A Box of Expat Memories

As you can see, I’m late with this post, which was technically meant for last month. That’s largely because I have been caught up with work but also because I didn’t really have anything much to write about. I have been wracking my brains but sadly, came up with nothing. And then it hit me – I don’t have to use words!

So, SO much of my experience living abroad has been captured in photographs – countless moments that were happy, sad, funny, stupid and crazy! So for this post, I thought I’d do a collection of pictures that capture some of the most memorable of these moments and reflect briefly on why each of them were significant to my expat life. Here goes 🙂

From matriculation to getting trashed, Oxford has weird traditions. Don’t question them, best to just go with it. Fun can come from unexpected sources.

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Home away from home :)

We all have different conceptions of home and last week, Erin wrote about what home means when you’ve moved your physical location at regular intervals. It got me thinking about what home really meant to me, someone who has had fairly constant physical locations (18 years at my birthplace, followed by 5 years in college and now 2 in Oxford).

And I realised that while home is obviously multi-dimensional, what it really boils down to for me, is that warm, fuzzy feeling of having a solid support system, of knowing that irrespective of whatever may happen, there are people who will stand by me, love me and care for me. This is not to say that all the people who make up my support system make me feel exactly the same way, they don’t. They all contribute differently but together, their love allows me to grow and prosper. But despite the fact that this feeling is not dependent on the physical location of individuals, living away from this very support system is tough.


Nothing like a quaint town full of bookshops to make you feel at home.

So, I got to thinking about the ways in which I have tried to connect with home away from home and here’s what I came up with (aside from actually communicating with friends and family over video/voice calls, of course!).

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A little uncertainty is good for everyone

In a few months’ time, my life will be at one of its most important turning points – the transition from a student to a professional, from someone pretending to be an adult and living in fear of being discovered (trust me) to a real person with a real life (whatever that means). And I’m very, very excited about it. But somewhere, a little part of me is sad that this adventure will come to an end.

Growing up, we are taught to value confidence and certainty. We are taught to plan ahead in life, in the short term and the long term. Above all, we are taught to treat the absence of these things as less than ideal, if not as a complete negative. While it can hardly be denied that those are important values to inculcate, my experiences and interactions over the last year and a half have made me realise that it’s equally important to be able to see the value in the opposite.

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And That’s a Wrap!

I’ve been struggling for some time now, with ideas of what this last post for the year should be about. It’s been a truly eventful year after all. For me, for this blog, for my country and for the world at large.

I completed my master’s in law, travelled to 8 new countries (seems like so long ago!) and finally saw Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (big moment, that). cursed-childThis blog got off to a terrific start and saw us hitting some great numbers (go ladies!). India went through some historic events – the wave of free speech struggles at JNU and other universities, some stellar performances at the Olympics and Paralympics and suffering the aftermath of de-monetisation, to name just a few. And then the world. Well, the world went through Brexit and Trump. Not to mention everything that did and continues to happen in Syria, Turkey and Palestine, among several other conflict zones. Continue reading

What’s Christmas?

This is going to be unlike any other Christmas post you’ve read, because I know almost nothing about Christmas. Or definitely knew very little until last year, when I actually celebrated Christmas for the first time. People celebrate Christmas in different ways, have different traditions, eat different foods. rh-christmasBut Christmas in Delhi (and probably in several parts of India) is viewed as a holiday and a day off from work, more than anything else. In short, it just isn’t as big a deal as it is in other parts of the world. So experiencing real Christmas, in the UK, for the very first time, was a very exciting prospect for me! Add to it the peculiarity that is trademark-Oxford and you have an unbeatable combination.

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Juggling expectations of loved ones at home with responsibilities abroad

IMG_20160109_123213239_HDRMansi: Moving abroad, leaving behind things that you are comfortable and familiar with, is always tough. As if juggling your life wasn’t hard enough by itself, you must also now worry about maintaining all your relationships back home, while forging new ones simultaneously. What do you do then?

If you’re anything like me, you’ll have tons of friends, but may not always be as good at keeping in touch with them as you’d like to be. Especially for the strugglers out there, the first thing that I have personally found helpful is to do some mental weeding. It does sound harsh but the unfortunate truth of the matter is that everyone has a limited amount of time, energy and space in their lives. When you move to a new place, you will need to spend more than the regular amount of all of these things on adjusting, forging new friendships, figuring stuff out. Therefore, it is important to have your priorities, both in terms of people and tasks clear in your head.


Once you’ve identified the people you do want to devote time to, even with your new life, try to be aware of and respectful of their needs as well. Some need to talk to you every day, some you can talk to twice in a year and still be great friends with. Judging what they need from you can go a long way in making everyone involved much happier, even if the give and take doesn’t always match. The same goes for family. Identifying needs and trying to align them to the best of your abilities is what makes the difference. The effort counts.


At the end of the day, at least for me, juggling expectations is all about a desire to maintain your relationships and an understanding that involves some give and take. Things won’t be perfect, they rarely are. But if you try hard enough, you’ll likely reach some percentage of the way above fifty, at the very least. And in most cases, the people involved will appreciate your efforts and make some on their own, so together you’ll get there.

Question: What are the key things to help one juggle expectations of loved ones at home with life abroad?

cristina-pop-headshot-modCristina, “I was only 20 years old when I moved abroad and to be honest I didn’t feel that my parents had expectations. They just wanted me to be happy I think. And I was. They supported me in everything I did. Sixteen years later and as a parent myself, I think that they probably missed me a lot and wanted to see me more often, but they never made me feel that I should do things in a different way.”

nicola-beach-headshotNicola, “I think as you get older and if you add children into the equation, there comes a point where you realise that family back home also need to manage THEIR expectations, rather than you always managing theirs. You generally move abroad because you think it is a good thing to do either emotionally/financially/career wise etc. Of course, it’s hard, but you have your own freewill and your own life and as your children get older your focus shifts to what your children need and what works for you as a family.”

vanessa-jencks-headshot-modVanessa, “We personally have had very little difficulty with this because my family had low expectations in the first place. I found that family talked to us more when we lived long distance (first in the US) than when we lived forty minutes down the road. I’m also the third child in my family to live long distance, and our extended family has always been far from us. There is a desire that we stay in touch through Facebook and schedule times to catch up on Skype, and I’ve gotten three of my family members on WeChat, but my parents, siblings, and relatives understand life can get busy. My husband’s mom has had a bit more trouble connecting due to technology difficulties and her work schedule, but they both continue to make an effort to catch up. Just recently, my editorial staff covered this in our latest magazine issue, and the tips recorded were useful to me even, especially in making a regular time with specific guidelines for the sake of my children.”

Lisa, “We keep in contact with family and friends via FaceTime on a lisa-ferland-headshot-smallerregular basis. We also keep them in the loop when it comes to birthday parties and we will FaceTime while our kids open cards or presents so they can feel more connected. My kids see their grandparents three to four times a year and they have a close relationship.”



Finding Me(mo)

I know what you’re thinking.

“Oh god, another one of these posts about how some ‘lost’ girl had a life changing experience and “found” herself.”

But no. This isn’t about that. This isn’t about how I found my true calling or had an intense, life-altering experience through some formula. This is simply about becoming aware. Of discovering parts of myself that I hadn’t quite come across before and that surprised me, in ways good and bad.

How did it start, you ask? Well, actually, it started a few weeks ago when I told my mum that there was a screening last night. “A screening for what?”, she asked. “Some movie?”. A little taken aback but nevertheless patient, I said, “No ma, the election!”. She nodded her head and said, “Oh, right. But why would you stay up to watch that”. It wasn’t really a question as much as a comment, something that was sort of obvious. And the obviousness of it is what got me thinking.

Before I moved abroad, I would probably have had the same response as her. It simply didn’t make sense for a random person in India to actually make the effort of staying up to watch an election in a country half-way across the world. This isn’t to say that I wouldn’t have cared at all or wouldn’t have read about it (though there are enough of those people too). It’s just that my gathering of information or news about such an event would have been from the perspective of a curious observer at best. Not from that of a person who felt engaged and involved in the process, and certainly not one who necessarily actively participated in discussions and debates about it.

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Woman v. Food

Before coming to Oxford for my post-graduate degree, I had never cooked. And when I say never, I mean never, ever, EVER. Yes, I occasionally helped out with some minor tasks at home and loved to bake, but I had never actually made anything non-sweet that was meant to be eaten by the human sort of beings.


Yummy chocolate cake by the one and only, Yöruk Bahçeli!

This was driven largely by the fact that even after I moved out of home for college, food was available in the dining hall or ‘mess’ as it’s usually called in India. Obviously, it wasn’t greaaat food and we constantly complained about it. But that is just something that college students are wont to do – as normal as gossiping and sleeping in class. The fact of the matter was that the food served was by and large of an edible quality and some dishes could even be classified as good (imagine that!). It wasn’t the home-cooked food, made with love and care that we ate at home, but it was definitely better than average and most definitely better than what some of our counterparts at other law schools were eating (I speak from personal experience).

What all this led to was my complete lack of cooking abilities when it came to real food, the kind that one usually likes to eat for meals, rather than afterwards as a dessert. Continue reading

Cultural (Un)Differences

I’m a feelings person.

What does that mean? It means that I associate with places and people through feelings – sights, noises, smells, oh the smells. Now I don’t know whether all people are feelings people or only some people are, while others fall into some other, equally curious categories. But the one big thing that comes of being a feelings person is that you get to attached to those very things, which are often, coincidentally, also the things that can define a culture or a cultural experience.

Tourists who come to India often say that the one thing that they are surprised/shocked/excited/irritated by is the explosion of all these ‘feelings’ elements and how suddenly one is bombarded with them all at once. So whenever I hear that, I always say, well that’s India for you, it’s part of our ‘culture’. And until I came to Oxford, while on the one hand I was not entirely sure what ‘culture’ meant, on the other I also always wondered whether cultural differences could be so strong as to hinder people from forming true bonds (It’s curious how our own thoughts can sometimes be so conflicting). Not because people may always be unwilling to cross that divide but because there might be some things – ways of thinking, language quirks, perspectives of the world even – which may perhaps be inexplicable and therefore, un-shareable.

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The Coffee Ritual – Part 2


Being your typical 2-10 cups of coffee a day teacher, I spend many hours and rmb (Chinese
currency) getting my fix. Often going to the local Starbucks, of which there are three within walking distance of my apartment in a quickly westernizing district in my coffee-post-1city. If I have time and am feeling adventurous I look for new coffee shops to do work in, and try to get a cappuccino comparable to those I love back in Canada. Coffee seems to be on the rise in Jiangmen and new spots pop up all the time. I like to find new places and try things out; it’s part of the adventure of a new city. I keep my old favourite places, ones for stopping in for a to go, “Dao bao” brew, and then there are shops I spend hours in, marking student work or planning lessons.

I do spend a lot of time at Starbucks. It’s convenient, it has AC, and the people smile and know how to write my name on the cup now (only took me 8 months). I think part of the reason I love that so much is because its great knowing that I am part of a community. I like familiar things, so it makes sense that each time I find myself in a new home, I try to become a part of that new community. Seeking out and drinking coffee in a new community is another chance I have to make connections and get to know the people around me. Learning how to ask for coffee in Chinese is the first step of crossing that line between living here and being a part of here.

It was nice to return to Jiangmen after a two month hiatus and find that the girl at Starbucks still wrote my name on the cup. Coffee means community to me, maybe not directly, but in an indirect way, seeking coffee shops and coffee-post-2becoming a regular and meeting new people has helped me familiarize myself here and feel at home. Of course tea is popular in China, much more so than coffee, with a whole culture behind it. Part of being in the community of Guangdong province for me, is learning what is important to the people here, and discovering how it can be important for me.

I am slowly learning my way here, and finding my place in this east meets west, tea meets coffee community. I look forward to the next coffee shop I find myself in as I explore new parts of my city, and the people I meet and the opportunities which that might bring me. Maybe you can find me hooking up to the WiFi and drinking a flat white at Starbucks, or maybe I’m searching for a tiny shop, trying to  find where I belong in China.


IMG_20151014_163737.jpgAs a kid, my exposure to coffee was limited to the weekly cold coffee/frappe with breakfast, which was a Sunday morning ritual of sorts. And while I absolutely loved that, it wasn’t something that was an integral part of my life. As I grew up, the occasional coffee with friends became a little less out of the ordinary, though having been brought up in a house of tea drinkers (my mum and grandmother guzzle tea like it’s life nectar), coffee was never big on my agenda. But things changed dramatically when I moved to Bangalore for college.

Coffee to the southern parts of India is what tea is to the English – it’s more than a hot beverage, it’s a way of life. And along with the late night study sessions and rainy days perfect for hot beverages, my love for coffee grew at a steady pace. By the end of my fifth and final year at college, I had begun to identify myself with coffee and coffee with me. The joy of sipping on that hot, milky concoction was unparalleled and got associated with countless memories – sitting on the steps of our little on-campus shop discussing life, gossiping in a friend’s hostel room, cramming away to glory for tomorrow’s exam. Having been instilled with a deep-seated fear of getting addicted to it by my parents, I frequently did self-checks by denying myself so much as as sip for a couple of days, just to convince myself I could live without it. But soon after, fully reassured, I would happily go back to drinking coffee.

coffee-post-mansiAll of this was thrown into a frenzy yet again when I moved to the UK. The weather was different, which made it next to imperative to have a hot drink in your hands. The culture was different, which meant that tea was the drink of choice for most people. And most importantly, the coffee was different, in that it was horrible. Forget the expertly made filter coffee that one found in Bangalore, coffee in the UK was so bad that I had to seriously re-think my life to the extent that it revolved around coffee. And to make matters worse, I began to hate coffee shops because they could never, EVER spell/pronounce my name correctly. It wasn’t until I had figured out a couple of coffee haunts and/or started making my own that life seemed normal again. And as I travelled more, it also became my comfort companion – I would walk around a new city, a coffee in my hands, and just take in the sights, the people, the noises. I know people who can’t survive without their early morning coffee, as soon as they get out of bed. I know others who drink it only at night for good sleep (I know, right? So bizarre). For me though, coffee has always been an all-day thing, gently spurring on countless conversations and ensuring that the awkward pauses can be filled with slurps, until there are no more and conversation is free flowing. I call it the catalyst of memories.


img_20150928_141316Oh Coffee! What a glorious thing. Coffee is always involved in every country or city I have lived in or visited. It is a constant in the midst of all the change and I find that being in a café provides a refuge from the craziness of the world you just encountered before you stepped into the café and some precious time for thought and calm before you step right back out again. It is also the perfect place for people watching! I love seeing how the people, atmosphere and coffee itself changes whether I’m in Vienna or Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (the birth place of coffee) and then again how it is strikingly similar. A microcosm of what I have experienced living abroad – the differences as well as the remarkable similarities between peoples, cultures and languages. Oh Coffee!