Are you watching?

The Olympics are so riveting for spectators.  You can’t deny getting sweaty palms as you watch the men’s speed skating or cheer on an athlete who is striving for the gold!  We identify so strongly with our country when one of our athletes earns a medal.  It’s like we personally won.

The Olympic host country has an opportunity to show the world their unique culture and put their best foot forward.  Russia is no exception. With a great deal of pride in their country, Russians started planning a Cultural Olympiad in 2010.  The Cultural Olympiad is a cultural project started by the Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee.  Since 2010, each year has a cultural theme:  2010 was the Year of the Cinema, 2011 the Year of the Theater, 2012 the Year of Music, and 2013 is the Year of the Museum.  Over a million people attended the Cultural Olympiad in 2012!

The goal is to bring together in Sochi the best cultural programs in the country. Out of the thousands of programs to choose from, the very best are on display.  Visitors to the Olympic host city can not only view the Olympic Games, but also may attend the chosen cultural events at locations in Sochi and Krasnaya Polyana.

For a view of what’s offered at the Cultural Olympiad, go to www.culture.sochi2014.com.

Greeting the new year with resolve… and celebration!

Do you ever wonder what would happen if everyone kept their New Year’s resolutions? If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say there would be 23 million pounds of collective weight loss, 536,201 people learning new languages, 760,000 more hours spent with our families, 5 million fewer smokers, 60,000 more hours of volunteer work performed, and 31,746 educational degrees finally completed.

Since we are only human, and resolutions are notoriously difficult to keep, it’s no surprise that many resolutions get repeated – rolled over, if you will – from year to year. If you didn’t stick with it last year, you have a fresh, new chance for this year. How wonderful is that?

For a list of popular New Year’s resolutions around the U.S. – and links to help you achieve them – click here.

And did you ever wonder how it all got started, or whether the practice is observed around the world?

Four thousand years ago, Babylonians marked the start of a ‘new year’ around the vernal equinox.  For 11 days, various rituals were observed during Akitu, a religious festival whose name comes from the word for barley.

All this was before the Gregorian calendar, or even before the Julian calendar, which Julius Caesar established when the early Roman calendar fell out of alignment with the sun’s seasons. Caesar marked the beginning of the year on January 1, with a nod to Janus, the Roman god of beginnings.

Today, the celebrations begin on December 31, so that revelers are awake to mark the transition to a new year. How this is marked varies around the world, but typically involves food and drink – sometimes specific food and drink thought to bring good luck for the year ahead.  Some of these include grapes in Spain, lentils in Italy, pork in Hungary, circular baked goods in the Netherlands, and rice pudding with a hidden almond in Sweden.

Fireworks, songs, and general merriment are the norm among crowds that gather to usher in the New Year. In New York, a million people assemble at the “Crossroads of the World” to watch a ball made of more than 2600 Waterford crystal triangles descend from a spire atop One Time’s Square at midnight. Millions more watch this 106-year-old tradition on television. Several other cities stage similar – albeit smaller – events.

Of course, not everyone’s New Year celebrations occur on January 1. The Chinese New Year, based on the lunar calendar, falls on January 31 in 2014. Many of the traditions of the Chinese New Year come under the heading of “fresh start.” Houses are cleaned, old items replaced with new (especially clothes), debts are paid, respects are offered to the Kitchen God, ancestors are revered, and families are reunited. It is a time to consult the feng shui master and to court good fortune for the year ahead with auspicious words and actions.

In addition to China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Malaysia are some of the other countries with Chinese New Year celebrations.

Each Chinese year is represented by a different animal on a 12-year cycle. If the New Year animal is the same as that of your birth year, you are especially fortunate. In 2014, revelers will welcome the Year of the Horse.  Characteristics associated with the horse are determination, endurance, vitality, spirit, warmth, intelligence, and ability.

Those sound like traits many of us would aspire to… Maybe we’re not done with our resolution lists after all!

Wishing you a strong resolve to keep those resolutions!

Is language a barrier for children?

Excerpts from “Raising Successful Bilingual Children”
by Susan Stewart, Head of Mother Tongue, International School of London, Surrey campus

Is your child bilingual…or trilingual? Have you lived in a number of different countries?  Do you know where you might be living in 10 years’ time?   Is your child mixing English and your home language? Does your child refuse to speak in your home language?  Are you worried about the effect this might have on them?

These are common questions for expats and multilingual families. Most parents struggling with the day-to-day issues of raising a multi-lingual child are unlikely to ask where they want their child to be in the future, yet this is precisely the starting point for most decisions about raising successful bilingual children.

Before looking at a few guidelines, however, there are some fundamentals in speaking and learning about languages which should be outlined.  First, there are two ways to learn languages:  through acquisition, the unconscious way we all learn languages as children; and through learning, the conscious and structured approach taken in learning a language other than your home language.  An acquired language is never forgotten.  A child who has acquired two languages – learnt one at home and another at school – is well on the way towards becoming a balanced bilingual, a child equally comfortable in both languages, socially, academically and, in the future, professionally.

There are many advantages to being bilingual, both professionally and socially.  There are cognitive benefits as well.  Current brain research shows that children learning two languages show more neural activity in the parts of the brain associated with language processing.  But raising a bilingual child is not always easy in families where the parents may speak different languages, or playmates may speak a different language from the home language.   Nonetheless, for parents who want their children to be balanced bilinguals, there are some basic guidelines to follow:

1.    Speak to your child in your language.
2.    Take your child back to your home country as often as possible.
3.    Have books, movies, magazines and games in your home language at home.
4.    Be proud of your language – your child will share in this.
5.    Be patient.  It takes time.

There are also a few “Don’ts” – pitfalls to avoid so as not to compromise your child’s progress.

For these, and to read the complete article, click here.

Can you really plan?

While most international assignments are free of large scale emergencies, even a small amount of preparation can make a significant difference when one occurs.

Many municipal and national governments around the globe have created websites designed to assist residents in preparation for an emergency. Examples include:

London, United Kingdom:  click here

New South Wales, Australia: click here

San Francisco, USA:  click here

Tokyo, Japan: click here

United States: click here

While each website features information specifically for local residents, there are four key areas in which all offer information of use to people everywhere:

1. Become informed.
Be aware of the potential for emergency situations not only in your host area at large, but in your home and neighborhood.

2. Develop a plan.
This not only increases your personal safety, it can significantly reduce property losses associated with disasters.

3. Gather supplies.
A first aid kit is often not enough. Consider copies of important documents, food and water. Portable electronic items, such as mobile phones and radios, should also have back-
up batteries.

4. Review your plan regularly.
As time goes on, circumstances and even everyday surroundings can change. Make sure that your emergency plans are adaptable to change, and that all participants stay well-informed.

All our reports included a detailed section on security.  To request a free trial to one of our 177 destinations, just click on the “Free Trial” button to the right!

It’s all about the kids

Everyone would agree that finding the right school is one of the most important pieces of a family relocation. But what about other aspects of your child’s life abroad? How can you make the most of life in a foreign country, with experiences that are not necessarily taught in school?
•    A new language
One of the first things to consider, before you move, is what language is spoken in your host country. Even if your native tongue is widely spoken, learning some of the local language will make your child’s experience infinitely richer. Imagine the satisfaction of being able to understand what is spoken and written around you, as opposed to relying on others to speak your language. Most home country libraries and bookstores offer many language books, videos, and  CDs. Websites and online programs are other options. Instruction is available for all age levels. Early exposure will heighten your child’s experience and ease assimilation.

•    Daily activities
Culture shock can result from moving to a place where what you encounter daily is vastly different from home. One such element takes the form of children’s activities. Was your child in a highly structured environment at home, with lessons and activities every day after school? Will her host country schedule align with that, or will she find herself with more free time to fill independently? What about socializing or celebrating with other children and families? In some countries, lavish birthday parties are the norm, with everyone in the class invited. In others, a birthday may pass quietly, with just immediate family. Knowing what to expect ahead of time can help your child prepare mentally, and to take action if necessary.

•    Local venues
Nothing immerses you in local life like attending a performance or museum. Traditional theater performed by your host country’s masters or a fascinating trip through an experiential history museum can sharpen your child’s cultural understanding. Take advantage of the unique offerings your location has to offer. Of course, certain countries lend themselves to one-of-a-kind experiences. Who wouldn’t take the opportunity to hike Machu Picchu while in Peru? Or visit the Great Wall while in China? Or visit a natural thermal pool while in Iceland?

•    Travel
One of the great benefits of living abroad comes from outside the borders of your host country. It is travel to other locations that would be out of reach from your home base. An assignment in Santiago, Chile means your family may travel to Buenos Aires, Argentina or Rio de Janeiro, Brazil more easily than from your home in London. A Canadian family on assignment in Istanbul might take a ferry trip to Athens… or a train or flight to any number of other European destinations. Travel to nearby locations enhances the opportunities offered by a family relocation.

An international assignment can change a child in positive ways. Heeding these tips can help make it a rewarding, exhilarating experience that creates wonderful memories while shaping a young life.

If you’re curious about the depth of information in our country reports, just click here to request access to one of our 177 destinations.

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Watch someone win $1500 at FEM’s Global Mobility Summit in Las Vegas!

FEM’s Global Mobility Summit took place last week in Las Vegas.  Once again the Moose Passport was a great success.  Watch the contest and see the lucky winner, Vish Beedaasy, Regional IM Tax Manager, APA at CB&I receive the $1500.

Moose Passport Winner Las Vegas 2013 from Alexander Heyne on Vimeo.

 

How do you take care of your family’s health when planning an assignment abroad?

With all the planning involved in relocation, your to-do list can be overwhelming, as can the worry that you might forget something. When it comes to your family’s health, here are some tips to help you remember important items:
1.    Get to know the health risks in your destination country. The obvious first step is finding out what vaccinations are required for entry. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website provides specific information by country. Allow plenty of time before departure, since some countries require series vaccines. Beyond that, familiarize yourself with your host country’s health profile, such as those offered by the World Health Organization (WHO). Details – such as whether it is safe to swim in certain bodies of water or whether biting insects carry disease – can be critical knowledge.

2.    Make appointments for physical exams before you leave. If vaccines are required, you may be seeing your doctor anyway. But even if not, it’s a good idea to have a check-up for every family member before your move. Any health issues can be detected, and plans made for any necessary care abroad. Dental appointments are a good idea, too.

3.    Bring medical records. Records will almost certainly be required by schools, and will ease the transition to a new physician. Be sure to keep your records up to date at all times while in your host country.  You will need them again when you move on – either back to your home country or to another assignment abroad.

4.    Pack a first aid kit. While this may seem an easy thing to leave at home and simply purchase once arrived, assembling some items specific to your family will save you time and angst. And in some countries you may not find your favored items readily available. Especially with small children, for example, a familiar cartoon printed band-aid from home can provide comfort as well as healing.

5.    Secure special needs resources. Do you have a family member with special needs? Resident accommodations and tolerance of special conditions – especially physical or mental disabilities – can vary greatly from country to country. Some schools, for example, may not accept students with special needs, physical limitations, or learning problems, and may offer limited or inadequate programs. Find out what resources will be available to you, and what prior arrangements you’ll need to make. Doctors’ statements and pharmaceutical lists may be helpful or even necessary in some cases. If anyone has serious allergies to food or medication, look into a bracelet engraved with that information in the language of your host country.

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For more health-related tips, check out Living Abroad’s destination reports on 177 locations.  We are happy to share a free trial report of your choice.

 Just click on the Free Trial Button on the right.  It’s that easy!

Here’s what an expat is saying about Living Abroad’s International Relocation Center!

By Bradley Clippinger, Bechtel, Malaysia…

Arrived in Lumut, Malaysia on Feb. 13, 2013. Been here 6 months now. I will be here for 2 more years. The culture is amazing – 70% Malay, 20% Chinese and 10% Indian. They all interact and get along very well. The rest of the world can learn from this society. Living Abroad’s culture information has been extremely helpful in the business arena and outside in the personal world.

Work is very busy working a 60 hour workweek which includes 10 hour Saturdays! But when there is some down time, the local area here in Lumut is interesting. It basically is a fishing village that is growing rapidly – with companies here such as Bechtel, Chevron, Worley Parsons, etc. But the town is learning to abide with us expats. There are two or three good restaurants – Capri is Italian and the Joot Joint is an expat bar/hangout. There are also some wonderful Indian and Chinese restaurants. The fish is great – right off the boat fresh!

Driving was a challenge at first as they drive on the ‘other’ side of the road from the US. Now I am so used to it I am a bit nervous to drive back in the US! I have had a chance to see parts of the country – which is one big jungle. Kuala Lumpur , the capital, is a nice city. Plenty of food and shopping. Penang is a great island resort about 3 hours north of Lumut. Great beaches and diving. Pangkor Laut is a 5 star resort about 15 min from Lumut. Incredible getaway – but bring your money – it’s not cheap.

Other than that, Malaysia is very affordable. Food is cheap – but alcohol is not – as a Muslim country it is heavily taxed – say about USD 45 for a case of beer. The housing in Lumut has been a pleasant surprise. Good western style homes and a good size. Great community and very safe. Malaysia in general is quite safe.

Brad Clippinger smallest

Have you ever heard of “Pura Vida”?

My family and I love to travel, especially internationally.  But traveling with a family of six can be cost prohibitive.  Fortunately, we found a great rate going to Costa Rica, and we’ve just returned from our trip.

Pura vida is a characteristic Costa Rican phrase. It literally means pure life, however the phrase can be used in many ways:  it can be used both as a greeting or a farewell, as an answer expressing that things are going well, or as a way of giving thanks.

Working in the global mobility industry for over 16 years has given me a different perspective about traveling.  I know reading about a location is not the same as being there. But Living Abroad has a great detailed report on Costa Rica that gave me the information I needed.

Here are the best tips I learned before our vacation:

1.    Learn about the history.

The people of Costa Rica, which was colonized by Columbus, are mostly Spanish or of Spanish/mixed descent.  Early explorers brought diseases with them that killed most of the indigenous people.  While Costa Rica is a predominantly Catholic country, many other religious groups have staked their claims and converted about 25% of the population.

2.    Understand the culture.

The people are extremely friendly in Costa Rica and many speak English.  Since ecotourism accounts for much of their economy, the service is excellent, and they go out of their way to make foreigners feel comfortable.  Costa Rica exports bananas, pineapple, coffee, sugar, and rice to both North and South America, which also fuels the economy.

3.    Find out about educational beliefs.

In 1948, president José Figueres Ferrer disbanded the Costa Rican army and used the money from the military to build schools and make education, culture and security a priority.  Every small village has some type of school and the literacy rate is 92%.  Education is mandatory, which attracts neighboring Nicaraguans.

4.    Read up on tipping and currency exchange.

Costa Rica accepts US Dollars, but will give you change in Colones, the native currency, which is about 500 Colones to 1 US Dollar.  Tipping is expected by drivers and tour guides, but most restaurants include the tax of 13% plus 10% gratuity in the final bill.

5.    Research recreational activities.

If you are going for business, what activities are there to do on the weekend?  Since we were there for vacation, the 26 national parks (wow), coasts on both the Atlantic and Pacific, volcanoes and rivers offered unlimited sources for fun and enjoyment.

6.    What will I eat?

Loving food as much as I do, I wanted to learn about the local cuisine.  Casados are what the locals eat for lunch, dinner and a variation of this meal for breakfast.  A casado is rice, beans and your choice of meat with some greens and fried plantains. Delicious!  Tropical fruits of all types abound and they are served fresh and perfectly ripe.

7.    Memorize some phrases in the native language.

You hear this all the time, but it really does make a difference when you try to communicate in the native tongue.  Although I learned Spanish in high school, a few days in the country was enough to trigger my memory.  One hotel clerk even said my accent was very good!

As we all travel around the world, it’s important to remember we are ambassadors of our company and country.

Pura Vida, as they say in Costa Rica!

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Brush up on your country knowledge before you go, with Living Abroad’s destination reports on 177 locations.  We are happy to share a free trial on a report of your choice.

Just click on the Free Trial Button to the right.  It’s that easy!

It’s that time again!

It’s mid-August, and that usually means one thing: school is looming. The summer season – in Northern Hemisphere countries, at least – lasts until well into September. But if you ask anyone of school age, summer ends the day the school doors open.

It may surprise both students and their parents just how much school calendars vary around the world. Even within the U.S., start dates overwhelmingly are determined at the local district level, so neighboring towns can start on different days.  The majority of students in the U.S. – about 75% – start school before Labor Day, observed on the first Monday in September.

Some start long before Labor Day. Atlanta public schools began on August 7 this year.  Los Angeles public schools began instruction on August 13.

Atlanta also has a year-round option, which is a topic of increasing debate around the country. Proponents believe it alleviates the “summer slide” – the loss of learning that occurs during a three-month vacation gap. Opponents say it wreaks havoc with family calendars (especially those with children in multiple schools juggling different academic breaks) and that performance data supporting year-round school is inconclusive.

Despite the wide variety of start and end dates, the actual number of days in U.S. schools is fairly uniform. Most public schools require about 180 days of school each year. Of course, those in locations that experience winter weather typically have to build in snow days which, if exceeded, can extend the calendar at the end of the year to make up for days when the school is closed.

If some American children feel the school year is endless, consider the academic calendars elsewhere. In China, children go to school for 251 days. Japanese children go to school for 243 days, Koreans for 220 days, Israelis for 215 days, and Germans for 210 days.  The actual number of instruction hours can vary by student age, with young children in school for shorter periods than older ones.

For example, a typical Chinese elementary school student’s day begins at 0800 and ends at 1700, with a two-hour midday break. A middle school student’s day begins at 0700 and ends at 2100, with midday and dinner-time breaks. By the time a Chinese student is in high school, his or her day begins at 0700 and ends at 2300 with an “evening session” after a day that includes two breaks. [Source:  Yao Zhang, founder of Minds Abroad.]

So, while so many children are gearing up for school, maybe one lesson to be learned even before they hit the classroom is that there are many schools of thought about how students learn best!

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