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Reflections On Expat Life: What I’ve Learned This Year & My Biggest Tips

Reflections On Expat Life: What I’ve Learned This Year & My Biggest Tips

2018 was the year I spent the furthest from “home” than ever before in my life. In fact, this past year is the first time I could officially call myself a true expat! I’ve spent many weeks of my life traveling, but never truly resettled in another country until this year.

I started 2018 in Myanmar, jetted over to China, then Scotland, Cuba, Sri Lanka, The Maldives, Bermuda, Seattle, Monaco, explored Armenia, Norway, moved to Paris and Rome, spent a few weeks in Egypt and Jordan… and somewhere in between it all, I learned a whole lot about myself and expatriate life. Today, I wanted to share some of my reflections on this past year and my biggest tips for anyone making the leap into expat life.

And if you’re looking for more tips on how to become an expat, I’m sharing all of my insight over at on Western Union’s “How To Become An Expat” blog post! Be sure to check it out.

Reflections On Expat Life: What I’ve Learned This Year & My Biggest Tips

Be Crystal Clear As To Why You Are Relocating

Despite what many will tell you – transitioning to another culture isn’t the hard part (at least in my opinion!) about relocating… it’s finding yourself in the mix of it. This year has been an incredible, transformative one for my own self development. I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to really only have myself to answer to.

And that being said, it’s incredibly important for travelers to know the exact, clear cut reasons why they’re choosing to relocate their lives. It takes some serious self-evaluation before anyone should make the move across the world. Ask yourself “what exactly am I moving for?” – are you moving to find yourself, change a career, to experience a culture as a local?

Instead of jumping right in to finding your dream location, income, housing and visa applications… first and foremost, do your soul searching! Being set on your intentions makes everything more motivational and inspiring.

Making Friends Abroad

A major fear many travelers face, especially when going solo, is that they’ll never make real friendships while they’re exploring. I’ve actually found it to be completely opposite!

A great place to start is to book a few group tours or excursions. It’s a great way to make friends without the pressure. In your free time, ask a fellow traveler if you can tag along on their afternoon adventures if you have free time. More ideas on making friendships abroad here!

When all else fails – just ask a simple question! Lots of solo travelers meet just by asking something simple when in a restaurant. Remarking on how delicious a person’s meal was can bring about a lifelong friend. Who knows? You might just be meeting your new bestie.

Don’t be afraid to reach out to your online community as well! I love to meet up with friends I’ve met through Dame Traveler and other online expat communities out there!

It’s The Little Things That Make A Distant Place Feel Like Home

Culture shock and home sickness have been two serious hurdles I have overcome this past year as an expat. But my biggest trick for making your home away from home feel more like “you” is simple.

Adding little familiar touches, like a candle or a book, really makes any space feel yours. Sentimental items into a new space makes any place feel intimate and cozy. After a long day of missing routines and structures of familiar places, seeing something that reminds me of my friends or family makes everything feel better.

Self care can look different to an expat too! One of my favorite days while abroad this past year was just cooking a simple, familiar meal my little apartment. Find out restaurants and flavors that remind you of home. When I was in Paris, there was an American diner and I used to always go there for comfort food which reminded me of home. It was my little slice of heaven on those hard days that came around every now and then!

The Best Part About Expat Life?

Well, for me? Growth. This past year I truly was able to immerse myself in the life changing opportunity to live life in an unfamiliar place. Through the challenges and hurdles, the beautiful moments of bliss and thrill, seeing the changing of the seasons and the chapters of my life unfold – I learned so much about myself.


Be sure to check out my interview with Western Union, where I’m sharing my other big tips for becoming an expat!

To the Dame Traveler expats reading this – what are some of your biggest lessons you’ve learned through relocating across the world?

This post is sponsored by Western Union. All opinions are my own.

Food Will Work for Travel

5 Tips to Stay Sane Working Abroad

I’m no stranger to working abroad. I started my career as an American expat living in London. Then, I worked for a Silicon Valley-based software company with a fully remote workforce. This allowed me to work from places including Brooklyn, New York; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Vancouver, British Columbia; and Lake Tahoe, Nevada. I currently live in the Washington, DC, area while reporting to a team based in Barcelona, Spain.

I love the autonomy and adventure of working abroad. So when my office chose to pilot a new program that allowed employees to work from anywhere for up to one month, I was one of the first to raise my hand. I instantly knew where I wanted to work from: England, the country that I once called home. So, in September 2017, I spent 3.5 weeks back in the UK working from London and the Lake District.

It felt great to be back in a country I love so much. I got the unique chance to see old and new sights while growing my career at the same time. But working abroad is far from a holiday. Juggling deadlines and conference calls with time zone changes and delayed trains takes a big dose of dedication. If you have the chance to work abroad, here are some tips to make it work for you:

1. Adjust Your Expectations
If you’re able to work abroad, you’ll probably start dreaming about all the sights you’ll see on your nights and weekends off. But before you build an iron-clad itinerary, don’t get too ahead of yourself.

Rather than leaving your work behind, you’re taking it with you on this trip. And just like working from your office, you’ll likely have some long days and deadlines to plan around. That doesn’t leave much time for running around – especially on weeknights.

So, once you know how long you’ll be away, make a wish list of attractions. Then, confirm exactly how many free nights, holidays, and weekend days you’ll have. This will help you prioritize what you really want to do – and avoid burnout.

2. Get Some Sleep
If I sound like your mom, it’s because Mom was right – when it comes to staying healthy while you work abroad, nothing beats the basics of sleep.

We’ve all had late nights on holidays, but working abroad means you need to stay sharp. Trying to fit too much in without enough rest is the fast track to illness – I caught a cold after an especially full week during my own work abroad trip. Had I prioritized more effectively, I think I could have avoided it.

To stay healthy and avoid the sniffles, go to sleep and wake up at the same times as often as you can. This helps your body stay on track, which makes it easier to get into a routine that you can follow throughout your trip. This goes a long way towards helping you stay focused while you work each day.

3. Make a Ritual
Whether we’re aware of them or not, we all have rituals that help us through each day. When I’m at home, my ritual involves making coffee in my French press as soon as I wake up. It’s part of my daily routine, and I wake up each morning excited to do it.

Rituals are no less important when you work abroad. If anything, they’re more important. They serve as a tool to help your new environment feel like it’s your own.

When I worked abroad from London, my AirBnB in Bayswater didn’t have a coffee maker. So, my new work abroad ritual was to take a walk through the neighborhood at lunchtime each day and buy a cup of coffee from a local cafe. It didn’t take long for the streets I’d never walked before to feel familiar.

4. Lose the (Checked) Luggage
No matter where you choose to work abroad, chances are high that you won’t stay stagnant. I stayed in a total of four locations during my time working abroad in England – Trafalgar Square, Bayswater, and Westminster (in London) and Keswick (in the Lake District). That means I also had to move my luggage on and off the Tube several times.

To make this process much less painful, I suggest limiting your luggage to one carry-on suitcase and one personal item. If you use a backpack as your personal item, you can pack more clothes along with essentials like your wallet. Women can solve the handbag dilemma by packing purses that lie flat or fold up into smaller bags. Tumi and Longchamp are two brands that make travel-friendly handbags. Even if they’re an investment upfront, buying compact luggage can save you a fortune in checked bag fees and cabs over time.

I shared more on this topic with the BBC. Not sure what qualifies as a carry-on? Amazon sells luggage that fits the size guidelines for several airlines.

5. Reset Your Clock
Working abroad means you’re away from it all – including colleagues. But your work with them is as important as ever. You’ll need to use digital tools to bridge the distance, and your colleagues need to know that they can reach you.

To adjust your schedule, reset the time zone on your calendar to whichever time zone you’re working from. This will save you from having to manually manage the time difference between you and your colleagues. Try to work online with them for at least a few hours per day – research shows that four hours is ideal for remote teams.

During that time, you can use collaboration software like Slack to stay in touch from your laptop and smartphone. A little emoji goes a long way in bridging the social distance gap 🙂

The Bottom Line
Working abroad is a great privilege. It lets you see more of the world without sacrificing your career goals. Lest any of your friends think you’re slacking off, you can assure them that it’s hard work. But with some strong pre-planning, new routines, and minimal baggage, you can turn your work abroad into the trip of a lifetime.

Advice Expat

5 Countries Who Will Pay You To Live There

Although there are numerous people who would love to explore and live in new places, many do not have the funds. However, there are countries that will actually pay you to move to their country. While there are prerequisites in some cases, most countries offer a great opportunity for a new lifestyle and culture. For instance, some countries will lower your bills and taxes for making the move. Other countries provide prompt financial incentives to finance your startup adventure.

Here are just a few to give you an idea of the numerous opportunities:

Canada
If you just graduated from college and are intrigued by Saskatchewan, this offer could be ideal. The town is offering tuition reimbursements for amounts up to $20,000 Canadian dollars (CAD). This is the equivalent of $15,956 U.S. Dollars (USD). To qualify, you must be a college graduate in 2010 or after. Compensation is presented in the form of non-refundable tax credit and is paid out in segments up to ten years.

Chile

If you are looking to begin a startup business, then Chili may be ideal. They will pay you $50,000 to begin your startup there. On the other hand, your startup needs to have the potential of becoming a huge global success. During the first six months you have to reside in Chili. In addition to the funds, you will be granted a one year work visa and a list of business contacts. Other benefit is that everything is in English.

Ireland

This country wants to attract worldwide entrepreneurs. If you feel that your startup has a large growth probability, you can apply for funding with Enterprise Ireland. If and when accepted, you are rewarded with thousands of funds and the opportunity to live and work in Ireland. Keep in mind, Ireland is renowned for its deluxe standard of living and low tax rates for new businesses.

New Zealand

Although you do not get paid actual money, the town of Kaitangata offers a new home with a fourth acre of land for $230,000 New Zealand Dollars (NZD). This is equal to $165,000 USD. Generally these same house market for about $394,482 USD. This is due to a shortage of people in an area that has approximately 1,000 jobs in that region.

Thailand, Korea or Vietnam

These three countries offer very similar programs and ways of life. Respectively, each is always in search of people from the United States and Europe to teach English as well as other subjects. Although Korea pays the best, Thailand and Vietnam have a lower cost of living. As well, Thailand and Vietnam have been growing economically and increasingly competitive. Many of the programs also offer air flight costs to your destination and back when the teaching position is finished.

United States

Since the economic crash of the housing market during the late 2000’s, numerous cities have huge incentives to buy homes. For instance, Detroit Michigan has the Live Midtown and Live Downtown programs that provide money for rent, home improvements and a home. Other U.S. cities with similar incentives include Harmony, MN; Niagara Falls, NY, most of Kansas and all of Alaska.

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Asia Journal

A Year in Singapore

The day before I moved to Singapore a wise friend warned me “Just remember, the body always arrives before the soul”. At the time, I thought it was an odd piece of advice. After all, I was more than ready to embark on a new adventure and the only thing left to do was board my flight the next morning. But the truth is, it’s been a much longer journey than I expected to truly “arrive” in Singapore (and I don’t just mean the 20 hours of flying from my hometown of Vancouver).

I first visited Singapore when I was 18 years old after traveling around Southeast Asia for 3 months. I instantly fell in love with the colourful, shuttered shophouses, the rickshaws and incredible variety of food. Singapore was foreign enough to excite me yet the colonial traces were familiar enough to make me feel comfortable. After many more years of traveling the world and living in a few different cities, I found myself happily living in London and expected that after a few years I would be ready to return closer to home.

But when the time came I didn’t feel ready at all. Instead, I felt a bit of remorse; something tugged at my heartstrings and I knew deep down that I wasn’t ready to give up living abroad. I could see myself too easily slipping back into my former life, only traveling once a year, trading my regular adventure fixes for the daily grind. So when a job opportunity in Singapore was presented to me I jumped at the chance. I’d never imagined that I would live in Asia but once it became a possibility it instantly felt like the right choice. So I accepted the job offer, packed my bags and prepared for another international move. I was confident with my decision: I’d already been living abroad for a few years and felt reassured that I knew the expat routine.

But I over-estimated how easy the transition would be. London life had been easy adjustment: I had a safety net of a small group of friends already living there, there was no language barrier and the time difference to chat with family and friends back home was manageable. Singapore was different. Despite my enthusiasm to settle quickly, it still took months to start to feel like home and instead felt more like an extra long layover. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it: no language barrier, decent wifi, lots of friendly expats, clean and safe, warm weather all year, cheap foot massages… what’s not to love?

I’ve always been the “Type A/Over-planner/Life goal tracker” type. But my usual approach just wasn’t working in Singapore. Despite its reputation as the “golf course of Asia” and as an easy country for foreigners to settle in, I was forced to acknowledge that Singapore is very much a foreign country! So I decided to take a deep breath and embrace the uncertainty rather than try to dictate the terms.

Encounter one of Singapore’s notoriously long queues? Pull out my kindle to catch up on reading. Hazy weather? Put on a mask and get on with life. No friends? Join one of the million social clubs. Crazy humidity every day? Be thankful I can wear flip flops and use my pool all year. Can’t find the ingredients for my favourite recipe? Try a new dish (or in my case, a new restaurant) instead. Each weekend I wandered new neighbourhoods like Tiong Bahru and Little India, took in the views of my new home from the top of Marina Bay Sands or Mount Faber, tasted chicken rice at a Hawker Food Centre, dodged monkeys and lizards while hiking through the MacRitchie Nature Reserve and enjoyed plenty of time relaxing by my condo pool.

But the most effective thing I did to make Singapore feel like home? I left. Over and over again. I travelled around Asia any chance I could get: Malaysia, Myanmar, Indonesia, Japan, India, Taiwan, Thailand, Sri Lanka, China… so many incredible destinations are within easy reach of Singapore. Each time I left Singapore I began to appreciate the life I had started to build for myself a little bit more. And without warning, one day as my plane touched down at Changi airport I realised that it finally felt good to be “home”.

Don’t get me wrong, there are still many aspects of Singapore life that I haven’t adjusted to yet ($35 cocktails anyone?). But for now, I’m happy that my soul has finally caught up to my body and I feel lucky to call Singapore “home”.

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Asia Journal Solo Travel

Life in China by Dame Traveler Sydney of Coconut Curl

Each day in China is an adventure. Every day is filled with exciting new experiences while I try to navigate my way through my new home. Trips to the grocery store turn into games of charades whenever I have a question for a salesperson. I can’t say I was prepared for the amount of staring I would receive while on the subway, but it’s all a part of adjusting to life abroad. I live in a city where you can find a Starbucks next to a traditional Chinese medicine shop. While drinking my morning latte I can also buy fresh produce until the freeway pass. This city combines international ways and traditional customs seamlessly. Adjusting to life in China has been a journey, but with each day I’m beginning to feel more at home.

I currently live in Shenzhen in the Guangdong Province of China. Shenzhen was once a small market town named, Sham Chun Hui, but in 1979 it was named China’s first Special Economic Zone. Since, foreign investment has poured in and the economy has flourished. I moved to Shenzhen to teach basketball and I have been living here for two months. I made the move to China because I had lived here for a month during college and I fell in love. I always dreamed of moving back, so I jumped at the opportunity to return.

In China, I stick out like a sore thumb and I always have multiple sets of eyes on me. It’s an uncomfortable feeling knowing that people are looking at you thinking, “Why is she here?” and “Where did she come from?” I am now aware of how foreigners feel in the United States, or elsewhere while trying to make a home abroad. I am tuned in to how uncomfortable it feels to know that you aren’t native to where you live. Right now, the most comforting thing anyone can is exchange a smile with me. Remember, next time you see someone that might be lost or new to your neighborhood, just glance over and offer a smile, it goes a long way.

My patience has grown exponentially since arriving Shenzhen. Chinese is one of the hardest languages to learn. On top of that, I do not pick up language well. Outside of Hong Kong, people in China primarily only speak Chinese. It can get frustrating not being able to communicate the simplest things, like asking for directions. I’ve learned to be patient with others while trying to communicate, because it’s not their responsibility to accommodate me. As I am trying to learn that language, I remember that with everything in life, when trying something new you have to be polite with yourself.

“As you travel solo, being totally responsible for yourself, it’s inevitable that you will discover just how capable you are”

I am now aware of how incredibly capable I am. This experience marks two first for me, living abroad and living alone. Of course, I miss my friends and family, but I have realized with each day that I am fully capable of taking care of myself and thriving abroad. I feel myself growing stronger and more confident each day that I navigate my way through life in Shenzhen.

To all of my Dame Travelers, I urge you to take that solo trip you have been thinking about or go live in that country you have always dreamed of. It’s true that you never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have left.

Will it be tough? Yes. Will you miss your family? Yes.

But,

Will it be liberating? Absolutely! Will it make you stronger? Undoubtedly!

With each day you will grow. You will experience new things, new foods, new places, and new people. You will look back on the time you spent contemplating whether to go or not, and realize that there was nothing to be afraid of and that you were completely capable all along.Save

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