From Cuba to the UK to St. Lucia: The Expat Partner's Survival Guide
Hi, I’m Clara Wiggins, I am from the UK but I was born in Cuba and I have lived and travelled all over the world. I currently live in the UK but our last overseas posting was in St Lucia – a small speck of an island in the Caribbean. We are currently planning a move to South Africa this summer, where we are all looking forward to seeing as many different wild animals as possible. In particular I am desperate to swim with whale sharks.
1. Why did you move abroad?
When I was a child I moved because of my father’s job. He was a diplomat in the British Foreign Office and his job took us to Cuba, The Philippines, Nigeria, Venezuela, Gibraltar and Cameroon. Later on I joined the Foreign Office myself (after working as a journalist and then some extensive travelling, which included living in New Zealand for a while) and was posted to Jamaica. There I met my now husband and I have travelled with him and our two daughters to Pakistan and St Lucia, with his job.
2. How do you make a living?
I used to be in the British Foreign Office, which was a job with many, many interesting points. But it was also frustrating working for a large, slightly old-fashioned organization. I don’t think I really suited the civil service – although I loved my job in London when I worked in the press office (including during the 9/11 crisis period). I was then posted to Jamaica, which was a great posting – we were working very closely with the Jamaicans on drugs and crime issues and you really felt like we were doing something that was going to make a difference. However it was also frustrating in many ways, as working with a different culture often can be. I left the Foreign Office after having my first daughter and have done a few different part-time jobs since then. The one I am doing at the moment – managing a journal - is one I am hoping to take with me when we move to South Africa as I already work remotely. I have also been occupying myself writing a book for “trailing spouses” called the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide.
3. How often do you communicate with home and how?
When I was a child all communication was by letter – once a week in the diplomatic bag, Phone calls were only for very special occasions. This was still the case when I went to boarding school in the UK and my parents were in Venezuela. If there was any kind of a problem or delay with the bag, you wouldn’t get your letter so it could easily be two weeks before you had any sort of contact with your parents. By the time I started travelling as an adult, email was just starting to become more normal. And nowadays, with Skype and Facetime etc, moving abroad is a very different experience than it used to be. My brother-in-law lives in Florida and we only see him once a year or so – yet we still feel he is part of the family because we try and Skype with him as often as possible.
4. What's your favorite thing about being an expat in St Lucia?
(I have chosen my last posting for these questions as it is freshest in my mind) Every morning we would walk on to our balcony and see the most amazing view out over the Caribbean sea. It was very calming. Because of the heat, we spent all our time outdoors – we hardly ever sat indoors at all. We also had this huge lime tree in our garden which supplied our daiquiris!
5. What’s the worst thing about being an expat in St Lucia?
It’s a toss up between the extreme humidity (which was exhausting) and the lack of things to do with small children. There was really only one play park on the island and not a lot else for them. Unfortunately it didn’t help that our oldest daughter didn’t like the sea or sand! We did manage to get her to do a bit of snorkeling eventually though.
6. What do you miss most?
When I was in St Lucia I missed children’s activities and shops! Being able to go to the supermarket and know I was pretty well guaranteed I was going to be able to get everything on my shopping list.
7. What did you do to meet people and integrate in your new home?
Almost everyone we met was through the children (my husband also met a few people through his work). The girls went to a lovely Montessori pre-school where we met a great range of people of all different nationalities. As well as St Lucian and British friends, I met people from Israel, Syria, Cuba, the States, Venezuela, China, Australia, India, Panama….it was a very small expat community so you did tend to get to know everyone, but most of our friends were the parents of our children’s school friends.
8. What custom/ habits do you find most strange about your adopted culture?
They had some very strange festivals which required them to dress up for school. The first was the Marguerite Parade which involved dressing them as queens or lawyers or police officers, and then watching them parade around singing in creole and waving flowers. And then there was their Creole day which required them to wear national (Creole) dress – which of course everyone had at home, right? I had to make a mad dash around the capital, Castries, to find somewhere that sold the appropriately sized skirt and tops….
9. What is a myth about your adopted country?
That living there is one long holiday! Sadly when you live somewhere like the Caribbean everyone imagines you doing all day long what they do on their vacation – lying on sun loungers and sipping cocktails. I still had to get the children ready for school every day, do the shopping, cooking etc. All in the tremendous heat!
10. Is the cost of living higher or lower than the last country you lived in and how has that made a difference in your life?
Generally higher because a lot of food and goods were imported. But there is a lot less to buy so you probably spend less overall. However we made up for it by trips to Florida, where we always went a bit mad……
11. What advice would you give other expats?
Specifically about St Lucia: Do your homework about where you want to live. There is only one main road connecting the main area where expats tend to live with Castries and this became one HUGE traffic jam every morning. However, if you are bringing your family you will you they will probably want to live close to the school and other expats. We made the mistake initially of being close to my husband’s work but a long drive from where all my new friends were. Life became a lot easier when we moved. Advice for expats generally would be to read up about culture shock before you go! And if you are an expat partner (or if you are taking your partner) then buy The Expat Partner’s Survival Guide!
12. When and why did you start your blog?
I started my blog to accompany the book of the same name. I knew the point would come when I would have to finish writing it but I felt there was always going to be more to say so the blog is somewhere I can put all my further points, feedback, updates etc. I also love to write so here is somewhere I can do it! The blog’s theme is very much about being an expat but I want to try and explore this from lots of different angles.
Clara's blog, The Expat Partner's Survival Guide
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