…. to bring hope to the world

My commitment to the most fragile ones

We are grateful to Simona Carobene for allowing us to transcribe part of her presentation to the Expatclic’s Human Library.
Hers is a truly exemplary story of how empathy, love, attention, and commitment to the most fragile ones can lead to great results.

In Milan, I earned a degree in pedagogy. After working for 7 years in a cooperative for disabled people, I decided to try a one year experience abroad with the aim of helping people in difficulty. On May 30, 1998, I came to Bucharest with a well-known Italian NGO to work on a project funded by Unicef focusing on abandoned HIV-positive children living in orphanages.
Our goal was to find their families of origin and try to reintegrate them.

We were confronted by the unknown, and as a result, we learned many things – both about what was happening in Romania (and in all Eastern Europe countries), and about what these children really needed.
In Romania in the Nineties, there were about 200,000 abandoned children out of a population of 23 million. An enormous number!
A certain percentage of these abandoned children were HIV-positive. In fact, HIV-positive children in Romania accounted for 50% of HIV-positive children across Europe.

The Romanian state, which had emerged from a long period of dictatorship, was totally incapable of taking care of these children and had neither the economic nor cultural resources to face this. The government had therefore delegated a lot to NGOs, but without giving any kind of support.
After working for a while in the capital, we decided to work in the suburbs and arrived in an orphanage 20 kilometers from Bucharest. There, we found more than 100 children with AIDS. They were all born to healthy parents and we never could figure out how they got infected.

Seven eight-year-old children slept in rusty, small beds made for two and three years old, with their feet hanging out. No money was invested in facilities, because it was clear that these children would die soon, and indeed I have seen so many children die because of AIDS… The treatments were not those of today and the medical and nursing staff was completely unprepared.

Children often saw other children die. When a child got worse, he was first put in a small room and then taken to Bucharest… and never came back. No one spoke to the others about what had happened, and I recall a child who told me he knew very well that those children died and asked me why no one told him clearly.

The children were washed in a large bathroom with a tiled floor where they were all lined up naked and struck at a distance by the water jet of a pump because the nurses were afraid to get close to them and risk infection.

We tried to trace children back to their families of origin, but we found only 40% of the families, often because there simply were no documents.
The work of that year was my first big failure: out of over 100 children, we managed to integrate just one girl back into her family of origin.

But that first year was crucial for me, for my life, and for future projects.

Having met these children had touched us deeply. We began to bring help: beds, clothes, shoes… but every time we brought something, it was stolen. At the end of that year we thought that it would be more appropriate to start three foster homes with Romanian families to welcome the children from the orphanage. Namely, rather than trying to bring them back into their families, we’d give them a new family. This was very difficult both because of the fear of the disease and because there just wasn’t a tradition of foster care in Romania.

Photo credit ©Parada

Now I would like to open a brief parenthesis on the question of abandonment: why were there so many abandoned children in Romania – indeed in all the Eastern European countries?
I had always thought it was because of poverty. On the one hand, this is accurate: there are poor families, very difficult social cases, dads in prison, alcoholism, psychiatric diseases, etc., but actually over time I realized that it is also a matter of mentality. It’s a consequence of so many years of regime. In the end, the state is more important than the family. Family is not considered the cell of the society. So, the state does not help the family in difficulty, but rather directly assumes the responsibility of raising children. Most abandoned children were not orphans, but children who had families that perhaps could have been helped in advance to raise them.

When we decided to start foster homes, we knew that it would be difficult. Within three years we managed to start three houses and find seven foster families. This moved 28 children away from the orphanage: given the situation, a real miracle!

I returned to Italy after that experience and stayed in Milan to follow the projects across Eastern Europe: Romania, Albania, Kosovo, Poland, Kazakhstan, Lithuania…
Until, in 2006, it was announced that Romania would join the European Union.
Then I asked my NGO to return. On one hand, I liked the job of coordinator less than the one in contact with people, and on the other I knew that with entry into Europe, we could no longer help Romania from Italy. The children I had met in 1998 were deep in my heart. I knew that over time, with Romania in Europe, the NGO would ask me to work in other areas, but I didn’t want to leave Romania.

I found a new three-year project funded by Italy to work on in Romania.
I understood that I’d never leave again when, in 2007, one of our foster families left and I went to live with the five children who lived in that house while looking for another family. I spent two amazing months with them. One night, while we were pillow fighting, one of the boys looked at me and said, “You love us all, but you’ll leave, sooner or later.” I was struck because it was true: orphanage, family, then another family, people from the NGO that came and went… that was life for these children.

That statement – which was not a complaint, just a fact – opened my heart and I thought to myself, “No, the relationship with you is forever.

Later, I resigned from the Italian NGO and I started working with Romanian colleagues for the Romanian NGO that came into existence.

I still work for this NGO, Fdp Protagoniști în educație, of which I am now also director.

We are still working with the HIV-positive children we met in 1998. They’ve now grown up, are 30 years old, have children, work, and live in social apartments that we manage. We have also started many other activities.

We work in Roma communities with poor children at risk of school dropout. We work a lot with sports foundations, such as the Real Madrid Foundation, to combine school with sport and make school more attractive so that they do not abandon it. In the last two years we started working with children with learning disabilities and difficulties (one of the children I have in foster care has special needs).

Working with poor people, we have found that very often learning difficulties have to do with poverty. I’ve come to understand this on a much deeper level as I am currently studying for a master’s degree at the University of Padua focusing on learning disorders. There is a disorder (which is not yet considered as such but will soon be) which acknowledges the problem of understanding text that primarily afflicts poor children.

These children may be on the normal school path, but do not know how to make connections like cause and effect or inferences, they have a reduced vocabulary, and in short have poverty of stimuli and experience. In these years of the pandemic, school dropout rates (already at 19% in Romania) reached 25%.

When I think back on my time here, I realize how important love is. A few years ago I did some research on the first children we had helped, checking in on them today as adults. Out of the 28 who had been placed in foster homes, no one had died, while 72% of those left in orphanages had. This shocked me because, with equal sanitary treatment (since we now have antiretrovirals), what really makes the difference and what makes people live is to feel loved.

Ultimately, my time and investment was definitely worth it, and it is worth staying here. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll realize the great dream of building a house with several apartments where, along with other colleagues, I could live with the HIV positive people that we have followed since childhood. Today they work and have become parents, but they have so many weaknesses related to illness and to the part of their childhood lived without love.


Simona Carobene
Human book at Expatclic Human Library 2021
FDP-Protagoniști în educație
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For another story from the Expatclic Human Library clic here.


A photo exhibition and emotional connections abroad

Luca Bonacini is a very dear friend of mine, and of Expatclic. A longtime expat, professional photographer, father of two beautiful young men, in his experiences abroad, Luca fixes his lens on situations related to the countries he gradually discovers. In particular, he keeps an eye on social issues, suffering and inequalities. Presently Luca lives in Brasilia, where he continues his intense activity as a photographer. This time, however, we met him in the role of curator of a photo exhibition. I interviewed him to introduce you to the wonderful initiative he is dedicating himself to. 


Luca has known many countries in the world. Of Belarus, however, he only had childhood memories, when he saw the name White Russia on the atlas and was fascinated by it. With his child’s eyes, he imagined a place of fairy tales, submerged in snow, all white, muffled. That it belonged to the Soviet Union in the midst of the Cold War, added a touch of mystery. When the wall collapsed and things started changing, Belarus remained an unknown and mysterious place for Luca.

Until then, in Brasilia, he meets Olga Aleszko-Lessels, an expat with double nationality, Belarusian and Polish, whose parents live in Minsk.

Photo ©Vadim Zamirovski

The richness and the great privilege of us expatriates are that we not only penetrate deeply into the cultures that host us, but we also come into contact with people of the most disparate nationalities, backgrounds and experiences. From the various pieces that make up the mosaic of our global human experience, sometimes one stands out in a particular way. Olga had this effect on Luca.

She passionately told him about the peaceful protests of ordinary people, especially women, before and after the Belarusian Presidential elections 2020 in August. Olga and her colleague Anastasiya Golets, another Belarusian activist working in the field of art, showed him truly impressive images and documentaries about protests and repression. When they asked him to become curator of an exhibition called “Democracy with a woman’s face“, Luca, of course, immediately accepted:

I was struck by the strength and beauty of the movement. I was very impressed by the massive and peaceful presence of women who have assumed a central role in the struggle for democracy, also thanks to the leadership of Svetlana Tickhanovskaya, the opposition candidate. It should be remembered how Alexander Lukashenko, for over 25 years at the head of the last dictatorship in Europe, dismissed his opponent: “Our constitution is not made for women“.

Anyone who has followed the events in Belarus since the elections knows that the peaceful street protests against the electoral fraud that reconfirmed the outgoing president were followed by a brutal repression: exorbitant fines, arrests, torture, threats and intimidation of demonstrators. Some even disappeared.

The ethical motivation and the values of justice that have always moved Luca were coupled by the professional challenge that curating such an exhibition implies: “I have been involved in projects as a photographer. I have “curated” my own exhibitions but never the exhibitions of others. It is a new and beautiful challenge, that of combining documentary photographs with more artistic ones. And also to look for the right balance between information and emotion. Explaining and mobilizing, making a brain and a heart dialogue… to encourage action”.

Photo ©Vadim Zamirovski

In this regard, I ask Luca how an in-person exhibition and an online exhibition differ with respect to their purpose. And if it will be possible to circumvent the obstacles posed by COVID-19 for the events that physically see us side by side.

There is not doubt that we are going through a particular moment. Still, I find physical presence fundamental. An online exhibitions certainly wins quantitatively and can be seen by many more people. But think of the difference in placing yourself in front of a 40 x 60 centimeter photo compared to a 5 inch cellphone? It is a much deeper effect. The physical space also allows you to put different images “in dialogue”, by complementing each other and connecting one another. The word “experience” is fashionable at the moment: Visiting an exhibition is an experience that involves not only the act of looking but also that of moving around, getting closer to better observe a detail, commenting with those besides you and with strangers. An online exhibition does not have these virtues. It is certainly useful to reach more people, it can last over time, it can be made interactive, but it is not comparable to the live experience in terms of emotions and impact“.

The exhibition that Luca is about to curate is part of a global movement. Exhibitions dedicated to democracy, human rights and peaceful protests in Belarus have already been held in more than 13 countries by Belarusian communities, including Paris, Berlin, San Francisco.

For Luca, contributing to exhibit in Brasilia is fundamental. As a good expat, he notes: “I do love the idea of showing a positive example in the country where I live. A country – Brazil – where most mobilizations are in favour of shutting down the congress and the federal court, and of a military intervention. It seems absurd, but that’s the way it is: a part of the population asks for the reduction of fundamental freedoms…certainly not a numerically major part, but loud, and very present”.

A final reflection concerns the connections born when living abroad, the emotional, practical and intellectual intertwining that every expatriate can – and in a certain sense must – cultivate.

Photo ©Iryna Arakhouskaya

As Luca rightly says, “An international life puts you in front of many different situations and opportunities and it’s up to you to seize them or let them pass. One of these for me was meeting Anastasiya and Olga. Looking at the photos, the faces and the expressions, and above all listening to the testimonies in the documentaries, I found that typical “Balkan” way of going straight to the essential (Luca has lived in Sarajevo in the past, ed). No frills: Rights, democracy, freedom, future!!! As in Bosnia, I have seen young, indeed very young people fed up with old politicians, asking only for freedom, very ordinary young people with immense courage. They might not be the classic activists but in the interviews of these very young female Belarusian protestors, in their words, in their eyes, we read dismay but also an incredible determination to move forward. This alone makes me think how important this project is”.

If you want to help Luca, Olga, Anastasiya, the Belarusian women who struggle daily, and those expatriates who follow dismay from other countries, you can also make a small donation to the fundraiser promoted to bring the exhibition to Brasilia. You find all details HERE.


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/



You have to be very careful with dreams

It has been an absolute pleasure to have this wonderful conversation with Franco Alosio, an Italian expat living in Bucharest since 2000. Franco has been collaborating with “Parada Foundation” since its creation. Parada is the first project of its kind that supports street children in the Romanian capital… and it is absolutely wonderful.

Parada was founded in 1996 by Miluod Oukili, a French-Algerian street clown who worked for the civil service whilst in Bucharest. While there, in his free time he used to do street shows wearing his red nose and juggling for the amusement of onlookers. Legend has it that one day, street children stole his equipment while he was performing. He was therefore forced to talk to them to try and retrieve his juggling equipment… which is how Miloud got started interacting with the children who were living in the underground tunnels that house Bucharest’s central thermal heating pipes.

When his time working for the civil service ended, Miloud decided to stay in Bucharest. Through Terre des Hommes Switzerland, he created a welcome centre for street children – though it eventually was forced to close – so Miloud founded “Parada” to keep it open, and thus the most extraordinary project was born.

The story of Parada is long and has adapted to the changes of Romanian society and the life of street children. It is the only comprehensive foundation that offers emergency services, socio-educational assistance, and socio-professional integration to street children and their families, using circus (believe it or not) as the primary educational tool.

Franco discovered Parada in 1999 at an international conference where he presented some of the activities he had promoted with street children in Nepal. The following year, his NGO sent him to Bucharest for a feasibility study on Parada. Later, when UNICEF Romania approved Parada’s project, Franco was sent to follow the start-up phase for six months. He’s been in Romania ever since, and even though his role within Parada has changed over time, he’s still deeply engaged with the project that has marked his life so deeply.

Thinking back on that time, Franco says: “All of my prejudices were thoroughly challenged. Not only did I find myself in the heart of rich and wealthy Europe, where these things are not supposed to happen… these kids were white, very much like our Italian kids. The image of them getting out of manholes, which immediately evoked mice scurrying around, was deeply disturbing. Those were the things our Western mind expected to see in Africa, or Asia”.

Reviewing one’s prejudices is not the only merit of going to live and work abroad. Getting in touch with different realities helps you reframe your own. Franco had already worked in the social services field and with adolescents as well as young people with personal discomfort, but their issues were more personal – the work was done on single cases. He had never experienced first-hand such a widespread social phenomenon.

Franco felt immediately engaged with Parada. At that time the concept of art therapy was completely unknown. Parada was a pioneer in exploring the idea of pulling children out of the tunnels by engaging them in something creative, humanly bonding, and fun. Miloud was absolutely innovative in that sense… and a bit crazy. It was foolish to dream that children living underground would come out and be trained in shows for the European circuses. But he did it. He understood that often, the only thing these kids had was a dream.

You have to be very careful with dreams”, says Franco. “Dreams have a huge potential, but if you break them you risk to take away the only thing a person has. The dream of a street child is to get off the street. These are his wings. Parada offered the chance to give roots to the wings. Which means to offer these kids the possibility to structure and develop those skills, talents and characteristics that allow them to realize their dream”.

I asked Franco what is the biggest lesson he takes away from his experience. “I have learned that human relationship is the only valuable path in these situations. It is a matter of empathy, of emotions. There is just one methodology to use under these circumstances, and it is that of human relationship: if you get involved at this level, even if you make mistakes, you will always be there for the other. You must show that you are there. And this requires constancy. Forget what they told you at the university or when you were working in the social work field back home. These kids are not inferior beings that need our help. There is nothing more false than this. You are just a tool that gets involved to connect with that person, a person who is not inferior, but who just happens to live under different circumstances. We can hardly change our lives, how can we even think to change theirs?

Franco has no doubts: in terms of individual growth he has received much more from “his” boys than what he’s given them. They have been a real school of life, for him and all those who have worked with them.

How can this personal growth be useful to society, though? “We are witnessing a globalization of social phenomena”, says Franco. “That of street children is increasing dramatically, it has gotten to the Western world and is strongly hitting European capitals. The experience of Parada is being exported where it’s most needed. Some of the former Bucharest street children are now training Kurdish kids in refugees camps in Iraq, or in Cambodia”.

Parada was born by the willingness of a person to get involved in a different context, to grow from the challenge that came from it. I can’t think of a better way to use this experience.


Parada has launched a fundraising campaign to raise the funds needed to continue their operations. If you feel like donating even a small amount to this beautiful project, even more important now in times of Corona Virus, go HERE for the fundraising campaign. Should you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact us – we’ll be happy to put you in contact with Franco.

Visit Parada’s website: https://www.parada.it/

Interview collected by Claudia Landini
April 2020
All photos ©Parada


What expats can do in time of quarantine

I’ve been thinking about how to write this article for a while. I felt a surge of inspiration from the first day that emergency was declared in my city; I witnessed first-hand how quickly the community came together to adapt to this new unusual chapter of life. However, at the time I could not properly focus on how to link the overall expat experience to what we are still going through right now.

Today, after some reflecting on what is happening around me as well as in different societies and social communities, I realized that the answer is right in front of me…

These are some thoughts that came to my mind:

photocredit LEEROY Agency - Pixabay

photocredit LEEROY Agency – Pixabay

1. Many expats are not new to home isolation

It is a common experience for the first part of every move to a new country. The first few weeks have striking similarities to what we are all going through now – especially for expats’ spouses: confined at home, maybe with small children to entertain, trying to get a new house organized, trying to set up spaces so that everyone in the family can find their own spot. There are also many expats who have experienced this kind of total lockdown (sometimes in even more dramatic and pronounced ways) in some difficult countries: local wars, riots, dangerous strikes, political instability, and even other serious epidemics like Ebola.

2. Expats are used to experiencing social distancing

It takes time to build meaningful human relationships with locals in a new and unfamiliar country, especially if the local culture is very different from one’s own one. From the Middle East to Northern Europe, from Africa to Australia – I learned on the go that the “safe” and polite physical space you need to keep between two people in a social contest is a variable concept (and it is not an easy task for an Italian who grew up used to spontaneous hugs and kisses!).

photocredit - Ansgar Scheffold - Unsplash

photocredit – Ansgar Scheffold – Unsplash

3. Expats are used to geographical distance

We are familiar with the feeling of having our family and dear friends miles away from us, sometimes oceans away from us. Many expat families are divided at this moment: children are stuck in other countries for their studies, old parents are confined in their home country. I want to pay particular tribute here to all the Italians who have aging parents at home, who are terribly worried for them, and who cannot even provide a simple comfort like making food or shopping for them.

4. Expats are used to stocking foods for long period of time

Well, not all expats, but I know for sure there are many that have experimented with this before. I noticed how easy was for me to go shopping last week: the shopping list formed itself in my mind while I was lost amongst the shelves of the supermarket. Instinctively, I sought out the same items I did when I was preparing for lockdown in Africa, or before the war in Kuwait, though there are some differences in the quality and variety of food I can buy here.

photocredit Ryan McGuire – Pixabay

5. Expats are used to building and nurture human relationships online

Not necessarily out of choice, but out of necessity: without this skillset, you’d hardly be able to survive expat life! Many of an expat’s interpersonal relationships are mainly nurtured over distance.

6. Expats are aware of the importance of community and the interconnections between us

They know what it means to be alone – or maybe even sick – in a country where you don’t know anybody. They have learned how to build essential and vital connections with the people around them in their new local community.

So many expats have the knowledge and memory of the feelings we are all experiencing right now: the sense of isolation, anxiety, and concern for families and friends far from them; the concern for what is happening outside our front door;  uncertainty about the future and the feeling of being suspended from your normal life.

None of what I listed above are pleasant or easy situations. Many people aren’t able to bare it longterm. But many expats have gained the resilience to deal with these trials.

And so, what can expats do in this difficult moment?

Exactly what we are doing.

I’ve noticed many social communities are inventing and organizing social gatherings on the internet. Check to see who is behind the first proposal to take a coffee break together online, to have a yoga class online, to get children on virtual playdates through their iPads, to organize any kind of social gathering online… often times the catalyst is an expat.

We are all online those days. The Internet is at the maximum glory of its existence so far!

Expat are experts in building and maintaining relationships over distance. We can help those who are not used to this, we can share our knowledge, both technical and emotional. Let’s help others who are discovering the web as a resource for building connection and invite them to join us.

photocredit Ron Smith - Unsplash

photocredit Ron Smith – Unsplash

In the kind of lifestyle this pandemic is forcing us into, it is important to engage with our neighbors and pay attention to what the people around us may need – especially if they are sick, weak, or simply feeling terribly alone in their homes. Pay attention to what is happening around you: maybe your neighbor is living through difficult moment, maybe they are old and can’t be reached by their children. Offer them help like you would do if your parents were living close to you.

Help single parents deal with children at home: they are not used to it, but we can surely recall some tricks and games we used in similar situations.

Offer compassion and understand to people who may struggle with staying at home, with possible family tensions and other challenges that easily arise.

And while we’re at home we can better flex across different time zones that work may have previously been inconvenient during working times. It is a good time to refresh a friendship left on the other side of the world: maybe they would be happy to hear from us!

Smile and be positive: be a light for others.

This situation will pass and we will be stronger than before.

Despite the fact that this pandemic has created a very dramatic situation, my heart is warmed when I see people experiencing physical distance and yet getting together and being closer than ever in many other ways.

People are moved by news from countries far away: it is fear, but it is also our humanity that is coming back. We are rediscovering how interconnected we are, and how what happens somewhere else in the world will ultimately impact us where we are.

The physical borders are closing, but the virtual ones are opening up like never before.


Cristina Baldan
March 2020


Living cross-culturally: the best gift to the world

I recently came across a wonderful human being. He is, among many other things, an expat. His intercultural experience is so vast, that coming up with a satisfying interview was a real challenge. I tried, and I am happy to invite you to meet Jerry, of The Culture Blend, and be as inspired by him as I was.


Jerry, you are from the US, live in China, and have a lovely multicultural family. How and when did it happen that you “went intercultural”? 

I have dreamed of faraway places for as long as I can remember. I grew up very mono culturally in the U.S. but have always been extremely fascinated by other cultures. My wife and I did a 6 month internship in Taiwan in college where we first fell in love with the Chinese culture and people. We adopted our daughter from mainland China in 2003, and got a taste of what it might look like to live here. We expatriated for the first time in 2006 and have spent most of the time since here.

And you have also shaped your work on interculturality, right? Tell us what you do.

I help people navigate the challenges and find the opportunities that come with living cross-culturally. Specifically I provide training and coaching for teams and individuals that focus on every stage of their experience from preparation and entry to departure and repatriation. I also write and build resources to equip them on that journey. I have worked most prominently with staff at international schools but have also worked with corporate teams and other organizations. The heart of what I do is to peel back the layers and get to the nuance of challenges that people face instead of simply slapping a cookie cutter, data dump on them that has no impact. I love watching people succeed at what they came to do and connect with the world in a way they didn’t see coming.

I’d like to talk about the “opportunities that come with living cross-culturally”. Besides the obvious (and we have repeatedly heard how living abroad makes your more flexible, tolerant, etc.), how does exposure to different people and lifestyles equip us with tools we can effectively use to make the world a better place?

I believe that something beautiful happens when you live cross-culturally. Two things actually.

Of course it is rich when you get the chance to observe and interact with a group of people who sees the world from a different perspective. The process of learning about a people adds so much to any person’s life. To be stretched by the way “they” do things is a challenge on the front end but ultimately becomes a wonderful, first hand training ground that gives you access to a broader scope. Working through those challenges provides you with more answers for how issues can be dealt with. Watching how other cultures have learned to solve the same problems that you have gives you a choice in how to move forward. So, actually living in a culture (versus just visiting it) affords you the time you need to move from “they’re doing it all wrong” to “hmm, that’s brilliant, I might try that.”

The bigger beauty happens, though, when you get to see your own culture through different lenses. It is a painful and powerful experience to process your own world view from a different perspective. When that happens you become more equipped with the kind of empathy that the world needs desperately. In the current political and social climate, people who are not only globally aware but SELF aware are the ones that I want to take the lead. The opportunities expand exponentially when you can see the world and yourself from a different angle.

When someone embraces what they can learn from other cultures and what they can learn about themselves, they become a bridge of understanding between others who have not had that experience. In a rapidly globalizing environment there are people who are struggling to make sense of other people. Bridges become essential in every space and the gates are opened for cross-cultural people to provide support, insight and understanding. That can be a great resource in professional, personal and relational contexts.

I’m interested in how biases, prejudice and the racism many of us have deep within themselves and living cross-culturally link. I recently read two things that were illuminating for me: one is White Fragility, a fabulous book by US-educator Robin Diangelo, the other is your article about the privileges of the white expat. Both made me think of how hard realizing the depth of these mechanisms is for some of us (i.e. the privileged ones). In some cases we even protect ourselves from understanding. Or we feel threatened and close within our bubbles. How can living interculturally practically help to curb racism and discrimination?  

Racism and bias are such loaded topics. They are packed with the most broken bits of history, experience, emotion, politics, culture and an endless list of other factors, which are then multiplied by the number of people in the world. The conversation is almost exclusively driven on the premise of being right and overpowering someone else’s ignorance with a false hope that it will bring about real change. “I’ve got it figured out. You’re wrong”. That’s the inherent danger of living in a herd. When everyone around you is just like you, the group builds a world view and supports it with a very limited scope. Then they respond passionately and sometimes violently to the other herds who challenge their thinking.

When you only spend time in a group of people who are just like you, your thinking is rarely challenged. Other cultures are simply scenery — but when you separate yourself from the herd and spend time in another one they become people. You no longer have the luxury of thinking you know everything. You get blasted with real life stories from the perspective of real life people and you get to see their history, experience, emotion, politics and culture through their eyes. That may not change everything (or anything) about yours but it should at least bring you to a space where you are willing to admit there is more to it. Living abroad confronts you with your own ignorance and challenges you to do something more than point out the ignorance of others.

Deep relationships with people who live and act and speak and think differently are the best hope for breaking down racism and discrimination — because, let’s face it, loud opinions and eloquent “rightness” aren’t working so well.


Interview by Claudia Landini
March 2020
Photos ©JerryJones



The Expat Life “Gifts”

An expat survey.


In my experience, I’ve realized that most expats are not aware of the enormous potential they have. Nor are they aware of the skills they’ve gained from this kind of life.

I suspect the reason is probably lying behind the psychological challenges and fatigue they are obliged to overcome every time they face a new assignment. When you start from the beginning over and over again, often by facing challenges that you would never expect (some very hard), you develop the belief that you are not an expert – you instinctively know how much you still have to learn every single time you approach a new country and a new culture.

However, I firmly believe that expats are an incredibly positive source of energy and of great value to current society: I have seen with my own eyes what they are capable of, and I am determined to help them to become aware of this… But how?


The Survey

I decided to start by running an experiment. I enlisted the most qualified people I know in this field: the editing team of Expatclic.com.

The group of 7 women who answered my questions had all moved abroad as adults and had collectively lived outside their passport country for a total of 131 years, with an average of 18.7 years per person.

They lived as resident of a total of 31 countries (4.4 countries on average for each person) and they visited an additional total of 197 countries (28 on average for each person). All of this with accompanying children – some born abroad, some not.

Even knowing about the experiences of my colleagues, those numbers were still a surprise to me, and I think they constitute a solid group as far as interviewees.

Flexibility / Open-mindedness / Ability to network

The answers to my question about how much the expat lifestyle had changed the interviewees contained many similarities. Gaining the ability to be flexible and to adapt to changes – in situations as well as in relationships with unknown people – was probably the most frequent common theme. There was clearly a lot of self-awareness, and interviewees seem to have gained an open mind towards new cultures, to new ways of “doing things”. Furthermore, common to all the answers was the acquired ability to know how to better deal with people and how to build a network of human relationships in a foreign environment.

The most difficult challenge has been…

Loneliness, isolation, loss of identity, a sense of not-belonging, being forced out of a comfort zone, and feeling uncomfortable in a culture far from your own one. These are the strongest challenges these women reported having to face during their life abroad.

This result may not be surprising to you, but it is for me because I know that among these women there are some who have lived in really difficult countries and have faced some extreme challenges in terms of securities issues, discomfort, lack of basic services (like clean water), war danger, etc… It is surprising to me that those challenges weren’t listed as the most difficult ones.

Instead, challenges that threaten personal identity, our sense of belonging, and the possibility to have meaningful human relationships have been the most difficult part of the life abroad for these women.

Which of your personal resources was most useful in facing cultural shocks?

The women in this group are all happy with their experience overall. Despite the difficulties and hard times, they are still satisfied with the choices made, in fact, they offer their time and energy to help other expat women. Expatriation, however, is not always as successful as it was for them. So, I was curious to understand if there was a common starting point, a personal resource that helped them to overcome their challenges.

And indeed, I found some common skills in their answers:

  • Positivity, sense of humor, meeting others with a smile
  • Being adventurous
  • Flexibility
  • Empathy
  • No judgment attitude, modesty
  • Respect
  • Above all curiosity: never being tired of learning about how other people live and understand life.
  • Determination

The impact of expat life on human relationships with strangers and with familiar people

In all the contexts of human relationships (family, children, friends, colleagues, strangers, etc…), there is a common characteristic among these women: there is more desire for and attention given to the quality of the relationships. The expat life brings some peculiar and specific teachings in regards to how select your friends, how to educate your children, how to evaluate other people’s behavior, and how to relate to it.

By living abroad, you see and come into contact with other realities. You discover that things can be done in a different way and children can be raised and educated in different and unexpected ways, and the results can be as good as your own traditions. This develops an attitude of being open to learn from other cultures, to develop a feeling of freedom and wisdom in picking up and adopting what you evaluate may be good for you too. Most of the women interviewed think they would have been totally different mothers if they had raised their children in their home countries.

The expat life also teaches you how to face adversity: the wide amount of difficulties an expat family experiences provide the training ground to learn how to screen out troubles, to identify the real priorities in life, and to become effective problem solvers. Most of the time you are alone to face your adversities without the support of good friends or family members. The reality is that you simply don’t have the time and/or the energy to make things complicated, and so become skilled in quickly finding workable solutions.

These women all see themselves as much stronger and resilient. They have acclimated to adversities in such a way that they face them when the time comes and fix them. This stands true despite things you would never plan for in a normal life like wars, serious illness, grief, criminality, and so on.

In addition to those hurdles, there is the learning about what is happening around you.

Moving to different places, with different cultures, we necessarily learn, I believe, about the politics of the countries in which we live, of the neighbouring countries, of global issues, and of our country of origin. This, together with the capacity of understanding cultural differences, gives us the tools to be able to read and understand what is happening around us in a much better way”.

This sentence summarized the gift of being an expat in the best way possible. The expat life brings the gift of a special “lens” to see the world. This lens comes from having experienced living life in another country (or countries) first-hand. The ability to evaluate people and situations by automatically applying self-awareness and trying to avoid bias and judgment is one of the most common and valuable consequent skills.

Based on responses from these women who are currently working, I would also like to address some benefits of the expat experience that impact relationships in the professional environment:

  • Knowing what to prioritize and when, and the ability to evaluate and solve problems
  • Being able to analyze and quickly understand an unknown situation or environment
  • Being able to adapt and work in an unfamiliar environment
  • Constantly applying an attitude of self-reassessment to find solutions that may work
  • Being able to relate and work with people coming from different cultures
  • Being available to continually start from scratch and think about the future with an “out-of-the-box” attitude

Are there any Human Resource specialists reading right now? Would you agree that the list above encompasses some of the most wanted skills in a professional environment those days?
Unfortunately, it is very hard for a woman to have this kind of experience properly expressed in a resume (but this is a good topic for another article).

Change of life goals and self-awareness

When you choose this kind of life, you accept the unpredictable. Some are aware of this reality, but most are not. I asked the question: “Has the expat life changed your life goals and inspired you to do something totally different from your initial plan or dream?”. This is certainly a query worth an in-depth analysis.

What I first noticed in their answers was that when the expat life began in an early stage of their life, the goals didn’t change too much. For the ones who left a career, a job or a university degree in the home country, the change was in some way mandatory: all of them had to change perspective and adapt to new realities.

I wish I could have continued working and reaching my goals as a woman in the fields of finance.

I was a lawyer and I am a coach and facilitator now!

I wanted to be a scientist, now I’m considering becoming a teacher.

The ability to reinvent themselves to face a new situation is common, but it also brings a certain measure of suffering.

The last question

if you could put three values or skills you gained in the expat life in a time capsule for your descendants which they could use in their own life, what would you choose?


  • Flexibility and adaptability to new situations and to changes
  • Curiosity of the world, for the people – Respect for others – Sense of adventure
  • Ability to learn from your mistakes and don’t be ashamed to make them, they are part of our life
  • Optimism – Empathy – Tolerance
  • Ability to accept life events, the loss, the loneliness, the hard times
  • Courage to keep going in front of adversities
  • Gratitude and appreciation for what you have
  • Knowledge – Sense of justice – Capacity of relativize

I don’t think I need to add any comment to this.


My research is not complete: this survey was just a first experiment. I want to dig more into the expats’ personal characteristics. There is still a lot to discover and to speak about.
I want to conclude this reflection with one last point and a question for you.
While I was reviewing their answers, I constantly found myself thinking about the richness these women can offer to society: not only as individuals but also as a group with their collective life experience.
That being said, I invite you to think and ask yourself:

What would the entire expat community be able to offer society if their experience is considered a whole?

If this reflection moved something in you, please share it with us! You can do this privately or through our Facebook page. All feedback helps us to improve this research and is evaluated with deep appreciation.

Many thanks to my interviewees, the Women behind Expatclic: you are simply and incredibly amazing!



Cristina Baldan
April 2019
All photos ©Expatclic


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