20 August 2014


One of the many things that I have learnt as an expat is that friendships are priceless. You don't know how much they are worth until you lose a few and realise how hard it is to form new lasting friendships. Friendships are personal and thus more difficult to build. Most people cannot even remember when they last made a new close friend which they would want to keep forever. As expats we need to start this process all over again.

A strange thing that I have also noticed is that often people don't easily reach out to you, because they fear rejection or they don't even like themselves and these stop them from making new friends. I have found so many lonely people. Wonderful people, who just don't believe that they can be a good friend or that they have anything to offer and thus they don't try. Their walls are so high that no one is granted access.

I find it so extremely heart wrenching that lies from their pasts keep them from enjoying the wonderful benefits of friendship.

Friendships are not about what you have to offer or about what you have in common. It is about commitment, about supporting each other through whatever might pop up, unconditionally and selflessly. Often it's nothing more than properly listening and responding in love. Listening is probably the most neglected aspect in friendships today. As friendships grow they reach different stages of trust and yes during each stage you have to choose to share more and make yourself more vulnerable. There is always a risk involved, the risk that you might be hurt or disappointed, but where there is no risk, there is no reward. We need to learn to risk whatever it is we fear, to reap the rewards of friendship. 

Picture credit: grace2f.org

19 August 2014


I often find this emotion with expats, even with myself. I guess that it is natural, but it doesn’t mean that it is pleasant. I guess we know that we are going through a process and sometimes it makes it easier, but sometimes it just doesn’t. It is funny how we react when suddenly everything that we know is taken away. You grow up, you study, you learn the ropes, you can explain, help, delegate well and with confidence and the suddenly you sit somewhere totally foreign where you cannot even help yourself, even if you wanted to. The only way that you can help yourself is by asking for help, researching or finding out how it works in this new environment and asking for help and waiting to be helped are not necessarily everyone's strong points, but indeed skills that an expat needs to acquire to survive and avoid frustration.

To put it bluntly, expats sometimes feel dumb. Dumb because they have to ask so many questions or have to learn so many new things (from social interaction in a new culture to basic administration). And the smarter you think you are, the dumber you feel. We are not used to feeling helpless, clueless, powerless or unconfident in our home environments, but now in this new adventure it is inevitable. Things don’t run at our pace and there is very little that we can do about it. Maybe you are used to a fast paced environment where you can easily and confidently play ball all over the court, but now you only have a thin stick and a golf ball and you are supposed to play this fast paced game on a court that you don’t even recognise as being a court. So you feel dumb and you maybe start to think that everybody else thinks you are dumb as well. It gets frustrating. You know who you are inside, you know that you have potential and you even love yourself, but often you just feel like you are tramped in the body of a headless chicken or a clumsy Michelin man. Maybe you are even trying to convince people that you are not normally like this...

Frustration. We need to figure out where it is coming from. Yes, we are overwhelmed and exceptionally stretched, but what is lying under the frustration? What underlying emotion is driving the frustration? What is the sentence that we hear in our thoughts that creates the underlying emotion? For example, you might have the thought “I don’t want people to think that I’m dumb” and then you place extra pressure on yourself to prove yourself, but then you end up feeling helpless, because you can’t possibly know everything and do everything perfectly in a new environment. There are too many variables and things that you cannot possibly anticipate or predict. This then leads to the frustration and maybe even a sense of failure or embarrassment. :/

Ask yourself some questions.

Why am I frustrated?  “I’m frustrated, because the lady keeps telling me what to do.”

How does “the lady keeps telling me what to do” make me feel?  “It makes me feel incompetent.”  

Am I really incompetent? “No”

What does “feeling incompetent” trigger or remind me of? “It reminds me of my teacher telling me that I’ll never make it to university.”

So the negative thought (lie) creates the feeling of incompetence which drives the frustration. The key is to keep track of your thought patterns and try and identify what thought drives the underlying emotion which in turn drives the frustration. Get hold of the thought and you can disable or lessen the frustration. It is not always as simple, but I have had such amazing results and eye opening moments while doing these exercises with my coach. At the end it is totally worth it and very freeing.

As expats we are surrounded with change and we need to stay flexible whether we like it or not. My advice is to find someone to talk to. An objective ear is always good and can help you get some fresh perspective in your situation. Take a deep breath, accept what you cannot change and stay focused, flexible and motivated, you are brave just for taking the leap to another country! 

Picture credit: simplelifestrategies

3 August 2014

Emotional outbursts

Firstly let me define my understanding of an emotional outburst. Having emotions are normal and when I speak about emotions I refer to the entire range from anger and frustration to sadness, disappointment and depression. It also doesn't mean that you necessarily burst into tears, not all emotions make you want to cry.

Every day things happen which trigger our emotions. The red light for an emotional outburst should flash when your reaction is not justified by the situation, thus when you overreact in a specific situation. For example, if you scream at a shop attendant, because a product is out of stock. It is normal to be slightly irritated, but screaming is overreacting. Maybe a colleague’s rude remark leaves you wanting to break a coffee mug or everything about someone is just annoying you constantly. This might indicate that it’s time to have a look at yourself and what’s going on inside. You might notice your emotional outburst immediately or you might have been overreacting for many years in certain situations and not even realised it. In those situations we can become aware of it by looking at the reaction of others around us to indicate to us that our reaction might have been excessive. This is not easy, because you might have already accepted that you just “have a bad temper” and that it‘s part of your personality, which it is not by the way...

Emotional outbursts happen when our internal emotional buckets are full and we have no more capacity to deal with new emotions. When new emotions are triggered, our buckets overflow and we often act in a way that we do not even approve of. You know that you are not an angry or depressed person, but you just can't seem to stop yourself from reacting in that way.

Emotional outbursts are our bodies' way of telling us that there are emotions bottled up which we have not been dealing with. It's not something to worry about, but it is great to become aware of the situation and empower yourself to manage it better. This will enable you to set yourself free from being controlled by underlying emotions and it will be less likely for your emotions to catch you off guard. It also gives you the opportunity to fill your bucket with pleasant emotions such as love, peacefulness and joy.

Don’t be intimidated by your emotions. Write them down, take the situation to your coach or have an honest chat with a trusted friend. Get some insight into the origin of the underlying emotion and learn to empty your emotional bucket. Emotional outbursts are opportunities for personal growth. By identifying the emotion, you can validate it and let it go, leaving you feeling freer, less wound up and less overwhelmed. Being honest with yourself and dealing with certain emotions are not easy, but you will always be better off afterwards. 

Photo credit: wikia.com

31 July 2014

Social interaction

Naturally when you move to a new country you need to build up a new friendship circle and you might even have to meet the family if you moved to be with your partner. These situations can be challenging and my advice is again to not push yourself. Some activities are unavoidable, but develop a strategy that works for you.

If you function well in groups then invite a few new people or family over for coffee or dinner. If you prefer one on one conversations (like me), then make the effort to do your rounds with family members and new friends. It also gives you the opportunity to get to know them better and then you have something to talk about the next time round. It's almost as if you have to start with social skills 101 all over again. No one knows you, they don't know what to expect from you and the first impression that you make is important.

Sometimes I found first impressions quite difficult, specifically in a group setting. Everybody knows each other and are talking and laughing and I sit there with a pretty face and no words. It is quite frustrating for me, because I'm like a fly on the wall looking at myself not being myself. I know I'm more social, friendlier, funnier and more confident, but sometimes I just have no words. At the moment I'm ascribing it to the fact that they speak a foreign language and even though I understand it 95%, I still can only speak 30%. English is of course no problem and I can chip in anytime with English, but I still seem not to and that sometimes frustrates me. I then leave an evening or a dinner feeling like I totally didn't represent myself.

The important thing is not to get discouraged. First impressions can change and as you get more comfortable with everything, the situation will also change. Just never give up, never see yourself as the outsider all alone and uninteresting. Evaluate the situation afterwards and think about how you can be yourself more comfortably next time round. Do not beat yourself up and rather show yourself some kindness, you are coping with enough change as it is. Rome wasn't built in a day! ;)

I have experienced that people usually are more afraid to speak to you than you are to speak to them and when you break the ice with one question about them, their work or week, they seem to chat quite easily. Don't necessarily expect deep meaningful conversations the first time round, but there will be enough questions for you to ask to keep the conversation going. It sounds silly, but conversation is an art and it is something that you will have to master again. It is so easy when you have an established circle of friends at home and one new person joins and you are comfortable and confident, but in a new country it's a whole new story. You have no circle, you have no 'back up support', nowhere to turn to if conversation runs out and as these fears build, it can leave you incapacitated in the corner.

No one said that it was going to be easy, but don't stress and don't give up. One step at a time and you'll come out winning! :)

Picture credit: flickr

3 June 2014

Small disappointments

We all want things to go a certain way or people to react in a certain manner and when this does not happen we experience disappointment. It's normal and we experience different levels of disappointment on a normal day ranging from making a bad cup of tea, a friend cancelling, not completing all the tasks that you wanted to or someone slipping a hurtful comment.

These are all normally dealt with pretty easily as forgiveness runs freely and you generally understand that people's actions are determined by their schedules and pressures and that it's really not personal. You might not even have felt disappointed on a normal day, in your normal country and normal routine, but now it's different. The problem is that as an expat your coping reserves are already running low. There are so many small challenges in a normal day that small disappointments can really catch you off guard. It hits hard and it breaks your stride. Suddenly everything is too much, too hard, too far and too different and it all comes crashing down.

It's normal.
Give yourself some space.
Calm down.

Perspective, you need perspective. It's a journey.

Work through your thoughts a bit and try to determine what is really upsetting you. It’s often a bunch of small challenges, rather than one specific thing. Maybe write them down on a page or draw them in topic bubbles. Writing them down can turn the “mountain” into a small heap again and make things manageable. It can also be helpful to explain to your partner or friends what you are going through and why one small thing can lead to you feeling completely overwhelmed. If your partner or friends are not expats, then it might be difficult for them to understand how normal daily activities can become overwhelming. 

Also write down the emotions that you are feeling. It is important to pinpoint them so that you can manage them or they will end up managing you. An emotional outburst can also indicate that you are bottling up emotions and not properly dealing with certain challenges. It is important that you allow yourself time to reflect on your feelings and journey. Make a list of the small victories that you've had this week and be proud of yourself. Remind yourself that it's a process and that everything is going to be alright at the end and if everything is not alright then it's not yet the end. You will conquer this one, just as you have conquered the others, one step at a time!

Picture credit: Lifehack

28 April 2014

Exploding emotions!

Often, too often, we allow emotions to cripple us. Emotions should warn us, but not control us. Too often our emotions become the problem because we don't ask the correct questions: "where does the emotion come from? Or why do I feel this way?"

I have heard the expression many times that an emotion is like a warning light on the dashboard of your car. It goes on when something internal is wrong. In that moment we have two choices, break the light and ignore the problem or investigate the problem. The thing is, that sometimes the little light is scary, especially if we don't know where the problem lies, how deep it is, how long it is going to take to sort out or how much it will cost you.

Let's say that your "dashboard" shows a light of irritation, you may stop to think and realise that you are just hungry and it's pretty easy to solve or you might realise that it's something about someone else that irritates you and you might need to dig a bit deeper to find out where the irritation is coming from and why it is affecting you so much. Or you might notice your irritation, but have absolutely no idea what the underlying problem is. Don't worry! You are totally capable of dealing with it and you don’t need to understand and fix it in an instant. Take some time out, even if it is just 10 minutes and just sit and think about where the emotion is coming from. Sometimes something as simple as irritation can be underlying fear, shame or sadness which can easily turn into frustration or anger if not acknowledged and dealt with.

Emotion should not scare us, it should rather guide us to become more self aware so that we can manage ourselves better and always be filled with joy. If we do not manage our emotion, it will control us and then we will start to act in ways which we do not wish to act. Be bold today and don't be scared to look at what is lying underneath the emotion. Do not allow the emotion to control you, but be brave and face the emotion. Allow yourself to become more emotionally aware and set yourself free from controlling and exploding emotions.

Picture credit: creativereview

15 April 2014

Placing myself first vs selfishness

Oh the terrible evil! Let me make one thing clear first. There is a difference between selfishness and putting yourself first. In our lives we need to put ourselves first in certain areas to ensure that we are emotionally stable and healthy. We need to look after our bodies and our hearts, if we don't, then we'll lose a part of ourselves and we would be less able to successfully support and help someone else. We become thinly spread and at the end drained, tired and unable to motivate ourselves or others. What you need to do to stay emotionally healthy will be different for each person and it is something that you need to decide for yourself.

Selfishness comes in when we put ourselves first at the expense of others. When we become self consumed and blinded to the needs of others. Selfishness is so sneaky, it creeps in so slowly and before you know, it's all about me and in that moment you see yourself as the victim (because you are not being agreed with or treated as you think you should and this seems unfair to you). If you recognize this behaviour, then a red light should be flashing.

As soon as you start seeing yourself as the victim (self pity), everyone else's actions will be amplified and any negative reaction from someone might be experienced as an attack. When selfishness increases, your grace for others start decreasing and soon patience and kindness go out the window. In short, selfishness does not make us more satisfied, it actually makes us unhappier, because it creates an insatiable desire which nothing and no one can still and it makes us feel that we are constantly being treated unfairly.

So how do we manage the fine line between selfishness and putting ourselves first? Firstly we can learn to define our boundaries clearly and then consider where we are overstepping boundaries onto other peoples’ lives in selfishness. Imagine your life as a field, if you keep living on other peoples’ fields then you are stealing from them and being selfish, but if you keep letting others steal from you by allowing them to pitch their tents (needs, desires, opinions) on your field, then you are not looking after yourself enough and you might be burdened and too thinly spread. Ensure that you live comfortably on your field by allowing time for resting, loved ones and lots of time to give, to love and be loved.

Picture credit: betterbasketballtribe.com

13 April 2014

Embarrassing moments...

I thought that it’s about time that I write about interesting or almost embarrassing moments for me since living in a different country. It’s all part of the “inburgering” process I suppose! J

The first time that I went to a grocery store, I innocently walked with my basket of items up to the cashier. I put the basket down in front of her. She looked at me, I looked at her, she looked at me, I looked at her, but she didn’t ring up my items?! I realised that I must be doing something wrong, but it took me a few moments to realise that she was staring at me because I’m not unpacking my groceries from the basket! This was strange for me, because in SA they unpack your basket for you. So small, but so embarrassing! They also don’t pack your groceries into grocery bags, thus you have to do it yourself. So it looks like this: you try to unpack your basket, while she scans your items and slides them to the side. You then rush over to start packing your groceries into plastic bags (while you are actually supposed to pay), then you stop packing and pay. Then while you continue packing the next person’s groceries start sliding by. Talk about pressure! Thank goodness for the self scanning option which makes buying groceries easier these days.

Bus tips
I’ve never really taken a bus in SA, as I always drove by car, so the things that are obvious to bus users in The Netherlands are not obvious to me. For example, the bus comes at a certain time, but it actually only DRIVES BY at a certain time. If you want the bus to stop, you have to jump up and wave your bus card, otherwise it assumes that you are waiting for another bus and it just doesn’t stop. Super confusing when you wait and it just drives by because you didn’t signal.

Also, when you want to exit the bus, you have to press the “stop” sign in the bus just before your desired stop, if you don’t, the bus just drives past. I know it sounds incredibly obvious, but if you have never been on a bus, then it just isn’t.   

I’m fortunate not to have too many embarrassing stories. At least you learn quickly by making mistakes and it is of course part of the adventure!

Photo credit: orangey12.deviantart.com

7 April 2014

The stages of mourning

You might wonder what I mean by 'mourning' and how it can be applicable to you. Mourning is not just something you go through when a loved one passes away. It's also a process that you go through when you lose something or go through significant change. For example, losing your job, losing a friend, losing abilities, leaving a community, divorce, changing your lifestyle and in my case leaving your country. The range is quite extensive and can also differ from person to person.
In general the process looks like this:

1. Denial – It is a defense mechanism that carries us through the shock. We deny the reality and facts of the situation in order to cope with the pain.

2. Anger – As reality starts to sink in, we still do not know how to cope with the change or loss. We feel guilty. We might cast blame or harbour resentment due to the intensity of the pain.

3. Bargaining – We struggle to let go. We feel helpless and this often makes us want to regain some kind of control. We bargain with the “what if’s” and the “buts” and how things could have been if...

4. Depression – Sadness, lack of motivation, craving comfort and support. We sense a void left behind.

5. Acceptance – We gain new perspective, peace settles in and though slowly, we start moving forward.

You might not experience all of the above for the same duration or intensity, but they will be present somewhere. The duration of the process also differs significantly from person to person and from situation to situation and thus the items should be viewed as guides through the process and not a fixed schedule.

It would be to our benefit to define the stages, realise what we are going through, properly work through each stage, deal with the emotions and remember that it’s a process and not a race. It also helps us to identify what our needs are during each stage of the process in order for our partners, family or friends to support and comfort us.
The stages are not intended to scare us. It is merely a tool to help us manage the stage that we are in and understand why we think and react the way we do. Take heart, the light at the end of the tunnel is knowing that the last stage is acceptance and that the process does not have to last forever. It is true that some aspects will never be forgotten, but hopefully through managing the process we can reach a point where painful moments can become beautiful memories.

Picture credit: myquoteshome.com

5 March 2014

Have some fun!

Give yourself a break and have some fun! Give yourself a break from whatever keeps you busy, even if you are the one giving yourself a hard time. We can so often become slave drivers to ourselves, not allowing for mistakes to be made or sufficient time to rest.

We cannot be the best version of ourselves, if we do not look after ourselves. It is not selfish, it is our responsibility. We need to look after our bodies and emotional well being so that we can be the best version of ourselves at work, socially or to our families. Sometimes we care so much about work, other people, our kids or our spouses that we forget to take time out for ourselves. At the end we become drained and a terrible version of ourselves and in actual fact, we only have ourselves to blame.

It might seem selfish to you if you do something relaxing like read a book, go for coffee with a friend or watch a movie by yourself, but in actual fact you are just giving yourself the reboot needed to be the best version of yourself for the rest of the week. In this way you feel appreciated and loved by yourself. It is surprising how much love we can show other people, but how little we sometimes show to ourselves.

It sounds strange, but it's true. We need to show love to ourselves. You need to show yourself that you matter, that you are loved and appreciated. You were made to live life and life to the fullest. It is important that we find joy in our daily lives. This can be difficult if you are in a new country, but think of things that you enjoy and find something similar that you can do for yourself. Spoil yourself and go find some fun!

24 February 2014

Cry, it's ok!

I miss my parents.
I miss my sister.
I miss my friends.
I miss my bed and the smell of my linen.
I miss my tea.
I miss my dad's braai and my mom's home cooked food.
I miss recorded TV on the couch.
I miss good coffee with friends.
I miss options, selection and variety.
I miss the sun.
I miss mountains. 
I miss my car. 
I miss singing in my car.
I miss familiarity. 
I miss routine. 
Cry a little or a lot.
Cry big tears, small tears, long tears or short tears, but cry. It's normal, it's healthy and it's in the best interest of you and your family. The more you cry, the less you'll take your emotions out on them, the less frustrated you will be and the more relieved you will feel. You can apply this to any traumatic experience. Crying or talking about your emotions release emotions and bring relief. It's a not a sign of weakness, but a way to strengthen you emotionally. If you don't release emotion, then I can assure you that it will pop out its head somewhere in your life and most likely not in the way that you would have liked.

21 February 2014

To pack or not to pack..

So it's official! The visa has been approved and I have 9 days to pack up my life. Looking back it sounds kind of crazy, but that's exactly how it happened. How do you say goodbye to a country, family and friends in 9 days? Honestly, I don't know. I don't know if anyone knows the 'correct' way of doing it.

Fortunately, I have already moved out of my flat 2 months before, so all the admin surrounding that has been sorted and I have just been waiting for the last few months. But still, I was left staring at a few boxes representing my life in Cape Town, 29 years of my life in Cape Town to be exact. I threw away or gave away 90% of everything I had, but then I'm left with a few boxes of selected things. The difficulty is that most of the things I've kept has no really value at all, but were gifts or sentimental items. Some things are neither, but just irritating to throw away, for example beautiful wrapping paper and gift bags that I bought, those buttons that you get extra with your coats and blouses, your sewing kit with all its bits and bobs, a selection of make up and nails polishes that I don't use every day, but is nice to have for a specific occasion, random stationary and cards and the list continues. These are all things which are worth nothing, but nice to have and thus irritating to just throw away. Then I haven't even mentioned beautiful kitchen equipment, tins, bowls, oven dishes, books, magazines, dvds, etc that I have bought over the last few years. Pretty things, things that are mine and things that I chose.

Don't get me wrong, I parted with them all. So little time, so little space, but it wasn't always easy. Moving house is difficult as it is, but at least you can take your junk along. Moving countries is a different story, but now sitting on the other side and looking back, I'm glad that I didn't bring all  my junk along. Sometimes I still find it irritating to buy something which I already had, but then I tell myself that at least someone is enjoying the benefit of my items in Cape Town and I get to buy a brand new one. It's a process.. I keep telling myself that. ;)

20 February 2014

Too much, too fast...

So I'm off to a good start in The Netherlands. I do feel like I need to do more things, start working on my business more, finish my teaching English course etc etc, but I seem to keep myself busy with menial daily tasks like washing, cleaning and cooking. Things which I do enjoy and which do need to be done, but I do seem to have this nagging feeling of "I have to be doing more". I guess it's not unusual to think this way since I come from a busy 8 to 5 (often later) corporate job and housework has always been very peripheral to me. 

I think though that it is important for me to identify which activities are better for my emotional health at this stage. The whole moving to a different country is not to be taken lightly and too much too fast can lead to emotions not being processed. This in turn can lead to a build up of emotion which will definitely pop out sometime or other and probably not at the most convenient time. So it's a balance of being aware of emotions, dealing with them, but not being ruled by them. It's good to be aware of what is happening emotionally so that one can manage the emotions instead of the emotions managing you.

One might think that focusing on career and money will bring emotional stability, but it might not necessarily help. I think it's best to determine what are the most important things in our lives, the things which bring us the most joy and focus on these first. It might be building new friendships, organising your home environment, joining a sports club or if you have a family, maybe bringing stability to your spouse and kids by supporting them with their individual challenges. Never underestimate the support that you can give by organising your home and assisting your family, even if it means having less money at the end of the month.

I think that at this stage focusing on organising our home gives me great comfort and makes me feel like I'm building something new, even if the tasks are seemingly menial. At the end, building a new life is what we are doing right now and nothing should have to rush me through it.