A new review of the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide

Thank you to Lisa of the recently published book Knocked Up Abroad (featuring a chapter by yours truely) for a lovely review of the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide. Here is a short extract:

Clara’s narrative style is like that of a good friend guiding you through one of the most difficult life-decisions you’ve ever made over a nice cup of coffee (or tea since she is British). She is calm, humorous, and keeps things in perspective. The world “trailing spouse” is one that should be abolished as Clara makes it clear that accompanying partners are anything but “trailing.”

To read the full review please visit the Knocked Up Abroad site.

And in the meantime to read my review of Knocked Up Abroad please go here.  .

Another great review of the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide

Before coming to South Africa I started researching what life would be like here. One of the best blogs I found to help me with this was the wonderful Joburg Expat. Sine, the American/German mum behind the blog, has been a brilliant source of information for me – not least because her children were a similar age to mine when they lived here. She is also wonderfully honest about parenthood and I love her anecdotes about quarrelling kids as much as her stories about travel in the region. There’s nothing like someone elses problems to make you realise you are not alone with children who grump even on the most beautiful beach in the world!

Anyway I was thus over the moon when Sine wrote a wonderful review of the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide. She is painstaking in her detail which makes me realise she must have actually read the whole thing rather than just skim!

It feels a bit weird giving an extract of a review that itself gives extracts of your own book but here is an extract:

Clara’s voice is cheerful, uplifting, occasionally funny, and she keeps it moving along at a nice clip. To me, that’s immensely important. I have to like the author if I’m going to stick with them for 300 pages of a self-help book, otherwise… sorry, there just isn’t enough time in my day to spend on uninspired reading.

And another one:

The second strength of The Expat Partner Survival Guide is the voice of other participants. Clara has collected hundreds of personal stories from other expats and expat partners, interweaving them very smoothly with her own narrative. For me it felt a bit like coming across long-lost friends, as I recognized quite a few of the people she interviewed from my own connections in the expat world, like Maria from I Was an Expat Wife and Apple Gidley of Expat Life Slice by Slice.

To read the full review please visit Joburg Expat.

And in the meantime if you haven’t yet purchased your copy of the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide (price fom £2.99/$3.99) – you can go here to find out where to get it from!

Finally if you have read the book and enjoyed it then please consider leaving a review on Amazon for me. I will love you forever. Thank you!

The Expat Partner’s Survival Guide: a fantastic review

I love getting reviews of my book and this one is a stunner! Thank you so much to Emily at BasedTraveler for this amazing write-up. It makes it all worth while to get reviews like this! Don’t forget if you haven’t bought the book – for yourself or for someone you know who might be about to enter the world of expats – it’s available from all good bookstores Amazon, starting at the wonderful price of just £2.99/$3.99.

Not since Harry Potter have I shut a just-finished book and been inclined to pick it right back up at page 1. Maybe it’s because The Expat Partner’s Survival Guide (2015) by Clara Wiggins is also written by a witty British lady, but that’s exactly what I’m tempted to do after finishing its final section, the “Acknowledgments.” In the Acknowledgments Clara thanks her husband, employed with the UK Civil Service, “for having a job which allowed me to be able to write this instead of doing proper work.” That statement is the only thing I dislike about Clara’s book, because she’s done a huge service to the expat community.

Through an incredibly well-planned 288 pages, 20 chapters, Introduction and Appendix, Clara walks not only trailing spouses but also single, young, nearly jobless expats (like myself) through the preparations, realities, and opportunities of international living. Yes, Clara targets outright a very specific group of people: Straight women “trailing” their husbands (“partners”) on global postings. Yet she also devotes one chapter totally on male trailing spouses and same-sex partners. It’s true that a single traveler won’t find much information on dating, for instance, and the book nearly completely ignores budgeting (I think this is because most people who expatriate for a job are provided assistance). But the book is such an intriguing read without these details that by its end even the single expat is informed enough to find the information they’re lacking—or simply feel more confident about not knowing!

The Expat Partner’s Survival Guide is a powerfully loving resource for expatriates. Not only does Clara detail her own story and that of her mother, but she also weaves the stories of other expatriates into nearly every page of her piece. Although she cites some of her contributors at the end I cannot image how many more she must have interviewed, how many blogs she read, how many conversations she sat in on to include the quality quotes highlighting every one of the lessons she provides. The stories of other expats are so rich, so poignant, and often so funny that Clara’s book reads like your favorite Aunt’s list of summer camp advice. There’s no denying that it’s insanely useful for anyone hoping to move abroad, most especially if they are families, but it’s also easy to digest. Clara leaves no rock unturned: From preparations to pool parties, schools to shells, fido to friends, she attends holistically to the unique challenges that face expat-partners.

When today I was on the brink of tears in a series of expat-only challenges (bikes, banks, botched meetings…), I giggled instead when I remembered Clara’s use of the term “expatitis.” I remembered reading, “There will be ups and downs, but, as long as you are prepared for what lies ahead, you should be ready to meet every challenge thrown at you.” Even, as she acknowledges in one chapter, “If It All Goes Wrong” and you are forced to return home. I spent the entire book wishing I could call other expat partners I knew to tell them what Clara said. And because of her advice I have also re-prioritized my schedule to allow more time for saying “yes” to socializing and integrating with my local expat community.

As the author of my own expat-focused book, I feel completely refreshed by Clara’s non-competitive, honest endeavor to help any expat find the support they need. In a world full of travel bloggers competing for claims to “the best” advice, Clara’s careful, caring, and learned observation provides the most helpful big-picture guide of them all.

Clara offers two options (Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, and Smashwords) for purchasing her extremely affordable e-book on her website: http://expatpartnersurvival.com/buy-the-book/

You can also find her on twitter, @strandedatsea, and Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/expatpartnersurvival

Review Wednesday: Ever the Diplomat

Ever the Diplomat, former British envoy Sherard Cowper-Coles’ account of his years rising through the slippery ranks of the Foreign Office, fascinated, frustrated and infuriated me in equal measures.

ever the diplomat

First of all, I should state that although I didn’t know Sherard personally, I did work in the FCO at the same time as him and our paths would have crossed occasionally (I was in the press office when he was in Private Office as Robin Cook’s Private Secretary). He was obviously a figure who loomed large in the office at the time, but I was a relatively junior diplomat so he wouldn’t have had a clue who I was. However, his book is peppered with references to people who I knew or knew of – starting with his early years when a couple of the fathers of my classmates at boarding school in the UK are namechecked;  later on are mentions of people my own father worked with; and finally people I knew personally from my time in the office. From a personal viewpoint, this certainly helped make the book an entertaining read.

However, I am not sure how this translates for people who aren’t diplomats, former-diplomats or the children of  diplomats. Is there just too much in-house information to make it interesting?

Hopefully not, although you may need to have a rudimentary knowledge of British foreign affairs to truely enjoy much of the book. But in many other ways I think it’s a really good portrayal of what life is like in the upper rankings of the Foreign Office. It didn’t much resemble what I experienced, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

Sherard’s career was certainly a glittering one: Cairo (he was one of the famous Arabists of the office, otherwise known as the “camel corps”), Paris, Washington. Plum jobs in the UK. Later, ambassadorships in Israel and Saudi Arabia – apparently, the pinnacle of a career for an Arabist. He ended up as the UK’s special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, which is where it all seemed to go wrong for him. Whether because he wasn’t going to get the job at the end of his career he felt he deserved (there are only three or four really top jobs in the FCO and usually quite a few very senior diplomats vying for them) or for personal reasons (he split up from his wife during his time in Kabul, more of which below), he apparently took “extended leave” at the end of his posting and never returned….

Anyway, apart from that, Ever the Diplomat is certainly a well-written and largely entertaining book. Sherard is undoubtedly a very intelligent man and just the sort of person who would do well in the Foreign Office: he had the right background, he was the right gender, he went to the right university. The fact that he barely mentions women in the office until right at the end of the book (as if someone had read it and pointed out he really should mention that women do work in the office too) tells me a lot about him, and resonates with the sort of people I came across while working there. At one point he uses the term “the Private Office girls” to describe some of his female coworkers (see page 207).

As for his poor wife, Bridget, she gets barely more of a mention than his female colleagues. As many of us know, following (accompanying – you chose the terminology!) your partner to another country is no easy task. Upping sticks and doing it every two to four years, as the Cowper-Coles family did, can be downright distressful. Especially when you have five children. And yet, rarely does he talk about his wife positively, never does he discuss her immense role in his success. He may have wanted to leave family life out of his book as he believed he was writing about foreign policy and his career rather than anything personal. But for me, FCO life and family life go hand-in-hand. Personally, by ignoring his wife and what life was like for her and his children, I think he missed a huge trick. He might have left her out because of their subsequent divorce – or perhaps it was the other way round?

I also feel that whilst the account of his career gives us an excellent insight into the workings of the top echelons of the offce, it does rather ignore much of the rest of it: visa work, consular work, trade and investment, management…There is an awful lot more to the work of the FCO and our embassies and high commissions abroad than just the political side of things that Sherard shows us.

Other than this, Ever the Diplomat IS a good read and does contain a fair amount of interesting information and entertaining anecdotes. Sherard seems to have had an excellent window on the world throughout his career – Hong Kong department during the handover, Paris when Princess Diana was killed in the car crash, Saudi Arabia during the appalling Al Qaeda terrorist targeting of Westerners. He shows us this world from his own perspective and in an easy-going style that had me staying up late, turning pages ( in particular, for me, the chapter about Robin Cook – which coincided with my time in the press office, was fascinating). Other parts of the book I skimmed over – I couldn’t get excited about NATO or any of the defence policy sections. But overall, I would say this was a good read. As well as infuriating…

Best for: anyone who wants to understand more about the role of embassies and foreign ministries beyond visa renewal and consular assistance. People who are interested in foreign affairs and recent politics. Not for: Sherard’s wife; anyone who wants to know more about what life is like for the trailing spouse of a diplomatic high-flyer (for that I recommend Brigid Keenan’s Diplomatic Baggage).

Review Wednesday – Belonging Everywhere and Nowhere

This is a book that spoke to me. It spoke to me because it is a book about people who have had a global childhood, and the impact that can have on them as adults. And, as any regular reader of this blog will know, I certainly had a global childhood.

Belonging Everywhere and Nowhere: Insights into Counselling the Globally Mobile by Lois J Bushong is really a book for counsellors. Lois, a counsellor herself but one with an expat childhood, found a gap in the knowledge of many counsellors when it came to working with Third Culture Kid’s (TCK’s) and Adult Third Culture Kid’s (ATCK’s), and decided to do something about it. So she wrote a book, which is also a guide for therapists, including exercises, activites and discussion points.

However, even as a non-counsellor I found this book fascinating. And eye-opening.

everywhere and nowhere

The book starts by helping the counsellors to identify whether their client is a TCK, and if  the reason they have come for counselling is related to their childhood (I can’t believe it wouldn’t at least come up, in the majority of cases). It then goes on to discuss the different issues that might have affected these clients: depression, adjustment disorder, even post-traumatic stress disorder. And while PTSD may seem extreme, I think about the older expat children of my friends who lived through the 2008 bombing of the Mariott in Islamabad (and subsequent evacuation), and the worry they  had about how to talk to their children about what happened.  If not dealt with there and then, it’s very possible that some of that trauma might surface later on in life – perhaps even at the worst possible time – when those children are at teenagers and at boarding school.

Throughout the book, author Lois uses examples that she has taken from her real-life practice but disguised or amalgamated so there is no breach of confidentiality. However, you can be sure that the examples she gives will be very real, even if they are not each based on one real person.

As an ATCK myself, I found myself nodding along as I read the stories based on the lives of other ATCK’s: Katie, a middle-aged woman who spent a childhood in Asia and struggled with depression at university; Portia, who shied away from getting close to anyone; Rhonda, a teenage client, who asks why her family just can’t be “normal”. And of course, as many of the stories relate to childhood, I also kept the thought in my mind of how living an expat life may affect my own children – and what I can do to try and make things easier for them.

Much of the book is very counsellor-speak, as well as American (although I don’t find it overly touchy-feely in the way American “self-help” books often are; Lois was, of course, an expat child herself so perhaps is less American than some writers of this sort of book!). But because of it being aimed at counsellors, there were parts of the book that I just skipped entirely. The parts that I did read in depth more than made up for the missed bits, although I would still love it if Lois now wrote a book entirely for the “lay ” reader!

There were so many sections of this book that I really liked, and found relevant, that it is hard to pick just one or two out. But to give you a flavour, I have picked out a couple of quotes:

A major reality for those who grow up as TCK’s is that their lives are filled with chronic cycles of separation and loss. Obviously, such cycles are part of the human experience for everyone. Non-globally mobile folks go through this as well. But for the globally mobile, the cycles are chronic and often relatively sudden or severe. They may not lose a friend here or there, but often they lose a whole world when they take an airplane ride away from a place and people they have loved

And

While there may be many TCK’s who struggle for a while with wondering who they are or where they belong, once they understand the reason for their confusion and that these feelings are within a normal range for others of like experiences, most go on  and embrace the various pieces of their life rather than feeling as if they only have an either/or choice to decide who they are.

The last third of the book is taken up with a long bibliography and list of references, two appendices that focus on systems and techniques for counsellors, and finally a TCK Wall of Fame, which gives further details of some of the contributors featured in the book. Finally, it gives a list of useful resources, including books, films, organisations and – helpfully! – a list of suggested counsellors.

I found this book incredibly useful, and made me want to explore my ATCK experience further. But I also think it would be really helpful for parents of current TCK’s, as well as anyone who works with TCK’s – in particular International School teachers and counsellors. If you have already come across it and/or read it, I would be interested to hear your thoughts.

The Expat Partner’s Survival Guide – a month old and five star reviews!

So I have been a bit neglectful in holding a birthday party for the Survival Guide but last week it turned one month old! This reminds me of the days of having a baby and celebrating each little milestone – birth, one week old, one month…next it’ll be crawling, first steps and learning to talk!

happy birthday book

Anyway apart from that, I have been getting some lovely reviews on Amazon, which have included the following:

Don’t move abroad without packing this book…..Honestly, it’s the best leaving gift you could possibly buy for any man or woman ‘trailing’ after a partner who has a job abroad.

and

Essential reading for all current or future expat partners… Easy to read, detailed chapters on every aspect:preparing your move, settling in, schooling, returning home, etc. Would recommend this book 100%.

and

The book is guaranteed to help even the most chaotic person get organised, and will definitely guide anyone who is feeling overwhelmed.

You can read more of my reviews at Amazon.co.uk and at Amazon.com.

In the meantime, I have also had a lovely review from blogger Rachel Pieh Jones, whose blog Djibouti Jones is a fascinating insight into Rachel’s life in a largely-unknown area of the world. As well as her blog, Rachel is a regular contributor to well-regarded publications like Brain, Child and provides some really insightful articles about life as an expat and mother to TCK’s. In her review she says:

Clara’s voice is down-to-earth throughout and the anecdotes she uses to illustrate her points fit perfectly. This is a book I wish I had when we first moved overseas (especially because I’m the kind of dork who loves checklists!)

You can read the full review here, and while you are there have a nose through her excellent blog.

click here to buy

Review Wednesday – Dutched Up

Today’s Review Wednesday looks at a book aimed at expats in, or moving to, the Netherlands. However, although it is aimed fairly specifically at that one market, I would still recommend it to other expats looking to find out more about expat life in general.

Dutched up

Dutched Up is a collaborative effort, a book produced by a collective of writers from around the world who are all either based in the Netherlands now or who have been in the past, and therefore all able to write about expat life in that country from a personal viewpoint. This makes for an honest, as well as often very funny, appraisal of what life is really like for foreigners living in what I have always thought would be a great expat posting.

For the most part, this book doesn’t disprove my instinct. The tales, which range from what it’s like to be short in a country of very tall people to how to steal back your bike (there are a lot of very Holland-specific stories here!), are related with a gentle sense of underlying love for their host country. There are twelve sections altogether, starting with tales of culture shock; continuing on to some of the practical elements of living aboad including eating, shopping, transportation and learning the language (which apparently involves a ‘throaty G’); then through some of those really “big” subjects like work, making friends, marriage, birth and parenting; on to matters of health; some chapters about Dutch life in general and then finally saying goodbye – and what it’s  like to leave a place like the Netherlands behind (clue: sad).

By the time you reach the end of the book, you really feel like you know what life is like for the typical expat in that country, whether they be settled semi-permanently and married to a local or visiting only briefly on a short posting. It’s hard to pick out a favourite chapter as there are so many good ones, plus each will appeal to different people depending on their circumstances. But as a trained antenatal teacher, I really enjoyed the chapters about giving birth, and some of the ones on parenting were very eye-opening. However, if it’s laughs you’re after, then I would recommend the Leech – a story of a house-guest who wouldn’t leave:

By the time Saturday rolled around, we were ready to kill him. So far, he’d had his hand out, been fed, had a free place to sleep, been offered endless bottles of beer and had all the Internet and telephone access a person could possibly ever want. We hadn’t seen a thing in return. He hadn’t offered to cook dinner or offered to tidy up a bit. he had just emptied our fridge, used all our toilet paper and just made a general nuisance of himself”.

Perhaps one of the reasons I like this chapter so much is because, although it is based in the Netherlands, it could have happened to any expat, anywhere in the world. I haven’t lived in the Netherlands, and nor am I ever likely to (although I have holidayed there and thoroughly enjoyed my time), so many of the stories are interesting, funny but perhaps not all that relevant to me. However, if you are an expat in Holland, are likely ever to be one, or if you happen to know someone who is heading that way, then this would be an excellent purchase. Read it from cover to cover or dip in and out of it, I am sure you will find it a great source of both knowledge and comfort before, during and even after your Netherlands adventure.

Dutched Up is available in paperback or Kindle edition from Amazon.