How to keep busy and meet people when you’re the follower in your expat couple

When it comes to expatriation, being the follower is often negatively perceived. With the word “follower” often come prejudiced ideas and the word soon turns into the-one-who-is-lazy, the-one-without-a-career, or the-unemployed-one, the-house-wife or one of my worst the-one-who-has-nothing-to-do-and-has-a-beautiful-life. Basically the one every one envies for they think The One has nothing to do but also pity for not having a career and not being able to define themselves as anything else than The Wife of X, or The Partner of X. Well that is just such a limited perception of how broad and encompassing the word follower when added to expatriation can be. I chose to see the positive side of it and appreciate the green grass on my side. While I can’t say that being the follower is easy, it certainly is an opportunity for new beginnings and experiences that you wouldn’t make otherwise. And just to make a point, here is a list of things that you can do to keep busy, meet people and broaden your horizons in ways that a workaholic person with their 9 to 5 job could not.

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I discovered an Austrian painter that I love! copyright Anne K.

1. Learn the language or practice it

I’ve already talked about reasons I believe you should learn the language of your adoptive country. Beyond the communication aspect of being able to speak that language, comes the social aspect. At the course you will meet people. Some might be an a similar situation than yours and you’ll therefor be able to bond over a common point. You will also meet people from different backgrounds and stories and each one can be a source of inspiration. Even if none of them becomes your best friend, it is always nice to have someone come along when you go visit a museum or go for a drink after the class. By joining Discussion circles or meet-up groups, you can practice and make new acquaintances. If you already speak the language though, every time you step out of the house is an opportunity to practice, keep busy and meet people.

 

2. Volunteer

So let’s say you cannot work in your new country, or maybe you’re just having a hard time finding a job. Or just maybe you really don’t want to work but you want to have something to do. Volunteering is the solution. It not only allows you to feel motivated and ready to take on your day, it also helps you stay sane. The best part is you can chose any association or company that you have the slightest interest for. I volunteered for a Film Festival for example, as a photographer, thus combining my love for movies with my need to practice photography. I felt useful, I had contact with people, I met directors and actors, had a chance to listen to them live and I had access to all the movies I fancied watching. I should add here that it was an East European movie festival, meaning under other circumstances my chances of seeing these movies would have been close to nil. Had I been working I might have went to see one of the movies (assuming I had even been aware this festival was going on), but I wouldn’t have had such a great experience. The festival wasn’t just about the movie, there were book readings for example where I got the chance to buy a Polish book translated in German which I then got signed by the author, again giving me access to new horizons. What are the chances that I would have read a Polish author’s book otherwise? See learning German also gave me a chance to discover his work, since I can’t read Polish.

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Opening of Hiroji Kubota’s photo retrospective and book signing copyright Anne K.

3. Visit museums, go to the theater and take advantage of every event happening in town

When I first got here, every other day our mail box was full with promotional packages and flyers. They always included all kinds of free newspapers. At first, I read the newspapers to practice my German, but I quickly realized that they gave me access to a lot of cultural information. Between the district journal, the city newspaper, the region’s newspaper, I discovered events, coffee shops, new stores opening… I would clip the pages, text a friend and go, alone or accompanied. I also of course, mostly at the beginning did all the touristy things people do when discovering a city. But the most wonderful thing is I had the time to try all these things, even things I thought i might not like, I tried, just because I could. I attended music festivals, went to exhibition openings (I still do that a lot), got out of my comfort zone. I also attended DIY workshops and book binding workshops. Now some of you might say: ok but this can get very expensive. Sure, depending on where you live. I was less likely to do this in Canada where everything is expensive when it comes to culture. Vienna luckily has a LOT of free events. But most museums for instance have a free evening where they usually also open longer. Theater tickets can be purchased on promo, or hey, just buy a last minute standing ticket. Most galleries are free (everywhere I’ve been in the world) and if not, make sure you know when the openings are, then it’s definitely free entrance and you get to hear the curator or the artist talk about the work.

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The Mumok Museum copyright Anne K.

4. Talk to people and create something

One of my accomplishments I would say, is the day I loosened up and talked to the very friendly bookshop manager about an association I am volunteering for. I was actually looking for a book to read for the book club of that association and she suggested a very good one. But then, just like that she said “You know if you want to start a book club, I could help you out and provide you with the space to host it”. My book club was born. I love reading and sharing my impressions of certain books afterwards. I had the time and the will, so I simply said yes and launched it. She was a great help but I also learned a few things, I had to create a social media account and page, animate it, organize the event and chose the book, try to find people. The first meeting went very well and I am very excited for the second one. It’s amazing the things that can happen when you’re open to them and have the time.

I actually started thinking about all the things I did in Vienna when I started panicking about the gap on my resume. How could I justify that time, besides the fact that I lived temporarily in a foreign country? Well the list of things actually made me feel way better. Not only did I actually LIVE Vienna, discovered and still am discovering all it has to offer, but I also gained soft skills and lived experiences that are absolutely unique and from which I can extrapolate all kinds of working skills. I met people whose friendships will last way longer than the time I lived here, and I practiced my German!

How did you keep busy when you were the follower? What great experiences came out of it?

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When coffee takes you on a trip around the world

It’s magical. You can just sit there, but somehow you’re taking a trip around a world. At Cafe Frei, with close to 70 different kinds of coffees to chose from, you can spend your morning in Italy with a cappuccino, your afternoon in Japan with a samurai-matcha cappuccino or a Tokyo ginger froth with Raspberry coffee, and then relax under the palm trees of Morocco with a Casablanca cream mint Latte. These might sound a little common for you. If you prefer other destinations, Botswana awaits you with its missionary coffee (yummy oranges in it too). And that’s just coffee.

You prefer hot chocolate or tea! No problemo! The café offers hot chocolate, iced chocolate  or hot caramel. Awesome right? The tea selection is quite attractive too with beautiful tea names like the Savanna Dawn or The pearl of Tahiti.

But there’s also something for people who prefer cold drinks, from iced coffees from around the world to shakes and iced tea. Same principle applies to their cakes: discover the world, a country at a time, thanks to the best they can offer: coffee and cake!

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The place is very nicely decorated, it’s busy enough but it remains quiet and peaceful. A great place to write a blog article or maybe even a book. And who knows, you might just find your book on their shelves next time.

So if you’re in Vienna make sure to pass by for a little escape in another corner of the world.

Expatriation and work: the challenges.

There are as many expatriation experiences as people who move away to settle in a new country. Whatever your situation may be, finding work can be very challenging. If you’re in a couple and you are the follower, your reality will be very different from that of your partner. The partner who has a job, for which you both moved, will settle in quicker and find it easier to integrate as life will keep running smoothly for him/her. For the one staying behind every day, things can get tougher.

I have been the follower in our family, first moving to Canada and then to Austria, both times without a definite plan as to what I was going to do once I landed. Each time was different: the first time I was going to check out Canada and maybe go back to school, the second time I knew I didn’t want to work right away. I wanted and needed time to think of my future. In both cases however I knew I had to work eventually and I wanted to, if only because having a job is also about getting out of your house, having a purpose to wake up every morning, creating a network and meeting people. Some will become friends, other will remain colleagues, but with each your social life starts to take shape.

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Each country has its very own job market, with all the procedures that you necessarily need to know in order to ace you cover letter or resume. First challenge then, understanding the job market and knowing how to present yourself. Things that might be considered almost wrong in a country are perfectly acceptable in another. Picture or no picture on your CV, date of birth: yay or nay? In Austria for example, some people mention whether they have kids or not and how old they are. In Canada, it is not common to have your photo on your CV. So whether you decide to wait until you are settled in your new place or start looking before you move, make sure you know these little details. You do want to make your CV or cover letter stand out, but not to the point of them being rejected for being “weird”.

Besides the procedures, there is always the big question of the language. Are you applying for jobs in international businesses that use English as the working language or do you want to include any possibility. Well if you decide to keep all your options open, you might have to write cover letters and resumes in the language of the country. You have no idea how many versions of my CV I have. In English, in German, but also targeted to this or that job. You CV is a constant work in progress. It is not enough to think you can just update your last CV. In fact, it is easier to sit down, think of all the things you’ve done and rewrite from scratch your CV. If you’re not sure where to start, try to find the employment center of your city, attend CV writing workshops and don’t hesitate to ask for help wherever you can.

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I found my biggest challenge in the fact that I don’t have a very straightforward path; therefor my resume is quite eclectic. I have a lot of skills that I gathered through jobs and volunteering experiences, following my interests at one point of my life. I have started and lead book clubs just because I like reading, I teach French, I worked as a manager of a retail store as well as a freelance photographer. Because, well, I studied cinematography and photography. So there are a lot of things I can do, a lot of things I am good at. But if you follow my academic path and then realize what I’ve done since, well things don’t match. That, in Europe at least, can be quite challenging as the focus is put a lot on the academic course you take and your years of experience. Whereas in Canada a lot is based on your competences, what you can do and how well. I have learned to rewrite my resume in order to push in the foreground my skills and experience in different fields. Then I hope for an interview where I might be able to explain and show my capabilities. It makes it hard though to post my resume in a job searching website since they get stuck on a few words like management or sales and only offer me this kind of jobs, which incidentally are not what I would like to do anymore.

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This time around, I found the waiting period until I found a job quite long. At the beginning all was good. I focused on finding an apartment, taking language classes, thinking and figuring out what I wanted to do. And then I started volunteering in anything that remotely motivated me: film festivals, designs weeks, and associations, starting a book club… I met people and it gave me that purpose I needed to get going. My circle of contacts keeps growing bigger and more interesting. Each new contact, each new volunteering opportunity is an experience in itself that I find extremely valuable. Don’t hesitate to volunteer, it’s a great way to start your integration process and mostly not start depressing about the hardships of finding a job.

I believe the current system is not very open to multi-talented people who can’t fit in specific boxes. Some might see that as being a curse, I see it as a challenge for sure but I think companies would benefit from seeing the true value of an employee rather than their academic achievements.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of challenges, just a few thoughts I shared. What challenges did you face when looking for a job in a new country? How did you find what you wanted to do?

Supersens! The place where your senses awaken

I’ve been in Vienna for a while now, but I am always surprised by new places and I love to push myself out of my usual city boundaries to discover them. So when I found out about this little coffee shop, on my way to the library, I couldn’t help but check it out.

Just the name of it, Supersens! Surprising right? Well not so much as soon as you step in. It’s like senses’ paradise.

The eye: The palace like inside is what blows you away first. High ceilings with arcades and golden stucco decorations, the beautiful white and red tiles on the floor, the tables and stools, the bar in the corner. The building is of Venetian palace style, it’s grand! The place is divided in two: the coffee space and the shop space. The shop space will make you turn your head up, down, left and right, in circles and any other way you can think of. It’s filled with handcrafted items, from little notebooks to pins or hand stamped cards. They even make their own vinyl discs, which contributes to amaze another sens of ours.

The nose: it’s cozy in there and you can smell the fresh ground coffee as well as some of the pastries, home made by friends and family according to the menu. In the shop part of the place, you can smell paper and inks, and wood. It’s hard not to want to sniff around!

The ear: it’s not the kind of loud, impersonal place. On the contrary. Besides the familiar clatter of cups kissing their plates, and cutlery meeting each other, steam foaming the milk, there is lovely background music coming straight out of the original turntables scattered around the shop. If you close your eyes you can almost imagine yourself transported back to the 1950’s with Peggy Lee singing It’s A Good Day! And you can hear the little scratchy sound of the needle caressing the vinyl!

The skin: walking around the place touching the papers, vinyl and the cameras, what a pleasure. I felt like Amelie Poulain sliding her hand in the bean bags at the grocer’s.

The tongue: I hear the coffee here is very good quality, I would believe it based on the smell of the ground coffee. I decided to go for a hot chocolate though, it was a rainy day and it seemed like the good cheering up drink. Although the place contributed a lot to making my day a little brighter. I didn’t try the cakes and little snacks. Another good reason to go back.

I can’t wait to take some friends to this place. Definitely on my list of favorites in Vienna!

What is your favorite coffee shop and why?

 

Book review 6: Macaron Murder, Harper Lin

Well that is it! I’m done the quick and fun summer challenge, this is the last review and then I promise we move on! Did you enjoy the reviews?

For the category A “beach book”, I had wanted something light, not too intense. Something than you can read quickly, on the beach. Something that entertains you for a couple hours and done! Well, I have lots of e-books on my tablet, on different apps, that I got at some point and then never actually read so far. In a moment of pure desperation as to what my next book should be, I decided to check out my iBook library. the cover of Macaron Murder was very summery, with macarons on it of course, a pink background and I thought, huh, that should do for a quick read. Plus it takes place in Paris, which I love.

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The book is just under 100 e-pages, it read very quickly, and as the title says there is murder in it. It is however an entertaining read but not much more. Not specially well written, the characters are not deep or attaching in any way. I find very annoying the french words used in an English sentence, I find that writing technique or style snobby and really annoying. Ok so you know  a few french words, but it just doesn’t work in an English sentence. Now if you used a full french sentence, great! And then possibly translate it, that would be nice! Anyways, that was just a little bothersome to me.

There is not much to the story really, Clémence comes back to her family apartment and business after traveling the world. She hasn’t even unpacked yet when there is a murder in her building. After being wrongly accused, she decides to solve the murder herself. Everything goes really fast, it’s a basic mystery plot, no suspense there.

That is definitely the book I loved least on my list. But I guess it fits the prompt really well. Which book did you read for this category? Did you enjoy it?

Book review 5: Ce que le jour doit à la nuit, Yasmina Khadra

I chose this book for the category ” a book you bought on your last vacation”. That was my last vacation before I wrote the reading challenge . I was going for another one, but when the moment came to pick up the book, I was actually more tempted by this one.

Set in Algeria in the 30s, this book if first and foremost a story of love. The love of a country. Algeria, loved both by its natives and the French born there. It’s an epic story of frienship, love and heartaches of all kinds, but also honor and cultural differences. Younes, later called Jonas, the protagonist, tells us his story. The story of his family, interwoven with the story of his country, and in the midst of it all, how he lives that story, how he grows and changes. He is full of emotions that he shares.

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Yasmina Khadra has a beautiful writing style. Poetic but direct, not always soft. He knows how to play with emotions and words to create the best impact. He knows when a beautiful sentence can convey in a few words the most powerful feelings, and when one word is enough to say it all. I will definitely be reading more books of that author. It was one of his titles that once caught my eye, I read the back cover and thought I would read it but didn’t buy the book on the spot. When I remembered his name and looked for it in Strasbourg, that specific title wasn’t available, so I decided to just pick one. This book is definitely of my top 5 of the year.

Who, or which book, is on your top 5 reads of the year? Would you want to read this one?

Book review 4: A book you’ve been wanting to read for ever

Well that’s it guys! The summer is coming to an end! I haven’t posted blog posts for the past few weeks, so now is the time for the last reviews of the reading challenge and then move on to something else… How do you like challenges? I’m thinking of another one already, but let’s take a break first.

So review number 4, I had mentioned The Book Thief as a book I’ve been wanting to read for ever. But it still didn’t happen. Let’s just say I was happy to enjoy my busy vacation and read paper books rather than ebooks. But this year I finally read (yes I know don’t be too shocked) HARRY POTTER! Hooray! And I haven’t been able to put them down. I am currently waiting for the 6th one already from the library.

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I doubt that a review is really necessary! I will say that: I don’t know what I was waiting for to read them. My sister was a big fan and she tried, really hard, to get me to read them. I was very resistant to the idea. So I guess I owe my sister an apology and  thank you, I think it’s her nagging that finally got me reading the books. I also discovered J.K. Rowling through her adult book, The Casual Vacancy, which is extremely different of course. very down to earth, no magic at all, but very well written. I then moved on to her detective series, which she writes under the pen name Robert Galbraith. Following detective Cormoran Strike on cases and discovering yet another world that Rowling created. One thing i really like in all her books: her characters. They are so well thought out, well written with complex personalities and full background stories that are revealed here and there and help us get attached.

Have you enjoyed Harry Potter? Or maybe another book that someone has been trying to get you to read for a long time?