Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Expat Author Interview with Claudia from Expatclic.com

Claudia from Expatclic.com
Claudia is the founder and coordinator of the website Expatclic.com. After having lived in Sudan, Angola, Guinee-Bissau, Congo Brazzaville, Honduras and Peru, she is presently enjoying a rich and interesting life in Jerusalem. Claudia has two children and speaks Italian, English, French, Spanish and German. 


IMBO: Claudia, welcome to I Must Be Off! You are the curator of the web site Expatclic.com. How long have you been doing this, and what is its mission?

CLAUDIA: I created Expatclic.com with a French friend almost nine years ago, we launched it in October 2004. Our initial idea was to provide expat women all over the world with an international support platform that would guide them through their transitions from country to country with articles, information, forum discussions, contacts. We wanted to do this in four languages (Italian, English, French, Spanish), with an independent editorial team for each one. Things evolved, and today we still maintain the four languages on the website, but we have one big international team, and quite a number of external collaborators. While the original mission of helping expat women and their families through their transitions has not changed, we have introduced different tools in the course of time – like online courses, competitions, and other fun contests to put expat women in touch. 

IMBO: You've written lots of articles about the expat life. Do you think expats share some common personality traits? Do we all love adventure, or have we all just landed where we are by chance?

CLAUDIA: No, I don't think there are common personality traits originally. Many expats have a terribly difficult time in adjusting to different cultures, while others just jump into it with amazing easiness. What I believe happens with time when you live abroad is that you acquire certain traits, and these are the ones that form a bond within the global expat community worldwide. Living with other cultures opens your mind, teaches you how to change perspective quickly, makes you more flexible, aware and happy, and teaches you a lot about yourself and your home cultures. This "life capital" is acquired in a very spontaneous and almost unconscious way by expats, and becomes part of their personalities often without them realizing it. It's usually when they go back to their home country that they take stock of what the experience has done for them. But I am going far beyond the question, here:-) 

IMBO: That’s OK. Let’s go even further. I like the idea of life capital. I’m sure my life capital has increased since I’ve been in Germany. Learning to appreciate the German “Ordnung” was a great lesson to stick under my belt. Generally, interaction with other cultures helps us learn who we are ourselves. Do you agree with this? And what do you think are the most important lessons we can learn by interacting with other cultures?

CLAUDIA:  I totally agree. I've often been more surprised by my reaction to an unknown cultural fact than by the fact in itself…that made me wonder – “why am I becoming so angry? Why does this scare me so much?” and sent me immediately to my core feelings, to my deepest values… Moving in different cultures really means a global learning: you learn a lot about new lifestyles, codes and values, but also about yourself, about things you had always taken for granted and never analysed.

The most important lessons? Humbleness, I would say, because by realizing that your way of thinking and considering life is not the only one, you also start wondering why you always thought that was the only right way… And empathy. Once you let other ways of life “contaminate” you, your level of empathy towards other human beings increases.

IMBO: Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we were all a bit humbler and a bit more empathetic? I’ve certainly grown in these respects over the last 18 years -- though I have a long way to go. I’m often frustrated by the preconceptions of others, especially when people are outspoken and sarcastically critical about my home country. I find myself becoming defensive though I haven’t lived there (the US) in almost two decades. Do you have similar feelings about Italy? Is Italy still home?

CLAUDIA: Very interesting question. Yes, I have very similar feelings about Italy, and I always jump up to defend my country from stereotypes (as you can imagine, I have heard mafia, pizza and spaghetti an endless number of times in my life abroad), though recently it’s becoming less and less defendable. I think Italy is still home. Not in a physical sense, though we have a charming little house in Tuscany where we go every summer, and that really gives me feelings that are very close to “feeling home”. It’s mostly in the sense of belonging to what is good in the Italian culture, and to the good values I grew up with in Milan, where I was born, studied, and worked until age 27. Opening my doors, wherever I happen to live in the world, helping people, caring about humanity, enjoying good food and company -- these are all things that my Italian background contributed to enhancing in me, and I am proud of it. The other fantastic thing is that wherever we Italians go, we are always loved and welcome – everybody on earth seems to love and appreciate Italy, and this, I must admit, is a wonderful feeling.

"Once you let other ways of life 'contaminate' you, your level of empathy towards other human beings increases."

IMBO: You live in Jerusalem now. Do you live directly in the city? I was there a couple of years ago and found it very crowded and hot. What do you love about Jerusalem?

CLAUDIA: It would be easier to tell you what I don’t love…I live in the city, yes, south of the Old City and on the way to Bethlehem. Jerusalem is the most amazing place I ever happened to live. It’s a throbbing melting pot of cultures, languages, history, injustice, tension, foolishness…especially foolishness… I have never seen such crazy human manifestations as here. Sometimes it feels like being in a movie. Anyway, the city is absolutely delightful from an architectural point of view, and I consider myself lucky to live here today; because the rhythm of change is so fast, in five years this will be a different city altogether. The other totally fascinating factor of Jerusalem is its schizophrenic character. From where I live, at the first traffic light I meet, if I turn right I find myself into the Palestinian occupied area of the city, if I turn left I end up in the Israeli-Jewish side of town, which has a totally different atmosphere, let alone a different language. This makes the whole experience even more fascinating (and somehow hard) because not only do you have to deal with one different culture from yours, but with two, minding also the relationship between the two, which is complex. Anyway, I have not yet met an expat soul that has not loved living here.

The Separation Barrier. (Photo by IMBO)
IMBO: Wow, I sort of know where you live! I know that sounds weird, but I remember the ride into Bethlehem vividly. I snapped a picture of the barrier between the two sides. Is there an organised expat community in Jerusalem. I assume there is. What’s it like?

CLAUDIA: The expat community in Jerusalem is made up 99% by humanitarian organizations and journalists (and religious expats, but they sort of stay to themselves). It is a very specific community, but to explain its features I would have to dive into the Israeli occupation problem, and I know this is very delicate. Anyway, it is pretty organized and meets quite regularly in precise places and around specific activities. Jerusalem is not big, international schools are just a few, so if you are dynamic, you end up knowing a lot of people. Besides, Israelis dislike foreigners – or better, the work foreigners do here – and this creates a sort of camaraderie amongst expats.

IMBO: You’re hosting a contest with big prize money at Expatclic.com. For women. I have a lot of women readers who love to travel and who love to write. Tell us more about the contest.

CLAUDIA: The idea of the contest came from a friend of Expatclic, a lady who had written for us a long time ago, and that came back asking to organize a contest in the memory of her aunt, Maria Pia Forte, who died two years ago, and who had always been an avid traveler, journalist, writer. We were flattered and thrilled at the idea, which is also a big manifestation of trust in Expatclic. Maria Donata, the niece of Maria Pia, has indeed decided to put very interesting prizes on the three categories, which are Stories and Articles, Poems and Photography. The contest celebrates the memory of Maria Pia by inviting women to submit fiction, non fiction, articles, poems or photography on the themes that marked her life: travels, life abroad, meeting cultures and the importance of writing. It is open to all women living abroad (or who lived abroad in the past) and promises to be very participated and exciting! Reception of entries will close on 31st July, and the winners, one per category, will be announced at the beginning of October, on Expatclic’s birthday.  

IMBO: This is exciting. And the prize money is excellent. I’m sure you’ll have a lot of entries. Claudia, I always ask the interviewee to suggest another expat author to my readers. Who would you like us to know about, and what’s special about this expat author?

CLAUDIA: There are actually two women that come to mind. One is Eva Hoffman, a Polish author who moved to Canada when she was 13, and she is still living there to this day. Her book Lost in Translation – life in a new language is absolutely one of my favourite, and a must for all those who want to go deeper into the dynamics of being uprooted and having to make a new life from scratch in an unknown environment. Eva Hoffman is unique in her depth, humanity and accuracy. I love that book and still use it when working with cross-cultural dynamics. The other woman is Jean Calder, an amazing creature, born in Australia, and relocated in Lebanon first, then Egypt and finally to Gaza, where she still lives. Besides her invaluable work for disabled refugees, Jean adopted three disabled Palestinian children (one unfortunately died recently) and eventually relocated to Palestine, which is her children’s land. She wrote a wonderful book, Where theroad leads, that I warmly recommend: it is an amazing account of what has happened in this tormented region in the last five decades, and of the story of a woman that stops in front of nothing to continue her work in search of justice, dignity and human love.

IMBO: What courageous people these are. Thank you for sharing their work with us, Claudia. And thank you for stopping by I Must Be Off! and sharing part of your own story. 

CLAUDIA: Thank you Christopher for the space you give me. I believe that sharing our life experiences abroad enhances the richness of meeting people and cultures, and your blog is certainly a step forward in this direction. Keep up the good work! 

IMBO: Thank you, Claudia!

I must be off,


Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations--available from Amazon Anything.