Spinning in Circles & Getting Your Bearings

It’s always a pleasure to “bump” into other expats who get what you are writing about and today’s guest post comes from one such person. Janese Carstons is a transition coach whose speciality is helping expats in their first year. Here she writes about what helped her when she first moved to China.


“When facing north, the ocean is on the right so it’s East!” I exclaimed as I was pointing out the direction we needed to go to get back to our new apartments. My teammate and I lived in a coastal city in China and we were finishing our first trip out to the market and back by bike. She was spinning in circles, literally, trying to see which way we needed to go and I was pointing in the opposite direction because it was the way home. I can’t help it but I always know which direction I’m headed – at least using cardinal points.

There we were in the middle of a market’s parking lot, when it struck me – the first weeks after transitioning overseas IS spinning in circles while trying to get your bearings.

Moving is always a flurry of activities, emotions, and lists – so many lists. However, in the midst of the moving chaos, I imagined my life in the new culture. I’ll admit it, I’m an idealist when it comes to the future and the amazing potential there is in it.

But that future I envisioned had become reality and it wasn’t as idyllic as I had imagined. I’m sure that is ‘shocking’ to all of you but here are two main reasons it wasn’t ideal.

First, I brought myself with me…not the ‘perfect’ version I wanted to be in my head. I brought my emotions, my quirks, and all my imperfections. I was still excited for the adventure but for some reason, I thought I would morph into this amazing new person on the 14-hour plane ride. Instead, I was jetlagged, emotionally fatigued, and couldn’t understand enough Mandarin to get me to a toilet if I really needed it. The idea of “perfect” crash landed the moment I stepped foot in China.

Second, I did not step into the China I envisioned in my head. You can be told by multiple people the good, the bad, and the amazing about the new country/culture you’re moving to but you’re going to experience it for yourself; and your journey in this new land will not be the same as anyone else’s experience. It’s unique to you – how you see it, how you interact with it, and how you accept it. I’d like to say I moved without expectations, which I did for the most part, but I didn’t move without biases…even ones I didn’t know I had.

Yes, these two reasons popped my idealistic bubble, and yes, it needed to be popped so once it did I was able to stop spinning in circles and start focusing on getting my bearings.

Here are the top 3 ways to stop spinning and start focusing:

1) Be humble and forgiving – to yourself first and to everyone else second

You have just leapt into an incredible opportunity. Your world has been rearranged so of course you feel discombobulated from the world you just left. You’re normal so stop expecting yourself to be more than you can be at this moment in time. It will pass and you’ll continue to grow in ways you’ve never imagined you were capable of doing in your life.

2) Know yourself – be aware of what makes you, You

Moving to another culture is a great opportunity to assess how your values and behaviors are congruent, or not, with each other. Remind yourself of what you like to do, don’t like to do, and why; so that you can move into this new culture with integrity of who you are because you won’t fit the mold of whatever new culture you’re going in to. Just remember that moving overseas usually heightens your challenges rather than removing those challenges.

3) Determine where your areas of influence are in relation to your current consciousness and competence

There are six areas of influence on a person that engages their energy at all times: Emotional, Physical, Social, Environmental, Mental, and Spiritual

There are two additional areas of influence on a person who has moved to a new culture:
Culture and Language

Each of these eight areas of influence are directly related to how conscious and competent you are in each one. There are four stages of consciousness and competence and keep in mind that you’ll be in different stages for all of the eight areas of influence. They are independent of one another.

  1. A) Unconscious Incompetence – You don’t know what you don’t know.
  2. B) Conscious Incompetence – You realized that you’re not as expert as perhaps you thought you were or could be.
  3. C) Conscious Competence – You steadily learn about the new area through experience or more formal learning.
  4. D) Unconscious Competence – You no longer have to think about what you’re doing and are competent without a significant amount of effort.

Based on this information, you can become more aware of how you’re perceiving yourself within the new culture as well as make any changes you believe are needed with who you are in this new culture.

Overall, the greatest thing you can do for yourself within the first few weeks of your move is to focus inward for your bearings. Outside of yourself will continue to spin until you can move with intention in the direction you desire because that direction will be congruent with your values, behaviors, and energy in each area of influence.

To get a copy of the free EICC Audit or the free copy of “Making the Move Manageable” go to www.janesecarstens.com or email Janese at janesecarstenscoaching@gmail.com.



Janese Carstens is an international transition coach who is dedicated to supporting sojourners during their move overseas and setting them up to thrive during their first year in their new country. Her clients would say that her REAL specialty is understanding them through the chaos and confusion as they stretch into their ‘new normal.’

For more information on Janese and her weekly blog go to www.janesecarstens.com or follow her page on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/jccoachinginternational/.


Guest post: Expat Emergencies and Turbulent Postings – a Child’s Perspective.

Today’s post in my summer of guesting comes from a blogger with whom I share a lot of background. The more I read or hear about The Ersatz Expat, the more I keep wondering if we have actually ever met in real life. Both of us have lived in Nigeria and Venezuela, and both went to school and university in the UK. We also both married Brits. Our lives are very different now, but both of us have a similar sort of childhood to look back at and compare to what we are able to give our own children. Here, the Ersatz Expat talks about some of the experiences from her younger years – and how it has helped her parent her own expat children.

Irrational fears

I have never not been an expat. As a child we lived in some benign places (Norway, the UK and the Netherlands) but also experienced some more challenging postings. This has coloured how I relate to the expat experiences our own children have and I try, wherever possible, to see things through their eyes.

Age 11, I was parachuted into a British boarding school far from the culture I had grown up with. Following a first term at my new school, I had to travel to Lagos on my own. (Yes the airlines supervise UM (unaccompanied minors) but the help they gave in the 1980s was close to useless so I had to fend for myself). I remember sitting on the plane to Nigeria for the first time having had no correspondence with my parents for 4 months. I was very worried about what I would find on arrival; I even thought my family would have become africans because they were now living there and I wondered if I would recognise them with brown skin and curly hair. This crazy memory makes me realize that children, no matter how mature and capable, can become irrationally worried about things.

A few months ago our son, who had previously spoken good Russian was refusing to ‘understand’ it any more. He was also failing to progress in his Mandarin and Bahasa Malay lessons. It turned out that he realised that I no longer spoke my birth language (Dutch) easily and that it takes me some time to get back into the groove, mostly because I have no real reason to speak it now my mother and grandmother are dead. He was worried that he might forget English if he learned another language. It was another irrational fear that, when analysed, makes perfect sense in the mind of an expat child.

Handling emergency situations with children

One time, when leaving Nigeria I got caught up in an armed robbery at the airport. Our flight could not leave as we were in lockdown and had been sent to the arrivals hall to collect luggage. We heard shots in the unloading bay and 5 bodies came up the conveyer belt. My mother took me to her car and told the driver to wait somewhere safe she then went off to investigate. I knew that I would be safe if I did what my mother told me with no questions asked and I trusted her to know what to do. Luckily our children have not been involved in an armed robbery or anything like that but we make sure that they know that when we speak in a certain tone they must do as they are told (being absolutely silent when the car is hit by a sudden blizzard for example) and that we will explain the reasons why later. We also make sure that they have confidence that we can handle any situation we are in (even if we don’t) and that our children are never an outlet for our fears.

We lived in South East Turkey in the 1990s (enough said). It was possibly the most dangerous posting we have ever had. A bomb went off in the building next to us while I was doing some work experience with a family friend, my parents were directly involved in another bomb scare and we had to check under the car on a daily basis. A guard followed me if I went out and flights to the local airport were in danger of being shot down and these experiences were the tip of the iceberg. Every time I called to reconfirm our flights (remember those days) I was told the airline advised against travel there. My greatest fear was that I would be called in to the housemistress’ room to be told my parents had been killed and I used to think carefully about how I would tell my sister. I was scared stiff for three years straight. My parents were always scrupulously honest about dangers and issues that arose which helped me to worry less. I also got the school to let me have R4 (Radio 4) on late at night in my room so I could sleep knowing that there were no reported issues at home.

What do you tell the chilldren about something like this?

What do you tell the chilldren about something like this?

Being honest

From this I have learned never to brush things under the carpet, we have always made sure that our children are aware of everything they need to be without blowing things up out of all proportion. We also make sure that they have the props they need to feel safe. My father in law died just before we left the UK for Kazakhstan. They were very young but felt his loss keenly and when they first went abroad they were concerned that another family member might disappear or that they would never see them again. We have always promised them that we will let them know if they need to worry and make sure that they have regular ‘phone and skype contact. Hopefully this helps to dispel some of their concern.

Just after we arrived in Sarawak the terrible news came through about MH17. A child in the children’s new school lost a parent and many others in the community were impacted. Our children heard what had happened and they knew that family would be coming to visit us via the same route and that we would be flying with Malaysian Airlines whenever we travelled out of country. They also knew the Ukraine, Kiev being a regular stop over on flights to and from Kazakhstan. Knowing how I would have reacted to the news as a child helped to inform the way we spoke with our two. We were very honest about what had happened and why and we have been similarly upfront about recent terrorist attacks. We feel that if the children are prepared for the world being a scary place while knowing that there are good and decent people in it they will be better able to handle it as they grow up and have more independent experiences in life.

One of the great benefits of expat life is the independence, maturity and capability it fosters in children from a young age. I certainly hope that our children gain those benefits although I also hope they avoid bombs and shootings for a few years yet.

(photo: RNW.org)

Have you been in any emergency situations with your own children? Or needed to speak to them about something that has happened? How have you handled it? How honest have you been with them?

How to turn your adopted city into a home – a guest post on Expat life.

Today’s guest post in the Summer of Guesting series comes from a blogging pair – Olesya and Jasper from the Hmsies blog. The two met as students in Germany but, Olesya now lives in Paris (while Jasper has remained in Germany). However, they still cleverly manage to blog together and have contributed this post on how to make yourself feel more at home in your adopted city. I particularly like this as it is aimed at single people moving somewhere new – which I think can be one of the hardest things to do.  


Being an expat is a very exciting adventure. After all, you’re in a new place, sometimes new culture and there are endless things to discover, both about the place and yourself. However, because you may be far away from home and from your loved ones, it can also be quite a shock and you may find that loneliness starts creeping up on you. This happens to each and every one of us and it is only really temporary as long as you take some steps towards creating your new life. Because we’ve moved around quite a lot, we have come face to face with loneliness a lot too but there does come a time when you learn to embrace it rather than fight against it. We have tried and tested many methods out there and here are some of the best tips for when you are feeling lost and lonely in your new place.

Learn the language
In Munich, we’ve met so many other internationals who bemoan the fact that the locals are rude, cold, unfriendly and never prepared to approach them to make friends. Yet at the same time, they often can’t speak the local language and wonder why they struggle to make friends. Sure, lots of people speak English, but there’s also a lot of people who don’t, and those who can speak English usually prefer to speak their own language if given the opportunity. Not only will knowing the language help you get better acquaintances but also, you will notice many of your daily life struggles will improve when you feel more confident in your language abilities.

It has never been easier to brush up on your language skills, even if you dreaded the thought of French class at school. There are so many (free!) resources out there that can help you out so don’t put it off.

Tip: For beginners, build up your vocab. The grammar is also important but it will click into place once you’ve been more exposed to the language. For now, just learn useful phrases and words and practice them whenever you get the chance.
For intermediate/advanced: find a Tandem language partner with whom not only you can practice the language with but also find out more about the city/culture etc.

Get to know the locals and don’t limit friendship circles to just other internationals
Although many of you will want to find people from your home country or who speak your language to be able to share your expat experiences with, try and hold this off for a bit and focus on getting to know the locals.

If anything, it’s probably better to do this than look just for other international friends. After all, expats come and expats go, and you’re constantly trying to make new friends. Locals on the other hand tend to stick around, and by meeting them, you get to meet their friends and their friends and so on. And not only that, but you get to discover and experience some of the things that really make that place special – things that you most likely won’t find if you just stick with other internationals. You get to make your adopted city a home rather than just some place where you happen to be living.

Tip: Speak to your neighbours. Speak to the shop assistants. Invite your colleagues out for a drink. There are many opportunities just right at your door so make the most of this.

Use online platforms
Whilst we have recommended making friends more with locals, we are members of quite a few international groups online and have made other friends this way too. These groups can actually be quite good when you’re first moving into the area and want to make sure you’re aware of everything you need to do when you arrive. From forums to local events, it gives you a chance to discover all this with a few clicks and of course meet many like-minded people.

However we also have witnessed the bizarre in these kinds of group – there was once the unfortunate, yet pretty funny, story of a girl who gave away hundreds of euros to a Kenyan who portrayed himself as a CIA operative and wondered why she couldn’t get any money back from him, as well as a load of guys who are constantly looking for girlfriends and sending inappropriate messages via the private message service.

Tip: Join Meetup.com, Internations.org and local expat groups on Facebook.

Stay in touch
Whilst you are far from home and trying to settle in to your new life, you may, or should we say, will feel rather lonely at times. This is exactly why you should not lose touch with close ones from back home because they can always lift your spirits and you can de-stress rather well by sharing some funny stories that have happened or just general catching up. Me and Jasper have stayed in constant contact as well as chatting regularly with our family and friends and when you feel you can no longer do any superficial interactions and constantly meeting new people, this is the perfect way to unwind and to help you realise that wherever you may be, you are never more than a phone call away from someone who really knows you.

Tip: Use your smartphone. There are some fantastic apps out there that help you stay in touch for free. Also, plan those Skype dates! A glass of wine and a good internet connection is all you need.

Last but not least, when you are alone and you feel you have more free time than you know what to do with, it’s the perfect chance for you to get to know yourself and do something you have always wanted to do. Sure, going out and having lots of friends and acquaintances is fun but it’s definitely not the be all and end all. From taking up an online course in the evenings, to maybe even starting a blog or just trying out new recipes, there are many things you can learn and discover. After all, when you are happy and settled somewhere, you tend not to focus so much on other activities but loneliness can actually be a useful thing here and help you discover something new and interesting about yourself and the world.

Tip: Don’t just focus on your day job. Spend 2-3 nights a week doing something totally different. For example, Jasper has been learning Russian at home, Olesya does Freelance work. This time when you are lonely can be ever so productive.

And remember, one of our favourite quotes is “If you do not like where you are, change it. You are not a tree.”

Remember, only you are in charge of your life and your happiness, no-one else can do this for you (unfortunately!).If you feel something is really not working out, then try a different approach. Sometimes, people can’t change where they live, but they can most certainly change their perception of things. Yes, it requires effort and motivation but it is absolutely worth it in the end!

Thanks Olesya and Jasper for some great tips. Have you been an expat alone in a city? What have you done to meet people, and make yourself feel more at home?

Why I want to be an Expat – a guest post

Today’s Summer of Guesting post come from a young Australian blogger who blogs at Chasing Gains (but who says he wants to blog anonymously so I’d better not use his name!). This young man is only 19 – but he has ambition, in spades! And one of his ambitions (alongside becoming a millionaire, owning a supercar, having a YouTube video with a million views and – sweetly – rescuing a dog from the pound) is to live and work in another country. So, what is it about expat life that attracts him? Over to Chasing Gains:


Not everyone wants to or can handle being an expat. Family, friends and a sense of security and familiarity may be more important for some, but I want to explain why I think the Expat life is for me!

The Challenge

I want it to constantly be on my toes, always seeing and experiencing new things. I have had a rather easy life living with parents (eternally grateful for that, not complaining!) but I think there has to be a time where I need to step out and face the world head on by myself, be able to pick myself up when I fall or stumble and never take a step backwards.

The Experience

I don’t want to live and die in the same place in my life. I want to gain experiences in other cultures, be able to speak a second language and also be able to tell kick-ass stories about my experiences living abroad. None of that will be possible if I’m tied down and stay in one place my entire life.


Career Advancement

Living and working overseas I believe will be highly beneficial on my resume, and give me an edge of other potential job seekers. If I can be bilingual than that is an even greater edge over others, and by living and working overseas it shows not only am I up for and open to change, but also face and tackle challenges head on.

New Faces

I’m from a pretty small town in Australia and tend to see the same people around the place again and again, not that there is anything wrong with them! I really do love the place I live in, but there are another 7 or so billion people in the world I haven’t met yet and while I know I won’t meet them all, I want to at least meet and make friends with a new face or two!

Overall I believe that the expat life is a constantly changing and exciting journey and I cannot wait to be a part of it!

(photo: pixabay.com)

What do you think? Does this man have the right attitude? As an expat (if you are), do you think he’s imagining expat life as it really is? Any advice anyone wants to give him? Let me (and him!) know in the comments below.

Adventures of a Travelling Male Spouse

I am delighted with my guest post today as it comes from one of those still rare – or is it just shy? – species, the male expat spouse. I know their numbers are increasing, but it’s still the women we think of when we imagine what life is like for the non-working partner. Anyway when Neel (who lives with his wife in Qatar) offered to write a guest post for me, I jumped at the chance. Here he talks about what life has been like for him and his partner since arriving in Doha at the end of last year.


About me

Me and my wife were born in London and lived there our whole lives. My wife was interviewed for an exciting new role in recruitment in Doha before the summer of 2014 and eventually was given a start date just before Christmas of last year. We both decided it would be a fantastic opportunity for her and there was potential for me to find work (as I am a qualified teacher) and for us to have an adventure and travel before settling down and having children . I decided to come and visit for a month, the week after my wife arrived so I could help her settle in and have some face to face interviews here. It’s transpired that I have ended up staying and have a permanent role starting in September.

First impressions

I am glad that I decided to come over as soon as I did as Doha can be a lonely place. Particularly for women as the area we live in is permanently under construction and populated full of male labourers, although I believe it is safe, it is not the most comfortable environment to be around. We weren’t given a great deal of support in terms of figuring things out, where to go to get various documents signed etc etc.. so I did a lot of the initial exploring. My wife does comment sometimes that if I hadn’t arrived when I did then the first month would have been much more difficult and she would have ventured out far less than she did and potentially even come back home.


Job searching and the VISA system

One of the things you notice about Qatar and perhaps this is true of most of the Middle East, is that it is a male dominated culture. Subtle things such as responses being directed at me rather than my wife who asked the question. In almost all the interviews I had, the first question I was asked was how much money my wife was earning and what package she was on. My situation was bemusing to many employers who could not understand why she would be earning more than I would, despite the fact she is a successful and ambitious private sector employee and I am merely a teacher.

A big issue for me as a trailing spouse was the VISA arrangement. Although I have stayed on a tourist VISA with regular airport runs until now, there were two options for me. Either I could be employed but under the sponsorship of my wife or I could be sponsored by a school. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. Being sponsored by a school means I could be eligible for a housing allowance which would make my salary package more lucrative but most schools would be unwilling to transfer your employment to someone else. So if you end up working at a disreputable school then you are either stuck there or if you do leave, you wouldn’t be eligible to work anywhere else in Qatar for 2 years. Under my wife’s sponsorship I would have the freedom to move but my pay would take a big hit because I wouldn’t be able to get a housing allowance.

Another issue was that if I was to work under my wife’s sponsorship, I could not transfer this sponsorship to my employer for at least 12 months. All of these things considered, I decided to decline the job offers I had been given until I was satisfied I would get a job in a school I would be happy with as it would be far better for us both in the long run.

The perception

In the meantime I have been tutoring and working part time to keep myself busy and doing some voluntary work which has actually led to a full time position for September. I do get teased by friends and my in-laws for being a bum and not working which I can laugh about most of the time but occasionally it does grate as I’ve taken a long term decision and not taken a job that I would be unhappy in. My wife has been very understanding of the situation but she probably takes the piss the most!


Meeting people

The Doha social scene caters very well to women, mothers and children. It is a great place for families and there are lots of support groups and social activities for them. Perhaps it’s a nature of the place that many expat wives are able to look after their children full-time and have more free time to devote to leisure time but I don’t think that’s always the case. For men it’s a different story. As a single guy, Doha can be difficult. Many public places are only open to families on certain days and times. We were fortunate to know a few people who lived here before we came over and they have been fantastic for us and really helped us out. Although we have made lots of acquaintances, we still don’t know that many people outside of our workplaces. I am quite sporty so I have played football with friends of friends and have got chatting to people at our local gym. There are lots of opportunities for this in the city. When I start work in September I hope to join the tennis club and play some golf which I’m sure will be a nice opportunity to meet people. You really can do all sorts here, there are meetup groups happening all the time. Learning Arabic would also be an excellent way to do this and integrate yourself into the culture.


My advice for trailing spouses

  • Take your time deciding on a job offer. It’s better to come here, see where you are going to live and settle in first
  • Keep yourself active and busy in the meantime, look for volunteering opportunities, networking events and social activities
  • Be proud of your wife. An opportunity for her can still be an opportunity for you. It’s worth weighing up your options to see if it makes sense for both of your careers
  • Enjoy the experience, if you have kids it’s a safe place for them to grow up and Qatar is a travel hub where you can explore so many places
  • Ask me a question. Feel free to come by to my blog and read about my experiences or to ask me anything, I’d be happy to try and help

Thank you Neel – I love your advice (especially to be proud of your wife 🙂 ). You can read more about Neel’s adventures in Qatar at his website Dohabitation. And if you too are a male trailing spouse please let me know – I contribute to a number of expat blogging link-ups and twitter chats and it would be great to see more of the guys there!

The Charms of Indiscretion – a guest post

Thank you to Canadian expat Hubert O’Hearn (who wrote this review of my book the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide) who has kindly written his own take on his new life in Ireland. I love his very distinctive humour and I can think of a few fellow bloggers who will probably appreciate it too! Enjoy!

profile pic

When it was suggested to me by a mutual friend that Clara Wiggins might appreciate it if I wrote a guest post for her website – the word blog sounds to me like the song of a depressed frog – of course I leapt to it like a, well like a non-depressed frog taking aim at nearby fly. I’m a writer, I’m an expatriate, and in writing about my own experience I get to write the word I a lot. Including me and my and I’m, there’s a dozen already just in this opening paragraph. We are our own favourite subjects after all. Oh and there’s no denying that. As both a book reviewer and an editor/writing coach, If I (thirteen) had a dollar for every book I’ve (fourteen) read whose story began with a lonely, misunderstood writer who suddenly has a buxom Russian spy come bursting through his door bearing secret passions and a pizza with double cheese I’d (fifteen) be able to settle the national debt of Greece.

I probably should get some pencil-sharpening necessary exposition out of the way while I decide what would be the most interesting thing to discuss with you (1).  A half century ago a drunken stork got lost on its way, said ‘oh the hell with it’ and dropped its load smack in the middle of Canada. Thus I was born and I haven’t had a good word to say about large birds ever since. Half a century later I finally ended up where I was supposed to be in the first place. I packed three suitcases, bribed my border collie Stella into climbing inside a pet carrier and three flights and a limo jump between LaGuardia and Newark later, I was in Ireland. Despite the best efforts of the Irish government, I’m bloody well staying. So there.

Now of course I’m faced with a choice as to how to best fill the rest of this space. There are three definite options here:

The Romantic Allure of Ireland

Oh it definitely has all that allure in spades and I knew it from the first time I saw the little moss-covered island from the air when, at age 10, I was taken here for a summer tour by my mother. That was when I made up my mind to move here, although it did take a while to put the plan into action. And you think you have writer’s block! Anyway, writing about that would lead to sentences like this:

I no longer write, but record what I hear as I listen without listening to the voices whispered in coastal winds through the hawthorn tree in my back garden.

‘Ere now, ain’t that all grand like? But that is an option.

Humorous Observations

Now this is ever so popular at all the best dinner parties and is guaranteed to charm the pants off the guests, which would certainly be my specific intent if the guests were vivacious and single. Actually, never mind the single part. I’ve had affairs with married women and leaving the sinning aspect aside, you get to have all the fun and still can lay about alone on weekend afternoons in a robe and bare feet watching the football (2). Yes, there are lots of liquored laffs to be had in telling tales of learning to live in Ireland, such as:

Having decided to learn the Irish language, I downloaded a series of lessons produced by Ireland’s national broadcaster, RTE. The very first lesson – I swear I am not making this up – implied that the three essential phrases to know are: The weather is terrible, Can I get you a cup of tea? and, Isn’t this the employment office?

Ho ho!

Serious Words of Advice

Oh gawd, you don’t really want to know about taxation policy and registering for National Health benefits do you? If that’s what you’ve come to me for, not only are you barking up the wrong tree you’d best be seeking out the National Health services in your own country to find treatment for this odd habit of yours of barking up trees. Well, I suppose if that’s what you’re after I had best toss a bone your way (3). Besides, to omit doing so would break the rhythm of this piece that is bound to be nominated for a myriad of Webby Awards if I can just find the link to place it in nomination. Here is your sample sentence of advice:

In seeking accurate assistance prior to emigrating to Ireland, the best and most accurate information is not likely to come from a clerk in the Irish Embassy in Ottawa whose accent has more of a distinct lilt of Delhi than Derry.

No no, that one’s true. My initial immigration was completely mucked up by said clerk in said Embassy which meant that I had to decamp to England for ten months while waiting for a UK passport to be delivered so that I, as a resident of the EU (4) could freely and legally return to the Republic of Ireland.

As you may have guessed, this post is nearly done and that’s why they all call me Clever Clogs (5). However I do have to say at least one serious thing about Ireland because I love it so. Somewhere in this often rotten world there is a place that meets your needs, suits your pace and matches your own energies and dreams perfectly. That is something I truly believe from the bottom of my heart. Just as migratory birds have an inner compass drawn to some mysterious energy pole that leads them safely to Capistrano or North Africa every autumn, so too is there that needle within you that tries to nudge you where you are meant to live. If you are very, very very lucky that place is where you live now. And if not, I truly hope you find it soon.


1. In other words, this paragraph is dull as hell and you’re welcome to skip it. Don’t say I didn’t warn you Sparky.

2. What? You think I called this piece The Charms of Indiscretion just because I liked the sound of the words?

3. Seriously, why do you think you’re a dog? Your mother’s concerned and people are starting to talk.

4. At least until David Cameron bollixes up the EU Referendum in 2017.

5. No one has ever called me Clever Clogs.

Hubert O’Hearn is an independent editor, writing coach, arts reviewer and author of two books and six plays. He has also developed the Six Months to Better Writing Course designed to sharpen skills through individual mentoring for both developing and professional writers. He is delighted to hear from other writers any time on either a personal or professional basis. His email address is ohearnofireland@gmail.com and an archive of his work can be found at www.bythebookreviews.blogspot.ie.

My Norwegian Language Story – a Guest Post

Hello and welcome to the first in the series of what I am calling a Summer of Guesting. A couple of weeks ago I put out a plea for guest posts from bloggers who write about expat life or travel to help get me through the next couple of months when the children will be off school and we will be moving to South Africa. I knew I was unlikely to have much time to write blog posts (and don’t have time at the moment to write more than a handful in advance), so had the idea to ask others to contribute. I thought I might get a couple – but was overwhelmed with offers! Thank you so much to everyone who has already sent me their posts, as well as those who are busily writing them as we speak (ah hem!).

Anyway, today’s guest blog comes from Sandra, of the Life and Whatnot blog. Sandra writes about learning a new language – something many of us expats have to contend with, whether we like it or not! But for Sandra, it wasn’t just any old langauage. No, it was Norwegian – one of those should I say slightly more complicated languages, one that I know I would dread having to try and get my tongue around. Over to you, Sandra!


Many years ago in kindergarten I was taught my ABCs. Those twenty six letters, I was told, could be mixed up and used in different ways to form the words I would need to navigate my way through the world. To make sense of things around me, to communicate with other people and be able to express all my thoughts and ideas.

And I did. I’m told I was quite the chatterbox when I was little and as the years went on I found I enjoyed writing stories about places and people that only existed in my imagination and reading books about animals and the stars in the sky.

Little did I know that decades later I would meet, fall ridiculously in love with, and marry a Norwegian. And my ABCs would find three new friends to play with. Æ, Ø and Å.

It can be a humbling experience when you start learning a new language and it was no different for me trying to learn Norwegian. I went from being able to express my thoughts and ideas with a rich and broad vocabulary to speaking short, simple sentences conveying the barest of information.

When I tried to follow conversations between my in-laws it was difficult to discern where one word ended and another began. Written Norwegian was a little bit easier as I could take my time and pick apart long compound words into their simpler component words.

When I moved to Norway and began Norwegian language classes (norskkurs) I, along with the rest of the class, was taught bokmål. Bokmål is the preferred written standard for the Norwegian language and is used by about 85 to 90% of the country. While bokmål, the written language, is regulated by the Norwegian Language Council, the pronunciation of words is free to change and shift according to local dialects. And that can cause problems for those of us new to the language as well as native Norwegians who find they can’t understand their new neighbor who happens to have grown up in Tromsø. Norway has an incredible number of different dialects. Understandable for a country with a population that for many years lived far away from each other and therefore each village and town developed their own dialect.

“Jeg heter…”

“Jeg kommer fra…”

One of the requirements for residency here in Norway is completing a set number of hours of language/social studies instruction. For me that meant 550 hours of language classes and 50 hours learning about Norwegian society. I find Canada and Norway to be quite similar in many ways so the social studies class was a breeze.

And I was lucky to have two awesome Norwegian teachers. They were always ready to explain the intricacies of grammar and were willing to find me more challenging assignments when they felt I was progressing faster than the rest of the class. Tusen takk, Anne Thea and Trude!

Over the course of about nine months I went from tentatively telling people my name and where I was from to being able to speak more deeply about myself and my background, discuss current events in the news, and hold a conversation with a stranger. I was also able to take the Norwegian language test earlier and at a higher level than I had initially planned. And I’m not embarrassed to admit that the day I opened the two envelopes that confirmed I had passed both the written and oral portions of the exam I did a little dance around the house.
With all that said, speaking Norwegian on a regular basis is still a challenge. Not because of the skills that I lack but because of how self-conscious I feel when doing so. Words can come slowly and hesitantly. Sentences can sound mangled and I often wonder if I’m making any sense whatsoever. But I find Norwegians to be very forgiving about my occasional butchering of their language.

As difficult as it has sometimes been, struggling to learn Norwegian and find my place in a new country, I keep in mind that it’s all part of this wonderful adventure I’ve set myself up for. An adventure that keeps serving up new challenges and that I look forward to every day.

Thank you Sandra for this insight into language learning, as well as a fascinating look at a culture I admit I know very little about.And well done on your success with Norwegian! I have been extremely lucky and haven’t had to try and master a new language since we lived in Venezuela and I had a stab (a bad stab) at learning Spanish. Have you had to learn a new language? How easy has it been? Have you managed it – or given in and resorted to sign language or waving your hands around a lot and shouting loudly?