A tale of travel, inspiration, and beautiful clothes.

I get contacted almost daily by people who want to write guest posts or sponsored posts for this site. In all honesty I am pretty picky – this blog isn’t a way for me to make money but to spread the message about expat life and to tell people about my book. But sometimes people contact me who I think would be a good fit and Kim was one such person. I love her inspiring story of travel and adventure, experience which eventually led her to setting up her own clothing line. It helps that I also love her clothes and can definitely see myself wearing a tunic such as the one pictured at the bottom of this blog. So please enjoy Kim’s tale of how she travelled the world, met her husband, sailed to the Caribbean and eventually set up a company called West Indies Resort Wear.

I left my home in Australia to travel the world at the ripe old age of 24.  I had graduated fashion school, and had a few years industry experience before I left, but my main goal was to work and see the world.  I didn’t want to do bar work, or fruit picking, or nannying, I wanted to find garment industry type jobs.

My first job was as a pattern maker in London, but after a few months, and with winter fast approaching that just didn’t seem interesting enough, so I started applying for jobs in the fashion industry in 3rd world countries.

It didn’t take long to land a job in Alexandria, Egypt, where I spent a year working for an enormous clothing manufacturer who was supplying cute ladies tee’s and knits to British high street stores like Top Shop.

This was my first experience of real “expat life” as the lifestyle in Egypt was so different to home, that the expat community really sought each other out for company.  There were suburbs where most of the expats lived, and there were stores, bars & restaurants targeted towards the expat community.  There was even a little supermarket in my neighborhood that catered to the expats.  I was so excited to occasionally find New Zealand cheddar cheese there.  The smallest tastes of home could get you through a whole week.

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Expat life in Egypt was great in terms of earning hard currency and having very little expenses, so I saved a lot of money for my future travels, but it was not an easy life.  As a young single woman, in a Muslim country harassment was a part of my daily life.  Even at work I was stared and jeered at.  After my year there, I was desperate to leave.  Looking back I think that I could have lasted longer, if I had have gone away more regularly to get my western world sanity back.

After Egypt I travelled for a while again, and then found myself as Head Designer at Billabong in Jeffreys Bay, South Africa.  This was another world entirely, but way more similar to Australia.  As South Africa had been such a closed world for so many years of apartheid, the biggest initial adjustment was just trying to understand what people were saying.  I was not familiar with the South African accent at all, so for the first 2 weeks I barely understood what anyone was saying.  Yes, they were speaking English, but there were so many Afrikaans words and slang mixed in, that I really battled to understand.

I ended up meeting my future husband and living in South Africa for 5 years.  I loved my job at Billabong, which was so challenging, and gave me a lot of opportunities to travel.  Here I am in China, where they sent me to visit factories…

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After my husband & I met, we started to look for some sort of adventure to do together.  We were camping one weekend, and one of us had bought an adventure magazine with us.  In it was a story about a young couple who bought a boat and went sailing to the Caribbean.  As I had done a lot of sailing with my family as a child, and I read a lot of books about amazing solo sailors, I had always thought I would LOVE to go sailing but knew it wasn’t something I would do alone.  When my then boyfriend read the article, put the magazine down and said “lets buy a boat and go sailing to the Caribbean” my jaw hit the tent floor !  We hurriedly packed up our campsite and rushed back to “town” to see if we could find a boating magazine and see how much boats cost !

2 years later, we were halfway across the Atlantic Ocean.  We had saved our money, bought a boat, learnt how to sail, learnt how to navigate, done some boat deliveries with other people to get experience, provisioned our boat and set sail on the biggest adventure of our lives.  Here we are on our tiny boat mid-Atlantic…

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It took a total of 55 days at sea to get to the Caribbean, and when we finally dropped anchor off the island of Tobago we were exhausted.  We stayed put for 6 months!  Eventually the hurricane season ended and we headed north to the more developed islands, we got jobs, got married, saved money again and had dreams of sailing the Pacific.  However I got pregnant and we had our first daughter.  That changed everything.  I couldn’t go get a job, as I didn’t want to leave our child in Caribbean daycare so young, so I started looking for things to buy and sell.  I imported some beautiful baskets from Africa, and I started making beaded jewelry on the boat, which I sold to different resort boutiques as we sailed around.  Eventually my good friend who had been the Production manager at Billabong when I was there said, “when are you going to stop fiddling around making jewelry and start your own label?”.

That was an “aha” moment for me, and the beginning of West Indies Wear.  I flew to India where I found the most amazing pure cotton fabrics, and I designed the first collection on an overnight train to Delhi.  Once the samples arrived with me back in the Caribbean, my husband, daughter & I would dinghy all around the island looking for good places for the photo shoot.  Here we are in the dinghy….

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We sailed between the islands, visiting resorts and introducing the collection to the different buyers.  12 years on, and West Indies Wear is still going strong.  We have moved back home to Australia now, had 2 more babies, built our own little house with an adorable design studio and we are back to dreaming of our next boat, and next adventure.

West Indies Wear is inspired by tropical island travel, so we use vibrant Caribbean colors and feature beachy, on-trend prints like sea stars, coral, palm trees, pineapples and tropical flowers.  Here is a photo of my little sister Amy wearing our number one seller… the Starfish Tunic.

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Kim Van Loo is an Australian fashion designer, who started West Indies Resort Wear, whilst sailing the Caribbean islands. She currently lives at home in Australia with her husband and three children, but travels several times a year to USA to show her new collections at trade shows and catch up with all of her buyers.

 

How modern technology has transformed expat life: travel

This is the third in my series on how modern technology has transformed life as we know it living overseas. In my first post I wrote about how our work life has been affected, and in the second I discussed communication.

Now in my third and (probably) final post on this topic I want to talk about travel.

Of course, it isn’t just expats who travel. But it is undeniably a huge part of our lives – not just travel to and from our countries but travel around them and to other countries in the region. After all, isn’t the ability to explore one of the best things about living abroad?

When I was young and lived in the Philippines, we were restricted to phone calls and travel agents when we wanted to book our holidays. No internet, no mobile phones, no apps – how on earth did we manage? It’s funny to look back now and think about being completely incommunicado for weeks on end; and can you imagine those long road trips without being able to plug the kids into their electronic devices?

Anyway of course things have improved quite a bit since then and if I am honest I can’t keep up with many of the latest innovations. So to help others out who, like me, are a little behind the curve in these matters, here are some of the better technical innovations to help us get around:

Getting there

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In order to travel somewhere you first have to get there and unless it’s within a reasonable distance this usually means flying. Here are a few suggestions to help ease this burden:

Kayak is a site which basically promises to scan all the available flights for your dates and come back with the cheapest suggestion. However, don’t forget to use filters otherwise you may be booking to go from A to B via about eight different places with a three day stopover on the way….

Skyscanner is similar to Kayak. Note: they now also do car hire, hotels etc

Flight Aware this brilliant little site keeps track of all the flights in the air at any one time – great for checking if your flight is likely to be delayed. Also helpful if you’re picking people up from the airport. Careful though, it can be addictive (am currently watching the Emirates flight that’s just left Jo’burg and the SAA from Durban that’s about to land….just for the heck of it).

Getting around

If anyone hasn’t downloaded the Uber app to their phones, I suggest you do so straight away. I can’t begin to explain the feeling of freedom it gives me to know that if I am stuck anywhere in Pretoria (or other South Africa cities) all I need is my phone to get me somewhere. The fact that it is cash free is genius.

The post that initially started my hunt for technology to help the modern expat was actually based on an idea about how useful I found my GPS. As above, I love the freedom it has given me not to worry about getting lost. I love it so much I even wrote this post about it.

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Google Streetview and Google Earth have been revolutionary in how we can now view the world. We used Streetview to explore our neighbourhood before we even visited Pretoria, and who hasn’t checked out their hotel on Earth in advance of booking that holiday? But Google maps is the one that I now use the most often – either as a GPS when the one in my car is having a bad day or as a way to find out how long it will take me to get from A to B. If you haven’t watched the film Lion yet I thoroughly recommend it as a way to see the real power of Google maps!

Finding a place to stay

I rarely book anywhere these days without first checking reviews on Tripadvisor. I try and read as many reviews as possible because I realise how easy it is to post fakeness but generally I do think that as long as there are enough of them you can get a fair idea of what you are getting yourself into.

There are several ways to book private accommodation these days. Probably the best known is Airbnb, a brilliant way to find well-priced accommodation in exactly the location you are interested in (their use of maps for searching makes it so easier to pinpoint where the homes are). VRBO (which stands for Vacation Rental by Owners) is another one.

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If you are up for it, trying out a home exchange can be a great way to score cheap accommodation. It’s not something I have tried yet but with the way Sterling is dropping I suspect this is going to become more and more popular in years to come. This site claims to have 65,000 homes in 15 countries.

When you are there

Ok so you have arrived and checked in – what’s for dinner? Trip Advisor (see above) can be helpful here too but there are other ways to find local restaurants, bars, cafes etc as well as local attractions, shops and even services. Yelp is one such site. Zomato is another. But please, distract me quick before I spend the rest of the day browsing restaurant menus…..

Converters

Finally, life can get complicated when you are on the move. Here are two ways to help you keep track – firstly, to make sure you know how much things cost are currency converters like this one (although to be honest these days if you just put the currency you need converting into Google it will tell you – sigh, is there anything google can’t do?). Secondly, do you ever wonder what time of the day it is back home (easy when you live somewhere, not so much when you are travelling)? Or in that other country where you want to book a flight but are not too sure what time you are going to arrive? Then you need a time zone converter.

So that’s just a quick run down of some of the sorts of sites and apps that are out there now to help us when we travel. I am quite sure there are many, many more (as a quick example, in London we used this app to tell us how long we had to wait for the next bus). In fact, this post really is just a “for starters” and I would love to hear if you have any more great travel apps that you would like to share. If so please post in the comments section below.

Otherwise, bon voyage!

Photo credits: BA plane – Nick Fewings, Crooked House by Don McCullough

How modern technology has transformed expat life : part 2 – communication

Before Christmas I wrote the first of what I hope will be a series of three or four posts looking at how modern technology has changed expat life (hopefully for the better – although I think there is a sting in that tail and refer you to this post I wrote about facebook envy).

In my first post I looked at how the world of work has been affected and how much easier it is now for us all to work remotely. This is potentially a huge game changer for the expat partners who may otherwise have to give up their jobs or even career to follow their spouses overseas.

But technology is there to help us in many ways other than for work and in this post I am going to have a look at communication.

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Way back when we lived overseas when I was a child, 99% of communication was done by letter (snailmail as it became known). Once a week we could send back and recieve letters through the diplomatic bag. Every post had a day when the bag came in; in every household eager wives (for it mainly was wives in those days) and children awaited news from home. Birthday presents, Christmas cards, even my O level results arrived this way, along with those long letters from parents and grandparents full of the news of Aunt Edna’s hip replacement and how the tomatoes were doing. It all seems so trivial but those everyday stories of home were what we craved. Every so often, we got a phone call – I remember this being the case when my grandmother died. But usually the only news we got from home was at least 5-7 days out of date.

To expats today this must all seem very strange. Can you imagine putting your child into boarding school and then having to wait a week to hear how they were getting on? Nowadays of course we have so many – maybe even TOO many – ways to communicate when we move away from our friends and family. Here are just a few of them:

Skype and FaceTime

There are of course now many more face-to-face ways to talk to people but these are prehaps the best known. Skype was the one that really broke down the barriers – for the first time we could not only speak to but see our loved ones without having to pay astronomical international call prices. FaceTime is useful because it is on phones and Ipds so more portable (ok I know, I am a bit backward here – you can get Skype on phones too now, right?). But both are excellent ways not just to talk but to share – how many grandparents have watched their grandkids growing up through the wonder of this kind of technology? Personally we have been able to build a great relationship with my broter-in-law in Florida thanks to Skype and FaceTime and there is nothing I like more than sitting down for a cup of coffee with friends in England, all over the internet.

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Messenger, WhatsApp, Snap Chat etc

More immediate and probably now the most used type of communication is instant messaging. I love that you can connect so quickly and easily with anyone, anywhere in the world. Whilst Facebook is still perhaps the number one way people keep in touch with each others lives (see below for more on Facebook) I think we have started to move off the public pages and into more private spaces.

Of course we don’t just use these services to keep in touch with people back home or to communicate with friends new and old in other parts of the world; group messaging has become a real boon to expats making contacts and friends in a new country. What easier a way to organise a meet up than one Whats App group message? So much better than the old days of having to send separate emails or individual messages and then send them again when one person can’t make that particular time….

Expat Facebook groups

Another thing that I have noticed happening more and more commonly now is the use of groups for particular needs and interests and the ones aimed at expats have to be one of the greatest innovations to have hit the expat scene in a long while. As soon as you know where you are heading, you know you will probably be able to find a group to help you with your questions. I admin one here in Pretoria, where people come to ask questions about anything from where to get passport photos done to whether you need a pool heater (as an aside, there is good writing material in some of these groups – I always laugh when I see the posts asking whether anyone has a golf buggy for sale…). In the meantime, we have a separate “buy and sell” page which is a great place to get rid of all that stuff before you move on or conversely buy it when you first arrive; and (perhaps this is more pertinent to South Africa than many places) a travel page for sharing information about places to go and things to see.

Video and photo sharing sites

Another way we can keep in touch is by sharing our photos and videos. Some do prefer just to do this via facebook but equally many prefer to keep these things private. You can set up a You Tube video channel and set the settings to ensure only people you invite can view, and there are also lots of cloud-sharing photo sites (I am told Flickr is good for this, as well as Google Photos). So when you store your photos you can alert your parents back home and they can view at leisure. No more labouriously sending photos back as email attachments, two or three at a time (particularly painful for those of us without a speedy internet connection).

Blogs

Finally, I had to include this one as of course one of my main methods of communication is via my blog! In my case, it is not really aimed at friends and family but many people do initially set up a blog in order to keep the folks back home abreast of their new, shiny overseas life. In a way it is just a public diary for many people (although how public is up to you – again, like a YouTube channel, you can set it up so that only chosen viewers can see it). But even if this is not the intention of a blog site it is still a way to communicate. I, for one, have met several people in real life thanks to my blog – and have many more friends who I have never actually met but who I have close and important relationships with because they found me this way. After all, it is just a way of bringing people together with a commonality so why not use it as a basis to make friendships?

 

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So those are our main communication channels – let me know if you think I have left anything out. Next time I want to look at ways that we use modern technology for travel. After all, for so many of us travel is one of the more important aspects of our lives – so we may as well use the best tools available to help us enjoy it.

Photo credit: Yining Zhang

 

Happy New Year and a Monkey in a Toilet

I realise things have been a bit quiet around here….but what with Christmas, travelling and now trying to catch up on all the work that has been sadly neglected for the past few weeks I have been pretty busy. I hope to get back to the blog asap and have some nice interviews and ideas brewing but in the meantime I wanted to do two things. First wish you a

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And secondly just share a little taster of our travels over the holiday period – one of those unexpected moments that will hopefully make you smile as much as it did me:

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Yes – that is a monkey with his head stuck in a toilet!

I hope you all enjoyed your breaks (if you got one….) and see you soon x

 

How modern technology has changed expat life: part 1 – work

Over the last few years there has been a surge in the number of apps you can now download on to your ever-increasingly sophisticated smart phone. So many that I suspect most of us can’t keep up – I am sure there are now apps to help you with doing just about anything and everything short of putting the rubbish out (ok – have just Googled that and apparently Coventry City Council have an app called Your Rubbish….).

But for expats, many of these apps are improving our lives in ways we couldn’t have imagined just a few years ago. Not just phone apps, but modern technology generally – the whole idea for this post started after I called a last-minute Uber following a minor car emergency when my husband was out of town. A year or two ago I would have been stuck as normal taxis are just too risky to use for us here in Pretoria. By plugging straight in to the Uber app on my phone however I was able to rescue a tricky situation and get everyone to where they were meant to be on time.   Working, travelling, communicating, living – all things that we can now do easier, quicker, better thanks to technology. And as expats this can include the sort of improvements in our lives that means living overseas doesn’t have to be as isolating, as boring or as lonely as it used to be.

So I thought I would ask around and get some suggestions from fellow expats as to what apps, tools and other technology they love and would recommend to others. I had so many brilliant replies that I had to divide them up into several blog posts, and start today with WORK.  The list below isn’t exhaustive by any means so please feel free to add any that aren’t on it in the comments section.

Work and study

As someone who remote works, I know how important it is to be able to sit at your desk in one country and be able to easily and effectively communicate with someone in another. The improvement in WiFi and 4G in many countries has made remote working a real possibility for so many people. As it becomes more normal in our home countries so it will give us the opportunity to bring these jobs with us when we move. But apart from the ability to connect, what else has been happening to make remote working so much more realistic than it used to be? And how much easier is it is now to be able to study online?

File sharing

You remember how it used to be – someone would email you a file as an attachment, you would open it, change it and email it back. In the meantime the same document has been sent to someone else who has added their own changes. The document owner now has to take all the changes from all the different versions and merge them into one….well, no more. Now you can of course simple share a document with all in your team and everyone can see the same document and change it as required. Dropbox is probably the best known file sharing tool but there are plenty of other services out there.

Affordable webinar platforms

Webinar is basically a Web-based Seminar – so a way for lots of people to “attend” the same lecture, meeting or presentation using video conferencing software. Webinars are also interactive so not just receiving info but adding to it as well.  Video conferencing itself has of course been around for a long time – I used it when I was working in Jamaica back in the early noughties. But the key here is affordable – many small companies or businesses can’t afford the sort of full-on video conferencing facilities and technology needed for the old-fashioned way. A key to opening up remote working to expats like you or me is for companies and organisations of all different shapes and sizes to be able to take us on. This is one way to help that happen. Webinars are also an important and integral part of studying from a remote location. One webinar platform that was recommended to me was Zoom.

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Working in your pj’s: one of the advantages of remote work

Social media management tools

Many of us who work remotely also manage social media. Whether this be for a specific job or for our own blogs/websites, what we realise is important is being able to manage our posts across different time-zones. And unless you want to be getting up at 3am to make sure your tweet is sent at optimal time for the US West Coast, you need to reply on clever social management tools. I myself use Hootsuite to manage my Twitter feed (although in all honesty my management of Twitter is very patchy!). Someone else suggested Buffer and someone I know in the UK who I work with remotely on website design and admin recommends Sprout Social. The beauty of some of these platforms is that you can share your posts across multiple disciplines eg Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc – all at the same time, and all while you are peacefully sleeping.

Project management

When I was having the front cover of my book, the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide, designed, I employed a company that used something called Basecamp. It meant that several of us all working on one project could see what everyone else was doing, could comment on progress, could discuss changes – all in one place. It meant things didn’t slip through or get lost – everything was always where it should be. This is of course a useful tool whether you work remotely or in the same room as each other. But for those of us who ARE working in a different time zone to our clients/bosses/contractors this is a great way to keep on top of a complicated project. Or even a simple one.

Online study

Of course studying remotely has been around for a long time but we are well past the days of having to stay up until 2am to watch the Open University lectures from men in questionable jumpers and bad facial hair. Nowadays you can study from the comfort of your home for courses ranging from just-for-fun short tutorials to full on degrees and post-graduate studies. Coursera is one such organisation bringing together online courses from a number of different providers – in fact, they even have a course called Communicate Effectively in a Globalised Workplace! Another company offering a huge variety of online courses is Udemy – anything from mastering meditation to learning software development. One particularly neat feature of Udemy is that they offer courses as gifts – so if you are still stuck for that last Christmas present for someone special…

Personal digital assistants

I will admit when I first heard about this, I thought we were talking about virtual assistants. By that, I mean people in other places who help you with things like typing up a document or doing your accounts. All useful but obviously becoming obselete now we are in the brave new digital world. So what is a Personal Digital Assistant as opposed to a person personal assistant? The ones we probably know best are those like Siri or Cortana attached to the devices we use everyday. These are still more useful for the kids to play games with, if you ask me. But I am told the future is coming and soon we will be asking these guys to do all sorts of things for us. If you don’t believe me read this. And although it looks like we will be using digital assistants to help us in many ways, from telling us what the weather will be like to re-stocking our fridge, I am sure there will be many ways they will also be able to help us work from home. I just don’t quite understand yet how….

Others

I was recommended a number of other apps and tools that I thought were worth a mention. These included Prezi – a cloud-based tool for creating and storing presentations; Figure It Out, which helps you keep track of time across different timezones; Wunderlist – which is a virtual, shareable to-do list (also great for when you move); and Join.me which I am told is a good way to share screens and team calls .

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So that’s some of the best tools around for remote work; in my next post on this subject I want to look at how technology has helped us communicate, keep in touch with home and make and keep friends in our new location.

Photo credit: Kevin Schraer

From dog grooming to making mosaics – finding ways to escape the expat bubble.

We’re all guilty of it. Meeting friends for a coffee. Chatting at school pick up. Organising weekends away. Who are the people we are most likely to do these things with? Other expats.

Now I’m not one of those people who condescendingly heap scorn upon anyone who has no locals amongst their group of friends. From personal experience I know how hard it can be to get close to the natives when you don’t work. Not necessarily because of your own attitudes but often because of theirs: why should they be your friend when you’ll probably be off in a couple of years? Even worse, why should they let their children get close to yours when those friendships will be broken just as they finally trust each other enough with the name of their latest crush? Additionally, you’ve probably got a lot more in common with other expats who, like you, have left behind their home country and culture to strike out on a grand adventure. Even if your expat friends aren’t the same nationality as you (and to me, meeting people from all over the world is one of the best things about this life), they are still likely to have more in common with you than someone who has never left home.

So no I am not against having expat friends. I say grab whichever friendships you can – especially at the start. Loneliness and isolation is a very real and not always acknowledged part of this life, so never feel guilty for making a friend with someone just because they are not a host-country native.

However.

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How do I get out of this bubble?

This does not mean you should never leave that safe, expat bubble. After all, isn’t one of the reasons you moved to another country the opportunity to explore a new culture? Won’t you feel slightly cheated if you go home having never stepped out of your comfortable little world? But I know that sometimes doing this can be harder than it sounds. As already mentioned, most locals are not going to be desperate to be your best friend. They will already have circles of friends and/or family and as you get older and more settled, reaching out to new people isn’t always that high up on peoples’ agenda. So don’t expect to immediately gain a whole new circle of best mates from the local populace. It may happen eventually (or it may not, depending on where you are) but you could find it hard to get close to people other than fellow expats in the first year or two.

So, how do you get out of that expat bubble? Well – this is where you need to get a bit creative. Literally, in some cases. What you need is to find something that brings you into contact with nationals from your host country where you will all be focused on doing the same thing and where chat will naturally flow. Something like….ok, this is going to sound weird, but dog grooming. Yes you read that right – and had someone told me even a few months ago that I would have been doing a dog grooming course during my time in South Africa, I would have thought they had been drinking too much of the Kool Aid. But hear me out.

When we first got our puppy Miniature Schnauzer Cooper, we knew that he was a dog that needed a lot of grooming. His hair doesn’t fall out but it grows – fast. He can turn from a perfectly turned out shorn boy to a yeti in what seems like a matter of a couple of weeks. So we got in touch with a local man who comes to the house and does a wonderful job making Cooper look like he’s just stepped out of the puppy parlour. But while we can afford to get this done on a regular basis here, I know that when we return to the UK this is going to eat deep into our pockets. So when the chance to learn how to do it myself came up I jumped at the chance.

And it was so much fun! Run by the professional breeder who sold us Cooper the course was basically a load of middle aged South African ladies (and me) laughing our way through the day. We were each presented with our own dog to practise on and there is nothing like chortling at your sheer ineptness to bond you with a bunch of strangers. Although I was the only “outsider” there, and there was the occasional break into Afrikaans for me to contest with, the fact that we were all there for the same thing meant I was just as included as everyone else. And even though none of those women were ever going to be my lifelong friend, for one afternoon I was emerged in the local culture completely and could almost forget I was even an expat.

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My very patient guinea pig….(yes I did that!)

Similarly aother friend (you know who you are) started mosaic classes with a local art teacher. Classes like these mean that with everyone focused on art and not on each other it doesn’t matter whether you were born and bred five miles or 5,000 miles away. Barriers break down and over time real friendships can be formed.

For my children too I have found a great way to get them away from their international school bubble – local swimming classes. Both of my children train at  the high performance centre at TUKS, which is the University of Pretoria’s top class sports facility. So top class that a 2016 Olympic gold medallist also trains there! But most importantly, the girls are surrounded by South Africans. With most of their friends being Americans, Scandanavians, Germans, other Brits etc it’s great to see them  both swimming alongside and chatting with South African children. And sitting as I was with them at 7.30am at the swimming gala on Saturday morning I really got to feel I was taking part in something very South African!

We’re only here for another 8 or 9 months and I still feel like I am just scraping the surface of this country. I know I am unlikely to ever really blend in. But while I am here I am trying to understand the local culture (or should I say cultures – this is a country made up of as many people as any I have ever lived in). I know I could be doing  a lot more – I could volunteer with a local charity or vow to seek out as many local friends as possible. Yet I have to be realistic. There are only so many hours in the day and most of those are taken up with work, looking after the children, shopping, cooking, dog walking – you know, day-to-day stuff. But whilst I realise I won’t ever be completely immersed in this country, I will always have my day of dog grooming!

So get out there, look for those opportunities. And if you find something or if you are already taking part in an activity that helps you to immerse in the local culture please let me know in the comments section below. I’d love to hear what you lot get up to 🙂

Should expat children have a voice?

So you’ve been offered a job overseas. Somewhere I don’t know, quite exciting. New York maybe, or Paris. Or perhaps somewhere tropical and exotic. Mauritius. Or the Caribbean. Anyway it matters not – you’re on your way home, full of excitement. Your partner already knows this offer was a possibility but up until now you’ve said nothing to your kids. You can’t wait to tell them about their new lives – new school – new friends – travel and adventure….

But guess what? When you finally sit them down round the dinner table and break the news, they don’t want to go. So what now?

A while back I wrote the story of how we told our own children (then aged just 6 and 8) that we would be moving here to Pretoria. I can’t pretend it was easy. They were both pretty upset, neither of them wanted to go. Whereas we were excited at the opportunity to live and travel in Southern Africa, all they could think about was what (and more importantly, who) they would be leaving behind. I could feel myself wavering as they sat there in tears in front of us but then I pulled myself together. No, we were going and that was that – as adults that was the decision that we had made for ALL the family and we had to stick with it. We told them we would get a dog and eventually they calmed down. It really was just the shock but once they were used to the idea, life got a lot easier.

Recently we have done all of this in reverse. For reasons mostly related to education we had to make a decision whether to stay another year or leave next summer (SA winter). Everyone in the family – apart from the dog – had an opinion. And, unsuprisingly, not all views were the same. I was caught between the two – knowing that I personally want to stay for the good life that I live here, but that it would be better for the children’s education if we left. I was torn between listening to my heart and listening to my head. And trying to drown out the constant pleas from both children (never mind my wonderful friends here trying to pursade me to stay!). In the end though it was me (with a little help from my husband) who made the final decision – we are leaving next summer – because as the adults only we have the ability to take all the information available to us and put it into the right context for our situation.

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No-one wants this reaction when they tell their kids they’re moving abroad…..

But should children have any input into these decisions at all? About whether to move abroad, where to move, which school to attend, which house, when to move home again? Are these decisions only adults can make or does everyone in the family deserve a say? And what do you do if your child eally puts their foot down and says they don’t want to go?

On a recent expat group Facebook discussion about this the view was pretty firmly that the adults needed to be the ones making the final decision. But even within this view there were varying degrees of how much the kids should get involved – as well as how important their needs were. Some people thought it was okay to involve the children in the discussion but not let them make the final call. Others believed it should be presented to them as a fait accompli. Some also thought the needs of the adults – in particular their careers – should overide everything else. I, on the other hand, feel that there comes a time when you need to put education before promotion. And all of this of course depends on the age of your kids – not just as to how much say they should have (it would be slightly weird to ask a toddler if they wanted to move to the other side of the world…) but their educational and social needs.

In the end though as adults we have to make a lot of decisions that won’t be popular – but that ultimately we know (we hope!) is the right one for the family. It’s tough and it’s called responsible parenting. But once the decision if made the most important thing you can do is own it – make it as positive as possible and ensure that you get everyone on board.

Even if that means promising them a puppy.

Photo credit: Marco Nedermeijer