Carole Hallett Mobbs is a British expat mom currently living in Pretoria, South Africa. Before moving to South Africa she spent almost five years in Japan and two in Germany. She follows her husband’s job always ready for the unexpected, only slightly dreading packing for the next move. The family includes an expat cat and dog.
How did you get into traveling?
Long story! My mother is a great traveller. However, Dad was most definitely not a great traveller but was hugely into bird watching and wildlife (this comment will become relevant, promise!). As a kid, overseas holidays were a rarity due to lack of money and lack of opportunity (it was the 70’s). But Mum managed to persuade Dad to take three overseas holidays as a family – Majorca, Tunisia and Yugoslavia (as it was then). I was hooked!
Dad’s lasting influence on me was with the animal kingdom. I am an avid reader and as a child devoured non-fiction books by the bucket load. Another heavy inspiration on my life has been the late, great Gerald Durrell and his tales of animal collecting around the world. So put these together and my own travels are a mixture of distant shores and wildlife experiences.
After lots of trips within Europe – all unadventurous, my travel bug truly hit after a break up with a rather nasty ex-boyfriend, many years ago. My wonderful mother suggested I get over it by going abroad somewhere. Thanks to her, and Mr Durrell, I chose South America for the wildlife. Venezuela to be precise, which having never been out of Europe at that point was quite a leap of faith. I travelled solo, stayed with tribes in the Amazon jungle, boat journeys up the Orinoco and all kinds of wonderful experiences. And the animals… wow! It was the best trip I’ve ever done.I went back a couple of years later and back-packed around a lot more of South America, again solo. That was also the best trip I’ve ever done…!
Not long after that I got a job where I was sent around the world teaching people how to use computers. So I was able to visit many places I wouldn’t normally have chosen to visit, or been able to visit – such as the Solomon Islands – whilst getting paid at the same time. Perfect. And even more perfect was meeting my travel-loving husband in Hong Kong! I would say that travel has been very good to me indeed.
What was your most intense culture shock experience? What did you learn from it?
I’ve never particularly experienced culture shock. But after all the places I’ve been, including living in Tokyo for nearly five years, I was surprised to discover what culture shock was when I moved to Germany! I think it was because I love ‘the foreign’ and Germany was too close to Britain to be ‘foreign’. It was familiar yet unfamiliar at the same time.
What did I learn from it? Only that not all countries suit all people. I really didn’t enjoy living in Germany.
A very positive culture shock experience was waking up in a hammock in the Amazon jungle where I was staying with a tribe. Experiencing their very basic life first hand, and seeing their gorgeous toddlers playing with machetes and working the land was an eye opener. It showed me that often the people with no material possessions can be the happiest of all.
Any tips for someone going through culture shock for the first time? What helped you?
As I only experienced it relatively recently, I found what worked for me – after unsuccessfully trying everything else from looking for friends to trying to find classes to attend – was setting up my website, ExpatChild.com It gave me a project that can be all absorbing and allows me to help others too. Any sort of project, whether it’s volunteering in the community or a new hobby, helps ease the anguish.
I’m also a great fan of online communities, forums and so on, so there is always someone online to talk to whatever time of day or night. What has reverse culture shock been like for you?
No idea – haven’t returned home yet!
What is your favorite travel learning experience? Anything that triggered a profound shift?
All my travels have been independent. Even when moving as a family, I cannot rely on anyone apart from myself and my husband. I think if you are someone who needs people around all the time or relies on others too much, travel could be very tricky. Luckily I am happy in my own company which makes travel of all kinds much easier.
When I was working overseas I would often be left to my own devices at the end of the working day so if I hadn’t have been comfortable on my own that would have been a very depressing experience. Eating out on your own, especially as a woman, can be hard.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I rarely read guides to a country I’m about to visit. Apart from getting basic information such as climate (so I know what to pack) and health and safety (in case I need vaccinations), I travel with a totally open mind. Once there I may research ‘things to do and see’, but I usually wait until I’m there and talk to locals or other expats to find out what’s what.
This works for me, but I’m well aware that not everyone feels like this!