experience

Travel was the primary reason I started writing in 2010. I longed to note down my thoughts and impressions, to create a melting pot of photographs and words that, together, would help me go back in time to the places I had been, conjuring their smells, their smiles, their secrets.

Granted, saying that it has been a while since I last wrote is possibly an understatement. But instead of apologising or trying to justify my absence, I am moving forward with a list of reasons that have incentivised me to pack my bags and travel – and hopefully will make you want to do so, too:

To appreciate the moment

Gin tonic at sunset in Tenerife

I sometimes let what ifs take up too much of time – I worry over things that haven’t happened (yet). In fact, this is what usually happens in my head while I’m sitting in that bus staring out the window: when there’s some sort of uncertainty, I see patterns and start to play out all possible “what if” scenarios. If I had to draw a mental map of it, it would probably look something like an ancient tree with a lot of branches.

All this is great. But is it really necessary? Most of the time, it isn’t – but it’s a comfortable and safe habit (planning – a lot) to fall back onto.

Travel, on the other hand, requires you to stop thinking of the what ifs and, instead, be present in the moment. Because of the adventurous and unexpected element in travel, there’s no other place you can be but here and now.

To step out of my comfort zone

Sleeping in chinchorros in La Guajira Colombia

“If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine. It is lethal.”
-Paulo Coelho

I’ve always been a risk-taker. No, I don’t jump out of planes or walk around Favelas. I have, however, dived with sharks (small ones – I am against cage diving). I have also hiked 450 km across the North of Spain, solo (never having done even a 2-day trek before) and have recently slept open air in a chinchorro in the Colombian desert (see photo above).

Each time I’ve taken a risk, I’ve learned something about myself: I’m way more scared of barracudas than I am of sharks; I can actually walk 38km in one day if I’m having fun along the way; and, chichorros? comfortable, but next time I’ll need to bring sleeping pills.

Travel is a great opportunity to step outside our familiar comfort zone and try something we’ve never tried before. I promise the side effects are worth it: you broaden your horizons, learn how to deal with new and unexpected changes and harness your creativity.

To get my mind off something that has been keeping me up at night

San Sebastian Basque Country

Being on the road actually helps me gain perspective on an existing problem. It helps me see things from a different angle – and most of the time, this ends up leading to a solution.

While doing the Camino de Santiago in 2015, I met a lot of peregrinos that were taking time off precisely for this reason: to step back and gain perspective. After a few days of fresh air and with the sole objective of bringing one foot in front of the other until you reach your destination, problems that seemed impossible loose a bit of weight and often even become less scary.

Don’t get me wrong: Travel doesn’t make your problems go away, nor does it miraculously solve them. But by opening your mind, it enables you to simply see things differently.

To build new and strengthen existing relationships

Zurich with friends

Some of the best and strongest friendships I have were forged on the road – and many continue to be strengthened through travel.

I enjoy traveling with people I love because it’s an opportunity to share life-long memories with them. I still remember the time we spent dancing barefoot in Tulum, roadtripping New Zealand, hiking in Patagonia or kayaking around Stockholm. The greatest memories became even greater when I shared them with my favourite people on Earth.

But that doesn’t mean that you always have to travel with others. I’ve met some really interesting people when traveling by myself: teachers, translators, hippies, entrepreneurs, brokers, ski instructors, writers, photographers and even a priest. And you know what? The one thing I learned about humanity while traveling, is that we are all essentially the same.

To satisfy my endless curiosity

Lake Como Italy

For someone that always aims to learn something new every day, travel is an incredible tool to achieve this. Whether it is a completely new place, language or culture. A new cuisine or local fruit. New customs and traditions. New celebrations. Or maybe it’s a place I do know, a destination I’ve visited before but get to see from a different perspective. Travel expands your mind, heightens your senses and makes you more receptive to your surroundings – helping you to soak up new information much faster (and for longer) than you would do any other way.

Still feeling short on reasons to pack up and go travel? Here’s a list of 100 reasons to travel by The Culturer!

Which are the main reasons you travel?

Like most places we visited in Miami, Wynwood Art District was recommended to us by one of our Uber drivers.

Wynwood, Miami (USA)

I love the concept: warehouse buildings acting as giant blank canvases to showcase a major art statement. I honestly believe every larger city should have district that allows its artists to express themselves and give them an opportunity for appreciation and recognition.

Wynwood is one of those places I can’t stop reading, thinking and talking about. This level of fascination with a district doesn’t happen very often. I think I can safely say that Wynwood Miami is up there with Palermo Buenos Aires right now – and that, my friends, is quite a thing to say coming from someone who has been imagining a life in Palermo for the past 5 years.

And then, just to make things even cooler, there’s the Wynwood Walls art project.

Just picture this: Over the past 6 years, the Wynwood Walls have seen over 50 artists representing 16 countries and have covered over 7,400 m2 (or 80000 square feet) of walls.

Can you imagine the mix of styles, colours and techniques?

Even better jet, have a look at what the Wynwood Walls art project looks like. And then maybe book a trip to Miami and take me with you!

Wynwood, Miami (USA)

Wynwood, Miami (USA)

Wynwood, Miami (USA)

Wynwood, Miami (USA)

Wynwood, Miami (USA)

Wynwood, Miami (USA)

Wynwood, Miami (USA)

Wynwood, Miami (USA)

Which is your favourite Wynwood Wall?


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I have a funny way of remembering things. I could spend hours feeling grumpy about a head-to-armpit incident in my morning commute and days rummaging over how annoying it is to get yet another bank holiday soaked in rain. And then – the second I’m over it (the moment I finally leave London for greener pastures), I think to myself: it wasn’t that bad, really, was it?

I admit that I started this post quite a long time ago (back when I was still living in London)  but I could not bring myself to finish it. Now that I’m in Spain, I’m slowly coming to peace with the city that, at times, was so ruthless. In fact, I find myself missing the simplest things (like, public transport, parks and cute and crowded pubs!). Good and bad, this city has taught me a few things I would have probably not learned otherwise:

St Paul's Cathedral, London

  1. The difference between a cappuccino, a latte and a flat white
  2. How to start a conversation by chatting about the weather
  3. Or London property prices
  4. Where to stand on the platform to face the carriage doors – increasing my chances of getting a seat
  5. Never to change at Waterloo
  6. Nor at Bank Station
  7. Bus beats tube (always)
  8. Food festivals are fun but also a rip off
  9. When I see a queue, I feel an urge to join it
  10. However, no matter what critics say – no food is worth queuing 2 hours for
  11. Walking – while drinking a green juice, sending an e-mail, under the rain on Oxford Street without bumping into people!
  12. There is no such thing as a quick drink after work
  13. Wednesday night has become the new Saturday night
  14. £6 for a glass of wine is normal… 
  15. …and so is paying £900 for a tiny room in zone 3…
  16. ….in a shared flat – with strangers
  17. Your postcode is a status symbol
  18. North East London is further away from Clapham than Brighton
  19. People go bonkers when the sun comes out
  20. …and in such rare occasions, it’s perfectly acceptable to cancel any appointments to spend the afternoon in the park
  21. However, cancelling plans with a friend means not seeing them for another 3 weeks
  22. Umbrellas are for out-of-towners – us Londoners throw on a hood!
  23. You burn almost as many calories going to the supermarket as you do going to the gym
  24. Nobody lives in Mayfair – it’s a myth
  25. It’s not sunday until you’ve had a roast and a Bloody Mary
  26. Gordon’s wine bar is always a winner for a first date…
  27. …except if your date doesn’t like wine…
  28. …In which case, it’s probably better to dump them before it’s too late
  29. You know there won’t be a day you’ll be completely happy…
  30. …but hey, at least you’re in London!
  31. (Bonus: you’ll just need to accept that you’ll never be able to buy a house, ha!)

Ah, jeez. So, I guess it has been a while since I last published a post around here. I didn’t really plan for this to happen and yet I don’t feel guilty. I’ve been sorting out some new and exciting stuff coming up, but I’m not ready yet to put it all out there – so lets just pretend that I never really stepped away from here, yes? 

I promise to share a post about what I’ve been up to while I was away as soon as things have slightly settled! 


I recently came across a brilliant quote from Chris Guillebeau about living abroad:

“Beware of moving overseas! It’s tough, confusing, disorienting… and ultimately, extremely rewarding. When you move back home, if you ever do, you’ll be a different person than you were when you first left.”

Chris Guillebeau, The Art of Non-Conformity

This quote made me look back at all the worries and insecurities I felt before becoming an expat for the first time in 2009, and made me realise that, out of all my decisions, moving abroad has been one of the best ones in my life.

Expat life in Switzerland and the UK has been an adventure in itself and, while I might not call myself an expert, I love giving advice to new London expats and friends moving abroad. Below you’ll find tips I wish I had known before I first left my home country (admittedly, I really didn’t know much back then!).

Invest in experiences over possessions

Lavaux, Switzerland

While it may seem tempting to invest your hard earned expat salary in furnishing your new apartment and making it feel homely, you should look at your time as an expat as an opportunity to not only explore a new country and region, but also a new you. Take this time to accumulate experiences rather than things. Because, well, even a bad experience eventually becomes a good story!

Try anything and everything that sounds interesting to you. Take a road trip to the next town. Start that french cooking class. Learn about the regional wine. Sign up for ice skating, architectural sketching, climbing. Join an improv group or a band. Become a volunteer or a mentor. Whatever it is that you fancy – give it a try.

But don’t just take my word on this: Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University, has been studying the question of money and happiness for over two decades. His studies confirm that our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our things!

Learning the language is not easy

Cadaqués, Costa Brava (Spain)

Simply being in a new country will not make you fluent. You won’t just soak up the local language – even if you already knew a few phrases before landing (though – wouldn’t that be nice?).

Learning a new language takes time and dedication so the earlier you start learning and speaking the better! 

“Whether you learn it or not depends on your commitment, not on changing your latitude and longitude.”

– Benny Lewis, Fluent in 3 Months

One of my biggest regrets from my 2 years in Switzerland was not learning enough french to call myself fluent. I moulded myself into a thriving expat community, surrounding myself with others that either spoke English, Spanish or German (or a combination of any of those three).

I kept on postponing my lessons. Whenever I spoke french, I was conscious of my mistakes and cave man style and tried to limit its use to extreme cases only. When I finally began to open up and take the language journey more seriously, it was time for me to move to London.

So here’s my advice: start now – learn before arriving, speak at any opportunity, make mistakes and don’t give up.

Learn to laugh about yourself

Skiing in Lech, Austria

Never did a simple trip to the supermarket become as embarrassing as my very first attempt to ask for a bin bag in Lausanne. After walking around the shop for about 20 minutes, I lost my patience and decided to ask for help. I crafter a story about an item in the kitchen that stores things you no longer want that is later on picked up by a “big car”. At first, I received blank stares. Later on, laughs! Joining the laughs was what kept me going. 

As an expat (or, well, a foreigner), you are an easy target. You’re new, you don’t understand how things work, you have a funny accent, eat strange stuff (morcilla, anyone?) and have weird customs. Heck, even after years of living in the same country, you may still suddenly realise that you’ve actually been pronouncing something wrong for the past 25 years (that’s right – I actually spent 25 years asking for biscuits instead of biskits!).

You’re going to have many embarrassing moments (and usually want to run back home right after). Don’t act defensively – just laugh about it and move on!

PS: I also spent 25 years saying Greenwitch instead of Grehnitch and Edinburg instead of Edinburrá (which got me into a heated argument because – why?) and I still can’t get myself to say kei-oss instead of kaos (chaos). Oh well.

Surround yourself with positive people

Torres del Paine, Chile

You’ll find negative people anywhere – at home and abroad. You’ll have people back home telling you that you’re wasting your talent and potential abroad. That you’ll never be able to have the same career progression in a foreign country. In your new adopted home, you might encounter locals and expats that are tired of life and insist in telling you about all the things that are wrong.

You can’t avoid running into them, but trust me, when you’re still adapting to a new country, you don’t need all this negativity in your life. Instead, surround yourself with positive people who are flexible, open and up for any adventure.

These people will be your strongest pillars and the main reason you’ll make it through the toughest expat days – the homesick days (see more on this below).

Feeling homesick is normal

Masca, Tenerife (Spain)

 Maybe it’s the morning fog, the crowds, the commute and the constant stress. Maybe it’s because I can’t seem to get out of eating al desko (because that’s really a word). Maybe I miss the warmth, humidity and weekend siestas. Maybe it’s because I miss my small family. Or maybe it’s because of Facebook. Because I realise I have missed friends’ weddings, birthdays and baby showers and wonder: did they miss me? I don’t know what causes it – it could really be anything. All I know is that, even after nearly 13 years away from home, I still get homesick.

Homesickness is, indeed, quite widely spread among expats. From my personal expat experience I would suggest that, in order to get through homesickness, you understand the emotion, accept it as part of the expat experience and don’t let it sink you. After all, feeling homesick simply means you miss something or someone that you love!

What advice would you give a new expat? Or, otherwise, what are your worries as a new / future expat? 

Writing is a key way to refine my thoughts and keep a clean record of my experiences. I love composing thoughtful post ideas and choose and work on the photos that best go with the topic. However, sometimes I just want to share my thoughts, goals and the little things that make me smile on a day to day basis.

At the end of each month, I will put together a behind the scenes post in which I’ll give you a peek of my weekends, business travels, goals and favourite links.

Click here to read my previous Behind the Scenes.


On Traveling

Chicago, USA

WOW. February was one crazy, busy and cold month (see above the ice covering the Chicago River!). On Wednesday 11th, I was asked to cover a colleague on a US Roadshow. That evening, I went home and packed my carry on – I was leaving to New York the next day! I spent over 15 days on and off the city that never sleeps – hopping to Boston and Chicago in between. I only returned to London yesterday evening (over 3 weeks on a carry on!).

As much as I loved my work in the States, I’m actually quite relieved to be back home now. Would you be surprised if I confessed that I forgot the access code to my building? Sigh.


Weekend Scenes

New York, USA

While I spent most of February working (yes, that also included weekends), I did get one beautiful weekend off in New York. On that Saturday morning, I bought myself a Canada Goose (best investment ever) and spent the rest of the time wandering around West Village, shopping in SoHo and TriBeCa and stopping for fancy lattes each time my feet felt cold.


February by the Numbers

New York, USA

  • 4 flights taken (2 of those on a private jet, eek!)
  • 17 days working in the US (and counting)
  • 3 cities visited in the States: New York, Boston and Chicago
  • -18 degrees Celsius is the coldest I’ve been (yes, New York, I’m looking at you). Did I mention that this was the coldest February in NY in 81 years?
  • over 14600 km travelled (that’s over 9000 miles!)
  • 15 Instagram photos (the above view from my room at The New York Palace was your favourite one)

Words

New York, USA

“Learn the rules like a Pro so you can break them like an Artist”

Pablo Picasso

One has to learn the rules to understand the boundaries that have been set before pushing past them into the innovative and creative. This, in my opinion, applies to everything in life – from blogging and entrepreneurship, to business strategy and law.


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You choose happiness. You choose sadness. You choose decisiveness. You choose ambivalence. You choose success. You choose failure. You choose courage. You choose fear.

Stephen Covey – The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

After reading Sammy’s article on expatriate friendship, I took some time to look back at all the friends I’ve made during my years of expatriation. Some of us moved for career opportunities, others have been fuelled by pure wanderlust. But the truth is – it takes determination to leave a predictable life behind to jump into a pool of uncertainty and challenges.

They see challenges as opportunities

Mirador Las Torres, Torres del Paine (Chile)
My hike to Mirador Las Torres in Chile has been the most challenging hike so far.

Some of us see challenges as these maddening obstacles that keep us from where we really want to be. Some even feel so frustrated by them that they abandon their goal alltogether. Others, though, have learned to see challenges as opportunities to grow and learn, to strengthen ourselves. The difference between these two is a small shift in perception.

As an expat, each move will force you to learn almost everything from zero. Where can I buy a lightbulb? How do I say lightbulb in this new language? Where do I find an electrician that installs it? Is this price reasonable or am I being scammed?

There are times when these challenges might take the best of us and make us want to return to the comfort of home – but us expats, we hang in there and see these batches as opportunities to learn something new and test ourselves. In fact, there will come a point where challenges excite us.

They adapt to change

Huangzhou, China
I would probably find China not easy to adapt to – but wouldn’t say no to the challenge!

Flexibility and adaptability is the willingness to get out of one’s comfort zone and learn to adapt to the surrounding changes.

Expats keep an open mind and learn to adapt their behaviour to meet local policies and cultural norms. They make an effort to understand the habits of their adoptive home country, and understand the culture and lifestyle of its people.

Movine to another country will probably mess up with the routine you had in place in your home country – For instance, when I first moved to Switzerland, I had to learn to preplan my week’s food as most of the grocery stores closed before I left work. In London, I had to learn to become more of a morning person than ever before, considering that my commute went from a 10 minute walk in Switzerland to a 50 minute combined walk and tube ride in London.

They take (reasonable) risks

Los Gigantes, Tenerife (Canary Islands, Spain)
Seeing the statistics of hikers hurt climbing down the Masca Ravine, I knew there was a risk – but it was one I was absolutely willing to take.

I once read that the main difference between entrepreneurs and project managers was that, while project managers are risk averse and try to control every bit of it, entrepreneurs are willing to take reasonable risks to explore options and test their ideas.

Expats are like entrepreneurs – we are willing to explore and test ourselves taking reasonable risks (and each one of us knows which risks are within reason – as these vary greatly for each one of us). Reasonable risks for one may be to try local food or to experience a tradition of their new home country. For someone else, it might be to drop a well-paying job at home to try their luck in a country they’ve always wanted to live in.

As in any risk (as small as it may be) – there’s a chance of failure. Expats learn from their mistakes and don’t let them lead their way. We get up, shrug it off and always maintain this sense of curiosity and wonder that keeps us continuing taking small risks.

They are not afraid to ask questions

Lavaux vineyards, Switzerland
I was the one always asking for tips on new places to visit around Lausanne, Switzerland – and that’s how I discovered Lavaux (one of my favourite hotspots so far!).

Expats are curious and interested in learning something new. We are also often stuck wondering how to navigate the daily tasks in a new country – Which is the best bank to open an account with? Where do I buy milk on a Sunday? Is this neighbourhood safe? Where can I find a taxi? Or, how do I spell my new street name to the cab driver?

We can’t (and won’t) figure it all out by ourselves, so we reach out to fellow expats, locals or pretty much anyone who’s willing to help.

They are patient

Sunset in Phuket, Thailand
It takes a lot of patience (and mosquito bites) to get to admire a sunset like this one in Thailand.

Starting a life from scratch in a new environment takes a lot of time and energy. Acclimmatisation will not happen from one day to another. Expats usually go through 4 phases of culture shock and, depending on individual experiences, reaching the feeling of truly belonging to this new country may take years of work.

It takes time (and effort!) to become fluent in a new language, to make a new group of friends and to feel at home in a new country. There are a lot of misunderstandings and miscommunications as well as terribly awkward moments, we learn from our mistakes and keep working hard. We know that persistence and determination will help us to reach our goal.

What other habits do you believe highly effective expats have?

Today marks the one week count-down to my departure from Barcelona. Aside from a week exploring Costa Brava and another week back home in Tenerife, I have no further travel plans. Nor life plans, as a matter of fact. I am moving out of Barcelona and into some kind of expat limbo.

It feels wrong, but also right – for the first time, I don’t have a plan (a major accomplishment for someone who tends to pre-plan everything up to her free time).

Swing dancers in Vila de Gracia, Barcelona

Barcelona has been an unforgettable and highly rewarding experience. I fell in love with the City the first day I arrived and have never felt any other way. I know I could live here for the rest of my life.

So then, why leave?

There are still many places I want to explore and many experiences I want to live before returning to Spain. I want to spend time indulging in outdoor sports and nature, learn a new language and be inspired by other cultures. I want to continue to evolve and be challenged by the World – adopting new skills, interacting with new people and adjusting to new cultures.

Certainly one of the traits (or possibly drawbacks) of being a Gen Y – seeking for constant newness.

What next?” is a question that has been popping up for the past month at least once a day. The truth is: I have no idea what I’m doing next. My Excel Planner – a financial manager’s alternative to an old-fashioned notebook – is overflowing with tabs, color codes, lists and calculations. My calendar shows a wedding in India late November that I can’t yet RSVP to due to not knowing which country or even continent I’ll be flying from. This is what Barry Schwartz must have meant with The Paradox of Choice.

September 25th, the deadline I’ve set to make a decision, is quickly approaching. In the meantime… any suggestions?

 

BCN2013

A few months ago, I announced my sudden move to Barcelona. I needed a change of light and perspective, and the opportunity of working for an events agency at the 15th FINA World Swimming Championships Village came right on time. Being part of it has only confirmed my passion for the events industry.

Not everything was glitter and glam, as we tend to believe when seen from the outside – there were weeks of 16-hour work days and the constant feeling of high pressure and accountability. Of course, every day had a little crisis: a sudden power cut right before a live broadcast, the need of a quick solution for the hottest day of the year, heck, we even had a Catalan manifestation for independence!

But living and breathing the Championships does not only mean last-minute problem solving and crisis management – there is some space for fun in it, too.

Xop (the mascot) posing for me at Planet Water Village

BCN2013

Celebrating Spain’s stellar performance in the synchronized swimming finals

BCN2013

Seeing Olympic legend, Michael Phelps, up front

BCN2013

Watching some of the best divers jump from 27 meters height

BCN2013

Admiring the swimmers (this already says enough, right?)

BCN2013

Promoting Fideuà outside the competition venues

BCN2013

Celebrating the end of shift with a glass of ice-cold gin & tonic

BCN2013

Experiencing BCN2013 in such an intense way has been inspiring and energising.  There have been moments of near despair and moments of uncontrolled joy and laughter – and I would never doubt a second to go through it all again.

In contrast to many bloggers that make a living out of their travels, I travel internationally because I have job, live frugally and save money for my adventures. I might have been able to live this lifestyle from my home island, but I chose against it. After all, despite not being a full-time traveler, I do consider myself a traveler of sorts. An expatriate traveler, maybe.

Rainbow after the Rain, LondonThe view from my previous office.

I enjoy taking time to explore a place and experience the local culture, but also like having a routine and pursuing my career, which is one of the many reasons for which I chose to become an expat. Many believe that moving abroad is risky and reckless:

You should be grateful: There are thousands of candidates that would kill for your job

Don’t be foolish: It’s already hard enough to get a job at home – you are doomed to fail if you try abroad

It will kill your career: You will go backwards in your career as you will have to accept a lower position and lower pay

Sure, moving abroad is challenging. There were times that I’ve felt frustrated, misunderstood and lonely. There were times I’ve even hated my adopting countries, and could only think of packing my bags and go home. After over 5 years of living abroad, though, I’m still an expat – and can’t imagine wanting life any other way.

I’m a firm believer of working and living abroad as a way to not only growing personally, but also professionally. I will write about the personal level some other day, but for now, here are the 5 reasons why moving abroad will help you professionally:

It proves flexibility.

Having the courage to up your sticks and move to not only a different company but a different country all in proves the ability to adapt to diverse work places. Having worked in 3 countries (Spain, Switzerland and the UK) I can assure you that each of them has different conditions and a contrasting approach to work.

I admit that, when I moved to London, one of the hardest things to get used to was commuting. I felt as if 1.5hrs to 2hrs of each work day were completely wasted. You see, a 45 minute commute to work in Switzerland was a sin – hardly anyone lived further than a 15 min drive away from the office. In London though, a 45 minute commute is completely normal (and almost a privilege!). I had to learn how to make commuting work best for me. The same goes for lunch breaks!

It increases your cultural awareness.

At first, I found the UK an odd place to work. People didn’t arrive on time – they arrived before time. The offices were mostly quiet spaces, interrupted by the fast tipping of its employees. In the kitchen, there was always someone looking outside the window and grumbling something about the weather.

It’s a cultural thing. The english value their time. If their work hours are from 8am to 6pm, they will do everything to avoid spending any minute after 6pm in the office. I can now perfectly understand this culture and am not shocked anymore – if I still have a long commute home after work, I will also want to get out of there, pronto.

You will learn how to communicate better.

I’m sure you’ve seen this: a communication misunderstanding that took a complete different route than it should have taken. E-Mails, specially, can be dreadful – is he/she ok with it or just being sarcastic? what exactly does he/she refer to with this request?

Add a group of co-workers that have english as their second (or third!) language and you’ll quickly learn how important it is to express yourself politely but clearly. You’ll become more patient and understanding, and will develop an important 6th sense: you’ll learn to perfectly grasp puzzled sentences from non-native english speakers.

You will build an international network.

Having friends spread around the World is damn cool, but having an international network of professional contacts is equally important. Previous professors, managers, co-workers, suppliers and clients; as well as people they have met in conferences, dinners and drinks – all of these are potential employers, business partners, mentors and friends.

A globalized agenda of contacts will open more doors than you could ever imagine.

You might even learn a new language.

There are plenty of non-english countries in which english is widely spoken for business, such as Singapore, Hong Kong and Geneva. This would allow you to pursue and practice your french or chinese, without the initial language barrier affecting your career. Then there is Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Germany, where the normal level of spoken english on is almost fluent, too. Even in countries that are known for a lesser level of english (ehem, Spain for example), you can find companies that work in english – it only takes some research!

Have you ever worked abroad? What skills do you think you’ve improved from this experience?

Phew, Five years – that’s easily said.

Lavaux, Switzerland

I first moved abroad when I was at University. Deciding to study European Business Management meant that half of my time would be spent abroad. For me, abroad was Germany. During this time, I also took the chance to do a 6 months internship in Zürich, Switzerland. I loved the city, the landscapes and the people I worked with and always promised myself I would return some day…

After graduating from my Master degree in Madrid, that opportunity came back to me: I had an offer to move back to Switzerland – this time, Lausanne. Even though it was hard to adapt to at the beginning, I fell head over heels with this lakeside city, its views over the french Alps and nearby vineyards. After two years, time had come to move on. And here I am, just celebrating the end of my 5th year abroad, from London.

So for this 5 year anniversary, I’ve prepared a list of 15 life lessons I’ve learned (some of them, the hard way).

  1. Ask questions. I used to be the sort of person at school that hoped for someone else to raise my question, or otherwise, ask after class to avoid possible embarrassment. The thing is: there is no reason to be embarrassed – There is really no such thing as a stupid question.
  2. Follow your gut. Whenever confronted with a decision that has to be made: follow your instinct. Something that doesn’t feel right is certainly wrong.
  3. If others think your ideas are crazy, then you must be on the right track. Not everyone will understand your choices and support your ideas. Don’t ever let this pull you down. The only reason to quit is because you feel it’s the right choice – not because others don’t believe in your dream.
  4. Do it, even if you don’t get paid for it. Getting paid to doing what you want is great, but very often you’ll have to start doing it, as I would say, por amor al arte (literally meaning for the love of art, or fun the fun of it).
  5. It’s OK to fail. You don’t have to be right the first time. You can be right the second. The third. Failures provide us with great learning experiences and prepare us for our big success. Never stop doing something because you’re afraid to fail – remember: the secret of winning is playing often.
  6. The most interesting experiences usually happen when you get off the beaten path. In your career and while traveling, it’s good and comfortable to have a plan – but always be ready to get off that plan whenever it feels right, as the best is waiting for you somewhere completely unexpected.
  7. Your reputation is the most valuable asset. After quitting your job or graduating from Uni, you might feel like throwing a nasty email to your boss or that competitive class mate, but this will never pay off enough to cover the huge hole you’re creating in your reputation. They say never burn the bridges. You never know when or where you’ll meet them again.
  8. You choose the way you view the World around you. A swiss village can be dead boring or incredibly charming. London can be too crowded or full of buzz. It is all in the eyes of the viewer.
  9. Laugh. Often. Laughter is the best medicine. Surround yourself with people who will make you laugh out loud and cry of happiness. I’m pretty sure you’ll have less wrinkles and live longer.
  10. Languages are a virtue. Languages take you to places. Today, it’s quite common to see job offers asking the candidate to be able to write and speak a second language – sometimes even a third. Even when english is widely spoken, languages are very much appreciated and will open many doors!
  11. Stereotypes are only that: stereotypes. We’ve all heard about them. Spaniards always sleep siestas. The swiss clockwork punctuality. German’s don’t joke and all Latin-Americans dance. Well let me tell you something: I know Spaniards that don’t take naps, swiss that were late and germans that made me pee in my pants. Oh, and I’ve also met an awful lot of Latin-Americans that can’t dance! Always keep an open mind.
  12. You’re not as different as you think from everyone else. As soon as I started to tell people who I was quitting finance to move into events, I started to realize that so many others are on their second life or have a dream career they’d love to approach. Finding something in common with someone is much easier than you think.
  13. Learn to enjoy your own company. Do activities by yourself. Immerse in a book, go for a walk/run, visit an exhibition. Travel! Don’t wait for others to join your plan, otherwise, you’ll never do it.
  14. Stop checking your phone when you’re with other people. Seriously, I can’t think of anything more disturbing and disrespectful than sitting with friends or colleagues and realizing everyone is more engaged in their online life than in what is happening right here right now.
  15. You can do anything you want, but you can’t do everything you want. Time is precious, so think about you really want to do, prioritize and do it.

What valuable lessons have you learned, living abroad?

I switched cities when I turned 18. Sunny Tenerife for busy Valencia (and shortly after, even busier Madrid). At that time, I had to say goodbye to people I cared about – to friends I grew up with, to my closest family.

Hiking in Tenerife, Spain

I knew I was returning eventually – for summer holidays, Christmas, Easter and the occasional long weekend. But with time, these home visits became less frequent. Time had grown me apart from the island and so to most of my friends in it. We went separate ways and, although I do keep in touch with some of them, I must admit, I haven’t seen them in almost 3 years now.

Distance is the greatest test of friendship

It is easier to feel your heart close to someone who lives right around the corner (or, well, at least in the same city). In the moment the physical distance between you becomes larger, it won’t take long to realize whether they are one of your friends that you can count in one hand.

It’s true that proximity plays a very important role in friendships. Living close by, studying the same subjects or working together gives you something in common and, overall, makes it convenient. This said, proximity isn’t all – A friendship based on post codes doesn’t have enough base to go through thick and thin.

Having been living away from home for the past 10 years, my friendships have been continuously challenged. I’d like to say that I’ve become less apprehensive to goodbyes, but I haven’t. I still board on planes with a tear rolling down my cheek after every adieu. Some of the people I’ve said goodbye to, I will possibly never meet again – they were convenient, temporary friends with nothing left to share but occasional Facebook messages. In other cases, though, distance has grown the relationship stronger than ever.

Birthday Flowers, all the way from NYC to London

So far, yet still so close

On the day of my birthday, I was surprised with these beautiful orchids. An even bigger surprise was to realize that they came from New York! (Ok, not literally, but you know what I mean…).

What I have learned during the last 10 years is that, when it comes to maintaining a strong friendship, it’s not about distance but about connection. If it’s strong enough, it will definitely survive any distance. In fact, some of my closest friends haven’t shared the same country of residence with me in the last 3 years.

Formentera, Spain

It’s hard to get used to this physical distance – not meeting for an after-work (or after-class) drink, not having brunch together on a sunday going over all the weekend happenings, not improvising a weekend escape. But when it comes to real friendships – those with whom you follow through a regular connection – this drawback is quickly topped with greater advantages:

  • You’ll always have a couch to crash on when you travel. In the past 7 years, I’ve visited cities in England, Portugal, France, Spain, Australia, Germany and Switzerland (among others) without having to spend money on accommodation!
  • You’ll have the best city guides. Friends might not always be city experts, but they are experts on you, are excited about your visit and hungry for discovery.
  • You’ll expand your global network. Put it this way: if every friend you have that has lived or is living abroad has at some point met other expats or locals that you meet when you go for a visit, you might as well be increasing your network of friends around the World (and maybe one of these new friends gives you tips for your next trip to Stockholm or puts you in touch with people in South Africa!).
  • Plus, you’ll never run out of anecdotes and stories to tell!

For me, the key to long distance friendships is closeness – via E-mail, Skype, Facebook or any other media possible – and finding a way to keep the excitement to know about each other, alive. Unexpected text messages starting with a “Remember when….?”. A very short visit (even when having less than 5 hours between 2 flights). Planning an exotic holiday (or, uhm, hen party) together. Sending a postcard from a place you’ve recently visited or a flower bouquet for a special occasion. With every detail, I feel closer to my friends – even when having oceans, mountains and uncountable times zones in between.

How do you keep your long distance friendships alive?

I’ve been an expat for one and a half years now, and had never before sat down to clear my thoughts and feelings on living in Switzerland. It’s not my first time abroad. However, it’s the first time that I left my country without knowing when I’d be going back. I didn’t care about not knowing one single soul in the whole country, nor did I care about my lack of french knowledge. I hardly blinked when it came to leave the comfortable familiarity behind and dive into the unknown. I was going to conquer the World (or at least, Switzerland).

The truth is – culture shock hit me deeper than I thought. It’s not only about learning how to copy with different social norms – i.e. learning where to park my bike and where not to (something I unfortunately learned the hard way). Culture shock continues long after becoming familiar with my new life.

Honeymoon

Lavaux, Switzerland

The Honeymoon phase is full of excitement and euphoria. You feel you can grab the World in your hands and do whatever you want. Every day is a new adventure – new faces, a different restaurant, a hidden shop, a cute small side street with boulangeries selling the best baguette you have ever tried. The public transport is reliable, the city is peaceful, clean and safe and people are kind and respectful.

You smile while you walk. Life is good. Actually, scratch that – life is amazing. You are so glad you chose to move and can’t imagine life any other way.

Frustration

Vevey, Switzerland

The shine starts to fade away. You realize that there are actually less than 5 bars where you can go to – either because of the crowds or because of the prices. It’s the fourth time you try asking for a glass of water with your coffee and you receive an arrogant look from the waiter. Maybe even a clueless arrogant look. You’re grammatical mistakes bothers them, and having to repeat the same word 10 times upsets you, too. You go to a hairdresser and come out with a messy cut (that doesn’t resemble a tiny bit what you initially had in mind) and realize that this trend disaster has left you completely broke.

At this point, you start to get familiar with the disadvantages of living abroad. You feel alone and misunderstood, disillusioned, frustrated and angry. Why did you ever even think this move would be a good idea?

Understanding

Water Fountain, Lausanne (Switzerland)

After a while, things start to look brighter – you are adjusting to your new home country. Those things that used to annoy you, are now small and insignificant. You start to see the advantages of having an early start on Saturdays and venture into new activities you never thought you enjoy before. You have set a routine and feel comfortable with it.

You understand the cultural differences with your home country and are learning how to deal with them.

Biculturalism

Sunset in Lausanne (Switzerland)

Although I have adopted some local habits and am adjusting to the new culture, I still don’t feel that I belong here – I feel like a foreigner. I guess the main reason for this is my ridiculous lack of french skills. I truly need to work on that! I envy those that have become bicultural – they are aware of where they came from but have fully embraced swiss culture. They never feel out-of-place.

This phase that takes a lot of understanding and an open mind.

Note: At the point of writing this post, I was in living in Switzerland experiencing the third phase – Understanding. Five months later, I was transferred to London. I have fond memories of living in Switzerland and hope to move back again in the future. Maybe this means that I finally did reach biculturalism – despite my french!