33 Clickbait Headlines for Expats—Number 12 Will Make You Gasp [—at A Life Overseas]

December 27, 2017 § Leave a comment

Giorgi - Shocked

Normally, clickbait headlines are created simply to grab clicks—and clicks and clicks and more clicks. But you can’t click on the titles below, since there aren’t any stories linked to them. Instead, if being an expat is in your past, present, or future, the stories are up to you, to write or live out yourselves.

So here’s to the new year . . . and all the stories ahead!

  1. They had no idea why all the nationals were staring at them
  2. She said the same thing to her neighbor every morning for a month—until her language teacher explained to her what it meant
  3. Only 1 in 1000 people can identify these countries by their shapes—can you?
  4. He thought his carryon would fit in the overhead bin, then this happened
  5. 5 things visa officers don’t want you to know

See the rest of the list at A Life Overseas

[photo: “Giorgi – Shocked,” by japrea, used under a Creative Commons licesnse]

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Of Big Macs, KFCs, and Tall Lattes: A Full Menu of Global Indexes

October 9, 2017 § 1 Comment

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I’ve always wondered about the “heat index” and “chill factor,” ways to say, “We know how hot or cold it is, but here’s how it feels.” Obviously there are scientific factors figured into the calculations, but it makes me think we could also have a “Great Grandma Gordon Index”: “I’m telling you, it’s at least 125 degrees in the shade!” or a “Guy Who Lives Down the Block Index: “It’s so cold I can’t feel my left foot!”

When you travel, you see how much weather standards aren’t standardized around the world, either. For people in hot climates, the winter parkas might come out when the temperature dips below 60°F, or for those where cold is routine, when they register the same temp, it’s time to put on shorts.

But keeping track of relative weather norms isn’t the only concern when going abroad. There’s also that finances thing. You want to know how much money you’ll need to spend while spending time in another city—in terms that make sense. So you might be thinking “How much does, for instance, a Big Mac cost there?”

Well, funny you should ask.

One of the most well-known economic indexes has the answer. Taking its name from the classic McDonald’s sandwich, the Big Mac Index was developed in 1986 by The Economist “as a lighthearted guide to whether currencies are at their ‘correct’ level.”

“Burgernomics,” says The Economist “was never intended as a precise gauge of currency misalignment, merely a tool to make exchange-rate theory more digestible.” But the Big Mac Index has gotten a lot of weighty attention, garnering coverage in textbooks and academic studies. In fact, the index is taken seriously enough that a New York Times article postulated in 2011 that Argentina was artificially keeping its Big Mac prices down to influence its place on the scale. And Computerworld reported this year that the malware Fatboy, a ransomware-as-a-service (software that locks up a computer and demands payment to decrypt its data) uses the Big Mac Index to determine how much ransom needs to be paid for a particular location.

The Big Mac Index is based on the idea of purchasing-power parity. I’m not an economist, so it’s easy for me to get lost in the weeds on economic theories. But rather than use it as a rigorous currency-valuation metric, I see it more as a quick-and-dirty cost-of-living index.

If you have a hunger for that type of thing, too, I’m glad to tell you there’s much more on the menu than just the Big Mac. Here’s a list to whet your appetite:

The Tall Latte Index
Also called the Starbuck’s index, this is another iteration from The Economist, comparing prices from the coffee chain.

The KFC Index
Because McDonald’s has restaurants in only three African countries, the Big Mac Index doesn’t work very well on that continent. Therefore, Sagaci Research developed an index based on KFCs, which are present in nearly 20 nations in Africa. The metric is based on the price of an Original Recipe 15-piece bucket.

The Mini Mac Index
Invented by Benn Steil and Emma Smith of the Council on Foreign Relations, it compares the global prices of iPad Minis.

McDonald’s Index of Humanitarian Access
Jonathan Whittall, head of humanitarian analysis at Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders writes that

no country with a McDonald’s has ever rejected humanitarianism on ideological grounds. It is in those states where the economic and political influence of the west still has space that all components of the west’s foreign policy are accepted: both McDonald’s and INGOs.

The Coca-Cola Index
This analysis branches out a bit more, showing the relationship of Coke consumption with quality-of-life factors. Using UN figures, The Economist (those guys sure are busy), shows that countries’ higher rates of Coca-Cola drinking correlate with higher wealth, health, and political freedom. Have a Coke and a smile?

The Happy Planet Index
Speaking of smiles, the New Economics Foundation publishes this global ranking of “how efficiently residents of different countries are using environmental resources to lead long, happy lives.” (I really wanted to find a “Happy Meal Index,” but so far, it hasn’t been created yet.)

And while we’re on the topic of quality of life, we have

The Better Life Index
from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development

The Legatum Prosperity Index

The Human Development Index and The Gender Development Index
from the United Nations Development Programme, and

The Where-to-Be-Born Index
from the Economist Intelligence Unit

And finally, if you’re looking for some straight-up cost-of-living indexes, take a look at

Expatistan’s Cost of Living Index and

Numbeo Indexes
The Numbeo site describes itself as “the world’s largest database of user contributed data about cities and countries worldwide.” Not only does it have an overall cost-of-living index, it also includes indexes that compare property prices, crime, health care, pollution, traffic, quality of life, and travel costs.


(D.H. and R.L.W, “The Big Mac Index,” The Economist, July 13, 2017; Daniel Politi, “Argentina’s Big Mac Attack,” Latitude, The New York Times, November 24, 2011; Darlene Storm, “Local Cost of a Big Mac Decides Ransom Amount for Fatboy Ransomware,” Computerworld, May 8, 2017; Jonathan Whittall, “The McDonald’s Index of Humanitarian Access,” MSF Analysis, February 7, 2014)


[photo: “NRT: McDonald’s Menu,” by jpellgen, used under a Creative Commons license]

It Won’t Be the Same without You: Join The Expat Survey 2013

November 19, 2013 § Leave a comment

2444717300_abb533fa6d_mThe logo for The Expat Survey 2013 is a hummingbird, “because just like human beings each one has its own migratory flight pattern.”

If you’re an expatriate, the Expat Survey wants to hear about your migrations, as well as your “remarkable diversity of habitats.”

The survey is made up of three parts, each rolled out separately, with the final section going live tomorrow (update: the third section went live November 27). All portions of the survey will remain available online until December 31.

The three sections are

  • Migration & Lifestyle
    “[H]ave you found it easy to integrate, what do you like or dislike about your adopted home, has life changed considerably and how do you stay in touch with family, friends and the outside world?”
  • Retail & Finance
    “Whether you are working or not, what are your important considerations when it comes to personal or household expenditure, banking and investments; and what information resources do you now tend to turn to when making these decisions and future fiscal planning?”
  • Travel & Health
    “Has your move to a warmer or colder climate changed your perspective of the world and the places and people you choose to visit; and what modes of transport do you use to get there? Do you enjoy a better diet and benefit from improved health and if you have had cause to call upon your local medical services were they sufficient?”

Besides having their voices heard, expats who fill out all three portions of the survey will be entered into a drawing for £1,000.

An independent London organization, i-World Research Limited, is conducting The Expat Survey, and it’s being promoted by 10 “collaborative partners.” One of those partners, Max Media International, calls the survey “the largest and most extensive independent global research programme ever conducted on those residing outside of their country of origin.”

To take part, go to The Expat Survey 2013.

(“Expatriate Specialism Agency Joins Expat Survey 2013,” Max Media International, July 10, 2013)

[photo: “Rufous Hummingbird—All fired up to impress the ladies!,” by Rick Leche, used under a Creative Commons license]

Regrets and Remembrances: A Prayer for Those Who Leave Home

January 17, 2013 § 2 Comments

With one plane ride the whole world as TCKs have known it can die. Every important place they’ve been, every tree climbed, pet owned, and virtually every close friend they’ve made are gone with the closing of the airplane door.
—David Pollock and Ruth Van Reken, Third Culture Kids

5420666395_e086b79cf9_mThis closing door doesn’t just happen to Third Culture Kids. It’s also the experience of immigrants who leave behind many what-could-have-beens in their old country. Cross-cultural workers feel the door close when they leave their work and return “home.” (What other job requires you to leave the country once you’re no longer on the payroll?) International students close the door with the hopes that new opportunities will open many more. And refugees often see the door slammed and locked by soldiers carrying guns.

5420666545_cd2c078381_mBut while the door is closed, the mind is still open to thoughts about what was left behind. Some thoughts are joyous and life giving. Some are hurtful and life stealing. And often they come intricately, painfully intertwined, called up by a scent, a word, a sound, a flavor, a feeling or a dream. Bittersweet.

For those who find themselves on the other side of a closed door, I offer this prayer, inspired by Reinhold Niebuhr’s “Serenity Prayer.”

God, grant me the confidence to let go of the regrets that I should not hold on to,
The ability to hold on to the memories I should not let go of,
And the wisdom to separate the one from the other. Amen.

(David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken, Third Culture Kids: Growing Up among Worlds, Boston: Nicholas Brealey, 2009)

[illustrations: (upper) “Joined” and (lower) “Cupped“) by Pete Hobden, used under a Creative Commons license]

Roundball Diplomacy in Iran: A Documentary

September 22, 2012 § 4 Comments

Here’s another entry in the category of basketball diplomacy*. When director Till Schauder found Kevin Sheppard, a point guard from the US Virgin Islands, playing professionally in the Iranian Super League, he made him the focus of his documentary, The Iran Job. The film follows Sheppard’s season with his team, A.S. Shiraz, and his spirited interactions with the Iranian people. In particular, Sheppard forms a relationship with three women—who bravely face the cameras, remove their head coverings, and share their views about the current culture in Iran. Shauder writes:

Iran is often portrayed as a terrorist nation, a nuclear threat, and a charter member of the Axis of Evil bent on the destruction of Israel. But behind the headlines—and the aggressive rhetoric of Iran’s hard-line leaders—lies one of the most fascinating nations, as sensuous as it can be challenging, with a life-loving people. This film focuses on Iran’s people, rather than its government, and I hope it can challenge perceptions of Iran by providing an authentic perspective that may be crucial when choices are made between war and peace. It is probably safe to say that getting Iran “right” is as impossible as getting any culture “right.” Nonetheless, for their people and for ours, it should be a high priority. . . . More than a fish-out-of-water sports documentary this film focuses on social issues including women’s rights, political freedom and religious conflict, through the lens of a black American basketball player.

The Iran Job is being screened in selected US theaters, and DVDs are available at Kickstarter.

*For more examples of basketball diplomats, see my other posts on Stephon MarburyYao Ming, and Jeremy Lin.

[photo of a basketball goal in Varamin, Iran: “Retired hoop!” by Blake Amin Tabrizi, used under a Creative Commons license]

Departures and Repatriations: Crossing the Great Divide

September 14, 2012 § 3 Comments

“Never die in Taiwan.”

That’s what the poor man at the American Institute in Taiwan said. AIT serves as a de facto US embassy in Taiwan, and I was there taking care of some routine matters. Others, like the student I met who had been so excited about navigating the city in a taxi by himself that he left his backpack and passport in the cab, had more pressing issues.

The man who turned away from the window in despair, who told us all, “Never die in Taiwan,” had just presented documentation concerning his recently deceased wife. He needed to prove that she had died to show that he wasn’t trying to remove his children from the country against her wishes. This was his second or third visit, and the person behind the window was sending him back for translated copies—from Chinese to English, or from English to Chinese—or for some other paperwork that seemed impossible to obtain. The man looked so defeated. The death of a loved one overseas must truly be a distressing experience, in so many ways. I can only imagine how hard it is.

Recently I was jumping around the Web and looked up repats just to see what was out there on the repatriation process, say, for returning cross-cultural workers. One of the top sites listed was repats.com. That seemed like just what I was looking for, but the text underneath wasn’t what I expected:

Funeral Repatriations – Rapatriements funéraire – Funeraire repatriëring

So repats.com is a funeral site. That means, I thought, that repatriation must refer to sending a person’s spirit back “home,” to heaven. What an interesting use of the word. But as it turns out (as most of you probably already knew), for funeral operators, repatriation means returning the deceased’s remains to the country of origin.

Obviously, there is a lot to take care of in this kind of repatriation process: There are laws to follow, the paperwork, the physical aspect of transporting the body, the expense, the disruption of normal day-to-day life overseas, the stress and grief, and the coordination of cultural and religious customs. Avalon Repatriation Services, located in the United Kingdom, gives the following overview of some of the varied practices around the world:

  • In France for example, a body must be embalmed and placed in a wooden coffin 24 hours after death.
  • In Islamic countries, it is the widely-held belief that the deceased should be buried before sundown or within 24 hours, without embalming.
  • In the United States, embalming is common practice. In many countries—when embalming does take place—it is a qualified embalmer’s job, whereas in some countries, for example Portugal and Spain, it is against the law for anyone but a qualified doctor to undertake this procedure.
  • Those of Jewish faith believe that the body should be returned to the earth it came from and are therefore against cremation.
  • Hindus cremate their dead, believing that the burning of a dead body signifies the release of the spirit and that the flames represent Brahma, the creator.

My misunderstanding the meaning of repatriation reminds me of the Japanese film Departures, winner of the 2009 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. It tells the story of an unemployed cellist, Daigo, who answers a newspaper ad titled “Departures.” He thinks he’s applying for a travel-agency job but instead ends up taking a job as a nokanshi, someone who ceremonially prepares bodies for burial. Daigo learns the trade from Sasaki, his boss, who becomes his mentor. And Daigo learns also to overcome opposition from his family and friends and to face his own fears, finding deep meaning in his new vocation.

This is a great film. It’s been one of my family’s favorites ever since my son brought home a copy. Just listening to the theme song in the trailer reminds me of the deep emotions that are explored in the story. I think it’s about time I watched it again.

(“Catering for Different Religions,” Avalon Repatriation Services)

[photo: “Go West,” by halfrain, used under a Creative Commons license]

Live and Learn Abroad to Boost Creativity

August 31, 2012 § 10 Comments

You’ve been overseas and you’re back in the US looking for work. Not many job descriptions say that the “ideal candidate will have lived outside the US.” So what transferable qualities or skills have your experiences developed in you? How about adaptability, flexibility, resilience, and empathy?

Here’s something else you can add to your qualifications, and there’s research to back up the claim: creativity.

Finding the Relationship between Creativity and Living Cross-Culturally

A few years ago, William Maddux and Adam Galinsky conducted a series of experiments that demonstrate the link between living abroad and creativity.

  1. In the first, the pair showed that the more time a subject had spent living (though not traveling) abroad, the more likely it was for him to solve a particular puzzle. But the cause-effect relationship wasn’t clear. What if it’s simply because creative people choose more often to live abroad?
  2. The second experiment verified the results, this time using built-in controls for personality factors that are linked to creativity in order to isolate the effects of living abroad.
  3. The third study had subjects who had previously lived abroad think and write about their experiences. They were then tested, showing a temporary increase in creativity.
  4. Study number four looked at adaption to a new culture as the main driver of increased creativity. It showed that the more a person adapted, immersing herself in a culture, the higher the creativity.
  5. And, finally, the fifth study followed up by showing that subjects with past living-abroad experience who then imagined and wrote about adapting to a foreign culture exhibited higher levels of creativity in a subsequent exercise.

(William Maddux and Adam Galinsky, “Cultural Borders and Mental Barriers: The Relationship between Living Abroad and Creativity,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, May 2009)

Wanting to Live Abroad Isn’t the Same

As described in a recent article in Pacific Standard, researchers at the University of Florida, Gainesville, further validated the idea that studying abroad increases creativity, rather than vice versa. The study, by Christine Lee, David Therriault, and Tracy Linderholm, looked at three groups of students: those who had studied abroad, those who were planning to study abroad, and those who had not nor were planning to study abroad. The first group scored higher than the other two in levels of creative thinking, suggesting that it’s the actual experience of living overseas, rather than a personality type that is inclined to do so.

(Tom Jacobs, “To Boost Creativity, Study Abroad,” Pacific Standard, August 6, 2012; Christine Lee, David Therriault, and Tracy Linderholm, abstract of “On the Cognitive Benefits of Cultural Experience: Exploring the Relationship between Studying Abroad and Creative Thinking,” Applied Cognitive Psychology, July 2012)

Diversification and Flexibility

In the abstract to their research published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, researchers from the Netherlands and California note that “past research has linked creativity to unusual and unexpected experiences, such as early parental loss or living abroad.” Their experiments suggest that it is the “diversifying” aspect of these experiences that brings about great “cognitive flexibility.”

(Simone Ritter, et al., abstract of “Diversifying Experiences Enhance Cognitive Flexibility,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, July 2012)

Learning the Whys of Culture Helps Even More

Back to Maddux and Galinsky, this time joined by Hajo Adam. Working on the idea that adapting to a new culture brings about novel ways of thinking, the researchers asked, “What is it about adaptation to foreign environments that is critical for facilitating the creative process?” They hypothesized that it is learning about a foreign culture in a multicultural setting that boosts creativity, To test this, the researchers assembled a group of university students in Paris who had previously lived abroad. They then “primed” part of the group by having them think and write about a time when they had learned about another culture. Others in the group did the same about a time of learning about their own culture. As predicted, the first group scored higher in a followup test of creativity.

The three then focused on “functional learning,” or “learning about the underlying reasons for observed foreign rituals, rules, and behaviors.” Subsequent experiments showed that creativity increased even more when the priming focused on not only on learning something new about another culture but learning when the subjects were actually able to find out the reason behind the cultural differences.

(William Maddux, Hajo Adam, and Adam Galinsky, “When in Rome . . . Learn Why the Romans Do What They Do: How Multicultural Learning Experiences Facilitate Creativity,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, June 2010)

Boosting Your Resume in a Globalized World

So, in review, if you want to develop your creativity, here’s the plan:

  1. live overseas
  2. adapt to another culture
  3. learn about that culture
  4. and learn why a culture is the way it is

In an article posted by the Kellogg School of Management, Maddux tells the American Psychological Association that their research

may have something to say about the increasing impact of globalization on the world, a fact that has been hammered home by the recent financial crisis. Knowing that experiences abroad are critical for creative output makes study abroad programs and job assignments in other countries that much more important, especially for people and companies that put a premium on creativity and innovation to stay competitive.

(Audrey Hamilton, “Living Outside the Box: New Research by Kellogg Professor Adam Galinsky Suggests That Living Abroad Boosts Creativity,” Kellogg School of Management, April 23, 2009)

[photo: “Globeism,” by Joel Ormsby, used under a Creative Commons license]

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