Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Most Stressful Times

 “It is not the destination where you end up but the mishaps and memories you create along the way!” Penelope Riley, Travel Absurdities

Long time #expats know the routine: you've taken a job that will require you to #relocate.  A few avid  travelers take pleasure imagining the possibilities and enjoy having to face the unknown but for most people, it's very hard to deal with change, to loose control over your environment and have to relearn to perform the most mundane tasks like buying food or taking a cab.

Some of the most #stressful life events (after death and serious illness) are those involving change: a relocation, a new job, a change in responsibilities, a new school, change in living conditions...  Hello!! once you've accepted your overseas assignment you and your family will face these stressful situations all at once and all of you at the same time.

Give it time.  The kids will make friends and you will figure out your commute. I've been in Italy for almost a year now and I can honestly say, that I am over the settling period and I'm having a blast.  I've made friends, the kids are really happy at school and my husband is also comfortable with his daily life.

There is so much to see in your new country!  If you are having a bad day, pretend you are a tourist and go out to see the sights, take some photos to send back home to your loved ones.  Join a tour, learn a bit about the culture.  It helps tremendously to learn a few phrases of the language of your host country.  In most places folks will be happy that you at least tried to say a few pleasantries in their language.

Be patient with your spouse and your children as they are too in adjustment mode.  If you have elementary age kids, try to go to school and participate as much as you can.  You will meet people, arrange play-dates for them and help them make friends.  If you have teenagers, it may be more difficult to help create friendships but some efforts can be made to introduce them to others in the same situation.  I've learned that most international schools are great at making the new students feel welcome.  They will find many other expats and TCKs (third culture kids) who know what it feels to be the new kid in town.

Once, I volunteered to help a new family who had just arrived to China a week before Christmas.  It was their first time living overseas and of course China is not the easiest of postings.  It took them a long time to be ready to explore and stop longing for their lives back home (oh Target, if you only knew how much you were missed).   By the time this family ended their four year tour, they all loved the lives they had built in China and up until now, we get together and talk with nostalgia about our time there.

We all adjust, each person just takes their own time to do it.  Good luck!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Getting Ready for the Big Move....

 “One's destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” Henry Miller

At  this point you know you #move is coming, arrangements have been made and the packers are scheduled to come next week.  What can you do to make your pack-out run smoothly?  Here are some tips that I have applied myself or that I have learned from fellow travelers:
Move #6. I was becoming a pro at this.  Of course it rained that day!
  • Do some organizing before the movers arrive.  Get rid of all the excess, donate, sell, recycle.  I know a friend that was surprised to unpack her filled garbage can at her new post.  I also know people that have paid excess weight fees only to throw away stuff once they receive their shipment at their new home.
  • Try to recruit some helpers, as much as you think you can do it alone, every time I've moved, the packing company has sent a crew to my house and believe me, you won't be able to be in all the rooms at the same time.
  • If you have small children, try to organize play dates or someone's help during the day(s) of your pack-out.
  • Are you moving to a place where you don't speak the language?  Save yourself some time by color coordinating your move.  Buy stickers of different color and assign each room of your hose a color.  My room is pink, kitchen is get it.  As the packer go through the house you will place the stickers on the boxes according to your color plan.  Once you get to your destination, you can tell the packers to place all the boxes with yellow stickers in the kitchen, all the boxes with pink stickers in your daughter's new room, etc.  It will be easier for you on the other end and even the children can participate and help.
  • Some folks travel to their destination to look for a house before the actual move.  If you are in that situation, make sure you take tons of pictures and measurements, if possible, so you can decide if certain furniture will even fit in your new home before shipping it.   I've found that it is useless to ship curtains as they never work from house to house.
  • Think about what will make you and your children happy the first few weeks in your new location.  I carry my recipe book in my suitcase.  Initially I feared all my recipes will be lost.  But I was also able to make some comforting and familiar food for my family if the day was particularly difficult.  Does your kid have a special blanket or toy?  Make sure it doesn't get packed so you can carry it with you.
  • I carry one of two framed pictures (preferable light or small ones) with me so I can place them in my new house and make it instantly homier.
  • Once you get to your new destination, don't rush, there is time.  I know people that have a few unopened boxes at the end or their tour.  Take it easy on yourself!
During my last move, I had to be back in the States for five months while my husband learned a new language for our future assignment.  I survived the first two months out of #suitcases.  Then we received a small air #shipment of 400 pounds, and lived the following three months out of that portion of my belongings.  By the end of that short stay back home, I realized I had not really missed the 20 foot containers that were in transit somewhere in the world.  Yes, my options were limited sometimes, but you manage.  It makes you realize that we don't need so much stuff to be happy.

Hope this helped.  Good luck with the move!!


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

You're a Different Person Every Time You Go Out...

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”  Marcel Proust

I didn't get it the first time I heard it: "You are a different person every time you go out" but in fact, it's true!

The first time we set out into our new overseas life I was in my twenties, we were newlyweds embarking into an adventure.  What can be better than that; we were young and ready to take life by the horns.  In preparation for our move I created an extensive spreadsheet labeling the contents of each box I packed.  The packers had it easy with me that time.

During our first assignment overseas I got pregnant and came back home to give birth to our wonderful son.  This child was flying to south east Asia when he was only six weeks old.  Talk about third culture kid (TCK)!

For our second assignment I was a new mom and expecting our second child.  Needless to say, I didn't pack anything myself and let the packers earn their money.  We were assigned to Venezuela, where I gave birth to TCK #2.  Our time in Caracas was all about diapers, bottles, pacifiers and teletubbies.

During our third posting our oldest was ready for pre-school.  We received a report card for the first time.  We were officially parents of school aged children.

I have been a working mom, a stay-at-home mom, a part-timer, a volunteer, I have worked in translation, finance, procurement and in public relations to name a few.

As we progressed in our life, back in the good old U.S. of A. our parents were getting older.  Every time we came back on vacation or for short stays, it was increasingly difficult to leave them behind.  There were issues we had to take care of that weren't a concern before.

Being an expat comes with many benefits.  If you have a passion for traveling you get to not only visit places most people only dream of, you actually get to live in them, immersed in the culture, learning, always learning: tolerance, open mindedness, patience, problem solving, language skills.

You also loose the conveniences of being home, of knowing what to do and where to go.  A level of comfort you can only have in the place where you fully belong.

But beware, once you've been out, once you've learned to live in a different society and you repatriate, you will be a different person when you come back.  Yes, you will look at your hometown and wonder why things aren't done differently, or what the big deal about a certain issue is.  You will be out of the loop regarding pop-culture (who's that actor? what is Glee again?). Your non-traveling friends won't be able to relate.

Yes, you are a different person every time you go out.  Time will take care of that.  You will be forever changed by your overseas experience.  Are you ready?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

My First Post Ever...

Red Vespa, Lazio, Italy

"The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page" Augustine of Hippo

Hello! Welcome to my first post!  

I have been traveling the world for over 15 years.  Every country in which I've lived or visited has been a brand new adventure and challenge.  I have enjoyed my time in each place and at the end of all my tours (mostly three year gigs) I have come to the realization that I would have been happy staying put in that particular country for the rest of my life.  That has never been an option, but this realization makes me believe that after some time in each country I have fully adapted and that I may have something to say to those who are traveling or living abroad for the first time.

Here I will post about my experiences, the good ones and the bad ones and share my insights, ideas and lessons learned.

I love food, so I will talk about that, maybe a recipe or two, certainly suggestions of restaurants or dishes you must try.  Discovering a new culture can be fun when you approach it from a fascinating angle like its food or traditions.

Another passion of mine is photography so I will include some of my work on that field.  Some sights are just breathtaking and will stay with me forever.  I look forward to sharing my photographs with you.

I want to tell you all that lots of soft skills are needed when facing and new system, one that you don't know but need to navigate in order to eat, shop, relocate and basically survive.  I hope you enjoy my insights, as I tell the stories of Gaby Around the World.

Peace out...