Friday, December 31, 2010

Craving things you can't have

Happy Impending New Year from the Overseas Exile blog!

There are plenty of ingredients from the US I can't get over here, though most I don't miss or I have fine substitutes for. One annoyance is canned clams. I always kept a few handy for quick meals but I've never seen them over here. Sometimes, though, it's an end-product and not an ingredient. I don't see Rice-a-Roni on the shelves here in Europe, so I started experimenting and making my own. Shannon lives in Malawi and presumably they don't sell it there, either. She asked for the recipe and I found it in my email, having previously sent it to a friend in the US who refused to by Rice-a-Roni but nonetheless couldn't withstand the cravings.

Rice-A-Phony:

Rice-A-Roni
I miss you!
Photo by S. Fabien Peters
2. Take vermicelli or spaghetti and break it up into small, rice-sized pieces (don't stress if they're too big).
3. Add twice that amount of rice (I use basmati. Your mileage may vary). (i.e., 1/3 pasta, 2/3 rice).
5. Measure 2 1/2 times the amount of rice+paste as water. Heat to boiling (i.e., if you have 1 cup of the rice+pasta mix, you want 2 1/2 cups of water).
7. Mix chicken bullion into that water (I use Knorr) in the proper amount to make it taste like something you're willing to drink (no, not an alcoholic drink, silly).
11. Chop up enough green onions and mushrooms to make you happy.
13. Brown some almond slivers or slices (not too many unless you want too many) in a dry skillet.
17. Saute (on high heat) rice+pasta in one or two tablespoons of butter until golden brown.
19. Stir in chicken water and drown the mushrooms, onions and almonds in it.
23. Cover with lid, reduce to simmer, and simmer for 15 minutes.
29. Remove from heat and let sit for a couple of minutes.
31. Enjoy!

I can't recall why I had numbered those steps with prime numbers, but there you go ... I'm too lazy to change it.

I think this makes a nice side dish to chicken roasted with thyme and lemon.

The above recipe, of course, is only a base. You might want to change the herbs or other things which go in there. I vary this with beef bullion¹ and varying ingredients to play around with it, but it satisfies my cravings and frankly, tastes better than the stuff in the box. I've done this quite a bit with a variety of recipes and I'm definitely not the only expat who does this. Shannon, for example, makes her own marshmallows. I now know there are entire cookbooks dedicated to "copy cat" recipes. I should start buying them (hence the Amazon link on the left).

At this rate I need to start adding a "food" label to posts.



1. For some reason, I find I have to make the beef bullion a lot stronger than the chicken bullion when I make this recipe. Also, my wife hates it. Maybe it's a French thing :)

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Road Trip to Corsica

All photos in this post are mine and clicking on them will take you to a larger version.

A couple of years ago when I was still living in the UK, my friend Paul called me up out of the blue and said "wanna go to Corsica?"

He was renting a six-bedroom manor house on the island of Corsica for £600 and he thought I might want to take a road trip there with him. Did I ever!




View Larger Map


Corsica, for those who don't know, is a small French island off the southern coast of France and in the Mediterranean. History buffs may recall that it's birthplace of Napoléon Bonaparte and it's believed humans have been living there for at least the middle stone age, perhaps 20,000 years ago. It has a rich history and a strong independent streak. That streak doesn't seem to do them much good as Corsica has been invaded over and over throughout their history. Everyone seems to want that island.

One Friday, Paul and I headed to Dover, took the ferry to Dunkirk (northern France) and because Paul doesn't like toll roads, the route he chose took us through Belgium and Luxembourg. I was checking the map and that's when our plans went to hell. I noticed, to my surprise, that we were close to Perl, Germany. As the programming language I specialize in is named "Perl" and Paul also programs in that language, we really had no choice. Only being a half hour away, we traveled there and stayed in a lovely hotel. I must say that the internals of Perl as far lovelier than I imagined (if that made no sense, it's because it's an awful geek joke).

The next morning, Paul had reprogrammed our trip on his GPS unit for our new route and we had breakfast in Germany, lunch in Switzerland, and dinner in Pisa, Italy. In only two days, we've travelled through seven countries! Switzerland charged us €30 highway tax just to enter the country, even though we'd only be there a couple of hours. We were also pulled over by the police in Switzerland and had our car searched very thoroughly, though no explanation was given, even as we drove away. And at one point we thought the car had been stoled in Switzerland. It was not the high point of our trip.


Sun Shining Through the Leaning Tower of Pisa
The Tower
IMG_0305
The young woman on
the Tower
As we were in Pisa, we of course had to see the Tower. The Leaning Tower of Pisa is incredible. We climbed to the top on the next day and as I took photos, a young woman walked into view. Taking photos of crowds is one thing, but if I focus on someone, it's nice to ask. So I did, but she didn't answer. She merely struck a rather provocative pose. She loved the camera and I have a few shots of her and many of Pisa.

IMG_0317
Not sure if Paul was reacting to the camera or that young woman.

We then drove to Livorno, Italy, only to find that we had missed the ferry to Corsica. Annoyed, we said "screw it" and drove straight to Nice, France and spent the night there before taking a ferry to Corisca the next day.

At this point I need to offer a blanket apology to all Parisians. After having visited Paris once, I proclaimed the Parisians the worst drivers in the world. They're not. The Italians are. Paul would often be driving at 130 kph and Italian drivers would race past us. In fact, speed limits were routinely ignored, red lights constantly run and at one point, a woman pushed her car through a pedestrian crossing full of people and they just jumped out of the way. No cussing or anger. It all seemed to be expected.

The trip from Livorno to Nice was quick, though. Paul hit 190 kph more (about 120 mph) than once — and he was keeping up with traffic.

Before we settled down for the evening, I did manage to get a nice picture of the sun setting over the Mediterranean.

Corsican Sunset

There's not much more to say about the rest of the trip because it was primarily the two of us relaxing at this manor:

IMG_0484

Having breakfast there:

IMG_0479

Enjoying the pool at the manor:

Paul in the Pool

And constantly feeding this stray cat and her kittens (both Paul and I love cats madly):

Beggar Cat

We also enjoyed the nearby town of Speloncato, an ancient town known even during the ancient Roman
empire.

Stairway in Speloncato

There is always so much to see or do over here. There's a rich history and such a huge variety of culture that I can't even begin to imagine settling down in the USA again. I'm home.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Living in Exile - A Foodie's Heaven or Hell?

Last night, several of my colleagues and I were gathered in a pub overlooking a partially frozen canal, drinking Heineken and snacking on bitterballen when one of them, an American, said "I don't care if Italian pizza is better, I miss Chicago-style."

F*ck yeah.

File:Giordano's Deep Dish Pizza.jpg
Yummy is a matter of culture
Photo by ninjapoodles
I've had Italian pizza in both Milan and Pisa and I agree, the artery-clogging, cheese-laden, fat dripping fat-fests that we call Chicago style pizza are awesome and better. For me. Of course, having grown up with the typical high-fat American diet means I'm used to this, but many "purists" would be horrified by this.

Here's my short message to purists: stuff it.

I love great coffee. I used to run espresso stands for a living and I can tell you in exquisite detail what it takes to make that perfect espresso and when I make coffee at home, I filter because the French press (a.k.a. the "сafetière") doesn't properly filter the oils. I use filtered water, good beans, and truly enjoy a nice cup in the morning. A good Sumatran mandheling is particularly delightful.

I also keep instant coffee on hand, to the horror of some of my coffee-loving friends back home. When I first moved to the UK, I was served a cup of instant coffee and I bravely kept a straight face but I was pleasantly surprised. It tasted different, but it wasn't bad at all. It was only my coffee snobbishness which kept me from discovering this before.

Mustard at Apple Pan
Better than purists will admit
Photo by Marshall Astor
Mustard is the same way. I love Dijon, I can't stand Colemans, but French's mustard is damned tasty. Honestly, it's tasty. I hear a lot of foodies sneer at it, but much of our tastes are from the food we grew up with, not from whether or not things are intrinsically delicious. I still have trouble with most French cheeses as frankly, they smell wrong. My wife grew up with them, of course, and she loves them. You can't get them in the US as they're generally made with unpasteurized cheese and thanks to the loving attentions of Monsanto, there's no way in hell I'd want unpasteurized dairy products from the US.

I also miss fried chicken. Sure, you can buy it over here, but good fried chicken is very hard to find in the US; you're not going to find it in Europe unless you make it yourself. That means that you pan fry it, not deep fry it, you have to marinate the chicken properly (I recommend buttermilk), and basically it takes a long time to make a delicious dish that my wife nonetheless hates because fried foods simply aren't very common in France and what little you can get over here is, as mentioned, typically awful.

There are surprises, though. There's a decent Mexican restaurant tucked away in a small town in Germany, but you'd never know it because the food is lousy. However, the chef is Mexican and my father, a Texan who's lived in Europe for forty years, sometimes calls up the restaurant — a day in advance, mind you — and orders dinner. The chef is happy to see him because he can make Mexican food "properly" and not serve up the crap you foist off on the tourists. In fact, a friend tells me of two Mexican restaurants which opened in Leeds, one run by a Mexican family and serving authentic food and another which didn't go out of business.

I used to think I enjoyed French food. Now that I have a French wife, I've discovered that I love French food. It is not, however, anything like the "French" cuisine I had back in the states. It's rich, complex, often annoyingly healthy and should be tried by everyone. You might be surprised. When I was living in the US, I hated Indian food. I had friends in both Portland and San Francisco try to take me to "good" Indian restaurants. Barf on a plate as far as I was concerned. The UK changed my mind. I'm pretty damned sure they invaded all of those countries to gain better access to good food and with Indian food, they've scored a winner. But why is it so different from what I had in the US? Probably because it's authentic, but that doesn't mean that the US can't do international food. Portland had much better Japanese and Thai restaurants than the UK. I'm convinced that you can't get a decent pad see ew in London. I make a decent one, but I had to look up authentic Thai recipes to make sure I was doing it right. Portland restaurants generally did fine. Every London restaurant I went to screwed it up. And don't get me started about the sushi restaurant which offered a "sumo" roll: rice stuffed with lettuce.

Sometime this summer, I'm going to have to have a barbeque, make my own sauce and invite a bunch of friends over. If I'm really energetic, I'll make enchiladas, too. Sure, you generally don't serve those at a barbeque, but damn it, people should know that much of the food from my home country isn't the abominations they've been led to believe (case in point: there's no such thing as a "chicken" fajita). There's a lot of fantastic food over here, but I appreciate a lot of US and Tex-Mex cooking more than ever.

So to all foodies everywhere: there's some great food out there, but put aside your prejudices. Or if, like me, you can't, at least admit that your taste in food is cultural, not innate. There's just no way you're going to convince me that lutefisk is anything more than a Norwegian practical joke.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Expats and Children

When I was eight or nine years old my step-father was in the military and was about to be stationed in Germany. My mother asked my sister and myself if we wanted to go and both of us immediately said "no" because we'd miss our friends. Of course, we honestly had no idea what we were being asked and frankly, I think my mother simply asked so that she could have an excuse to tell her husband she wasn't going to Germany with him. Whatever the reason, he went to live in Weisbaden¹, Germany and we stayed. Today I regret saying "no", but I certainly didn't back then.

paris31q
Children won't necessarily
see Paris as "exotic".
Photo by Kika Sso
If you're going to take children to another country, you will have a brand new set of problems to face. I've previously written about the issue of homesickness and how powerful it can be, but it can be even more powerful for children. You'll have to remember that your reasons for moving to a foreign won't necessarily be appreciated by your child. Yes, you may think that it's a "character building" opportunity, but your eight-year old who only speaks English may not have a have a lot of playmates if the local language is Tswana.

You'll also face the problem of education. Many large cities offer international schools for your child's education. My wife and I are considering the International School in Amsterdam for our child, but it's not cheap. Fortunately, we have at least three years before we have to worry about this. Depending on your nationality and circumstances, you may have other options. There is also a new French School in Amsterdam. It's subsidized by the French government and teaches in English and French and introduces children to the Dutch language and culture. Due to the assistance from the French government, it is far less expensive (€8718/year for older children versus about €21,000/year), but still out of the price range for many. So keep this in mind: if your child doesn't fluently speak the native language of your target country, education is going to be a problem.

There is another curious problem that few have to deal with. I'm an American, my wife is French, and our daughter will soon be born here in Amsterdam. What nationality will she be? We're lucky in that we already know that our child will be able to claim US and French citizenship and if we stay in the Netherlands long enough, Dutch as well. However, not everyone is so lucky. There are more and more people living abroad and finding that their children are stateless or claim citizenship in a country which is not the parent's country. What's going on?

Traditionally, there are two routes for citizenship for newborns:  jus soli (right of the soil) and jus sanguinus (right of blood). The former states that you can claim citizenship where you are born. The later allows you to claim citizenship via ancestry (typically your parents). However, politicians are finding that fear of immigration is often a source of cheap votes as it's difficult for immigrants to have a political voice. In the US, for example, you may not have heard of the term anchor baby, but many anti-immigration activists have. The 14th Amendment of the US Constitution guarantees that any child born in the USA is automatically a citizen (jus soli), but not surprisingly some politicians are trying to take this away via HR 1868, the "Birthright Citizenship Act", which would deny citizenship to children unless one of their parents is:
  • a citizen or national of the United States;
  • an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence in the United States whose residence is in the United States; or
  • an alien performing active service in the armed forces (as defined in section 101 of title 10, United States Code).
Unfortunately, as with most naïve anti-immigration bills, it ignores the modern complexity of the international world and it makes no exception for children whose parents may be stateless or may legitimately be in the US claiming asylum.

To make matters worse, many countries are trying to limit jus sanguinus. By limiting or eliminating both traditional routes for claiming citizenship, more and more people are finding giving birth abroad to be a legal minefield. If you live abroad and are expecting a child, contact your nearest embassy to ensure that you understand the legal implications of the birth.

For my wife and myself, we have a different and somewhat curious issue: what if our child chooses not to take our nationality? This isn't as far-fetched as it sounds. Remember the British gentleman, born and raised in the UK, who was surprised to discover that he owes many thousands of dollars in US income taxes? Our child may well turn 18 and realize that he or she is facing a lifetime of income tax to the US government if US citizenship is accepted. Naturally the French and the Dutch don't tax their overseas citizens.²  I would like my child to be able to take advantage of an extra citizenship, but why would they want to?

Being an expatriate and a parent is a much harder choice than simply being an expatriate and it could have serious legal impacts if your child is born overseas. Before taking this step, make sure you understand all of the implications involved. You get to make this decision. Your children don't.


1. Unbeknownst to us, he was stationed about 15 kilometers (9 miles) from where my real father lives, a man I was not to meet for another 22 years.
2. Only the US and the dictatorships of Eritrea and North Korea try to collect income tax from their expats.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Not a scam

Just a quick note for today: it's really sad that so many "expat" web sites out there are little more than link farms or real estate scams. It can be very hard to get good information and I'll be doing my best to steer you in the right direction. Already there's at least one well-known expat Web site which is now little more than ads with just hints of content here and there.

Keep reading and I'll make sure you get real information, not spam.

Meanwhile, I think I'll be heading to the hospital with my wife and maybe see where our baby will be born. Being born in Amsterdam to French and American parents might give her a rather interesting legal status. I'll write more about that later. It's not always straightforward.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Cultural Differences

Cookies and milk, anyone?
No matter how hard you try, there's going to come a point where cultural differences are going to hit you hard. Maybe it's the horse meat steaks in France. Maybe you find the Tibetan Sky Burial a grotesque practice.¹ Whatever your particular trigger is, you're sure to find some culture, somewhere in the world, which thinks your "revolting" behavior is the norm. That's when you have to make a conscious effort to figure out how you're going to respond.

Yesterday for Christmas dinner, my wife was preparing magret de canard (duck breast), when she realized she was out of dried apricots. There was only shop open, a Turkish one, but I dutifully went there and bought the apricots.  I also noticed they had kakaolu - kremali bisküvi, Turkisk for "chocolate cream cookies." I am white. My wife is black. I knew I had to buy them. Fortunately, her sense of humor and mine are in synch, so she laughed when she saw them. The photo at right might explain the issue. As far as I can tell, the Turks have no idea how offensive this name could be to English speaking folk.

And if you're curious, they're delicious.


1. The Tibetan Sky Burial is a traditional practice where the deceased's body is left exposed to the elements, including birds of vultures. I'm not linking to anything because if you really must know, you can find it yourself.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve in Amsterdam

Christmas in Amsterdam 2005
Christmas in Amsterdam
Photo by Radio Nederland Wereldomroep
It's Christmas eve here in Amsterdam and there were threats of snow yesterday, but they didn't come to pass. Yesterday's meal was a lovely boudin blanc with a Belgian Dubbel to wash it down. I'm taking time off from work and today will be spent with family, walking the canals or perhaps just relaxing with lovely food and company. I've been eyeing the escargots that my mother-in-law brought up from Calais.
As I'm sure will come as no surprise to anyone, I'll be taking a couple of days off from blogging to enjoy the holidays.

I've also thought that I should make a few more "personal" posts now and then. That will give you a better idea of the writer and what life is actually like for an expat.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Destination Profile: Bermuda

Country profiles are simply overviews of how to get into a country and some obstacles you'll face. They are not intended to be in-depth discussions of the country.

BBC, Wikipedia and CIA World Factbook articles on Bermuda.


View Larger Map

If you know who I am, you might very, very briefly see me in the movie Goth Cruise, a documentary about a bunch of goths¹ taking a cruise to Bermuda. Having previously been homeless in Hawaii (back in 1987), I can't say that I find tropical islands particularly appealing, but Bermuda was lovely and the Bermudians handled the shock of meeting a bunch of Goths fairly well. Reflexively I looked into what it took to move there, despite having no particular desire to do so myself.

The short answer: good luck. Bermuda is happy to welcome you ... for a short stay. Though they're still a colony of the United Kingdom, they exhibit a lot of local autonomy and are happy to keep others at arms length.

Languages

Official: English
Other: Portuguese

Work permits

You can get work permits in Bermuda, but it's not easy. The government is extremely careful about letting people in and most of the resources I've followed all detail a laborious process. You need specialized skills to get sponsored, but if you work for an international company with offices in Bermuda, you can get transferred there with a work permit. Unlike many other countries, Bermuda doesn't particularly like people with work permits switching jobs and apparently only allows it once. Further, the renewal is not guaranteed.

Residency

Photobucket
Lovely, but you're
not wanted here
If you're not a Bermudian and you're not rich, forget it. Foreigners are only allowed to buy houses from other foreigners and these tend to run for more than a million dollars. Of course, you have to get permission from the government to buy it, first. Long-term residency is generally only granted if you marry a Bermuda citizen — and they don't recognize gay marriage.

Citizenship

The only route to citizenship is to marry a Bermudan native and live with him/her for at least ten years, eight of which must be spent in Bermuda, including the two years prior to the application for citizenship. There was briefly an exception to this, but it primarily applied to those who had entered Bermuda prior to 1989 and had resided there for twenty years. In short: this is one of the few places where marriage is really your only option.

Retirement


Again, you can pretty much forget it. Bermuda is small and they only have so much room. As a result, it is generally illegal for a non-Bermudian to purchase property there. If an exception is made, <a href="http://fredbernstein.com/articles/display.asp?id=161">house prices often start at $3 million</a>. Acquiring residency is virtually impossible, so unless you have a special connection of some sort, Bermuda is not an option.

Further immigration information is available at the official Bermuda government Web site. It's incredibly slow and poorly organized, so be patient.

1. I'm not particularly goth, but I love the music and many of my best friends are goth/industrial types.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Australia - Work and Holiday Visa

Canberra autumn
Canberra in Autumn
Photo by Ruth Ellison
Are you 18 to 30 years old and fancy a year in Australia? Take a working holiday in Australia! The rules will vary slightly based on your country of origin (for example, here are the Australian working holiday rules for US citizens), but basically, it's a scheme designed to attract young people to the country — many countries seek young workers — and it's fairly easy to qualify for. Just keep your nose clean and save up a bit of cash for the initial flight.

Sydney Lights
Sydney at Night
Photo by Flying Cloud
I have friends who've emigrated to Australia and others who were raised there who will cheerfully tell you what a fantastic country it is. Were I younger, I would jump at the chance. It's a great way to dip your toe in the expatriate water and decide if living abroad is really for you. As I've mentioned before, many people find it hard to live far away from friends and family, but if it's for a fixed amount of time, perhaps it's easier to deal with.

And if you prefer, New Zealand has a working holiday scheme too!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Future Plans

As I continue to figure out the most useful way to present information for people, my thoughts on this matter have been evolving. I'm now beginning to think that in addition to my personal research, I should start presenting a "standard" set of information links when I post about a country. For example, let's say I start researching Tuvalu. Regarding emigrating to Tuvalu, I could probably just use the word "no" for the entire content, but that wouldn't be entirely fair. You likely don't know where it is or why I might say that. You also might want to double check my thoughts on the matter. (As an aside, the book I've linked to sounds hilarious)

Thus, I'm thinking that for each country, I might adopt a standard template similar to the following:



Wikipedia and CIA World Factbook entries for Tuvalu.


View Larger Map

... General Discussion ...

Languages

blah, blah, blah

Work permits

blah, blah, blah ...

Residency

blah, blah, blah ...

Citizenship

blah, blah, blah ...



Tuvalu - Funafuti - Beach #2
A beautiful shot of
an impoverished country
Photo by Stefan Lins
Said template will allow you to quickly verify much of the important information and locate the country on the map. Hopefully this will make this blog a more useful resource in the future.

In the case of Tuvalu, it will also tell you that its chief source of income is foreign aid, it has virtually no natural resources, the soil is bad and if sea levels continue to rise, the country may be evacuated. Its a shame because the photos I've seen show a gorgeous country, but there's almost nothing there.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Adventures in food

It's a lovely -7C today. Not looking forward to going outside!

Living in Amsterdam about a decade ago helped to open my eyes to some of the diversity of world foods. I've always had a fondness for Japanese food, having lived on Okinawa as a child, but in Amsterdam food was similar enough to what I was used to that I was often surprised by the subtle differences, including apparent European opinions about American foods which were surprising. For example, the "American Style" potato chips (advertised as "the loudest taste on Earth") were covered in paprika.

Filet Americain
This tastes better than it looks
Photo by FotoosVanRobin
Then there was the Filet Americain, a rather strange, but delicious, raw meat dish. The US has one of the few cultures which doesn't have a "standard" raw meat dish, but I was already pretty used to it because my mother used to toast sourdough bread, spread mayonnaise on it, and cover that with a mixture of lean ground beef and spices. Yum! To this day I find that I often prefer steak raw to cooked.

However, my favorite food discovery has to be the raclette grill. What is a raclette grill? Imagine if Rube Goldberg decided to make a fondue set. 'Nuff said. Basically, cook a bunch of potatoes to go with your meal. You serve a bunch of meats and cheeses with it. The cheese goes into little dishes which slide under the grill and you put whatever food you want on the grill top.

Electric Party Grill
Raclette makes for a
very fun meal.
There's also a cheese named raclette, often is unsurprisingly served with the raclette grill, which I first enjoyed in Calais, France, with friends of my wife. As it turns out, it's also known here in the Netherlands and we've purchased a grill and enjoyed a raclette for my wife's birthday. It's also a fantastic dinner with children or guests because you're cooking your food at the table and, as my wife explained to me il n'y a pas des regles (there are no rules) when enjoying a raclette. Toss mushrooms, shrimp, beef, whatever, on top of the grill and when your cheese melts underneath, scrape the melted cheese over your potatoes and start some more cheese melting.

I have no idea why raclette isn't well known in the US, but for sheer food entertainment value, it's tough to beat. Buy one, invite your friends over, and have a blast.



Pssst: click the image of the raclette grill and it will take you Amazon to buy one. They're great.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Do I need a college degree?

People ask me one question all the time: "don't I need a college degree to take a foreign job?"

the diploma
Will you need this?
Photo by Josh Parrish
The answer is a short and frustrating, "it depends". If you're a medical doctor, then yes, you'll need a degree. In fact,you may need to get accredited/retrained in your target country. For many occupations, though, I see legalese which invariably says something like "a 4 year university degree or equivalent." What's equivalent? I typically see "years of experience" being substituted. This appears to be particularly true in the IT industry as so many people are self-taught.

As a case in point, I have no Bachelor's degree. I have an Associate's Degree and when I mention this, Europeans typically ask "what's that?" As far as I can tell, this two-year degree is primarily an American thing, though other countries are slowly adopting equivalents of it.

The general rule of thumb seems to be that if you need a degree in your home country, you'll need it in another country. My advice? While you're working on getting your first overseas job, get your Bachelors also. For many US jobs, any four year college degree is needed. For many foreign jobs, they'll be looking at what you have a four year degree in. Only research can tell you what your individual situation will entail.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

On Being Human

Well, after blogging quite a bit and posting that huge five part series on getting a work permit, I'm going to start blogging at a more "human" level. I've a wife and a full time job, neither of which is conducive to the large amounts of research necessary for some of the blog posts. So rather than drop the quality too much, I've decided to drop the quantity a bit (e.g., not always "7 days a week").

In the meantime, read 20 Things I’ve Learned From Traveling Around the World for Three Years, by Gary Arndt. In 2007, he started traveling the world with a backpack. Over three years later, he's still doing it. The "20 Things I've Learned" post is spot on.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Work permit 5 of 5: Salary Negotiation

Fair warning: this post is extremely rushed. We had the company Christmas party last night and while plenty of people said they wouldn't even be in this today, I still plan to. I am, however, running late. Incredible party, but boy am I tired and I won't be editing this carefully. It didn't help that I left after the trams stopped and walked across much of Amsterdam to get home at 1:30 in the morning!

I was living in London and was back in the US for a friend's wedding and eight of us were at a Mexican restaurant for dinner. When it came time to pay the bill, eight wallets came out, with an assortment of cards and cash. I thought about it for a moment and realized that with the (then) exchange rate at $2 to the British pound and with me living in the second most expensive city on the planet (or first, depending on the source), this dinner for eight was about the price of dinner for two back home. I picked up the tab and saved everyone a lot of hassle.

Money's always a difficult and confusing topic and if you're in the wonderful position to negotiate the salary for a job in another country, you'll want to keep a number of things in mind.

Exchange rates are for exchanging money

Outdoor Food Market
Who cares about the exchange rate?
When I first moved overseas, I was a bit obsessed with staying on top of the exchange rate. "How much is this carton of eggs in dollars?"

It doesn't matter. What matters is whether or not something is cheap or expensive relative to the local currency, so don't stress about it unless ...

... you're planning on returning to your home country a lot. That 30,000 baht a month salary is fantastic in Thailand but it's only about $1,000 US. If you're a Thai going to work in the US, great! If you're an American going to work in Thailand, you'll want to be aware of this.

That's nice. Now tell me the salary to ask for.

If you live in a foreign country, you'll discover that the economy is as foreign as the country. For example, here in the Netherlands books are typically around €16 to €18 (about $21US to $24US). Mind you, we're talking about the cheap mass market paperback that will sell for $7 to $8 in the US. If I were living in France, many excellent wines are dirt cheap and are often far better than the beer (French beer proves that the French do not excel at everything food and drink related). Petrol (gas) in Europe is far more expensive than in the US and cigarette prices vary considerably from country to country.

What this means is that when you're naming a salary, you're naming a salary relative to what the job should earn, not relative to what you think you'll need for your cost of living. Try as you might, you will get it wrong if you try and estimate the cost of living for yourself.

Justice Bao's Mansion
You can't afford to live here.
What I recommend is naming a range. This sounds strange, but it works like this. In London, for example, many computer programmers earn between £35,000 and £55,000 a year (it can be much higher if it's in banking). The lower end of your range should be close to the higher end of typical salaries. You're an expert and you don't want to sell yourself short. You'll have to judge this carefully, though.
I'd like to earn somewhere between forty-five and sixty-thousand pounds a year, but it really depends on holiday time, working conditions, or other benefits available. What salary did you have in mind?
At this point, you've given a range, made it clear you know what reasonable salaries are, made it clear you're flexible, and thrown it back in their lap. And you've done it very professionally. And you know what? If they're offering eight weeks off a year, you might be quite happy to take a lower salary.

The employment contract

If you get this far, the actual employment contract will need some form of relocation assistance. To guarantee my job in Nottingham, while I did receive a very nice salary, I also offered to pay for my own transportation to the UK. Generally, the employer will pay for your flight and the cost (if any) of moving your goods. If you've offered to pay to secure the job, so be it (don't offer to pay unless you absolutely have to).

In addition to the normal needs of an employment contract, you'll have to ensure that they've guaranteed you some initial accommodation. Most larger cities offer some sort of "short-stay" apartment housing for people moving to a city. They typically include a kitchen, so it's a bit more than a hotel. If you're working in a low-paying industry (e.g., social worker) and they offer to let you temporarily take a room in a coworker's flat, consider it.

Also, if you'll have trouble with rental deposits, ask the company if they can provide a payroll loan to cover it? Make sure you ask before you fly over. Being homeless is not fun (I speak from experience).

Finally, you might have to have a provision in there that if you leave before a certain amount of time, you'll repay some or all of the relocation expenses. This is a normal condition, but make sure it's not for too long of a time. I probably wouldn't go over a year, but it depends on the expenses.

Overview of Part 5
  • Forget about the exchange rate
  • Name a salary range, not a flat rate
  • Make sure the contract covers relocation needs
Work Permit Summary

So that's about it. I've covered preparing your résumé, researching and applying for jobs, interviewing and salary negotiations. This should give you a solid plan for attacking the foreign job market. Be aware, though, that there are plenty of other avenues to working overseas and this one is not guaranteed. It's simply a variant of the strategy that I took and I know it's worked for others too.

Good luck!

<< Part 4: the Interview

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Work permit 4 of 5: Interviewing

Oh, I'm a happy man. My mother-in-law is up from Calais for Christmas and amongst her many delightful gifts, she's brought escargot and rillettes de poulet rôti, the latter of which I've smeared on a yummy brown bread and am eating for breakfast while preparing this post.

So, you have a great résumé, you've done your research, you've applied for jobs in your target country and you get an email in your inbox asking if you can be ready for a phone interview at 9 AM on Monday morning.

Phone Struck by Lightning
If you got this far, don't have
a meltdown on the phone.
Photo by David Blaikie
Of course you can. You've worked your tail off for this moment and you're not going to blow it.

However, they might. I was once woken up by my phone ringing at 3AM because the interviewer got their time zone wrong — and that was after I sent back a confirmation email to verify the time in both my time zone and theirs. Of course I still did the interview, but are you going to be prepared enough to handle an interview if you're woken up like that? Yes, you are.

You're going to have a friend or two call you and give you an interview over the phone. They need to grill you hard and make sure they would really want to hire you. They need to hit you with any and all objections they can think of and you have to smoothly address every one of them. You cannot fail this interview.

Kiwis are human too

Humboldt Mountains, South Island, New Zealand
Humboldt Mountains,
New Zealand
Photo by kiwinz
Don't stress the interview too much, though. If they've called an international candidate, they're already intrigued. If you're an Italian with a hobbit fetish¹ and you desperately want to live in New Zealand, just remember that the New Zealander interviewing you may find you — and your accent — as exotic as you think of him or her. And this goes for Americans, too. Even though the rest of the world is inundated with US movies and TV shows, I've still had ladies in Nottingham tell me how much they loved my boring midwest American accent (note to my wife: they were ugly ladies. And old. Really old.)

You're talking to a human being on the other end of the line and if they've taken the trouble to call someone from another country, this is not a run of the mill phone call. They're going to be as curious about you as you are about them. I've had international phone interviews quickly devolve into laughter and discussion of local food and politics (which can be quite dangerous).

The three dangerous questions

No matter how well the interview goes, there are three questions you're almost guaranteed to be asked and you had better nail them.
  1. Why do you want to move to our country?
  2. Can you legally work here?
  3. How soon can you start?
This is where all of your research is going to pay off, but for the "why do you want to move here" question, you're going to have to come up with your own answer.

When I was asked this about the UK, I mentioned that I had family in the UK and Germany and I wanted to be closer to them. I also mentioned that I had previously visited the UK and I loved the country.

You probably don't have relatives in the target country, so that's out. Hopefully you've at least visited. If you haven't, you might be in for a surprise. Some people who think they'd love London discover that it's too polluted and busy for them (I've several good friends who were disappointed by the city). Not having visited hurts your chances, but if you haven't, there's not much you can do.

At the very least, study the country's history and current affairs like mad and explain what parts of it you're fascinated by and how much you've wanted to live there and experience it first hand.

Remember, these are people on the other end of the line; they'll probably understand that answer. Most people have a hidden adventure streak in them and there's a good chance that you'll be admired for it. However, don't just say "for the adventure." Also, don't say anything too negative about your home country. You don't know the person on the other end of the line and if they're turned off by politics or they happen to admire the politics of your country, you may have sunk your boat. Stay positive!

"Take me to the kittens"... // "Llevame a los gatitos"...
Random image of cats.
I love cats.
Photo by Jesus Solana
The really problematic question is "can you legally work here?" This one will also make or break you. If possible, I like to kick start an interview by asking questions of the interviewer. I like to turn the interview into a dialogue, a friendly chat, and forestall this question as long as possible. If it's addressed too early, you may not get a chance to sell yourself. When it's asked, though, the answer is simple:
I need to get a work permit before I start, but fortunately, the process is pretty straightforward.
This is why you've spent so much time learning exactly how the country's work permit system is structured. Explain how they can hire you. When the company in Nottingham wanted to hire me, they were concerned that it would be difficult. I assured them that it wasn't and briefly outlined the process. Then I asked for contact information in the company to whom I should be sending links to explain the process in more detail. I told them where to download forms, what fees they would be paying and what papers they would need to provide. In short, I told my employer how to hire me.

At this point if they're wavering, you need to close the deal. If you have a sales background, you should isolate their objections and deal with them one by one, but there are some issues here. First, you may not be trained to do this. Second, you probably don't know their culture and you may accidentally give offense. Third, they may simply be too polite to tell you the problem or too embarrassed to say that they don't think they can afford you.

Assuming you think that they want to hire you, you can simply deal with the most common objections outright. First, I tell them that my contract should have a provision that I will repay all or some of the relocation costs if I leave the company before a certain date. Another thing I did to guarantee my first UK move was to tell them that I only had to bring over a few suitcases: I didn't have a household full of goods to move and that reduced relocation costs quite a bit.

Finally, "how soon can you start" is the easy one. You're already sick to death of Count von Europe, but you've heeded the lesson and you have nothing holding you back. Your answer is simply "I have to give X days notice to my employer. I can start as soon as my work permit is approved." The reality is that the work permit will usually take a few months (this varies widely), so you're waiting on them rather than the other way around.

Overview of part 4
  • Do mock phone interviews with friends
  • Remember that they'll be as curious about you as you are about them
  • Handle the 3 questions with care
If you've gotten this far, you might, just might, have a company willing to make an offer. That's where part 5 is important: negotiating your salary.

<< Part 3: Applying for jobsPart 5: Salary negotiation >>


1. I would just like to take this time to point out that while searching for images for this post, I've learned that searching for "hobbit fetish" is not a good idea.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Work permit 3 of 5: Applying for Jobs

OK, so you've already read Part 2 and you've started laying the foundations for getting a job in another country. Now what? Find the damned country.

Assessing your opportunities

The first thing you need to do is develop a plan. It's easier if you target just one country as you can become more familiar with it. You need to be familiar with:
  • Shortage occupations
  • Work permit process
  • Local news
  • Employer advertisements
Many countries have shortage occupation lists, though often under different names, and you might be surprised at some of the jobs on them. For example, the UK shortage occupation list has social workers in child and family services, but who would have thought that "social worker" is a high demand job? Basically, review these lists for the countries you're interested in and ask yourself one question: could I get hired in this job in my home country? If the answer is "yes", you've got a winner. These are high-demand jobs in those countries and they're much easier to get work permits for. Because they're shortage occupation lists, employers are often more willing to be flexible.

Sydney Opera House Close up HDR Sydney Australia
Would you rather live here?
Photo by Hai Linh Truong
Next, learn everything you can about the work permit process for that country. Want to live in Australia? Start by reading this employer information. I said "start". You're not going to finish there. You have to keep reading and reading and reading. You have to know their work permit process backwards and forwards. You might think "but the employer is the one who has to know this, right?" Sure, but trust me. All will be clear soon (in part 4, the interview process).

Next, you will start reading their local news religiously and getting to know your target area. This includes scanning job adverts (but not applying yet). You see, you need to know your target area very well. You need to know the markets. You need to have a comfortable level of knowledge to discuss the place. This will help for a couple of reasons. First, you'll start to understand where the jobs are. Second, when you get a phone interview, you might find "local" discussions occurring and you want to sound knowledgeable. Sounding like you have no idea where the hell you're going is not going to impress anyone. At this point, anything which might scare the a potential employer off would be bad.

Let me rephrase this to make it absolutely clear what's going on here: you're trying to get a job in a foreign country. You have to prep for these job interviews like you never have before in your life. Every question should be an opportunity for you to hit a home run. You know the country. You know the industry. You know the company, their competition, and anything else which may be relevant. You are the most prepared person on the damned planet for that job. Or at least, that's what the employer needs to think.

Mind you, if you get an offer, you'll find that you probably didn't need all of the knowledge you had, but you won't know up front which bits you won't need. Don't take chances here: learn everything.

Other Employment Finding Strategies

It's worth noting that some countries don't have shortage lists but you might want to move there anyway. That's OK. Just keep reading about their residency and work permit requirements, along with their news. After a while, a picture of the country's economy will start forming and you'll get ideas about where useful skills might be needed. Or you might get lucky and discover a country like Uruguay where all you need is a small, steady income and you're good to go. Remember: the key to this is to be flexible and think creatively.

You should also start hanging out on "expat" message boards for your target country. Just type "COUNTRYNAME expat" into your favorite search engine and you should find plenty of them. Don't sign up at first, just start reading through them. This will give you a sense of what other expats are doing, the problems they face, and most importantly (for now) the type of work they found. Once you have a feel for what the appropriate etiquette is for the boards you are reading, sign up and join in the discussion if it's appropriate. If the boards welcome people looking to move there, you might find expats willing to offer "inside" advice. Just like working on your résumé, you're applying a multi-prong strategy here.

Finally, just check this list of international job web sites. It's not complete, but it's a good sample of jobs for you.

Applying

Here's the scary part. You've practically packed your bags, you have your papers in order, you have a CV which stands out (and is formatted as your target country prefers), you've picked your target country and you know their market like the back of your  hand. You know you're a great candidate. It's time to apply for jobs and this is where things break down for people. They don't know what to do. What I would tell them is "think of Charlie." Charlie is a guy I knew in Alaska who had a habit of getting jobs he wasn't qualified for. At one point, he was even a bank manager though his main skill was carpentry. How did he get these jobs?

He applied for them.

It's honestly that simple. Admittedly, Charlie had the gift of gab and could talk his way into these jobs, but no employer is ever going to say yes unless you ask. Don't be afraid. Just pick up the job listings for your target country — if you don't know where to find them by now, you're probably applying too soon — and start sending your CV to the jobs you want.

The Cover Letter

In today's day and age, the cover letter seems a lost art. You're going to revive it. For every job you apply for, you will include a cover letter. You will contact the company first and find out to whom you will be addressing this letter. In the actual letter, you will mention their company by name, tell them why you want the position, why they want to hire you, and drop details of what you know about them, their competitors,  and their market. You have to be very careful with this letter. If it's too long, people won't read it, but you have to convey enough that they pay more attention to your résumé than they usually would.

What you don't do in your cover letter is tell them that you need sponsorship for a work permit. One of the things which was drilled into me repeatedly in car sales (yeah, I used to sell cars, too) is that you never bring up anything negative unless someone asks. They're already going to see that you live in another country. Your goal is to convince them that they have to have you.

Depending on your field and your qualifications, you may have to send out quite a few résumés. You may get several callbacks right away or you may have to wait months. Even if you get several callbacks, these could easily be the strangest phone interviews you've ever had. You have to be prepared for them and that's what we'll cover in part 4.

Overview of Part 3
  • Find your target country
  • Understand their work permit laws
  • Learn their markets, news and shortage lists (if any)
  • Read expat boards
  • Start applying with cover letters
Prostitute tj
Not all jobs are desirable.
Eventually you'll get a phone interview and they'll ask if you can legally work in their country and that's actually fantastic. It means that your résumé was noticed. It also means you need know part 4, how to handle the interview.

Note: in the process of research, you might find companies which state up front that they'll sponsor work permits. My current employer, for example, will sponsor work permits and pay the relocation costs of Perl programmers. If you have a strong Perl background and want to live in Amsterdam, drop me a line.

<< Part 2: Laying the FoundationPart 4: Interviewing >>

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Work permit 2 of 5: Preparing your Résumé

Mad Scientist
Mad scientists still count
as "skilled workers".
Photo by Christopher Neugebauer
You're either a "skilled" or "unskilled" worker. The terms are vague, but loosely involve the amount of training/education needed for a particular skill. You may be a the best pizza delivery guy in your country, but you're still going to be considered an "unskilled" worker. Unskilled workers are going to have to go a different route to working overseas (such as teaching English), but these posts are going to concentrate on what skilled workers need for a work permit job.

Building your Résumé/CV

The first thing you have to do is to build your résumé. This is your key to making things happen. Early in 2006, I dropped by a former employer in Portland to pick up some paperwork I needed for my UK work permit. One of my former colleagues asked: "why do you get to go to Europe and we don't?"

I replied, quite honestly, "I know some of you are better programmers than I am, but nobody knows who you are."

In other words: I marketed myself. I constantly answered questions for people online and posted advice for them on appropriate forums. I did this for years and still do it on different forums.  You won't necessarily have to do that (or do that for years), but you do need to figure out some way of "marketing" yourself so that you stand out. What this means is that you need to be competent in your field but you don't have to be the absolute best.  Here's where a multi-prong strategy helps. In addition to getting myself known online, I also ...
J'ai le goût du voyage ! / i want to travel !
Don't forget why
you're doing this!
Photo by Paul Falardeau
These are all on my CV. These sorts of things may not apply to you, but you need to find something which will. For example, are you a social worker? How many social workers in the US do you know who have joined the National Association of Social Workers? Did you know that many magazines and Web sites are struggling to find new writers? If you're not sure who you would submit article proposals to, grab the 2011 Writer's Market.

Remember that the goal is to have a résumé which makes someone say "hey Inga, take a look at this!" This means having something on there that other applicants don't.

Let me repeat that: have something on there that other applicants don't. In fact, have several somethings. I have an entire section entitled "Notable Publications" and I have other accomplishments in another section. My résumé gets noticed.

And try to make it relevant to your career. If you're a jet mechanic, volunteering at a homeless shelter is nice, but if you're trying to get a job as a volunteer coordinator, it's a lot nicer. Anything which is both positive and career-related should show up on that résumé, particularly if it's something other applicants won't have (at the same time, a 37 page résumé is going straight into the trash after everyone laughs at it).

Google

While you're at it, hit the major search engines and search for your name. If you search for my name, most of those links are me. If you search for my name and "Perl", the programming language I specialize in, almost all of those links are me. That was me deliberately marketing myself. People will search for your name. What will they find? If they find dishing out snotty, off-color remarks and being rude to people, or find that photo of you Facebook where you're vomiting at a frat party, you're not going to get the job. I know a couple of people in my field who are very competent and well-known, but because they're rude online, they lose employment opportunities. Even if you're not going to spend a lot of time online, take care of that online image. Every time you post something think "would I want an employer to see this?"

Friends

While you're at it, have your friends Google you — and read your résumé/CV — to look for things that you'll miss. You can't afford to screw up here. A single misspelled word may be quietly killing your dreams.

Also, throw a "go away" party with them. You'll just sit around and get stupidly drunk (or whatever it is that you do) and brainstorm ideas for things you can get on your CV (failing that, ask reddit!) Get those creative juices flowing so you can figure out how to make this work.

Overview of Part 2

The first part of getting that job overseas is all about you. It's laying a solid foundation.
  • Count von Europe (listed in part 1)
  • Get your papers in order (listed in part 1)
  • Have several unique things on your résumé
  • Google yourself
  • Get help from your friends
Is this hard work? Yup. I never promised it would be easy, but it's not going to happen without effort on your part.

Tomorrow we'll talk about the job hunt and applying.

<< Part 1: the IntroductionPart 3: Applying for jobs >>

Monday, December 13, 2010

Work permit 1 of 5: Introduction

Koh Chang, Trat, Thailand
Koh Chang, Trat, Thailand
Photo by Clay Irving
Note: this guide is for skilled workers. Those without strong job skills that foreign companies would like to import should read the Young Person's Guide to Moving Abroad. After finishing this guide, you should see if any of our work permit jobs sounds interesting to you.

For many of you reading this blog, you're probably frustrated. You want to live and work in a foreign country, but you're not reading this blog to teach English in South Korea or be a nanny in Brazil. You're educated, well-skilled and you think you have a job that an employer overseas might value. In short, you want to find someone who will sponsor your work permit. You're sick of the rat race in your home country and you long for a better life in Thailand where your nice income will let you enjoy time on relaxing, pollution-free beaches.

The problem is that you don't know where to start. There are some things you've heard of, such as being a hot-shot CEO or working for a multinational and hoping they'll transfer you (when you know they probably won't), that you just don't think are going to work for you. They're either too out of reach or too much of a gamble, so you need something else.

Over the next few days, I'll be making a series of posts covering:
  1. The introduction (what you're reading now)
  2. Laying the foundation
  3. Applying for jobs
  4. Handling the interview
  5. Negotiating the salary
None of this is rocket science. None of this is quick and easy, either. It's also not guaranteed.  Variations on the described technique got me two job offers in London (and would gotten me a third if I hadn't already accepted a job in Nottingham, UK) and a standing offer in Paris. I'm also not the first person to go this route.

(Update: Feb 16, 2012. That "standing offer in Paris" I mentioned over a year ago? That's where I'm working now. The tips I list work.)

By this time, you've already read about Count von Europe and you're working on saying "yes" to him. You also have your papers in order. I've yammered on about this a lot because it's important. When the call comes, you don't want to ask an employer to wait a few months for you. So while you're waiting for tomorrow's post, go back and read those two and start getting things done. If you really want to make this happen, you have your work cut out for you.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Living, just living

It always amazes me when I hear Americans go on about the "high taxes in Europe" without giving any thought to what life is actually like over here. It's like they think we're burdened with huge tax debt and are constantly struggling to have a decent standard of living. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Though I sometimes hear rebuttals pointing out how we have universal health care, low cost or free universities, better pensions, better safety nets in general, and so on, I never hear anyone point out the obvious: day-to-day life in Europe is just day-to-day life. It's not a hardship and we certainly don't have a lower standard of living than the US (in fact, by many measures the average standard of living is far better than the US due to a much narrower rich-poor gap).

Oliebollen
Just to give you a typical taste of life here, my wife and I were invited to dinner at a friend's house in Alphen aan den Rijn, a small town maybe 40 kilometres away from Amsterdam. Yesterday after breakfast, we started walking to the Leidseplein, after stopping to grab a couple of oliebollen from a vendor. Oliebollen (which unappetizingly translates to "oil balls") are a traditional Dutch treat served during the holidays.

As it's close to Christmas, there are decorations everywhere, children are laughing and excited and people rush about from store to store, frantically shopping for presents. Holidays in foreign countries can often be surprising. For example, here's a short video of Zwarte Piet, or "Black Pete", that I shot here in Amsterdam. Zwarte Piet is the helper of Sinterklaas and if you've been a bad boy or girl, he'll snatch you away in a burlap sack and take you to Spain, where he and Sinterklaas live during the off season. Doesn't sound like much of a threat to me, but a couple of hundred years ago, it might have been scary.



Amsterdam Bloemenmarkt
Bloemenmarkt
Photo by Emanuele
Meanwhile, my wife and I headed to the Bloemenmarkt to buy some flowers for our hosts, before finally getting to Leidseplein and catching the bus (I stopped driving when I moved to Europe because there was never any need to). When we arrived in Alphen aan den Rijn, our host met us at the bus stop and drove us to his house. From there, we had a lovely evening of catching up, including chatting with a friend from Portugal who was in town on business. Dinner was a pasta served with hare (hare, not rabbit) with a delicious apple pie for dessert. We finished with a lovely white port (I hadn't had one of those before!) before heading home.

There's really nothing interesting in any of this recounting of "a day in the life." Aside from locations many would consider "exotic", it's just business as usual. We are ordinary people with ordinary lives. Except that we don't have medical bankruptcies. We don't have people living in studio flats under a crushing mound of university debt (my wife has a Master's Degree in French law and she spent about €2,000 a year for that). We don't have people constantly scrimping on vacation days since we tend to get five weeks a year or more. In short, we work to live and we enjoy life. If you doubt this, just check out the various studies regarding standards of living and national happiness. The US is never on top. European countries usually are.
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