InterNations Featured Blog
Sine: Joburg Expat
Sine is an expat blogger with lots of experience in a variety of fields. Not only is she a seasoned expat, but also a loving mother of four, and a passionate writer. She updates her blog, joburgexpat.com, almost daily with new posts on being an expat, her family, South Africa, and nearly every other facet of life. The “Expat Tips” on her site category is recommended reading for all expat newcomers to South Africa!
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to South Africa, etc.
I’m Sine, an expat wife and mother of four children. I’ve been living in Johannesburg, South Africa, since 2010, when our family relocated here on an expat assignment. It’s not our first, having lived in Singapore over a decade ago, but it has certainly been the most exciting and adventurous.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
My blog was born more or less out of necessity. I already had a parenting blog and was a regular contributor to a parenting magazine back in the U.S. when I found out we were moving. If you’re a writer, it’s best to write about the things that are happening that very moment, especially when they are still new and fresh. So I put parenting on the back-burner for a little while (although you could argue that with four kids that was still very much happening!) and decided to write about my expat experience. I wanted to tell other folks the ins and outs about moving to and living in South Africa, without them fearing for their lives. I try to tell as many stories as I can, some thought provoking, some helpful, and some just plain silly.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
I’d have to go with “What is a Ballbox?” and „South Africa’s Great Shame“. The first because it is mundane and funny, yet illuminates an expat issue, something I always love writing about. The second because it is dead serious and needs to be said.
Tell us about the ways your new life in Johannesburg differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
I would say the biggest culture shock when moving to South Africa occurs when you realize that South Africans employ three different ways of expressing the concept of “now,” none of which actually translate into “now”. This will especially come as a shock because you are newly arrived, and you have stuff to get done and checked off your list, for crying out loud! And none of it will be checked off, at least not entirely. I gave up after about a year of toting the same dog-eared list around with me in my purse. And you know what? Then you realize that you love this life without hurry or care. And that “just now” is plenty of time to get the leak in the water pipe fixed…
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in South Africa? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
All in all I think we were well prepared, thanks to a relocations agent who was of some assistance. What I wasn’t prepared for was the fact that I didn’t have to fear for my life every time I left the house, and that going places and exploring South Africa was perfectly fine. But regarding the decisions we made, I wouldn’t change a thing. I would always enroll the kids again in a local school instead of an international one, as this has been one of the best developments in their lives.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
Here I’ll have to go with “My Shining Moment”, the culmination of all my traffic cop encounters since we’ve lived in South Africa. I was finally prepared, due to countless prior experiences, and I triumphed and left the guy speechless. I count this as one of my major accomplishments here in South Africa.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in South Africa?
Considering that I have a whole section on my blog entitled “Expat Tips”, this is a bit hard. But number one on the list has got to be “get your visa early.” Everything else, like buying a car or a cell phone, hinges on you having a valid work or accompanying spouse permit in your passport, so before you do anything else, make sure that all the documents for the visa are in order.
What I also recommend is to get a house with a nice big patio, with pool and North facing if possible because the winters are cold. The patio is where you will spend most of your life. We got lucky because our first two house offers fell through, and we more or less blindly picked the third one, being tired of the whole process. And what a good pick it turned out to be.
I would also try to be either close to school or work, at least one of the two. Traffic in Joburg is terrible, and even though it’s not possible to avoid it, you don’t want to make it even worse. From where we live our children walk to school, and that single fact has been one of the biggest pleasures of my life here in South Africa.
How is the expat community in Johannesburg? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
What’s so great about living in South Africa is that you don’t need an expat community because you have lots of opportunities to meet like-minded people amongst the South Africans. They are very open-minded, fun, and generous. In fact, I’m glad we are not in that sense enclosed in an expat community, due to our kids going to a school with relatively few expats, because it gives us more of a chance to meet local people. But having said that, the expat community is great in Johannesburg. There are quite a few of us bloggers and that has been one way to meet people, and many expats like to congregate close to the American school in one of the gated estates near it, so that you cannot help but meet many fellow expats along the way. There are also quite a few organizations catering to expats by organizing tours and get-togethers, if you’re so inclined.
How would you summarize your expat life in South Africa in a single, catchy sentence?
One great adventure, fun-filled, yet making you search for the meaning of life.