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Expat Author Interview with Claudia from Expatclic.com

Claudia from Expatclic.com v:* {behavior:url(#default#VML);} o:* {behavior:url(#default#VML);} w:* {behavior:url(#default#VML);} .shape {behavior:url(#default#VML);} 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.

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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?

MilanoCLAUDIA: 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."_________________

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