The Digital Living Forum was led by Elizabeth Douet, director of Global Training Specialists
Article by Sam Parfitt
Elizabeth Douet runs Global Training Specialists, an intercultural training, coaching and consultancy company, based in Dublin, Ireland. She has many years of experience in the field and also works as a journalist. Elizabeth claims technology has put an end to ‘trailing’ status, a problematic term employed in the early days of thinking and writing about expat culture. ‘Trailing’ status refers to the often unfortunate circumstances the spouses of expats often find themselves in abroad. However, apps, online platforms and other communication technologies have changed all that and today you need never be without the resources at your disposal to sell what you have to buyers from around the world.
The Early Bird Catches the Worm
The Early Bird Forums cater to those of us eager enough to have gotten up out of bed and hopped on the tram – or perhaps our bikes – and made our way to the conference center to connect with others we might learn from. The early bird almost certainly catches the worm, for the audience was filled with people who had their own stories to tell about the ways they had benefitted from an informed use of the web, letting the rest of us in on this or that great website we couldn’t believe we didn’t already know about.
Some of us were even promoting innovations of our own. David Hodson, for example, of the International Family Law Group, had been working on an app that will help inform expats on any legal issues they might face when moving abroad. “People feel insecure because they don’t know,” David contends. His app hopes to provide movers with the information they might need to make the most of their move and to feel empowered and on top of things.
The App Revolution
Unless you’ve only recently come out of a decade long hibernation, you’re probably already familiar with websites like eBay or Amazon, or with applications like Skype and Whatsapp. Websites and applications like these enable most of us to get books and movies in the languages we want anywhere we might be in the world at the moment, and also to send presents to loved ones when apart. Skype, of course, needs no introduction, having saved us hundreds, if not thousands on phone bills. Most of us also use the web now to bank, book holidays and even to search for a house. In fact, in addition to looking for a house, one can even, with some agents, sign the contract remotely, before even having set foot in the country! Again, another hurdle many expats face that has been significantly lowered thanks to the web.
The following websites should put you in good stead to make the most out of being ex patria, both at work and at home:
- Lloyd’s Pharmacy offer an online medical consultancy service where you can find advice of a standard and in a language you’re used to, useful if you’ve not yet had the chance to sort out health insurance yet.
- Patients Like Me is a peer-generated ‘wiki’ or catalogue of health advice that can offer a less panic-inducing alternative to the unsupervised hypochondria of the chatrooms sometimes delivered by Google searches.
- Currency Exchange offers ‘peer 2 peer’ currency exchange, meaning lower transaction costs for both parties wanting either to sell or buy foreign currency.
- Airbnb is an example of sites providing the bridge between people wanting to sell and others wanting to buy form the majority of the recent wave of online household names. Airbnb allows you to let out your spare room or your whole apartment while you’re away so others can stay in oftentimes more comfortable surroundings while they make their city break in your hometown, and almost always at a lower cost.
- Flexjobs can provide you with a job on the go, as can coaches like suitcase entrepreneur help you to find them through other channels.
- Dropbox and Google Drive, both well-known file storing and sharing platforms, can be supplemented with little known sites like Spider Oak, which offers similar services but with increased privacy.
Of course, the new wave of online platforms and websites has meant the end of many high street businesses. Travels agents, CD shops and even estate agents have been disappearing from our busiest shopping streets, meaning less employment at the local level. While apps like Uber enable people to make money as and when they want, making the most of their spare time, they also threaten career taxi drivers who can’t compete with the ease of use and competitive pricing of car sharing apps. Profits are taken out of the country and the power of the unions is threatened. Berlin, Germany, for example, has banned both Uber and the letting out of entire apartments on Airbnb, claiming the latter has driven hotels out of business and that Airbnb circumvents state regulation of accommodation standards.
Elizabeth makes it clear that whether you are simply seeking to make a bit of cash on the side, maintain contact with your homeland, loved ones and friends, or hoping to start a fully-fledged online business, recent developments in online communication platforms, has made your life a whole lot easier for you. That is, if you’ve got the WiFi up and running yet!
Resources: Websites, Apps
International Family Law Group LLP www.iflg.uk.com
Global Training Specialists www.globaltrainingspecialists.com
Sam Parfitt is a trained anthropologist and freelance writer who has grown up in Dubai, Oman, Norway, England and the Netherlands. He has had articles published in local, national and international newspapers and has written arts reviews for music blogs and student journals. Berlin is his home away from home. London his center of gravity. He is now looking for full time work in the arts and museums and/or charity sectors while working on a book on the pioneers of Penang for Summertime Publishing.