Discussion Topics

Summer Shopping: What products do you stock up on in your home country?

July 11, 2022


“How many suitcases should I bring home???” thinks an international school teacher who is traveling home for summer vacation.  Inside though this teacher knows what they will end up doing during their trip back home. Even though it might cost them in the end when they pay for the extra weight of one or more of their suitcases or when they pay the extra fee for an additional suitcase on the airline they are flying on.  It’s a pity that many airlines are now only allowing one free suitcase for an economy ticket, even on international flights!

The allure of home products is too strong though.  When living abroad as an expat, it is almost vitally important to have some things around you that are familiar in your home abroad.  Sometimes I open up one of my kitchen cabinets and because of the many home products that I see, it could be me opening a cupboard in my old home in my home country.  Surely the first and second year abroad you might do this, stocking your cupboards full of home products, but doing this in your third or fourth (or tenth or more) year…. is it time to “let go?”

I heard one international teacher say that after eight years of living abroad she now refuses to buy products at home when she can find the exact same thing or something comparable in her host country.  That would most likely save her in the long run on baggage fees, even if the product is a little bit more expensive than in her home country.  However, sometimes we just want to have our favorite brand that we were using all the time when we lived in our home country, even if we can find something exactly the same (minus the brand name that we have “grown to trust”) in our current country.  This is the dilemma then, to buy or not to buy??!

This year I personally decided to only take one suitcase back home for the summer.  Well if I am being completely honest, I still did bring a carry-on travel backpack…in the hopes that I could squeeze in a few more of my favorite things to take with me on my flight back home. It was very difficult to limit myself.  The mantra that I kept repeating in my head “Can I get this where I live now?” If the answer was yes, I reluctantly didn’t buy it.

It is fun to shop in other countries.  Exploring grocery stores in other countries is one of my most favorite things to do actually (though I find it equally enjoyable to shop in my old grocery stores at home, too)!  You never know what you will find.  Well actually you do end up seeing some products from your home country in foreign grocery stores, but countries obviously have many of their own products as well.  As you try new products, you are bound to find new favorites.

Sometimes if you see products that look familiar, they have a different language on the packages.  Some even try and display messages in English that seem a bit funny to you.  I’m not for sure the Lays company would put the same phrase “best with cold drinks” on their United States packages…maybe though.  Also, foreign countries have people with different tastes, so you might find potato chip flavors like Chili Chinese with Schezwan Sauce and Seaweed Pringles….probably wouldn’t be popular flavors in United States.  One thing that is hard to find living abroad is proper potato or tortilla chips; that aisle in a United States grocery store is a long one with many different brands and options!

Another factor to consider when buying foreign products is when you are trying to read the ingredients; this is where many international school teachers draw the line.  Many, many people nowadays need to know exactly each ingredient that is in a product. And when you have to do this in a second language (in which you likely only know a few words in total), you might find yourself being drawn to bring back more of your home country’s products.  Knowing the ingredients is very important.  Sometimes even on imported products in your host country, the country itself covers up the English ingredients list by putting a sticker over it listing the ingredients in the host language. It is can be frustrating for sure!

Interesting story….I just witnessed an international school teacher lug up three boxes of home country goods to her apartment.  When I asked her where did she get these boxes, she said that she got them from somebody who works at the embassy of her home country.  After living abroad for a while and meeting embassy workers, we maybe don’t all know one of the perks they get.  They can order home country products in bulk and the embassy will ship them over to you.  I guess this embassy worker had extra and enough to share with an international teacher friend!  I didn’t see all the different kinds of products that were in the boxes, but I do know that I saw some boxes of Duncan Hines cake boxes from the USA!  You might be able to find easy-to-bake cake mixes in your host country, but this just might be one of those products that are only available at grocery stores in the United States.

Go ahead…continue to go home and stock up on all your favorite things.  However, don’t forget to keep your eye out in the local grocery stores where you are living.  Try a few new things every 1-2 weeks.  There are most likely some amazing products that you didn’t know about.  Some things though you just might want to pass on, like whatever kind of meat this is in the display case and what ever kind of product that is on a certain shelf.  Sometime the risk is too great on your wallet to try out new (and strange) products and foods!

If you are an international school teacher, please share what you stock up on when you return to your home country!  How many suitcases do you bring home?

If you’d like to share your story and earn free premium membership to ISC, please send us a message here.

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Highlighted Articles

Going home for the summer: No one cares about your international life!

June 27, 2022


I always hope that somebody will care every year I go home, but every year most of them don’t. (Ha ha!)

It is not because they really don’t care though, it is mostly because they just don’t fully understand or connect to the international/expat life you are living.  When visiting family and friends in my home country, very rarely do the conversations relate to my life living abroad.  Hardly do we even talk about the amazing trips that I have been on the past year! (Oh, the things I have seen!)  It is hard to talk about your trips without giving an impression of bragging though.

International school teachers indeed live a life that is a foreign world to our old friends, so different from where we were born and raised.  Additionally, so many people in this world still just stay living close to where they were raised.  When I look at my home-country friends and relatives, most are living in the same city they grew up in or in the city just next to that one. (Side note: Why do we feel the need to escape our hometowns?)

And of course, quite a large percentage of people in the United States are without a passport (is that true for the Americans YOU know??).  Being that these friends and family that you know maybe haven’t had so much experience living abroad or even traveling abroad, you would think that would make them even more interested in your international life…but that isn’t always the case.

I guess when you go home, you spend most of your time just reminiscing about the good times of the past, of when you used to live there maybe. Most of the conversations you have also are just normal ones, talking about day-to-day things (e.g. the weather, etc.).

Sometimes your friends and family dominate the conversation with updates from their life, which of course you are curious about as well.  You want to get the lowdown on their lives being that you are only there visiting with them for typically such a short time.  I mean they haven’t seen you in a while as well, and they are excited to see you and catch you up on their lives.

Though it is truly so nice to go back home and catch up with everyone, little do your friends and family realize or understand the reverse culture shock you may be experiencing when you go back home, even if it is the 8th time you have come home in 10 years (let’s say) that you’ve been abroad.

International school teachers live a dual life basically.  The fact is…that we live most of the year in our host country; eating our host country food, hanging out with our host country friends, being surrounded by a foreign language and culture, living in our host country apartment, using and thinking in a foreign currency, etc.  When you visit your home country, you really want to tell people in your host country about those things!  Some will listen though when it comes up naturally in the conversation, but it is usually a fleeting moment…not giving you enough time to share as much as you would like.

This article is not meant to make fun of or hate on our home country friends and family, but it is meant to express our feelings about how an expat teacher might feel and how they might think in their head as they go home for the summer. When you are living abroad for so long, it is so nice (and important) to see and catch up with your family and old friends.

How do you feel when you go home to your host country? Are you able to have conversations with your friends and family about your life living abroad?

This article was submitted anonymously by an ISC member.

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Ten Commandments of Relocating Overseas

The New 11 Commandments of Relocating Overseas

July 1, 2018


It’s never easy to move to a new country, especially one where the culture is vastly different than what you are used to. Concepts such as immigration and international relocation have become increasingly common in the modern age, with developed nations such as the United States a popular destination for citizens across the globe.

Still, between 2.2 million and 6.8 million U.S. citizens are known to have themselves according to 2017 figures, as some look for new pastures during retirement, some relocate for the purpose of work, and others decide to travel for school or self-fulfilment.

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Whatever the reasons behind your move, relocating overseas can be extremely challenging, particularly from a financial and emotional perspective. In the post below, we’ll consider the 11 commandments of moving abroad, as you look to embrace new opportunities and immerse yourself in a new and unfamiliar culture.

1.    Make Positivity Your Watchword 

As we’ve already said, issues such as international relocation and economic migration are extremely relevant in the current political climate, particularly since the election of U.S. President Donald Trump and the UK’s decision to leave the European Union.

This means that some will continue to talk about international relocation in negative terms, which in turn may dampen your enthusiasm for the move and discourage you from taking the plunge.

However, if you’ve made a strategic decision to relocate abroad and determined that the benefits outweigh the potential issues (whatever your motivation may be), it’s important that you do not allow such negativity to undermine your best-laid plans.

In this respect, positivity and clarity of thought must be your key watchwords when relocating abroad, as you look to maintain your focus, do not allow negative comments or attitudes to shift your outlook. Surrounding yourself with positive people in the first place is central to this, as while you always want to hear a diversity of thoughts and opinions you must engage with individuals whose minds are progressive and open to new opportunities.

2.    Remain Flexible in your Attitudes

On the subject of your mindset, there’s also a pressing need for you to remain flexible and agile when relocating abroad.

This applies to both your preparation and the transition period that takes place when you arrive at your chosen destination, as these experiences will vary considerably depending on your reasons for moving and your choice of international location.

When it comes to the former, an agile mindset will enable you to adapt to the setbacks that occur while planning your relocation, from organizing the logistics of your move to securing accommodation in time for your arrival. Remember, even the best plans can go awry, so you’ll need to manage your expectations and adapt positively to any changes that you encounter.

The same principle applies when adapting to a new culture and way of life, as this takes time, patience, and a willingness to learn quickly from your mistakes. Even in an increasingly multicultural world, there are subtle nuances that separate global cultures, and a flexible outlook will ensure that you learn and adapt to these quickly.

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3.    Gain a Real Understanding of your New Host Country

Prior to your move, you’ll also need to gain a deep and realistic insight into your new host country.

Like we say, multiculturalism may have helped to blur the lines between independent cultures, but each country will have its own unique heritage and prevailing way of life. This will have a direct impact on every conceivable aspect of everyday life, from the clothes that you wear to the way in which you interact with locals.

The key to this is conducted detailed and informed research, which charts a country’s history and its standing in the current world order. This prevents you from forming an impression of your new home based on outdated perceptions and clumsy notions of nationality, which can lead to significant issues when you initially move abroad.

Instead, you can relocate with a clear understanding of your new host country, and one that is based on knowledge, insight and relevant, real-world observations.

4.    Expect to Encounter Different Attitudes and a Diminished Sense of Urgency

In the western world, the pace of technological advancement has made patience an increasingly sparse commodity. This is reflected by the demands that we place on others and the devices that we use, as we’re increasingly accustomed our creature comforts and things being done almost as soon as we’ve requested them.

When relocating east to a less developed economy, however, you may find that these things can no longer be taken for granted. More specifically, the locals may have a diminished sense of urgency that compels them to complete tasks at a slower pace, while the amenities and the facilities that you use may fall below the standards that you expect.

And there’s nothing wrong with feeling that way.

Remember, we are creatures of habit and we only know what we know until we expand our outlook.

It’s crucial that you prepare for this before completing your move, and manage your expectations as you look to grow accustomed to your new surroundings.

This will help with the challenging transition period, while hopefully preventing you from enduring any strained or unpleasant interactions with the locals!

5.    Maintain a Strong Sense of Humor

As we’ve already said, relocating abroad can be extremely challenging both from a financial and an emotional perspective.

This sense of difficulty can be compounded further in instances when things go awry, and it’s easy for feelings of doubt and anxiety to build in a relatively short period of time.

However, a strong and omnipresent sense of humor can help with this, as it prevents you from taking yourself or the process too seriously and makes it possible to seek out positivity even during challenging periods.

The same principle applies when you first arrive abroad, as you’ll need to prepare for the fact that making social faux-pas and linguistic mistakes are part and parcel of adapting to a new culture. By laughing with others and seeing the funny side of these instances, you’ll feel empowered and ultimately transform a potentially negative cultural experience into a positive one.

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6.    Try to Understand the Host Country Perspective in any Given Scenario 

The issue of social and cultural interaction is an important consideration, as this will dictate your day-to-day experience when you first move abroad.

In order to facilitate positive experiences, you’ll need to make a concerted effort to understand the host country perspective in any given scenario. After all, you’ll be talking to individuals that are likely to have enjoyed entirely different upbringings to your own, and this will leave with an alternative view on a host of potential issues.

By comprehending these viewpoints and taking them on-board when you first engage with locals, you can participate in open and positive conversations that hopefully serve as an entry point into new and exciting relationships.

Otherwise, you’ll run the risk of clashing regularly with locals without every really understanding and allowing for your differences.

7.    Plan for a Difficult Adjustment Period of Around Six Months

While you may well know that you’re in for a challenging period of adjustment when you first move overseas, this alone is not enough to ensure that you negate this. In fact, you’ll need to plan strategically for this transition, by considering the various stages of your adjustment and expecting it to last for at least six months or so.

We’ve broken down these phases below, so you can prepare for them and develop viable coping mechanisms.

  • The Honeymoon Phase: This phase applies to any type of new experience or relationship, and it tends to inspire an innate sense of excitement and adventure. From your new home and office to the people that you meet, your mind is open to a host of exciting possibilities and far more willing to embrace change. You should definitely make the most of this phase as it unfolds, while recognizing that it cannot be sustained indefinitely. 
  • The Negotiation Phase: The second phase usually triggers a period of anxiety, as the excitement of your international adventure fades and the realities of everyday life in a foreign country take hold. Linguistic and cultural differences can take root here, creating a sense of uncertainty and alienation that is difficult to overcome. It’s important at this stage that you focus on your work and developing relationships with locals, as this will help to settle your mind and encourage a far greater work-life balance.
  • The Adjustment Phase: If you’re able to maintain your focus and overcome the issues posed by the negotiation phase, you’ll enter a more settled period of adjustment after six months or so. At this stage, your new surroundings become normal, while you’ll have learned the cultural and linguistic nuances that can prove so problematic. It’s important at this stage that you maintain the positive behaviors in terms of work and social interaction, as you must not become complacent even as you begin to settle.

8.    Look for Ways of Strengthening and Maintaining your Enthusiasm 

When attempting to cope during the formative phases of your relocation, it’s absolutely imperative that you identify viable ways of maintaining your enthusiasm.

This is particularly important from a social perspective, as there may be times where you’re alone in your new apartment and develop a tremendous sense of isolation from your fellow man.

To overcome these feelings, you’ll need a robust and fortified mindset, and one that is constantly striving to maintain a keen sense of optimism. Socialising with your new colleagues is an excellent way to achieve this, as this helps to maintain contact with the outside world while also building positive and long-standing relationships.

Joining a local meetup.com group in your new city is also a worthwhile measure, as this exposes you to new experiences and relationships while providing a crucial learning experience.

Socialising

9.    Use Home Comforts to Manage Your Transition

In order to make a successful transition to a new culture, you’ll need to commit to your new surroundings and ensure that you maintain an open mind.

However, this does mean that you cannot ease the transition period by leveraging home comforts where possible, as this can have a decidedly positive impact on your mindset during the adjustment period.

You could make sure that you access some of your favorite TV shows and box-sets online, for example, enabling you to access a slice of home whenever the mood takes you.

Similarly, try to combine an appreciation of new cuisine and dishes with some of your old dietary staples. Consuming your favorite food and drink from home can provide genuine comfort during times of transition, reminding you of your loved ones in the process.

10.Look Out for the Signs of Culture Shock

While you may well struggle with various issues when transitioning to a new culture, this is part and parcel of relocating abroad and can generally be overcome with a number of relatively simple measures.

In more serious instances, however, you may find yourself struggling with the effects of culture shock. This is a far more debilitating condition, and one that can close your mind to new experiences and ultimately force you to return home.

The symptoms or effects of culture shock are numerous, and include a sense of feeling uprooted and a sustained feeling of disorientation. These can be compounded by the sensation of being overwhelmed by the need to make significant changes, and this can cause you to become intolerant of the very culture that you seek to integrate into.

It’s important to address these effects as early as possible, before such feelings take root and completely alter your mindset. You may want to seek out professional guidance and counselling to deal with these issues, or at least share your feelings with a trusted friend or loved one.

11.Negate the Emotional Side of Relocation by Partnering with Professionals

On a final note, it’s crucial that you manage the emotional aspect of relocating internationally before you complete the move.

This is particularly true if you have a family, as younger children may be overwhelmed by the prospect of leaving their family home and leaving their friends behind.

To focus on this, you should ensure that you partner with a skilled and reputable removals firm, particularly one that has experience or organizing international moves. This will enable you to delegate the practical and logistical requirements of your move to an industry expert, so that you can spend your time attending to the needs of your loved ones.

This is an important consideration and one that can aid the transition process, while also helping you to make the most of your time.

Bio: At A1 Auto Transport, we have a wealth of experience when dealing with domestic and international locations, and can effectively manage your relocation overseas. This type of service is worth its weight in gold, particularly when moving to a brand new country and an unfamiliar culture.
* pictures are from pixabay.com

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Comment Topic Highlight

What is the best part of living in your host city?

September 16, 2016


Living and working in cities around the world can be very tiresome, confusing and stressful. On the other hand, it can also be wonderful, exciting and eventful.

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When you first move to a city there are so many new places to visit and restaurants at which to eat.  Even after a couple of years, there are still new places to check out and restaurants that you haven’t eaten at yet. If you are lucky, a new favorite place pops up every once and awhile.

Even after a short time of living in a city, there are certainly places that become your favorite. When your friends and family visit, you tend to take them on mini tours that go to these places. These places become a huge part of your ‘expat’ experience.

After moving away to a new city, you always think about the good times you had in your old city and the places you frequently visited. These favorite places truly become solidified in your memory of living in that city.

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The best part of moving away from a city you’ve lived in, is going back to visit. When you make a trip to return to a place you’ve once lived, your old favorite places are on the top of your ‘sight-seeing list’ during your visit.  And typically you don’t have as much time to see them all, so you truly find out which places were your really top ones. These really top ones are the must-go places that bring back old memories, and also help make new ones.

Most international school teachers can list off the best parts of living in their city. Some have longer lists than others (depending on their personality and the place in which they live), but there are always new and interesting things to check out and do…if you are getting yourself out to enjoy them.  The more local friends you get too, the more you can check out and hear out the ‘best places’ in the city from the people that truly know it well.

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Luckily, International School Community has a comment topic on our school profile pages related to what life is like in various cities around the world, so you can stay the most informed as possible. It is called: “What is the best part of living in this city for you?

Our veteran international school teachers have submitted a total of 69 comments in this comment topic (Sept. 2016).  Here are a few that have been submitted:

“KK is a very multi-cultural city. There are many different religions and ethnicities represented here. Because of this there is nearly always a festival or celebration going on. It is wonderful to see everyone celebrating them all. Muslims openly welcome Chinese, Tamil and Expats to their homes during Hari Raya. Everyone is welcome to attend the temple during Deepavali. And of course everyone always enjoys Chinese New Year and Christmas celebrations.” – Kinabalu International School (Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia)10 Comments

“Outside of school, there is a very relaxed pace of life. You will see people in the coffee shops, on the beach or just strolling the avenues all hours of the day. The food is excellent, and the wines are cheap and second to none. Forget the expensive Italian and French wines. Stick with the huge variety of portuguese wines and you can’t go wrong.” – Oeiras International School (Lisbon, Portugal)98 Comments

“Seisen is located in Setagaya ward, which is one of the greenest parts of Tokyo. You are never more than a short bike ride or stroll from Kinuta Park, Komazawa Park, Todoroki Gorge or the expanse of green along the Tama River bank.” – Seisen International School (Tokyo, Japan)66 Comments

“It’s hard to put your finger on. Bangkok can be infuriating. Travel can be tough off the Skytrain finding products you need, a real challenge and yet the city has a pleasant, almost relaxed vibe for a place of its size. The Thais are a fun loving people, there are some great bars and restaurants and if you search off the beaten track some architectural and historical gems.” – Rasami British International School (Bangkok, Thailand)75 Comments

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Highlighted Articles

Going back to a place you once lived – I almost cried!

July 9, 2016


People always ask me which of the three places (that I’ve lived in) was the best or my favorite. I never let a second past and respond by saying ALL of them!

I can’t pick a favorite. There, I said it! I just can’t. Each previous place that I’ve lived in means so much to me. Based on my experience, I think anywhere that becomes your home for 1, 2, 3, 10… years, will mean a lot to you.

Maybe it is because of all the memories (good and bad) that you have attached to the years you spent there. It is certain that you didn’t even realize that the things you were doing there were going to be such strong memory markers for your time there.  The food and food related experiences, the stores your shopped in, the school you worked at and your colleagues there, the day trips you took in and around the city you lived in, the old hobbies you did there and the new ones that you tried, your experiences learning and using the host country language, etc.  All of these situations will have strong emotions attached to them, and thus will be the things engrained in your memory.

Now is the test. If you truly think every place is your favorite and felt like your home, then what does it exactly feel like to go back to a place you once lived?

I have been lucky to go back to a place I’ve once lived a number of times, since I’ve lived there. Each time I go back, I have different experiences and feel different emotions. The last time that I went back though I found myself feeling very sad. I really felt like maybe it was a mistake to leave this place.  I have such a strong attachment to this city, its people and its culture. Though it has changed here and there since I left, I still feel like it hasn’t changed since I lived there.

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I miss the weather there, the mountains and the sea. I miss the sports I played there and the groups that I played with. I miss the friends that I used to hang out with there and the places that we frequented. I miss the really good friends that I had there and celebrated important holidays and traditions with. The list goes on…

With all these things that I miss, I really almost cried while walking down one of the main streets there with my old roommate (who still lives there by the way).  Of course, that feeling did eventually pass as my trip there was winding down and then eventually left to go back to my current host country.

The saying goes, you don’t know what you have until you’ve lost it. And maybe that is the case for me when I go back to this city. Though I must be honest and admit that it does seem unlikely that I would ever move back there, but I guess never say never.

Now I did mention that I’ve lived in three places in my international school teaching career. Beside the one that I referred to in this article and the one that I currently live in, there is still one that I haven’t discussed yet. The reason is because I have yet to return back to that country. I haven’t returned because I didn’t like my experience there, but I think I haven’t gone because you do need to pay a hefty price for their tourist visa. It is a poor excuse I guess for not going back for a visit, but that seems to be the reason right now.

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I do miss that place as well, but I wonder if I would have the same emotional experience there too while going back there to visit. For this second place that I lived, I do feel so lucky and honored to have had the opportunity to live there. Wherever I meet someone from that country, I always get excited and want to share all I know and remember about the culture and language. Luckily, I teach a number of students that are from that country at my current school and they help me keep those memories alive of my time in their home country.

Surely one of the best parts of living abroad and working at international schools is simply to have the opportunity to get the real inside scoop of the host country people and their way of living. It is an awesome and unbeatable experience. Most would agree it is indeed life-changing.

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It is hard to go back to places you’ve once lived, but I think it is important to do so. It can definitely be challenging and sometimes sad during certain trips back, but you also get the chance to remind yourself of your past. Seeing old friends, tasting food from your favorite restaurant, going shopping in your favorite grocery store, and even catching up with relatives are so fulfilling and help you learn to appreciate what you have in your life. It also helps you to realize and appreciate where you are currently living and what you have there as well.

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