Happy Abroad: for everyone who wants to live happily abroad!

Dear Friends,

You might be asking, why I have not updated this blog recently… and there is a good and nice reason for it 🙂
Now we have a separate website: www.happy-abroad.com! =)

And there are already many interesting articles and materials on happy life abroad, so come in and check!

See you at happy-abroad.com!

Yours Margarita


You live abroad and time to time you come back to your “home” country (i.e. a place where you grew up, where your family lives) to visit your family, friends. Even if you were not born there, you have spent there quite an important part of your life/childhood; thus part of yourself is always there. For me this “special place” is Riga, Latvia. Here is the scenario, which usually happens when I go back “home”[1], may be you will find there some patterns, which you also have:

First day: everything is great! You see your beloved ones, give gifts, see how surroundings have changed since your last visit. It is lovely to see all these people, places.

Second day: first disagreements arise. For example, my family tends to eat meals at weird times for me – the time which is too early or too late; their morning and evening habits are different from mine and different from the ones I used to have when I lived in Latvia. One of biggest tortures for me is the TV: my family spends most of their evenings watching TV, which means that if I want to spend some time with them, then I have to watch TV. During the first days it’s a real torture (taking into account that usually I do not watch TV).

Third day: meet other people, friends. Most of them complain about local life, they think that they live almost in the worst place in the world. Oh dear! If they ever knew that this place is actually quite nice. They just do not know how to value the things which they have, as they seem to be obvious for them. For example, Italians start to value good, sunny weather mainly when they move abroad.  I realized how clean, organized Latvia is only when I lived in other places (Western European countries, by the way).

Further days: you get used to live in a “new” environment, life stabilizes. And here are two options of further scenario:

  1. you either start missing the place where you live (your “new” homeland) or
  2. you feel so good staying with your family, old friends, that you do not want to return.

For instance, I sometimes miss Italian pasta, miss a possibility to have long walks in the city (it’s not that in Riga people do not walk, it’s just not very common due to not very nice weather), I miss emotionality of people – in Latvia even my closest friends hug only at big celebrations, such as a Birthday party or a Wedding. Thus feelings of “miss” exist, but not every time. For example, during my last visit to Riga in April, I was pretty happy, I guess it was because I stayed the right amount of time – not too short, not too long. Is it possible to stay “too long”? I believe yes, as when you visit your “old home” you are travelling, you are not into everyday routine. How long is it possible to stay out of routine (i.e. not studying, not working, not doing the activities you usually do)? I think not too long, unless you decide to stay longer and develop your new routine.

So tell me, have you ever experienced a shock when you visited your “home” country, visited your family and childhood friends? Or may be you are always happy? Did you want to come back as soon as possible to your “new” home? (I did…)

[1] In this article I can call this place “fatherland/homeland”, but for me “home” now is more the place where I am living at the moment.

http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=2125Accent. Lately it has become one of my challenges Nr.1. For some time I have tried to ignore it. But now I have decided to explore, what I can do to improve the situation. Where is the problem you might ask? Well, I speak 5 languages and am learning another 2 and in ALL languages (including my native) I speak with an accent.

Where from did it come? I studied in High School in Russian with some subjects in Latvian, then University was in Latvian-English, the last year of university I studied in Germany, in German. Then I moved to the UK and used English and Russian at work. When I did my Masters in UK and in Italy, the studies were in English and Italian. Now I live inRome and use Italian, English, Russian at work. So the last 10 years of my life I constantly had to use different languages every day.

The first issue arose after I finished Bachelors – I realised that I started speaking Russian, my native language, with an accent. Most likely it was because I have not used it a lot in everyday life. Now, when I come back to Latvia, people tend to think that I am a foreigner who managed to learn very well Latvian and Russian.

The easiest solution which you can find is “look at the locals and try to imitate their sounds, how they speak”. Well, in Italy I lived in Siena and Rome, and in these two places people speak very different language. Actually now I realised that the more you move, the more difficult it is to start speaking “without an accent”, as accent ALWAYS existas, and “speaking without an accent” means only that you speak like locals, but if you change towns, the accent might change.  Here, in Rome, I have Italian, American, English, German, Arabic and other friends and it is normal for me to speak 3-4 languages a day. So is it actually possible for me to speak without an accent?

One friend of mine, an opera singer, manages to speak without an accent even without mastering too much the language. Well, it is her gift “to hear the language”. But I think we could learn it, too, like learning the music sounds.

While trying to find more information on the web on how to get rid of an accent, I found this very interesting article, written by  Anthea Fraser Gupta “Ask the Linguist FAQ: Accents”, you can find it here. They offer some obvious, but at the same time the most practical tips on how to speak with a particular accent:

  • “Identify the accent you want to speak.
  • Expose yourself to the accent you want as much as possible.
  • Try to get some friends who speak with the accent you want.
  • Try to make sure you are not mixing with people who will criticise you for changing your accent.”

Hmmm I think in my case it is hard to achieve even one of these points. My main goal is to speak a language and not sound like foreigner. However I guess for Americans even British English might sound like strange…  What concerns exposure – I have so many different friends, that it is hardly possible to separate the groups and mix with one and ignore all others. So I guess in my case I better use an advice of Suzette Hayden Elgin and practice speaking without a “foreigner” accent, using audio recordings (the description of this technique I found in the article mentioned above).

Other interesting tips I found were:

  • Find which muscles are used in language you want to improve and exercise these muscles
  • Observe how native speaker speaks your own language – if person speaks with a strong accent, his/her mistakes in pronunciation will show you the main differences in your languages, which you can use to master your pronunciation and improve your accent.

More information on this method, you can find in the article “Secrets of Speaking with a Genuine Accent” by Owen Lee here.

Good luck! And let’s share our progress or may be other issues or tips on accent in the comments 🙂

P.S. If you liked this article, share it with your friends! That’s so easy, but at the same time could be helpful to others!

I am excited to announce the launch of the new on-line course “Happy Abroad”, and you know what? You are one of the first ones to know about it!

When: course starts on 26thApril

http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=659How much: it is a pilot course, therefore it is FREE, but hurry up, places are limited!
How to join: write to newabroad@gmail.com, explaining in 2-3 sentences why you would like to take part.
Contents: the course consists of 10 lessons. Each lesson is devoted to a particular issue on life abroad. Every week you will receive one lesson with an explanation and a practical exercise. Here is the example of some of the topics covered:

  • Planning and preparation.
  • How to find work abroad and integrate successfully into team at work.
  • How to find new friends in new place.

Should I join? Life abroad in general is a valuable experience, but it is up to you whether you will use 5% or 100% of its value. The course “Happy Abroad” will show you how to use your experience up to maximum, it will help you to discover all beauties of the life abroad and will prepare you for possible challenges.
Questions? If you have any questions, feel free to write to newabroad@gmail.com

Quite many years have passed since I have done my Erasmus (Erasmus is an International exchange programme for students in Europe), and now I have decided to share some thoughts about it. Why now? Because after these years I feel that I can share and evaluate much better than at time when I finished it. Erasmus logo, taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erasmus_Programme

I did my Erasmus in Trier, Germany. I had to undergo a competition and I was among a few ones, who got the places in this exchange programme. It was not an easy process:I had to write an application, explaining why I want to do this experience, how am I going to compensate the courses I miss at my university, I had to undergo the interview and after a tough selection process I secured my place to study at the University of Trier for one semester. I had a feeling similar to what you feel when you buy your first car: great excitement, butterflies in your stomach….Mmm…

The first day was probably the most difficult one. I arrived to the main train station and was not sure where to go, which bus to take. I did not want to spend money for taxi, so after some attempts to find the right bus, I decided to walk, as the distance seemed to be not too long – ca. 1,5km. It did not help that people I asked showed me different roads, so in the end, when I arrived to my residence I was quite exhausted, as obviously I took the longest way possible.

Ok, what about the Erasmus experience? Was it only about getting drunk? Well, it definitely was not my case. I do not drink alcohol, so it never was my goal. Having fun? Partially yes, but again, it was not my primary objective. You might be surprised, but Erasmus students do study. Of course, it depends on the particular course, university etc, as requirements differ, but in my case  we studied quite hard.

Is it difficult to study? Many say that Erasmus students get more privileges than local ones and for them it is easier to study, pass exams etc. You might see it as unfair. And it is unfair if you get “pass” just because you are exchange student and professors do not take you seriously. However it is not always like that. Our professors, for example, closed their eyes when we spoke in German with mistakes, however we had to give the correct answer to the questions of the exams, otherwise we could fail. My roommate inItaly, a girl fromPortugal who did Erasmus inSiena, also had to study hard to pass her exams.

What did I gain? Now, looking back, I can say that my gains are probably different from the ones I expected, but I am still very happy about them:

  • Fell in love with latino dances, learnt to dance salsa.
  • Improved my German. Living inItalyit might be not the most useful language, but it does help me to communicate with my brother.
  • A friend, with whom I used to share a table during French clases (I still do not speak French tough); we write to each other very very long letters 2-3 times a year.
  • Realized thatGermanyis not the country where I would like to live all my life.
  • Took part in the Language exchange and got idea to organize similar events in my country.
  • Understood that sometimes people can hurt you, but this experience is given only to make us stronger.
  • Learnt how to cook using limited amount of appliances and space.
  • Realized for the first time, that the universities inWestern Europemight be better in some aspects (such as library facilities etc), but they are not the best in everything.

Thus, I had a very valuable experience. It was not always full of excitement and fun, there were also tough, and sad moments, tears, but overall it definitely was worth it! I would like to thank all people who were part of this experience, the EU for giving this chance via Erasmus programme, and last, but not least my family and friends for the support!

About the author

photoLet me first introduce myself, my name is Margarita Miller. I was born and grew up in Riga, Latvia. My interest to everything international grew quickly in my early years, when I was a child. Since I was 10 years old I got my first pen pals from different countries, this helped me to improve my English. At the age of 14 my grandmother suggested me to read a book “Princess” – it was about life of a Saudi Arabian princess and women in that country. This booked not only shocked me a lot (it showed bad situation of women there, as I thought about it at that time), but also put the seeds of my interest in Arabic and Muslim culture. I was lucky and traveled quite a lot when I was a teenager. This broadened my horizon dramatically. I really enjoyed seeing different cultures, countries, discovering something new.

After I finished high school, I was not sure what to study. But one thing I was sure of – the studies should be “international”, thus I decided to study International Relations at the Riga Stradins University. At the same time I actively participated in various national and international projects organized by different NGOs, such as the National Youth Council of Latvia.

During my last year of the university I went to Trier, Germany as an exchange student (I write more on my experience in Germany in an article “Erasmus experience”). It was 6 months of “test”. Test for myself, how I will be able to live abroad. It was sometimes tough, but overall it only made growing my will to experience the life abroad. I came back to Latviajust for one month, as I got a job in London in a charity and therefore moved to the UK. It was an interesting change, as I had very mixed feelings about London, but in the end I managed to explore and find all the great possibilities that this town brings. Actually it is one of the main reasons of leaving Latvia– I felt that I needed a broader territory for my self-development.

I enjoyed my work in London, but I felt the need for growth, therefore I decided to study for a Masters degree… again, in International Relations, but this time I have chosen a very international course – half in Bath,UK and half in Siena, Italy. Thus, the studies have brought me toItaly and here I am now, just changed the town a bit and at the moment I am living in Rome, not in Siena.

After settling down (in the first 6 months I have changed 5 places in this ancient city), I slowly grew into an international life in Rome and at the moment I feel myself as a part of Rome’s wide international community. I have even decided to organize a course for foreigners “Rome ABC” to make their adjustment process to the hectic life in Rome easier and nicer.

That’s all for now! Thank you for reading and please contact me if you have any questions: newabroad@gmail.com! And as usual, feel free to comment below!

Dear Friend!

As you might have already guessed, this blog is undergoing some changes, both in design and in content. Do not worry, I am not going to delete the valuable advices on how to find a job abroad or what to do before moving abroad.

However I have decided to add to the blog a “personal touch”. And from now on, in this blog you will find not only general information on life abroad, but every week I will share with you one of the challenges that I meet while living abroad, and explain how do I deal with it.

Let me know what you think about this novelty, new design and see you next week! Have a great time!