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vacation

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"You look like a tourist!"

new yorker island tourist august 5.jpg

Expats who explore everything their new country has to offer have an easier time adjusting than those who stick to basic routines of staying at home-going to work-coming back home. Venturing beyond the obligatory tourist attractions facilitates a deeper cultural experience and broader layers of understanding.

Meet more locals, eat more food, try a new hobby.

I invite you this week to look at the town you're living in with the eyes of a tourist. Even if it's your hometown you never left - what could you do to freshen things up? I don't do this enough myself, e.g. I've lived near Dallas since 2007 and have yet to visit the 6th floor museum. I waited for friends to visit me to go to a rodeo or the Southfork Ranch, made famous by the 80s TV show. 

For some reason, not being considered a tourist was super important to me while living in Barcelona. Many Germans who visit the Catalan capital leave a bad impression, so I wanted to make sure not to be lumped in with them. Also, once I got settled, every-day life took over, and just because the beach was there didn't mean I had to go see it every day. I knew it would still be there tomorrow. 

But, really, what's so wrong with looking like a tourist? We're all just temporarily on this planet anyway - our time is limited, so maybe we can squeeze a little more joy out of it. Embrace your inner tourist, treat life like a vacation, dust off your sense of wonder, let your curiosity roam free, and have some fun today! 

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Unplug

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Unplug

Unplug is not only the title of a very informative and interesting series of educational videos by ICT leader Ericsson, it's also what I've been doing for a few weeks while on vacation. Here's why I highly recommend it:

1. Who in their right mind would rather spend time looking at a screen when they could look at this view? Connect with nature! Granted, the picture isn't as focused as it could be, but then again - no picture can do this tranquil and picturesque mountainside justice, with the birds chirping and the neighbor's dog barking down the road.

View from Santa Brigida
View from Santa Brigida

If the beach is more your thing, I've got pictures of that, too. Next post. ;-)

2. Reconnect with your calmer self. Remember that space in your soul ca. 1995 when you didn't feel anxious about missed tweets or facebook updates? You were still in the loop with people you cared about - because either they dropped by for dinner or you spoke on the phone. Was the world really running less effectively then than it is now? How is staying up-to-date with all the news today helping you change things?

3. Real life allows new ideas to form, thoughts and feelings to pop up and be acknowledged, that then can be shared in your virtual life. Like I'm doing now. So... what's my point? Take a break from the virtual! A loooonger one than the usual couple hours! One that actually gives you time to breathe it all in, reflect on what's happening, the kind of person you are and who you want to be. Feel into the moment without wondering how to word it in 140 characters or less.

Happy unplugging!

Image by Brad K, Flickr, Creative Commons License

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How to stay sane on trips "home"

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How to stay sane on trips "home"

If you have ever ventured outside the womb the town that you grew up in, be it nationally or internationally, and then took a trip "home," you'll know what I'm talking about. Here are some tips on how to deal with thoughts from "how did I ever survive here?" to "why don't they get me?"

Generally speaking, the phenomenon of reverse culture shock and the in repat circles widely lamented feelings of "wow, I don't think I fit in here anymore" can be ascribed to the human ability, nay, our inherent programming of getting accustomed to everything. In other words, if you have soup every day, your palate will lose the craving for a sandwich. Likewise, if your life happens within a geographically and socially limited arena (and by that I mean you hang out in the same place with the same people all the time), you don't know what you're missing. Or maybe you do, and then you watch NatGeo or the travelchannel, read books, and find that you're at least traveling in your mind. Great start! Next up: language classes and tango lessons at the local community center!

What I'm getting at is that once you break out of your comfort zone, the home you've always known and the community who still happily recounts the noodle incident from the pre-school picnic when you were five, you can't help but grow. You develop skills in communicating with people from different walks of life and countries, and you learn to adapt your behavior to what is culturally more acceptable in your new environment.

The level of reverse culture shock, i.e. when the place and people you called home all your life seem more alien to you than the country on the other side of the globe where you've just spent three years working, depends on several factors, such as the length of time you've been away, how open you are to new experiences, or how involved you've stayed with your old home-base. Some people, therefore, don't experience culture shock but more like a mild culture surprise.

Let's assume you've been away for a few years and are now coming back feeling like you don't quite belong anymore: relax, that's completely normal. As stated above, you've grown and your familiar frame of reference has grown. Where you never used to miss a Sushi restaurant, the local cuisine may now strike you as boring. The cinema connected with happy youngster back-row smooching memories may no longer be able to fill the place theater and ballet have now left vacant in your heart. So, how can you reconcile the old and new you?

With a "yes, and" attitude. Instead of focusing on what you don't have anymore, feast your eye on what has come back to be yours for the taking. Instead of giving up the international lifestyle, find ways to integrate what you have learned abroad into your everyday life back at home, e.g. by participating in expat forums or starting a group for interested people in your community where you can exchange stories and maybe even teach a little about the big wide world out there. If you're only home for a vacation, enjoy the people and make the most of your time talking and catching up with old friends and family.

The trick is not to be hurt because they don't appreciate your fascinating stories from the far side of the planet, or get annoyed at their seemingly unimportant daily struggles. Remember that your frame of reference was very similar not too long ago, and that during the time you've done and experienced all your adventures, their lives continued, too.

A good exercise is using the listening skills you had to employ when you first went abroad: now pay attention to your old gang and notice their body language. When you're talking about white sandy beaches you've been served (enter your drink of choice here) at, do they seem defensive? When you explain your latest professional successes in great detail, do their eyes glaze over?

For all your stories, choose your audience wisely, and never brag. People can't help but compare themselves, and I'm sure you can understand the cavemen who considered pulling the guy who left the cave back in. Why? Because if he goes out and finds more food or a better cave, then those who didn't go will look bad for staying behind. There are always going to be people who are happy in their comfort zones, until the unpleasant moment of having what they're missing rubbed in their faces. And who wants to keep talking to that guy?

Note I'm not saying to hide your light under a bushel. Simply use some finesse and empathy, remember your sense of humor, and enjoy building the life you want wherever you are. Next time you're wondering where you belong, why not try on the idea that you are, in fact, accustoming yourself to keeping on growing. Frank Zappa said the mind is like a parachute; it works best when wide open. I love that saying.

How about you? Til next time!

Image by James Wang, flickr, Creative Commons license  

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Quickie

For the second time this year I have the great privilege and joy to travel the United States. This time, I've reached the far north-western beauty that is Seattle! Some might say the city's pearls are wasted on me (I don't like coffee, have little to do with information technology beyond consumer level interest, and wasn't even that much into grunge when it was in) but I'm having a whale of a time - just shy of actually being able to visit the magnificent creatures in their habitat in B.C. (Canada) due to my limited foresight and not bringing my passport.

My loving this trip in no short measure thanks to a) the dry climate (I don't mind the cold, you can put on a sweater for the cold, but rain? Rain is always dreary and depressing if you want to go outside and have to walk around in it.), b) comfortable shoes (I love walking around and downtown is very explorable on foot if you don't mind the odd hill), and c) my friend, who shall remain anonymous, but is a great pleasure to see, catch up, and have one of the locally brewed beers with. :-)

Since I'm on my way back to the Space Needle and exchange one of the T-Shirts I bought, let me leave you to your own endeavors of what I hope is a beautiful day with a couple of announcements: I'm working on a new website that should go live as soon as I'm able to figure out how to navigate my new web-hoster, and secondly, keep your eyes peeled for details of my next speaking engagement at the Families in Global Transition Conference. It's a great honor to be included in the ranks of participants, and I hope to see many of you international gallivanters there.

In case you've got some time to spare, I've been thoroughly enjoying Seth Godin's blog, especially this particular article here. He also has his new book available for audio-download on itunes; I hope to listen to it on my flight back to Texas. For now, do take care, count your blessings, and try something new!

Til next time, have a good one.

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Have you planned this summer's vacation yet?

Temperatures have been high for a few months now here in Texas, but it's now officially summer everywhere. In Europe, kids are finishing school right about this month which means their parents can finally take two or three of their average annual six weeks paid vacation and take the tykes somewhere nice. What are your plans?

If you live in the USA, you might want to close your mouth now before you swallow a fly. Yes, European office workers get about six weeks off. (Relax, they pay pretty steep taxes and gas prices are even higher over there, so it does even itself out.) Now, you may feel short-changed as most American workers get about ten days paid leave per year, but my point is, when you do use them, however many they are, do try and make the most of it.

For instance, if you're planning on going to Spain, go this month or in the fall, because most of the country closes down in August. No kidding. Literally. Their normal two-hour siesta-hiatus every afternoon notwithstanding, owners of local shops, restaurants, bars and taverns even in tourist-meccas like Barcelona leave the city in August, most of them for the entire month. Of course, having said that, there's still plenty of beach, architecture, museums, parks and exclusive shops to enjoy; I just find it hasn't the same flavour when the locals are away.

No matter where you go, while you plan your get-away, make sure you've taken care of everything so you can enjoy your time away and relax without worrying about your home or your work. Is your passport up-to-date? Have you had the medical check-ups and vaccines recommended for your destination? Are all the bills that'll arrive while you're out taken care of? Did you enlist a friend or relative to check your mail and water your plants? As for your job, have you instructed your substitute what to do with special customers? Have you set up your out-of-office reply? Have you given yourself permission to go away without having to check in with anyone or take phone-calls? Because I'm sorry to hammer it home here, but if you want a holiday, the BlackBerry has to stay put!

Holiday or vacation do not equal working from home, the hotel, or by the pool. Just imagine the cocktail spilling over your laptop! No, no, better leave it; the company will thank you for saving money on new hardware. But now, do you know where you're going? Have you found a good deal on cheap flights or an adventure-packed excursion? Are you going with people you like, who you don't mind spending a lot of time with (seeing you first thing in the morning, no make-up etc), or are you going in a group to make new friends? Either way, if you're not the happy-go-lucky type, do take some time and make a plan of which sights you want to see and how your expectations fit in with those of the people traveling with you, or you might want to kick yourself afterward. I don't recommend being the guy who went to Paris and didn't see the Eiffel Tower ("That's HERE?" Billy Crystal, Forget Paris).

Of course there's no need to go to Europe to have an adventure, reconnecting to your home state is always a great idea, plus you don't need weeks to go exploring, a long weekend like this one does nicely. Whatever you do, have a great independence day, and wherever you go this summer, I hope you have the time of your life. Do check out this article about how to make those memories last, so that when you do have a blast, you'll remember to tell us here all about it.

Til next time!

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