A showcase of FIGT Members' written work, focusing on the issues we study, the best practices we share and the strategies we provide to support the entire expatriate family. Contributions are welcome from current members, please use our online submittal form below.


  • 01 Oct 2013 7:46 AM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    There are many considerations when launching an international job search. You need to think about including what you want to do versus what opportunities are available, who are your potential contacts, where to look for potential openings, and how to apply for jobs. Here are a few tips you may not have considered:

    1. Understand your competition. When searching for a job as an expat in another country it would be helpful to remember that your competition will mostly likely consist of locals. There are many foreign-educated localscompeting for the best jobs in most countries; even though there may not be many expats in the market, and despite the fact that in some countries scores of locals may be leaving the country to pursue better lives abroad, there is still a good base of qualified locals to fill the best positions.

    2. Be prepared to negotiate in a culturally-appropriate way. Getting things done in some countries can be tricky. Negotiating can come in handy when dealing with government employees and tough employers. Just be careful not to cross the line; cash is often considered a bribe, but gifts may be appropriate in some countries and cultures. Learn the culturally-appropriate ways to negotiate in your destination country, including how to communicate appropriately, how to ask for someone’s time, how to negotiate a salary, and how to find out about job openings. You can find some information online, such as at Kwintessential, for tips on how to do this.

    3. Create a solid network of contacts. The old saying, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is very applicable in most countries. Meeting people in a new country can be challenging, but in most cases, there should be no shortage of chances to make contacts. You can most likely find exhibitions, conferences, seminars, and roundtable discussions open to the general public. Finding them is relatively easy if you know how to connect with the expat and professional community. Attending the events is a perfect opportunity to make new professional contacts on neutral turf. Expat Women has an excellent list of expat groups around the world.

    4. Know the business environment. More and more international companies and organizations are entering into emerging markets, creating opportunities for expats and locals alike. Stay connected with what has been happening through the Chambers of Commerce in the country.

    5. Market your expat status. As an expat you have certain qualities and skills that will be valuable to many companies. Your knowledge of the business environment in your home country could be very useful in another country. Your language skills or university education can be very attractive to potential employers, and your different take on business, ethical, cultural, and political issues will certainly help your colleagues to develop a more well-rounded view of the world. Living and working in another country will allow you to learn and teach at the same time.

    We’d like to hear from you! What tips do you have to share with others on an international job search?

    Contributed by Susan Musich, Executive Director & Founder of Passport Career, a comprehensive, online global job search support system.  She is currently serving on the Board of Directors of FIGT and blogs atPassportCareer.com

  • 15 Sep 2013 8:57 AM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)
    Galileo Galilei was born in Italy in 1564. He was a physicist, mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher, whose thinking and discoveries laid very important foundations for our modern world.

    We can hardly imagine someone believing that the earth is the center of the universe, but Galileo lived in a time of huge controversy over exactly that question. The reigning political and ecclesiastical authorities believed that the universe revolved around the earth – after all, that’s what you see every day, right? – and were willing to give anyone who thought differently a rough time, as Galileo and others found out.

    Do you remember the story of Galileo carrying out experiments on gravity from the leaning tower of Pisa? Although this may never have happened, one old version of the story relates the reaction of the authorities:

     “This meddlesome man Galileo must be suppressed,” murmured the University fathers as they left the square. “Does he think that by showing us that a heavy and a light ball fall to the ground together he can shake our belief in the philosophy which teaches that a ball weighing one hundred pounds would fall one hundred times faster than one weighing a single pound? Such disregard of authority is dangerous and we will see that it goes no further.”

    Galileo is also known for inventing the telescope.

    Actually, he did not invent the telescope. He improved it.

    In the spring of 1609 he heard that in the Netherlands – ahh those Dutch are always showing up, aren’t they? – an instrument had been invented that showed distant things as though they were nearby.

    By trial and error, he quickly figured out the secret of the invention and made his own three-powered spyglass from lenses for sale in spectacle makers’ shops.

    Others had done the same; what set Galileo apart was that he quickly figured out how to improve the instrument, taught himself the art of lens grinding, and produced increasingly powerful telescopes.

    In the fall of 1609 he began observing the heavens with instruments that magnified up to 20 times. With his telescope he saw for the first time:

        Four of Jupiter’s moons

        Hundreds and thousands of stars that had never been seen before

        The rings of Saturn

        That Venus has phases also, just like our moon

    Although he never proved Copernicus’ theory that the universe did not revolve around the earth, his research supported Copernicus.

    And for that he got in trouble with the Pope. He was called before the Inquisition, and was pronounced to be ‘vehemently suspect of heresy’.

    As he was condemned to life imprisonment and made to abjure formally, he is reported to have whispered: “Eppur si muove” (“And yet it moves”).

    He never went to prison and was not tortured. He spent the rest of his life under house arrest, continued scientific research and died at home in 1642.

    What can Galileo teach expats about discovering new worlds?

    1. Keep looking – don’t stop exploring.
    2. There is always more to see, learn, discover.
    3. Improve the tools you have been given.

    When you find yourself going against the stream of public opinion or authority, whisper to yourself:

    Eppur si muove.

    Contributed by Norman Viss, an expatriate coach who has many years of broad international experience working with people from a wide variety of cultures, including a 10 year span of living in Nigeria, West Africa, and 22 years in the Netherlands. Currently he lives in the Philadelphia, USA and blogs at the Everyday Expat Support Center

     

  • 01 Sep 2013 2:14 PM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)
    Learning how to parent from people in other countries is all the rage on the best-seller list. From Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Americans are learning how to help our children get all A's and play Bach with fervor. FromBringing Up Bébé, we are learning how to sit and chat with a friend in a café while our bébé plays happily at our side, crunching some arugula for fun. And from How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm, we are learning how Kenyans live without strollers, Lebanese families stay close, Japanese let their children fight, and more. As a parent (of daughters in their 20s), I read this literature with a certain bemused distance. Alas, it's too late for me to use the tips to Improve My Girls.

    But as an interculturalist, I'm at once fascinated, excited… and disappointed by these accounts of parenting in other cultures. Their descriptions of what parents say to and do with their very small children are a virtual gold mine of information about how cultural differences are formed … but they leave it to us to connect the dots.

    In each case, the message is roughly, "Here's a new and superior way to raise your children; the result is better than what you're doing; try it, you'll like it." But nowhere do they describe the deep values underlying the parenting choices, the ultimate goals for the kind of adult parents are trying to raise, or the cultural milieu into which the children will be expected to grow.

    Take Pamela Druckerman's engaging account in Bringing Up Bébé of how she got her preschool son to stay in the sandbox area so she could sit and chat with her friend rather than continuously chase after him. Her friend teaches her to be authoritative with her "Non!" and pretty soon bébé is, indeed, sifting sand safely at her side. The reason the French approach is a surprise to these American authors – and strikes such a chord with the American reading public – is because Americans parents have been so focused on something other than obedience. They've (we've) been busy tending to Junior's independence of thought, ability to express himself, sense of mastery and self-esteem. Note: this is how, for better or worse, the US became the most individualistic culture in the world. Alas, many think we've gone overboard, and are attracted to advice on how to attend to the collective needs of a family, which Druckerman beautifully provides us: believe that your child is not the center of the universe and communicate it clearly.

    Or take Mei-Ling Hopgood's description in Eskimos of "how Buenos Aires children go to bed late." Her emphasis is on how her social life changed when she began to allow her 2-year-old to stay up to midnight – something that doesn't hold much appeal to me. But hidden within this description is the blueprint for how polychronic cultures differ from monochronic ones! She writes of her fellow parents in Argentina: "…spending quality time with relatives and friends is more important than getting their kid to bed at the same time in the same place every night." Interculturalists, extrapolate! Having solid, known, deep connections with business partners is more important than sticking to the agenda and starting meetings on the dot.

    Plus, she tells us how it's done. Argentine parents don't enforce a bed time; they let their toddlers fall asleep wherever they like (including in their arms, their bed, at restaurants); they let them (!) sleep in till 9 or 10am; they and their friends entertain them to keep them happy. From infancy, Argentine babies are nurtured into a different sense of time and relationships than US American ones. When they grow up and run their businesses to a different drummer, why should we be surprised?

    Nobody thinks cultural differences are in born. They're learned, somehow. These books tell us how! I'm having fun mining these books for their insights about how cultural differences are formed. Send me your thoughts!

    Contributed by Anne P. Copeland, PhD, founder and Executive Director of The Interchange Institute, a non-profit organization focused on the understanding and support of people and organizations in intercultural transition.  For many years, Anne was the Program Director for FIGT.  She blogs at The Interchange Institute
  • 15 Aug 2013 7:59 AM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)
    Most of us do not like to dwell on the ‘m’ word (menopause) which is why I thought a safe place to mention it might be here, in my blog. Are men just as likely to be effected by issues of middle age? The term ‘mid-life crisis’ typically conjures up images of men in fast cars who ‘ought to know better at their age’. I should go no further without admitting to owning a sports car. Am I embracing my inner mid-life crisis or denying it? What I do know is I enjoy driving the car and notice occasional admiring glances as I wait for the lights to change; the looks are at the car, not its driver, but its still fun!

    So do the sexes have anything in common in this regard? Clearly men and women do NOT have the same experience when they go through the menopause, men don’t have to come to terms with the undeniable knowledge that they are infertile. And yet men’s and women’s bodies are always ageing. Hormonally the changes are slower and more subtle for men, and so the physical symptoms are less profound and noticeable. To call it a male menopause at all is considered by many misleading. So how is it that a woman who feels perfectly normal around the time of mid-life, might notice her male partner is changing and having a crisis?

    It seems lifestyle factors (rather than physical ones) are at play and can impact on both sexes. These are more likely to be the cause of mid life crisis in men, while women are experiencing physical changes to their bodies as well and can be hit by both – joy of joys – as if thirty years of monthly cycles wasn’t tough enough! The lifestyle factors that often impact at this time might include;

    • Heightened levels of stress caused by more responsibility at work and home
    • Noticing one’s own physical ageing; facially and bodily, experiencing wear and tear on the body, more aches and pains
    • The reality of our own parents ageing or dying
    • Simply knowing that we have arrived at mid-life can be a sobering thought even if we feel all is well

    The outcome of this mid-life reality check can result in less than positive symptoms for both sexes; here are a few of them:

    • Loss of libido
    • Stress
    • Depression
    • Anxiety.

    If you have any of these symptoms and need help, a sensible place to start would be to share them with your doctor.

    Many people will experience less serious symptoms in the form of negative thoughts, such as:

    • What’s it all for?
    • I feel I’m just here to pay the bills or take care of the domestic scene
    • I’ll never be at my best again
    • Never look young again
    • Or dance without looking silly
    • Or go back packing
    • Feel it’s all downhill from now on
    • Or stop worrying…and the list goes on!

    At this time of year many of us can find ourselves marking the passage of time as our children have a long summer break from school. For me, this brings into awareness how my children have changed in the last year and what we are doing differently this summer as a result. In my case, two of them have reached new levels of independence, phoning friends to make arrangements and only needing help from me to get them there! That’s natural, they are maturing as they should be, but it also reminds me that they are growing up and I am growing older. I know one day they will no longer need me on a daily basis, maybe that time has already arrived for you? Embracing that life change and shift of identity can be challenging.

    If you are an expatriate reader, there may be added stresses that come with living a mobile lifestyle. Perhaps missing out on regular access to long term friends; people who you could share your feelings of ageing with, joking about greying or thinning hair and so on. You may not have the benefits of a well established social life in place. If however, you have stayed in the same locale you will probably notice those around you ageing with you, which can help normalise your own. If there is no acknowledgement, even in jest, it can lead to feelings of isolation. You may not be isolated (I hope you aren’t) or you may think you are unaffected by issues of mid-life. Either way, it might be something to consider as awareness is the key to good self care.

    There is plenty of advice out there, it’s not rocket science; good diet, limiting smoking and alcohol, regular sleep pattern and exercise combined with time to pursue whatever makes you happy. Ask yourself what this is? No matter how significant, it could be anything from stroking the dog to excelling at something you know you are good at.

    Accept what you cannot change and embrace the positive aspects of ageing; knowledge, understanding, inner peace, increased self esteem…perhaps you would like to add your own comment to this list?

    Contributed by Laura J Stephens, a British writer/psychotherapist connecting and sharing transitional wisdom.  Author of 'An Inconvenient Posting' an expat wife's memoir of lost identity Laura currently lives in the UK and blogs at http://laurajstephens.com

  • 01 Aug 2013 7:56 AM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)






    I am new here.

    Who am I now?

    Where do I fit?

    Not with the blonde mothers with buggies

    and toddlers,

    grandparents in tow.

    Not with the clean-shaven men,

    passes on blue lanyards

    tucked into top pockets.

    Not with the freshly-wed,

    brightly starting expat life

    with a Club-Med posting.

    How do they see me here?

    The criss-crossed creases on my neck

    show I am between worlds;

    a decade since proud granny

    clutched my toddler’s pudgy hand.

    Too old and too young

    for the sanctuary

    of the shaded shallow pool,

    letting my brown legs dangle in the cool,

    blowing up arm bands

    rubber rings.

    I wear my empty nest

    like facial hair –

    with embarrassment.

    I bow my head,

    stare at my feet,

    see only the cracks in the pavement.

    Where is my community?

    Where will they not see my age?

    Where will I not feel out of place,

    in the wrong year at school?

    If I am to be a sore thumb

    then tell me where I’ll find my salve.

    Might it be beside the mud-blue sea,

    where six stripes of breakers

    fold and froth cream claws

    towards a latte shore?

    And then a soft breeze whips teen tendrils

    against my lips.

    Palm trees beckon with lithe fingers,

    hearts’ tongues nod

    because they know

    as do I, that

    my soul finds friendship with the trees,

    the cicadas’ hum,

    the mystery of the surf,

    rough sand between my toes

    and in the smiles of strangers.

    FIGT regular, Jo Parfitt, is a poet and publisher who has lived overseas for 25 years now. Earlier this year she joined her husband on a three month assignment in Brunei. This was their first time without children, as theirs are now at university and in Brunei Jo found answers, solace and an outlet for her creativity in writing a blog called Briefly Brunei. The poem below is one of her first entries and will resonate with anyone who has been new in town.

  • 15 Jul 2013 6:00 AM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    Are you a slipper person?  Do you remove your shoes when entering someone else’s home?  It seems to be quite a sensitive topic and one you need to pay attention to when moving to a new country.

    We wore slippers at home when I was a child in England, but it was definitely a comfort thing, like changing out of your school uniform or work clothes into something loose and comfortable.  Wearing slippers or taking off your shoes in someone else’s home would have been very presumptuous, like helping yourself from the fridge and almost bordering on an insult.

    When I first arrived in Canada it was mid-winter, so I wasn’t surprised when I saw plastic boot trays inside the door of every Canadian home.  In fact I thought “What a great idea!” given the slushy and salty streets of Toronto.  But as summer rolled around and the boot trays disappeared the habit of removing shoes did not and I quickly realized it was a huge faux-pas to keep your shoes on in a Canadian home.  Walking around in stocking feet or barefoot was the accepted norm for visitors.

    When we moved to Azerbaijan I found they also had the shoes by the door habit.  But they took it to the next level and provided a selection of slippers for guests to wear.  My cleaning lady looked at me in horror when she realized I didn’t have any for her to change into.  Although we couldn’t communicate verbally I definitely got the message and quickly rushed off to the local bazaar to buy a supply of cheap cloth slippers in a variety of sizes.  The students who came to me each week to practise their English had their favourite pairs and would even argue if someone took “theirs.”

    In the UAE which was much more multicultural, many people didn’t even keep their shoes inside – they’d be relegated to the porch or hallway if it were an apartment building.  And the steps of the mosques would be a jumble of hastily doffed footwear 5 times a day.  How frequently did someone end up with the wrong pair, I wondered?  Was it always a genuine mistake?

    This weekend I saw an online discussion on the topic.  It was interesting to see different nationalities line up on each side of the debate.  Strangely both the shoes-off and shoes-on supporters argued that their custom was more clean and hygienic.  Are bare, sweaty (and sometimes dirty, bleurgh) feet preferable to shoes worn in the street?  Is it insulting to ask someone from a shoes-on society to remove their shoes in a shoes-off home?  As someone who quickly adapted to the shoes-off rule, I was surprised at the strong resistance many had to it.  Should you adopt local customs, or is it OK to keep your own when it comes to your personal living space?  Is there a happy medium?  I’m not sure I have an answer.

    Contributed by Judy Rickatson, a repatriate to Canada who has also lived in the UK, Azerbaijan, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.  Judy manages the FIGT social media accounts when she's not working in real estate and blogs at Expatriate Life.

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  • 01 Jul 2013 11:38 AM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    Our family was preparing to leave our expat posting after six years of life there.  Our four children ranged in age from seven to thirteen.  When the weeks of the ‘last times’ came, I began to be embarrassed by my 13-year-old son’s behavior.  A friend, teacher or other significant adult friend would come up and say to him, “Goodbye,  good luck, and it’s been really nice having you as a friend.”  He would look the other direction, act very uncomfortable, and then walk away. I was angry at him for being, what I considered, rude.

    Upon further reflection, I realized that he had never been in a position before where he had had to say goodbye as an older child.  He actually did not know the words to say goodbye.  I had thought through what I wanted to say in farewell to people I knew in various roles: close friends, acquaintances, my children’s teachers, co-workers, co-members of groups and associations, household staff.  But I had never helped my children think through those words of farewell.

    As parents, we teach our children all the polite words of our culture.  “Please”, “Thank you”, “Excuse me”, “Hello, how are you?”, “I’m fine.”, etc., are all words and phrases that we remind our children of practically in our sleep with the purpose of enabling them to function in polite society.  But I had not taught my children what to say when you are leaving someone who has been your best friend, and the likelihood is that you will never see that person again.  I had not given them those tools.  So, along with being sad and probably angry that he had to leave his home, my son was in an unknown place when it came to voicing the words that make up ‘saying goodbye’ in various situations.

    In addition, I believe that saying these words provides a psychological ‘ending’ to verbalize passing through the ritual of  farewell.  It is acknowledging out loud the close of a chapter in our lives; reinforcing in another way that this is really happening, and helping us move through the experience in a more positive way.  When they don’t have these tools, our children will have feelings of embarrassment and awkwardness on top of the other difficult feelings that leaving prompts.

    How can we work with our children to teach them these words?  What can we do to help them think through to whom they need to say goodbye, and what is appropriate to say in each instance?  This may change a bit from culture to culture, and also depend on the situation they are leaving behind.  But I do not doubt that a little thought and preparation in this area will go a long way in assisting your child through this time in their lives.

    Here is an article you might find helpful, from the weblog of The Forum for Expatriate Management.

    Contributed by Norman Viss, an expatriate coach who has many years of broad international experience working with people from a wide variety of cultures, including a 10 year span of living in Nigeria, West Africa, and 22 years in the Netherlands. Currently he lives in the Philadelphia, USA and blogs at the Everyday Expat Support Center

  • 16 Jun 2013 10:13 PM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    I can’t pretend to be a child development expert, nor a global relocation counselor, but having transitioned two children through a total of 15 schools over 3 continents in 11 years, I’ve worked out a few basic rules of my own for getting from A to B while minimizing tantrums, traumas and general rebellion. (These rules relate to the emotional transition rather than the physical ones – for my (dubious) wisdom on the rest, see the Basics – Family section.)

    1. Keep them informed, but not overwhelmed.

    My mother spent many years working in child development, which included doing the dreaded ‘puberty’ talks. Experience taught her that the earlier you give them information, the less intimidating it becomes and that they only absorb what they are emotionally capable of taking on, so you may have to repeat things later. This advice holds true for relocating; once you know you are moving, include them in the planning and discussions, and let them have some control over their own lives. The amount of information and input will vary according to the age of the children concerned – see the Basics – Family section for more specific information.

    2. Move at the end of a vacation, not at the start.

    The biggest mistake we ever made was moving to the US at the start of the summer vacation, thinking it would be exactly that – a vacation. Instead, we were swamped with paperwork, house hunting, car and home furnishing purchases and generally no-fun stuff – all with two very lonely, grumpy and unhelpful children in tow. We learned our lesson, and on the next move, we spent the summer in our old location, with the kids fully occupied with friends and us free to do a great deal of the planning, packing and paperwork in the comfort of our own home with internet, friends and leisurely goodbyes. We arrived rested at the new location, with five days to get oriented. It was enough to unpack essentials, register at school and meet a few people before the kids headed into school  and I could get on with the grunt work of establishing a new home. Within days they had friends, play dates and a routine that made them feel more secure, and within six weeks, I was once again Chief Transportation Officer for their many and varied social activities..

    3. Fill the void.

    For the first month or so in our new location, I plan activities geared around the children, including many things that I would ordinarily avoid like the plague. I do this for two reasons; firstly it helps to remind my children that I once was good at something other than nagging and gets them desperate to make friends and escape family outings, and secondly, it fills the time void with things they have chosen to do in the local area (and hopefully have planned themselves). I also make sure that they have unlimited texting on their cellphones (cue eye roll) and access to email and Skype, so any extra time can be filled moaning to their global buddies about just how lame their parents are. It’s a strange form of normal, but it bridges the gap remarkably well..

    4. Expect issues.

    The more they transition, the more they understand the process of relocation, but sometimes that works against you, and you get a stubborn, unwilling teenager on your hands who can make your life a living Hell. I’d like to offer sage wisdom to get you through it, but all I can really say is that it is our fault so deal with it as best you can.Robin Pascoe’s excellent books are a great place to start, and in most cases it will work itself out once they start to make friends and establish their own life. If necessary, get counseling for whoever might need it – either with a local family therapist, or via online expat counseling.

    Finally, bear in mind that you are under a great deal of stress, and so you will almost certainly be taking this very personally. Sadly, no-one has written the definitive, foolproof instruction manual for raising children in a static environment, let alone a nomadic one, so just give yourself a break, remind yourself that no-one is perfect, and we are all doing the best we can. If you need evidence of how badly the rest of us are doing at the whole global parenting thing, check out theTrailing Spouse  blog. You are in excellent company..

    Contributed by Rachel Yates, a so-called “Trailing Spouse”, who gave up her own career as a lecturer to relocate her life, her family and her dog on her partner’s first international assignment to Kenya, supposedly for a year. Ten years and three continents later, she is now in San Francisco, re-establishing her identity.  She is currently serving as an FIGT Board member and writes at Defining Moves.
  • 01 Jun 2013 6:13 PM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)
    You're wearing that?I’m happy to announce that our latest research study, “What to Wear Where: Mishaps in the Presentation of Identity Across Cultures,” is now available. In it, we explore an important mode of non-verbal communication: our physical appearance and the messages we send about our identity, both knowingly and unknowingly, when we get up in the morning, fix our hair, slip on our shoes, pick out our jacket and walk out the door.

    People transmit signals about who they are in countless ways – including fashion and physical appearance. Bright colors vs. black, neatly trimmed hair vs. scruffy-chic, modest vs. revealing clothing – all of these choices send a message about the kind of person we are, at least within our own culture. But what happens when we move to a new land?

    Drawing on the participation of 152 men and women who spanned a range of nationalities and ages, all of whom had lived in a country other than their own, this study first confirmed the fundamental hypothesis that people make assumptions about others based on their physical appearance. When asked about their first impressions of six photographed models, there was a striking consistency among the participants in their assumptions about the models’ personality, interests and skills.

    When crossing cultures, however, physical appearance signals can get misinterpreted. The message received may differ from the message that was intended. Losing this non-verbal mode of communicating identity can be unsettling, especially when it takes one by surprise. “What to Wear Where” seeks to quantify this issue and highlight its importance both for those living an expatriate life and those seeking to support them.

    When asked what they were trying to convey through their appearance, the participants from 32 countries around the world most often reported the desire to project an air of elegance, competence, and beauty, but recounted many stories about how their appearance had been mis-interpreted when in a new country. The suit that felt chic to the wearer was met with disdain by co-workers in a new country who saw it as inappropriate for the workplace. The casual shorts and T-shirt, comfort clothing to some, were met with jeers by neighbors in a different culture.

    Cultural values clearly play an important role here. Respondents judged the appropriateness of others’ outfits more leniently if they were from cultures that value individual freedom and emphasize egalitarian relationships with peers and superiors. For participants from collectivist, communitarian cultures, clothing was an inherent aspect of identity, to be protected and defended, whereas, for those from individualistic cultures, clothing was less connected to their core identity.

    Read our Executive Summary of this report now, or download the full 25-page research report, including a description of research methods, a detailed discussion of findings, and summary of participant responses.

    Contributed by
    Anne P. Copeland, PhD, founder and Executive Director of The Interchange Institute, a non-profit organization focused on the understanding and support of people and organizations in intercultural transition.  For many years, Anne was the Program Director for FIGT.  She blogs at The Interchange Institute
  • 15 May 2013 8:59 PM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    The list of where I've been is long, from Papua New Guinea to Equatorial Guinea with many countries in between. It's been a nomadic life that started with my first posting – at one month old – to Kano in Northern Nigeria: a life of expat living. An exciting and privileged life full of different cultures and peoples, a roaming life. 

    But for the expat, dying is different. 

    Distance precluded the drama of my grandparents dying. Forty years ago there was never any question of flying back from the depths of Africa. Flowers were sent, quivering lips stilled and life in a foreign land continued stoically.

    But with the jet age has come the need to attempt to get "home" in time for death. Assuming, of course, it is anticipated. When it is not the guilt of living la vida loca is palpable.

    And death sometimes occurs the other way around. When the expat is doing the dying, the agony is often deeper and angrier, for those at "home".

    Along with the ease of travel has come an expectation that we can get wherever we need to be with the swipe of a credit card and a hastily packed carry-on. But life and death don't always play fair. 

    For the past few years, I have been part of what the experts call "the sandwich generation". My children became young adults based in England along with their five grandparents, and we were across the Atlantic.

    No amount of preparation is enough for the phone call that bounces through the stratosphere and death five times in the last four years has been difficult.

    "Cancer. A couple of months," the doctor told me. "No need to panic, get here when you can, but probably sooner rather than later." 

    My work in Houston is not vital. The stock exchange will not shatter, the bayous will not dry up. And the beauty of being a writer is that a notebook, whether electronic or paper, can be taken anywhere. 

    But I was stymied by a volcano with a name that few broadcasters on either side of the Atlantic can pronounce, spewing angry ash into the heavens. Airspace was closed but it was OK, I had two months. Maybe. 

    I phoned the hospital daily for four days. My father sounded more relaxed now he no longer had to pretend all was well. 

    "Hi Pops," I said when I phoned. "How are you doing? Are the nurses nice?"

    "Hello Sweetie," he replied. "Yes they are very kind. I'm allowed a glass of whisky in the evenings now."

    "Oh that's great! Taking your pills without it would probably kill you," I joked.

    He laughed. "Are you coming soon, Sweetie?" 

    "Yes Dad, as soon as the ash clears I'll be there." 

    As we signed off, promising to speak the next day my father said: "Those bloody Icelanders – first their bank and now their volcano!"

    I laughed and I never spoke to him again. The next morning, as airlines and governments deemed it safe to fly, he died. Five days after his diagnosis, and prognosis. 

    "Thank God, it was mercifully quick," my mind says. "No, no, no," my heart cries, "I didn't say goodbye." 

    Being on the first flight out of Houston meant nothing. My mother's words came back to me as I watched the flight map blip across the Atlantic, far south of its usual route. 

    "It's just the way it is, Apple," she'd said through tears 45 years ago, after the telegram was delivered by a Malay on a bicycle, telling of her stepmother's death. 

    As someone who has also chosen to live a nomadic life I have no right to complain and I don't. But what is certain is that no amount of excitement can compensate for a lost moment. A chance to say goodbye. 

    It is an expat life we choose, but expat death is another story. And no one will ever call me Sweetie again.

    Contributed by Apple Gidley, a full-time writer, now based in Houston, who has relocated 26 times through 12 countries.  Author of Expat Life Slice by Slice and a former FIGT board member and keynote speaker, she is known to thousands as ExpatApple thanks to her popular blog at the Daily Telegraph.

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