there. And we have friends there. We lived in Japan for several periods in the past and we’ve been to some of the places that are now in ruins, shattered by the tsunami.

Among the devastating and horrible news of the past weeks, we found comfort in a few things: Fortunately all our friends in Japan are safe. Fortunately the tsunami was not causing major damage as it passed Hawaii.

I’m so far away…

This highlights a common theme among expats: The distance to “home”, to friends and family. What if something happens, either to them or to us? It is not a pleasant thing to think about, much less to prepare for, but nevertheless something that it is wise to take into consideration. Continue reading

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Stepping out of your comfort zone? – expats do it daily!

Navigating unknown surroundings

Nana and Alex stepping outside their comfort zone, navigating an unknown forest path somewhere in Bavaria.

“What’s the fuss?”

I heard a speech the other day about “stepping outside of our comfort zone”. It is said that we need to do that in order to learn and grow. I do agree with that. It just struck me that some people do it only once in a while. Expats do it all the time, every day!

Moving to another country, entering another culture, is naturally outside our comfort zone for most of us. But it’s not just that. For example, one of my friends asked me: “Surely, once you’ve found a place to live, and found the nearest supermarket, you’re just living like everybody else, so what’s the fuss?” I see his point. To him it looks like it’s just a matter of finding your way around, getting to know where the shops are and that’s it. Yet, being an expat involves much more than that.

Every day as an expat is a series of experiences that takes us well outside our comfort zone. It’s not necessarily because we have to deal with a lot of things that other people living in the country won’t have to deal with (importing your belongings, official documents, etc.). Sometimes, expats have that additional load as well, but that’s not the point I want to make. The point is, that as an expat I will have to step outside of my comfort zone no matter what I do Continue reading

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Chilean culture clash

Our 4  years’ stay in Chile was one of the most beautiful expat experiences we’ve ever had. We tied deep friendship bonds with both foreign and Chilean friends and got acquainted with a very different culture and a very different mentality. Following two periods in The Canary Islands, Spain, we considered ourselves pretty used to the Latino way of seeing things and – not least – getting things done. Mañana, right? We could live with that. Chileans might be Latinos, but it wasn’t mere time conception that would cause the culture clash this time around.

Culture clash teaches you a life lesson

We settled in Santiago de Chile in a typically residential, middle-class neighborhood. Chilean society might be more balanced than other South American ones, but calling it even wouldn’t do it justice. We quickly learned that remembering the house key when leaving the home wasn’t enough. The key to the gate(s) was just as important. Once I got caught between a slammed front door and two locked iron gates – besides the 2+ meter high combination of concrete wall and iron fence surrounding every inch of the lot. Looking out through the bars, I could just hope for one of my neighbors to peep in. This Continue reading

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Blogging your experience – what’s in an expat blog?

Expat Earth is one month old. Yay! It’s been a month of blogging for the big public now as opposed to “just” blogging for family and friends. Wherever we’ve been in our expat experience during the past 5 or so years, we’ve been having our private expat blog, just for close friends and relatives to let them know what we were up to.

Seeing the world (here Oktoberfest) as an expat family

The online needs of an expat family

As an expat family, blogging is a perfect tool to keep in touch with friends and even get new ones, sharing your own experiences and hearing other views on similar issues. Sure, these days Facebook and Skype may fill some of the need for maintaining long distance relationships. But you can only write so much (or rather, you can’t) in a Facebook update, and on Skype you only reach one person at a time. Having your own expat blog is a great way to keep everyone updated and not least discussing the topics in your expat life.

But back to Expat Earth, our “official” expat blog…

It’s been a month now, and we’re just thrilled by the positive response we’ve received Continue reading

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Love and ambition: Making the school choice for expat children

It can be a real headache for parents moving abroad: Which particular school, which school system, and which language do we choose for our expat children’s learning environment? Besides all the naturally given circumstances such as country, surrounding language, and work place, the choice of school system is a more complex one.

Chilean Montessori School: a caring, yet demanding learning environment

The choice is ours to make

The difficult aspect in this for parents of young children is that we have to make the school choice on their behalf, often among several options, and typically without previous knowledge of the school systems available. First of all, where and how do we find suitable schools to choose from at all? Second, is the chosen school and school system really the best one for exactly our own expat children? Third, how will our choice of school help or limit our children’s opportunities later in life?

School choice 1: Spanish village pre-school system

The first school abroad that we sent our 3-year-old daughter to, was a local, Spanish village pre-school. All 3 pre-school grades, around a dozen children, were taught together by the one and only “maestra”. For expat Continue reading

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Starting at a new school: Expat kids, part 2

On their way to school in Chile

Our own expat kids, starting new school in the outskirts of Santiago, Chile

We already touched upon the benefits of moving abroad for expat kids. But one thing is looking back at what you’ve accomplished, another is being in the middle of becoming an expat: You’re visiting possible new schools, talking to teachers, researching the merits of the schools and testimonials from other parents. It can be a stressful time for us parents, sure, but even more so for our newly-turned-expat kids.

Fortunately, our kids have managed every transition fabulously Continue reading

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Piece of cake or tough luck? The expat spouse work dilemma

How hard can it really be? Or is it actually the hard part of it all?

I’m talking about finding expat spouse employment, often the tricky part of going anywhere. Cause is it just something you do? Or does the job hunt as an expat spouse too easily turn into a prolonged nightmare? How demanding can you afford to be? How high your expectations? Well, that all depends of course … on formal factors such as background and earlier experience within the expat spouse job market, plus on your skills and educational training. However, when it comes to finding suitable expat spouse work, the informal factors outnumber and outweigh the formal ones by far.

US expat spouse job: ELL teacher in Hawai'i

  • Personal attitude, aim and awareness

  1. What are your goals by finding expat spouse work?
  2. What do you have in mind as suitable employment?
  3. What are your real skills and strengths – meaning all of them?

Successful expat spouse job hunt also comes down to: Continue reading

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