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

Posts tagged ‘abroad’

Coming back home: happy moments or just another cultural shock?

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.


How to speak a foreigner language and not sound like a foreigner?

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!

New: online course “Happy Abroad”

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

Erasmus experience: is it only about getting drunk?

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!

What to bring and what to leave behind?

Sometimes this question becomes also “To be or not to be?”.

When you are moving to a new country, especially the one where you have never been before, it is hard to imagine what is there and what there is not. Therefore some preparation could be useful:

What to bring?

  • Ask your friends who have already been there (ideally have been living there for some time), what are they missing from home, what is important to bring. May be it is a special plug to make your electrical appliances work or some particular spices without which you cannot imagine to cook?
  • Check in advance the supermarkets and stores which you will have around and their working hours (once I arrived to my new place on Saturday night and found out that there is no blanket, but on Sunday most of the shops were closed…and it was in January…).
  • Make a list of all items you would like to take and mark them (with markers, for example) in priority order. For example, red – extremely necessary, yellow – should take, green – can take if there is space in luggage. This will also help you to pack.

Probably if you are moving to a city, there is no necessity to bring all your utensils, cosmetic products (like shower gel) – you can easily buy them (and in the end it will be cheaper than paying for the extra weight in your luggage). So evaluate well the situation. My advice, even if you are moving for a long period of time, take with you only the items you really need for the first couple of months. All other things you will be able to bring later or to buy/find/get in a new place. Good luck!

Move Abroad: think first, do next

Do you want to move abroad? Check the underwater stones before getting in the water!

Many people think that life abroad is easier, nicer and in general everything is better. Well, it has some advantages and disadvantages. A lot depends not only on the country/place, where you are going to live/living, but also on your attitude. This time let’s look at the points, which are important to check before moving to live abroad:

1. Think WHY do you want to move abroad, what are your reasons? Are you running away from problems? If so, stop! Solve the issues first and then move, otherwise you will get the same problems, just in the new place.

2. WHAT you will gain, what you will loose, are your gains greater than looses? Even if you are from the North Pole and now you are going to move to a sunny country in the South, where statistically is more sun and better fruits, it’s worth checking other aspects, too.  Think about your family, childhood friends, sweet home, favourite pet – are you ready to leave them all, and if yes what are your gains?

For example, make a table, similar to this one:



New experiences Miss home
Learn new language Spend all savings
Meet new friends Won’t have proper “home”
…. ….

3. Write down your expectations, i.e. HOW your life abroad will be. After you have written down everything what comes to your mind, check with the people who already lived in this country/town – are your expectations correct? Or may be some of them are just dreams?

4. WHEN? Is it the right moment to move abroad? Are you ready? Are your language skills adequate for what are you going to do? Are you physically, mentally and financially prepared?

Often people think that abroad grass is greener, water sweeter and food is tastier. All is relative. If you move abroad, because you think that everything there will be better and life will have no problems, then stop right now and have a look at the points above.  But hey, do not allow me or someone else to destroy your dreams! Just be prepared 😉

Some other questions to think of/discuss with your friends/write in comments:

– Is life abroad really better? Why?
– What is missing in the place you are living at the moment? May be you can get it in other way?

But if you are already living abroad:

–         Tell us, what else is important to know before starting life abroad?

–         Did your expectations meet the reality?

–         What was difficult/ what was easy in the beginning of your life abroad?



Expat, Cosmopolitan, International, Globalised – whatever you call it, the meaning always remain the same: a person who is not focused on one country, nation, language, but is open-minded and always ready to get to know different culture, people from other parts of the world.  Here the term “international” will be used, as it has a broader sense.

It does not matter how you have arrived there… whether you came from a multi-cultural family, have lived in several countries while you were a child, or may be you studied or worked abroad, or it could be also that you are working in an international organisation… it makes no difference… the difference is inside you and you know it, you feel it.

You do not have to be an expat to be an international, you could also live in your country of birth and have a single-nation origin, but you will feel different from your schoolmates, colleagues. Well, if you are an international, you know what I mean.

Where is your home? After living/having experience in several countries, it might be difficult to answer to this question. You know very well your country of origin, you might have there your family’s home, but deep inside your heart you actually have doubts where your “home” is – is it where your family is? Is it where you are at the moment? Or is it somewhere in the uncertain future?

You know more than one language and one of your hobbies include travelling and meeting new people. For sure your partner also should be an international, as only international will be able to understand your deepest feelings and emotions, what makes you “tick”. It does not mean that international is better than others. No, we all unique, but internationals can understand each other better, it is like being able to speak the same language, even without words.

International is ready to tell his story again and again – where he is from, what does he do, how he came here… it does not disturb him.  But being international also hurts…. feeling that you belong to the whole world or at least to a continent is great, but at the same time you might feel that you do not belong anywhere – neither to your country of birth/place where you grew up, nor to the place where you live/used to live… It is scary.

Most of your friends are also internationals. You might have some “normal” friends from your childhood, neighbourhood, work etc., they could be even your best friends, but you always will feel that a bit strange look from their side, like you were an unusual species in the zoo.

You are used to have changes in your life and whether you like it or not, you cannot live without them. It could be change of countries, international jobs, projects… You know you are different; sometimes you would like to forget about it, be as others, do as others do, but it won’t last long. You are who you are. Accept it. Your differences are your strengths, not all might like them, but not all like Marmite, right? So be happy being yourself, with yourself and within yourself!