…. to bring hope to the world

This is how we can create diversity

We are so happy to publish Luz Restrepo’s presentation to the Human Library of Expatclic. Her story and experiences are such an example of how we can become real advocates of what we strongly believe must be done to make this world a better place.


luz restrepoI was born in Colombia, and have lived in Australia since 2010. My family and I were forced to take the decision to move here because of the political situation in our home country. We had to decide between staying and risking our lives and the lives of our daughters, or moving to a safer place.

What I immediately felt put me in a position of disadvantage was that I spoke no English. And as many of you know, when we don’t speak the language, when we know no one, when we don’t know where we are, we need to start all over again. And starting again means that we must eat humble pie and learn again how to connect with the human and physical environment surrounding us. Certainly, as all moms will confirm, the wellbeing of our children is our top priority when we arrive in a new place. But as mothers and wives, while our husbands and children advance in the new country, we go backwards. We build our bubble of comfort within a close, known community, but we have no opportunities outside of it.

When I started to learn English, we did not have the resources to cover expensive courses. I started to study English in community centres in the suburbs of Melbourne. My classmates were all women that had settled in this country, three, five, some of them twenty years before. And while my English advanced well, their level remained the same. That made me wonder, “Why am I different?” I think one of the factors is education. When you are educated back home, you are more prone to absorb new things. You are also more curious: I was the only one in the class to ask for synonyms, antonyms, and spellings. What happens is also that many women that already live in a poverty circle in their home country come here and experience the additional barrier of the new language. And when they find themselves in the same class with other people who know how to navigate the education system, they are disadvantaged.

At that point I also realized that we learn the language by doing something meaningful in society, outside our homes. One such thing is a job, but how can you find a job when you are struggling to write the simplest things on paper? The solution I saw was to create a business together. I thought we should support each other. They had little English but lots of connections. We started to make handicrafts. We made crafts at home, and I looked for marketing opportunities in Melbourne. When we went to sell our handicrafts in the markets, we realized that our group of twenty-five multicultural women was very attractive to people. People loved to come and talk to us; they engaged themselves in our stories and bought our products. And by selling our products, we started enjoying the idea of having our own money, and our business minds began to develop.

Eight years ago I founded a charity, because no one wanted to lend me money for a proper business. We called it SisterWorks, Possibly it was my confidence as a businesswoman and the beauty of our mission that attracted more and more people to support migrant women’s economic empowerment. The organization grew rapidly. When the pandemic started, SisterWorks was supporting 900 women from more than 70 countries. We developed new ideas to create new products to sell on a big scale in supermarkets, other retail outlets, our own shops and online. SisterWorks fulfilled a need and UN Women came to us to find out how our business model was working. Our model of learning by doing and creating a sense of belonging and community support is now a worldwide pilot scheme with UN Women. As CEO, I oversaw the growth of the organisation from functioning on a zero-income, volunteer basis to one thriving with a staff of 20 and a $1.4M annual turnover by May 2020.

Two years ago, I realized that I am an entrepreneur, but my charity needed a manager – someone capable of developing systems and processes with the employees. I also realized that when long term unemployed migrant women find their first job in this country, they lose their voices, because they are not going to complain to their bosses. And I was the boss. They were doing all I said, but sometimes they disagreed with me. I didn’t know that, and when I found out, I realized I was taking their voices away, and I needed to give them their voices back.

In June 2020, in partnership with an amazing Australia businesswoman, Corinne Kemp, we founded Migrant Women in Business, an Australia-wide social enterprise that supports migrant and refugee women with nano or micro businesses to thrive and grow, and for their owners to become community leaders. 

Migrant Women in Business is a business, not a charity. The other thing I learned in this journey is that we migrants are not vulnerable people, and when we put ourselves within a charity contest, people see us as persons to help. But as new migrants, we don’t need charity – we just need to learn how to navigate in a new country. That’s why I created Migrant Women in Business as a business. I want to help migrant women to give a good structure to their business. I want to provide everything around a business: legal and financial care, product development, promotion, collaboration. The concept is to work together to learn from each other, and on the way, we support micro businesses of migrant women, which in turn generate work and welfare. This is the ecosystem of Migrant Women in Business in a nutshell.

Starting online in the middle of the pandemic, Corinne and I identified the need for networking activities and easily accessible digital tools designed for migrant women entrepreneurs who have varying levels of English literacy, technology skills, business opportunities and understanding of business culture in Australia. Migrant Women in Business is currently working for and with more than 90 businesswomen with migrant and refugee backgrounds, offering them commercial opportunities through our Made by Many Hands platform, and hands-on small business experts supported through Made by Many Minds.

33% of independent businesses in Australia are created by migrants, but only one out of ten is created by a migrant woman. We are the last in line. Also, there is little representation of migrant women in politics and business in Australia. I strongly believe that this is the time to have more women leaders in the world. We take care of the family, we are carers, we are leaders, and it’s time we were more represented in the public sphere. This is how we can create diversity.

Luz Restrepo
Human book at Expatclic Human Library 2021
For another story from the Expatclic Human Library clic here.


Diversity: The true wealth of our world

We are grateful to Valentina Aristodemo for allowing us to transcribe part of her presentation to the Expatclic’s Human Library.
We have chosen Valentina as one of the 33 human books to introduce to our community, because her story, and the message it conveys, are a clear illustration of the power of diversity.


I grew up in Marsala, Sicily, in a middle-class family. My parents always encouraged me to be independent and to have an open mind about society and the world.

I had recently started working when, by pure chance, I discovered LIS (Italian Sign Language), through a flyer that advertised a course. Having always been passionate about languages, I decided to attend it. And that changed my life forever.  

I fell madly in love with this language and all aspects related to the fascinating deaf community. I moved to Rome to work in a school for deaf children. This was my first experience with diversity. I understood how important LIS is for deaf people, but especially for deaf children.

In general, deaf children have hearing parents. The norm is to proceed with prosthesis or cochlear implants, but this deprives deaf children of linguistic stimulation for a few years – the time necessary to learn to recognize sounds in speech therapy. Since this is a long journey, deaf children often miss out on basic language acquisition, which can affect language development. Many think that LIS for children is just a tool, but in fact it is a real language and a fundamental human right.

In 2006 a UN Convention urged governments to recognize sign language. The premise was that everyone has the right to acquire a language, and LIS is the natural language of the deaf. It is acquired naturally, through sight, a sense which is not affected by deafness, and does not pass through the auditory channel, which requires speech therapy and the work of deciphering sounds.

At that time, and as often happens, Italy lagged behind other European countries. It ratified the convention in 2009 but recognized LIS only in 2021. It was a first step but there is still a long way to go to overcome reluctance to embracing ISL, especially in the medical profession. Hearing children are often stimulated to use LIS (baby sign language is very popular now), but the deaf are deprived of their natural language without any scientific basis.

Going back to myself, after my experience in Rome I decide to deepen my knowledge of LIS, and I enrolled at Ca ‘Foscari in Venice, the only university where LIS is considered equal to and taught as any other foreign language. I graduated and specialised as an interpreter. It was there that I met Mirko, deaf, son of deaf parents, who would become my husband.

From then on, my immersion in the deaf community began. I started spending more time with them than with the hearing community. Mirko went to study at Gallaudet, the only university in the world where lessons take place in American Sign Language. His dream was to become a researcher, but in Italy there were no opportunities for him. Once again, we were faced with a brick wall mentality. On his return from the USA, a professor suggested he go to work in Paris. He went and I followed him there. We were fortunate to have two PhD scholarships. He is a morphologist, I am a semanticist in sign language. After two years of his doctorate, Mirko realized his dream in France, and became a sign language researcher at the CNRS.

Photo @ValentinaAristodemo

Meanwhile, we discovered that we could not have children. Having a family, however, was our great dream. We decided not to give up and took the path of adoption. A very long and troubled path. After three years we obtained court approval and decided to go for international adoption. We chose Burundi as a country of adoption. After five years from the beginning of the paperwork, on 17th June 2019 we met our children, Jean Lucas and Jonathan.

This marked the beginning of another beautiful chapter in our lives, once again linked to a new culture.

Diversity entered our life again, we threw ourselves headlong into it, determined to experience it as a family. You can imagine the joy and wealth that our children bring to us. At home we speak three languages ​​every day — I speak Italian with the children, Mirko uses sign language, and then we use French because we live in France. African, Italian and French cultures are an integral part of our life, and we try to nurture all of them.

However, we must deal with a world that is not yet open to diversity. And we are very aware of this when we go to Italy on vacation. We often experience racist micro-aggressions that we would gladly do without. There are people who do not know us and ask me if the twins are my children, or if they arrived by boat. Some run after the children to touch their hair, or take selfies with them. I must always be vigilant and aware of people who might want to invade our privacy. Black children are often perceived as objects to be touched and photographed. A black child’s body is not respected like that of a white child’s. We are often asked impertinent questions that aim to highlight differences. Unfortunately, Italy is not yet ready to welcome our family. We have never yet been asked any of these questions in France. There is still a long way to go to persuade people that diversity is the true wealth of our world, and it must be respected and promoted in a positive way.


Valentina Aristodemo
Human book at Expatclic’s Human Library 2021
Main photo @CristinaBaldan



An Expat South of the World

In this article Claudia reflects on the differences between being an expat south or north of the world.


When I left Indonesia in May 2018, I knew I was not only saying goodbye to the country but to a whole period of my life, spent mostly in the southern part of the world. From then on, I knew that I would have to choose my destinations carefully. My third episode of Dengue fever had taken a serious toll on me: I had developed a severe thrombocytopenia, that would thereafter put me at high risk in any country where mosquito bites could  potentially lead to malaria or yellow fever. Or where a blood transfusion, if needed, could put me at risk because the treatment of blood was unreliable.

Look at this picture, which shows the global distribution of seven major vector-borne diseases (malaria, lymphatic filariasis, leishmaniasis, dengue, Japanese encephalitis, yellow fever and Chagas disease):



Out of the nine countries where I have lived since 1989, seven are marked in blue or dark green. When leaving Indonesia, it was clear to me that if I wanted to continue my life as an expat, I would have to head towards less exotic destinations.

And so, after a pause in my native Italy, I joined my husband in 2019, in Geneva, Switzerland, a huge novelty for me, since it was my first destination in Europe. When I moved there, I recalled those moments during the first years of managing Expatclic, when I got in touch with expats in European capitals or in big American cities. I remember always feeling a touch of envy for I had never lived as an expat in a Western or European culture. Now In Geneva, I wondered how such an experience in a place whose basic cultural assumptions I shared and where, presumably, I was largely understood, was going to take shape.



So there I was, trying to discern the benefits of being an expat in Geneva. And at a particular moment, they were many. Living in Geneva meant being physically close to my sons and to my mother. I planned to travel a lot. The strategic position of the city, in the heart of Europe, makes it possible to reach many destinations in little time and with no particular worries.

From a health standpoint, I enjoyed being relaxed. No mosquito bite would kill me, and in case of sudden hemorrhage, I would be promptly and safely treated. And in terms of communication, being a French speaker, understanding and being understood was an enormous relief, after not being able to communicate for years while living in countries where I did not speak the language because it would have taken me too long to acquire a reasonable proficiency.

Another aspect of living in Geneva that excited me was the abundant offer of movies, theatre shows, concerts and museums, and all the wonderful exhibitions I had so intensely missed during my latest period in Indonesia.

And then COVID changed all that. I lost my mother, travelling was prohibited, all places of culture were closed, and the fear of falling sick became as intense as it had been when I was in Jakarta because I knew the health structures were stretched to the limits of their capacities.

Even before COVID, though, I had started to realize that maybe all the positive points that marked my experience as an expat in the Western world were not enough to compensate for the loss of meaning that characterized my experiences of living abroad.

For me, it has always been about growing with people, about going through change after witnessing things that were so different from what I had known, and then coming out of the shock renewed and more open-minded. Furthermore, I believe that it is quite impossible to go through such life-changing moments if one does not immerse oneself in very different cultures and situations.

The most obvious disparity for me, however, is the unequal distribution of privilege. There is a huge difference between the state of mind of people who do not have to fight for their survival, and those who do. In my experiences abroad, I have mostly been in contact with the latter. Because of the nature of my husband’s work, the countries we were destined to had been hit by wars, natural disasters, famine, and poverty. These events shape people’s minds, life philosophy, and values in a totally different way from those who do not have to worry about a roof over their head, food on the table, their physical safety, and the health of their children.

I realized that repeated exposure to people whose whole life structure was built on uncertainty, and who did not have all the freedom and privileges we mostly enjoy in our Western world, slowly changed not only my way of seeing things, but the places where I find meaning in life.

Besides, throughout my life abroad I have been constantly impacted by what I call positive culture shocks. Having lived in cultures where things are seen and done quite differently from what I was brought up to consider as correct or proper, I have repeatedly been shaken in my most basic assumptions about life and how relationships must develop. Witnessing new ways and finding new meanings has become vital nourishment for me. It was only when I moved to Geneva that I slowly realized all this and started missing it.

But there is much more I miss. Having lived most of my life abroad in countries where the collective side of life is far more enhanced than it is in the West, I realized how much better I felt surrounded by a generally more human attitude towards life and relationships. Because it is when people are brought up in groups rather than in small, closed families that there is a greater sense of identity and belonging to the whole and not just to the self. Generally speaking, in this kind of culture, such as Indonesian or Palestinian, contact between people is warmer, more cheerful, more open to the other – and to diversity.

I honestly do not know what I miss more: the atmosphere of some far away cultures, or myself existing within cultures so far away from mine. What I do know is that I have to find new ways to still feel connected to the immense treasure that such extreme experiences have given me.


Claudia Landini
Geneva, Switzerland
May 2021


Use your difference to make a difference – Tayo Rockson’s mission and a wonderful book

I have another book to add to my list of books that made me. Its title is Use your difference to make a difference, and it has been written by Tayo Rockson, a man I am so proud and happy to have talked to online recently. Here are my impressions of the book as well as interesting points from my conversation with Tayo.


Tayo is a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion consultant and speaker. I came across his book on LinkedIn. The title, Use your difference to make a difference, caught my eye and rang a bell. The basic principle of What Expats Can Do is exactly that, to use the difference we expats have gained from living a life exposed to other cultures in order to make a difference in the world.

tayo rocksonI bought Tayo’s book and read it immediately. Right from chapter one, I knew this would become one of the most important books I have read in my life. At chapter two, I felt like a better and richer person. At chapter three, I knew I had to talk to Tayo.

I love books that allow me to create a connection with the author. In reading Use your difference to make a difference, I felt exactly this. It was like having Tayo sitting on my sofa besides me, personally conveying his ideas, experiences and feelings. His voice is real and energetic throughout the book. You can feel from line one that he’s absolutely passionate and honest about what he says, and conveys his message thoughtfully in a way that has broad appeal.

His story is the basis for his shared reflections. Originally from Nigeria, Tayo grew up in five countries on four continents, and spent the first nine years of his life in and out of two military dictatorships. Like everyone, he went through a typical teenager identity crisis – though made fiercer by growing up across cultures, and exposed to the world.

The experience of intersecting identity, connections, and cross-cultural communication mingled with Tayo’s curiosity and passion to figure out how to bridge culture divides, as well as his desire to be seen and understood for who he was and who he is.

tayo rocksonFortunately for us, Tayo chose writing, exploration, research, and storytelling as tools to get the answers he needed.

“We limit others by telling limited stories of who they are. In other words, we miss out on a chance to truly connect with others, because stories create connection pathways between multiple types of people as well as different emotions that lead to empathy.” (pag. 62)

The catalyst for Tayo came in the form of a car accident in 2012 that almost killed him. It was at that point that he decided not to hold back anymore. He became more public – showing his vulnerability, and being willing to dare more. He moved to New York and launched his podcast program, As told by nomads.

Tayo does not talk extensively about this amazing collection of 507 stories from people who grew up across cultures (not just across borders) in his book – he actually only mentions it once. But it surely stands as proof of his passion for human beings and connections.

“[…]opened my eyes to the possibility of what a world could look like if we connected across differences. It also led me down this quest of exploring different environments to find the best ways to forge these connections and build bridges.” (Page 3)

I love the way Tayo links diversity to connection. In his eyes, diversity is the ability to connect the visible to the invisible. He maintains that in order for this connection to take shape, awareness is the key.

But how do we get to that kind of awareness? The chance expats have to experience the living conditions of others, different ideas, and lifestyles first hand is a privilege that increases our awareness of the world. In his book, however, Tayo outlines a model that even those who are not directly exposed to diversity can apply to reach this degree of awareness.

It’s called “Educate, Don’t Perpetuate, instead Communicate”, and is clearly explained with an abundance of examples and references throughout the book.

Its premise rests on the exploration of one’s biases, triggers, and values. But because I want you to read the book, I will not go deeper into this! Suffice to say that the way Tayo handles this model and many of the other very useful methods he outlines in the book, gives the reader practical ideas and tools to start putting into practice the moment you put the book down

tayo rockson

During our conversation, I also asked Tayo how, in his opinion, can expats give back what they gain from exposure to diversity. He referred to his own experience of growing up abroad in the diplomatic circle, the misunderstandings he encountered, or the distance between himself and his relatives whenever he went back home. Through that he learned how important it is to start from your own circle of influence in order to provide a wider lens in viewing the world. What you have to do is find the connectors.

And we are back to connections. It was exactly during a speech about connecting across cultures that Tayo got the idea to write Use your difference to make a difference. People were asking him to point them towards concrete directions; they were eager for him to clarify what, in his opinion, could be done. That was the moment he realized people were listening to him and were interested in what he had to say.

It took him one and a half months to complete the book! Tayo wrote it for everyone who has never felt enough – he wrote it to give people something tangible. But the book does more than that, it also gives hope. In the empathy, passion and involvement that each of Tayo’s words expresses, there is love for humanity, for diversity, and for a world where each and everyone counts. What more does the world need today? And after all:

“Just like generations of slavery and colonialism affect us today, who is to say that generations of connecting across cultures won’t impact tomorrow?”


Thank you, Tayo.


Claudia Landini
May 2020
Photos ©TayoRockson
Tayo Rockson’s website: https://tayorockson.com/



My most important experience as a volunteer

Claudia remembers the time when she was living in Honduras, and how her experience as a volunteer there changed her.


Volunteering is often confused with charity, especially when it comes from groups of rich expats in disadvantaged countries. While I love giving my time for free for a variety of reasons, I am 100% allergic to those forms of charities (like dispensing used clothes and giving Christmas gifts to poor children forgetting about them the rest of the year). Whenever I happened to be part of any of these charity groups, I always felt deeply embarrassed and ill at ease. When I saw myself through the eyes of the “poor” people we were helping, I would have loved nothing more than for the earth to open and swallow me. Never in my life have I felt the privilege of my being born white, in the Western world, and in the right family at the right time like on those occasions.

Luckily there have only been a few of them. I tried to pick my opportunities to volunteer carefully, and chose situations where I would be looked at not as merely conveying welfare, but as a person who happily shared her skills and experience out of sheer love for the humanity.

experience as a volunteer

Part of my group of great ladies

In Honduras, where I lived from 1999 to 2003, I was a young full-time mother with lots of time on her hands when children were at school. I could not work (thanks to the country’s regulations) and I had a strong desire to get close to my hosting culture, and to honour what has always been my deepest value: support.

Someone told me of an association of international aid workers’ spouses who met once a month to plan support for a number of social projects in Honduras. I felt the alarm bell ringing… but I went to have a look anyway.

It took me a while to overcome my prejudice and let go of the impression of having to deal with a group of rich ladies that washed their conscience in wrapping gifts for the abandoned kids. In fact, they did just about everything but that – well, they wrapped gifts, too, but only at Christmas ☺ – and by that time, I had madly fallen in love with them.

I had fallen in love with them because what they did was human, clever, and provided a multitude of channels to get in touch with the local culture and work on our own terms on our relationship with it.

The thing I absolutely loved the most while I was part of this association, was raising funds to renovate an unused area of the Paediatric Burns Unit of the biggest public hospital in Tegucigalpa (the capital of Honduras) and supervise the project to create a space that we – the famous ladies – had planned together with architects, doctors, physiotherapists and parents of the hospital. A space where children would be happy to go and have their physiotherapy treatment, and enjoy some games and activities while waiting.

experience as a volunteer

Art students of Tegucigalpa paint the recreational space at the hospital

There is no place like a public hospital to understand the reality of a country.

Volunteering at the Hospital Materno Infantil of Tegucigalpa, was a school in itself. The vast majority of burn related accidents happened to children while their parents were away at work. Parents who were too poor to afford a baby-sitter. Or they took their children with them while working, which in some cases was even worse. The most heart-breaking case I saw in that hospital was of an 8-year old girl that had fallen into the boiling mix of sugar cane their parents were processing.

When things like this happened, we would arrange shifts at the hospital to be in strict contact with the doctors and help the family pay for whatever expensive medicament or equipment was needed to save and treat the child. We would also stay with the patients, because parents were not always in a position to spend the whole day and night with them – some came from far away and had other children to look after at home.

This was all when parents were in the picture… I remember one day arriving at the department and being met by an upset nurse: early that morning they had admitted a baby who had been born in secret and abandoned by his mother in an alley. Stray dogs had tried to eat him, and he had only been rescued thanks to the fact that someone was passing by at that moment. He was immediately operated and lost a leg. I will never forget the sight of that baby sleeping under a thick blanket. I cannot really find words for what I felt.

Our relationship with the hospital grew stronger and deeper. We were not imposing our idea of aid, but put ourselves at the service of the medical staff – they were the only people entitled to say what was needed and how the help had to be administered.

The then president of Honduras, Ricardo Maduro, and the first lady, Aguas Santas Ocaña Navarro

One need they expressed was that something be done for AIDS patients. Thus, we started a programme to collect funds (we even rented cinemas and organised premières for that aim!) to cover the costs of retrovirus medications for those patients who could not afford them. We even went so far as to organise a march to raise awareness about the discrimination people with AIDS were subjected to. We were absolutely proud of being able to have the President of Honduras and his wife marching alongside us.

Whenever I think back on those moments, I feel a wave of warmth within me that I can hardly describe. As accompanying spouses, we often complain that we have less chances than our working partners to get in touch with local realities. This was not the case for me in Honduras – thanks to my volunteering with that hospital. I am sure in every country there are similar occasions. I invite everyone to look for them, and to participate. It is not only a way to give back to the countries that kindly hosts us; it’s not only a channel to get to know and understand the local culture; it’s not just about becoming deeper people who are exposed to stories we would never have experienced back home: it’s also, and foremost, to honour the chance we’ve had to go and spend a period of our lives outside our borders, and witness first-hand that the world is not the same for everyone.


Claudia Landini
March 2020
All photos @ClaudiaLandini


We are all Expats from a world that we simply don’t know about

The beauty of managing a broad online community is that the chances to come across amazing persons multiply. An Expatclicker put me in touch with Vincent Lemma because she thought he had something to add to our ongoing discourse of What Expats Can Do. She was right. This interview with Vincent is interesting, thought-provoking and inspiring.


Welcome Vincent. Would you like to share a bit of your story with us?

Sure. I am a US-citizen, born and raised in Brooklyn to Italian parents. I came to Italy when I was 18 because my dad wanted to go back to his home country.

Mine is a bit of an unconventional path. When I arrived in Italy, I began to study engineering, but I soon realized it was too rigid for me. I also felt a certain call in a different direction.

It was then that I discovered the world of indigenous populations, and started working in their defense and for their protection, bringing their causes to the UN in Geneva and New York. I wrote speeches and acted as interpreter for a foundation I had joined.

I realized that humanity as a whole had been “robbed” of its roots and that this sort of “heritage plundering” still continues today.

Meeting these different people marked my life. At the same time I also approached the world of animals. I was frustrated by their present conditions, so I set up SOS Segugi, which has become a fairly known association in Italy. We fight hunting, save mistreated dogs, and try to raise public awareness.

Thank you Vincent. Could you elaborate a bit on what you mentioned about getting in contact with the world of indigenous populations, and how it marked you?

It was all by chance really. One night I was walking along the streets of Turin, just admiring the porticos but lost, and I see a plaque on a building that reads “Ecospirituality Foundation”. As I was curious, I attended one of their conferences, and it turned out to be an NGO that supported self-growth and indigenous causes.

They see the indigenous people as bearers of fundamental human knowledge and traditions that could benefit humanity as a whole. At that time, I felt that “the Universe” was trying to point me in a direction so I just followed my instincts and leaped in.

Years later, I found myself working at their side on issues of humanitarian importance, getting the chance to meet many indigenous cultures from around the world. Native Americans, Australian Aborigines, numerous African tribes and even indigenous cultures of Europe.

people who have had the opportunity to experience a greater perception and raise their cultural awareness have an enormous responsibility towards the evolution of humanity from a cultural, moral and ethical standpoint.

The funny thing is, for instance, that I had to come to Italy to discover the traditions of Native Americans, as they are poorly portrayed in the U.S.

I got a chance to discover so many traditions but all linked by a focus on our ties with a greater nature that links us all. Indeed, there were so many elements in common that is was almost uncanny, and from that point I realized that humanity as a whole had been “robbed” of its roots and that this sort of “heritage plundering” still continues today.

You might think that this all does not affect modern-day life; but I feel that civilizations cannot build a prosperous future without knowing their [true] past. Humanity could make astounding leaps in all areas of life. This all changed my life, and as often happen, I never meant for any of it to work out this way.

I find what you say here absolutely inspiring: “humanity as a whole has been “robbed” of its roots and that this sort of “heritage plundering” still continues today”. It made me reflect on how easier it is for people like me and you, who integrate diversity in their lives in a natural way (by living abroad, changing country, etc.), to have a vision of humanity as a whole, instead of a world population divided by frontiers, walls and flags. I know it is a vast question, but do you think that those people who have experienced what you have gone through, for instance, this realization you talk about, have a responsibility towards the world to spread their message? And what are in your opinion some of the ways they could achieve this? 

I’ll start by saying, yes, people who have had the opportunity to experience a greater perception and raise their cultural awareness have an enormous responsibility towards the evolution of humanity from a cultural, moral and ethical standpoint. We cannot make true progress towards a future without having a clear picture of our past and present. How can you enhance the human condition without knowing about it? Humanity is so much more than the economy on which our Western world is based.

…a single humanity is the canvas and many cultures are the colours that compose the painting.

Photo ©ClaudiaLandini

I often meet people who have just lived in one place, and their cultural awareness of the world and of its different peoples is often limited by what they are fed by external sources such as the media. It is impossible for a person that has lived in one neighbourhood all their lives and perhaps has only taken a few trips abroad to get a greater picture of the world. Even the school system in place fails to provide a greater sense of a world community. In my opinion, globalisation is actually having the opposite effect of closing borders and human interaction.

Sure, we have the internet, which is great, and we can talk to people from anywhere in the world, but we always think that they have our cultural mindset, and this is not always the case. The beauty of the world is its diversity, and this is undermined in today’s modern society. In other words, a single humanity is the canvas and many cultures are the colours that compose the painting.

As for the second part of your question, I believe that all communities of the world must come together to create a sort of “Heritage Doomsday Vault”, like the one in Norway that stores seeds in case the world goes south. I could really go on and articulate at length on this, as it has always been a problem for humanity, but now more than ever, we need to find ways of leaving traces of our history. This will not be on the internet or in books, although these are a great vehicle of dissemination, but perhaps we must encourage oral tradition again, and maybe burying a few time capsules wouldn’t hurt either.

I also feel that humanity must piece together its true history. This “heritage plundering” has indeed falsified our past, which has led to our current situation of strife. We need “history detectives” that are brave and unbiased to go beyond the accepted story that we are all fed at present.

We have so little time left to do this, which is why even initiatives such as “What Expats Can Do” take on a vital importance. We are all Expats from a world that we simply don’t know about.

Thank you so much Vincent. I would now like you to share your vision about animals and a bit of what you do for them in Italy. I know you have created an organization called SOS Segugi, could you tell us a bit more about its mission, but mostly why you have set it up? 

Sure, actually my path in human rights is tightly connected with animal rights. I learned respect for nature, animals and people when coming to Italy and along my path. I had an Italian hound dog that I loved dearly, his name was Tommy. Animals can teach us so much if we just take the time to “listen”, and I had felt so frustrated for a long time that animals are so mistreated.

Anyway, Tommy got cancer and he would soon leave me. I took him in my arms and promised him that I would help his species. Soon after I opened SOS Segugi, which is based in Italy, and is now going international under the name Hound Dog Society.

What we actually do is help abandoned and mistreated dogs, provide medical and mental assistance and home them. We also hold public events and run social media campaigns to raise awareness. Recently, we have been bringing our message of compassion into schools so that children can learn about the fantastic bonds that can be created between people and animals. Our efforts have saved hundreds of dogs and reached a vast audience.

As for my mission, I like the quote by Mahatma Gandhi that says “The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated“, and actually expand on it and say “the greatness of the world”. Animals are in effect a civilization, different than our own of course, but with their own right to life.

We are seeing many great advances in technology but I feel that ethics is lagging behind. Helping animals, in my modest experience, serves as an example to others to bring out the natural compassion that we all have but that often forget along the line. We share this world with other creatures. We often hear about climate change and how it’s important to take action. I agree with this, but I also feel that we must take action towards other forms of life so that we can better ourselves, and it all begins with us.

Plus, I have so much fun with what I do, and that never hurts.


Interview collected by Claudia Landini
December 2019
Photos ©VincentLemma except where otherwise stated


On how being an expat shaped my way of being a mother

Moci is Peruvian. Her two daughters were born while she was living in Hungary. In this wonderful article she reflects on how living abroad has shaped her into the mother she is.


expatmomI became a mom in 2012. I had been gone from Peru (my native country) since 2008. I gave birth in Budapest, after a very happy and uncomplicated pregnancy. Later, in 2015, I had my second daughter, also in Budapest.

After staying to help for 3 weeks once my first daughter was born, my own mom left and I became a mom on my own. That’s when I became the mom I wanted to be. One that follows her instincts, uncomplicates things, and takes bits of wisdom from different sources and cultures. That is what I think being and expat mom did to me. It allowed me to become the mother that I was meant to be, without external interventions (and unsolicited advice). But not only that, it gave me the gift to learn from different kinds of mothers: different not only because of their styles but also because of their cultures, background, and upbringing.

I was lucky, I had different role model moms: some local Hungarians, some expats. I observed them while I was still pregnant, I saw things that I liked and that I would have never seen in my circle in Lima… and I made them mine. Baby-wearing was one of those things, breastfeeding long term and in public was another, bringing my girls with me from day one everywhere was a third one.

Nothing stopped me from doing my thing, I just did whatever fit me, I had no one’s expectations to meet. It is true that my personality and character played a big part and allowed me to be like that, but I think it was also a consequence of being on my own; and of being in a context that gave me the opportunity to be myself while mixing with moms of different countries. I am certain that I would have never been the mom I am had I stayed in Lima.

Being different, not just talking about how things are different somewhere else, is also a way to confront the status quo and bring some fresh air to the context.

Being an expat allowed me to be a stay-at-home mom by choice, something I would have never considered while being at home because I would have just been too focused on doing what everyone in “my world” did. Being far away made me consider other options and made me see other ways and hear other stories and experiences.

expatmomNow I am back in Lima temporarily. I have been here for the last 3 years. How has becoming a mom in a different country affected my being a mom at home? Well, I definitively have a different outlook on things. I am usually the one with the different opinion. More than once I have been specifically asked what I think of certain situations because my opinion was expected to bring a different perspective.

I tend to be less apprehensive than the average Peruvian mom, I tend to be more liberal and expect my girls to be more independent and to be more tolerant and accepting of other kids. I am a VERY present mom but I am usually quite laid back when situations arise at their school, for example. I tend to let things be solved by their teachers, which for some people is quite surprising (here, they tend to call the moms of the other kinds involved in an incident to discuss what happened at school). Also, I tend to be more mindful about people’s circumstances and try not to judge (I am not always successful though). I am more independent and rely less on external help, I am used to doing and being on my own.

Now, how can I contribute to my new surroundings with my experience? I think that bringing a different perspective – especially to a “local” environment” is already a contribution. Showing people that there are other ways to do things is already a win. Being different, not just talking about how things are different somewhere else, is also a way to confront the status quo and bring some fresh air to the context. Raising a “citizen of the world” kind of kid is also a gift, a child that doesn’t necessarily comply with the local social norms tends to raise some eyebrows and I think that is also good.

I really feel in my heart the need to contribute towards raising better children – they will be the future citizens of the world, and for that I think we need to be better parents. I am really invested in the idea of working with parents – through my coaching practice – to help them gain self-awareness and let go of their own limiting believes and habits, to make them see that we can all do things differently and learn from others, and that there are a lot more options than just following (or rejecting) the kind of upbringing we had ourselves. Ultimately I owe all of these insights to my expat experience.


Moci Ferradas Reyes
June 2019
All photos ©MociFerradasReyes


The essential role of humanities in our times

“Now, as then, we must value the humanities even in the midst of conflict and division. Only through the humanities can we prepare leaders of empathy, imagination, and understanding—responsive and responsible leaders who embrace complexity and diversity. Our institutions must also play a leadership role by making the treasures of the humanities widely available. It is our responsibility to prepare the leaders of tomorrow, and to elevate and protect “the heritage of the human experience” that we all share.”

Source: Why we need humanities more than ever


For years I have been convinced that training in science, technology and economics is essential to prepare the young to the working world. Humanities certainly are interesting and important, but I always considered them as accessories.

My life abroad has changed this assumption.

While reading the above article, I found myself reflecting on which process I instinctively learned to set in motion when I have to face a relocation in a new country, and I want to find out more about the people living there. Despite my initial beliefs, I never start by investigating the scientific development and the technology level reached in the country. I certainly look into the economic development level, but this is an aptitude I learned from my university education that allows me to quickly understand the possible life style of population in function of the economical infrastructures available.

However, if I want to find out something about the people in order to be able to connect with diversity, I spontaneously start from literature. I read books, preferably novels of local authors. Literature tells me about a way of thinking, it tells me stories, it gives me hints on habits and ways human interactions are managed in that country.

humanitiesThen, if they are available, I go to exhibitions and local markets to find art crafts: art, and especially photography, makes me understand the feelings and the way local people interpret reality, it tells me about their lives, it is a mirror of how they see and go through life events.

And if in this journey through humanities I meet something I cannot relate to, I focus on it and make an effort to know more about, because most of the time that is the place where the difference is hidden: it is a part of humanity I do not understand yet.

With time and repeated culture shock, I realized that scientific discoveries, the level of technology and the economic development obviously give a lot of information about the people and their lifestyle, but they alone cannot illustrate cultural differences.

I wouldn’t know what I would do without humanities in my expat life: it is one of my most powerful tools to face culture shock. How many people should I get to know and how long would it take me before I can gather enough information to start understanding something about local culture? How can one neglect this aspect of human nature and think of being able to quickly build bridges between cultures and countries? Where there is no reciprocal understanding, communication becomes difficult. Education of new generations should stimulate this practice to open up to other cultures through humanities.


Cristina Baldan
June 2017


Red spades and black hearts?

How much of our knowledge is influenced by our experience?

How many times we see only what we think we are seeing?

Facing diversity can be tricky: are we aware of how our brain is working?

Are we open to other possibilities that we did not take into consideration?

In our expat experience, how many times did we realise that what we were thinking was in reality something different?

These are some of the questions that came through my mind after watching this video.

Now I cannot stop thinking: how many red spades and black hearts did I miss?


Cristina Baldan
April 2017


[Video source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k_f-up7heh0&feature=youtu.be]


What I saw today – Not Just A Number, International Friends Play&Share

I don’t know if what I saw today matches our current Challenge, but for sure curiosity was what pushed me to jump into my car and go to “International Friends Play&Share” event. I already knew about the project and its importance, but I had never visited them. Curiosity is what you need to go out of your comfort zone and create connections in real life.


I joined them at their usual weekly meeting.
There was a medium-sized community hall.
There were carpets and toys on the floor.
There were hot drinks, cakes and snacks.
There were women, of different ages.
And there were their toddlers.
There was also a grandma accompanying her daughter, and there was me, a middle-age woman, whose children are definitively too old to participate.
A diversified group of women.
A young one, who clearly knew how to handle toddler educational activities, was leading the games.
And then, more toys, interactive games with children, music, singing in three or four different languages, dancing, and even a singing exercise for the adults.
A very pleasant and enjoyable hour.

children paintingIt could have been an ordinary well organized expat playgroup, like many I used to go to with my children in the past and in other countries.
In this group there were 2 people from Finland, 1 from Australia, 1 from Italy, 1 from Syria, 1 from Georgia, 1 from South Africa.
Two of them were refugees, but to anybody entering the room while we were playing with the children, it would have been difficult to understand who was coming from where.
All barriers were left outside the door: you don’t need cultural norms or a specific language to play with a toddler… just a carpet, some toys, materials to touch and manipulate, music, dance. That’s it.

The magic is done!

What I saw today was a group of women enjoying an hour of their time with their children, leaving their complicated lives outside the door for a while, relaxing and connecting with other women, most of them never met before.

Empathy is possible, it is real, it happens.
It happened this morning at “Not Just a Number”, it happens every Thursday morning there.
We can make it happen every day in our lives.
And it is not so difficult.

Cristina Baldan, November 2016


International Friends Play & Share
Emma and Poyer, both expats, are the souls behind this project and I asked them introduce it to you.

As newly arrived expats, we met in September 2015 at the Maastricht International Playgroup along with another dear friend, Christa Somers. This weekly gathering gave each of us a firm grounding and social outlet as internationals in this new environment. It allowed us to feel welcome, supported, and comfortable as we began to find our way in this new town.

We discovered we shared concern about the welfare of newly arrived refugees and together we envisioned welcoming refugee families into the fold of the international community using the playgroup concept. Our idea was supported by comments from a very active local social entrepreneur and Syrian refugee, Nour Khatib, who is a board member of the local refugee support NGO called Not Just a Number. He told us that while there were several local NGOs supporting refugees, none had managed to facilitate connection between local Maastricht community and a particular subgroup of the refugees living at the local shelter – namely mothers with young children.

what-i-saw-today2These women continued to be socially isolated and had little reason to leave the refugee shelter except to shop for food and clothing. Most of their time is spent indoors, caring for their young children without the aid of their own toys or care items, such as pushchairs/buggies and highchairs. We believed the playgroup concept would be a good way to reach out to these women and children. It also held promise of a way to pass on things like clothes, toys and baby-care items – things that are readily available from international families in our networks who are often on the move.

With the help of a large group of supporters — mostly parents of students attending the United World College Maastricht — we set ourselves up in the football clubhouse next door to the Maastricht Asiel Zoekers Centrum and began running weekly playgroup mornings from December 1stGrowth of the playgroup was rapid and it wasn’t long before people waiting to access the donated items overtook our comfortable play space. Our solution was to separate the arms of the project, thus creating International Friends Play and International Friends Share. We scheduled separate days and recruited a new team of volunteers.

International Ffriends Play is now a calm environment where mothers can enjoy a hot drink, snacks and a chat while our children play. The inclusion of music classes has injected high energy and fun, and serves as the perfect ice-breaker for new visitors. Professional musician Jana Debusk has brought great enthusiasm and a wealth of knowledge, sharing songs and rhythms from around the world through her collaboration with the Funikijam music program in New York.

International Friends Share attracts an average of 50 visitors every Monday within a 3-hour ‘shopping’ period and we pass on about 600 donated items within that time. About 12 volunteers help to run this event and collectively they work over 70 hours in that single day. Re-sorting the messy aftermath occurs on Tuesdays, with another team of about 6 collectively working 20 hours.

The wealth of wisdom, skill, and diversity on our volunteer teams has ensured the success of these projects and ongoing support of refugees in Maastricht.  Our shared commitment to serve community holds us firmly together and it is the broad skill set we can call on that ensures results. Our expat members have purchased supplies, shared freighting resources, provided multiple language translations for flyers and posters, given clothing and household donations, rejuvenated old discarded bicycles, fetched, carried, sorted and re-sorted many tons of clothing and most importantly they have given greatly of their time.

Our expat community is now an integral part of the cultural experience that is shaping the social integration of hundreds of refugees seeking a new life in the Netherlands.  In turn, our lives have been enriched as we each discover that we are all cut from the same cloth and by working together we can flourish.


Emma Bendall and Poyer Conforte
Co-founders – International Friends Play & Share
Not Just a Number


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