Tips on being an expat…

Two years ago today my husband and I landed in Chongqing, China for our pretrip. This was the introduction journey to see the city, pick out a place to live and get a first glance at where we would be relocating. Without exaggeration, this week had to have been one of the most stressful of my life. I left my kids (in good hands) and flew half way around the world and landed in what felt like at the time, another planet. I constantly think about our 18 month adventure and here are some tips for you if you are about to make a similar move!

11. If you are planning a pretrip meet up with other foreigners on the trip! We were the only expats for my husband’s company so there were no foreigners to meet, so if this is the case for you, seek out families from the school your children will attend. Ford is a big company in CQ and the families are now having dinner gatherings for people on pretrip! What an incredible opportunity to ask questions and put some concerns at ease. Once you have picked a school for your children then you can also ask for emails for other American moms that are willing to answer your questions.

10. Leave your judgements at home. You have left your society, your customs and your culture and entered someone else’s. Accept everything that is new here. You may not like it or get used to it, but if you don’t accept it, it will cause you hours of wasted frustration. We decided we would laugh it off. When someone held one side of their nose and blew the other side onto the street, we would laugh…only to each other of course. When someone let their child poop in the street, we would laugh, not at them, but at the extreme culture difference for us and a little laugh is a whole lot better when dealing with something so foreign to you!

9. Meet and befriend local people! If you do not extend your friendships beyond your own culture then you are limiting your experiences. The best way to get to know your new surroundings is to explore it with a local!

8. Learn the language! This may at times cause you extra frustrations, but as you acquire the language and feel empowered by speaking it the frustrations will be few and the ease of living in your new environment will be….awesome.

7. Get involved. There is bound to be an International Women’s group or if you have kids, a PTO group at school. Your calendar will fill up before you know it!

6. Don’t be afraid to spend money. This caused me hours of frustration. No matter what, my guess is you will live in an environment that is much more expensive (for daily living) than life in America. It is difficult at first to realize how much money is going towards groceries, travel, and eating out. Most, if not all companies adjust your pay to live abroad. They have given you the extra money for you to spend, so spend it. I don’t mean go crazy, but everything will cost more. Living in America is certainly not cheap, but if you know how much you pay for real maple syrup in the US and you compare it abroad at five times the cost that’s when you start to feel the pain 😉

5. Eat out! My husband and I have been together twenty years and in the last eighteen months we ate out more combined than the last twenty years! Eating out is a social experience. It was actually something “to do” in our city. When you are stressed at times about what to cook because of limited cooking supplies just say “screw it, let’s go out or let’s get take out.” We ate out several times a week, most often with another family or many other families. It became a play date for everyone.

4. Find a person or two who are “yours.” You need to find your “go to” person. You will become part of a group quickly, but you need to have that confidant that you can share everything with. That person that you can talk to daily, grab lunch with, share frustrations, have them put you in your place or commiserate with you!

3. Resist the urge to say “this isn’t how we would do it at home!” You are not at home and no one wants to hear how it is done there!

2. Explore, visit, and travel. In our city the only way to survive was to get out, but wherever you are this is probably for a period of time so take advantage of it! If you stay within the gates of your compound I guarantee you will be miserable. I was often concerned about travel and the money we were spending, but I’m not now. We don’t have a single regret. We explored the country we were in and the countries around it. We saw more than we ever expected to and had experiences we most likely will never have again. Our adventure is over for now, but if the opportunity came again we would jump at the chance! It may never come again, but we are so happy we took advantage of it the first time. If you are an expat don’t set yourself up to come home with regrets!

1. Enjoy every minute or as many as you can. It is such a unique experience, enjoy the new people, culture and ability to learn something new everyday. Yes, I promise you will have bad days, but you will have many more good days, even great one! Try not to get bogged down with how overwhelming it can be. Each issue gets resolved, jump in with both feet and make it your own! Remember, it will just be a bad day, not a bad life!
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Versailles and the Louvre…

When in Rome…right??! So we had to go to Versailles and the Louvre! At least that’s what we told the kids! We decided we would take the train to Versailles on Tuesday morning and we were told to plan a whole day for the trip. The weather was fantastic. Thank you Paris for providing wonderful weather the entire time we were visiting your beautiful city! After breakfast on the sidewalk at a brasserie we headed into the Metro. We were quickly becoming pros; maneuvering the Metro is so easy. We were getting off at the Eiffel Tower stop and switching to the train to Versailles. We had done well getting up and out. The jet lag was working in our favor in the morning. The train was a double decker train that would take less than an hour with only one line change. Once we got to the cute little town, we had a short walk to the castle. When we arrived at the gate, we quickly understood the stories about Paris lines that everyone talked about. The cue was a zigzag that would keep us standing in the sun for three hours. With each passing hour it became incredibly difficult to explain to your children why this this castle is worth standing this long in line! We did get to practice our Chinese though. Behind us there was a large tour standing with us from Beijing and of course they loved talking to the westerners in Mandarin! image

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After three hours in the sun we were inside! We paid for the walking tour with headset so we could go room to room and hear the history. Chip and I found this interesting, but with the mobs of people and room after room of paintings and artifacts the kids had no schema to relate to, we quickly picked up our pace. It was amazing to see, the Hall of Mirrors, Marie Antoinette’s bed and the door she escaped out of the night they were trying to behead her, the Catholic Church inside the castle! All of this was very cool, but we were all getting a little hungry and tired and luckily we found a cafe and relaxed with water, cappuccinos and sandwiches…stragegically placed…strategically priced!

Hall of Mirrors

Hall of Mirrors

Marie Antoinette's jewelry cabinet and door where she fled the castle.

Marie Antoinette’s jewelry cabinet and door where she fled the castle.


Just one of the meticulous gardens and the side of the castle.

Just one of the meticulous gardens and the side of the castle.


The back of the castle.

The back of the castle.


After we finished our tour we headed back for the train. Of course that lovely walk included a stop at another outdoor cafe for a glass of wine and ice cream for the kids!
Next on the list of course was the Louvre. What trip to Paris would be complete without a glimpse of the Mona Lisa. We explained to the kids why they must set eyes on it. But it was tricky. Especially when that involved another line with hundreds of our closest friends! So here it is….the Mona Lisa!
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This is the hallway to get to it!

This is the hallway to get to it!


So if I was giving advice to anyone traveling to Paris with children, decide how important these two activities are to you. We did not do justice to either of the entrance fees, but we saw these two famous and amazing sites. Our kids were troopers and we certainly know when they have hit their limit of paintings and statues. Would we visit these sites again with our kids, no, but we are happy we did it once. We would love to visit Paris again as there were plenty of places we didn’t have time to see, but overall we all enjoyed this amazing city and we are excited to visit again some day!