Hot Dog and Chicken Nugget Eaters in a Dumpling World | Expat-Mama in China

For our 8th series of amazing interview-stories of Expat Mamas around the World,we are featuring Suzanne Zulauf, an American Expat-Mama who lives in Shanghai with her husband Andy,  her son, Lee (9 yrs.old)  and her daughter, Mara (6 yrs.old) From their kaleidoscope  life in New York  as a Jewish family, Suzanne shares us to her new-found Expat-Mama adventures and bravely raising her 2 American kids in the Dumpling capital of the world,and probably the most populous city in the  world– Shanghai,China.

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Meet the Zulaufs : Suzanne, Andy , Lee & Mara – Hotdogs & Chicken nugget eaters in the land of Dumplings

How does an American Mama cope in the land of Dumplings when her daughter only eat chicken nuggets, mac & cheese?

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Postcard from New York – view of Central Park, the world that the Zulaufs left behind
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A pie chart representing the percentage of the population that effing loves dumplings!

Suzanne’s Background 

2016-08-24_063931466_7c025_iosSuzanne is literary coach and a middle school Language Arts teacher by profession. A super-mom of 2 kids, and adores Broadway from the moment she moved to New York. A true American by heart, she admits she can’t live without the real gooey McDonald’s sundae,peanut butter & Cheerios! Having lived in one of the most fast-paced city-Manhattan in New York, she’s hooked into running the west side of the Central Park and her passion for fitness got her into doing a half marathon and a ten-mile run.

As a huge introvert,she loves to read and find comfort in writing.  For someone who is passionate about food and a good old margarita, she enjoys simple pleasures in life,like having a drink in her porch with a neighbor.

 

Suzanne is the Blogger behind the Blog Zulaufjourney which is a personal lifestyle Blog.  A firm advocate of “Remember your roots and Trust your Wings” as randomly  incorporated in her parenting style and outlook in life.

Expat Mama in Shanghai : Hotdog & Chicken Nugget eaters in a Dumpling World

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Pudong Skyline
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Shanghai’s local sightings

On first impressions of Shanghai 

Shanghai is gigantic; much larger in space than New York City, and for a foreigner feels widely inaccessible.Shanghai is basically divided into two sections, East and West of the river. West of the river is called Puxi (poo-shee)  and East of the river is Pudong. The financial district and Andy’s office are in Puxi, but we will live in Pudong. The airport is on the East coast of Pudong (and all of China) so it makes sense for us to live in Pudong since Andy will be traveling so much (both internationally and within China).Cars do not stop turning, even when walkers have the light.Within Pudong, we found that a huge number of expats live in Jinqiao (gin-chow), which is also called Green City. It felt the most like a suburb, with shopping centers and restaurants. Several of the other areas we looked at felt secluded and were often a 15-20 minute drive to groceries or other stores.

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Shanghai’s skyline at night

Shanghai’s skyline is beautiful and also in a constant state of change.  If you look at photographs of the last several years, several buildings have been added to the skyline.  Most famous is the Oriental Pearl Tower, which gleams purple during the day, yet is the star of the nightly light show between 6-11pm.

On  the undeniable air pollution & Hygiene

Bad air quality – This is a real thing. When there is a blue sky, its like a miracle.  When the rating goes above 150, I feel real physical symptoms (scratchy throat, stuffy nose, fatigue). My kids can’t go out for recess, and I worry about the long-term effects for them.People spit everywhere all the time. More Expats say that Spitting here is not a bad habit, it’s brilliant.

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Lee & Mara’s drawing of China

On living in a “Bubble”

The language barrier is by far going to be the most difficult challenge.We live in Jinqiao , literally means “the golden bridge” but locally  often referred to as “the bubble”. It seems that most people native to Shanghai do not speak English. This will be a challenge.Hearing a foreign language all the time, everywhere you go is mentally exhausting. We’re all taking Chinese lessons, but it is difficult to learn and harder even when local Chinese can’t understand us when we do try to speak!

Internet is blocked by the government, so we have to use a VPN, which causes all sorts of issues with our banking and other accounts we need to access. Also with children, it is nice to have the creature comforts of favorite television shows, etc, and the shaky internet perpetually threatens our access to those comforts.

On Split pants culture for babies & Squatty potties

In China, babies wear the “Split pants”and potty training comes early. The call of nature comes by command from parents either through swift whistle and children poop or pee.This might come as a shock from a country whose definition of potty training includes hours & tedious discipline for training your child to seat on a potty  decently.Chinese children (and sometimes grown men) urinate on the street or really anywhere they want to.

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To Squat or not to squat : Source

Often, public toilets will be “squatty potties” (or, a hole in the ground) without toilet paper readily available, so be prepared.

On having  a hired  help 

It is normal for expat families to have an Ayi  and driver, so raising unspoiled children is tricky.Living as an expat, we will be very fortunate to employ a driver to help the accessibility issue.The expat community is a “helper” culture, as is much of Asia, so we will also most likely have an “ayee,”  ( same as Nanny ) who will help with grocery shopping, cleaning, cooking, and taking care of the kids. This is a luxury that will take getting used to, and I hope that I can navigate this set-up in such a way that my children do not become spoiled rotten, entitled, or without  a sense of personal responsibility.

I need to say that I’m still uncomfortable talking about “my driver,”  “our ayi”  and “Andy’s assistant” to people living outside China because I’m still uncomfortable with what feels like unnecessary privilege, even though it is a way of life here.  We have always been self-sufficient and never had family employees.  (Andy’s assistant is a KPMG employee and while he has always depended on support staff for work, his assistant here is literally getting us through life!) In these past few days I’ve realized just how grateful I am to have our driver, Yu Jian, our Ayi,Lauren, and Andy’s assistant, Terry, because I would otherwise be paralyzed with the overwhelming differences of daily life. That being said, here is how these few days have gone-with enormous help from Yu Jian, Lauren, and Terry.

Share something about the current country you are living in and notable aspects .

Shanghai is supposedly that “least Chinese” city in China, but I feel very much the impact of living in this corner on the world.  None of the ‘rules’ of life seem to be the same:

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Surviving traffic in Shanghai

On Shanghai’s crazy traffic

You can ride your moped on either side of the road in the scooter lanes, but cars won’t stop for you to cross an intersection even if you have the green light. Drivers in general don’t follow lane lines, yet will slow down at every government camera along the highway.Road signs just don’t make sense.Families of four or more while ride on one moped as their main form of transportation. No seat belts. No car seats (in cars, either).

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Integrating as much as possible

Zebra crossings do exist in China, but don’t serve much purpose, as drivers will rarely stop when you are near one or indeed inside one, so never take this for granted.Many car drivers in China are quite inexperienced, as Chinese tend to buy their first car and get a driver’s license much later in life than Westerners.

On the unexplainable typical  Shanghai  culture 

Since there is 0 unemployment in China, there will be 6 workers in an empty store all playing on their cell phones, but not one will help  you when you come in the store.Chinese love to take photos of Western children (especially blonde ones).There is no concept of lining up for things, even at a cash register at a store.You have to have your produce weighed and get a price sticker BEFORE you go to the cash register at grocery stores or you cannot purchase your produce.At restaurants, food comes out at different times for each person at a table, so don’t expect to eat with your family members or your food will be cold

The greatest shock for me–The vanilla ice cream at McDonald’s tastes different. That is all.

 

On  importance of education and access to International schools

Dulwich’s Early Childhood curriculum moves quite quickly and there is but there is a surprising huge difference between USA/ NYC Kindergarten and Dulwich Year 1.  Those students (who would be considered Kinders here) are NOW in January writing complete sentences, sometimes paragraphs. Their penmanship is spectacular! I’m not sure what their secret is to such great academic success because we know that young students need a print-rich environment and that they thrive on having choice in their book selections.

Our tour guide from the admissions office told us that the early years students are more advanced than at other schools, but that they all level out in the upper years. I’m not quite sure what to make of this.  I actually worry that students who have been with  Dulwich since age 2 might totally overshadow my girl.

On Bridging the gap from families abroad

Talking about time difference, we have a 12 hour (13 with daylight savings) difference from one side of the family and a 15 hour (16 at daylight savings) difference from the other side of the family. So having quality calls or FaceTimes are hard.

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Grocery shopping in Shanghai

On Food 

We can’t drink our tap water, so adjusting to bottled water is just one more thing to get used to. My son has been very open to the food our Ayi cooks, but my daughter really only will eat chicken nuggets, mac & cheese, cereal, and yogurt. Luckily there are several groceries that carry Western items, but you pay the premium to have those things because every food item has to go through China customs.

On beating the Shang-lows & re potting the Uprooted child

file_000-19As a first time Expat,the best way to pull out of those low days and to move into a more accepting mindset is to stay busy. We ventured into our new Shanghai routines from  weekend soccer games, play dates, and birthday parties and exploring the city.I would say there is plenty to make us feel happy in Shanghai, especially for Lee, who has earned a spot on the Dulwich Earthquakes, a team housed at the British school, but associated with the MLS San Jose Earthquakes. With soccer, the SAS swim team, and the freedom of riding his scooter around the neighborhood to his new friends’ homes, he’s feeling mostly settled. Mara also has plenty of activities: gymnastics, Wednesday swim club at school, and will soon start some fun after school activities (Junior Olympics and recycle art).One other China bonus: our backyard! The kids, especially Lee, love that we have a space
where they can run around and Lee can now play soccer. In our yard!

Thinking that my kids have been uprooted from our old  New York lifestyle , its great that they are slowly being repotted, the Shanghai way.

What is your opinion about raising your kid as a third culture kid?  Are you happy that you are raising an Expat Kid?

I LOVE that my kids are learning a new language and that they are learning to accept a new normal. They are making friends with kids from all over the world. I know that raising my kids as expats in going to give them invaluable skills later in life. They are resilient and adaptable, and while they have their struggles missing family, friends, food, and their “old normal,” they are for the most part learning to appreciate a whole new part of the world. I couldn’t be happier we made the decision to come here.

How do you make an impact as an Expat Mama in your country of residence?

I would love to find a way to continue coaching teachers and helping to bring top-rate instruction to our expat kids. I would also love to work with Chinese schools who want to improve their English instruction.  I think the best thing I can do, though, is to continue and study my Chinese so that I can show each Chinese person with whom I interact that I appreciate their culture, that the ways of life here are rich with custom and history and deserve a chance to be experienced in native tongue.  I think I can make an impact on other Expat Mamas as I continue to branch out and try to speak Chinese in public. I can be an example of trying embrace this life, even if I do live in ‘the bubble.’

Thank you so much Suzanne for sharing your story with us! If you want to follow the Expat adventures of Suzanne, make sure to follow her blog- Zulaufjourney !

Have you enjoyed this post?  Make sure to check out our other Expat Mamas & Papa stories in The Netherlands, Kuwait, Philippines, Thailand, Berlin , Saudi Arabia and of course, how an Expat Papa take on how to Raise a Kung Fu Baby in Germany .

 

 

Follow Justbluedutch & Pinays in Germany  for more of my  Expat stories  and Hey, if you are an Expat Mama, you might want to be featured in this Blog for our series on Expat Mamas around the World! Drop me an email at justbluedutch@gmail.com.

Are you on Twitter?  follow me on my  Twitter  and my Instagram  for more updates on my Expat Life in Bavaria.Thanks!

 

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Raising my blonde kids in the Philippines | Expat-Mama in PH

Is it just a cliché  talking about Bringing Up Bébé in the Philippines?  or is it a renowned global myth that French kids eat everything? I really wonder about this.How about trading hiking the Swiss Alps for the beaches in Bantayan Island in Cebu?

Well,I am going to tell you that one French Expat- Mama juggles on pursuit of zen, balance & rumbling through the whole foods section in the supermarket and at same  time raising her Blonde  Third Culture Kids in  South east Asian culture. How on earth she’s doing  it?

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Estelea’s Blog post :  Where is Home for my Multicultural Kids?

On our next feature for Expat Mama around the World series, we go to far away South Pacific where  Estelea,an ex-Red Cross workaholic femme, enjoys the tropical sun and hopping the tricycle mania in their island life. She and her Swiss husband, Marcel, are currently based  and living the not-so-ordinary Expat life in Bantayan island in Cebu, Philippines. Together they trot this place upside down with their 2 adorable  kids, the Attilas;  (aka Maëlle 5 y.o and Léandre 4 y.o.).

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Enjoying the exotic Jeepney Ride in the Philippines

With a bubbly spirit, a pocket full of wisdom, she shares her big heart to her host country, the Philippines through her meaningful writing such as “All we need for Christmas is a roof over our heads” . Aside from her Blog, she tell us how to handle the fanatic Filipino craze on Karaoke, the not-so friendly-typhoons and the hustle of being tagged as Parisian-stage-mama to her kids at school . Here’s her very own Expat -Mama Story: Raising my Blonde Kids in the Philippines

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Stephanie on Raising Blonde kids ( The Attilas )  in the Philippines

Estelea’s background

Estelea is the woman behind Estelea’s Blog, a French Mama of 2, A yoga enthusiast and a budding teacher,a dreamer, a beach lover and a humble humanitarian rolled into one. Stephanie is  a minimalist by nature ,Vegetarian by choice, and makes it a point to have & enjoy a good kind of laugh.Everyday. Living almost 3 years in the Philippines, she still can’t believe that it’s for real that she’s living a life in the shores of the pristine beaches.

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It is more fun in the Philippines – Towering coconut trees! The backdrop of everyday Expat Life in Bantayan. Not as grand as the Eiffel tower, but actually more rejuvenating. In dire need of fresh air?, inhale, because it’s always Free.

Estelea is a  good friend of mine..from a far. Thanks to technology that we became modern-Penpals. When the Attilas gives her a break-time from being their super-mama, she wrote a whole lot of inspiring, funny, and down-to-earth posts about motherhood,Expat Life, and family oriented adventures.

Tell us About your Background

I am French, originally from Fontainebleau, a beautiful historical town by the forest, about 60km from Paris. My job from the years BC (Before Children) definitely took me to places, from Eastern and Western Africa to South East Asia, when I was working for the International Red Cross. We are now based in the Philippines and for the first time in decades, I am not working. I mean, technically…I mean, for a paycheck.

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Raising the Attilas and wearing flip-flops ( Tsinelas) all year around !

On Life as a Full time & Stay-at-Home Expat Mom 

I am actually working full-time every single day of the week, no day off, as a Stay at Home Mum. My very very significant other got a job on the little island of Bantayan and the kids and I are living some 6h away, on Cebu island.

For visa reasons, I can not work in the Philippines, and it has been pretty challenging to adjust to this new kind of lifestyle. A door closed but another open as I had no excuse to finally dwell into more significant yoga practice. And here I am, just completed a 200hours yoga teacher training, and I gave my first class just 2 days ago . My kids’s teachers are very interested in teaching yoga to their little students too, so aside from my adult classes, I am so excited to work on classes for children.

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It’s more Fun in the Philippines: Expat Life in the Beach

How  Yoga changed your life

Yoga is about exploring and discovering who you are (peeling the layers of the onions, as our teacher would say). Being kind to yourself so you can be kind to others too. Be sincere, be healthy without pushing you to your limits.Yoga to me is such a powerful vehicle of change. Through the toning of my body and my mind, I build strength and I start to believe in my own potential. My whole experience of change through Yoga is written Here.

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Journey with Yoga

Share something about the current country you are living in and notable aspects of life.

On Philippines as a Child-Friendly  country

If you were to choose the most child friendly country in the world, Philippines would definitely be in the top 5. I never ever heard anyone complaining because my kids are loud or “slightly” active. And it is not because my little Attilas are incredibly behaving, the real reason is that people love children. Kids are everywhere, there are playgrounds in each and every mall, and they are genuinely welcome by all the staff of the resto and hotels. It’s pretty unique I must say!

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Meet the Blondie in Bantayan Island – Future Miss Cebu?

On emphasis on Family and splurging on Kid’s birthday parties

Filipinos are very family oriented, they go out on weekends all together, and I can’t recall the numbers of times we have been invited to share food just because we happened to be around. One has to attend a kids’ Birthday  party to get my point loud and clear. Their Birthday parties look like our kind of engagement or even wedding party back home. It’s grand compared to the way Europeans do. They take it incredibly seriously, there are so many clowns, presents,  games and they invite the whole neighborhood along with the whole clan. There is no way you would leave the party without a big bag of food and give away presents. It is very heartwarming for expats like us, so far from home.

On Motherhood starts at a young age

Philippines has a a very high (TFR)  Fertility rate, ( as per 2016 World Factbook CIA report) ranking at # 53 ( 3.09)  compared to France # 110 (2.08)  or Switzerland, # 188 (1.55). Of course there are lots of differences, most of the women have their kids in their 20s and many young couples drag their progeniture everywhere, day and night. My kids’ friends have watched so many scary movies my children won’t watch before they turn teenagers!

On overwhelming  Exposure of Filipino kids to all kinds of media

The media exposure is so overwhelming here. They are exposed at a very young age to me, and they learn to perform on stage from 4 years old and the beauty pageants start very early. This is maybe because Filipino kids are exposed to realities of life at a young age. Little children are up-to-date watching all the tele-novelas and primetime shows in TV where they see all the hard realities of life,including the funny side.Ask any young children in the street about the current dance craze or the reigning Miss Universe and they will answer to you blatantly!

 

 

On borderline of personal privacy

Filipinos adore “Blonde”babies and kids they treat them like dolls!  It could come as a compliment but also could come across as crossing the borderline of privacy. Don’t be surprised if people take pics of your children without asking, it is just because they find them “gwapo” (cute). Nobody is shocked but the expats actually,we in France are very veery yy protective of our privacy and that is quite a cultural shock. We don’t want foreigners to take pictures of our children, let alone selfies! But you can always get your point with a nice smile.

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Celebrity baby!

On the debilitating Karaoke culture of the Philippines

Nobody, nobody, sleeps when the karaoke is on!

It is very easy to live in the Philippines as a family. The only minus being the karaoke that is so loud, night and day. But tell you what, after a couple of years here, where singing is like breathing, the kids and I are very competing with taxi drivers when the radio plays a song we know. That’s another great thing with living in the Philippines, how easy it is to laugh for anything and everything. Very very different from Europe!

On food diversity

Foodwise …Philippines is very diversed and Filipinos are definitely meat eaters. And I am vegetarian. Voila! People really used to look at me as if I had just fell from the moon when I refused the legendary “lechon” (pork) or “lechon manok” (grilled chicken). They gave me the same look when I said my kids can’t eat pastas with condensed milk and sugar or sausages with marshmallows. When it comes to junk and sweet, you can tell that the American did not leave the best behind when the Philippines became independent . But things are – slowly changing, and there are now many vegan options that are very good! And thanks Pinterest for teaching us to make the best out of the vegetables and the fruits we can find on the market (try me on eggplants and bananas 😉 )

How is it being pregnant, giving birth and raising your child away from your home country? Or relocating with your kids to another country? What are the adjustments, struggles you’ve overcome?

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It’s more fun in the Philippines : French touch in Cebu directed by Bright Expats and Action!

 My kids are 4 and 5 and it is super easy. They are little sponges, absorbing the cultures, the languages, and they don’t feel foreigners in spite of their blonde hair and their long eyelashes – that always impress Korean women!

Especially now that they can speak some of the local language. You should see them in the jeepney (local bus) talking with the driver in his language, they make every one laugh so hard!

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Bilingual kids

My daughter was born in France so when I was expecting her brother we wondered for a little while if we should get back to Europe. But I am so glad we did not. All the beautiful prenatal yoga classes, the perfect attention of the medical staff of the Samitivej Hospital in Bangkok were beyond all my expectations. Plus Thai people really care for pregnant women, I felt like a super VIP all the time! Everything was cheaper and far better quality than back home.

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Raising a  Blonde Third Culture Kid in the Philippines : So far, so good.

It is been really easy and fun, I feel it would be much more challenging if we had to relocate to Europe – France or Switzerland. We have lost our mute button a long time ago, and the kids hate wearing socks ..

 What is your opinion about raising your kid as a third culture kid? ( TCK means a third culture that your child is growing up with compared to the culture of your husband/spouse )

 Are you happy that you are raising an Expat Kid?

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Core values starts at home.

I wrote on this topic https://frenchtouchincebu.wordpress.com/2015/05/15/what-does-home-means-for-multicultural-kids/ and to me, it is “so far so good”. There are endless benefits of raising children abroad, they become fast learners, they adapt very fast and don’t know the meaning of racism.

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Leading by Example : This is how a lady should be treated, as shown by her Father.

So far so good because I am not sure of the benefits of this lifestyle in the long run. We are going back to France and Switzerland once a year, and it is not enough to build the kind of memories I have built with my cousins and grand parents for instance. Bless Skype, Whatassap and Viber, for sure! But nothing can replace a real big hug. That’s the reason we are planning to relocate in a country closer to home, at least a few hours by plane (direct flight!). Cebu- Paris takes us about 20h, it is definitely too far. Can’t have it all !

How do you make an impact as an Expat Mama in your country of residence?

We are legends! People think we have countless helpers, a driver available 24/7 and we spend our days in SPA… And most of them have no idea of where the Philippines are!

I don’t think I am making any impact actually. Some of my friends would definitely think I am living the easy life, simply because I don’t work. They google “Cebu” and see pristine beaches. I’d rather leave them with the illusions, not mentioning the rainy season, the insane Manila  traffic, how small the expat circle is here. And that the nearer beach is some 5 hours away ..

Interestingly enough, the expat life made us reinforce our links with our family much more than with our friends – unless expats themselves.

Disclaimer : All photos are owned & of personal property of Estelea, special credit to her FB page and should you wish to use it, please mention the owner.Thanks!

Inspired by this post?

Have you ever wonder how an Expat-Mama is raising her Kids in the Netherlands? Or what about a Muslim mother raising her child in the oil-rich desert country like Kuwait?

If you want to get to know more about Estelea and like follow her Expat Life, you can add her in her Facebook page Here and follow her Expat adventures in her Instagram Here.

Are you an Expat Mama and have a unique story to share, feel free to email me at justbluedutch@gmail.com and don’t forget to follow my Expat Life in my Twitter for more stories of Expat Life like this.

 

 

 

 

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Expat-Mama in Kuwait

Today, Sept. 12, the whole Muslim community around the world is celebrating one of the holy festival in Islam, known as ‘Eid al-Adha’( or the Feast of Sacrifice). Eid -al-Adha is a festival that marks the end of the Hajj -an annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that lasts three to four days. The Koran recommends all Muslims make the journey    (or Umrah)  at least once in their lifetime. Worshippers typically slaughter an animal like a goat or sheep. Imagine close to 10 million animals are slaughtered in Pakistan on Eid, how about on other countries?

So in time of Eid-al-Adha festivity, for our next Expat Mama around the World series, you will get to know more of surprising facts about motherhood in  Kuwait especially from a Muslim Expat-mama perspective.  Kuwait is a  Muslim country  where there are 2.4 Million Expats  despite that the summer heat could rise up to 50 degrees and where oil is cheaper than water.

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Rechiel’s Story : An Expat Mama  Raising  her third- Culture kids with core values of Islam. (Photo credit: Aysha Aldrini)

 

There are roughly 180,000 Filipinos living and working as an OFW ( Overseas Contract Worker) ,in Kuwait and Rechiel is one of them. She left the Philippines for work  since 2003, so basically, she lived more than a decade in the Middle East, imagine that!  Kuwait has been her 2nd home for a long time now. Surprisingly, she and I happen to go at same school in High School.  (which I only found out later when she told me) She is a dear friend of mine and here she shares her Expat Mama Story :  A Muslim Expat Mama journey to Motherhood in Kuwait.

Rechiel’s Background

Rechiel is a Filipino Expat Mama of 3, and working in Kuwait for almost 13 years now in a Shipping/Logistics Company. Unexpectedly, she found love and eventually got married to her Egyptian husband ,Wasim, who is also an Expat in Kuwait. They have 3 beautiful daughters namely  Cha, Salma & Maryam. She is an active member of the Anchors Toastmaster’s Club in Al Bader Company. She loves  swimming,photography , and Karaoke of course!

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Kuwait sunset from the Arabian Gulf 

On converting to Islam and raising her kids in Islamic faith

Rechiel converted to Muslim faith from the time that she married her Muslim husband. It was not a mandatory requirement, nor a legal prerequisite for marriage of Non-Muslim & Muslim but it is her personal decision to revert from Christianity to Islamic faith. By changing her views on spirituality and faith, she dressed up in modesty as  Muslim women should be, she changed her lifestyle and start to wear Hijab. For her, doing this  shows her total submission to her husband and abiding the teachings of Allah from Qúran.

Here’s my Interview-Story of her as an example of a down-to-earth  Expat-Mama who is raising her children with Filipino, Egyptian and Muslim values in Kuwait.

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Expat Kids  and Expat Mama

 

Tell us About your Background

My name is Rechiel, I’m the from Philippines and came to Kuwait as an OFW ( Overseas Contract Worker) . I got married, and gave birth of my 2 girls in Kuwait. I am literally living for more than a decade in the Middle East now. It’s been a challenge for me to work full-time at the same time being a mother to a teenager, and 2 more girls. It’s like working round-the clock. From the moment I got home, I spend productive time with my kids but cannot spare anything more than an hours’ time. My interest has always been photography but I do not have time on hand to pursue my interest owing to other responsibilities. I do not know when, but one day I definitely will find time to pursue my interest. It is hard being a mother ,that is a fact, but my life is totally rewarding raising them.

Share something about the current country you are living in and notable aspects of life from an Expat Mother point of view.

On Culture Shock and Arabic language

Kuwait is one of the most prominent countries of the GCC and like all other middle eastern countries has a lot of expats from all parts of the world working and living with their families. Culturally , I found Kuwait to have much Asian influences. There are lots of Filipino/Asian stores so when it comes to food, I felt like I am in the Philippines. In my work, there are also plenty of Filipino colleagues, so basically, I didn’t have much hard time adjusting. Believe it or not, I understand Arabic , but up to this time, I know I still need to make great effort to learn it. When you have kids and needs help with their Arabic homework, you just feel motivated to learn. My kids go to  International school where different nationalities so there is always a great culture mix-up. At home, we speak English  and Arabic so my children are all bilingual.

On the other hand, my husband being from the Mediterranean region (Egyptian) ,He, too feels very much comfortable to be living in Kuwait. But nowadays he too got confused with the living status here.We have plans to move to Alexandria but still the plans are not that concrete. Being an Islamic country Kuwait has a typical living conditions for women outside their homes. We are Muslims, so  socializing is restricted when it comes to interacting with other groups of men and women.

On leisure activities for family and Kids in Kuwait

Kuwait is a desert country, with a hot climate.There are not much greenery like in the Philippines or in Egypt. I got used to the living conditions here even when I was still single but as a family ,we make it a point to enjoy the outdoors when it is not too hot. I am thankful that at least we have the beach for us to have picnics & for the kids to play in the sand or swim. As parents, visiting the Aqua parks, amusement parks, public parks, cinemas, shopping malls, museums, science centers and all such institutions are my favorite spots in Kuwait  since both me & my kids can enjoy.

On Arab culture criticism for being Lax at Parenting

I grew up in the Philippines where courtesy & politeness is being taught at a young age. We say “Po & Opo”and respecting the elders is a vital trait. We even have GMRC ( Good Manners & Right Conduct ) subject included in the curriculum. Here in Kuwait,one unusual culture that I don’t like is when an Arab mother tolerate their kids to disrespect them in front of others. Kids are yelling at them if they don’t give something that they wanted. This is very prevalent in malls & restaurants. The teenagers are such a bully . It disturbs me at the same time challenging for me to see that my kids are exposed to multi cultural diversity and how to keep them on the right track.

How is it being pregnant, giving birth and raising your child away from your home country. Or relocating with your kids to another country? What are the adjustments, struggles & rewards you’ve made?

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Salma, her second daughter on her 1st Birthday -Little Filipino-Egyptian Princess

On Pregnancy, Child Birth and Post-Partum Care

For me, It was nothing unusual being pregnant and giving birth to kids in Kuwait as the country has a well-equipped hospitals and gives utmost importance to health care. It is much cheaper and affordable to gave birth here compared to the Philippines. The hospital that I went to was efficient and took care of me during my Caesarean operation up to my post- partum care. I could imagine that if I gave birth in Philippines then this type of service is very expensive. Pregnancy in Kuwait is also different since Kuwait has extensive Prenatal care and taking care of a newborn comes easy for me with the help of my husband and close friends. My work  even allowed me to have paid Maternity leave. Vaccination of newborns and toddlers are also within reach, very accessible.

On giving birth alone in the Public Hospital

If you gave birth in a public hospital in Kuwait, you can’t see your husband or others , not right before you gave birth. I feel very blessed to have a very supportive and able husband who arranged everything for me and make it easy for me during the time I was giving birth up to the time I am recovering. It is a normal convenience to have a “Kadama”( maid) in Kuwait so I felt lucky to have such extra help.Even without my immediate families from the Philippines, I did not have a hard time.

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Maryam, Rechiel’s youngest child (Raising a Third Culture Kid in Kuwait )

 

On expensive cost of Visa& Residency papers and Tuition fees

Although many things quite cheap in Kuwait, the high cost of living as an Expat family could make a toll on Expats here in Kuwait. The bureaucracy about paper works for a newborn to get residency and visa is quite complicated. It’s a good thing that my husband is well-versed on Arabic and  in the in& outs  being a  Mandoup , ( A liason officer and official representative of a company to transact business & paperworks in the ministries in Kuwait ) so it goes quite easy. For a non-arabic speaker & Expats, this is a big problem and takes time. Aside from the visa fee 100kd ( approx. 300 Euros/ 330 $USD) for 1 year residency  plus another 50kd ( 170 $ USD/ 150 Euros ) for Health Insurance, it is costly for an average family with 3 kids that you need to renew every year. Adding up the expenditures are the visa fees for parents, expensive tuition fees, flat rental and utilities. I knew many Expat families chose to let their kids study in Philippines or in their home country instead of expensive schools in Kuwait. Yes, gas is cheap & affordable in Kuwait but maintenance of a car is also costly.This is the reality of the cost of living as an Expat.

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Joining Walk for a cause and Socio-activities in Kuwait with friends .

On having Fewer friends and Mommy-practicality

When you’re an Expat,  got married and have kids– your lifestyle turns 360 degrees change. You have fewer friends, and limited time to socialize because your priorities changed. I knew many friends in Kuwait but being an Expat Mama, my days are filled with family, work & little time for myself. I guess, this is the consequence. I can’t even have the latest fashion & cosmetics out in the market, not because I can’t afford it, but I become practical and go beyond the material value.

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An Expat mama journey to Motherhood, from Philippines, to Kuwait to Egypt to United Arab Emirates.

What is your say about raising your kid as a third culture kid?

I am raising Filipino-Egyptian kids in a Kuwaiti environment. My kids love Adobo at the same time eat Kubz everyday, adores Kebab,Biryani, and mostly Egyptian dishes. They can speak both Tagalog, English and Arabic. Raising a Third-Culture Kid is both challenging and fascinating because for example, in school they are exposed to different cultures and social media is a big influence too. At their young age, I try my best to teach them important core values we have at home so they remain open-minded & flexible.

How do you make an impact as an Expat Mama in your country of residence?

I’m thankful that my work have given me the chance & exposure to contribute my views. I feel honored when I got the chance to have a Speech about the role of Women as mothers in the society. It is a great privilege that a Filipino like me could have a chance to make an impact in my work, and being a  Muslim now gives me the respect from the community we belong to.When an Arab person approaches me and makes comment about how I am raising such adorable kids, it is more than money can buy. A true happiness any mother wants to have.

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Being an Expat-Mama is a privilege. It gives me the chance to raise my child in a competitive world to prepare them in their  future. It’s not always a glamorous life, but it sure does the best life I want. Wherever we are, either in Kuwait, Philippines or in Alexandria, home is where me & my family stands close to each other, and that’s what matters most.

 

Thank you Rechiel for this wonderful story of your life as an Expat Mama. It is a pleasure being your friend and this post is for you and your family and  Eid Mubarak !

 

 

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Are you an Expat Mama? Do you want to be featured in this series? Feel free to send me an email at justbluedutch@gmail.com .

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Expat-Mama in The Netherlands

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The Dutch Life : Where canals are never-ending and Amsterdam is a city that never sleeps. 

For our first feature on my new Blog section —Expat Mama around the World, Get to know one amazing Expat Mama from The Netherlands, Ann, the Blogger behind the Grubbs ‘n Critters  who shares her Expat Mama story about living in the land of beautiful canals, Van Gogh, delicious cheese, wind mills & clogs.

Ann currently lives in The Netherlands with his Dutch husband 2 kids and 2 cats. She’s a Baker, Innovator,  Homemade cooking enthusiast, a Globetrotter, and a serious coffee addict.

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The Grubbsncritters Family (Photo credit -Grubbsncritters)

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How does she manage to raise her kids in the cycling capital of the world?  Here’s my Interview- story  with her – “An Expat Mama journey to Motherhood in a foreign country.”

Tell us about your background .

I hail from a tiny island, with no capital city attached to its name as the entire city is actually a country called Singapore.  My parents are both Singaporean and still living in Singapore; my father of Javanese descent and my mother of Japanese –somewhat Portuguese lineage. Technically, that makes me a (Singaporean) mutt.

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The Big Move of the Grubbsncritters Family 

My career has been pretty much rooted in the advertising industry for 18 years now and after all these years, I still find it hard to explain what I really do! As a context, the industry I’m in deals with planning, negotiating and buying advertising space across all media. That was how I started out at the very bottom in the agency world. And there are so, so, so much more!

All these years, I have been lucky enough to not only work with global advertisers and partners across markets in my course of work, but also getting the opportunity to be transferred to another office in a different country with more than the occasional travels for business.11 years ago, that opportunity brought me to Bangkok, Thailand.

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The Land of water mills or also known as Windmills

On Juggling work and Family times

I have since been a part-time SAHM after our move here. I still work supporting my Thai office as a consultant and I work remotely from home on a 3-day week schedule on Central European Time. That also means I have to do the occasional con-calls at 3 a.m or 5 a.m on my local time! For now, that’s only temporary and I’m excited on what lies ahead.

What are your Biggest Passions?

My biggest passions are cooking and baking. I just love being in the kitchen experimenting with ingredients and whipping up magic.  I find them to be therapeutic as no matter how tired I am especially when I am stressed out, my whole family would end up having a feast!

About a year ago, I collaborated with a blogger, Gen author of Eat, Play, Clove on a Monthly Mystery Munchies Project from South Africa.  It features every first Friday of the month where we both take turns to challenge each other on agreed theme or ingredients and then post up our creation for the month. We have now featured over 25 different recipes between the both of us and I must say that it has been one of the most amazing project with a fellow blogger ever!Check out one of my heavenly recipe for Fabulous Friday Flavour Here.

I also love to read, travel and watching movies but sadly, those were b.c (before kids) indulgence and I have yet to find time for them.These days, you’ll find me blogging away and I do get annoyed if I couldn’t find the time to blog!

How is it to live in the The Netherlands?

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Typically Dutch Kids-Spud & Squirt enjoying the Tulips season  in the Netherlands

We’ve only been living in the Netherlands for 3+ months but really, the Netherlands is not a stranger to me at all.In the last 8 years, going back to the Netherlands for a vacation is an annual pilgrimage for at least 3 weeks at any one time. Our visit will always include family time with my husband’s side of the family and his bunch of childhood friends, who are by now, also my friends.

On Dutch Culture 

Family time and doing things together as a family comes first above anything else. A big part of my culture revolves around food – that’s huge from where I came from and we always make an occasion with food out of nothing! It’s also a blessing that my husband, his family and most of his friends are also enthusiastic foodies so we have a good blend of food culture going on whenever we get together.

On Dutch Bureaucracy and Formalities

In the last 3 months, I have been exposed to the complicated Dutch system of trying to get registered as a resident, getting insured, getting a mobile phone number in which I needed to produce a local bank statement for, trying to get a subsidy for getting the kids into the childcare to which we are entitled to, and recently the complex tax system – each of those probably need a post on its own!

On Dutch Early Education and Childcare

I have to say though that we have been lucky with school and childcare. Because we live in a little hole in the suburb, there has not been any waiting required. The situation would probably be different had we live in Amsterdam. The Dutch also has one of the highest quality education in the world that does not cost too much money and very much catered to the pace of the children.

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Essentially, that been our primary reason for leaving Thailand where education system is crappy and was becoming expensive. In Singapore’s rat-race, education while affordable is extremely competitive and academic. Much of the education is rote learning and something that I am not too fond of.

On Dutch brutality for being straightforward & Directness

The concept of “losing face” that is prevalent in the Asian society and a culture I’m very familiar with is pretty much non-existent here. The Dutch is known for their straight in your face blunt honesty. What you see is what you get. No one cares about “face”. It is what it is and that works for me just fine.

On First Name Basis

If there’s one thing I find a little strange with the culture is that everyone calls everyone by name. A 4-year-old child would be calling the mother of the next door neighbor by the first name. Nephew and nieces would also address their uncles and aunties by name. It was something I had to get used to as back in Singapore, we would always address those who are older with “Uncle” or “Auntie” or Sister/Brother. Calling anyone by their first name especially when you are much, much younger is considered rude!

On learning the Dutch Language

I’m still struggling with the Dutch language and I must say that given the area where we live where Dutch is the language the community is most comfortable with, not being able to speak it fluently has been quite debilitating. It’s definitely something I have to work on; along with getting a bloody damn driving license!

On scenic landscapes and beauty of nature 

I absolutely love the greenery, peace and quiet here.And do you know what else is great? The tulip season of course! It’s really the best time of the year to be visiting the Netherlands. Also, don’t forget to look up at the sky! You’ll be amazed with what you can see!

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Orange skies–as Holland’s national color is Orange.

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How is it being pregnant, giving birth and raising your child away from your home country. Or relocating with your kids to another country? What are the adjustments you’ve made?

 Pregnancy & Postpartum Care

Both my kids were born in Bangkok. From pregnancy to the birth itself and postpartum, we were pretty much on our own. My parents had to work and could only visit a few weeks after the birth of both of our kids and my in-laws visited us much later. In a way, we did not mind it very much as we wanted our space to figure things out on our own for the first few weeks after the birth.Fortunately, getting help in Thailand was relatively easy and we got ourselves a nanny in no time. Plus, the hospital services for birthing was nothing but excellent. I wrote a piece about my experience at The Bum.

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Being a parent definitely required us to make some adjustments to our lifestyles. For the first few years, we no longer slept beyond 9 p.m. and we could no longer sleep in till late afternoon.  And once I started going back to work after my maternity, I found it hard to juggle and get the work-life balance I needed. Harder for me as I was a workaholic and I was travelling lots for work!

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But somehow, we managed to work things out in the end. With the move from Bangkok to the Netherlands. I guess I just went with the flow and tweak things as they go along. I’ve learnt that not having any expectations is the best solution to keep your sanity.

What is your say about raising your kid as a third culture kid?

Now that we are settling in my husband’s birth country, I’m not sure the term third culture kids would apply to them!Still, having spent the earlier part of their formative years outside of their parents’ culture, I guess by birth they’ve got third culture ingrained in their DNA. Besides, I reckon it would only be a matter of time before we get itchy butt again to move to another country – perhaps in another 10 years.

Much can be said on the benefits of raising a third culture kid. I see it as raising not only a child, but a citizen of the world who fully embraces cultural diversity and respecting the differences across cultures. The exposure and experiences they have had would help them to not only expand, but open up their minds, learn the art of adaptability as they intuitively learn to be more sensitive to their surroundings.

They are already brought up in a multi-cultural family and we have tons of fun creating our very own family culture, traditions and customs altogether and then mix them up as they deem fit without even thinking about it. Not many (non-third culture) kids would have that kind of exposure!

Wherever they are in the world and whichever part of the world they may end up in, they would be rooted to the family values instilled in them and they’ll take it with them wherever they go.

How do you make an impact as an Expat Mama in The Netherlands?

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I used to join mommy clubs and playgroups when I was living in Bangkok. It really helps to get to know other expat moms in the community. One of my favorite meet-ups was the Baby Wearing Club. That was pretty awesome!I have yet to start on anything Mommy-based in the Netherlands! It’s something I need to work on.

Thank you so much Ann for sharing your wonderful share about being an Expat Mama. If you want to know more about Ann and her passionate cooking, check her sumptous Grubbecipes and her fabulous  Critterstories.

Photos used in this post is courtesy of Ann of Grubbsncritters and is of personal property and may subject to copyright. Should you wish to use it, please mention her.

Are you an Expat Mama? Your story can be featured here too. Just drop me an email @ justbluedutch@gmail.com and follow our Expat Mama around the world stories in my Twitter Page Here .

 

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