Monday, 23 December 2013

The best places to see in the New Year

2014! A New Year and a fresh start!

While nostalgic expats all over the world might well try to keep their native traditions alive on Christmas day, with Panettone eaten in Poland and Turkey on the tables of Thailand, New Year’s Eve should not be so retrospective but should represent a fresh start.

As lips clash, glasses clink and hopeful New Year’s resolutions are immediately broken, why not embrace being an expat and get involved with those parties and celebrations that you would not be able to go to experience, if at home. 

In this post, we take a look at a few of the best New Year’s celebrations around the world, so that if you are lucky enough to be in one of these places as the clock strikes 12 one year, why not embrace being an expat and experience something new.


Image source: Creative Common/mediaite

New York
You can’t really talk about iconic New Year celebrations without mentioning Times Square in New York.  For over a century, every year at 11:59pm on the 31st December, as confetti bursts into the night sky, a sparkly ball (located on the roof of One Times Square and encrusted with crystal triangles and LED lights) descends almost 50 metres to mark the beginning of the New Year. The ‘ball drop’ is truly spectacular and the event also boasts performances from some of the most famous artists around the world so is definitely worth a trip, but be prepared to get there early, battle the crowds and wear plenty of layers!

Image source: Creative Common/project3

Rio de Janeiro
Spending the night (and day) on Copacabana beach in Rio will be truly unforgettable. With the midsummer heat, you can try your hand at a spot of Carnival-style Samba, enjoy a brilliant musical line-up and watch the incredible 15 minute fireworks display fired from the barges out at sea, before seeing in the New Year at one (or many) of the nearby nightclubs. It is customary to wear white in Rio, so steer clear of red wine, and avoid donning your best clothes in general, because you can expect to get covered in many a celebratory spray of champagne. If you have already spent one or two New Years at the Copacabana, then there are plenty of other iconic party spots where you can mix things up a bit - like the Lagoa and Sugarloaf Mountain.

Image source: Creative Common/joobili

Berlin
If you’re in Germany, for some bizarre daytime fun, why not spend New Year’s Eve at the capital. Tourists and locals alike work up an appetite during the day with the Berliner Silvesterlauf, an annual pancake race which is as much fun to watch as it is to participate in. Prestigious athletes and fancy dressed novices alike combine to run either the 9.9k or 6.3k races, flipping pancakes as they go. There are also options for the younger crowd as children and juniors can run shorter distances of 2 or 4k. For a great party in the evening, head over to the Brandenburg gate, or establish yourself at one of the vantage points (Teufelsberg and Viktoriapark) to watch the fireworks. 

Friday, 20 December 2013

Guest Blogger Series: Introducing…Sophie Jenson

Our latest guest blogger, Sophie Jenson fills us in on some important considerations for expat education.

Three Reasons Why Expat Parents Choose Boarding School

Congratulations! You’ve just got that brand new dream job or promotion you’ve been aiming for. The only thing is, your new job is abroad, perhaps in a country with a very different language and culture than you and your child are accustomed to.

You’re faced with the daunting task of relocating to a new country, which has all the stresses of a domestic move with added logistical and red-tape hurdles. Not only that, but if you’re a parent, you’ll need to minimise disruption to their schooling.

Boarding schools in the UK have always been a popular choice with expat British parents, and they’re rapidly growing in numbers. If you’re an expat or soon-to-be expat parent, there are three convincing reasons why a British boarding school could be the best choice for your child.


Ensure Your Child Has the Best Academic Options

Boarding School Students celebrate their A-Level results. Image via www.qe.org 

Although education is about far more than exam results, those vital GCSE and A-Level results are something that every parent considers very carefully when choosing a school for their child.

As an expat parent, the subject of which qualifications your child will be working towards suddenly becomes more complex.

Depending on where you’re emigrating to, your child might be able to study towards GCSEs, A-Levels, the International Baccalaureate (IB) or, if they’re at an American School, SAT tests. The IB is particularly popular with international schools, and is taught in 2,464 schools worldwide

In some locations like Hong Kong, which have large expat communities, you’ll have a wide choice of schools. However, in other places you may find that your choice is much more limited.

What does this mean for your child? If your child is ready to specialise at sixth form level then, despite being a well-regarded qualification, the IB might not be the best choice. It’s compulsory for students to take a broad range of subjects, including literature, a foreign language, a humanities subject or business, science and mathematics.

So if your child knows they want to study medicine at university, for example, and wants to focus on science to achieve that goal, traditional A-Levels may fulfil their needs better. At a UK boarding school your child will be able to choose from the most well-regarded GCSEs and A-Level subjects, taught by some of the brightest teaching talent in the country.

Reduce the Stress of Moving for Your Child

Packing for school. Photo via jessicahtam
Anyone who has ever moved house knows that it’s stressful. Relocating has been consistently ranked as a significantly stressful life event. This is only amplified when you’re moving countries, especially when you’re moving to the other side of the world.

Naturally, this stress is also felt by your child, who will find themselves in an unfamiliar culture, perhaps in country where they don’t speak the language, leaving behind friends and family and having to settle into a new school. Deciding to send your child to boarding can help to cut down on some of this stress.

If your child starts school before you move, they will be in an environment that is focused entirely on their learning and personal development, rather than trying to do their homework amidst the inevitable chaos of a household in transit.

They also won’t have to deal with the difficulties of adapting to what might be a radically different culture, again meaning that more of their focus and energy is likely to be free to put into studying and developing extracurricular interests.

Give Your Child a Stable Social Network

When you think back to your own school days, what are some of your happiest memories? Chances are they involve your school friends, some of whom you may still be friends with now.

This social aspect, giving your child a chance to build a lasting network of relationships that will support them personally and professionally in later life, is a vital part of any well-rounded education.

Friendships made at school can last for life. Image via http://www.qe.org/
International schools, by their very nature, tend to have a high population of children from expat homes. Whilst some people are long-term expats, many only work abroad for a couple of years. This results in student body that can be very diverse, yet also shifting.

This means that your child’s friendship group could be more unsettled than at a boarding school and that your child will have a scattered friendship group after they leave secondary school to progress to university and their career.

This effect is multiplied if your professional life means that you are likely to live in several different international locations during your child’s school life.

In contrast, a boarding school offers a stable environment where your child can develop lasting friendships. It also gives your child the chance to maintain relationships with people they are close to in the UK. They can spend weekends with grandparents, aunts, or uncles, or with the families of their existing friends.

This gives them a vital chance to maintain these important bonds, especially if they are planning on joining you abroad during their school holidays.

About the Author

Sophie Jenson has worked as a freelance writer and blogger for over five years, and has written for an incredibly wide range of websites, blogs and publications. Her areas of expertise include business, education, travel, technology, finance and sports. She tweets @Sophie_Jenson

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Expats' Biggest Lessons

We asked our followers about the biggest lessons they learned while living abroad – and here’s what they said. Thanks to everyone who shared their thoughts: @Baldrick2Dogs, @clairehs, @JeffinLondon, @cecilymargaret, @suecalola, @FlorenceLince, @EWadzinski, @Shannonthemrs, @BookofNess and @tweetsunands.

Plan in advance

“Plan, plan; then plan some more” – for many expats this is the golden rule for keeping your move abroad as smooth as possible. And we agree! Doing the legwork before you go can really pay off – particularly when it comes to seemingly simple things you’d usually take for granted, like finding somewhere to live, organising your money, arranging schools for your children and finalising work arrangements. Today it’s never been easier to move abroad – you can find lots of support from many different organisations across a range of channels, including social media and the wider internet. 

Image source: Creative Common/Greenmars

Look and listen
Researching your new country before you get there is invaluable – but of course it’s impossible to know exactly what to expect until you actually arrive. While some people will find it easiest to adapt to their new lives by jumping straight in, others might need a bit more time to get to grips with new cultures, etiquette, language and way of living. Take some time to observe the wider landscape of your new country: visit the shops, restaurants and bars, talk to colleagues and get online to find like-minded expats who have been in the same boat. As is often the case with anything new, experience is what will help you to feel more in control - and there’s no better time to start than today…!

Image source: Creative Common/NewYork1956

Learn about yourself
Although it might sound like a cliché, living somewhere completely new and outside of your comfort zone might make you reflect on things and help you learn something new about yourself. Changing your living environment, job and daily routine in general is a sure-fire way to experience new things which will change how you feel about yourself. It could be time to take up a new hobby, sport or make new friends. It might also make you think about making some other changes for the better, like quitting smoking, taking more exercise or eating more healthily. Keeping an expat journal or writing down a few notes each day about what you’re doing will help you to keep sight of how far you’ve come and could be a great memento to keep for years to come.

Give yourself a break
There’s no getting away from the fact that moving anywhere new isn’t always plain sailing. Yes, it’s an exciting time but it can also throw up lots of challenges – from simply feeling a little homesick to frustrations about understanding the language. Understanding an entirely different culture can feel daunting, so take things one day at a time if you’re finding it tough. Often, new things can feel strange – but in reality, it’s not strange, it’s just different to what you’re used to. There’s no reason to feel ashamed or guilty if expat life doesn’t come to you quite as naturally as you initially thought it might. Settling into a new way of life usually takes a while, and many people might take a few months or more to find their feet – but you can comfort yourself with the knowledge that most expats are likely to feel this way at some point. Give yourself a break, keep things in perspective and just go with it!

What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned as an expat? Share them with other expats via our Hints & Tips tool!

Monday, 16 December 2013

Making the move abroad

Once you’ve decided to embark on your new life abroad, take action and make sure that you have everything under your control. Leaving your life behind to go start afresh in a new country can be a nerve-wracking and complicated experience. But there are a few things you can do to make the move a little easier on yourself….

Research is key

One tip that comes up from expats again and again is to do thorough research before you go. It is important to know as much as you can about what you’re letting yourself in for. If you’re travelling to work, make sure you have researched the job opportunities that are available in your new country. You don’t want to be struggling to find a job so far away from home. Check out the location and area where you would want to live. It’s important to find a space where you can feel comfortable and get to know the community even in a foreign area.

Image source: Creative Common/Amanda Kuzack
Paperwork
Before you move, you will surely be drowning in paperwork but it’s important that you have everything sorted. This will make you properly prepared. Visas are vital so make sure you or your employer organise the correct visa to avoid any problems further down the line. Look at insurance and ensure your policy covers you when you are abroad. If it doesn’t, see how much it is to take out medical insurance in your destination country so that you are covered at all times. Diplomas, qualifications and certificates should be copied in case anything happens to your baggage that you are taking with you.

Image source: Creative Common/Hannah Horton

Learn the culture
To avoid a huge culture shock, try to get to grips with the customs and way of life before you make the move. The shock of landing in a strange country can really unnerve new arrivals and make them feel completely lost. So do your best to get an understanding about what you are letting yourself in for. This will prepare you for the big leap and make the adjustment easier. Talk to as many people as you can who might be able to tell you what your new home will really be like. Make sure you check out what food you might like, shops to use and some places to visit. Learn a few vital phrases in the native language so you can get by for the first few weeks.

Image source: Creative Common/Louisa Bruce
Tie up loose ends
To make sure that you are fully ready to leave your home and make the move abroad, tie up all loose ends at home. Sort out all your finances and accounts so you are ready to start afresh without any baggage. Make sure anything you leave behind is being looked after, such as any houses you own or cars you can’t take with you. This is also true for your personal life. Ensure that friends and family know you are moving away so you can see them all before you go. You don’t want to start your new life feeling guilty because you didn’t get to see important people before you left.

These steps will make sure that you are ready and prepared to make the big leap abroad. Physically and emotionally pack up your stuff and go embrace your new opportunity. 

Friday, 13 December 2013

Guest Blogger Series: Mike Lince – The 6 Monthers, Part II

In the second installment of his guest blog series outlining his retired expat adventures, Mike Lince gives us the low down on his time as an expat in Cuernavaca, Mexico

Cuernavaca, Mexico:  January – June, 2013

We were about to max out our six month tourist visa in Panama and had initially decided to move next door to Costa Rica.  We enjoyed our weekend visit to the capital city, San Jose, a few months earlier and we loved the scenic countryside.  Unfortunately, we could get no one to respond to our inquiries about housing in a timely manner. 


Silver baron, José de la Borda, nearly went bankrupt funding the construction of the Cathedral of Santa Prisca in Taxco, Mexico.

Part of our lifestyle of moving to a new country every six months involves researching the next move.  We have mapped out ten years worth of countries where we would like to live.  However, that does not mean each country is easily accessible in terms of finding a home or apartment to rent.  Since our move out of Panama was imminent, we expanded our search to include Mexico, and we chanced upon the connection with an American expat who rented space in his villa in Cuernavaca.


Teotihuacan's Pyramid of the Sun overlooks what was once one of the largest pre-Columbian cities in the world.

Like most Americans, we overlooked Mexico as a place to live due to perceptions via American media that it is a dangerous place.  That turns out to be an unfortunate stereotype.  While it is true that there are places in Mexico where one needs to be cautious, that is true of most countries including the United States. 

Cuernavaca, the City of Eternal Spring, turned out to be an oasis of unexpected tranquility and beauty.  Located an hour south of Mexico City in Morelos State, Cuernavaca was centrally located such that we were able to enjoy sightseeing excursions to local towns and historic sites easily accessible by bus or taxi including two excursions to Mexico City. 


The garden-side pool at our apartment in Cuernavaca

Arriving in January in Mexico meant the pool was not yet heated, although one of the tenants swam daily for exercise.  I was able to join a local health club for about $50/month, which was okay considering I was saving money on food and rent (total cost = $940/month).  We enjoyed short sleeve weather, blooming flowers and jacaranda trees, and more hummingbirds and butterflies than I had ever seen.


Diego Rivera murals decorate the walls of Cortez Palace, now a museum fronting the central plaza of Cuernavaca

Our host/landlord, Dr. James Horn, grew up just blocks from where my wife was raised in Buffalo, New York.  That connection made for an immediate bond that grew into a lasting friendship.  Jim, a retired professor of Latin American History at Brockport University, has lived in Mexico for twenty years.  Among other things he is a lover of fine food and wines.  Every Friday we were invited to join him at one of the many five star restaurants in Cuernavaca.   We sampled French, Israeli, Argentine, German and Mexican cuisine over the course of our stay along with some excellent quality Mexican wines.




The 16th century Cathedral of Cuernavaca is where Hernan Cortez and his descendants worshiped a short walk from his castle.

We never experienced violence or unrest during our stay in Mexico.  We never saw firearms except those worn by uniformed police officers.  We never heard gunshots.  We were comfortable walking the sidewalks to the local supermarket.  And I frequently walked the three blocks to the local tortilleria where I was able to purchase fresh corn tortillas as they came off the oven conveyor belt.  They were still warm in the package when I got them home.  My wife, Florence, perfected the art of cooking fresh totopos or corn chips.  With fresh avocados readily available for about 50 cents, we often enjoyed fresh guacamole.  I still salivate as I think of how fresh and yummy they were.


Flo's homemade totopos taste so much better than commercial variety corn chips.


After living for a year in Latin America, Florence, who does not speak Spanish, suggested we move to an English-speaking country.  Next stop – Scotland, land of bagpipes, castles and Scotch whisky.

About the Author


Mike and Florence met on an Alaska cruise in 2005 and they have been together ever since.  Mike retired in 2011, and that is when their traveling began. They have spent over a year in Latin America.  They have taken a Caribbean cruise, a Mediterranean cruise, and most recently they worked for a month as travel journalists in Croatia.  You can follow their travels on Mike’s blog, Applecore, and view photos on The 6 Monthers.



Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Marrying into a different culture

Image Source: Creative Common/Iman Mosaad

In a world of diminishing borders it is no surprise that growing numbers of men and women are finding love outside their own cultural circles. This dynamic can present unique challenges and often intercultural marriages may result in temporary or permanent migration to a country very different from your own which can be a very daunting prospect.

Whilst the ‘love conquers all’ attitude may suffice for some, here are some additional tips on how to find perfect harmony in a cross-cultural marriage:

Compromise is key- Meeting halfway with your spouse often makes for an easier transgression into your new culture. By creating a ‘we’ rhetoric and understanding each other’s position, you will be able to act as a team. This is incredibly important as moving to a new country can be isolating at first, especially if there are language barriers, hence being united with your spouse is a critical foundation.

Recognise and emphasise commonalities- It is important amidst the chaos of moving to remember on what basis was your relationship founded? What values do you share? This is especially important with regards to raising a child. It can be complicated to determine which traditions are passed on to your child. Whose religion they will follow? Will they celebrate Christmas, Hanukah, Chinese New Year or all three?! Communication is critical and having open discussion from the start will make these decisions easier.

Image Source: Creative Common/Travel Blat

Appreciate the exciting nature of such an opportunity! Life is all about taking risks and not everyone is fortunate enough to go and live abroad and experience something completely different. See it as an opportunity to try new things and relish the different culture rather than being intimidated by it.
It is important not to forget that to a degree, all marriages are intercultural. For instance, there is huge variation in ‘American’ culture or ‘Western’ culture: every family has their own set of values and practices and this can hugely differ from neighbour to neighbour.

Don’t ever feel alone- There are vast support networks globally to assist expats in their transition. Be it making friends, finding a good school, chances are there are lots of people out there in exactly the same situation as you are. 


Most importantly, don’t let the stress of moving abroad and marrying someone with contrasting beliefs to that of your own, take away from the joy and love that you feel for that person. All relationships require a degree of compromise and that is to be expected from any marriage. Try to eradicate cultural binaries from discussions and instead focus on the positive elements of such a dynamic (bilingual children springs to mind). Embrace every opportunity that you get and try to immerse yourself in your most favourite aspects.  For more advice on how to get to grips with an expat life visit https://expatexplorer.hsbc.com/hintsandtips/

Monday, 9 December 2013

Guest Blogger Series: Introducing…Elicia Shepard

Our latest expat guest blogger and foodie, Elicia Shepard, tells us five reasons why she loves shopping at her local open air market in Korea.

We live in Yeosu, South Korea. It’s the most beautiful little port city. One of the great things about it is that you can find an open air market with the freshest-of-fresh local foods almost anywhere. Seafood is the specialty in our city, and while we haven’t ventured quite that far to cook our own seafood yet, we shop at the local markets for all of our fruit and vegetables.

We call it “Market Monday’s.” It happens every single Monday after work. 5 o’clock hits, and you’ll find my husband and I strolling through the streets of our local market.  Let me tell you why I look forward to “Market Monday’s” every single week.


1.       Relationships with the locals

We have our banana lady, our salad lady, our “in season” fruit lady, and then our apple lady (just to name a few.) We have made market relationships. The smiles, the broken conversations in English, and “service” make it enough for me to want to come back every single week. Almost all of the Korean’s working the market stalls are elderly Korean women (known in Korean as “adjummas”). Since we have established a trusted and loyal customer status after going back to the same few ladies each week for months, we often receive (but never expect) what Koreans call free “service.” What this means is they’ll throw in a few (free) extra apples, oranges, plums or whatever they have that they feel like giving us. It’s a sweet gesture that makes me feel valued and appreciated as their customers. It keeps me coming back each Monday. I love my market ladies!


2.       Supporting the local economy

I’m living and loving Korea. I’d like to support the people who came before me. I like to support those who call Korea home. I like feeling I am a part of the community and also the country that I live in. By shopping at the local market I know that my money is going to a family instead of a corporation. Most likely it’s going to the family of an adjumma who is working at the market stall. We work hard for our money, and I like that it’s staying local. In Korea many of the gardens are family grown, and quite small. Which we of course love, and one of the reasons why we love keeping it local!


3.       What we buy is what’s in season

We’ve been in Korea for 6 months and I love that we have seen the fruits and vegetables change with the seasons. It’s been strawberry season, melon season, watermelon season, grape season, apple season, and currently persimmons are ripe. For the most part we buy what is in season. It’s what’s cheaper! We have also gotten to experience new fruits/vegetables that we have never seen in the Midwest United States. The Asian pear (a cross between a pear and an apple) is a new discovery to us! Persimmons were also new to us. We love trying new things, and it’s fun to follow the fruits and vegetables changing as the seasons change.


4.       It’s WAY cheaper than the big department stores
So our Korean adjummas never try to take more money than what the going rate at the market is. We get our food for pretty cheap! We also can ask them for smaller portions since we are just a family of two. They are always accommodating, and will give us less quantity for a cheaper and fair price. We’ve found some things to be half of the price than the fruit and vegetables at our local department stores (our other shopping options.) They don’t change the prices on their food. It stays consistent, and it’s 100% of the time cheaper than in the big stores.


5. It’s FRESH!
Our food comes straight from their local garden to the market. Into our bags, and then home. I have seen the ladies on city buses with the food from their garden for their market stall. Almost every time we go hiking I see Koreans working in their gardens. I see them load it up, and I have seen them carry it into their market stall for set up. There is usually tons of fruit/vegetables on display so you can pick what looks/feels most fresh to you. There is nothing better than food straight from a garden onto your plate. YUM.


I love shopping at our local market. I love the relationships we’ve established. I love keeping our money local when we shop at the markets. We buy/eat what’s in season. It’s much cheaper than the corporate shops. Most importantly, the food tastes delicious. It’s always fresh! We love knowing that it came from a local garden. I adore our “Market Monday’s.” If you can find a local market where you are living I would highly recommend checking one out. It’s always one of my highlights of the week, and I promise you that it’s an adventure that’s just waiting to be discovered.


About the author:
Elicia is a teacher, a go-getter, a lover of adventure, hiking, and island hopping. Leaving their comfortable life back in the USA for a new journey abroad- Elicia and her husband said "goodbye" to the their life stateside, and "hello" to adventure in South Korea. She's currently teaching English to over 300 kids in Korea. Discovering unknown places & people is an addiction she's proud of and will be an endless journey that she'll continues to seek. You can read about her adventures at www.lifesajournee.com and follow her @eliciameyer


Friday, 6 December 2013

Country in review: France



France is a wonderful country for many reasons, but what is it like for expats? Today, we take a look at just some of the reasons why France should be next on your list.

Image source: Creative Common/Kimberly Vardeman




The weather

The weather in France has something to please everyone. For those expats that like a bit of a change in their wardrobe and yearly activity, France is ideal because it is seasonal, but unlike some other countries, still quite fair.  The amiable weather also means that for much of the year you will be able to live your life outdoors, eating your meals under the blue skies and enjoying a sundowner in the garden. When deciding on your accommodation, try to get somewhere with some outside space, or at least a park in the vicinity, where you will be able to enjoy the different seasons.


Image source: Creative Common/K.Hurley

The vistas

This great weather combined with the open spaces of France, means that it is a wonderful country in which to enjoy the great outdoors. There are some amazing vistas to experience, from the Pyrenees mountains of Southern France to the lavender fields of Provence.   You can also take advantage of the French beauty by surfing in the seaside towns in the summer, wandering the streets of some of the country’s finest cities and hitting the slopes in the colder months.



Image source: Creative Common/K.Hurley



The food and drink

The food in France is notoriously good, from the range of products made, grown and sold in the regions (The cheese! The bread! The wine!) to the chefs that create amazing dishes from them. Eat and enjoy these wonderful foods and maybe even begin the cultural immersion with a classical cookery course or a wine tasting, where you will learn the staples of French cuisine and wine, which are integral to French culture.  What is also so great about eating and drinking in France is that you can do it on the cheap – yes, there are plenty of Michelin star restaurants to frequent when you are feeling flash, but you can also find some real gems of eateries in the most unlikely of places, where you will learn that the simplest foods sometimes are truly the best. You can also buy wine relatively cheaply. The French are so proud of their wine making tradition that very few retailed are actually bad. The lower end wines will still be delicious!


Image source: Creative Common/K.Hurley



Langue

In our 2013 Expat Explorer survey, one expat living in France mentioned how important it is to speak the local language saying that “people will love you for it, and do their best to help you.” Being able to communicate with the locals, and not getting tongue tired when ordering from a menu or buying something in a shop will really improve the experience, and help with the integration process. Luckily, French is commonly taught at schools in all countries so many people will have some grounding in the langauge before moving. If not, or if you want to remind yourself before heading off, it might be worth listening to see some language tutorials or taking lessons. 

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