Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Expat Women: Confessions

Expat Women Confessions cover

Finally! A reliable, realistic and useful guide to moving abroad.  The lovely team from ExpatWomen.com sent me a copy of their latest book, Expat Women: Confessions - 50 Answers to Your Real-Life Questions about Living Abroad, to review.  If you are thinking of moving abroad, or are a recent transplant in a foreign country, then this book is for you.

Being an expat can be a bewildering and confusing experience.  If we are lucky enough to move to a country where our first language is spoken or where we have rights of residence or citizenship, we expect to be able to secure employment, open up bank accounts or meet friends with the same ease as we did back home.

This is certainly not always the case.  I grew up as the child of expats in South Africa and spent most of my life being called a pommie.  In 2007, my husband and I decided to move to London, England and we thought it would be a walk in the park.  It wasn’t.  Despite being a British citizen, it took me four months to break through the impossible cycle of not being able to open a bank account because I couldn’t prove my address without a utility bill, and not being able to open a utility account until I had a bank account. 

Four years down the line, I marvel at how easy it was to make friends in South Africa, at how easy it was to continue my studies or get a new job whenever I grew tired of my current one.  The truth is that being an expat is hard work and it never really gets easy.

I’m one of the lucky ones.  Many expats move to countries where they do not speak the local language or where their spouse does not have the right to work.  If you move with children, you suddenly find yourself without your family and friends near, having to start the impossible process of meeting other mothers or friends.

Expat Women - Inspiring Your Success Abroad

Andrea Martins is the director and co-founder of ExpatWomen.com.  In the introduction to Expat Women: Confessions - 50 Answers to Your Real-Life Questions about Living Abroad, Andrea tells the story of April, an expat in Mexico City.  April called Andrea to join her playgroup and confided that she had not really been out of the house, except to go to the grocery store, in four months.

This is often the truth of the expat experience: the loneliness, isolation and paralysis that makes you question who you are and puts incredible strain on both your well-being and your relationships with your family and friends.

The crazy thing is that with just a little bit of support, the expat experience can be the incredible adventure that it was intended to be, with cultural, culinary, and architectural delights and the chance to travel to new and exotic locations.

Andrea Martins and Victoria Hepworth knew this when they started Expat Women back in 2007.  In just four years, the site has grown to be the largest global website helping women living overseas.  Expat Women: Confessions is their latest venture.  It is a collection of 50 answers to questions that women ask about living, working or accompanying their spouses abroad.

When I first picked up this book, I thought that it wasn’t really for me.  I’m not one of those women that has joined her husband on a job assignment overseas and we certainly don’t intend to move back to South Africa any time soon.  However, as I read the short questions (or confessions, as many were styled) I found that I was enthusiastically nodding my head and absolutely relating to the women’s experiences. 

In Expat Women: Confessions, the 50 questions are spread across 6 chapters dealing with: Settling In, Career and Money, Raising Children, Relationships, Mixed Emotions, and Repatriation.

Questions such as “I Am a Citizen, but I Cannot Settle In”, “Beware of Your Friends” and “Feeling Unwelcome” resonated with me and that was just in the first chapter of the book, “Settling In”.

I commiserated with the women in “My Job Was a Mistake”, “Loss of Career” and most of all, “No Money Left” in the chapter “Career and Money”.

I began to realise that after four years of feeling different and feeling like I don’t belong here, one thing is true and that whatever I am feeling, other expat women are feeling too. 

Although we do not have children, I imagine that the most important chapter in the book for most women would be the chapter “Raising Children”.  It is hard enough to be homesick when you are abroad or to cope with life’s challenges without your best friend or mother there to guide you, but it is even harder if you are pregnant or raising small children.

I have never been shy of telling people about the pressure that moving abroad placed on my marriage.  Of course, we can laugh about it now but my husband and I had to explicitly agree to stop demanding a divorce every time we fought.  Your fights are so much bigger when you are alone in a foreign country and suddenly each fight was the Final One.  The chapter “Relationships” features ten questions and answers on affairs, divorce, growing apart and troubles at home.  It made me feel very fortunate that our marriage lasted the distance.

The London Eye

The chapter that resonated the most with me was “Mixed Emotions”.  “Friends Back Home” could have been written by me and detailed the growing distance that expats inevitably experience from their friends back home and how very hard you need to fight for those friendships.  “Overcoming Negativity” was perhaps the most significant to me.  In response to my own growing negativity and the inevitable winter blues, I began an expat blog which has been instrumental in helping me cope with life as an expat.

“Repatriation” was without a doubt my least favourite chapter but only because I have nightmares about eventually returning home.  As difficult as the expat journey is, it is also undoubtedly the most rewarding.

Once I had finished reading Expat Women: Confessions, I realised that at some level, I had identified with nearly every single issue raised in the book.  More valuable than identifying with the questions was the advice offered by the authors in response to each of the questions.  This book is like a handbook on how to be an expat and the advice was realistic, achievable and practical. 

I wish I had been in possession of this book when we moved overseas.  It is not just valuable to new expats or those about to embark on their adventure abroad.  This book made me realise just how good this experience can be and it has reignited my desire to meet both other expats in London and Londoners too, although the latter is harder than you would imagine.

I would absolutely recommend this book to all expats.  I would even go so far as to say that it is required reading, an absolute must.  Five out of five stars.

5star

You can buy Expat Women: Confessions at Amazon.co.uk ¦ Amazon.com


Article first published as Book Review: Expat Women: Confessions by Andrea Martins and Victoria Hepworth on Blogcritics.

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12 comments

  1. I *need* this book. Maybe it will help me cope a bit better with our life here in London.

    Great review!

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  2. Hi Mandy, thank you so very, very much for both taking the time to read our new book, and then to blog about it so wonderfully! I am loving all the personal anecdotes thrown into the blog reviews of our book. The more experience and tales shared, the better! Thanks sincerely, Mandy! Andrea :)

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  3. Hi Emm -
    I left a comment for you on my blog - I think you should have a shot at the contest.

    Oh, and I think you should either experiment with writing a memoir (which I think would be fascinating) or with fiction. It sounds like you've had a lot of varied experiences, and you know so many interesting and quirky things about London! :-)

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  4. Wish I'd had this one while I was in London!

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  5. The irony.....it took me, the British citizen, weeks and weeks to open a bank account in the UK when I returned from Mexico. I had a UK passport but no utility bills. In the end I found a bank that accepted, eventually, a provisional driving license as the second ID.

    My Mexican wife? Strolled into HSBC with her Mexican passport and a Mexican ID card, and strolled back out 20 minutes later with a fully formed bank account to her name...

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  6. I think the author of the book should be very pleased with your review! So clever you are and great writing. Although I can not put myself fully into the situation.. I have just moved around in Norway and never think about these problems it is to move to another country.
    Happy weekend to you:-)

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  7. sounds useful - mind you I have had that banking problem just moving to different parts of England

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  8. Seems like a book that offers a lot of help and advice. Having enjoyed life as an expat, I can't wait for the buzz and thrill of doing it all again in the not to distant future.

    Moving abroad in my expereince can be as hard or as diffcult as you make it. I guess it is how you deal with things when they start to go wrong that can make or break you....

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  9. HI Emm...so intriguing...I always love what you share and hearing about your personal experiences and life journeys!! And what a wonderful review you wrote! AWesome! Shine on!
    Victoria

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  10. This was a God moment for me, turning here this morning, reading your excellent review. I'm not an expat, but I have experienced many of these issues in my move back to the South (in the U.S.) after 20 years in the North. Not only are these two places a world apart, but I'm now on a college campus as a grad student instead of being in a neighborhood as an editor's wife with children. All has changed. Sometimes I feel a bit lost in it. And lonely. I feel that I do not fit in quite, anywhere. I am suspended between two lives.

    And yet, I don't want to complain. Being here is the answer to prayers sent fervently years ago.

    I am adjusting, and I need to give myself permission to do it. I need to be patient.

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  11. Sounds like a very useful read.

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  12. @ Mela: hope you're enjoying the book! It can be quite practical!

    @ Andrea: it's a pleasure. Thank you for sending it through to me.

    @ Li: hiya! I was wondering if that comment posted as something went funny when I pressed send!

    @ Ash: I know exactly what you mean. Being an expat is not easy.

    @ Gary: wow! It is crazy how hard it can be to settle back down again.

    @ Spiderdama: thank you! I do like reviewing books.

    @ David: so it is not just an expat scourge?? It was so hard in the first couple of months.

    @ William: really? Do you think you'll be heading out again? Where??

    @ Victoria: thank you dear!

    @ Cassandra: thank you so much for your comment. I can imagIne that a lot of what you're experiencing is akin to what we, as expats, feel. It is like you are a fish out of water but it does pass. Just remember to stop, take a look around you, absorb it and enjoy it. You'll only be "new" for a while and you want good memories!

    @ Ryan: it definitely is!

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