Expat of the month
  • Expatorama
Published on 2015-12-01 at 00:00
Hello, Hi, Howzit. I'm Nicola. I'm originally from the UK, but have had the good fortune to live in a few different countries. Currently our family of four is getting cosy in Jozi, the City of Gold.

Hello, Hi, Howzit. I'm Nicola. I'm originally from the UK, but have had the good fortune to live in a few different countries. Currently our family of four is getting cosy in Jozi, the City of Gold.


When and how did you decide to move to South Africa? Is it complicated to settle down there?

The decision to move to South Africa was based on my husband's job. We were previously in Istanbul and then offered an onward posting to Johannesburg.  

In terms of settling down, the paperwork is perhaps the biggest hurdle. I'm sure our paper intensive visa application involved the destruction of a small rainforest. So be prepared.

As corporate expats you could say we're spoilt with the relocation assistance we received from our company. It certainly cuts out a lot of stress and hassle, but when you consider that many corporate expats move regularly (every 2-5 years) the stress and upheaval is already huge and you want your employees to hit the ground more or less running and for any dependents to be happy, so the settling in period needs to be as short and efficient as possible. 

Plenty of people go through the relocation process unassisted thought. It takes a little bit longer and probably involves more queuing and fluffing around trying to find the right information, but you'll get there eventually… and I'm waffling. Yes, overall I'd say it's relatively easy to settle down here. 


Have you ever lived abroad before? How many countries have you visited?

I've lived abroad on and off for the last 30 years in Africa, Asia and Europe. I've visited quite a few countries, I'm not sure how many, I guess 20 or 30? Although my visit to Portugal was just a case of hopping over the Spain/Portugal border for a cup of coffee, so I'm not sure that counts really.


What do you like the most about South Africa?

Colour. The riotous colours of the birds and the blooms are stunning. The glowing reds and oranges of sunrises and sunsets are awesome. The (mostly) bright blue sheet of sky is dazzling. The English peppered with African and Afrikaans words results in a colourful and distinct branch of English. The South African people are a complex melting pot of conflicting and intertwined cultures, languages and heritages. We really do live in the Rainbow Nation.

How is/was the cultural shock? What are the main differences with England, your home country?

A lot of things in South Africa, like the road rules and laws are loosely based on Dutch and British things, so it feels strangely familiar here. The lingua franca is English (although that doesn't precluded all sorts of misunderstandings, like the time I asked our helper to bring the rug inside when it was dry. The poor lady spent quite a while looking for a wet rock). 

In terms of Africa, South Africa, is definitely Africa Lite, so I would say if you have lived anywhere else in Africa or even many parts of Asia you will have far, far less culture shock than a brand new expat who may find it more of an adjustment.


Do you miss anything from your homeland?

I miss walking. There are pockets of Johannesburg that are walkable. Even if you take crime out of the equation, Joburg is a young city built for the car, so the only way to cover the multiple kilometers to get from A-B is with a set of wheels. 

The crime isn't as prevalent and all pervasive as the media would have you think, but it's there and if you do have to remain vigilant. I miss the sense of security I have in the UK, I do often feel my shoulders unclenching slightly as I step off the plane at Heathrow. It's tricky explaining to the children why we live in a gated community and why they mustn't put their windows down when we're out in the car.

As expat postings go, most international brands are fairly readily available here, so in terms of consumable goods it's an easy ride, there's nothing specific that I miss. 

It is of course the clichéd family and friends that we miss the most.


Any 'memories of an expat' you would like to share with us? Your best souvenir? Or maybe your worst experience?

Gosh, I don't know where to start. I've already written about all sorts of things on my blog – terrifying spiders, biblical hailstorms, licking worms, the unusual traditions of the Nzeddele tribe and there's plenty more to come. 


What does your typical day as an expat in South Africa look like?

There's a lot of mundane, normal stuff that you would do in your home country. You take the kids to school. You shop, cook and pick up the dry cleaning and walk the dog. Working visas are NOT dealt out like Smarties to trailing spouses, in fact they are a bit like gold dust, so you have to find other things to fill your day. I go to jewellery school, I try to fit in as much sightseeing as possible, I run a Facebook group for expats and squeeze in a few small writing projects. In the afternoons I chauffeur the kids to activities and play dates and nag them about their homework. So it's similar to a day in my home country, but with more sunshine. 

When did you start your blog? For what reasons?

I started this blog around Easter time. I thought it would be nice to have a record of our weird and wonderful adventures overseas, to keep family and friends in the loop and I quite enjoy writing. 

The curse of the expat wife is being a Jill of all trades, Mistress of None. Every time you move you have to start over with a new language, a new hobby or a new jobby.  So the other reason for starting a blog was that it was a portable project that I can take with me when I leave. I picked an umbrella name for my blog that should cover just about anywhere I end up living, including home.


Did you make new friends with your blog?

Erm not really. There are a few bloggers that you gradually build a rapport with, but as yet, nope, none, zip, zero. When it comes to friendship I don't think you can beat a friend you meet in the real world who can make you cry with laughter, who is able to tell when you're fibbing or can give you a hug when you need one.


Why did you register on https://www.expat.com

and what do you think of the website?

Eek, that's a sticky question. Honestly it was to try to find some people who might enjoy reading my blog. I have to confess I haven't spent much time exploring the site, probably because I felt I more or less knew what I was letting myself in for with this move.


Which advice would you give to the other Expat blog members who would like to settle in South Africa?

Pack a positive mental attitude (you'll need it when stuck in Joburg traffic or when the power goes off unexpectedly just as you're about to cook dinner). 

Don't forget that you should also bring a plentiful supply of patience. You will need it in abundance when dealing with any form of bureaucracy here. I just about ran out of my supply of patience recently when trying to renew my car tax. 

You will also need an appetite for adventure. You will need it for adrenalin-fuelled activities such as white water rafting, scaling Table Mountain or diving with sharks. You will also need it when you are dealing with the abundant wildlife that you will at some point no doubt encounter in your home or garden. As a side note regarding the wildlife in SA, specifically any spiders or bugs that terrify you in your home: when in doors, the vacuum cleaner is your friend. Outdoors the humble garden hose is your ally. 

Oh yes and sunscreen, you'll need plenty of that if you're planning to stay in SA.