Spring Cleaning your Life

It’s Novruz, the Spring festival, a time for new beginnings.  It’s also #Follow Friday on Twitter.  So I’m giving a quick WOOT! to three expat women who have announced this week that they’re trying something different, taking a new direction.

@Global_Girlonln aka @ExpatArc aka Danie Barkhouse who’s just launched a new website for women on the move

@expatexpert aka Robin Pascoe who has traded in her suitcase for a computer and has officially embarked upon the “Third Act” of her life.

and

@chompermom aka Leighann Garber, perhaps the most adventurous of all, who is embarking on a repatriation to the US to try and establish a new life for her family, single handed.  Read the full story here . . .

Anyone else out there who’s spring cleaning their life and would like a mention?

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Families in Global Transition Conference 2010

I’m way overdue a blog post or two on the Families in Global Transition Conference which I attended for the first time earlier this month.  I’ll write in more detail on some of the topics which particularly interested me, but to start with here is a quick overview of the three day event.

  • I was very impressed with the quality of both the speakers and the participants.  Many had seriously professional qualifications and significant expat credentials in terms of the countries they had lived in.  In other words, they knew both the theory and the practice.
  • The various sectors were well represented – corporate, military, missionary, diplomatic, education, academia, relocation, coaching and a good number of accompanying partners/trailing spouses like me.
  • All the sessions were professionally put together and presented.  Participation was encouraged and many of the conference delegates also contributed valuable information and experience.
  • Everyone was just as friendly as I had been led to believe.  All the speakers were very approachable and willing to share the content of their sessions.  Many had detailed handouts.
  • I got to meet two of my expat heroes for the first time – Ruth Van Reken and Robin Pascoe – both autographed their books for me.
  • A surprising number of people were, like me, attending for the first time.  This tells me that this is an organization which is growing – always a good sign. 
  • The conference itself was very well organized.  There was a wide range of topics and things moved quickly; definitely no time to get bored!  Group sizes varied – some sessions had all 200+ of us together in the main ballroom, some were in groups of about 20 or 30 in smaller rooms and some were in intimate circles of 10, sitting at a round table.  This encouraged a variety of participation levels, which was refreshing.
  • There were several social opportunities which encouraged people to get to know each other on a personal as well as a professional level.

In summary, I enjoyed it immensely, felt I learned a lot and will definitely return next year, when it will be held in Washington, DC.  Maybe they can persuade Obama to speak about life as a TCK? ;-)

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Dubai Revisited

I’m back in Dubai on a short vacation, less than a year after repatriating.  Returning only 9 months after leaving is a rather strange sensation and I’m intrigued by the things which used to be unremarkable but which now I find striking.

Every expat in Dubai talks about the manic driving, but after only a short absence it still comes as a shock to see cars driving at twice the posted limit, weaving, tailgating and honking at every opportunity. 

As a pedestrian in Toronto I blithely step off the sidewalk without looking, confident traffic will come to a screeching halt.  Here I take my life in my hands even at a crosswalk or traffic light.

I’m back in a culture which still uses a lot of cash.  I’ve visited the ATM more times since I arrived than I do in 3 months in Canada. 

I’m now thinking in dollars rather than dirhams and as a result comparing prices.  Dubai is an expensive place to live (compared with Canada) with the notable exception of eating out and transport.

Despite this, the amount of retail space in Dubai is huge and seems to be doing well.  Yes, it is the height of the tourist season and the Shopping Festival right now, but I’m surprised that the precipitous decline in construction which fuelled much of Dubai’s boom hasn’t had a more obvious effect on the city.  Yes, there are lots of abandoned building sites, but the malls are full and newcomer coffee mornings as busy as ever.

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A Bump in the Road

Don’t speak too soon my mother would have said.  Perhaps I jinxed it, by crowing about finding a job.  Or perhaps I was just too keen to prove (mainly to myself) that I was still in demand, despite being 56 and having lived outside of Canada for so long.  But I suspect it was my desire to put down roots and call Toronto home again that made me jump at the first opportunity offered, despite a small voice that told me it didn’t feel right.  I should have listened more attentively.

I quit my job on Friday.  For two months I’d been telling myself that I would settle in, that I just needed to get to grips with the job, get used to the company, make friends with my colleagues.  But with each passing day I was becoming more miserable, knowing that I was a round peg trying to hammer myself into a square hole.  In the end it was time to admit my mistake and cut my losses.

I feel I’ve been flung back 7 months to the day we landed back home, like a giant game of Snakes & Ladders.  On the one hand there’s a world of opportunity in front of me, but on the other hand I’ve no clue what comes next.

For now I’m going to take a trip to Dubai, where my husband has returned to work again (yes, we are trying to repatriate, but so far not very successfully) and then I’m also going to the FIGT Conference in March.  Perhaps I’ll present myself as an interesting case study.  In all seriousness I hope I get some inspiration from others who’ve been through this.

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A Reunion of Strangers

. . . is how Robin Pascoe has described the annual conference of Families in Global Transition.  I think that sounds wonderful and can’t wait to attend for the first time.  It’s happening in Houston, March 4-6.

I’ve already written about how I came to volunteer for this group and although I haven’t met any of them face-to-face (except for Jo Parfitt, who I met in Dubai) I feel I already know many of them through “meeting” them on Skype, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and email.  And I think I already know what Robin means by calling it a reunion of strangers, in that I already sense the common bond we share.

In case you’re thinking this will be a kumbaya event – just a bunch of expats reminiscing, or worse, moaning about how hard expat life is and how misunderstood we are – let me tell you that nothing could be further from the truth.  FIGT is focused on providing solid information and sharing research on what works and what doesn’t with not just expats, but also the myriads of people involved with those who relocate across cultures.  The participants include HR professionals, relocation companies, educators, expat coaches, corporations, missionary groups, members of foreign services, NGOs and of course the military, many themselves expats or former expats.

The group came together after the publication of “Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Between Worlds”, written by David Pollock and Ruth Van Reken (who will be attending this year’s conference).  They recognized that there was a need to continue the discussion on how moving around the world affected families and what happened to a child or an adult who lived, not in just one culture, but who was raised in several.  From that the idea for a unique annual conference was born.

Registration is now open.  I do hope I’ll see you there. 

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I got a job using Social Media

Actually I got two, one volunteer and one paid, and I must admit it’s been a big boost to my somewhat battered ego after a tempestuous and difficult year repatriating to Canada.

Like many people I joined Facebook quite a while ago but it was only when I repatriated in 2009 and had some time on my hands that I investigated LinkedIn and Twitter.  In fact job hunting was one of the main reasons for opening those accounts as almost every article I read told me how important networking through social media was becoming.

My first lucky break came via a Tweet from Jo Parfitt linking to a posting from Families in Global Transition who were looking for a volunteer to help them manage their social media presence.  It was a perfect fit for me.  Not only did it scratch my itch to do voluntary work, but it was related to expatriates, virtual (so I knew I could make a commitment even though my location might change), and coincided with my new interest in networking using the internet.   I still haven’t met anyone from FIGT in the real world – we communicate via Skype and email – but I’m looking forward to getting together with them at their next annual conference in Houston in March.  Through them  I’ve already connected with dozens of interesting expats, ex-expats and expatriate experts and learned a lot from their experiences.  As always, volunteer work is giving me back far more than I contribute.

But it doesn’t cover the bills, so I was still on the lookout for a paid opportunity.  Not easy when you’re in your late 50’s, haven’t worked in your home country for 14 years (including 10 years completely out of the paid workforce) and the world’s in the middle of a huge recession.  Still, fortune favours the bold and encouraged by my success I started tapping on the virtual shoulders of a few people on LinkedIn.  Having joined a whole host of groups on behalf of FIGT, I discovered I was now connected with literally hundreds of thousands of people and with a former career in real estate, combined with my expat experience, I thought relocation companies might be a good target.  Not all my polite requests for referrals were answered, but all it took was one, and soon my resume was being placed in the hands of someone directly responsible for hiring.  The wheels of corporations turn slowly, and I must admit that as the weeks drifted by after my first interview I assumed I wasn’t a suitable candidate, but then in late November I was summoned to a second interview and by the end of the day had a job offer in my inbox.  Wahoo, I did it!

What I’ve learned through these two experiences:

  • Writing online profiles is a really useful excercise in defining who you are and what you want.  Don’t expect to get it right first time; I still tweak mine from time to time.
  • Networking can be done from your living room.  I’d rather have root canal than walk into a room full of people I don’t know.
  • You can reach out to people even if you’re new in town or newly returned.
  • Strangers (not all, but most), as well as friends and former colleagues, will give you a helping hand.  Don’t be afraid to ask.
  • Networking and working, even as a volunteer, gives your self-esteem a huge boost and really helps you get over culture shock/re-entry shock.
  • Social media is an incredibly power tool.

Good luck to all those who are job hunting!

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Expat Christmas

All over the world expats are preparing to celebrate Christmas in another culture.  It can be a bittersweet experience, particularly for those who are away from home for the first time.  On the one hand you are missing friends, family and the familiar traditions of home.  But on the other hand there may be local customs you can join in and new friends who can sometimes seem as close as family due to shared experiences. 

Our first expat Christmas was held in Baku, in a predominantly Muslim country and where the few Russian Christians celebrate the Orthodox Christmas on January 7.  Most expats had left for vacation over the holiday period and the handful of us who remained decided to get together for a potluck Christmas dinner.  We had several nationalities attending and as a result had a wonderful range of dishes.  We had brought a birthday cake as my son is a “Christmas baby” and unable to find birthday candles in the local stores I’d brought a few small sparklers to light.  Unfortunately they sprayed with cake with metallic spots, but we just scraped off some of the frosting and ate it anyway!  After dinner we turned out the lights and sang carols by candlelight, a truly magical memory.

The next two Christmases were spent in the same rather grim temporary apartment in Dubai – the first time we were enroute to Cairo and the second time were enroute back to Dubai.  With all our household goods in transit, a mini pre-decorated Christmas tree on the coffee table had to suffice.

Subsequent Christmases in Dubai fared much better.  We made some very close friends and so always had someone to share Christmas Dinner with.  When our son headed off to university, he’d always visit us over the holidays which made it extra special.  And although you might not expect it to be so in a devoutly Muslim country, in fact Christmas is well celebrated in Dubai.  Many expats say there are more festivities and decorations than in their home countries, where political correctness has frowned them in recent years.

This year we’re celebrating in our home in Canada for the first time in 5 years.  I’m looking forward to pulling out my old tree decorations, some dating back to my childhood, but many purchased or given to us while living overseas.  There are the beautiful blown glass ones from Egypt, the delicate handmade lace ones from Azerbaijan, and the scruffily embroidered stocking I made in the UAE but which brings back happy memories of the “Stitch & Bitch” group which was such a support for me when I first arrived.  It’s going to be great to celebrate at home after so long away, but there will definitely be a toast to absent friends at my dinner table this year.

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