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Interview: What’s It Like Being an Expat in South Africa With a Toddler?

In our series presenting different experiences of expats all over the globe, let us introduce you to Tushita, who is hailing from India and living actually with her family in Johannesburg, South Africa.

As she shared with us when we first chatted, the decision to move and to explore the ‘unknown’ has surprised her! She has always been in Delhi and thus, to take the huge step of leaving not only her city, but the country, has been her biggest achievement. How does she deal with the remoteness from her family, questions of cultural identities while raising a toddler in another country and what are her biggest challenges?

KITnDO: How was your relocation to South Africa?

Tushita: While in India, my husband and I travelled across Italy, New Zealand, USA, Malaysia, Thailand, Turkey on holidays, we always wondered how ‘living’ abroad would be like. Our son was born on Feb 7th, 2017, and two days later, my husband gave us another life-changing news – that we were to move to Johannesburg as he was offered a global movement in his company. With a newborn, life anyway turns upside down and now with this news – I was speechless. We always wanted to experience living elsewhere, especially with increasing pollution in the city. But the move came at a point when I was at my most vulnerable phase.

The idea of having to leave my professional life and managing the baby on my own was a big weight on my shoulders. I felt overwhelmed. We reached Jo’burg, with our 5.5 month old, leaving behind our loved ones, my job and a life we were super comfortable in. Starting afresh and doing things I never did – like cooking, managing the baby single-handedly and leaving my passion – my career was taking its toll. I had good and bad days… But we managed to find people who helped us settle here.

KITnDO: How do you describe your cultural background?

Tushita: We are Bengalis, originally from East India, however, my grandparents moved to the Western part of the country and I was brought up in Delhi, the Capital and melting pot of cultures. Our community is known for its vivacious literature, performing arts, movies, among others. We are foodies and extremely proud of our culture that boasts of feisty women, our ability to question the norms and our sweet mother tongue – Bangla. We have rich culture and heritage and most children are involved in learning either music, dance, theatre or sports – primarily football. Our people are well read and enjoy a healthy discussion that we call ‘adda’. Our community is enriched by many stalwarts – from Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore, Satyajit Ray, Amartya Sen to Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, Swami Vivekananda, Sarojini Naidu, Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Saurav Ganguly.

KITnDO: What do you miss from India? Have you found places in Johannesburg that bring you a little bit closer to your homeland?

Tushita: I miss our family and friends, street food, the chaos and the noise of the city – thankfully, access to street food, albeit occasionally is sorted!

Fordsburg (a suburb of Johannesburg) is the place to go if you’re looking for South Asian spices, herbs, vegetables, fish or small restaurants. You have small shops keeping stock of Indian sweets, savories and street food. Our go-to places are Dosa Hut that offers south Indian, Indian-Chinese and North Indian cuisines. For tandoori items, I go to a small Pakistani shop called Pehelwan – their roast chicken is to die for! For Biryanis and other such items, I usually go to Al Makka run by a Bangladeshi gentleman.

Other than this, there are several restaurants across the city that offer delectable Indian cuisines. For South Indian/coastal cuisine: Thava Restaurant and for North Indian: we like Classic India.

KITnDO: What language do you teach to your son? How is it important to transmit him your culture? Share some example.

Tushita: We speak in Bengali with our son while he learns English in his play school. We intend to teach him Hindi – the national language of India – a bit later.

As a student of history, I understand the importance of knowing one’s culture and heritage as it not only gives a sense of belonging but helps shape one’s identity. It is thus, important for me to provide a glimpse of my culture to my child. Knowing where I came from, helped me understand and respect those from diverse backgrounds. It helped me see what’s good and encouraged me to question norms that I wasn’t comfortable with. Reading and learning music nourished my soul and made me who I am today.

I’m not high on rituals or traditions, I believe in transferring the beauty of our culture – dance, music, literature to my child. Yet, my favorite celebration is Durga Puja – because it’s more than a religious tradition. It is a social occasion where we see our deity – not as god but as daughter visiting her family. Humanizing Goddess Durga and celebrating her and her children was my favorite since childhood. Here too, I’m happy to have founded my community people and we celebrated Durga Puja together – by performing and eating galore!

Tushita and her family

KITnDO: How did you find this community?

Tushita: Before moving to Joburg, I did my own research and found the Bengali Association of South Africa (BASA) page on FB. I contacted them and upon landing immediately became its member. The thriving community has 80+ Bengali families and organises many events during the year – starting from an annual picnic, Celebrating Tagore’s Birthday to the Durga Pujo. The warm and friendly members meet occasionally and I have made some lifelong friends through the association. We all participate and take our responsibilities extremely seriously!

KITnDO: What is most challenging for you as an expat spouse?

Tushita: As an expat spouse, the biggest challenge has been to give up my job and accompany my husband. I have a decade-long experience across nonprofit and private sectors with expertise in communications, CSR and programme management.

To face it, I have recently restarted my career as an independent consultant/freelance specializing in nonprofit communications, content development, M&E reporting and documentation. Finding work is an arduous task and though I regularly apply for positions at UN and likes, it’s proving to be extremely difficult.

I am looking for a development consultancy or an organization that doesn’t shy away from hiring a person like me and I would very much like to work in the social sector space and hoping to work in the mecca of international development – Africa. (And we are happy to share the link to Tushita’s Linkedin Profile!)

KITnDO: Finally, what represents community for you and how you deal with fact having to look for new friends?

Tushita: I feel lucky to have this opportunity of exploring another country and meeting new people. Yes, it’s a challenge to make friends and expand your professional network – but one needs to be open minded and embrace this as part of this journey… after all how many get such an opportunity? It’s best to focus on the positive, and for me community is all encompassing that shares common values like love, respect and acceptance.


So inspired? Have you ever moved abroad to follow your spouse? How did you manage in this new life? If you want to share something, don’t hesitate to do so in the comments section below. We’d like to hear about it!

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What’s on your shopping list?

Back in the 90’s, just few years after the end of the Cold War, the difference of salaries and costs of living on East and West of Europe were so important that a price of subway ticket was considered as expensive for someone from ex-Soviet bloc. Though I had obtained a scholarship for my studies in a French College, each time I travelled for school break to Slovakia, I would bring back to France bags full of food and non-food items (of course, it would include some sweets from my childhood like “Horalky” or “Študentská pečať”). Many years later, the content of my bags reduced and changed, as I could travel by plane and was also limited by weight. I would bring mostly some souvenirs ‘Made in Slovakia’ for my friends, gifts I received from my family, and food that I’ve been really missing abroad (such as “Bryndza” – special sheep cheese, and “Becherovka” – herb based schnapps).

Much later, with the birth of my daughter, I would mostly bring CD’s with lullabies and little songs, books, and DVD with cartoons in Slovak language. If my family was visiting me in France during Christmas or Easter time, they would also bring some decorations (hand painted eggs, gingerbreads or beeswax candles) and also, some products to cook typical recipes for those special moments. Once, I even asked to bring me a special earthen cask to prepare my own sauerkraut, so I would never miss this ingredient so important in the Slovak kitchen. But unfortunately, when we moved to our New Yorker apartment, this item was left behind, it was not ideal to have fermenting cabbage literally in the kitchen/living room.

Homemade saurekraut FR

During our last summer break, we made a very long trip, visiting all three countries that represent our ‘Home’ countries: Slovakia, France and Mauritius (over 32.000 km all together). Following picture testifies that what we brought back with us, was decent to hold an international mini fair! So, if you are wondering what we have been missing since we moved to the US, here are some examples:

From France:

  • Special laundry sheets that make your life easier because you don’t have to worry mixing clothes of different colors
  • Baking Powder and chocolate Nestle (French expats in US would agree that Hershey’s is not the best substitute for a perfect “Moelleux au chocolat”: French molten chocolate cake)
  • Cosmetics like Chanel, Clarins, and Occitane (all available in US but pricier)
  • Tea “Mariage Frère”
  • Foie gras and some duck terrines
  • Different sweets like “Têtes brulées” and “Malabar”, and comic books for our daughter

From Mauritius:

  • Mixtures of different spices to cook typical Mauritian recipes like Daube, Carry, etc.
  • Pickled chilis from Reunion and Rodrigues Islands
  • Rums
  • “Eau de Mélisse” and “Alcool de Menthe”: alternative to meds for digestive problems, travel sickness, stress, fatigue, and so on
  • Fried salt fish (that we love so much)

From Slovakia:

  • Some spices and Hungarian paste in tube called “Porkolt” (for cooking a sort of beef stew)
  • Some more candies 🙂
  • Swiss toothbrushes Curaprox
  • Special cook utensil for “Koblihy” (Czech style of donuts)

Shopping from SK FR and MU

Luckily we don’t have to wait until our next vacation, if we want to cook our traditional meals. In fact, in New York City, we have a couple of French, Slovak, Polish, Ukrainian or Indian stores, where we can buy many products and there are online shops too. If you want to find addresses of stores related to your home country that are situated in your neighborhood, try out KITnDO platform. You can also add places you know if they are missing there, so that others can discover them too.

Please, share with us what is on your shopping list for your next trip to the country(ies) you are connected to? What are you missing the most (besides family and friends of course)?

Written by Martina Hornakova

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How to celebrate a multicultural wedding? Get inspired and learn how to blend cultures into one beautiful celebration

The decision to get married is one of the biggest moves a person takes in a lifetime. Nowadays, couples are free to decide how they want to celebrate this event. No surprise that intercultural couples have all the possibilities to express their cultures in a wedding in any manner they want.

Better than having your wedding quickly out of the control (you don’t want to follow the example of “Big Greek wedding” movie), you have countless ways to mix the cultures creating a truly unique and personal celebration. And since the wedding is maybe the first substantial step in accepting and embracing the culture between two partners, it is important to respect and to be receptive to the wishes of each other.

There are so many opportunities to incorporate your traditions into the celebration. We’ve created a collection of stories and ideas for multicultural weddings that could possibly inspire you to remember and to celebrate your delicious origins.

“In case of my Slovak-Mauritian wedding that we celebrated in France, we started to integrate symbols of our cultures already on the wedding invitation: maps, stamps, and local flowers. When we arrived at the reception place, a Mauritian folk group had escorted our first steps with traditional sounds of Sega music, under amazed eyes of our guests. We have attached the name tag for each person on a piece of cinnamon stick to indicate table sitting. Each guest received as a souvenir, a gingerbread hand decorated in Slovakia, with our initials and the date of the wedding. We had some Mauritian cookies on the dessert table, called Napolitains, that we managed to bring directly from Mauritius. And, we also decided to create our wedding rings by a Mauritian jeweler. Every detail of our wedding was just an expression of our personalities and origins. Since we got married after 18 years of living in our hosting country, France, the culture of this country was a dominant element, namely through the gastronomic point of view. After all, I think we’ve created a real intercultural experience for our guests.” testimony from Janick, living now in New York.

slovak-mauritian-wedding-paris

Fabio and Jessica succeeded in making a nice blending of Italian and American cultures for their wedding. In her blog article, Jessica describes with a good dose of humor how they managed to implement some of the American traditions into the traditional Italian church ceremony. Jessica talks in detail about some of the differences between their cultures and shows the solution that they’ve found to harmonize and to “marry” both traditions. For instance, unlike the Italian tradition, the function of bridesmaids in an American tradition is to help the bride throughout the ceremony, to be the support of the bride. Whereas, in Italy the bridesmaid play a more formal role of testimonies for the brides. So, Jessica decided to have 5 bridesmaids instead of traditional for Italy 1 or 2, and they all wore champagne colored dresses.

Tanya and Arun were both raised in London. However, Arun is Indian and Tanya has Jamaican and Irish origins. So, what did they make? A wedding that incorporated traditions from all the involved countries. The ceremony and reception took place in English. The bridesmaids wore saris. The meal included Indian, Caribbean but also local English dishes. The DJ played all kind of music so that every guest would feel comfortable to dance.

In this beautiful video, you can see how Thea and Rachit embraced Jewish and Hindu cultures in a two-day wedding that took place in the US. Both the brides and guests seem to truly enjoy following the traditional rituals of the Jewish and Hindu wedding.

Linda, wedding planner from Denver in Colorado, shared with us a story when an American couple with Irish ancestors, decided to remember their roots by tying the knot. This old Celtic tradition where the couples claps hands together and wrapped them by the cord, symbolizes their unity in marriage.

pablo-heimplatz-wedding

 

Some more tips…

This article could serve you as a check-list of the different aspects of the wedding where you can show off your culture.

Or you can get some useful tips from Piyali and Jon, who share their personal lessons they’ve learned about the organization of the multicultural wedding

Pinterest board of inspiration for multicultural wedding: https://www.pinterest.com/explore/multicultural-wedding/?lp=true

Wedding rings with Irish Trinity Knot: https://www.irishshop.com/irish-jewelry/irish-wedding-rings-bands-celtic-wedding-rings/trinity-knot-wedding-bands.html

As you might have already guessed, there is an uncountable number of the wedding customs around the world. Here is the selection of some traditions that may surprise you or maybe inspire you to use it for your own wedding celebration. In the end, who said that you have to follow the traditions only from your own cultural heritage?

Share with us your experience with a multicultural wedding. Did you implement your traditions into the celebration? If yes, how?

Or maybe are you getting married soon? Then let us know if this article inspired you to remember your roots.

Written by Maria Migalina

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When Slovak gingerbread and Russian snowflake decorate the Christmas tree abroad

December is coming, and for many of us, it means the approaching of the Christmas season. The Christmas, in most cultures, is a holiday that is strongly associated with the family. No wonder that when living abroad and being far away from your home and family, one might feel homesick or nostalgic.

Bringing a piece of your home with its traditions to the celebration of Christmas abroad can help you to keep the blue mood at bay.

Some countries and religions do not celebrate Christmas at all, for the obvious reasons. What is surprising, however, is that how different could be the traditions even inside the same religion (Christianity) when it comes to the celebration of Christmas.

In this article, we decided to share with you our own experience with the Christmas celebration as Slovak and as Russian living abroad, as well as give you some practical ideas on how to transmit your culture when celebrating Christmas.

Martina’s experience and her Slovak Christmas:

Making your own “tradition” that follows your family everywhere you move is important for your kids, especially if you live abroad. In this way, despite the changing environment, kids will have something that is repeated every year and that helps them to build their identity. For example, for me when I was growing up in Slovakia, those traditions included: to have honey and chopped garlic on the table (plus some typical wafers, here in NY I can find them in the store SlovCzechVar) and eat those in the beginning of the Christmas Eve dinner. This should represent being healthy. Likewise, putting some money bills under the tablecloth would represent a rich year ahead.

Living in New York, these symbols are still part of our Christmas Eve celebration. Our menu is always composed out of East-Slovak traditional dishes “Kapustnica” – cabbage soup, fried fish with potatoes salad and “Bobaľky” – homemade buns soaked in the warm milk, mixed with poppy seeds and sugar and poured by melt butter. While, on the next day, we usually bring at least one element from my spouse’s culture, Mauritian crab soup. And we may start with Foie Gras, that we carried from the previous holidays in France.

Martina's xmas abroad

If you grew up like me in the ex-socialist country, you may remember that on every single year during the morning of Christmas Eve, we used to watch Mrazik, which is an old Soviet film about the adventures of Nastya in the woods. Try to watch it with your kids now.

Mrazik or its Russian spelling “Morozko” brings us to the testimony of Maria and the Christmas in Russia.

Maria’s experience and her Russian Christmas

The Christmas in Russia has its own particularities and differences. Even though the Orthodoxy is the prevailing religion in Russia, we don’t celebrate Christmas on 24th December, but rather on 6th January. This is due to the fact, that Russian Orthodox Church continues using the old Julian calendar for religious holidays, so the 24th December in Julian calendar corresponds to the 6th January in the Gregorian one.

The Christmas celebration was essentially banned during the USSR period – back when it was an atheistic state. Instead, we got a replacement of the celebration in the form of the New Year (in the night from 31st December to 1st January). Hence, we have a “New Year’s” Tree instead of Christmas tree, and we give presents in the New Year’s Eve and not on the Christmas’ Eve.

In the last years, the Christmas slowly start to recover its importance in Russia, people are looking back at the old traditions and want to re-implement it. One of the most extraordinary features of the Russian Christmas is the tradition of the fortune-telling during the Christmas period. Basically, is a weird mix of the paganism (magic, divination) and the religious holiday – something that is pretty common in Russia.

As a kid (or rather as an early teen), I remember myself playing those fortune-telling games with my friends before the Christmas. It was a very exciting, scarring and magic activity with very ancient roots. The goal is to predict your future, and more particularly to guess your future boyfriend/husband.

There are plenty of ways to play it. Some involve a lot of preparations and tools like nutshells, threads, candles, coffee or tea grounds, mirrors, brushes, rings etc. The divination is always performed at night, using a candle as a light source.

If you don’t take the fortune-telling games serious but rather as another fun activity to spend time with friends or kids on Christmas, this could be another manner to share the part of your culture when living abroad.

So what are our tips to make you feel like home during the Christmas when living abroad?

1) Make your own decorations

Making your own decorations with kids is a wonderful way to build family memories. Kids love to be involved in such activities, as it makes them feel that Christmas is “closer” and they are always excited about this time of the year:

  • Advent Wreath: make your own using the evergreens, if possible, so your house will smell good (you’ll find some ideas on Pinterest)
  • Christmas Tree decoration: bake some gingerbread that you can decorate and hang on the Christmas tree, or make some Snowflake Ornaments cut out of a paper. Check again on Pinterest how you can use various materials and ornaments.
  • Postcards to send to your family and friends

2) Re-create your traditional Christmas meal

Cooking the traditional Christmas meal is always a good idea, that will immediately make you feel like home but also will be another possibility to transmit your culture to the guests or children.

If you are looking for some inspiration in Czecho-Slovak culture and you live in the US, here are some tips: Slovak Homemade Cakes, Czech cookbook, or what about finding some traditional recipe modernized and sublimated by Florian from his blog Food Perestroika. If you want to prepare some Christmas cookies you can purchase Baking Moulds and Shape Cutters online.

3) Send gifts to your loved ones

Small gestures of affection towards the loved ones will not only make them happy but also will make you feel better when celebrating the Christmas abroad.

Here is the example of gifts “Made in Slovakia” from SASHE – some designers agree to send to worldwide. Otherwise, these could be good to offer to your family living in Slovakia or Czech Republic.

Martina’s selection:

fusakle-bratislava-hradDesignLCH-nausnicky-listickyMaru-HM-maly-princ-a-liska L_L_S-srdieckacikradusqa-korkova-ludovainvivo-svietnik-traja-krali

 

There are also several great Russian shops that ship worldwide, like From Russia, The Russian Shop and Great Russian Gifts.

Maria’s selection:

Mystery of the Heart Pavlovo Posad Shawl Landscape Christmas Ball Wooden General Nutcracker

Then, there is ETSY – platform, that gathers numerous designers and producers from the whole world. Some ideas from the Russian ETSY shops:

UralNature-etsy Needle felted Mouse in frog hat

Shovava_Womens Cape Scarf- etsy

4) Organize a Skype call for a Christmas dinner

We’ve all been there. Sometimes is not possible to travel to your homeland for the holidays but the Christmas doesn’t feel like Christmas without family. No worries. Why not organize a skype call/conference with your family during the dinner? Even if it doesn’t feel exactly the same as staying together in one house, but it is pretty close to it.

Set up a camera/iPad/notebook and enjoy the dinner while sharing the jokes and warm chit-chat with your family.

And what about you? Share with us your tips on how to celebrate the Christmas abroad and to stay connected to your roots.

Written by Martina Hornakova & Maria Migalina