InterNations Featured Blog
Catharine: Smart Travels
This next featured blog is a definite exception: Catharine does not blog from mainland France, but rather from Reuinion Island, a French island in the Indian Ocean, east of the coast of Madagascar. Her blog, Smart Travels, is both an account of her fascinating life abroad and a resource for other expats interested in the island.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Reunion Island, etc.
I’m British, I grew up in London, and I originally came to Reunion Island in 1990 for my year abroad as a student – that was in the days before Erasmus. When I finished my degree in 1992 I came back to Réunion for ‘a year or two’ which turned into 16 years until we left to spend three years in South Korea 2008-2011! We came back to Reunion about 6 months ago and more or less picked things up where we’d left off in 2008.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I blogged a little before we went to South Korea, but our experiences both living there and travelling around Asia (18 new countries visited in 3 years, including Mongolia and North Korea!) led to some articles that were published in local expat magazines and my blog really took off from there.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
I have a soft spot for the post about our trip in the Trans-Siberian from Vladivostok to Moscow as it was adapted from one of my first magazine articles. But I’ve noticed blog visitors really like the entry about our trip to Mongolia.
Tell us about the ways your new life in Reunion Island differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
I’ve now probably spent almost as many years on Reunion as in the UK, but when I first arrived I felt at home and also in culture shock. For example to me it was quite hot, but all the locals were wearing warm clothes (it was September, end of the cool season here)! And I’d learnt to speak French, but on Reunion the native language is Reunion Creole so that took some time getting used to.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Reunion Island? If you could, would you change any decisions/preparations you made?
I’d tried to read as much information about Reunion before I went (this was in the days before internet) but I think even if you have lots of information you’re never prepared for what expat life is like until you’re actually there, living in the country. Having said that I don’t think I’d change anything if I was going to do it all again. Even today there’s still not a lot of information about Reunion in English, and I think my blog fills a gap, even though I’d probably have more readers if I wrote it in French.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
After all the years I’ve spent in Reunion I’m obviously fluent in French. Once I had an all-day seminar in a hotel and when evening came I was dying to take a dip in the hotel pool. Although it was getting dark I started swimming only to be told in French by a hotel security guard that the pool was now closed. I hadn’t spent all day dreaming about the pool only to get out just after I’d jumped in, so I blithely pretended to only speak English and not understand a word he was saying. As he only spoke French there wasn’t anything he could do to stop me!
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in the Reunion Island?
- be tolerant
- learn French
- enjoy life outdoors
P.S. and read my blog ;-)
How is the expat community in the Reunion Island? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
There’s not really an international expat community here per se – that’s one of the reasons I joined InterNations. I was a member of InterNations in Seoul and really enjoyed the expat get-togethers there. In Réunion expats are not very numerous, and most of them tend to be well integrated in the community – they already speak French, they have French/Reunionese spouses etc., although there are some groups of German or English speakers who get together occasionally.
How would you summarize your expat life in the Reunion Island in a single, catchy sentence?
The French philosopher Descartes said "Lorsqu'on emploie trop de temps à voyager on devient enfin étranger en son pays." (When one travels too much, one becomes a foreigner in one’s own country)