It's home when we are together

13 Pieces of Advice for New Expats

When mummy Wanderlust was here visiting us in the summer she commented on how settled we seem. She’s always admired how we make the most of where we are. And she asked what I would say to new expats arriving here (or anywhere) for the first time.

Settled?

I don’t think you can ever be truly settled in a place that you know you’ll leave. We’ve always known we were leaving other places but this place is different. Because we can’t stay.

As far as we can be I guess we are pretty settled. I am pretty proud of how we get on with things wherever we are. We do make the most of it, whether we want to be there or not.

And we always end up enjoying the experience.

13 Pieces of Advice for New Expats

1. Get Out of the House

Do it and do it every day.

Now I get it. In some places this is easier said than done. If you’ve moved to a place where you need to drive everywhere, you mightn’t be able to drive straight away or even ever. It might be a mission to leave the house and get somewhere else. You might live on a compound and have very little reason to leave on a day to day basis.

The advice still stands! Take a walk or get in the car and drive around. The first day I got a car I drove it round our compound with Thing 1 and we had a blast! 2.5 years into our assignment I still stick to this rule. The odd day on compound now is a fun relaxing time, not a cause for cabin fever.

A change of scene can really do you the world of good.

2. Be Spontaneous

Say yes. Say yes to everything.

Go out when you don’t want to. Accept that invitation to coffee or dinner or a play date. It gets you out of the house (check off advice no 1!) but it also gets you talking to people and making friends. It works both ways too… My friend Laura (of Life With Baby Kicks) sent out a distress signal when she arrived here not knowing anyone and I invited her for coffee having read one blog post. She was spontaneous in accepting but you know what? I was pretty spontaneous in inviting her too. Its not the sort of thing I do every day but I did it that day and we would be 4 friends down if I hadn’t. Not to mention my blog would have a different name (her husband thought it up and I love it!). To be honest I might not even have a blog at all!

You just never know what might happen today so just say YES!

When you say yes great things happen!
When you say yes great things happen!

3. Be Adventurous and Brave

Get stuck in!

My point is that you have made the decision to leave your comfort zone so make it fun! Make it an adventure! Get to know the culture. Do something or go somewhere you would never have done or gone to if you had stayed at home. Try new food or learn a new language. Do the exploring that you should have done at home but never did because it would always be there. There’s a stereotype about trailing spouses but I can assure you these days it’s very rarely true.

There have been so many times when I have left a location saying “I wish I had…”. Despite my best intentions I know that will happen again this time but only because my list is too long, not because I took the time for granted.

4. Be Friendly and Kind

You never know what sort of a day someone is having. They might have just received bad news from home. Their kid might have been up all night. They might be waiting on the next job move news. Or they might just be having a bad day. Everyone has bad days sometimes and bad days can seem so much worse when you’re far from home. Whatever the reason, most people are not intrinsically bad people and you can make their day better by extending a helping hand or just a smile.

The expat community is a super friendly and supportive community on the whole. When I had to go home for a family emergency last summer play dates were arranged my absence. Meals appeared on my doorstep and my kids got picked up from school… I hope it goes without saying that I look to repay those kind deeds wherever I can (and I tried to pay then forward before).

Random acts of kindness go a long way and will never work against you.

5. Avoid Negative People

Now. All that being said about being nice to people…There are SO many awesome people to meet on the expat trail.

BUT there are some people who are just going to complain about everything. That might be because of the situation they are in or it might be the type of person they are. You might know their background or you might meet them in passing and never know their story. It doesn’t matter. You don’t need negative people in your life at any time but you especially don’t need them when you are a new expat.

I still remember meeting the first people who we felt were genuinely having a brilliant time here. We’d only been here for 3 weeks when we met them and asked them how they found it. And instead of the slow inhale, lack of eye contact and mumbling about “yeah…its great…I mean it is what you make of it”… We got “We LOVE it!” with a bucket load of enthusiasm and 2 bright unwavering smiles. I immediately knew we needed them in our lives and I asked for her phone number on the way out. (Don’t think you could do that? See number 3 – be brave!!!) (PS Thanks Gemma!)

6. Be Positive

Negative people can bring you down but you can bring yourself down too. Look for the positives in the life around you. Life here isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination but then again, where is it? There’s always 2 ways to look at things.

Gave up your career to move? Enjoy the time to pursue a new career or interest. Or be grateful for time spent with your kids.

Feeling far away from family and friends? Think of some super cool places you could meet them for a holiday. Can’t understand the locals? Take lessons and learn a new language. Missing the sport that you did at home but can’t do here? Take up a new one or learn a new hobby.

7. Let Yourself Whinge

We all have off days whether it is here or at home. Bottling it up doesn’t help and being Polly Positive about everything get annoying to everyone – including you! Have a vent but do it and move on. Don’t get caught up in those conversations that spiral and whip up negativity and discontent.

8. Find Your Tribe

They are there. I PROMISE!

Sometimes you’ll meet them in the first few weeks. Sometimes you’ll have to look for them. But they are there and you will find them.

Your tribe will understand you, let you vent, pick you up when you’re down and feed your kids when you’re exhausted. They will celebrate with you when your kid learns to swim or ride a bike and will love your kids as much as your time at home does. They will be there to whinge and they might even go on holiday with you if you’re lucky!

I have a regular breakfast date with 2 other people who arrived at the same time as me. One of the group calls it their therapy. We joke about it…but (for me at any rate) it’s true!

In all my international moves I have arrived wondering how on earth I could make friends that were as good as at home or in X location. Sure enough I turn around after a few months to find my kid of people are already in my circle.

And I’m already realising how hard it will be to say goodbye.

9. Be Realistic

We leave our homes and go where we don’t understand the language. We don’t understand the health system and we certainly don’t get the processes and bureaucracy. Home is remembered as somewhere where it is easy to live, where we know the quirks of the systems and have grown up living and breathing cultural norms and rules. When we go home to visit the weather might be glorious and we spend time rushing around seeing all the people we want to see.

We forget that our own countries can drive us crazy. That it rains sometimes (lots) or that we can go for weeks and weeks without seeing our best friends because life is just so busy. Life is good at home but make sure you’re not remembering it with rose tinted spectacles or you’ll have a rude awakening when you move back.

10. Make It Home

We make it a point to make our place ours as soon as we can. We unpack all the boxes as soon as we can (except for the standard one that has moved with us since 2009 without ever getting round to unpacking it lol). Our standing joke is when you open the last box you know that you’ll get the next job move.

In all seriousness, you can’t expect it to feel like home if you’ve made no effort to make it feel like home. We decorate, we put up pictures, we ship furniture wherever we go. Expat life can be pretty unpredictable and you might not know when or where you will be next but you can’t live life always thinking about the next place or on the What Ifs.

We always say we are where we are until we aren’t and it is worked pretty well for us. Home for us isn’t bricks and mortar and it certainly isn’t a country. Home is a feeling. It is where you are happiest. It is people.

As we tell the Things… home is where the 5 of us (can’t forget the dog) are together.

It's home when we are together
It’s home when we are together

11. Have Plans

You always need a plan, something to work towards. For some people it might be financial like saving money towards a house or education for the Things. We are saving and I guess you could say that is part of the plan… but my plans are more short to medium term. When’s the next holiday? When will I next see my mum and my best friends? When will I meet my nephew? As travel addicts we need to know when the next trip is. As expats we want to know when we will see those people who have known us forever. We might have made new friends but we most certainly have not forgotten the old ones!

12. Ask For Help

When my new friend was hospitalised within days of arriving, they had no option but to accept help from total strangers. When Laura arrived here someone even offered to let her borrow their washing machine. I see people on Facebook groups asking for advice before they have even arrived. And if you are really struggling, maybe you have depression. It’s so common in expat circles and so so important that you get help for this as soon as you can.

There are always people who can help you. You aren’t alone in this ride.

13. Work Hard and Be Patient

Finally I guess I would say that it might sound easy enough to do all these things (or maybe it doesn’t). But the reality sometimes it’s just really hard work. Sometimes you miss people more than you ever knew you could . Sometimes you are tired or sick or you’ve just had enough of trying to decipher the medical insurance quirks.

It does take time and it does take perseverance and it doesn’t happen over night. It will get better! Keep on keeping on and one day you’ll turn around and you’ll be… Settled.

Some days are just really really hard

The Expat Wife – a Lady of Leisure?

I’ve read countless Facebook posts recently alongside articles and discussions in expat groups all about the same thing. How are we defining ourselves as Expat Wives or Trailing Spouses or whatever the new term for us is? The discussions include debates on who is really the trailing spouse, different names for “us” and a long diatribe about what we are, aren’t, want to be, could be and should be. The question is.. what is the expat wife – a lady of leisure?

But it was a conversation last week that had me floored:

“So are you working here? Or are you a lady of leisure?” Read more

London View

10 reasons I remember I love the UK 

There’s nothing like a bit of distance to make you look at your home country with rose-tinted spectacles! We are really enjoying this awesome holiday in our own country! Here are my top 10 reasons I remember I love the UK:

1. Public transport

Gosh we used to complain about public transport. And don’t get me wrong, I don’t miss the rush hour scrum or the delays when it breaks. But seriously the public transport system in this country is amazeballs.

2. Waitrose and M&S

We already can’t be bothered to cook tonight and I know we will end up getting one of those great meal deals with a main, a side, a dessert and a bottle of wine for £15 or whatever they charge these days. Super yummy, relatively healthy and cheaper than a takeaway / going out for dinner.

Not just that but going in and seeing the glorious selection of food, the rainbows of fruit and veg, the broad selection, the organic range, the organisation (everything is in the same place every week…it’s quite astonishing). It’s so relaxing and calming haha.

3. (Affordable) booze and pork in the supermarket

This is a bit depressing when you see a bottle of decent but not amazing wine and how cheap it is compared to at home. But I’ll enjoy it while we here.

Add to that the fact that you just can’t beat a nice crispy bacon sarnie or bangers and mash with proper British sausages and you have one happy camper over here.

Mmm…bacon…

4. History

You walk around the UK and you are walking on streets that people have been walking on for hundreds of years. You are constantly reminded of Vikings and Romans, of kings and queens, of fires and walls, battles and famines. I remember living in San Francisco and being told to go and look at some really old houses (the painted ladies if you’re wondering). I was told they were over a hundred years old (said in hushed voices). I was non-plussed – the flat I lived in in the UK at the time was in a house that was older than that! In the UK you can stay in an actual castle – I mean it doesn’t get much cooler than that!

Now this isn’t always a good thing – our house always had something going wrong with it, the public transport network is creaking and bursting at the seams, our history has a lot in it that we shouldn’t be proud of. But its still our history and our culture.. It makes us..well, us!

5. Online grocery delivery

Gosh this is so easy. And saves you so much time. There’s quite a lot of shopping related things here. What does that say about me?!

6. Green topography

Oh it’s nice to see some green around. Especially in Devon where it’s more 50 Shades of Green instead of 50 Shades of Beige. The fact that these are all on hills is just beyond inspiring . Who knew elevations could be so exciting?


7. Architecture

Let’s be clear… I’m not knocking what we have! Living in the Middle East we are able to see some of the most iconic and groundbreaking architecture of modern times. But sometimes I miss the grandeur of seeing more historical icons like St Paul’s, Big Ben or the Tower of London or even the simple Edwardian and Victorian terraced houses that we take for granted when we live here.

8. PDAs

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the sort of person to sit snogging the face off my husband. But I am quite tactile. I do like to kiss him whenever I want and to walk along holding his hand. I really miss that at home and enjoy the freedom to do it when I can.

9. Friends and family

I always say its the people not the places and this could never be truer when we think of home. The last week and a half have been so awesome seeing the people who have known us for the longest time of anyone. We are lucky enough that we caught up with a lot of friends and family in Italy but it has still been fab to see most of them again. We have met new babies, seen old friends and done many of the same things we have always done together. It really is the people not the places.

10. Home

You can travel the world and make your home wherever you are, as we do. You can be happy where you are while still missing your home country. But when push comes to shove there really is no place like home.

There's no place like home

And there you have it…10 reasons I remember I love the UK.

Do you love the UK? Check out my other posts on our trip:

Itchy Feet – The Blessing and Curse of the Expat Traveller

What is it about the expat life and almost constant itchy feet? We crave stability and yet the second we get it we are off thinking about the next thing!

Its a funny time where we are at the moment, in the industry that Mr Wanderlust works in. There have been layoffs going on for over a year in various industries. We’ve seen friends leave as companies lose contracts. We’ve seen them leave as cutbacks are made and redundancies are announced. There’s a merger going on between 2 of the major oil and gas entities here and almost everyone we know in the industry could be impacted directly or indirectly. Some people just aren’t coming back from the summer break. Some moves are at such short notice that we don’t get to say goodbye. Read more

Here we come!

UK baby! A holiday in your own country…

7 sleeps till I take the Things back to the UK. This will be our first ever trip back as expats (including the Houston stint) that hasn’t had a reason other than we just want to go home and see everyone! We haven’t been home as a family in over a year and even the last 2 trips I took over were so whistle-stop that I didn’t have time to see anyone properly.  To say we are excited is an understatement!

This isn’t your typical holiday

So what are we going to do? Will this be a holiday or just a jam packed 10 days of seeing people, drinking too much and not sleeping enough? Well, there will definitely be an element of that :-). But I am determined to make this a holiday as well. The last year has made me realise that the place I know as home really isn’t home for the Things. They know it is where we are from, that we have lots of friends and family there and that our old house is there. But Thing 1 has only some fading memories of this place and Thing 2 remembers literally nothing of our life before we moved. So this will be the perfect time to show them where we are from.

How do you visit the place you are already from?

I’ve taken a bit of inspiration this week from Bebe Voyage and Wanderlust Crew on how to be a tourist in your own town and in London (which for us are one and the same). My favourite tips from Bebe Voyage included checking local blogs, taking pictures as if we were real tourists (well I suppose we are really) and taking a guided tour. Wanderlust Crew’s recommendations of riding public transport (you just can’t beat a bus or a tube when you are a deprived expat kid who only gets to go on planes or in cars), doing the tourist stops like the London Eye, Big Ben, etc, going to parks and for afternoon tea have really inspired me too!

So what are we going to do?

Our time will be split in 2:

Devon

First off I am taking the Things to Tavistock, Devon which is where I am from. It’s been almost 2 years since we made it down so I’m excited to see the moors and to show them where mummy grew up (for the most part lol). Or activities will include:

  • Seeing family and friends
  • Walking on the moors
  • Jumping in muddy puddles (new welly boots at the ready)
  • Swimming
  • Feeding the ducks
  • Exploring
  • Finding tunnels
If you want to jump in muddy puddles you must wear your boots!
If you want to jump in muddy puddles you must wear your boots!

None of it will be particularly touristy but I love the idea that they are both now old enough to remember this holiday and that they will start to have proper memories of where I am from.

London

After 5 days Mr Wanderlust will head over to the UK where we will meet up with him in London. The only weekend we are in town will be jam packed seeing family and friends (at least 2 sets per day!). The evenings are set to be quite busy as well: Of course we might be on holiday but everyone we know will still be at work so we are trying to do everything outside of business hours! The upside of this is that the daytimes are going to be quite quiet so we can do some more family focussed things.

We are planning on doing some touristy things like going on the London Eye and taking a river cruise (this isn’t a Merlin Entertainment sponsored post, honest!). We will do a few day trips for example to Wimbledon (where our house is) and Kingston (one of my favourite places to shop!). Both will involve trains / tubes / trams so the Things will be Made Up. If we have time I really want to take them to the aquarium and I know Thing 1 is desperate to go to a soft play that he remembers. (Honestly, take them all the way to the UK and they want to go to soft play which we have done twice a week since we got back from Italy?!!)

The end of the summer

It is still 3 weeks away but I can’t believe we are finally looking at the end of the summer. What stretched out ahead of us is now within reach. The UK will be hard (first proper time I’ve been back since my dad passed away last year) but super fun meeting some new family members as well as some of our favourite people in the whole world. On our return we will be back to 7am departures for school runs and settling Thing 2 into big school (*simultaneous sob / fist pump lol).

And of course I am already looking into options for the October half term break and an amazing Christmas holiday! The planning never stops!

Here we come!

A Staycation at the St Regis!

It is so so hard when you are living in the desert over the summer to think of enough things to do with the family to keep everyone entertained. We haven’t even been here all summer and I’m already slowly losing the will to live going to multiple soft plays every week! I mean thank goodness we have access to so many of them but still… it’s pretty mind numbing, not to mention expensive. To be honest, I don’t know why a staycation hadn’t occurred to me before! Read more

Summer holiday blues

My Facebook feed has been flooded for the past 2 weeks. Memes and posts about the end of school, summer holidays and summer holiday blues. Posts showing the side by side, first / last day of school grins are followed by questions in mummy groups about What On Earth You Can Do with kids on summer holidays for £1.63 a day. Routines are disrupted, all the useful extra curricular activities and baby classes have stopped and friends (including me) selfishly disappear on holiday. Read more

You will never be the same

Adult Third Culture Kids

Ok so this isn’t your typical travelling post but it is a bit of an insight into why I’m so addicted to travelling and what gave me the travel bug in the first place.

The call came out from my favourite podcast a few months ago (Two Fat Expats in case you are looking for a new one to listen to): Are you an ATCK (Adult Third Culture Kid)? Did you grow up in one or more countries that were not your ‘home country’ or your ‘passport country’? Are you aged 25-125? We want to hear from you! Read more