Roadtesters update: early days and settling in.

If you have been following this blog you will recall that a few months ago I put a call out to expats who would volunteer to “roadtest” the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide. I was lucky enough to get three volunteers, all in quite different circumstances – Erin, who had already arrived in Denmark on her first expat adventure so would look at the early chapters of the book retrospectively; Lynsay, who was about to move as a second time expat – from Dubai to South Korea; and Nichole, who was a first time expat moving with her family from Australia to the US. By clicking on the roadtesters tag at the end of this post you can follow some of their earlier exploits, but now we are at the point of discussing the early days in our new lives, the settling in period.

I may or may not get something specific from Erin, and if I do I will post a link to it. Lynsay wrote this post on Arrival and the Early Days, and I myself hope to do an update to cover the first few chapters in the coming days. But in the meantime, Nichole wrote to me from Manhattan, where she has been discovering the joys of driving in a new location, juggling looking after small children with all the practical elements of setting up a new home, and the art of “supermarket hopping”.


Chapter Three – Arrival and Early Days

Chapter Four – Practicalities Part One – Accommodation, Furnishings, Transport

Chapter Five – Practicalities Part Two – Shopping, Making Yourself Understood (or not) and Keeping Safe

Chapter Six – Domestic Staff – Finding Them, Keeping Them and Treating Them Like Human Beings

Quite the punchy group of headings there. I particularly fancy Chapter 6 but am pleased to say that this doesn’t apply to our particular set up circumstances. I do remember discussing the difficulties of having to become used to having a cook, house keeper and nanny in your house with a friend that moved to Jordan with her young family a year or so ago. It might sound like a dream come true at face value but it would totally weird me out in reality.

We are now two months into living in the USA and, as I have been incredibly slack in my blogging, I am reflecting over this time in reference to these chapters.

Thankfully, my husband had the first couple of weeks off work when we arrived. During this time we stayed for a few nights in Manhattan and then moved out to some temporary accommodation in East Elmhurst (Queens). We imbibed in some touristy malarkey, got over our jet lag and then started looking for a permanent residence.

Clara rightly notes that,
Finding permanent accommodation is stressful, but it’s also worth getting right. And this can take time.

Our temporary accommodation was, on paper (and Airbnb), in a family friendly, secure area with lots of amenities close by. In reality, we did not feel comfortable here at all. Miss E couldn’t sleep because she didn’t feel safe. It’s amazing how sometimes kids have the ability to sum up a situation so easily. We didn’t feel safe here, whether it’s because we are used to our cosy, suburban Melbourne life and the culture shock of having someone sleeping in a clapped out limousine on the street 5 doors down was a little too confronting, or perhaps it wouldn’t have mattered where we were, we just needed to find our permanent place here so that we could start to feel normal again. For most of that period Miss E slept with me and my husband slept with Master P.

It was hot and humid, the cooling provided was useless, there was no TV and we had minimal things to keep the kids occupied. It was nice to be able to cook a meal but tough trying to find ‘normal’ food. It wasn’t really a place you could chill out in for the day. The need to find a house became instantly pressing as we just wanted to get the heck out of East Elmhurst as quickly as possible. 

We had hired a car for the gap before we picked up our own. Clara’s detail in Chapter 4 around driving in a different country, not only entailing the actual physical act of, but also including things like what kind of petrol you need, where to get it, what to do if you break down, where to park and getting some local landmarks down pat was brilliant. There are many things that you take for granted, especially as a seasoned driver, but doing so in a new country comes with its own challenges, not just including remembering to drive on the correct side of the road! Driving in snowy and icy conditions is going to be interesting.

At this point, we left the house in the morning and came home to sleep. And the kids had to be towed along on all of these outings as we don’t know anyone here. Kids don’t like looking at houses. Kids don’t like sitting in the social security office. Fair enough. I unashamedly upped the amount of GB on my phone and the kids pretty much had open slather when SK and I had to attend to administrative details. During this time, particularly if you have children, you really have to reassess some of the hard and fast rules that usually apply, just for a little bit of a calm.

SK going to work and us moving into a house both happened and both of these things increased the amount of boring shopping trips that I needed to drag the kids to. Finding furniture, getting utilities connected, registering for school etc, it seems never ending for a while.

Supermarket-hopping” . I’m not sure if Clara penned this phrase originally or if it’s a recognised expat phenomena but YES, I have been doing this. We have been living in our permanent house on Long Island, New York for approximately 6 weeks now and in that time I think I have visited around 8 different supermarkets and have only now developed a preference, (which my husband disagrees with). Going forward, I believe we will be working on a two-supermarket-preferred basis and throwing in a farmers market when we can. The agent that we rented our house through provided us with a list of her local personal favourites and this has been quite invaluable, although we disagree on supermarkets. Take advice where you can get it, you have to start somewhere after all!

I find that even though we have moved from one English speaking country to another, there are still many times where I am not understood or there are completely different words for the same thing. Many of Clara’s anecdotes deal with the more obvious language issues when your first language is generally not used in your new environment which I am so glad that I did not have to go through. My issues are generally quite amusing. For example, I asked a store worker where the ‘rakes’ were. After saying it three times he asked me ‘what do you want to do with it?’. When he realised what I meant he repeated ‘rake’ back to me and I swear it sounded exactly the same as the way that I had pronounced it! And my old favourite, don’t ask for lemonade in the US unless you want something that resembles lemon cordial. You have to ask for Sprite or 7Up.

Until next time

Nichole x

Thanks Nichole – it’s great to hear the book has been coming in useful. If anyone else has read the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide and found my advice to be helpful please come and tell me – and spread the word with others in the same situation!

Photo courtesy of Rachel at

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The moving game.

All around the world there will be families going through exactly what we are doing right now.

Relocating to another country.


Packing and lists and decorating and sorting and letting and selling and more lists and goodbyes and checking and booking and calling and re-checking and more lists.

Houses and schools and visas and passports and children and pets and cars and boxes and suitcases and suncream and… get the idea. There is a lot to do, and lot to take in. My head is constantly spinning and when someone asks me how’s it all going sometimes I just go blank. How is it all going? Well, it’s going….and we’ll get there.. But the next few weeks are not going to be fun.

When I found my three roadtesters – Erin, Nichole and Lynsay – I asked them to help me out by using my book as a guide for their relocations and then write about it. Erin is already living in her new country (Denmark), and has been there for more than six months – so for her, these difficult days are in the past. But she wrote a post reflecting on the move and her first six months in Copenhagen, which you can read here. The post includes a list of some of the things Erin has learned since she arrived in Denmark, including the immortal line: Traveling, holidaying or vacationing somewhere is vastly different from LIVING there. Oh yes.

Erin and her family

Erin and her family

But both Nichole and Lynsay are yet to relocate and are basically both in more or less the same place as I am: in the midst of their move. Nichole is moving with her family from Australia to New York, and Lynsay from Dubai to Korea (Lynsay might have actually left already – I await updates on her arrival!).

Nichole covered chapters one (Before You Go) and two (The Move) of the book in one post – which you can read on her blog From Melbourne to Manhattan. But as a taster:

The first couple of chapter’s of Clara Wiggins’ The Expat Partner’s Survival Guide, ‘Before you Go’ & ‘The Move’, have really been brilliant in reassuring me that I’m not going crazy and that I’m basically doing the right things!

Clara has used her previous experiences and a very down to earth delivery style to provide support and a vital second reference for when your mind is going through the endless ‘what have I forgotten’ cycle, which usually occurs in the way too early a.m. hours and sees me knocking things off my bed head as I flounder around for a pen and notepad.

I find the information itself helpful but also the anecdotes from other expats, that quite often oppose one another. We’re all different and each family has it’s own little world order and when it comes down to it, you just have to make decisions based on the best information/gut feel that you have and go with it.

I think it’s so important to know that you are NOT going crazy – and also that you are not alone.

In the meantime, Lynsay took each chapter separately and wrote two posts on her blog Mills Family Travels, one on Before You Go and the other on The Move (part one), about which she says:

Sorting began last month and I am gradually trying to move anything that is coming with us to a spare room.  Anything to avoid the few surprises that were shipped here (an empty suitcase that we needed for the flight, a tennis racquet case minus the racquet and an empty cardboard box!).  The arguments caused in looking for that suitcase!  Fortunately this time there is very little in the way of furniture as we are moving to a furnished accommodation.  So whilst that makes things easy in some respects it is amazing how much we are still taking (having 3 children with all their toys and books means lots of boxes!).

I love that they found an empty suitcase, empty tennis raquet case and even an empty cardboard box when they unpacked!

As for me, well here is my take on the first two chapters of my own book:

Before you go

It wasn’t an easy decision to apply for an overseas post – but I kept telling my husband applying didn’t mean we had to take whatever was offered – but if we didn’t apply, we would never have that choice. All through the long process, he kept telling me he wouldn’t get through…he wouldn’t get through….so many times that I believed him.

So it was a bit of a shock when we found out he had been accepted! To be honest, in retrospect, it shouldn’t have been a shock as he has exactly the right background, skills and experience for the job. I just believed him when he said he wouldn’t get it!

The second shock was hearing we were being asked to go to Pretoria. We had had a whole list of possible postings right back at the start of the process, and had gone through them with a tooth comb. We cut the list down to about half, and then took out a couple, added a couple….eventually I think we ended up with about six or seven real possibilites – of which Washington and the Netherlands were probably at the top for schooling reasons. South Africa would have been my first choice had we not had children, but there are a few issues around schools that luckily we now think are resolved.

So, finding out we were moving again – and then finding out it would be South Africa – was quite a shock. First thing we had to do was tell the kids – and you can read exactly how that went in this post. But after that, other than a couple of days up in London for a sort of “orientation” meeting with my husband’s department, we sort of returned to normal. We had a years notice almost from the day for this posting so it’s certainly not been a rushed process!

During that year we have managed to do quite a bit of research, and I have made contact with a few people already lving out there (we are lucky in that I have two friends in place in Pretoria, plus relatives living all over Southern Africa). But the highlight of our preparations was the trip we made to Pretoria last October.


Zebras by the side of the road, Pretoria

When writing the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide, I did urge people if possible to make a pre-move recce to their new country. Although we had managed this previously as a family to St Lucia, this time – with school  now such an important part of our lives – I found it even more useful. Seeing their school, as well as their house, local shopping malls, restaurants etc, will definitely make the move far easier for the girls (and therefore for me).

The Move

So now we’re in Chapter Two mode. I wrote a checklist for myself a few months ago, based on the checklist in the book, and have been going back to it every so often to see how we are doing. But now that we’re weeks rather than months away from going, I write weekly and then daily lists on top of my general list. I wonder whether, by the last week, I’ll be writing hourly lists?

Lists on lists....

Lists on lists….

As we go through the process of sorting out letting the house, selling the cars, changing our addresses, sorting out all our stuff (what to take, what to leave, what to sell, what to give away…), buying insurance, chasing new passports and visas, booking flights, organising decorators and cleaners, one thought keeps coming back to me.

How on earth did we do this in 2008 when we moved to Pakistan with a baby and a toddler?

As it is, at least this time the children are at school 6.5 hours a day (although to be fair, I didn’t have a part-time job, blog to write or book to market back in those days). However, as someone pointed out to me this morning while I was discussing this, that time I didn’t have to worry about dealing with the chidlren’s emotional baggage.

As part of the organisation for this move. I have printed off little slips for the girls to give out to their friends with their email addresses, my Skype address etc – and a place for their friends to do the same and give back to them. Taking them away from their friends and the school that they love is probably the hardest thing I have had to do for this move – and I am hoping that little things like making sure they’ve swapped addresses with their schoolmates will help.

We’re at M-day (moving out of house day) minue 15, and F day (flying day) minus 31. It will be a little while yet before I can relax – but we’ll get there.

So long as I don’t lose all my lists first.

(Overseas pic courtesry of BiblioArchives)

Are you moving this summer? If so, how’s it going? Are you feeling ready?

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My own contribution to being a road tester…..

As anyone who has been following this blog will know, I too am off on another expat journey very soon. When I started writing the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide, moving abroad again wasn’t actually a consideration. We thought we were done, settled in the UK for the foreseeable future. However, life happens and here we go again…

So during the last year of writing and editing the book, I started to pay a little bit more attention to what I – and my contributors – were saying. I started to realise that all this information was actually going to be really useful for myself and my family as well as for all my readers. And as we get closer to the time to leave, I have started taking sneaky peaks at some of the chapters – on taking children, in particular, as mine are such a different age and at such a different stage than they were last time.

I thought it would be fun to join my other road testers and chronicle my journey in the way that I hope they will be, one chapter at a time. So, here is my introduction and in a future post I will be discussing chapter one: Before You Go

First of all, could you tell me a bit about yourself, your family and your background?

I work from home in a part-time role managing a small independent journal called the International Journal of Birth and Parent Education, as well as spending quite a lot of my time marketing my book the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide. I have two children, both girls, aged seven and nine. We have previously lived as a family in Pakistan and St Lucia. Before that. I lived and worked all  over the world – including Jamaica, which is where I met my husband.

august 09 girls in the purple boat

Where do you live at the moment and where are you moving to? Why are you moving?

At the moment we live in a leafy town in the West of England. It’s a beautiful location full of Georgian architecture and green parks and not far from both the countryside and a couple of large cities. It’s almost ideal for us as our local school, an excellent state primary, is about three minutes walk from the house and we are surrounded by friends. We are moving to Pretoria in South Africa, where we hope we will also be surrounded by friends, as well as interesting wildlife! The girls will be attending the American International School so there’s a lot to get used to. We are moving with my husband’s job; he will be working at the British High Commission.

Have you ever been an expat before? If so, where and when? If not, do you know much about the “expat life”?

Yes I have been an expat on and off all my life – as a daughter, young adult, diplomat and as a mother and accompanying partner. So I have seen it from pretty much every angle. However, I think it is different every time you move and I am waiting to see what this particular relocation will throw up for us.

As an expat child in the Philippines

As an expat child in the Philippines

How prepared are you feeling for the move? As well as from the Survival Guide, where are you getting your information from?

I have been very lucky in that we were able to visit Pretoria late last year so have been to the school where the children will go and the house where we will live. I think this has helped us all prepare mentally for the move. I also have a couple of friends living there already and have made contact with a couple more online, who have been able to answer some of my obscure questions.

Why do you think the Survival Guide will be useful? Are there any chapters you think you will find particularly useful?

As my children are at a very different age than they were when we moved last time, I think the chapters which focus on them are particularly helpful. We’re also planning to get a dog when we are out there so I will be consulting my own advice on bringing a pet home with you when we leave!

How did you find out about my book?

Lol – I wrote it you numpty!

What are you most looking forward to about moving to your new country? What are you most worried about (if anything!)?

I am really, really looking forward to exploring both South Africa and the region. I love wildlife so the safari opportunities are just going to be amazing. I am also a big diver so can’t wait to get back under the water – one of my ambitions in life has been to see whale sharks in the wild so I am hoping to tick that one off my list.

South Africa is also a real foodies paradise so I can’t wait to get stuck into the local restaurants, farmers market’s etc. Oh and then there’s the wine…..

I am of course worried about the security situation. We will be well looked after and well protected but it does play on your mind, especially in the early hours of the morning…

Rhinos in a small safari park close to Pretoria

Rhinos in a small safari park close to Pretoria

How are your children feeling about the move? How did they react when you told them?

They really weren’t keen at first (you can read about their reaction in a post I wrote here) but have definitely come round now. Visiting Pretoria really helped, as has telling them we’ll get a dog. They still have their ups and downs but I think they’re generally pretty excited now.

I have a wide range of expats reading my blog – do you have any questions for them? Either country-specific or just general questions about moving and living abroad?

I suppose really whether people find it easier with each move or whether it’s just different each time, especially when the children are so different. Also, four years is a long time in the world of technology – I wonder how this has changed expat life?

And country-specific, please let me know if you have any tips for secret spots in South Africa – anywhere you think we should definitely visit?

Don’t forget you can also read about my real road-testers Lynsay,  Nichole  and Erin.

Meet my second road tester – Nichole!

So last week I introduced the first of my Expat Partner Survival Guide road testers, Lynsay – in case you missed it you can read all about her here.

Today I would like to introduce the second of my testers, Nichole.

Beach family portrait

Thankyou for agreeing to be one of my road-testers Nichole, we look forward to following you on your expat adventures. First of all, could you tell me a bit about yourself, your family and your background.

I am a 42 year old Aussie mother of 2 children, an 8 year old girl and almost 5 year old boy.I have been a stay at home mum since my 8 year old was born.Prior to becoming a parent I worked in the corporate world as an Executive Assistant and Administration Manager that had me doing anything from organising functions for 1200 invitees, co-ordinating the confidential matters within a 20 person partnership, performing staff reviews and whatever else needed doing.
I was under the delusion that when I became a parent I would have all of this surplus time to devote to finding myself a new career. Yes, I really thought that!

I am currently putting myself through some informal study in order to turn my love of all things visually appealing into a small, home based career in graphic design.

I grew up in rural Victoria, Australia and sometimes still find myself yearning for the distant sound of cows and hunting for mushrooms in Autumn/Fall.

Where do you live at the moment and where are you moving to? Why are you moving?

We currently reside in a leafy suburb on the outskirts of Melbourne, Australia. My husband works as an associate director with a financial institution and they have recently purchased a business in New York. So we are off to live on the outskirts of New York City for at least the next two years.

Have you ever been an expat before? If so, where and when? If not, do you know much about the “expat life”?

We have never lived outside of Australia before and the things I know about the expat life are only what I’ve came across on the internet through blogs and websites. The more blogs and resources that I find, the less alone I feel.

How prepared are you feeling for the move? As well as from the Survival Guide, where are you getting your information from?

For the move itself, I’m confident that we’re organised. We’re on the verge of appointing a relocation company, have sorted out storage, appointed an agent to lease out our home etc. I have many lists and as well as using the internet for information, I am being given the details of friends of friends that have been or currently are in a similar situation to us, both in the place we are heading to and other places also. I am finding the mix of internet, the Survival Guide and anecdotal advice to be a pretty helpful combination.

I am looking forward to getting over there and finding a place for us to call home. Hopefully we won’t have to live in temporary accommodation for too long.

Why do you think the Survival Guide will be useful? Are there any chapters you think you will find particularly useful?

The Survival Guide not only covers the practical side of such a move but also discusses some of the more emotional components which I am particularly interested in. As a sufferer of depression and also having two young children, I am looking forward to reading Chapter Seven (Settling in, Finding Things to Do, Protecting your Sanity), Eight (Culture Shock; and What if Shock Turns to Depression), Nine (You, Your Partner, Your Relationship – What Doesn’t Break you Makes you Stronger), Eleven (The Child’s Viewpoint) and Seventeen(If it All Goes Wrong).

How did you find out about my book?

I very recently started my own blog to give our family and friends a central place to keep in touch with our journey and as a kind of diary for our family. I discovered that I could follow tags and immediately put in ‘expat’ and your blog was the first to come up in my feed. You were looking for people to review her book and as I read out your list of criteria for a reviewer to my husband, I ticked every box. And here I am!

What are you most looking forward to about moving to your new country? What are you most worried about (if anything!)?

I am most looking forward to exploring a new country and way of living, providing this experience to our children in order to strengthen their resilience and sense of adventure and having my husband home more as his new position doesn’t involve any of the weekly travel that he has to do now.

What am I worried about? What a question. Pretty much everything, mainly how the kids will cope. I’m worried we’ll not like the school we enrol in and be stuck with it because of the zoning (or we’ll have to move house), that I won’t make any friends, that my Mum will die while I’m away and I won’t get back in time to be with her (she has terminal cancer, although is currently well and still working)… lots of things and I’m a pessimist by nature so I’m trying to be mostly positive!

How are your children feeling about the move? How did they react when you told them?

My 8 year old daughter had a complete melt down for about 2 hours when we initially told the kids. To the point where she told us she wasn’t coming. Since then she has not wanted to talk about it much at all but we generally say something about it every day and she is participating in a lot more in these conversations in a positive manner. Just this week she has taken up the idea of doing a presentation to her class, closer to the end of term.

My son, who is almost 5 has outwardly dealt with in his stride, however his general behaviour has declined so although on the surface he appears to be handling it, I would suggest that it is certainly on his mind.

They are both generally looking forward to things like snow, Halloween (which we don’t really celebrate in Australia), travelling around, and their father keeps dangling Disneyland in front of them etc, but will obviously miss their family and friends.

I have a wide range of expats reading my blog – do you have any questions for them? Either country-specific or just general questions about moving and living abroad?

Not at this stage.

Thanks Nichole, it’s great to meet you and we look forward to reading more about you as you and your family prepare to move to New York.