Family travel overseas? Read expat blogs

What’s an expat? An “expatriate” is someone who lives away from his or her home country, usually for an extended period of time.

I’ve been an expat in Bahrain, Japan and the Netherlands, but the Web and expat Web sites/blogs weren’t all that widespread until my Netherlands stint. Since we lived in Limburg, near Maastricht, and most expat sites focused on Americans living in Amsterdam or Den Haag, I still didn’t get as much of a sense of community from them as I would have liked.

We were also on dial-up in our Dutch house (with a Belgian ISP) and local calls are not free in the Netherlands, so surfing was rather expensive. One of those things you learn only by living there.

Still, if you are going to travel to a country, even if you won’t live there, I can’t think of a better way to learn the nitty-gritty details than by surfing some of these links for insight:

There are directories of expat blogs here and here, and half-year expat Pam (some Seattle, some Austria) talks a little about expat blogging here.

Don’t miss the comprehensive Web site and magazine Transitions Abroad; their list of expat Web sites is here.

The UK’s Guardian newspaper Web site has a wonderful section written by and for expats in many different countries: Guardian Abroad. I’d never heard the term “expat” until I met British citizens on the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia during a Navy port visit on my first ship. In many ways, the Brits wrote the book on being an expat.

Want family-specific stuff? Check out Family Life Abroad for all sorts of articles and tips. For Japan there’s a new site, Piqniq — the Piqniq blogs from people living in Japan are here (to access the full site you must register, but it’s free.)

When you live in a country for awhile, you draw experiences from everyday life, like watching local TV. My husband wanted to keep up with the golf scene, so he’d watch tournaments broadcast in Japanese because the patter from the commentator wasn’t that important to him and he could still follow the action. He did enjoy hearing the English golf terms mixed with Japanese; “something-something-something-Birdie des ka!”

We loved watching Japanese commercials, and so do the folks on this site. If you want to understand a nation’s sense of humor, their commercials are a great way to do it (so what does that tell people about Americans if they watch our Super Bowl commercials? Hmmmm….)

As a former Navy person, I love this blog, written by a Navy spouse stationed with her Sailor husband where I used to live: Sasebo, in Kyushu, near the city of Fukuoka. Reading it brings back so many memories for me — and for my husband, who REALLY lived in Japan since I was deployed on the ship all the time!

Some of the best books about living in another country are in the Culture Shock series; they’ll give you so much more information than a standard guidebook. It’s also useful to read English-language newspapers published in the country you’ll visit, especially their Life/Travel/Recreation section.

Our family hopes to live overseas again, but even if we’re just passing through a country as a visitor, we always see what those expats have to say.

Update just after posting: Thanks to an email from co-founder Andrea Martins, I’ve just learned of a brand-spankin’-new expat site, Expat Women. They released a newsletter here, and are collecting expat blogs to fire up a new blog section as well. Andrea is from Brisbane, Australia, with stops in Jakarta and Mexico City. There are all sorts of women here living in all sorts of places, so go check it out.

Update 13 March 2007: At a SXSW Interactive evening social event, I met and exchanged business cards with writer/photographer Wes Eichenwald. He lived as an expat in Slovenia for awhile, and I enjoyed his thoughtful impressions of how an expat feels when returning to the US after living overseas.

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