Thursday, 28 July 2011

NorthSouthEastWest: Expat Dispatches Has Arrived!

Following the launch of a new expat four-way blogging feature, NorthSouthEastWest: Expat Dispatches, which featured on In Search of a life Less Ordinary this month, I was asked to guest post about it all on a popular expat blog in the Netherlands, Clogs and Tulips: An American in Holland, written by Tiffany Jansen.

More than happy to oblige, I shared details about the new initiative with her readers, including upcoming guest posts for August and future topics. Here's the link to my guest post -

Photo credit: digitalart portfolio 2280

The response to this new feature was excellent with a large number of readers moving between the four sites to read our posts from the four corners of the globe so thank you to all those who read the posts, provided comments, forwarded the posts on, etc.

We plan to guest post again in the second half of August and, if you want to see something in particular covered in future Expat Dispatches, let me know and we'll certainly try to cover it off.

If you missed it, here's the Expat Dispatches post that I wrote for Erica Knecht's Expatria, Baby -

Normal blogging service will resume shortly.

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Tuesday, 19 July 2011

My 7 Links: What You May Have Missed On This Blog

My 7 Links is a new blogging initiative, started by Trip Base, with the goal of giving long forgotten blog posts a chance to see the light of day again. The initiative also allows me to bring five worthy bloggers to your attention. 

So here are my seven posts in seven different categories, followed by my five recommended expat bloggers. 

1. In Search of a Life Less Ordinary's most beautiful post:  Love you Murph

There was no doubt in my mind which post would sit in this category. I simply had to re-open the blog post vault and pull out the tribute to my loved and not forgotten chocolate lab, Murphy. Maybe not everyone would agree that the post should sit in this category but my little pup was beautiful to me and I can only hope this post did him some justice. I will always miss my boy. 

2. In Search of a Life Less Ordinary's most popular post:  The odd one out: trying (and failing) to fit in

Some of my most popular posts have been the ones that delve deep into the tribulations of expat living, looking at the negatives as well as the positives. On hit rates and comments alone, one of my most popular posts looked at the struggle I had with fitting in after arriving in Vancouver, Canada and the things I did - and didn't - do.

The odd one out

3. In Search of a Life Less Ordinary's most controversial post:  Winter? What Winter?

The most controversial post on this blog concerned my declaration that Australians are in denial that it gets cold in Sydney and that winter ever exists. The post was controversial enough that one of Australia's leading journalists disputed my claims to her Twitter followers, which resulted in a well-known BBC correspondent following up with me. I was deliberately provocative with this post and rightly so. Australians are in denial. 

4. In Search of a Life Less Ordinary's most helpful post:  When the going gets tough, should I get going?

What started out as a relatively innocent post rapidly became a bit of a cathartic exercise in evaluating what I was getting from my current Sydney life versus those things I had set out from England many years before in search of - and whether there was a conflict between the two. Whilst the post itself may have been of some help to others, the post comments triggered a wave of helpful exercises, insights, and advice to both me and those people commenting on the post. In my opinion, this post makes it into the 'helpful' category on that basis alone. 

5. An In Search of a Life Less Ordinary post whose success surprised me:  The sun, sea, sand and me

Back in December, I posted on our decision several years ago to move from Canada to Australia, and the kind of life we were seeking here on Sydney's Northern Beaches. The hit rate on this post has far exceeded most of my other posts put together, which has surprised me given that the topic and post itself were fairly innocuous and run-of-the-mill. What it may have revealed is that there is one heck of a lot of people out there a) interested in emigrating, and b) identifying Sydney as a possible destination. I can fully understand why on both counts. 

6. An In Search of a Life Less Ordinary post I didn't feel got the attention it deserved:  Finding my inner Warrior / The battle to protect Canada's Pacific Coast

I'm going to cheat and nominate two posts for this category.

The first post relates to an absolute legend in my neck of the woods. In fact, in all of Australia. The Sandhill Warrior is a fascinating guy with an epic training regime to boot...  and this expat endures the Warrior's never-ending punishment on a twice-weekly basis. Read this post and you'll literally feel my pain. And when the Warrior read this post, boy, was I in trouble.

Finding my inner Warrior

The second post relates to a subject very dear to my heart - the protection of the West Canadian coastline. This area of outstanding natural beauty has come under increasing threat in recent decades and the post raised awareness of a particular battle underway to remove the prospect of a vast oil pipeline and shipping terminal in the area, which would likely draw in vast numbers of oil tankers into an already fragile region. It would do no harm for this post to get a few additional page views. 

7. The In Search of a Life Less Ordinary post I am most proud of:  A sporting dilemma

I am most proud of this post for one reason. Prior to becoming a blog post, it was my first published article in The Telegraph and, for that reason alone, I was - and still am - extremely proud of it. It also addresses a subject close to my heart - sports rivalries and loyalty to the team of your country of birth. That the English cricket team claimed an Ashes Series victory not long after in the land down under, with me sat in my ringside seat, was a nice bonus.

And here are my recommended expat blogs for your pleasure:

1.  Dear England, Love Canada - life as an expat Brit in Montreal and around Canada.

2.  The Life That Broke - takes of a Jersey girl abroad.

3.  Adventures in Expat Land - living abroad and sharing the good, the less good and the just plain odd.

4. I was an Expat Wife - her expat days me be over (for now), but she still has a lot to say about expat life.

5.  Vegemitevix - a Kiwi expat in the UK licking the Vegemite off life's fingers.

Enjoy catching up with the seven posts from the In Search of a Life Less Ordinary archives and I hope you have time to visit some of these five deserving blogs.

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Friday, 15 July 2011

Staying Put, For Now

NorthSouthEastWest: Expat Dispatches

Welcome to the inaugural four-way guest posting of NorthSouthEastWest! I and three other expat bloggers have joined together to rotate our monthly guest posts from the four corners of the world on each other's blogs. We expat bloggers are Linda at (North - Netherlands), me at (South - Australia), Erica at (East - Japan), and Maria at (West - Canada).
    Sometimes we'll have a theme (July's theme is Where We Are Right Now), some months we'll just write about whatever takes our fancy. I hope you enjoy today's guest post on this site by Linda, an American expat living in the Netherlands, and that you also check out my own NSEW guest post over at Erica's site, titled Home is where the heart is, wherever that may be. Better yet, why not check out all four of our posts!

    In the meantime, I'd like to introduce Linda who writes about her many adventures in Expat Land at and who moved to the Netherlands in 2009 when her husband took a job with an international organisation. Here she guest posts on why she is staying put in the Hague, for now....
    "Years and years ago, only people who were sent to live overseas by their government, company or international organisation were thought of as expatriates. Anyone else either was being shunned, or if they went on their own, were considered by many to be doing it based on principle: exiling themselves to make some political point.

    Fortunately times have changed, and today there is a more enlightened understanding of what being an expat really entails. Nowadays, given increasing globalisation and the explosion of technological advances, it's generally accepted that more people than ever are choosing to live abroad. Being an expat simply means that we are living outside our country's borders. No more, no less.

    It's hard to get an exact number of expats for a couple reasons: most governments don't tally their citizens living outside their borders (even if they do carefully monitor the taxpayers among them!), and also because the overall data tends to include refugees, those seeking political asylum or otherwise pushed out of their 'home' countries.

    In addition to our brethren who are sent overseas on assignment, many of us do choose to pack up and head abroad. We may do so for myriad reasons: a specific job or the overall opportunity for employment, adventure, cultural experience, love of travel, a sense of global citizenship, a better standard of living, learning a foreign language, an educational program, adding a skill or 'something extra' to our resumé. Or simply just because.

    It doesn't matter whether you sought out a job or chose to retire abroad. Regardless of how you came to be where you currently are, virtually every expat faces a point in time when they must re-evaluate their situation. It tends to boil down to a game show version of The Clash hit 'Should I Stay or Should I Go?'

    In some instances, the pesky little nuisance of expiring visas and other necessary documentation forces us to consider our situation. In other instances, an employment contract may be running out, or corporate reshuffling or downsizing is taking place. Or our sense of 'paradise' doesn't quite cut it anymore.

    And so we've found ourselves in the situation countless others are in: are we staying or going?

    As I've mentioned in previous posts, Husband works for an international organisation headquartered here in The Hague. It was his first time working for this organisation, and he was offered the standard three-year contract. That contract expires in six months, January 2012. When he first took the job, it was fairly easy to get a three-year extension, provided the employee did good work and the agency was pleased with his/her performance.

    Fast forward to today. The continuing global credit crisis and weak-to-dire economic situation have made three-year contract extensions a thing of the past. This doesn't come as a surprise, in part because we keep up with global economic news and also because Husband is in charge of global recruitment so he's acquainted with how things work.

    In order to afford maximum flexibility to determine organisational size and structure, these days the international organisation is only offering one-year extensions, and not necessarily to everyone. Husband figured that he'd hear sometime this summer, so we, like many others in similar straits, have to assess the situation and determine our own course of action.

    As I recently wrote in Life Milestone: Expat Graduation, Son just graduated high school and is headed to university back in the United States next month. Daughter finished ninth grade, so has three more years of high school ahead of her.

    We happen to enjoy the life we've carved out here in The Netherlands. Husband finds his job stimulating. Daughter loves her school and activities, her friends and year-round Dutch voetbal team. I have built a writing career, and have developed some wonderful friendships with a dazzling array of truly stellar people. We love our quiet little Dutch neighborhood in the midst of a beautiful and culturally abundant city. We like being able to travel easily, for reasonable costs and on relatively short notice. Heck, I'm even fairly decent with my intermediate Dutch.

    'Ah, this indecision's bugging me...'

    So it was with great relief and a bit of celebration that we greeted the news that Husband's contract has been extended for another year. We are well aware that we are reaching a sensitive time up ahead with regard to Daughter's education. It's our fondest hope to stay long enough to see her graduate here in Nederland. We also want to avoid being unpleasantly surprised in the middle of her junior or senior year.

    I do not know what the future will bring, but I do know this: we refuse to live our lives on pins and needles, worrying about what may or may not come to pass. We are going to continue living in the present, accepting our days here in The Netherlands as the gift that it is.

    We're going to dig deeper, expand our circles wider, become more entrenched in our community. To do anything less is to live life in a sort of netherworld, one foot in and one foot out.

    Not going to happen. No way."

    Have you recently come to a decision regarding your next move or lack of move as the case may be? Was it a job decision that made your mind up for you or was it more of an emotional decision?

    Look out for the next NSEW guest post towards the second half of August. And, thanks again, Linda for this inaugural guest post!

    Thursday, 7 July 2011

    State of Origin: the Blues and Maroons

    It's the middle of an Australian winter and that can only mean one thing.  It's the State of Origin rugby league football finals, one of the highlights of the year on the Aussie sports calendar and a series that has come to symbolise the passion, competitive rivalry, and downright fighting spirit of sport in the land down under.

    This week saw the final game played of a three-game series between the Maroons, representing Queensland, and the Blues, representing New South Wales. Whilst the 'footy' series finals are fairly recent, having only started back in the 1980s, the series is rapidly becoming the premier sporting contest in this part of the southern hemisphere, arguably bigger in scale than the competitions offered by the rival codes of Australian Rules Football (AFL) and Rugby Union, and second only to the National Rugby League (NRL)'s Grand Final, which falls later in the rugby league calendar and attracts television audiences in the tens of millions.

    Maroons Captain Darren Lockyer in the midst of the action.
    Yet it is Origin which signifies sport's greatest rivalry between the two proud and fanatical neighbouring Australian states, in a time when the international game is losing support and Australian sports teams are clamouring to make their code more exciting and interesting than their rivals. The two Origin teams are comprised of players selected to play for the state in which they played their first senior rugby league match, hence the name 'state of origin'. With the nation's greatest stars in rugby league lining up to play for the two teams, this footy battle of almost epic proportions ignites a diehard passion in a large proportion of the Australian population as three days of team loyalty and rugby fanaticism is celebrated over the course of as many weeks.

    If you'd arrived in Australia in only the past few years, you'd be forgiven for thinking that this is a one-sided sport, given that Queensland has won the series every year since 2006. In fact, I've not seen a Blues victory in all my short expat life in Sydney yet, with the arrival of each annual series, the population of New South Wales gets behind their boys in the faint hope of defeating the invincible Maroons (known in Australia as the Mar-owns).

    Origin has come to be seen as a chance for Queenslanders to get their own back on an arrogant and undeserving Sydney-dominated league whilst, for New South Welshmen, Origin is a chance to settle old scores and prove former glory and dominance over its rowdy, unkempt neighbours from the north. Which ever way you frame it, Origin is a uniquely Australian tournament with one of sport's greatest rivalries doing battle in an arena that gets bigger and better as each year passes.

    Although Origin 2011 ended predictably with Queensland taking the series 2-1, there was at least some future glimmer of hope for New South Wales with the knowledge that the Maroon's all-conquering hero of a captain, Darren Lockyer, is retiring from the contest after six straight wins. However, the Sydney Morning Herald reported this week that the appointment of his successor, Cooper Cronk, another impressive rugby league star, will simply allow what is a formidable line-up in the regular NRL competition to combine again, but this time in Origin 2012.

    Most importantly, was I found to be celebrating the final game of the series in a crowded pub or gathered round a friend's 42 inch LCD TV. Unfortunately not. Instead, I chose to spend the early part of the game training with my Warrior troupe, the twenty or more of us decked out in varying colours of maroon or blue as we  shuttle ran, flipped heavy tyres, and pumped endless, weighty iron.

    And with no less intensity than any Origin game, I'll have you know.

    What would be the equivalent of an Origin Series where you are? And, if you're in Australia, are you a maroon or a blue?

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    Monday, 4 July 2011

    Striving for Balance

    Who wouldn't enjoy life in Sydney, living within sight of the Pacific Ocean, not 12km from this world-renowned harbour city, under a sun that shines for most of the year?

    We lived in the west coast Canadian city of Vancouver, consistently voted world's number one city to live in. We lived in the Canadian national capital of Ottawa, arguably one of the safest and easiest capital cities to live in, even after taking into account the frigid winters. We therefore came to expect much of the same from Sydney and more. We wanted relaxed beachside living, diverse culinary delights, and the rewards of living in a beautiful city situated in its prime location on the hills surrounding Port Jackson harbour.

    But there was a side to Sydney that has surprised us. A side to Sydney that has a constant hustle and bustle about it that we should have expected from such a big city with hindsight. Sydney living hasn't just been about the harbour, the beach, and the ocean, it has also been about a seriously 'work hard' mentality, a 'go go go' way of life, and a focus on 'keeping up with the Jones' (having the smartest car, the most impressive house, the latest gadgets).

    Sydney in the 1960s.  Photo credit: State Records NSW.
    Sydney living also has the usual problems associated with big cities of more than four million people - the spiraling traffic issues, deteriorating transport links in the face of a growing population, and an increasing sprawl beyond the inner city limits. When compared to Vancouver and Ottawa, we found that Sydney had become a 'noisy' town in our eyes. We were living in London in the sun and by the water.

    Don't get me wrong, it's not all been bad. In fact, it's been very good here. I've posted on how much I enjoy my Sydney Northern Beaches life. Why, we even took part in a television show about this new life - Filming our search for a life less ordinary - following our house hunting experiences in our Sydney neighbourhood.

    For me, the struggle is bigger than Sydney. The struggle has been about trying to create a different kind of life ever since we left the UK in 2003. It has been about what we want that life to look like - and how hard it has been to turn that into a practical reality. The 'noise' of a big city like Sydney has simply started to drown out those things we went looking for and our life feels less, not more, as a result.

    I stumbled across a guy called Tom Shadyac the other day through the Internet and also through an episode of Oprah (I'm no secret fan but this episode caught my attention). Tom is a big Hollywood director with a host of well-known films to his credit, such as Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Liar Liar, and the Nutty Professor. Tom recently went through something of a transformative process immediately following his rise to fame and riches, and shortly after he had a serious accident. He had never felt entirely comfortable with the vast wealth and opulence that came his way as he reached the dizzy heights of US movie stardom and this led him to re-evaluate his outlook on life and those things that made him happy (or unhappy).

    To cut a long story short, he realised the things he'd acquired over time in his rapidly expanding world of material wealth - the many extravagant houses, expensive cars, private jet, and so on - were actually creating 'noise' in his life. His LA lifestyle was hectic, full of commitments, and surrounded by people who judged success by how much he had and how good it looked. Tom realised he needed to remove some of these things in an attempt to get back to basics to lead a much simpler, more satisfying life. So he gave most of it back and he now lives in a simple home with just the bare necessities around him - and he's happier and more content than ever before.

    Tom Shadyac.  Photo credit: I Am The Doc Virginia Film Festival.

    I'm not saying we should sell off all our worldly goods and become free spirits, but there is something to be said for leading a simpler life and removing some of that noise, be it the maintenance of costly houses and extravagant cars or the noise associated with endless traffic, long commutes, and exorbitant costs of living. How about getting back to spending more time with your family and doing the simple and honest things in life that make your downtime more enjoyable and relaxing - like reading a book, going for a walk at the weekend, or simply hanging out with your 'other half'.

    Sounds a bit twee perhaps? I still like the idea of going back to basics and no longer having to 'keep up with Joneses'. Something to think about anyway.

    Here's the link to the documentary that Tom made about his journey of rediscovery if you're curious:

    As for our journey... We've realised a happy life can be about more than just sun, sea and sand. Whilst no place is perfect, we still want to create a quieter, simpler, more meaningful life for ourselves. So, for now, we'll just keep on searching...

    Have you found peace and quiet in your (new) life or do you prefer a busier, more hectic city scene? Is there anything in your life you wish you could reduce to get back to a simpler way of living? 

    Love to hear your thoughts below.
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