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We are a non-profit organization that helps expat women all over the world before, during and after their relocations. We promote respect and interest amongst different cultures, mutual support, online communication and positive sharing.
You’ll love Susan’s blog! It’s not like the ordinary expat blog that tells about discoveries in the host country. Susan is a US-citizen who moved to Rome, Italy, in 1978!!! She is a doctor, and in her blog Stethoscope on Rome, she talks about all aspects of the Italian Health System. It is really interesting, refreshing and sometimes fun! Thank you Susan!What took you abroad?
I fell in love with Italy back in 1970, when I was travelling around Europe on what would now be called a gap year. Afterward things Italian remained a big part of my life, culminating in my marrying an Italian man in New York in 1977 and then more or less dragging him back to Rome after I finished my medical training. My intention was to see what it was like to live and work here for a year, but it took more than that before I even had a medical license, another year before I was taking in enough to pay for my office rent… One thing led to another, and I’ve never left – even after moving on from Italian husband-number-one to American husband-number-two.
Why a blog?
Since I started practicing in Italy I’ve been fascinated by the differences between my native country and my adoptive one in attitudes and practices related to health and medicine, and my friends have always made politely interested noises. Ages ago I started working on a book about my adventures with Italian medicine – still am working on it – and now that the internet makes it so easy to get one’s thoughts out to a wider public the idea of blogging came naturally. The posts are partly new material, and partly incorporate outtakes that I have edited out of chapter drafts.
Have you found any difficulties in setting it up and managing it? Are you assisted by someone or did you do everything on your own?
I’ve done absolutely everything on my own, except for the great little drawings contributed to some posts by illustrator and food writer Suzanne Dunaway. It has been kind of fun to set it up, though every step has entailed its own difficulties: choosing a platform, setting myself up on Blogger, buying a domain, creating the layout, creating the artwork, figuring out various glitches in getting my posts to look the way I want them. My biggest difficulty has always been every time I’m about to post, making the terrifying decision that what I’ve written is good enough to upload.
With what frequence do you publish on your blog?
So far it’s been about every two weeks, with a longer gap over Christmas.
Give us three reasons why your blog is important to you
1) The blog is getting my ideas out there. This is stuff I’ve been thinking about for many years, and it interests me passionately.
2) I love getting people’s feedback. The idea of stuffing my thoughts into a bottle and tossing them onto the sea of the internet was very scary at first, but the response has been amazingly positive, and the exchanges with readers by email, on Facebook, or in the blog’s comments section are gratifying in themselves.
3) The reactions to the blog in general, and to individual posts, are giving me a better sense of what my potential book audience will be interested in reading.
Have you met people through your blog?
Expatclic!!! I’ve also had interesting email exchanges with several readers, but so far none of those interactions have become intense or ongoing. The discussions about posts have also given another dimension to my relationships with various friends and acquaintances.
We are so happy and proud to host Lynn Kogelmann on Expatclic. Lynn is a US citizen who lives in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. She is the adoptive mother of a Chinese TCK girl, and has created an important survey on TCKs adopted children. In the interview we talk about this and much more. If you are a TCKs adoptive family, please fill up Lynn’s survey! Thank you Lynn for your time and for being such a positive and inspiring person!What is your background and what took you to Tanzania?
I am currently in my 16th year as a school counselor. For the first 10 years I was working in public schools in the US. From there my daughter and I moved to Beijing, China for our first three years abroad and loved it. Tanzania has always been a heart pull country for me, I can’t begin to explain it, it just has always been there. So when the opportunity presented itself to work in an international school in Dar es Salaam I knew we needed to try and go. This is our third year here now and we love it.
What (if any) are the challenges of working in a different culture from your own?
I think there are always challenges working in a culture different from the one you grew up in and that is your comfort zone. As a school counselor, I have to be particularly sensitive to different parenting/discipline norms with young children, the doing things a “different” way that I am used to things being done. It is important to step back, consider the pros and cons of a variety of cultures rather than just imposing my values and thoughts onto everyone I work with in the school setting. This requires constant self-evaluation and mindfulness.
Can you tell us a bit about your adoption?
Ruth was adopted from China at the age of 2.5. I adopted her as a single parent which was a bit of a challenge. The adoption laws in China were changing at the time of our adoption process, so as a single parent I was required to submit all of my paperwork by May 1, 2007 or I could not adopt from China.
Due to difficulties with one adoption agency I was switching to another agency and had 6 months to complete all the paperwork that typically takes 18-24 months. We beat the deadline by two weeks due to much support from friends, family, and adoption professionals. Six months later I was on my way to China to pick up my girl! We celebrated our 10 year family anniversary in November 2017.
You wrote a wonderful article in support of the use of kindness in international schools, could you tell us a bit about this? What can kindness and empathy do for these international settings and how can they be of benefit to the expat child?
I truly believe kindness connects us across cultures and barriers. No matter what language we speak or where we come from, we all recognize and appreciate kindness. In the international school setting, kindness combats the entitlement mentality and helps us think about others. When we are able to focus on positivity and kindness rather than the rampant negativity around us, we can make a difference to one person and in turn make a difference in the world. Children who are supported in being kind learn to be assertive, they learn to stand up for others around them and encourage the world. I love the quote “In a world where you can be anything, choose kind”.
Lynn teaching a class with her puppet puppy that goes to kindergarten with her
Tell us about your survey.
As the parent of an adopted TCK, I want to make sure I provide my daughter with every support I can, enabling her journey to be the best one possible. As such, I thought, I will just look up resources on adopted TCKs and add these to our tool kit. What I found though is that almost nothing exists on this topic. I thought, how can this be? I must just be not searching correctly. But then I kept looking and talking to other adoptive families and friends who had access to university databases and found that, no, this information just doesn’t exist. At this point I felt compelled to do something. There has to be information for families such as ours, it has to exist somehow, and if it doesn’t, I guess I need to make sure it does. As an international school counselor, I believe it is important that other school counselors have tools to support families and children in this specific area. So, my initial thought was to provide a workshop for other international school counselors. I began the survey with adoptive families with this in mind. I feel an obligation to honor the stories that have been shared with me through this survey, so although the workshop will be presented the first weekend in March, it will really only be the first step. The bigger goal is to create resources (somehow!) for adoptive expat families.
…if we focus on reaching the people in our circle with kindness and love, we are changing the world every day.
What is the biggest lesson life abroad has taught you so far?
There are SO many lessons to be learned by living abroad, but I think the biggest one for me is the confirmation that people need and want the same things all over the world. They want love, peace, a sense of belonging, safety, and a positive future for their children. While we can get overwhelmed by the enormity of the world, if we focus on reaching the people in our circle with kindness and love, we are changing the world every day.
How do you see your and your child’s future?
Our hope is to stay abroad – at least until my daughter graduates from high school and quite possibly even longer than that. We love Tanzania and our school, but unfortunately work permit issues will necessitate a move elsewhere within the next couple of years. I very much hope to be able to continue the work with adoptive families that has been started as well. It is exciting to think about the future and wait to see how it unfolds.
We thank Paola from the bottom of our heart for sharing her story of her medical evacuation with us. We wish you all the best Paola! Monday morning, 23 October.
I am sitting on the pavement outside my parents’ apartment in Rome, tears streaming down my face, head in hands. I’m supposed to be meeting my friend Anna at Piazza di Spagna in half an hour.
But I’m not sure I’ll make it. I feel unsteady. My chest feels tight. Come to think of it my jaw and upper arms feel tight too…
Deep breath, I tell myself. This is just stress. And no wonder I’m stressed. It’s less than a week since a close family member died: we were called to his bedside in Ireland from our home in Ghana three weeks ago, and spent his last two weeks with him. It was tough – indescribably tough – to watch him fade day by day. And after his funeral three days ago I came to visit my aging parents in Rome…my fourth or fifth visit this year? Too much all at once.
But I must pull myself together: this is supposed to be a fun morning: Anna and I are going to buy me a dress to wear to my son’s wedding in January. Retail therapy is just what I need before I fly back to Accra tomorrow. Another few deep breaths.
I call Anna. ‘I’m running late,’ I say, and explain the situation
‘Just take your time, go into a café, relax, have a coffee…’
And sure enough, the invisible clamp which is squeezing my chest gradually releases its grip. Half an hour later I feel ready to take the metro, if still a bit shaky, and a couple of hours later, exquisite new navy blue silk dress in hand, I am happily wandering around Trastevere with Anna, soaking in the heartwarming Roman autumn sunshine.
The following evening, I am in Accra.
Flash forwards five days to Sunday 29 October.
It’s been a relaxing, lazy day. I go to bed early, and am reading when a startlingly familiar feeling sweeps over me: tight chest, tight jaw, tight upper arms. Again, I think it’s just accumulated stress and fatigue. I call my husband, who comes upstairs, sits beside me, holds my hand, and says ‘Deep breaths, it’s been a tough few weeks, relax, we’ll get you checked out at WARA tomorrow.’ WARA, the West African Relief Association, is our clinic.
No alarm bells ring, although I have done several Red Cross courses over the years…I did them in order to be prepared in case there was an emergency with my husband: many of his family members have had heart problems. I never imagined I would be affected. I am fit: I practise yoga regularly and swim for half an hour almost every day; I am not overweight, have never smoked, eat healthily, and drink only moderately.
True, I have a classic ‘hyper’ personality. I have been taking medication to lower my blood pressure for about fifteen years, but have never really got it under control.
This second time, the tightness lasts an hour and a half, and I eventually get to sleep.
The next morning I go to WARA. My ECG is perfect. My blood pressure is rather high, but that’s to be expected under the circumstances, I tell myself. I send my husband a text message: ‘Phew, I’m fine!’ I still feel a little light-headed, but put it down to tiredness. The doctor takes a blood sample. ‘The first results will take half an hour,’ he says.
‘Okay, I’ll go shopping then come back for them.’
‘No, I’m sorry, you will do no such thing. You will sit quietly right here and wait. Chest pains are no joke.’
That’s when it hits me that this might be serious.
In the air ambulance
Half an hour later there’s a flurry of activity. I am told that high levels of troponins (enzymes I have never heard of) have been released into my blood and this indicates damage to my heart. My husband is called from his office and within minutes I am bundled into an ambulance.
‘Can I travel with her?’ my husband asks.
‘Well, you’d better follow in your own car, as we don’t know if she’s coming back,’ the Afrikaaner paramedic says in his thick accent. I don’t think he intends it with the meaning we interpret, but we giggle. At this stage my only feeling is one of apprehension: physically I feel fine, and chat and joke all the way to Korle-Bo, Ghana’s oldest government hospital.
At Korle-Bo I have another ECG and blood test, which confirm WARA’s findings. I see the chief cardiologist, who gives me a heart scan, which shows nothing untoward. I am admitted into a room and given blood thinners, statins and anticoagulants. I am in good form and feel a bit like a fraud: surely if everyone is taking this so seriously, I should be in pain?
And suddenly there is talk of a medical evacuation, by air ambulance, to Brussels. The high level of troponins indicated heart damage – a probable heart attack – and I need a coronography, which means that a catheter has to be inserted into my arteries to see what is going on. This can be done in Ghana, but if it results in a need for further intervention, I should be in a place which has all the necessary resources. I rest in my bed, imagining all the administrative procedures that someone out there is handling to organise my departure. My night is uneasy, but I get some sleep.
The next day is spent swallowing frequent medicines and waiting for the air ambulance to arrive from Germany. I ask my husband to pack a case for me: what will I need? How long will I be away? I estimate a week, and keep the list simple: two nightdresses, underwear, a warm set of clothes, shoes, a coat, a washbag. We are fortunate in that we have a fully equipped apartment in Brussels.
I am given a dinner of tough meat which is difficult to swallow, but I decide I need to get something into me as I’m not sure when my next meal will be. Late that evening a doctor and nurse, just arrived from Germany, sweep into the hospital and take control. It feels like a scene from a hospital soap opera. My husband and I are whizzed by ambulance to the airport, where all the departure procedures have been organised in advance.
Am I afraid? More than afraid, I am apprehensive…apprehensive about my ‘to do’ list…
Apart from the doctor and nurse, there’s a paramedic, the pilot, and the co-pilot on the small plane. I am on a narrow bed like a stretcher, hooked up to a blood pressure machine. My husband is on an armchair. I feel as though I am on a conveyor belt, with all the controls out of my reach. There’s nothing for it but to try to relax and go with the flow – to trust that whatever decisions have been taken for me are in my best interest. But I am anxious, and have chest pains. The doctor gives me a spray called Nitrolingual to put under my tongue, but I vomit (all the disgusting stringy tough meat) every time I use it.
Am I afraid? More than afraid, I am apprehensive…apprehensive about my ‘to do’ list…Have I paid my phone bill? Is the TV subscription up to date? Did I leave petty cash in the kitchen? Do we need to buy gas? Who will do all the things I usually do? What about the tickets for the ball next week? And the batik workshop I have half organised for Wednesday?
If I don’t make it, I tell myself, it won’t really affect me, in a sense…I am not a religious person…recently I discovered the writer and psychotherapist Irvin Yalom (Thank you, Barbara Alamberti!) and this quote has remained with me:
‘Life is a spark between two identical voids, the darkness before birth and the one after death.’
If I believe anything, it’s that in death I will simply return to whatever state I was in before I was born, and that will be a completely non-aware state, so it can’t be too traumatic…but what a hassle it will be for everyone else! Nobody knows my passwords, nobody knows all the commitments I have in my head, people will have to start worrying about where to throw my ashes and what music to play at my funeral…no, please, let me make it, at least for a little while, so that I can write handover lists for people and leave things in order.
My mind flashes back a few months when my husband and I were about to go on holiday. ‘If I die tomorrow,’ I told him, ‘I won’t have printed my boarding pass.’
‘Well don’t worry, if that happens, you won’t need it,’ he replied. He’s always telling me that however hard I try, my ‘in’ tray will never be empty.
It’s a strange time: a time for re-evaluating priorities – a time during which the fragility of life becomes blindingly clear.
But I do make it. From my stretcher on the runway at Zaventem airport I act as interpreter between the French-speaking paramedic and my English-speaking Indian doctor from Germany. We are whisked off by ambulance to A&E in St Luc Hospital, where I am settled into a curtained cubicle and my blood pressure is measured every 15 minutes for 6 hours, so there is no hope of getting any sleep. I am not allowed to eat or drink anything – not even a sip of water. Then I am moved to a private room in Intensive Care, where my BP is measured every hour and blood samples are taken every six hours. My body soon starts looking rather bruised. But I am delighted to be offered a meal!
The following day I have my coronography, which is not painful (I ask for a tranquilliser beforehand!) This reveals that I have a pre-existing rare condition called fibromuscular dysplasia (FMD) in my two renal arteries. This is a malformation of the artery walls, and is found most often in women a lot younger than I. The chest pain episodes, I am told, were a type of heart attack called Spontaneous Coronorary Artery Dissections (SCADs).
I am kept in hospital for one more night, then discharged with a prescription for statins, betablockers, cardioaspirin and blood pressure tablets, and a recommendation to take things easy.
I rest for ten weeks. My husband takes time off work to be with me. We live simply in our Brussels apartment, through a grey Belgian autumn. It’s a strange time: a time for re-evaluating priorities – a time during which the fragility of life becomes blindingly clear. It’s a time during which I feel surprisingly calm, and it’s comforting and comfortable. I have few responsibilities, and enjoy the most basic activities like ironing and cooking. We are clear-headed, and we soon become aware that we have had enough of our amazing roller-coaster professional life: we decide we will pack it all in at Easter.
A month after my evacuation I have a follow-up appointment with my cardiologist: all seems well, but he refers me to a colleague of his, who specialises in Fibromuscular Dysplasia. I agree to become part of the FMD research pool (you can read more about his work here): perhaps my experience will be able to help others…and on top of that, I find it reassuring to know the experts are keeping tabs on me.
We have a quiet Christmas and New Year, and by early January we are completely rested, and ready to join the family for our son’s wedding by the banks of Loch Lomond: a spectacular venue for a moving and meaningful humanist ceremony. And I shed many many happy and grateful tears.
And now, back in Ghana, I am taking it easy, resting a lot, napping every day, and gently easing back into an exercise routine, swimming and doing yoga regularly. Soon I will have to start facing up to the move: a big move which will mark the end of forty years gallivanting around the world. I will need to stay as calm and focussed as possible.
I have understood that I don’t always need to be in control: I can accept, even embrace, unpredictability, and let go of worries I can do nothing about.
It’s hard to judge how careful to be: it’s estimated that SCADs recur in 10% of sufferers within 10 years, but what do those numbers mean? Will I be one of the 10%? How often are recurrences fatal? At least, if there is a next time, I will recognise the signs…and I have paid most of my bills and left a few handover notes…
In retrospect I see that for well over a year leading up to the evacuation I had been in a permanent state of severe stress. I had been suffering from insomnia, from chronic mouth and throat ulcers, was moody and irritable, and incapable of taking simple decisions. And that state had become my ‘norm’. My forced period of rest has made me aware that life doesn’t need to be complicated; that actually, it’s great to feel relaxed. I have realised that if I wake at four a.m., it’s possible to turn over and go back to sleep for a few hours, rather than getting up and starting to answer emails or do administrative work. I have understood that I don’t always need to be in control: I can accept, even embrace, unpredictability, and let go of worries I can do nothing about. I can even accept that there will always be a few things pending in my ‘in’ tray. Life is much more fun that way.
Let me end with another quote from Yalom, which has become my mantra:
‘Live your life to the fullest; and then, and only then, die. Don’t leave any unlived life behind.’
Daniele Besana is the founder of WP-OK. Claudiaexpat met him in Jakarta and learnt about his fascinating life and work experience. Daniele proves that it is possible to combine your job and travelling. Thank you Daniele!
There are many things I’d like to ask you, but let’s first give our readers a general idea of who you are…what is your professional background and when and how did you move to beautiful Amsterdam?
I have always worked in IT, specifically in customer service. Customers have changed a lot throughout my career. I started out in Buffetti stationery (Italian stationary chain, ndt), installing modems and antivirus for artisans and small enterprises in Brianza (Northern Italy, ndt). Later, I specialized in IT safety and networks. I started working in Milan with major clients all over Italy. After a few years, and out of curiosity, I decided to “experience abroad” in order to improve my English. In 2006 I actually posted my cv in English on Monster and LinkedIn. Almost immediately, I was called by a recruiter who offered me a job in Amsterdam for Juniper Networks in customers’ support in Europe and the Middle East. The network security field is highly specialized. Knowledge and experience count for much more than titles and degrees – I have actually never spent a single day at university. At 26 I arrived in Amsterdam to try out the experience, which has led me to live abroad steadily.
Do you remember how you felt when you arrived in Amsterdam? The biggest challenges, fears, if you had any? What did you like from the very beginning?
The last months in Italy and the first in Amsterdam were intense but beautiful. I had to say good-bye and prepare for my departure.
I spent the first few days in Amsterdam with my eldest brother Sergio. I was full of enthusiasm. And why not? Moving with a job made it a very easy start. I was fortunate to have a temporary home when I arrived and this made a huge difference as apartments in Amsterdam are scarce and require a year of rental contract from the very beginning.
The biggest challenge for me was the language. No, I don’t mean Dutch, I mean English! I thought I was ready. I had done the courses, watched the movies and read technical manuals and blogs in English. But once in Amsterdam, the reality of actually speaking the language hit me hard. It was a combination of things. The mother-tongue accent was different and so too were references to popular culture. It was difficult for me to understand the lack of words available in the English language to express the nuances of meaning in a sentence. It took me at least six months before I felt at ease with the language. I remember well when I discovered that Bud Spencer and Terence Hill are only known in the south of Europe. Speaking English well had been my main stumbling block and I suggest to those who want to have an experience abroad, good preparation is essential. However, I immediately fell in love with the international atmosphere in Amsterdam, the balance between work and personal life, and the use of bicycles that really changes the relationship with the city.
How I do understand you! Being able to properly communicate in a common language with those around us is essential to feeling at ease in a new place… 11 years have gone by since you arrived in Amsterdam, and you have started a new professional path, leaving your steady job behind to create something of your own. Would you like to tell us what WP-OK is, how the idea was born, how you managed to shift from a full-time dependent job to being an independent entrepreneur, and how everything is going?
I have been working on my own for five and a half years, wow! It seems like I started yesterday. I am a victim of the book 4-hour workweek by Tim Ferriss. When I read it, the idea of working and traveling, being independent and free really resonated with me. As a result, I started exploring online marketing. The web offers loads of possibilities to work remotely. I started buying up functioning websites. Few people know about this, but there is a buy and sell market for websites. At first it was difficult, mainly because I did not have the least idea of what I was doing. After several months I became independent. I began to travel a lot, which was a wonderful experience.
However Amsterdam is an expensive city so I also started as a consultant on WordPress. I knew that professionally this was like plucking the lowest fruit on the tree since I have always worked in the technical support field. At that point I understood that during the 12 years I spent as employee, nothing had changed in the outside world. Freelancers, small entrepreneurs and firms are not duly supported. I heard so many stories of webmasters who disappear, abandoned websites, e-mails that go unanswered for weeks, monstrous delays for small modifications…I soon understood the world doesn’t need yet another WordPress consultant. What is needed is a professional service which is fast and affordable with great support, even for those who don’t have big budgets. This is why I created WP-OK; setting up a team of experts that are always available for those who use a web based business.
That was in 2015 and little by little things have grown even though we’ve experienced one challenge after another.
We now have a hundred clients on four continents. We are now a “liquid” enterprise with no office and each one of us works remotely, which in the end, is the kind of freedom I wanted for myself.
What an amazing thing!!! I have been using WP-OK for a while now, and I can confirm the professional and trustful service you provide. You are a perfect example that it is possible to live independently, while working online remotely. What are the essential ingredients to create such a business?
Thanks a lot Claudia!
Nice question, I can think of three:
Competence: professionals were once chosen from a narrow circle of friends or acquaintances. Online you are compared to professionals all over the world. I am sure mediocrity has a short life. Nowadays, clients can chose amongst the best of services and reviews are the new word of mouth.
Discipline: if it is important when working independently, it becomes super important when working from home and uber important when one travels. Every day there are distractions, so keep focused on the right priorities.
Passion: I started out by doing many things just to earn money but I understood this is not the right approach. Money is the consequence when something is done with passion and giving value. I also believe that with all the ups and downs, false departures and obstacles, without passion I would have given up a long time ago.
I often read questions like: “I want to travel, what kind of work can be done online to provide for myself?”, but this is not how it works. You must first find a passion and competency to create a profession, and then you can think about travelling. If not, start saving and take a sabbatical!
If you keep on answering with such interesting insights, the interview will never end! I want to ask you one last thing: how has your life changed since you launched WP-OK? And what do you see in your future?
Changes after WP-OK were gradual. It is only now, after more than two years, that I can see many differences.
I was already gaining online before WP-OK but with projects I had no passion for. I bought websites on the “do-it-yourself” market, job boards with job announcements, nice stuff but that I didn’t know much about. I just saw some opportunities there, that’s all.
On the contrary WP-OK is like MY child, it’s a project that was born to last and to grow with me. At the beginning, I did everything myself. I remember once in Ngapali, Myanmar, I bent over backwards to restore a damaged website in between power cuts – total stress!
Now I have a team which has changed the way I work and communicate. And, I finally have more time for marketing and to develop new ideas!
Let’s just say I am moving from being a technician to an entrepreneur…yes, my life has changed a lot.
Looking at the future; it’s time to make WP-OK grow and to reach more and more people with our services. People who like me and you, have web projects and do not want technical headaches! Possibly while keeping a good life-work balance, as I learned from the beloved Dutch…
All the best Daniele, and thank you for the time you gave us. Long live WP-OK!
Interview by Claudia Landini (Claudiaexpat)
Photo credit @Daniele Besana and Hanny Kusumawati
As you will read, Adelyine is from Singapore, married to a Danish man, and presently living in Dubai. In this lovely article, she shares her cultural clash with her husband on Christmas Hygge. Thanks a lot Adelyne, and Merry Christmas!
When living in a foreign country or working across borders, it can be such a maze to manoeuvre around social etiquette. What seems perfectly fine behaviour in one country will seem disrespectful in another culture. Image that you are married to one from a very different culture from yours. You live, breath and get tested on your cultural competences on a daily basis. It feels like I have been a cross-cultural intern for the last 20+ years!
Being married to a Danish husband can be liberating since I have always been somewhat different from my traditional culture. I didn’t have to live up to any expectations because he embraces me everyday the way I am. On the other hand, we have to live the challenges of the cultural gap. Our biggest clashes usually ends up with me saying: “Why don’t you understand that?” His argument is always: “I don’t understand what the fuss is about!”
This is our latest Christmas episode and depending on which cultural dimension you are on, you might say: “Why didn’t he understand it?” or you might say: “What’s the big deal?”
We are having 2 couples over for Christmas “hygge”, which is a Scandinavian word and loosely translated means a mood of “cosiness” and a feeling of contentment. I thought it would be nice to buy some beautiful Christmas date boxes from Bateel to be given to the guests. So Mr Danish went out and bought 6 small beautifully, individually wrapped date boxes to be placed on the plates, whereas Mrs Singaporean would have liked 2 big generous boxes to be given to each couple. Are you seeing the cultural clash yet?
If we look beneath the surface of the cultural iceberg, Mr Danish’s value is “hygge”, beautifully wrapped box to be placed on the plate for the guests when they arrive. The most important element of “hygge” is the ambience. His cultural dimension is individualism, which shows up that the present is given to each person and not to the couple. For Mrs Singaporean, the gift of the little box is in contrast to the value of abundance when gifting to important/special guests. Especially when it is a gift of food, it should be abundance. From the cultural dimension perspective, collectivism in this case means giving the gift of food to the family and not individually. This is how we ended up in an argument: “This small box looks really stingy!” and the other says: “This small box is very nice and cute for each one to bring home!”
Understanding the cultural values that drive our behaviour can usually diffuse conflict and frustration. Since all my dinner guests are Europeans, I’m going to take a deep breathe and enjoy my Christmas “hygge” instead of getting upset over the small beautifully wrapped date boxes.
Adelyn Tan Andersen – CPCC, ACC
Executive & Leadership Coach | Life Coach | Cross Cultural Consultant www.adelynandersen.com
Chiara is Italian, but she writes in English on her wonderful blog My Wander Coffee. Great content, and a very original way to discover Zurich. Thank you Chiara!
What took you abroad?
Like probably many other Expatclic.com readers, it was my husband’s new job that took us here. Enrico and I were living and working in Dublin previously. I got pregnant with my first child there and when my little boy was four months old, we moved to Zurich, Switzerland.
Why a blog?
The blog was literally built in only two days as a challenge with my girlfriends, over an online chat. I heard for the umpteenth time “we should do a blog” and that day I decided it was about time! Another genuine reason was that I always loved to listen to other people experiences and share points of views and stories and, if you think about it, a blog should be all about this. I wanted to reach out to an audience made of (largely) women who go through the privileges and also the struggles of being an expat mother. For me, it is the chance to give voice to the woman I am and enjoy the role of a blogger for a few hours a week. You can call it mommy’s time.
Have you found any difficulties in setting it up and managing it? Are you assisted by someone or did you do everything on your own?
Setting up the blog per se was an easy process: as soon as it was live, I’ve adjusted it and redressed it a bit it during the time. The issue was to find the right time to do it.
I was always worried about when to implement the blog perfectly, when to write frequently, where to take many beautiful photos. Reality check: two children at home, Swiss school timetable and no kind of support during the day don’t give you many options apart from keeping it simple and organic. As soon as I realized this, I started the blog straight away – it was now or never. I have tweaked my agenda along the way and now I’ve got a sort of very flexible, feasible schedule.
There is no such thing as perfection and this is a good thing!
How frequently do you publish on your blog?
I try to publish twice a week and, because I have a few sections on my blog, I try to alternate topics. I must be flexible though: for example, I have been stuck at home for two weeks now for my daughter’s health so I had no chance to visit any fancy coffee bar in Zurich. Why not write about tiramisu then? And that is how I started my new Coffee Recipes section on the blog.
Give us three reasons why your blog is important to you
My blog is important to me because: a) it allows me to write as a woman and to put aside the chores of a mother for a little while – this lets me breathe; b) it gives me the chance to reach out to a community made of people with similar stories and taste and hopefully to contribute positively and helpfully to the expat’s conversation; c) it rewards me with the most interesting encounters around Zurich and for that I am very grateful.
Have you met people through your blog?
Yes, the first person I knew thanks to my blog was Valeria Crescenzi of zurichwonderland.ch. From the very initial meetings, we started a wonderful collaborative project about small creative businesses in Zurich: we will be launching it soon. So far, because the blog is fresh and quite new, I have not been able to participate much to bloggers’ events but I like the direction I’ve taken and hopefully, it will lead me to a good place. Full of coffee, grace and life.
For our series “How do you live in…?”, we are happy to introduce Dorotea from Baku, who shares some info on her host city. Thank you Dorotea. If you also want to participate by sharing info on your host country, get in touch with us!
It is hard to define Baku. It is a city full of good and bad contrasts. It is a seductive mix of cultures: Middle Eastern, European and Asian culture, though Turkish and Russian influence are predominant.
The city centre is beautiful, old and new blend harmoniously. The Bulvar (sea walk) is wonderful, very wide and long, thoroughly enjoyed by all citizens. On the other hand, the outskirts are a bit run-down and dirty, but there are also exclusive and new neighbourhoods far from the centre, mostly used by expats.
There are more or less good international schools, TISA (the International School of Azerbaijan) is unanimously considered the best (I am told it is insanely expensive, my children are adults so I don’t have a direct experience), and offers the IB curriculum.
The beautiful Old City
The expat community is not very big, but well organized around meetings and events. The British are obviously the majority, but there is also a fairly big group of Italian that basically revolve around enterprises like Eni/Saipem, Tecnimont and the food service industry. There used to be a lot of workers in the field of construction and furniture, but with the oil crisis the country has been going through a tragic crisis and the sector has come to a halt, with consequent repatriation of foreign personnel.
Negative aspects: THE WIND. Baku is a windy city and it is often tiring to stay outside.
It is polluted and noisy, the traffic is chaotic and dangerous.
Health system is not the best.
Heyday Alyiev Museum in the spectacular building of Zaha Hadid
Lifestyle: whatever you like! Azerbaijani are slightly traditional and conservative, it is all very “family oriented”, but to give you an idea, girls wear miniskirts freely. The country is relatively safe (as it often happens in totalitarian regimes). There is quite a nightlife downtown. As far as shopping is concerned, you can find a bit of everything.
In conclusion: is it livable? For me it definitely is. It is a capital, it is on the sea (polluted), the bay is nice, lively (twinned with Naples, Italy). International sports and cultural events are organized regularly. It is an Islamic country but ABSOLUTELY tolerant. There are orthodox churches and several synagogues and a catholic church. Azerbaijani are really proud of being open religion-wise, and they are right (you can find alcohol and pig meat everywhere).
The way a country goes about its garbage disposal says a lot about its culture. Today we explore how it is done in Seoul, South Korea.
South Korea has a highly organised waste management system known as jongnyangje. Waste disposal and recycling policy is set by the Ministry Of Environment, and garbage collection is organised at a municipal level. Household food waste, recyclables, non-recyclables and large objects are disposed of separately. Following this system is mandatory: here are penalty charges for non-compliance, and also rewards for reporting non-compliance.
There is no direct fee for garbage collection: funding comes from the sale of garbage bags that are colour-coded by waste category and usable in only one district. Colour-coding varies between districts, and collectors will not accept non-standard bags.
Disposal is typically centralised in large buildings. Most will have a waste disposal area, communal bins and a caretaker whose responsibility it is to supervise waste disposal. If no waste disposal area or caretaker is present, garbage bags can only be left outside the house between certain hours on the designated day. These are usually between late evening and early morning.
The four separate categories of waste in South Korea are:
Large waste objects
Organic waste should be dried out before disposal. In general, organic waste constitutes anything that could be fed to livestock. Objects such as fruit stones, bones, nutshells and teabags should be placed in the landfill container.
Paper, glass, steel, fabrics and plastics are recycled in South Korea, though recycling arrangements vary from place to place. Recycling must always be separated into types and compressed or flattened before disposal. In large buildings, recyclables must be separated into specific communal bins.
Large waste objects, such as bicycles and televisions, will be collected if left in the general collection area with the correct large object disposal sticker attached to them. Large object disposal stickers of different types can be bought at district offices.
Giving birth during a hurricane is definitely an uncommon experience. Giorgia tells us about it in this beautiful and detailed article. Thanks a lot Giorgia and best wishes to you, your family and Puerto Rico.
Hurricane Irma had already passed through Puerto Rico when I was nine months pregnant…but compared to Maria, it was nothing: just heightened wind, some fallen trees and minor floods. When Irma struck, we stayed put in our fourth floor apartment facing the ocean, with the tormenteras (metal protective grids you fix outside the windows) and enough food for an army, like anyone does here when there is a weather alert, even just a light tropical storm. Electricity was cut briefly while the compound generator was turned on and all comforts remained at hand. My daughter Emma (3 and a half) loved the first hurricane because it kept mom, dad and Janie (the au pair girl) at home to play with her for a whole day, while we cheerfully camped in the portion of the living room far from the windows.
With Maria it was different. I was three days away from my due date, and the second hurricane was going to be much stronger than the first, since this time the eye was going to make landfall and cross the whole island, whereas Irma’s eye has just skirted the coast.
As soon as it became clear that Maria would not turn north like Irma, my husband booked a room in a hotel inside the hospital were I was to give birth. And that is where we spent two nights during the hurricane. Or rather, during the long hours while the hurricane swept through Puerto Rico, we camped in the hotel corridor with other guests, trying to entertain Emma with games and cartoons. This time, we lost power very quickly, and air conditioning with it (along with some of the windows of the building, luckily not on our floor). Still, the hotel had a generator that provided light in the corridor for most of the time.
The baby decided to wait, though, so we didn’t have to dash to the hospital through the tunnel (above ground first and then underground) that connects the hotel to the maternity ward of the hospital. Everything was well planned because in any case we would have been able to reach the hospital without having to go outside, but we are happy to have been spared Hollywood scenes, like running through dark basements while I clutched my abdomen through contractions!
Eventually I gave birth two days after going home (right on time after assessing the damage and mopping up the water that had filtered into the house), with natural birth (VBAC to be precise), in post-hurricane Puerto Rico, without air conditioning in the hospital…not even in the delivery room! And so Matilde Maria was born (her second name a must considering the circumstances). The advantage was that we were sent home after 24 hours.
We are fine, despite the very difficult situation in the country. When a baby is born, she usually marks the pace of a family day. But ours mostly revolve around the rhythm of the generator that gives us light and water for a few hours a day. But we are definitely luckier than others. Virtually all the garden trees have fallen or were unsafe and have been cut down. In some apartments the tormenteras had not been fixed properly, and the hurricane took them away and then destroyed the windows. In our flat luckily all is intact.
In the immediate phase after the hurricane everything was blocked, but Puerto Ricans immediately rolled up their sleeves and set to work. Three days after giving birth, less than a week after Maria, I even managed to find a pediatrician to come home for the first visit to Matilde, since all medical practices were still closed (without electricity): really kind!
Through the post-partum and with the baby just born, one of the most difficult things I had to face was waiting for a pharmacy in the neighbourhood to open, since my car could not be used because it was stuck under a cantilever roof that had fallen in the parking lot. It is strange to realize how we take for granted all the wonderful services we normally have access to every day! Going through these situations from time to time can only be beneficial.
For instance, it will take several months to reestablish the electricity and water supply on the whole island. We are lucky because we are in the capital, and repair work will start from here, since it is here that most of the population lives, and it’s also the main tourist centre. I am afraid though that we won’t be able to trust the quality of water for a long while. At the moment we boil it and keep it in a big pot and use it to wash the food, or our hands before touching food, dishes, etc. We wash the baby with bottled water.
One of the hottest issues at the moment is diesel, as it is the only means to have generators functioning, thus giving power to buildings and homes. My husband works in an oil company. Shortly after Maria, I found myself telling him not to wear shirts sporting the company logo when he goes out (even to go to work). Here water and gas represent power at the moment. And people go crazy. For several days already, police and armed military staff have been stationed in front of the deposit. Almost all the trucks leaving to supply gas stations, hospitals and the airport are escorted. Drivers of smaller ones, which don’t have an escort, say that people stop them on the road offering absurd amounts to fill up their jerry cans. My husband has not been home even one day since Matilde was born (apart from the week-ends). I consider this our family contribution to Puerto Rico. Here we must roll up our sleeves and help the country get back on its feet.
Communication is another very important issue at the moment. Unfortunately the signal is not stable and varies depending on the area. I have friends who are at home isolated from any kind of communication and have to move by car to find a mobile signal. Even on this point we are lucky, Internet and messaging work inside the house, too. Calls are the least efficient means of communication, since they depend on the reception of two phones at the same time and on the traffic on the line. So we find ourselves sending out messages to everyone, from friends we haven’t heard from, to the pediatrician, to the consul!
Despite all this, I am definitely calm and quite happy. At times I am sorry not to be able to go out and help the community, having just given birth and with the baby to breastfeed and to look after. Many parents go every day to their children’s schools to help clean up so that they can open again soon. I know this is not possible for me, but it cannot be otherwise. I would have liked to go through the experience of solidarity and unity. It is something completely different from modern life. Our grandparents’ lives must have been a bit like this…
In any case at the moment we do not intend to leave. We are anyway virtually blocked because we are waiting for the baby’s documents. We are trying to speed things up, but it is not easy.
We are fine, though, and happy. We are aware that the situation is tough, but we want to stay and help Puerto Rico get back on its feet rather than “running away”. We’ll obviously evaluate the development of the situation and will do what is best for the children (from a health and safety point of view) should any doubt arise.
I want to finish on a sweet note. As I write, my neighbour (a very kind doctor) has opened his door to have some air circulating…the notes of his piano are drifting into my living room…this is the first time I have heard him playing since we arrived.