Living Abroad: The Evolution of Holiday Menu Planning

Growing up in Canada, our Christmas dining festivities would start with a Christmas Eve tourtière (meat pie). For the actual day of Christmas, I’ve always thought of our dinner as fairly classic. We had the turkey, dressing/stuffing, potatoes, Brussel sprouts, sweet potatoes etc followed by an array of desserts. For us, it was normally Nanaimo bars  and a version of trifle my mum made based on the ones she had growing up in the U.K.  When my aunt married into a Ukrainian family, we HAPPILY added his mother’s amazing cabbage rolls to the menu. Did it traditionally fit with turkey and the trimmings? Not really. Did we care? Not at all.  They were delicious and a culturally important addition to the family.

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My own version of tourtière made at high altitude one Christmas in the French Alps

Since then, I have moved around the world and experienced first hand the role food memories play in people’s lives. If I taste a Nanaimo bar, I think of Canada. Fish and chips takes me mentally to England. Paris Brest sees me walking down memory lane in France. Food is important to our memories and most importantly, it helps us feel connected to the past.

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Paris Brest, I love you!! 

Our very first Christmas in Paris saw me panic a bit at the thought of the large shellfish dinner that is traditionally held on Christmas eve. I’m allergic to shellfish so this new tradition posed a problem for me. Instead, we embraced the addition of caviar, smoked salmon, plenty of champagne and the Bûche de Noël (aka Yule Log cake).

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Fish and Chips make me long for the U.K….

When we are lucky enough to return to my husband’s native England for Christmas, a personal highlight is celebrating Danish Christmas with his brother and family! I wouldn’t dare attempt to replicate my Danish sister-in-law’s cooking but I can assure you, that Risalamande (the best rice pudding I’ve EVER had with warm cherry sauce that is actually eaten as part of a game) and the browned sugared potatoes are both part of my Christmas flavour memories now.

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Risalamande – and I won the prize. Again. Sorry!

If you’ve stuck with me this long you will start to see my Christmas flavours and ideal menu have not stopped growing!  Each taste represents happy memories in my life and makes me think of the people I’ve been lucky enough to call family and/or friends over the years. In 2015, we relocated to Switzerland and saw the heavy introduction of cheese in both raclette and fondue format at Christmas time!  In addition to cheese, we’ve embraced panettone in our household as staple during the holidays!

 

Yule log cake on a Christmas table
Bûche de Noël – Yule Log

So, what is an internationally-confused menu planner supposed to do?! In a world without calories my perfect Christmas would include tourtière, panettone, turkey and all the trimmings, brown Danish sugared potatoes, fondue, Cabbage rolls, smoked salmon and caviar, Nanaimo bars, trifle, risalamande and a bûche de Noël…all washed down with a few glasses of champagne! Phew! I’m not sure I could manage that! (Don’t even get me started on the challenges presented by living internationally with trying to locate and buy 90% of the items on my Christmas menu wish list!!!) 

Therefore, it should come as no surprise that we have decided when we spend Christmases here in Switzerland, we will continue with the fondue-inspired meal. It’s how we celebrate Swissmas. This doesn’t mean we don’t miss all those wonderful flavours, we just keep them as happy memories, locked in our hearts, until the years when we are able to travel for the holidays.

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Swissmas Fondue dinner – 2016

 

This year, no matter where you are in the world, if you sit down for a holiday meal of some sort, think about how your family’s menu evolved. How have you chosen certain items over others? Who do the dishes remind you of? These same thoughts can be applied to many different cultures, but I can’t speak for others…only for myself. As long as my mouth isn’t too full 😉

 

 

Photo credit: Jennifer Hart – StockphotoVideo – Kalim – cynoclub 

 

Why Hygge Should Be More Than A Trend

Though there are many ways to describe hygge, we see it simply as the Danish ritual of enjoying life’s simple pleasures. Friends. Family. Graciousness. Contentment. Good feelings. A warm glow. Certainly, hygge is intrinsic to the Danish lifestyle, but this feeling of well-being, so deeply satisfying and cozy, is something we all experience, each in our own way. 

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I feel blessed in so many ways that I often find myself thinking “what would my life be like without all of different these people in it?” Growing up in a small town in Canada, my mother and three of my grandparents were all foreigners. I think this influenced me to both crave exploring the world myself and cultivate relationships from people of varied backgrounds.

My sister-in-law is Danish and I accept this does NOT make me an expert on the cultural word of the moment, hygge (pronounced “HUE-gah”) , it DOES mean I have watched, learned and embraced what she has shown me over the last 12 years. She presented me last year with a book on hygge and I’d like to take a few moments to discuss why this Danish custom, in so many ways, should be how we embrace life and not just a passing trend.

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Swiss-infused hygge with a slice of Bündner Nusstorte, a roaring fire and a cup of tea in my husband’s London 2012 mug! (for the Bündner Nusstorte recipe link click here)

Hygge began to noticeably gain non-Danish popularity a few winters ago. A quick search on Pinterest will garner thousands of results, normally photos of a warm winter scene with hot drinks, animals, soft lighting and books. With its focus on a cosy and present lifestyle, I can see why people have begun to gravitate towards it. Well-being is something we often overlook to a fault in our modern, busy lives. We are always plugged in, switched on and overly stimulated.  We take our coffees to go, eat in our cars and read books on screens (OK, full disclosure, I do this too even when I’m in hygge-mode).  All this rushing but for what purpose? Is it making us happier? When do we make time for ourselves? To nourish our souls and bodies as they should be?

Hygge is not so much a word as it is actions and feelings: switch off your phone, put comfortable and cozy clothing on, light some candles, light a fire, grab a blanket and book and relax.  We need to take time for ourselves to reconnect with our deep emotions and push out the intrusions of daily life. Take a moment to sit and truly enjoy a hot drink with a piece of cake or pastry without guilt.

If you still struggle with what hygge would mean for you, think of it as taking time to not only ignore push notifications, but to not receive any in the first place.  Why do we feel guilty when we switch off our phones?  Why must we make dramatic announcements about how we are leaving social media to be happier? We should be able to do these things without explanation. That is hygge to me.

We should all thank the Danish for putting into writing the very thing we all need to be doing!

Now go turn your phone off and put the kettle on!

 

 

 

 

Photo Credit:  Fotolia – Alena Ozerova, Jennifer Hart

Living Abroad: The Problem With “Best and Worst Expat Locations” Lists

“No place is ever as bad as they tell you it’s going to be.” – Chuck Thompson

I read a post recently that was making the rounds on Facebook about how awful life is in Switzerland for foreigners. This wasn’t, sadly, a shocking post for me to read as I have come across too many of these to count over the last 5 years relating to Switzerland and internationals living/working here. Depending on your life, you may or may not be aware that international/expat-focused websites, as well as reputable news agencies, love to publish annual lists entitled something akin to ‘Best and Worst Places for Expats To Live’. These lists often accompany anecdotal ‘evidence’ positioned as truthful information to support whatever their survey monkey results found. There are some disturbingly common themes in these types of articles and I’d like to confront them head on.  I am a FIRM believer that your experiences living abroad are highly influenced by your own actions and when I come across something along these lines that continues to perpetuate the idea that one person’s take on a short-term assignment abroad will speak true for 100% of the people that move there, I get frustrated, sad and angry.

Switzerland is the fifth country I have lived in. It is not perfect but it has been my favourite place to call home.  It trumps Canada, where I was born, England where, you know, fish and chips are available ALL THE TIME, France where the Eiffel Tower makes every picture look better and the USA where I learned about deep fried cheese curds. It is better than all of that (to me) but it wasn’t Switzerland that made that so, I also had a hand in making this the best place for me.

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This is not the worst country in the world to live…

So, if everything is so great for me in Switzerland, why does it pale in comparison to somewhere like Singapore that often tops the Best lists, or at least rounds out the top 3? Well, it’s easy. Comparing a country like Switzerland where someone will relocate and live in a local community, immersed in a culture and language they don’t know, is unfair vis-a-vis countries like Singapore where people are relocated to a prefabricated community compound. You cannot, and should not, compare the two. Relocating to a compound gives you ready-made friends, already international in nature and most likely aware your arrival is imminent. These pre-fab friends come with insider knowledge that helps you to avoid the pitfalls of international relocation that befall many of us. I have seen Facebook status updates from friends that received welcome gifts from their new Irish neighbours in Malaysia and a welcome basket waiting at the home for friends relocating to Dubai. Whilst we didn’t experience any of that, we did get an offer to use pots and pans from our Swiss German neighbour in case we hadn’t unpacked them yet…same-same but different?!

Now, I’m not about to fall into the trap of saying one is harder than the other and that ALL people that relocate to Asia move to prefabs and that ALL people that relocate to Europe do it solo because it just isn’t true. Local-base relocations are not harder, they are just different and that difference is never accounted for in the Best and Worst lists. Local moves do require more effort to break into a community because you are unlikely to spend your time living on the outside of local life. At some point you must integrate and there in lies the problem with comparisons. When you move somewhere where you know you will never blend in, you give up the hopes of that and settle fully into international/expat life. Expat parties. Expat friends. Expat schools. Expat life. When you move somewhere and WANT to fit in, you are swiftly and painfully confronted with the realisation of how hard it is to make friends as an adult. I have discussed my own failings on this topic here.

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I was definitely lonely at times in Paris…having a dog helped that 🙂

So before you move abroad and before you trash another country online, take a moment to get to know yourself because you will make or break your stay in many many ways. Yes, the culture may not be ‘you’ in the end but there are always silver linings and ways to make things work. Knowing what you are willing do beforehand will help you out. I repeat: You MUST know yourself before you accept a local life assignment abroad. Are you a go-getter? Are you willing to put in hours of effort to make a social life? Are you willing to do EVERYTHING to make your new life work? Or, will you arrive and complain then send an angry article off to be published about how crappy life is abroad? Will you blame the locals for not falling at your feet to become friends with you? Will you expect them to wake up one day and think ‘omg  is that a new American neighbour I see?! We must become best friends!’ (this won’t happen). If you aren’t a go-getter, perhaps think twice before accepting a local-based assignment. Try somewhere that will put you on a compound or near one so your lifestyle won’t change much, just the scenery.

International/expat life is not easy, even though it looks quite glamorous. It has changed me in every single way and I’m forever grateful. However, that change comes from the hard times that challenge you. Expat lists mean nothing about how you will respond to a place, trust me.

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‘Hello, WISCONSIN!’ My old home where almost 20 years later, I still am in touch with most of the amazing friends I made there.

Alas, I leave you with some Forrest Gump mama-style wisdom. Life is like a box of chocolates, it is true. But are you going to be the kind of person that throws the whole box out just because the strawberry creams are hiding in there somewhere or are you going to give it another chance in the hopes that you come across a little slice of heaven? I know what I would do…

 

 

Photo credit: Jennifer Hart, Fotolia

 

 

 

 

Moving to Switzerland? Enjoy These Insider Tips

A while ago* I asked if local internationals/expats in Switzerland would be keen to answer a few questions on life in Confoederatio Helvetica (aka Switzerland).  Switzerland is an impressively quiet country that people often wish to visit/relocate to but it find it difficult to obtain information on. Thus, I present to you, Q&A with people already living in Switzerland. I tried not to edit the responses so some answers may be formatted or phrased differently than others but this is an honest glimpse inside the lives of those that have already made the jump to Switzerland.

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Amazing Lucerne/Luzern by photographer Dominik Gehl

Where are/were you located in Switzerland and, if you wish to share, for how long:
Morges(VD) – 3.5 years
Basel (BS)
Lausanne (VD) – 2 years
Zurich (ZH) – 9 months
Lausanne (VD) – 4 years
Morges(VD) – 2 years
Geneva (GE)

Where are you from originally:
Germany
England
France
Scotland
Canada
USA
Chile

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View of Lac Léman/Lake Geneva from Morges by Jennifer Hart

Have you lived in other foreign countries before moving to Switzerland:
Yes – 5 votes
No – 2 vote

 

What Swiss languages do you use for daily life:
Swiss German
French
Mix of French and Swiss German
Sometimes Italian when I travel to Lugano for work
English tends to be a working language most places, as well

 

What is your native language:
English – 4 votes
French – 2 vote
German – 1 vote
I’m bilingual
Spanish -1 vote
Italian – 1 vote

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Zermatt by photographer Dominik Gehl

Important things (s) people should know when they relocate to Switzerland:
-Cost of living is very high
Shops are closed on Sundays and there are a lot of laws surrounding quiet hours (e.g. no placing glass in recycling bins at noon, no mowing the lawn on a Sunday). Life will be much easier if you try to follow the rules and embrace whatever comes your way without comparing it (unfavourably) to back home.
-Cost. Switzerland is very expensive. Housing, insurances and and food will consume the majority of your budget
-Salaries are higher here than elsewhere in Europe
-Weekends in Switzerland are for enjoyment, not work. There are rules around what you can/can’t do on a Sunday
-It is just as beautiful as you imagine
-Language, cost of living, culture regarding respect towards others, commercial business hours, necessary documentation, legal requirements e.g. driving, permits, communal living regulations
-Public schools are excellent

Favourite place in Switzerland:
-Have not been here long enough to see everything but for now I’ll say Lucerne/Luzern area
-Anywhere along Lake Geneva/Lac Léman
-Gruyères
-Montreux
-Lausanne (awesome restaurants)
-THE ALPS
-Ticino/Lake Lugano Italian area
-Zermatt
-Morges
Lausanne for the street food festival 

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Tulip at the Morges Tulip Festival by an anonymous friend 🙂

Favourite Swiss food:
Raclette (5 votes)
Fondue (4 votes)
Rösti (2 votes)
Gruyères meringues with local cream (Swiss dairy in general)

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Crans-Montana, Swiss Alps photograph by Jennifer Hart

Are/were you happy in Switzerland (these are direct copy and paste answers – extra exclamation points and all):
Absolutely
Very
YES!!
Yes!
Oh yes!! Even with the cost and rules. Wouldn’t want to be anywhere else!
Yes. I am homesick for English food sometimes but otherwise, Switzerland is now home.
YES. Geneva is a bit boring but the rest of Switzerland makes up for it.

Yes or No-you have gone to a Swiss mountain and sang The Hills Are Alive:
LOL not yet
Actually, yes I have. Even took a video
Not an Austrian nun so, no, I haven’t
Ummmm not yet but I kind of want to now
HAHA how’d you know?
No
Hadn’t occurred to me, but I now want to buy an edelweiss shirt and learn how to blow a swiss horn, while riding a cow…
Maybe…

Profession:
Software engineer
CMO
Translator
Writer
Software developer
Mom
Stay at home pet wrangler, occasional mother, professional eye roller and eccentric socially awkward recluse
Nanny
Thank you to all of my contributors. If you’d like to see more photography from Dominik Gehl, check out his Instagram account here You won’t be disappointed!!!

*This, and many other writing projects, were sidelined due to my computer crash swiftly followed by a fairly intense recovery from a brain trauma but here I am, back on track and ready to read, research and write!

Photo credits: Jennifer Hart, Dominik Gehl, anonymous (with permission) and banner image from Fotolia

Thank you, Women in Travel Summit 2017

Despite the jet-lag settling in, I wanted to take 2 minutes to say thank you to the wonderful creators and ladies behind the 2017 Women in Travel Summit. The summit, organised by Wanderful, ‘is the premier event for women travel influencers and industry members.’ Held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, attendees were treated to inspiring luncheon speeches, panels, presentations and heaps of fun! I truly enjoyed my experience meeting other travel influencers, writers and industry members in this female-positive environment.

I spent the days networking, learning and discussing various writing projects, including the anthology I was in Once Upon An Expat. Along the way, I made friends and discussed future writing partnerships. Thank you to the organisers, attendees and all the presenters. See you in Québec City at WITS 2018?

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Photo credit: Women in Travel Summit by Wanderful, Jennifer Hart

 

 

Friday Featurette: An American Journey into the French “Tough Love” Mentality

A couple Fridays a month I will be featuring another blogger or up-and-coming writer on my site. Stories range from expat life to travel/adventure. If you are interested in possibly being featured, please read the info hereand get in touch!  You may notice differences in terminology, vocabulary and spellings here but I think keeping it authentic to the author’s voice and background makes for a richer reading. 

An American Journey into the French “Tough Love” Mentality
By: Heather Javault

After finishing university in 1998, I arrived in France young and eager to travel. While my friends were off getting their first “real” jobs, I was riding the Metro to meet up with new friends from all over the world. I was keen to learn and to see new things and I didn’t worry much about my ability to fit in or start a career a bit later. My goal was just to see the world and be happy.

Happy is such a simple goal, though. During my first year, I didn’t realize that little things were eating away at the person I was. I found it difficult working for the French school system as an English teacher but thought it was normal as it was not my culture. I reminded myself of this, asking ‘why should they adapt to me?’ but it began to affect my confidence. Maybe I just wasn’t good at being a teacher. The other teachers were always correcting everything that I did just as other people constantly corrected my French. When asked about it, they all said that they are trying to help me; that’s how they do things here. All these good intentions weren’t helping me though. They were not pushing me to do better. I felt stupid. I kept wondering ‘why I am still here?’ It didn’t matter that I eventually learned to speak near-native French. The success I achieved was never good enough. When I got a job as an office assistant later, I constantly had someone behind me correcting me or asking if I was sure of myself. My confidence was gone. The bubbly person I once was was gone. I saw my friends overseas move forward with their careers while I just stood still, doubting myself in another culture.

Shortly thereafter I convinced my new husband to move back to the United States. He was eager to try out the “American Dream” and I was just as eager to get back to family and friends. I found a job pretty quickly through a friend and it didn’t matter that I had absolutely no prior experience in Payroll and Human Resources because they said would train me! I was not stuck in an office assistant job just because I had to pay the bills, I could change and be whomever I wanted. My confidence slowly started creeping back and I felt like a whole new person. I was able to go out with friends and even attend their weddings without spending money on plane tickets. I had everything to be happy, but there was still something missing. There was no denying that I had two homes now and more importantly, two cultures. I realized quickly that my having two cultures had changed me and my friends did not want to hear me say things such as “Back in France, they do things this way…” I could almost feel their eyes rolling. I was going out and doing things as I had before I moved to France, but I always felt like I didn’t fit in anymore. I had new opinions and I didn’t agree with everyone as I might have done easily before. Some friendships stayed the same and embraced my new quirkiness, but other relationships grew more superficial. A large part of that friendship shift was a direct result of that fact that I had changed while others stayed the same. I didn’t share anything other than a past with those old friends. My outsider experience saw me increasingly annoyed with U.S. political elections. (Don’t even get me started on that topic!)

After 3 years of being back home but not entirely feeling ‘home’, my husband’s career choice brought us back to France. I had an 18-month-old son and I knew that I didn’t want to move back into our tiny apartment in the city of Paris, so we decided to settle down in the suburbs. I didn’t have a car right away and as I didn’t know anyone in my area so loneliness quickly settled in. My husband worked extremely hard at his job, which left us feeling like he didn’t even notice us most of the time. I had a hard time finding a job. The Payroll experience that I had in the US did not apply to French regulations and I was starting over. Again. I tried teaching English, but I always felt like I wasn’t very good at it. When I tried getting jobs, I never had enough experience in the field or I was too young or too old. There was always something that I didn’t have enough of. I went back to feeling like a big fat loser and in this time I gained lots of weight and I drank lots of wine.

I eventually had two more babies. It is true; the French health care system is great. Yet for me, I didn’t feel like a client to the hospital or to the doctor. Once again, I felt like everything I did was wrong. I gained too much weight according to the doctor. My veins were too small for the lab technician. I didn’t get up and walk around enough after childbirth. My baby was too big, too yellow, and too ‘baby’.

Going back to work after children was awful. The job I had was unnecessarily stressful due to a difficult manager and further aggravated by a very long commute. I spent nearly 4 hours a day on the train. Although I did my job well, it was never good enough.

At this point, I tried to get myself into shape. Years of abusing my own body were showing and it was clear I wasn’t taking care of myself. I always saw people running and I wished I had the running power as well. So, one day I got myself out and started. I ran a little bit more every day. I signed up for races. I earned finisher medals. I had one thing in my life that made me proud and that gave me back some of the confidence that I had lost after years of negative thoughts. A friend challenged me to sign up for the Paris half marathon. I thought she was crazy, but I said yes. She totally flaked on me, but I kept training. I ran a 10k in December in 1 hour. That is not fast but record time for me. I could totally pull off 21k! And I did! I walked some of it, prayed to every god I could think of for it to be over, but I did it. It took me three hours. My feet were burning, I had chafing in spots that I don’t want to mention, but I did it. My kids greeted me at the end and cheered for me. They were proud of me and I was too. But, when I got to the medal stand, I got a medal that looked like it came out of a cereal box. Other runners had these glorious, gorgeous medals. Mine was practically plastic and half the size. They explained that they had “run out” of the other medals and because I was too slow, there weren’t any left. The email that I received from organizer after questioning what happened confirmed this. He said that I should be happy that they “let” me finish at all. Once again, I wasn’t good enough. Over the year that I trained for those races, I met incredible people that told me that it didn’t matter how slow I run. I was still a runner. This guy’s email brought me down a whole lot of pegs. I felt sick. I wasn’t a runner; I was just some fatty that wanted some shiny bling. During the race, I had people pass me and give me “high fives” and “thumbs up” I thought they were cheering me on, but maybe they were just laughing at me. That sounds extreme and dark, but that is what I started to feel. In the year since the race, I might have started to run about 5 times. I just can’t seem to get back out there. The running shoes only recently came out again when my 11 year old tried to steal them from me.

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Why do I let so much get to me? Everything I have just written makes France sound like an awful place. The thing is that while all of these experiences were happening, I never realized that it wasn’t because of me. I have spent most of my adult life doubting myself.

I am recently (and happily) unemployed. I have an idea for a new project and it is going to be really hard to pull off in France. A career coach at the unemployment office even suggested that I move back to the U.S. to fulfill my dream. It is actually this same career coach that brought on this whole enlightenment. She said that the French from a very young age are taught negativity. In school they are not taught that they could do better but that they are not doing good enough. I didn’t understand before she said this why my kids hated school so much. I loved primary school but my kids say they feel stupid. They don’t think they will do good enough. They are always anxious about how the day will go. With my North American upbringing of positive encouragement, I can see why the opposite would have such heavy effects on me.

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The French mean well. They see correcting as way to help. They think that negative remarks will push people to try harder. They are the Jillian Michaels of the education system. Tough love encourages good results. I mean, it worked for them, right? They are immune to feeling bad about themselves because they have built themselves armor against it. When I think about the administrator that emailed me from the half marathon, maybe he was just trying to push me to train harder for next year. My kids’ teachers are just trying to push them to strive to do better. Not everyone can come in first place. The North American way of giving everyone an award just for participating isn’t building fighters.

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Look at me. I cried over a medal.

 

Heather Javault came to Paris from Massachusetts nearly 19 years ago with a dream to travel. She fell for a cheesy pickup line for a “real French kiss” and never really left. She now putters around the suburbs of Paris with her husband and 3 children and constantly plans new projects and vacations. You can follow her latest project on her blog So Full of Crêpe or catch up with her on her facebook page.

The 1.3 million people Brexit has ignored

I’m one of them, are you? You know, one of the estimated 1.3million British expats/internationals/immigrants living in Europe on our status as being part of the EU. We moved here legally. Work legally. Have bought apartments and houses legally.

But, now what? Who cares that OUR rights have just been changed by other people. I see a lot of talk about the worries of EU immigrants to the UK but what about US?! We left with an open border and find ourselves threatened by a shockingly closed one.

Are we part of the “negotiations”?

Are we supposed to move to UK and forget our lives abroad?

Where is our platform for discussion? Who hears our voices? Who will calm our souls over our  foreign-born children and our now mismatched legal statuses abroad? WHO IS REPRESENTING US????

I have few answers and too many questions but one thing is for sure: I’m done being quiet about this.

1.3million. We have a voice. Let’s use it together.

 

photo credit: BBC news and used without permission. Just like how I didn’t give permission for my status to change.