Expat life

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This Week Out There – May 11th – 17th

A selection of this week’s expat-related stories


Into the Wild… of Hong Kong?

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Idiot Patrol to the rescue

A 27-year-old British expat living in Hong Kong was rescued by helicopter after somehow getting lost in the woods at Hong Kong’s Victoria Peak. The story describes him as “drunk”, which strikes me as an understatement, not only because he couldn’t find his way out to the densely populated city literally surrounding the park, but also because he claimed that he somehow got his foot tangled in a rope, as if that explains anything.

New Jersey DMV vs. Chinese Bureaucracy

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Abandon all hope, ye who enter. It helps!

Living overseas often lends perspective to the life you left, and returning home can also cast your overseas experience in a new light. Alan Paul, a former expat who once struggled to get a Chinese driver’s license, gets a large dose of perspective at the New Jersey Department of Motor Vehicles, when his 17-year-old son gets caught in a bureaucratic nightmare that Kafka would have appreciated.

Paul observes that it’s sometimes easier to laugh off problems like this overseas. “In China, I would have been laughing under my frustration and thinking through a column outline. In Springfield, N.J., I felt my temples pounding and my temper turning.” Expecting life overseas to be hard is certainly a helpful attitude; what I’m wondering is why he apparently expected negotiating the New Jersey DMV to be easy.

I Shoulda Been One of Them There Computer People

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The 21st century cubicle?

It was hard not to be jealous reading this piece written by a British freelance writer who fled Old Blighty to set up shop at Hubud (Hub in Ubud), a work space shared by expat professionals in Bali, Indonesia. With nothing tying them to a particular locale, these “digital nomads” live cheaply in paradise while living on a Western payscale. No word yet on how well they manage the work-beach balance.

Off With his Beard!

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I wonder what this guy did to deserve that.

Two Qataris were sentenced to a year in jail for accosting an expat driver and shaving his head and facial hair. The men went after the driver, identified only as “Asian”, because they said he was driving recklessly and almost caused them to crash by failing to signal a lane change and cutting them off. The victim was quoted as saying he was driving ‘normally’, though he neglected to say in which country his driving is considered normal.

This Week Out There – May 4th – 10th

A selection of this week’s expat-related stories


Don’t Flip Off The Philippines

deportedThai national Prasertsri Kosin earned the rare honor of being one of a small number of Southeast -Asians ever to be deported from the Philippines, when he received his walking papers on Tuesday for insulting Filipinos on facebook, tarring them as ‘stupid creatures’ and ‘low-class slum slaves’. Not least among the takeaways from this short article is the confirmation that truly stupid people, say for example those who express bigoted views on facebook, often lack a well-developed sense of irony. Western readers also may find a small measure of relief in reading about an Southeast-Asian expat playing the asshole for a change.

Expatriation Through a Child’s Eyes

When a company assigns someone to work overseas for an extended period, it often means uprooting the whole family expatkid_1875646band setting up in a new country together. In the expat blogosphere, it’s fairly easy to find the stories and reflections of the “trailing spouse” (usually the wife) whose husband’s relocation thrusts her into the role of managing the family in an unfamiliar environment. The following post by 9-year-old Arabelle Rossi is the first time I’ve read a blog post by what you might call a “trailing kid”. Forced to move to Hong Kong when her dad was assigned there, she eloquently offers a child’s take on the fear, confusion, and angst of reluctant expatriation.

Heading for the Exits

533-1108063008-Getting-out-leaving-AmericaAccording to these two recent articles, record numbers of U.S. citizens are renouncing U.S. citizenship, and more and more are considering doing so because of tax policies that they believe are unfair. U.S. expats have for a long time been obliged to pay U.S. taxes above a certain income threshold on foreign earnings, even though they are paying local taxes on the same income. Also fueling the exodus is the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) enacted in 2010 to make it harder for U.S. citizens to hide money overseas but which has bedeviled expats who are merely trying to have money overseas.

Also interesting is the Forbes writer’s use of the term “expatriate” to refer to those who are renouncing citizenship. While technically correct, if the trend continues, we may need a new term to distinguish them from the more numerous group who merely live abroad.

You Can Take a Brit out of Britain…

A British expat has put together a list of Ten Weird Things Brits do in America, which spans the expected (watching old tomatoBritish TV shows) to the funny (adopting American pronunciations with the exception of “tomato”) to the odd (stalking suspected fellow countrymen in the supermarket). May strike familiar chords in expat readers. Or not. But here it is.

And how are you doing out there this week?

This Week Out There – April 27th – May 3rd

A selection of this week’s expat-related stories


Whatever gets you through the night…

kim-kardashian-hollywood-game-revenueIt can be a little lonely out there as a stranger in a strange land, and everyone has different ways of dealing with it. To combat her loneliness and alienation in Spain, 30-year-old British expat Emma Biggins spends 30 hours a week playing the Kim Kardashian – Hollywood game, in which users (most of whom are teenage girls) “compete to get points in a bid to become Kim’s best mate.” Biggins says the game makes her feel “fabulous.” and that she thinks “Kim really is [her] best friend.” Read the story here, or decide you’ve already heard enough and move on.

Filipino Expat Spared Death (for now)

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Filipino expat Mary Jane Veloso narrowly escaped execution by firing squad in Indonesia on Wednesday when Indonesian President Joko Widodo granted her a temporary 11th-hour stay of execution after evidence surfaced that she may have been duped into drug trafficking. Time will tell if she is exonerated, granted a reduced sentence, or executed, as were eight other convicted smugglers, including seven foreign nationals whose appeals fell through. For now it appears she will be given the opportunity to testify against Maria Kristina Sergio, the daughter of Veloso’s godparents who Veloso claims set her up by giving her a bag that had over 2 kilograms of heroin sewn into the lining.

There’s no Taste Like Home

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The Battleship Burger. Oh yeah.

As U.S. troops relocate from Yongsan Garrison in Seoul to points south, a reluctant U.S. expat marks the passing of the Navy Club, “an eccentric bar-and-grill that was a vital taste of home for generations of soldiers, sailors and civilian expats,” and waxes poetic about the Battleship Burger, “a sizzling half-pound of ground Angus sirloin, topped with America.” Seoul’s changing food scene in the area around Yongsan may make the passing of the Navy Club a quiet one, but the Navy Club will no doubt be missed by many for whom it provided a crucial taste of home to smooth the transition abroad.

You Can’t Go Home Again?

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A group listens to a returned expat as he relates his overseas experience.

Repatriating after an extended stay abroad can be tough; so tough, in fact, that many expats (like yours truly) never seriously attempt it, and those who do sometimes end up bouncing back overseas.

Was Thomas Wolfe right when he wrote that you can’t go home again? The following short primer on repatriating is a bit more sanguine, and advises those heading back to treat it as they would treat a move to any foreign country. This bit of advice from one commenter stood out:

“Don’t immediately talk about all the places you’ve been, what you’ve done, etc.… This will alienate people,” she wrote. “Keep it low-key, make it like dating, dole out information very, very slowly.”

Sounds about right. I would also add that favorably comparing country X to your home country in any way should be exercised with extreme discretion, especially during Christmas dinner.

And how are you doing out there this week?

This Week Out There – April 19th-25th

In this new weekly segment, I curate some of this week’s expat-related stories.


Ah! The Luxury of Moving House

Moving house is never fun, and moving as an expat can carry added difficulties. Being mobile requires one to frequently let go of many things, so the process of deciding what to leave behind can be especially fraught.

To help ease the move for her son, this expat mom in Turkey offers a dose of perspective, writing that deciding what to take with you in a rusomo-refugeesstrife-torn part of the world is a luxury that many people can’t afford.

As we watch the morning and evening news together, we are both reminded of just how fortunate we truly are. My son understands that around the world, and along the Turkish borders in particular, there are so many people who do not have the opportunity to pick and choose which items they want to keep and carry with them.

For those dealing with a recent move, read it here.

Stop the Press! Expats Consider Moving

A recent survey found that around half of expats in the UAE report that they are considering leaving due to the rising cost of living. In a country where an estimated 88% of the population is composed of expats, that works out to about 3 million people and a hell of a lot of moving vans.

It’s good to keep in mind that when an expat says he or she is considering moving, we probably need to take it with a grain of salt – my own anecdotal evidence suggests that expats as a species are generally more open to the prospect of moving than the average person; it may be part of the reason many of us ended up living halfway around the world in the first place. Anyway, here’s the story.

Possible Link Between Expat Experience and Creativity

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Too much creativity can actually cause the brain to explode

Many of the great 20th century artists – Orwell, Picasso, Fitzgerald, and Hemingway – lived abroad for significant parts of their lives. If you’ve ever pondered whether the expat experience helps to foster great art, check out this report on a recent study by Columbia University and INSEAD, which found a link between expat experience and enhanced creativity (You can find the abstract here). The study looked at fashion houses but the authors point out that it could have broader applications for business.

“Creativity is the driver of growth for companies and individuals in the 21st century. Professional foreign assignments are the surest way to become creative, and fashion industry understands that. Companies in other industries also should value executives’ foreign experiences and promote them through global talent mobility programmes,’ said INSEAD’s professor Andrew Shipilov”

Shiplov also notes that it’s not just living abroad that drives this growth, but engaging with local culture in meaningful ways.

‘The key, critical process is multicultural engagement, immersion, and adaptation. Someone who lives abroad and doesn’t engage with the local culture will likely get less of a creative boost than someone who travels abroad and really engages in the local environment,’ he added.

Now we await the research that explains why repatriated expats are undervalued. Any guesses?

Speaking of creativity …

In 1954, expat Alice B. Toklas published a cookbook that was to become legendary in the 1960’s for the hashish brownie recipe it included, which was the inspiration of the 1968 Peter Sellers film I Love You Alice B. Toklas. Anthropologist Layla Eplett has written an interesting account of the origins of the recipe, and its unwitting inclusion into the book that rocked the hippie scene and was a favorite of William Burroughs and other expatriates of the mind.

A Defense of the Expat Bubble

Expat bubble is a phrase that usually has negative connotations; whenever we hear it, it’s usually to exhort us to burst, Janice.BubbleManescape, or avoid it, or to invite us to disparage those who luxuriate in its hermetic warmth. To many, the bubble is a perfect and all-encompassing barrier that signals a desire to keep the unfamiliar at bay. To burst someone’s bubble is to disabuse them of a fantasy, and expat bubbles are likewise seen as artificial oases in the midst of an otherwise authentic cultural setting.

While some expats can’t live within the bubble, some can’t live without it. I recently read a rare and spirited defense of the expat bubble by Alyssa Abkowitz, which begins from the proposition that expat life can be tiring and hard.

The idea of wanting the simple comforts of home in a foreign land is understandable, particularly after braving language, logistical and cultural hurdles throughout the day. These bubbles let expats’ brains take a much-needed rest.

Hard to disagree with that. I’ve had my share of trying days in Korea and can certainly relate to what she’s saying, though the bubbles in Busan tend not to encompass entire neighborhoods but smaller spaces like pubs or private homes (I think of my old friend and the “Korea Stops Here” sign that hung on his door).

In the piece, Abkowitz highlights five cities, and it seems that the cities that Westerners tend to find more livable (like Singapore and Hong Kong) had the most dispersed expat communities, while the grittier cities (New Delhi, Bangkok, Jakarta) were more likely to have Western enclaves.

Criticism of the bubble tends to assume that everyone came abroad to have some kind of growth experience, but that’s not bubbl popnecessarily true, particularly of company-assigned expats. Those of us who chose to come here and were attracted by adventure may find ourselves looking down our noses at the bubble dwellers (though strangely we’re also likely to be charmed by the expat bubbles ethnic neighborhoods in our hometowns), but the fact is not everyone is looking to burst it.

Whether or not one chooses to live in the bubble seems to have a lot to do with where you live and why you went there in the first place. The situation here in Busan seems to support that working hypothesis, with the company folks clustered around the glass towers of Marine City, and the long-term expats scattered far and wide.

What are your thoughts on the expat bubble?

Expat Gripe of the Month?

Everybody who lives abroad has complained about it at some point. Complaining is something everybody does, for a variety of reasons, and with varying degrees of justice and skill.

Much bandwidth has been occupied here in Korea with expat complaints, and many K-bloggers have attempted to explain the complaining itself, including this excellent taxonomy of expat complainers published by Roboseyo some years ago and which still rings true today.

Lately I’ve been curious about some of the things that expats in other countries complain about, and I came across an interesting piece in ScreamThe Kurdish Globe entitled An Expat’s View on Kurdistan: Complainers.

As residents of a self-governing region that has recently had to rebuild its infrastructure, absorb thousands of displaced people, fend off ISIS, and deal with collapsing states on its doorsteps, surely Kurdistan’s expat community would have some interesting bones to pick, no?

Turns out that the writer is addressing himself to Kurdistani complainers and imploring them not to abandon their country in these trying times. Any expats in need of a little shot of perspective can read it here.

And have a swell day, wherever you are!

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Expat, Immigrant, or None of the Above?

The question of who is an “expat” and who is an “immigrant” and how those terms relate to privilege has received some attention lately. This piece is my take on how those seemingly clear-cut lines get blurred a bit here in Korea.

For those of you living overseas, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Enjoy!

Expat, Immigrant, or None of the Above?