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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 expatriates and cross cultural individuals and their families. Contributions are a privilege for Small Business and Corporate membership levels only and you can submit up to 3 posts per year. Please use our online form below to submit a blog for consideration or contact blogeditor@figt.org.

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  • 01 Jun 2013 6:13 PM | Anonymous
    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 | Anonymous

    Losing our loved ones is never easy but when distance intervenes, too the heartbreak is tainted with guilt. Apply Gidley’s tale of losing her father reflects a painful reality of expat life and expat death.

    By Apple Gidley

    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, the death 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. 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.

    Apple Gidley is 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.

  • 01 May 2013 7:43 AM | Judy Rickatson

    It was a challenge to leave Texas. In some ways I could have spent my entire Senior Gap Year here. The Road Trip could have been done in this state alone; but, my focus was on driving as much of the actual route my fore-parents had done as pioneers....though, I repeat: they did in a Conestoga Wagon and my husband and I preferred the Nissan 2012.This Texas is aland where the state flag has a legal right to fly at the same height as the national flag. It's a land, and a state of mind with an outlook so different from any other in America. 

    My friend Jacqueline, (photo in last blog entry) shared this story about her family's pastor, and his introduction to the Texas State of Mind. He had recently moved from Arkansas to Allen,Texas; and said he was in his front yard one day when a car was slowly driving by and the driver, having finished his fast food soda; tossed it out the window.

    Unfortunately (for the car driver) there was a truck right behind him, with a Texan behind the wheel. Immediately, the truck driver zoomed around the car and slowed up so the car would come to a standstill. 

    The truck driver's window opened up and out came a gun, pointing at the car.

    "Pick......it....up." said the truck driver, politely', firmly; and with a gun pointing directly at the car driver.

    "What!" exclaimed the car driver. 

    "I said, 'PICK it up-now!" the gun pointed to the offending litter of a large soda cup complete with straw on the street.

    The car driver jumped out of the car and scooped up the empty drink cup (and straw, taking no chances now), and quickly got back behind the wheel. 

    "Thank you," said the truck driver, pulling his gun back in the window. He then drove off, and so did the very rattled car driver.

    "Texans. They have their ways," said the Arkansas pastor. 

    Yes, they do; and I give thanks for what at times seems like a crazy heritage, but is beginning to make sense for what could be even crazier reasons.

    Contributed by Kathleen McAnear Smith, speaker and author of Parents on the Move and Beyond Broken Families. Kathleen divides her time between Florida, the UK and Italy and blogs at KathleenMcAnearSmith.com

  • 15 Apr 2013 7:54 AM | Anonymous

    There are many things to consider when planning for a global career transition, regardless of the country you are moving from and regardless of the country you are moving to. Here’s a 5-step pre-departure job search checklist.

    1. Develop your action plan. 

    You will need to begin developing an action plan. Develop your action plan before you depart, if possible, and keep it handy because you will refer to it regularly throughout your transition and during your time in the destination country. As well, you will need to ensure your action plan refers to future transitions to other countries or back to your home country. Your action plan should include your career goal(s), your approach to your job search, visa/work permit info, resources, strategies, contacts, business culture information, and other relevant information.

    2. Get strategic about networking and identify target organizations.

    You will find many resources available to you in your destination country to make great contacts, such as expatriate groups/networks, Chambers of Commerce, international women’s associations, and many more organized groups. Try to avoid relying on just one or two resources. Using a variety of networking resources will help to ensure balance in your approach to your job search.

    Although it can be daunting trying to go through myriad online resources to find organizations in different countries, it is important to develop a list of 15-20 target organizations. There are many websites that have lists of organizations. The country-specific Chambers of Commerce can be found on the International Chambers of Commerce website. You may be able to find listings of companies and organizations by looking up the different country Chamber sites.

    3. Find out the restrictions and permissions for working in the country. 

    You will want detailed information about the work permit process, such as what documents are needed, how long each will take to process and whether your nationality may cause any delays, etc. You can contact the country’s embassy or consulate in the country where you currently reside. 

    4. Learn the business etiquette and communication culture. 

    You can learn the dos and don’ts for the destination country by keeping your eye on this blog. Members who have access to the password-protected Passport Career country portfolios should review the business culture sections for the destination country. There are also some great websites and books out there that cover this topic by country. Do not let this important knowledge/skill slip. You must know the key business culture to be effective with your networking and your job searchundefinedeven when connecting with the expat community!

    5. Create a networking resume/CV. 

    Create a resume/CV appropriate to the standards in your destination country to use for networking purposes and gather relevant papers that may be requested to be submitted with your CV/resume.  What documents might you need? Plan to take copies of the following: transcripts from your college, vocational or other educational institute (if you have numerous degrees, then you will need copies of each), awards and training activities, proof that you attended relevant conferences (usually only needed if you have a certificate from a training at a professional conference), and other related documentation.

    Preparing for job seeking in another country requires a lot of work, but your preparation will reduce the frustration once you arrive at your new destination. Many people fail to prepare well when crossing borders with their careersundefinedeither because they don’t have the time, they don’t think about it, or they simply do not know what steps to take to prepare adequately. However, we strongly encourage you to spend some time on these 5 steps before you depart so you can get started with a solid step forward in your job search. 

    Good luck with your global 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 at PassportCareer.com

  • 31 Mar 2013 9:16 PM | Anonymous

    Diet strategies are always news and it seems we are hooked on learning more, and yet for thousands of years the problem for humans was not so much about over eating, it was more likely to be not having enough to eat, and the real challenge was staying alive. 

    Long term scarcity in supply of food is thought to be the reason we now store energy from food at a significantly quicker rate than we can lose it.

    It seems the majority of us have evolved in a way that shifts the odds in favour of survival, but not everyone’s metabolism works in this way – you probably know at least one person who can eat more or less what they want and still look like a ‘runner bean’ or maybe you are one of those fortunate people? If not, you can comfort yourselves with the notion that should food ever be in short supply, those with an inclination to store fat, will survive longer than the skinnies amongst us

    The reality of being spoilt for choice and bombarded with high fat/sugary foods, often with little or no nutritional value, means this biological gift of efficient storing is now working against us (at least in the western world); a point that was highlighted to me when I attended a three day course for therapists entitled ‘Emotional Eating’ run by Professor Julia Buckroyd.

    Fortunately, Julia Buckroyd has also written a very helpful book about our relationship with food and specifically disordered eating. Her book Understanding Your Eating discusses the reasons behind those patterns which cause us distress (usually when they are experienced as beyond our control) whilst also shining some much needed light on why diets don’t usually work as a long-term solution to being overweight.

    Many of us will recognise the process of being able to galvanize oneself for a short period of time to lose weight, only to put it all back on afterwards; it is extraordinarily wearing and  leaves some feeling desolate.

    Weekly weigh-ins and support groups offer encouragement and support, but what happens after the target weight has been achieved and you no longer attend? Many people struggle to maintain their desired weight because their emotions are entangled with their eating habits, and unfortunately that issue is no more resolved at the end of the diet than it was at the outset.

    “Are you eating your emotions?” is a question posed by Julia Buckroyd. If we reflect honestly on the feelings that have accompanied significant fluctuations in our weight, we may realise we have a habit of ‘eating our worries away’. When we find ourselves experiencing high levels of stress, over eating or not eating enough, can be a way of channelling our unmanageable feelings.

    Having control over our food intake, when another significant aspect of our life is very much beyond our control may be an unconscious source of comfort – a coping mechanism of sorts, even if this means eating significantly more (or less) than our body requires.

    For me that moment came when I had moved continents and found myself isolated, and unable to follow my profession. Suffering a loss of identity, the wakeup call came a few months into the posting after complaining to my family, “that American washing machine is shrinking all my clothes”. Hah! Everyone else looked blankly back at me; I was the only one struggling to do my jeans up and the washing machine was working just fine…

    Eventually, our sea container arrived with our worldly goods and as I was reunited with my bathroom weighing scales, the unpalatable truth emerged – I had achieved a significant gain in weight without even noticing I was eating more than usual.

    With hindsight, I can see I struggled to come to terms with my new situation and in the throes of culture shock and isolation I had taken to self soothing, with rather a lot of nibbles… The unspoken message rebounding in my head; I deserve it, don’t I?

    It was helpful to acknowledge the relationship between my body and mind as symbiotic, remembering they cannot operate separately, particularly as my initial reaction to focus on calorie intake alone, was not helping.
    In addition to  ’eating my emotions’ another contributing factor was confusion over the food value of what I was consuming. If you have moved countries you will be familiar with the adjustment required when you first encounter the local supply of food in your new ‘home’.

    A number of staples in my diet were different from those I was used to or simply not available in my local Houston supermarkets. I remember low fat/low sugar yoghurts seemed difficult to find and encountering more sugar in bread was another unexpected difference. I soon learned to live without the yoghurts and bread by supplementing with replacement items – I ditched my toast and marmalade and became a committed porridge eater for the rest of the posting! Big deal, not a great hardship… After all some of the new dishes I was trying were exciting and delicious (Tex-mex and prawn gumbo being two of them!).

    More challenging, were the difficult feelings I struggled to manage. Eventually they needed acknowledging and reconciling, and with help I was able to do this. In the process of regaining my happiness and equilibrium my eating habits returned to normal and I enjoyed being more active again.

    So do a few extra pounds really matter? Arguably not, unless you need to be slender for your work… a dancer perhaps. Most people would agree, that it begins to matter if the excess ballast you are carrying (or severe lack of it if you are significantly underweight) has become a threat to your health. In my case, it was simply another thing about myself that didn’t feel right at a time when everything else was unfamiliar. In short, the irony of putting on weight was that my sense of identity was further eroded by the reflection in the mirror – I did not feel ‘normal’ inside or out! So it felt important to get back to being my usual size.

    I believe our identity is in part wrapped up in how we look and what our body and our clothes unconsciously tell the world about us. For example, we might be keeping people at a distance by being very large or unconsciously defending ourselves from intimacy? Perhaps we are undernourished and too thin, what does that say about our self worth if we are starving ourselves.?

    These complex emotional issues involving misuse of food are explored by Julia Buckroyd as she aims to look at what many describe as an “ongoing battle with food”. I like the fact that her focus is ultimately on eating and not worrying about it and her findings are based on many years of research. Also included is a chapter specifically for men, who are often overlooked in terms of their specific issues around disordered eating.

    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/

  • 17 Mar 2013 5:35 PM | Judy Rickatson

    “If only I’d known then what I know now” is not something I say often, partly because I don’t believe in crying over spilt milk and partly because the world changes so rapidly that often today’s solutions just weren’t available back then.  But an upcoming webinar on portable careers for expat spouses has got me thinking about what I would do the same and what I would do differently with my career, if I were to do it all again today.

    Same: I would be a stay-at-home mom until my son finished school.  I am forever thankful that I had an opportunity to be both a working mum (before expatriation) and a SAHM (during expatriation) and to experience the joys and frustrations of both.


    Different: I would have studied more while I wasn’t working.  Distance learning when we first went overseas would have been difficult but not impossible, these days it’s just a mouse click away and the choices are almost limitless.


    Same: I would study the local language.  Even though I know now that hell will freeze over before I could work in another language, it is such an insight into the local culture and even just a few words and phrases make everyday life so much easier.


    Different: I would find a mentor or coach to brainstorm with from time-to-time.  Like many expats I had no idea how long we would live overseas.  Even those who have fixed term contracts often find they are extended or cancelled.  I had never heard the term “portable career” and I didn’t realize that once my spouse had an international resume, more international assignments would follow.  Years slip away before you realize what’s happening.  If I were doing it again I would conduct an annual review of my situation and goals, ideally with someone who has expat experience, an unbiased opinion and enough guts to tell me what I need to hear (in other words, probably not a close friend)!


    Same: I would do a lot of volunteer work.  Looking back I can see I learned a hell of a lot doing things I didn’t get paid for and with a bit of creativity they can be made to look quite impressive on a resume. Nobody ever asks how much you got paid. Description: )


    Different: When I did finally return to the paid workforce overseas I would have looked harder for something related to my original profession.  My personal experience, and what I’ve heard anecdotally from other expats, is that starting a new career when overseas often doesn’t translate well when you return home.  I found prospective employers here far more interested in what I did in Canada 15 years ago than what I did in Dubai 1 year ago.  But maybe that’s just me and Canada, and for those who never return to their country of origin it wouldn’t apply anyway.

    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.

  • 01 Mar 2013 8:42 AM | Judy Rickatson

    I remember the first time I heard about it, three or four years ago. I had no idea what they were talking about.

    ‘It was soooo amazing!’

    ‘It was so…so…words just can’t express how fantastic it was!’

    ‘I couldn’t believe how comfortable I felt!’

    All these comments left me scratching my head. I wondered whether they’d been to some trendy new exotic restaurant, stumbled on a secret skin care regimen or learned a new sexual yoga position.

    ‘Incredible. Simply incredible.’

    ‘It’s so great, it leaves you wanting more!’

    ‘It is unbelievable how quickly you’re pulled into the experience…’

    Could it be a bestselling book or a blockbuster movie? Had they found the lost city of Atlantis? Discovered the fountain of youth? Was it a scientific breaththrough removing calories from chocolate?

    ‘So-and-so just got back and can’t stop raving about it!’

    ‘I felt so ‘at home,’ so loved.’

    ‘Truly inspiring, I can’t wait!’

    ‘The emotions that wash over you are overwhelming…’

    Clearly they were all experiencing something far more exhilarating than anything I could imagine. I just had to know what they were going on and on about. I gathered up the nerve to ask, and when I did, let’s just say the floodgates were opened.

    I heard all about it in exquisite detail. I have to admit, it felt good to know that it was out there, that it existed, that it was a possibility.

    Last year the comments shifted from statements to encouragements:

    ‘You’re going, right? How can you not go? It’s terrific!’

    ‘I can totally see you loving it. I save up all year to go, it’s that good!’

    ‘You would have such a wonderful time. Really, you should go.’

    ‘I go every year, wouldn’t miss it for the world. Come with me.’

    And so the seed was planted.

    During the springtime it was germinated and its little roots began to take hold. Summer brought tender shoots of greenery poking through the rich, loamy soil. By autumn it had taken shape, ripe with possibilities. Over the winter it grew and grew until finally, a couple months ago, it burst forth into its fully blossomed, glorious beauty.

    I am going to the annual Families in Global Transition conference, affectionately referred to as FIGT 2013.

    All this excitement and hype for a conference?! For sitting in hotel banquet rooms listening to presentation after presentation, speaker after speaker, research finding after research finding?

    Yes. All that and more. Much more.

    You see, as an organization FIGT focuses on being ‘the global leader in cross cultural education and training to support the entire expat family’, with one of the most effective ways they do this being their annual conference. Simply put, FIGT empowers expat families and the people who serve them in global transitions to make the most of the international experience.

    This year’s theme is ‘Cultural Integration and the Illusion of Closeness.’

    Here’s a two minute video by FIGT founder Ruth Van Reken about the organization and its impact:

    So yes, I’m going this year.

    I’ll be presenting both a Kitchen Table Conversation and an Ignite Session entitled ‘Engage, Adapt and Thrive Across Cultures with Emotional Resilience’ as well as participating on a Concurrent Session III panel ‘Blog Your Way to Expat Success’ with several fellow bloggers. I’m sure there will be opportunities to promote my new book coming out next month The Emotionally Resilient Expat: Engage, Adapt and Thrive Across Cultures.

    But those aren’t the reasons I’m going. Or at least not among the top three reasons why I will attend.

    And what would those be?

    1. Spend two glorious days among my tribe – people who have lived or are currently living across cultures – listening to, discussing and synergizing the latest and greatest on the issues that move us, motivate us, matter to us;
    2. Give a big hug in person to the dozen or so ‘cyber friends’ I’ve come to know and care for over the past three years as an expat blogger online; and
    3. Meet as many of the several hundred attendees as humanly possible, hear their stories, share their feelings, become energized by their experiences.

    All so I can come back and share the excitement with other expats and cross-culturals living outside their home/birth/passport countries and/or cultures.

    Pssst, have you heard about FIGT…?

    Contributed by Linda A. Janssen, a writer and American expat living in the Netherlands with her husband and two teens. She is the author of The Emotionally Resilient Expat: Engage, Adapt and Thrive Across Cultures (Summertime Publishing, March 2013) and blogs at Adventures in Expatland

  • 15 Feb 2013 6:09 PM | Judy Rickatson
    Rip Van Winkle was an amiable, somewhat lazy man. His neighbors – especially the children – loved him. He loved to wander through the woods with his dog and his rifle. A favorite expression of his was, “Today is nice”.

    He disliked and avoided gainful labor, for which his wife nagged him incessantly, and not without reason, for his neglect left the family finances, the farm and their lives in disarray.

    One day Rip took a walk in the woods, spent some time drinking with a group of men he did not know, and fell into a deep sleep that lasted twenty years.

    When he woke up, he found that his beard was a foot long, his gun was rusted away and his dog was missing. Back at the village, he recognizes no one, learns that his wife has died and other friends have either died or moved away.

    Rip’s world is really rocked when he proclaims himself as a loyal subject of King George III, which outrages his neighbors. The American Revolutionary War had taken place while he had been asleep, changing the cultural landscape forever.
    Rip settles rather quickly back into his normal, amiable and idle daily life, spending his last years in front of Mr. Doolittle’s Hotel,  learning about what he had missed during his sleep, and telling stories about his experience. Rumor has it that he preferred to spend his time with the younger generation.

    I thought of this story while watching the American National League Football playoffs last weekend. When I left the United States many years ago, I knew the names of the star players, which teams were good and why, which teams would continue their dismal losing streak and why.

    Today, after my ‘sleep’ of about three decades, much (if not everything) about tv presentations of American Football has changed:

    * many teams have different names
     * stadiums have exchanged their romantic names for names of financial institutions – I have no idea where Fed-Ex Field is, or Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Candlestick Park (San Francisco) and Lambeau Field (Green Bay, Wisconsin) have withstood the temptation and trend to change names (so far).
    * the quarterbacks, running backs, tight ends are unknown to me, as are the coaches.
    * the players I used to know are now sitting behind the commentator’s desk – grayer, (much) heavier, not funny at all, despite their attempts.
    * tv images show yellow and blue lines on the field, as well as downs and yards to go.
    * not to mention female reporters in the locker room

    Rip Van Winkle is back, and the village has changed – and not just football either! Imagine a crowd listening to presidential candidates debate jumping to its feet in a standing ovation!

    Short-story analysis is always a dicey proposition. And yet:

    The final irony of Washington Irving’s story could be that, in Rip Van Winkle’s village, twenty years and a revolution later, not much had really changed after all!

    And isn’t that the experience of the repatriate?
    Everything has changed.
    Nothing has changed.

    What was the name of that quarterback again?

    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 Feb 2013 7:57 AM | Judy Rickatson

    I came to a horrible realization the other day that I was beholden to my husband. It sounds incredibly old-fashioned; even using the word ‘partner’ in that sentence would be wrong, because it implies an equality that I had let slip away.

    The dictionary describes the term beholden as ‘owing something to somebody because of something that they have done for you’, so if you view being shuffled from pillar to international post as a favour, the word pretty much covers it.

    I realized that although I live in California, where community property and a 50/50 division applies, I did not have the independent means to pay for legal advice. And when he leaves all his dirty breakfast dishes on the counter above the dishwasher for the 5 millionth time, there is a big emotional difference between don’t want to divorce my Other Half, and CAN’T..

    As with the vast majority of dual career couples, when I agreed to the OH’s first relocation, I was aware that from now on my own career would take a back seat. Global mobility research discusses the change (usually reduction) in income when couple relocate, but discussion centres around household income, rather than individual earning power.

    Which is exactly what I have lost. I have never worked in professions known for lavish salaries (nursing or teaching, anyone??), but I was able to earn significant personal income with opportunities for promotion. Now, however, my sole income in drawn from the ‘household’, and as such, is vulnerable. And I’m not alone.

    It’s not just those of us who relocate that are in this position. It’s anyone who has chosen to reduce or give up work to manage family commitments, whether you are in constant global motion, or have never set foot outside your home town. If you have no independent source of income, whoever earns the salary holds the keys to your supposed household income.

    And while you are legally entitled to a portion of those, it requires court approval to gain access to them, whatever the circumstances. Which also requires legal counsel, who (funnily enough) will want to be paid.

    Take credit cards. Over the last 20 years, we have become used to being approved for credit, regardless of our personal income; the household income has always been taken into account. Sure, the credit limit may be small, but it’s quickly increased once our payment history shows our ability to make payments and manage the account well.

    However change is afoot, certainly in the US, where credit card issuers are changing their rules, and making it far more difficult for the accompanying partner to gain credit (and a good credit history), unless they are employed outside of home.

    Last year, the Fed ruled that credit card applications should ask about a consumer’s individual income or salary rather than his or her “household income.” This isn’t just for students under 21, but for everyone. That means that a stay-at-home parent is considered as unworthy of credit as an unemployed college kid–and seven out of eight stay-at-home parents are mothers. No one without a pay stub, no matter the value of her contribution to her household, can get a line of credit unless her spouse cosigns the account. (Anisha Sekar,  July 7, 2011)

    Now, in light of the recent economic meltdown, placing more focus on individual income and ability to repay debts is no bad thing, but it does have ramifications for those of us who suddenly lose the ability to get even the most basic forms of credit like a cell phone contract or credit card.

    It also means that unless you are named on the account, you lose the ability to make financial decisions, access accounts and resolve disputes, which if, like mine, your partner spends a great deal of time out of the country and on air flights, can make financial management impossible.

    The Other Half is also the primary name on the host country bank account, and I don’t have automatic access to his account. Typically, he goes ahead to take up his new post, while I remain behind with the children to finish up the school year and pack the house for the move.

    It works well for us, but does mean that he has sole responsibility for setting up basic financial services in the new location, so it is his name on the salary transfer and tax details, and therefore his name on the account, at least until we get around to updating it.

    We choose to manage this by having me sign all the checks (if he signed one himself, it would probably be dismissed as a forgery), I have the ATM card and PIN number, and I’ve set up the internet banking with my passwords.

    And while this unusual state of affairs makes for amusing dinner party conversation, it gives me absolutely no legal right to the household funds in that account, nor access to them should he suddenly develop amnesia / get run down by a London bus / decide to trade me in for a younger, blonder model..

    The mention of Tax ID and salary above should alert you to the fact that opening you own bank account is not necessarily as easy as it first appears. Requirements vary from country to country, but most require evidence of who you are, your legal right to be in the country, how you will pay tax on any interest, and how you intend to fund the account. So when you turn up with your passport and cash, you may be disappointed.

    However, it is something that is worth doing if you value your sanity, because things can and do go wrong, and I am willing to bet that it is you who will be left holding the can when it does. If the money is in your sole name, you have control over it; if it’s not, you don’t. Simple as that.

    And finally, let me mention the dying thing. I have known a few situations where a spouse has died at young age, and not once did I ever hear the words “well now, let’s get on and sort out the money”. What I saw were people who had their lives knocked out from under them, who were trying to cope with immense loss, overwhelming grief, and devastated children.

    Imagine how much worse it gets when you are overseas, your right to be in the country expired with the demise of your spouse, and all your assets (and therefore your ability to get home, to make funeral arrangements, to pay medical bills and to pay for normal household expenses) are now severely compromised. I have seen it happen, and it was horrific.

    So, if you do nothing else today, do these things for me, wherever you are. Get started on your own personal credit history, even if you have to take out a secured credit card to do it. Promise to keep track of your credit score, every month. Get an independent bank account in your host country, and commit to funding it, every month.

    And finally, make a joint will, keep it simple and safe, and make sure it is legal in the country that you live in.

    Oprah would be proud. I feel more secure already..

    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 is founder of The Expat LifeLine, where she helps expat women create a secure life.

  • 25 Jan 2013 9:22 AM | Deleted user
    The FIGT Blog will be coming soon...
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