Category Archives: Upside Down Expat

Upside Down Expat Upside Down Mind

Fleeting Feelings: The Waiting Game

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attesa

My series of ‘fleeting feelings’ are short articles based on some of the emotions and stages we go through as an expat. This one is about how moving overseas can often feel like the ‘big thing’ we’ve been waiting or working for and why we should never give up creating our own destiny.

I recently reflected, in the first few years of moving overseas and subsequently having our daughter, that I spent a long time reacting and adapting. The changes so sudden, significant and unplanned, I took a tumble down the rabbit hole landing somewhat bruised and confused on the Australian sand with a baby in my hands. Of course finding my feet with the sand between my toes is an enviable position to behold and I was also filled with elation, excitement and gratitude.  Yet still, at some point through it all, I started to believe, subconsciously, that life was happening to me. That I wasn’t in control of my destiny.

In hindsight, I think I was overwhelmed with my reality.  And sometimes when we feel out of our depth, on some level we decide it will be easier if we relinquish some responsibility. So instead of purposefully guiding our lives we decide we’ll just see what happens next. We wait. And while through the ebbs and flows of life there are times this approach might be necessary, as a long term strategy it can cause a great deal of anxiety. Take it from me. Because life still shifts and shapes around us but if we’re not doing the shifting we’re being dragged along or drifting; trying to mold ourselves into the world that surrounds us rather than molding the world to match our desires.

So I considered all my life-defining moments and how the really big, exciting and magical times seemed to come as a complete and random surprise. But they have a common denominator. Prior to any big shifts were periods of intention and acceptance; where I wasn’t resisting anything in my present but at the same time preparing for the things I wanted to see in my future. Importantly I wasn’t holding any preconceptions of how I thought my life ought to be. I was chipping away at the things I didn’t like while, overall (life’s never without its problems), enjoying my life.

And I believe that it all comes down to intention. Intent, accompanied with even just tiny steps, surrounded by an infinite space full of potential and possibility takes us to an, often better than we imagined, reality. But if we spend too long waiting to ‘see’, or worse holding onto an idea of how our life ought to be, how will we ever find and create our opportunity?

And so over the past year or so I’ve taken back control. I’ve set new goals. I no longer feel like life is happening to me. I once again feel in charge of my own destiny. And while I now know my intention and manifestation won’t always be exactly the same, for the first time in a long time, I can’t wait to see what amazing things come my way again.

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Upside Down Expat Upside Down Mind

Fleeting Feelings: Missing Mum

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Mother and toddler

This is part of a new series of short ‘fleeting feelings’ articles based on the thoughts and emotions that often arise when we are living away from our families. This one is about missing our mums and parents, and understanding how it must feel to have their children live so far away from them.

My three year old daughter is growing fast.  I was recently watching her sleeping, as I so often do, and thinking about how watching our children ‘grow’ is a strange sentiment as a parent. The shifts in development are, while significant, so continuous that rarely do we see them entirely consciously.  It’s only looking back on photos, or in spare, rare, moments of reflection, that their leaps in development become so apparent. As I thought about this, I had a strong, yet imagined and momentary, visualisation of my daughter stood facing me fully grown, telling me she was leaving home. For a few seconds it felt like I was really there. I looked at her gorgeous face with her still curly hair. She was taller than me but still so much my treasured, innocent and adorable baby. And in that moment I experienced an intense physical sense of how I will feel when she’s ready to go. I felt a deep ache. But I realised that the real definition of a decent parent is the decision, when the time comes, to let them leave without expecting anything in return. Because if we are really the self-sacrificing, liberating and unconditionally loving parents we think we are, what begins as a largely selfish act must end with an entirely selfless one. We must find it deep within ourselves to let our children go and find themselves. Knowing that, while they will always be the centre of our world, we won’t always be the centre of theirs. And I thought about my own mum, and how it must feel to have your child emigrate. To have all those years with your child so close and then be away from them almost everyday. And I cried a little. Because while our mums (and parents) may not be the focus of our adult lives,  they are the most important and influential individuals of our lifetimes. And it’s the strongest, selfless and most successful mums that know, after many years of giving our guidance; for our grown children to fully grow, we must truly let them go.

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Upside Down Expat

Holding on to home

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Sunset Woman

Holding onto the past takes on a whole new meaning as an expat.

Our home, families and friends become etched into our minds as if frozen in time.

This gives an illogical yet inevitable illusion, of being able to, at some point, return. Yet, while we can once again geographically relocate, the place as we knew it no longer remains. Because what we pine is a period of time; a former feeling, phase and, unfortunately now, a fantasy.

It was on my last visit to England at my grandparents’ house where I considered how we can cling onto the past more tightly as an expat. My sister and I took my daughter upstairs to play with the same toys in the same room we had done so frequently in our infancy. It was the first time as adults we’d done this. After all there had been no need in the absence of a hyperactive child who now, after already having played extensively outside needed a distraction to stop her from going wild.

As we pulled out the familiar teddies, dolls and plastic figurines while reminiscing, I looked around and inhaled the view while trying to imagine how the place and memories would feel had I have stayed.

My eyes stopped on the signed picture still up on the wall of Simply Red singer, Mick Hucknall. A childhood friend of my Uncle Paul, he was a frequent visitor to our grandparents house and our own house was also back to back with his dads. And so his songs somewhat played the soundtrack to our childhood.

Immediately I hummed his song; ‘Holding Back the Years’ in my head. It seemed so aptly aligned with the weight of confusing emotions that accompany me on the journey I now tread; a part of my past; paused, packed away and carried everyday.

But when we hold on to the past we hold ourselves back;

The place

We can idealise our image of home in our head. Alternatively, we view things worse than they were. Or we might jump between the two, sometimes simultaneously, which is of course the place resided by those of us undecided. This manifests as excessive comparisons of circumstances, culture and country. Yet holding on tight to either belief can cause unnecessary grief as our now shifted perspective prevents us from being accurately reflective. As we’re unlikely to ever again experience the place as we once did. So rather than branding one place as  bad or better,  acknowledging, accepting and appreciating the benefits of both abodes brings a level of peace and gratitude we have two perfect places we’re fortunate enough to call home.

The people

Memories of the way we interacted with our families and friends at home can create a deep sense of loss that those times are now lost. Subsequent steps forward, such as settling, can feel like a betrayal; as if we’re somehow stepping further away. Yet its driven by a skewed view that everything is just as we knew. Its important to remember even had we stayed, their lives and ours would have changed anyway. And while they’ll always be a pull from our families and friends at home, instead of longing for the way things were, we can embrace the way things are more easily by making our families an everyday part of our experience in alternative ways.

Our prior selves

Quite often what we miss about our past life is our prior self. Largely because without uneasy expat emotions it was easier. Feelings like loneliness, longing, insecurity and guilt can sometimes feel intolerable, leaving us negative and vulnerable. In these instances it is tempting to trick our minds that before was perhaps a better time. But vulnerability is a pathway to resilience and personal progression. And it’s only when we become comfortable with being uncomfortable, rather than clinging to our prior in-the-comfort-zone personality, we allow ourselves to grow much more dramatically.

Moving countries can create a divide that runs far deeper than the ocean that lies between them. It disconnects us more definitively and distinctly from our past, creating a gulf of emotion that can leave us feeling heart wrenchingly detached.

We cling to yesteryear, a part of us longing for the way things were. It’s a notion rooted in fear; of feeling further away from our prior selves and our families. But the past is gone regardless of where we live, so holding onto this fear only holds back our years.

We must instead find a way to fully integrate our yesterday into our today.

Because just as the beautiful colours created by the sun are only seen when night and day convene, and the rainbow only appears when both rain and sun are here; we can only find inner happiness and peace when we allow our past and future to meet; in our present.

Its only here, no longer holding on, that we find release.

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Upside Down Expat

The expat phases of friendship

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Group of young people siting and looking outside from yacht. Back view.

One of the most exciting things about moving overseas is cultivating new connections. Yet it can also be one of the most challenging. This post looks at some of the challenges when creating an entirely new set of mates, particularly other expatriates.

Every night since our month long trip to England, right before she falls asleep, my daughter asks ‘tell me my story’

The story goes like this;

‘India crossed the ocean on a big aeroplane from Australia to England to see her family and friends. She saw nanna, grandad, aunty gem gem, nanna babs, grandad bert, uncle ben, aunty jen, cousin libby’…the list goes on.

My precious girl listens wide eyed while sucking her thumb, the corners of her mouth a touch upturned creasing the baby faced cheeks of her beautiful face.

If I forget someone, she reminds me. Her memory astounds me.

She’s only three but the connections she made and maintains, no matter the distance, already form a fundamental understanding of her place in life.

This is her story.

Because it’s the people we connect with and the experiences we share that create our narrative.

But when we start a new life overseas, we leave our backstories behind. It’s exciting, yet it can also cause confusion.

As while bonds back home are developed over decent durations and solid foundations; from neighbourhoods, studies and work, expat connections are cultivated more quickly. And in the depths of social scarcity they carry undercurrents of expectation and uncertainty.

With two moves (Perth & Melbourne) in two consecutive years, I essentially experienced the exhilaration of emigrating twice. Still in my twenties, I formed friendships over drinks, dancing and adventures.  It was fabulous fun and I have fantastic memories.

But riding the waves of elation often lacks deliberation. And I’ve learned more about myself and others than perhaps I ever did prior. Here’s how my journey went;

In the same boat

For expats, quickly cultivating connections is crucial for survival. The easiest way to do this is by making fellow expat mates. Through networking groups, friends of friends or work, if we put ourselves out there we can find ourselves going on, slightly awkward, dates with other expatriates. These friendships form fast. As the need to connect can catapult us into a best friend state of mind in a very short space of time. But unfortunately, when made this fast many are not destined to last…

Choppy waters

When the honeymoon is over and in my case, through pregnancy and childbirth, the party too, life starts to settle and friends are sought on a less superficial level.  The expat association isn’t enough. Conflicting characteristics come into view. And, unfortunately, while we may now share social circles and experiences, many lack the essential elements required for a lasting friendship. Mismatches may have been missed, too much disclosed or individuals ignorantly integrated into our crowd. When foundations are as wobbly as an Englishman perched on a paddle board, fallouts and phaseouts begin. Group gripes can also give in. However….

Your crew

If we’re lucky we’re left with those that we love. And overseas, as our strongest sense of support, they become a substitute for family. These friendships flourish far faster than connections cultivated in our country of birth. Because when we’re stuck in the same sea of solitude, we keep each other afloat.  But then…

Ships in the night

Just when we’re acquiring social circle security, some of our besties say bye.  Because the downside of nurturing expatriate mates is, with a life elsewhere and a once-done now more workable wanderlust, they’re more likely to make another move. Watching them leave can trigger a tidal wave of emotion and homesickness leaving us wading without a life jacket. Because they take with them a sense of our security.  And I’ve found, if they go home, I’ve more deeply doubted my decision to be departed. However…

Smooth sailing

After habituating in my host country a while, I’ve also cultivated harder to break native mates. Formed over a slower duration on a foundation of everyday activities and familiarity, rather than one common-expat- characteristic, they have developed in a more traditional way. These connections have helped me better integrate into my host community, culture and country. And while my British buddies are still my besties, a balance of both has given me an extra sense of stability.

There’s an irrefutable impermanence when creating a new life overseas.

Friendships form, flourish or fail far faster than in our hometowns. And the transiency of life is also more frequent in a foreign land.

Yet while we may sail through many choppy waters, the more changeable and challenging they are, the more we learn how to spot capsizing risks, our anchors and sailing budddies from afar.

It can be an uncomfortable ride but forever opens our minds to new people, places and possibilities. We also better select and appreciate those we would like to stay for a long time.

And we all want an amazing plotline.

So write it well and if it lacks love, laughter or a feel good factor, never be afraid to edit, re-write and repeat.

After all, we never know which characters we have yet to meet.

The End.

You probably found my post through Facebook which is an amazing way to share content but also risky as sometimes paid posts and advertising are given preferential visibility  – so if you enjoy reading my free posts on expat related topics and don’t want to miss them visit my home page and sign up by email. 

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Upside Down Expat

Yearning for yesterdays yuletides

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Tis the season to be jolly. But for many, the festivities lead to feelings of longing and loneliness. This post is particularly written for expats but applies to anyone feeling a little dread this Christmas.

My memories of Christmas are magical.

Common customs of stockings stuffed with satsumas, carrots and mince pies for a Santa and Rudolph snack and whopping piles of presents made the festivities as a kid the absolute best.

And as an adult I maintained the festive zest.

I loved the build-up; the Christmas markets, parties and everything sparkly. And the day; excitedly exchanging gifts, munching the much loved merry meal and, later, gathering at my grandparents’ for games, nibbles and more merriness.

I was so resolute in retaining this ritual with relatives I would react with dismay at any suggestion of an overseas getaway.

Until I left life in England for Australia.

And now, after five years, as the season descends, starting to surface is an all too familiar feeling of dread. Every year a wave of homesickness seems to sneak up whacking me hard across the back of my head.

However, after four years of family-free festivities, I’ve found ways to dissipate the dull ache:

Remove the rose-tinted glasses: While I still desire much of the tradition now missing, it’s easy to view memories with glasses that are partially pink. It’s a flawed way to think. Because, while the family part still fully claims my heart, the reality of England includes chaotic Christmas shopping and, after the day is over, miserable months getting darker and colder. So when reminiscing our spectacles ought to project a clear and transparent visual. Because, in Australia for example, we enjoy a sunnier and more relaxed ritual.

Embrace the differences: Lifelong traditions are hard to let go because they’re all we know. It’s strange to see sun-drenched Christmas trees. And the hot weather, light nights and boring build-up is a disconcerting disparity to the British sea of festivity.  However, a sentimental state of mind can cause us to try and re-create Christmases gone by. Yet this only cultivates the contrast. It makes more sense to create new traditions and embrace alternative events. And in Australia with free festivals, long breaks and wicked weather, it’s the season to sparkle in the sun!

Give up the guilt: The guilt can weigh on us as heavily as Santa’s sack. Especially when we know our family wants us back. However, unlike Father Christmas, it’s not always possible to fly around the world to hand deliver gifts. And worrying about everyone else’s experience is a waste of energy that will only impact the ones we’re with.  Importantly, we should remember we’re just one little elf who’s main responsibility is ourselves.

Be thankful for your family, no matter where they are:  Frankly, I’ve found no way to fend off feelings of missing family. And I’ve realised I don’t want to. I miss them and the family festivities gone by. So I honour my emotions and have a little cry.  But I remind myself while we won’t be near this year, we will still share some Christmas cheer, exchanging gifts and speaking over skype. And it won’t be long before we set another date to celebrate.

Think of those alone:   The recent John Lewis ad featuring an elderly, lonely man on the moon looking longingly at earth struck a chord. Because half way round the world where the merriments are minimal we can look in at the festivities on facebook feeling faraway and forgotten.  If we listen hard enough right now we can probably hear Santa’s elves feebly fingering the scrawny strings of their super small violins. Because it should also remind us, if we’re spending it with just one person we love, we’re luckier than a lot. And while I don’t believe comparing is constructive since struggles are implicitly individual, the notion can help rationalise emotion.

Erase expectations: Expectation at Christmas, and in life, creates discontent. The festive season especially can shroud us in a thick fog of ‘should be’s’ and woeful wishes.  But when we focus on how it ought to be, we resist our reality and become trapped in a gap of turmoil. Yet by erasing expectation, the gap goes, setting us free to enjoy reality.

And so being on the other side of the world away from loved ones and treasured traditions can cast a dark cloud over a light and sunny season.

But battling the blues is not just an expat experience. Christmas for many frequently fosters longing, lamenting and loneliness.

It’s a painful reminder of loss and what once was.

Yet, while we should never suppress our sadness, if we let memories of yesterday’s yuletide take over, we wash away our today with the tide. And how do we know this year we’re not more fortunate than in the future?

Nevertheless, it’s not uncommon at Christmas to be feeling a little blue. So the one gift we mustn’t forget to give this year is happiness.

And make sure the recipient is you.

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Me and my little sis loved Christmas as kids! 

Upside Down Expat

Making memories down memory lane

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beautiful hipster young women sisters friends

Expat sprees to see friends and family are surreal.

As after a while away our home and histories feel familiar and foreign simultaneously.

For me, stepping into my native Manchester feels like walking onto a set of Coronation Street. The strong accents, terraced streets and grey skies are a stark contrast to the life I’ve adapted to in Australia. It’s weird because the place is constantly on my mind. Yet suddenly it’s like seeing it for the first time.

This destination disparity is new emotional territory. As it’s not just the country contrast between our motherland and adopted place that makes it at first feel unreal.Visiting the place now in our past to see people that are still so much a part of our present is a strange situation that can evoke unsettling sensations.

Because expats lead a double life. Our feet are walking a new path yet we keep a constant hand in our old lives. Rarely does a day go by without thinking of home or some contact over Skype, Facebook or the phone.

So while amazingly exciting, going back can bring forward overwhelming emotions of nostalgia, homesickness and uncertainty of where we belong.

Here’s what I’ve found on my three trips over five years to the UK:

Stage fright: No matter who and where we’re meeting there’s a build-up to the first greeting. At the airport gate there’s an air of anticipation that can make it feel a fraction like a first date! It’s a paradoxical place to feel a little apprehensive to face the friends and family we’re most comfortable with. But it’s always short lived regardless of the length we’ve been away. And it’s a remarkable revelation to find with most we’re just as close. And in many cases even more so.

A new set: Viewing a different town for a time means we see our old city through a new lens. Visiting England from Australia is like stepping out of a library into Primark on a Saturday afternoon! As while once entirely normal, England’s dense population, narrow roads, stacked buildings and grey skies against Australia’s stretched out residents, open spaces, wide roads and blue skies can feel chaotic, claustrophobic and closed in. Not to mention cold!

A changing cast: Much like the place, we see our old crowd and community with fresh eyes. Suddenly our dad looks 60[1], the dog got fat and our brother is an irritating prat. But we view the virtues and quirky qualities in people as if they were new too; our sister’s chirpy chattering and our unique union, the panacea of our parent’s and grandparent’s presence and the fabness of our friends. When we live half way round the world we gain a whole new appreciation of the traits of our most treasured.

Under pressure: Under the spotlight, on a short timeframe and battling jetlag, there’s a little stress when we want to be and make it the best. We maintain a mental tally of missed milestones and who we’ve not yet met. All the while we want to maximise our time resulting in running round like a tourist in our traditional towns. Particularly as, while it doesn’t feel like a holiday, we’re likely using all our holidays!

High expectations: We realise that, while less visible since we’re no longer near, problems don’t just disappear. The first time it may be difficult to deal with dynamics when we’re set on savouring the specialness. But it’s important to note we’re having a temporary experience in other peoples’ permanent place rather than a holiday escape!

Feeling like an extra: We can feel like outsiders. Because we’re a guest in everyday lives we’re no longer a daily part of. And our expat life can suddenly feels non-existent! However when our presence is infrequent we also receive fantastic special treatment! And it’s a relief to replace intermittent expat isolation for the constant and calming company of our clan.

Fantasies of returning: Whether decided our new place is permanent or frustratingly fixed on the fence it’s hard to fantasize of how we would fit in once again. Buts it’s impossible to accurately judge the place while living out of a case!

Nostalgia: While away, past times replay like an old sitcom in our mind. The melancholy can be painful as we ponder if we’ll repeat old patterns again. Absorbing it back on old ground can bring days gone by to the surface. Yet the ache dissipates. And instead we may start to feel a trace of longing for our new place.

Homeless at home: On the first or second visit, there’s realisation and regret there’s a part of us we’ll never regain. That feeling of comfortableness, contentedness and community, a presumed disposition we don’t predict will be misplaced, is now as obscure as Gail Platt’s chin.  Even if we were to return there would always be a yearn. Because, although a pleasure and privilege, when we have two homes we become inevitably incomplete in both.

There’s no doubt expat expeditions to see friends and family are exhilarating. Yet they can also be daunting, exhausting and emotional.

As in our adopted countries we’ve adapted to new roles. And while attributes comprise homesickness, nostalgia and displacement, we’ve played the part so many times we’ve learnt the lines by heart.

But at home we play a cameo role. On a set we’re now less comfortable with, leaving us stumbling over the script.

Yet that’s the price we pay once we’ve opened our hearts and minds to a new life and way. As we experience more than one wonderful world.

So with a lump in our throat we say goodbye while trying not to cry.

But we take with us a magical memory reel of taking tourist trips, swapping sentimental gifts, snatching special squeezes and sharing treasured chats and precious laughs. Not forgetting getting downright Deirdre Barlowed!

We hold on to these moments hoping they’ll compensate for lost time.

And we play them on repeat…

Until the next memorable time we meet.

You probably found my post through Facebook which is an amazing way to share content but also risky as sometimes paid posts and advertising are given preferential visibility  – so if you enjoy reading my free posts on expat related topics and don’t want to miss them visit my home page and sign up by email. 

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[1] I suspect my dad doesn’t read these, but just in case; I’m only joking!!!

Upside Down Expat

Different Country; Different You

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Jump to the freedom

When we become an expat, we are suddenly away from all we know and everything we used to be. But it’s in the reconstruction of our identity that we can discover our authenticity. This article is for anyone who has moved overseas and felt lost from loss, only to be set onto a path of self-discovery. 

Stifling howls of laughter at my three year old daughter endearingly howling Let It Go from Disney’s Frozen I couldn’t help but relate the song to the expat journey.

For those that may have also spent the last few years hiding away on a cold icy mountain, the story of Frozen and signature song ‘Let it Go’ goes like this: two princess sisters; one (Elsa) has a special power to freeze things with her fingers. Following an accidental misuse of her powers when they are kids she’s forced to hide herself and her icy fingers away. Until one night in front of the whole town she rows with her sister and exposes her hidden power. She freezes the town by mistake, runs away to a big icy hill, unleashes her powers and sings Let It Go.

On the mountain away from it all, she can finally be herself without judgement or fear. She’s freezing, but it’s worth it because she’s free to finger freeze whatever she feels like! She’s liberated. And the cold never bothered her anyway.

After hearing the song somewhere in the region of seven hundred times, I started to think how taking off from everything you know can take us closer to knowing ourselves.

Because being an expat produces profound questions of identity. Overnight everything we used to be (career, family, friends, home, possessions) is gone suddenly.

But it’s in the dissecting of our self-definition that can lead to new decisions about who we want to be.

There are a few things that can trigger this avalanche of self-discovery;

No-one knows you

A strong sense of self is somewhat reliant on alignment between our ‘self’ belief and how we believe we’re perceived. So it’s virtually impossible not to have some of our identity defined by the people around us. But when no-one knows us, there are no long-held perceptions or misconceptions of how we ought to be. This can give the freedom to portray perhaps previously prevented parts of our personality.

Faraway family

Losing constant connection with family can leave us feeling occasionally lost. Especially if an integral part of our identity. However, flying far from home can give the freedom to find our feet. Away from the beliefs we bore, positions we played or expectations we exerted; the distance can help us dissect the difference between our traditional roles and a truth that can only be ascertained from total independency.

Familiar friends

Long-held forever friends give us a strong sense of safety, security and stability. However, when long-term dynamics don’t differ we’re probably not perceptive of parts we play.  Overseas, cultivating new connections catapults us from our comfort zone. And, while striving to find a new social identity can instill some insecurity, navigating unaccustomed conducts creates a consciousness of our character and can uncover concealed qualities we may not have previously shared, or have even been aware of.

Changing career

It’s not uncommon for a career loss to cripple. Not surprising as many of us glean our self-esteem from work.  And while for expats a relocation arrangement is a likely step up,  for travellers or partners it’s a probable step down. Either way, there’s likely a vast variation. But it’s change that challenges our choices, which can lead to a discovery of a passion we need to nurture, no matter the nature.

Home and possessions

While it’s often not difficult to detach from houses and possessions, quite often they are an internal expression. So when we leave behind our things and place, we can at first feel a little out of place. But we can hold on to things for too long. So starting again can mean the application and some invigoration and inspiration to our external manifestations.

Doing things differently

Stuck in the same city can see us in a subconscious cycle of activity. We may rarely have ruminated if life was a real reflection of what we’d  have liked. In the early expat days of expat exploration and excitement we’ll likely try new things and may uncover neglected pursuits. Or ones we never knew. And with some self-identification based on the things we do, just doing things once can induce a different self-view.

Culture

At home, emerged in everyday culture, we experience a sense of belonging. But navigating the nuances of a new nation can leave us feeling like an outsider. New social etiquettes, expectations, demeanours, and perceptions; we can misunderstand and be misunderstood. However, experiencing a new society can make us more forward thinking as new ways challenge our traditional traits.

Alone time

Spending time alone is an expat-inevitability. Even with constant company, with our inner circle on the opposite side of the globe, there’s a lack of unconditional back up. But it’s during these periods we can look within and become comfortable in our own skin. And while an equal balance of interaction and introspection is important, solo situations give us space for self-reflection.

Expat association

Everyone who emigrates immediately earns the expat identity. And with this we adopt identity enhancing associated traits and perceptions; courageous, adventurous and independent. When we identify with traits we tend to repeat more of the same. So we are likely be encouraged to do braver and bolder things again.

Of course it’s not just us expats who question our identities. Losing things no matter our location can often take away a part of us. But as an expat we lose several segments simultaneously. And since a strong sense of self provides security and stability, this can take us into a void of vulnerability.

Yet the flipside of the coin is the freedom to live life on a different currency.

Because overseas, away from familiar roles and what we think others think we should be, we become conscious of the construction of our identities.And as we rebuild our reality, we strive to feel whole, so seek out situations that stimulate our soul. It’s during this process we can discover what lies at our core. And it can also lead to a recognition that it’s only through maintaining balance and detachment that keeps our identity secure.

Because the winds will change again as they always do, and our exterior will break away. But while we may crack, we won’t collapse; our foundation won’t sway.

We’ll let it go

Because we know, wherever we now go, we will live life authentically.

And finally, we’re free.

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The Decision Dilemma

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Home is where the heart is. A cliché with a lot of truth. But what if our heart is in two places, or more? This post unpacks some of the considerations for expats attempting to reach a decision on a long-term future.

The journey of an expat begins with a full case, bags of anticipation and a pocketful of trepidation.

It can also lack a little foresight.

As while many go on to create an amazing life that better suits, leaving behind strong roots can result in both homes feeling incomplete.

Even those who decided before departing can find this reality presents a predicament.

Because, while a great privilege to be able to pick a country to reside, having more than one possibility can, for many, create an emotional divide.

The result is the common phenomena of expat ambivalence. Where caught within the confines of two minds, long-term plans linger in limbo and decisions are difficult to decipher.

It’s confusing and complicated because;

Pros and cons don’t cut it

While the overseas pro list is often longer, the home pros are stronger, making it impossible to compare. Long pros don’t compensate for the longing we feel for family. And so for life-changing decisions it becomes clear that comparing lists blurs the emotions behind them.  So then we move to mulling over what mirrors our values. However….

Vying values

Basing our toughest choices on our strongest values is a robust approach. But when our most defining values are divided it’s a catch 22 making reaching a decision difficult. For example, strong family values with loved ones faraway contrasting with, say, a relaxed attitude at odds with the rat race of our birthplace. This classic case of dissonance can cripple even the most compos mentis of minds. So if our values are split, it’s also worth assessing…

What’s right for us

Whether simmering under the surface or intermittently intense, every expat experiences an element of guilt. Sorrow at leaving loved ones behind, regret they’re not part of our present, and worry what the future holds without them. It’s therefore important to consider, if no-one got hurt, what would we do? But then again, this is difficult when we’d be hurt too. So maybe we can try…

Visualising our future

Perhaps the easiest and most effective method of deciding what our heart desires. If it rings true that picturing ourselves in one place years from now is impossible to do, it may be our truth calling. Because reality begins in our mind. So a lack of visual projection may be a sign that it’s not what we’d like to find in our future. However, when we can imagine both, or none, then we should realise…

Not deciding is deciding

Being undecided, but not acting, is ultimately deciding. We should consider if  undecided in our head, our heart is deciding instead. We can trust it, go with the flow, live in the moment and wait until we ‘know’ And  if we finally get to that place, we should remember…

Owning our decision

Both options undoubtedly have their challenges. Repatriating is almost certainly harder than expatriating, and remaining an expat will always elicit a little emptiness. However, when we make a big decision we create, sometimes subconscious, reasons to reinforce it. Through cognitive dissonance, we minimise any regret we may have.  So when we choose, eventually our psychological sanity switch will flick and we’ll convince ourselves we made the right decision. Even if we didn’t!

So, when an expats mind is split, there really is no simple solution.

Because it’s not just deciding where to live. It’s deciding what we can live with and exist without.  It’s facing being far away from family forever or turning our back on a way of life we now know to be better.

And wherever we land for the long-haul we’ll forever carry a little extra baggage. The ‘what ifs’ of a life we once knew, or for an important part of our life that changed us.

But ‘what ifs’ mean we had options.

So while our case may end up a little battered and bruised, we will never regret that it was used.

If only we could just unpack it.

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Nightmare Neighbours

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Spiders, snakes and sharks…oh my!  Is the reality of being neighbours with the wildlife down under really as bad as you imagine? This post describes what it’s really like living next door to some of Australia’s notorious natives.

Growing up, I had a reccurring nightmare of a giant hybrid spider.

The ‘Dr C Wasp’ was half giant spider; half giant wasp, who visited in my sleep when the spider catcher (aka my dad) was away.

Armed with a red plastic racket, my mum would attempt in vain to kill the ‘Dr C Wasp’ while my sister and I looked on in terror.

It was indestructible.

So, twenty odd years later, when moving to Australia, I thought of the Dr C Wasp.

Was my nightmare about to come true?!

Because while Australia is known for its hot weather and stunning scenery, it’s also known for it’s unusual animals and creepy crawlies.

And with scary spiders topping the topic of conversation prior to the move, I was feeling uneasy about encountering an eight legged Aussie.

But are they really that bad?

Here is a rundown of some of the notorious and nightmare neighbours, or housemates, you’ll have in Australia.

The nasty neighbours

Spiders. The neighbour you dread bumping into. Redbacks, whitetails and huntsmen. I’ve come face to face with the ugly blood suckers more times than I care to remember. It has tended to happen a few times a year, and has done absolutely nothing to quell my fear. However, the thought of them lurking in the shadows is moderately tolerable, because, contrary to popular belief, they don’t hunt down humans to feast on. And, chances are, if you do get bitten, you’ll live.  [1]

The lurkers

Snakes. The neighbours you know are there but thankfully bumping into one is rare. In urban areas the chance of catching a glimpse of one is slim to none, while on rural land it’s not uncommon to hear their rustles in the bushes. But again, it’s ok because they don’t intentionally hunt down humans. Which buys you some time. To run. Fast. [2]

The scary neighbours

Sharks. The neighbours waiting for someone to step on their lawn so they can launch an attack. You might want to tread Australian water carefully with these petrifying predators at sea. They kill an average of three people a year, and injure many more. And while the risk may seem low, unless you have a death wish I wouldn’t go more than waist high. I personally prefer to paddle. [3].

The famous neighbours

Kangaroos. The notorious neighbours everyone wants a glimpse of. But while tourists hop off the plane expecting a kangaroo to bounce by, these eminent emblems tend to skip around out of town. You’ll find plenty of ‘roo’s on roadtrips, or at their local hangouts (parks and woodland), and can usually get a close up look. But while mostly mild mannered, it’s worth knowing they have a good right hook, and will throw a paw punch or powerful kick if intimidated. [4]

The noisy neighbours

Birds. The neighbours with a perpetually prominent presence. From the striking cockatoos, paraquets and galahs to the more common magpies, crows or plovers; the birds in Australia are proud and loud and not at all intimidated by humans.  [5] Their distinct calls will stir you from your morning haze, and you’ll be confronted by the backyard birds everyday; and want get out of their way. It’s not uncommon to be chased or attacked in chick season. And attempts to feed the ducks will see you ganged up on by a gaggle of goggle eyed geese.

The party animals

Possums. The lively neighbours bringing the house down every night with their antics. Messy, noisy and destructive, they sleep nestled in the trees throughout the day, and come alive outside your house at night.  [6] They’ll scurry across your rooftop, scramble across your fence and scare the life out of you on a regular occasion. But while to many a pest, I’m particularly partial to the placid party animals, with ‘Paul’ my part-time pet.

The layabout stoners

Koalas. The neighbours that when you attempt to chat, you get little back. You’ll be fascinated when you first feast your eyes on one, but quickly bored when you realise they do nothing more than gorge on gum leaves. And while a myth they get high on eucalyptus, they are low-energy lazybones who crash out for up to 20 hours a day! The magnificent marsupials (not bears) can be found in captivity all over Australia but it’s far more satisfying to discover them in the wild in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria or South Australia.[7]

There are of course many more wonderful creatures you could come across; emus, wombats, wallabies, platypuses, goannas, kookaburras, quokkas and tasmanian devils, to name a few.

Thankfully, the Doctor C Wasp isn’t one of them.

But, whether feral friend or foe, the quirky creatures down under are part of what makes Australia so unique.

And with a little space and understanding, it’s highly unlikely you’ll have any problems with your new neighbours.

You may even become good friends.

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Land of Oz Lingo

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Eh, what did you just say?! Communicating overseas can be challenging. And, while English, the wacky words down under can cause a lot of confusion! This is for anyone who would like to get a better understanding of the lingo in the Land of Oz.

Lay in the Australian dentist chair; numb gums, white knuckles and dribble down my chin, I sat up and apologised, as we British do.

 ‘I’m sorry for being a wet lettuce’

The dentist and nurse fell about laughing. I would have laughed too if my face wasn’t so fat from the filling. Because, believe it or not, ‘wet lettuce’ is not part of the lingo in the Land of Oz.

For those not familiar, wet lettuce is a northern English term describing someone who’s not very brave. Which, when it comes to the dentist, I definitely am not.

It is communication that is perhaps one of the biggest challenges of moving overseas. Particularly if you have to learn a new language. But, in the English speaking South Pacific, you’d be forgiven for thinking things would be smooth sailing. Yet, while for the most part things are, quirky British idioms and the wacky words used by the Aussies commonly create linguistic-language barriers.

Australian vernacular is a smorgasboard of shortened words and o’ing (arvo, righto, servo), rhyming slang and bewildering sayings, that have proved a never-ending source of conversation starters, awkwardness, and entertainment.

Their questionable figure of speech can, at least the first time, render you speechless. For instance, a small talk convo (conversation) could potentially go like this:

Friendly Aussie; ‘How you going’?

Grumpy Aussie; ‘I’ve got the shits’

Friendly Aussie; ‘No dramas’

You see, the grumpy Aussie is just in a bad mood.

The cuisine can also cause a little confusion. My once beloved crisps are chips, and crappy ones at that, no Quavers or Discos here, standard chips; hot chips, sweets; lollies, courgette; zucchini and the aubergine an eggplant. Crucially, unless you want the sneeze-inducing variety of pepper on your sanger (sandwich), you’d better get your tongue around capsicum (bell pepper).

It also took me a while to realise the Aussies can, at times, find my accent hard to understand. But when lunch is lanch, no; na, mum; mom, bus; bass, down; darn and duck; dack too, I strongly suspect this is down to our difference in opinion on what constitutes an a, o, and u.

There is also some diversity in the footwear department. At home, wellies headline the shoe show, to their gumboot counterparts down under which are more of a once-a-year wonder. Unless you live in Melbourne! And while UK flip-flops rarely see the light of day, Aussie thongs are worn practically all year long; on the feet of the men tucked up tight in their budgie smugglers.

But, while some things induce a belly laugh and others prompt a groan, my favourite word of all has to be the word used for bedding. Because they call it Manchester. Meaning every night I am, in theory, snuggled up at home.

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