By Andrea Martins, Director & Co-Founder, ExpatWomen.com
What is your expat story
I left Australia to follow my husband abroad in January 2000. Our first stop was Jakarta, Indonesia (3 years), then Mexico City, Mexico (4 years), then we repatriated to a new city (Sunshine Coast) in Australia for 2 and a half years, before venturing abroad again to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (2 years). We have recently repatriated again, first to Sydney and then a few months later, back to the Sunshine Coast for a while. Who knows where we will end up next!
What was your motivation for setting up the site
I set up ExpatWomen.com with my American friend Jill Lengré when we were both in Mexico City as expats in 2006. (After nearly one year of work behind-the-scenes, the site launched in January 2007.) Our dream was to connect women worldwide – which we have done. ExpatWomen.com is now the largest global site helping women living abroad, with nearly 12,000 members – of 177 nationalities, based in 190 countries.
(Note: Jill worked with me until January 2008 when she stepped aside due to her divorce and repatriation back to the United States.)
Why should an expat visit your site
We have more than 1,000 quality content pages, expat links for clubs and schools, in excess of 2,000 blogs submitted by expat women who share insights about their lives abroad, over 300 readers’ stories, loads of motivational articles, plus interviews with expat authors and successful women living abroad.
Your top 3 tips once you have moved abroad
1. Get out of the house. I once met an American expat, when I was living in Mexico, who called me to come to my kids’ playgroup. She confided in me that she had not left the apartment with her two children “except to buy groceries” for four months! I truly believe that this is a recipe for disaster, because the longer you take to become familiar with your new environment, the harder and harder it gets. So be courageous – get out of the house!
2. Ask for help. If you meet someone and want to meet again, ask for their number. If you do not know where to find things, smile and ask whoever you can. Most people, both locals and expats, want to impart their knowledge. Just ask.
3. Forgive yourself. If you have had a bad day and could not cope with the new language, the crazy taxi driver, the lack of an Internet connection and the mess of boxes in your new home, stop, breathe, and know that this is completely normal and it will get better. You do not need to be a superhero – relax a little, understand that some things take time, and go easy on yourself.
How to avoid culture shock and move abroad successfully
I am of the opinion that wherever we live in the world, we all tend to live in our own little bubble. So, whether you move abroad, or move domestically, moving out of that bubble will always be a bit of a shock and take some getting used to. New home, new streets, new school, new workplace, new shops, new restaurants, new recreational venues, new doctors, new friends and more.
Yes, moving to a foreign culture – particularly with a language unfamiliar to you, will likely give you more of a culture shock. I do not think you can avoid the culture shock, just prepare for it by doing as much research as you can before you leave, being as proactive as you can when you are abroad (finding new clubs, new doctors, and a new support network as soon as possible), and being open to new experiences and hiccups along the way.
Your top 3 tips on repatriating back home and avoiding reverse culture shock
1. Stay abroad!
2. Enjoy memories of your life abroad, but try to (re)establish new roots and support networks back home as soon as possible. Trying to keep one foot in each ‘world’ can sometimes make it much more difficult to repatriate, so I suggest focusing on just one of those worlds and immersing yourself in it as completely as possible.
3. Understand that different family members might have mixed feelings, so remember to be sensitive to how everyone in the family is feeling.
Andrea Martins is Director & Co-Founder at ExpatWomen.com