Finding the expat community and what travelers can learn from them

No matter how well-traveled you are, moving to a foreign country and living as an expat is a whole new ballgame. Your priorities and standards change, and hours that you may have spent as a traveler in a museum or wandering a beach are now spent in as an expat search of an alarm clock or trying to distinguish between eight types of yogurt. You become like a child again: unable to speak in complete sentences, easily confused and lost, and constantly asking questions.

Enter the experienced expats who can help navigate visa issues, teach you dirty words in foreign languages, and tell you where to buy pork in a Muslim country. Finding the local expat community is not about refusing to integrate or assimilate in your new country, but rather meeting a group of like-minded people who understand what you are going through and can provide a bridge to the local community and culture.

So what can the traveler learn from an expat? How about where to buy souvenirs that are actually made nearby and well priced, restaurants not mentioned in any guidebooks, bizarre-but-true stories behind local places and rituals, and inside perspectives on community news and events? And those are just the Istanbul bloggers.

Read on for tips on finding the blogs and a few of the must-reads for travelers.Where to find the expats:

  • Expat forums such as ExpatFocus, InterNations, and Expat Blog are good starting points for finding and connecting with expats, though some forums may be more active than others.
  • Local English-language publications: Many big cities have a Time Out magazine in English and local language, often with frequently-updated blogs or links to other sites. In Istanbul, the newspaper Today’s Zaman has an “expat zone” full of useful articles.
  • Guidebook writers are often current or former expats, so if you read a helpful guide or travel article, it’s worth a Google search to find if they have a blog or Twitter account.

Some stellar expat bloggers around the globe:

  • Carpetblogger: sarcastic, insightful blogger based in Istanbul but with lots of coverage on Central Asia, the Caucasus, and Indonesia. Stand-out post: expat guide to duty free shopping.
  • Miss Expatria: prolific writer and instantly-loveable American in Rome, a joy to read even if you have no plans to visit Italy, but you might find yourself buying tickets after reading about her life. Stand-out post: Italian idioms.
  • CNNGo: great round-up of finds in Asia from Bangkok to Tokyo with everything from restaurant reviews to a look at Tokyo’s elevator ladies. Stand-out post: Japan’s oddest vending machines, a favorite topic of Mike Barish, who has chronicled some of the vending machine beverages for your reading pleasure..
  • Bermuda Shorts: Enviable (and crushworthy, too) travel writer David LaHuta covers all the goings-on in Bermuda and all things Dark n Stormy-related. Stand-out post: name suggestions for new Indiana Jones movie set in Bermuda Triangle.
  • Fly Brother: Series of funny and poignant misadventures in Brazil and around the world from the African American perspective. Stand-out post: how an afternoon of seemingly simple errands can take up to seven hours.

The next time you plan a trip abroad, consider reaching out to a fellow American (or Canadian, Brit, etc.) for some advice or even a coffee meeting (assuming you aren’t a total psycho). I, for one, am happy to offer Istanbul tips and tricks, and I’d be even more amenable to helping a traveler who comes bearing Boar’s Head bacon.

Any expat blogs you follow or travel tips you’ve learned from them? Expat bloggers want to share your websites and your insights for travelers? Leave a note in the comments below.

Times of India and circle of peace: An expat story

Even though this was Martha’s week to cover The Amazing Race, I was once again drawn into the foray of the global dash. When the teams were told to pick up The Times of India when they got to Mumbai, I flashed on my own The Times of India connection. It links to the theme of Aaron’s recent expat post and the question of expats and lifestyle.

The expat question is a complicated issue that I have thought about with every place I’ve lived overseas. One notion, I think, has something to do with intention and motivation for living in a country. We didn’t move to New Delhi, India, for example, with the intention of making India a permanent home. I also think it has to do with economics. Expats, in my mind, have more money and perks, in general, than they do when they live in their own country.

Our expat life in India was due to the teaching jobs that took us there. As expats, we were more immersed in India than if we were just traveling there, but we always knew we would eventually move on, so the experience was not the same as if we thought we’d live there for years and years. What people do with their expat experience, however, has to do with how they view living in another culture. Some people live totally surrounded by other expats, often people from their own country. Others, like us, do what they can to make the country that is not theirs feel like home and to take part in the culture as much as possible. Also, when we lived in India, our jobs offered another unique perspective.

When you work with young people like we did as teachers, one goal is to help them see themselves as part of the world community. Kelly wrote about this somewhat when she visited her friends in China and wrote about it in her series, Chinese Buffet. Often, the view happens to be of a place of privilege, but in international and American schools where kids of many nationalities come together in classrooms there is an opportunity to envision a world where everyone might get along.

There are several times when I taught overseas when this vision was evident, but the most powerful was September 11, 2002. Considering the news from Pakistan this past week, I’m reminded about that day, the hope that was generated by a bunch of middle-schoolers, and an essay I wrote about it.

The essay was published in The Times of India and since I found the link, here it is. I have no idea what happened to the paragraphing when the paper put it on-line, but you’ll get the idea. Consider this a story to carry over to the new year. It’s an expat story that offers up the potential for peace. At least if the kids who made the wooden doves that day remember what it felt like.