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Columnists

Expat Focus Columnists

(meet all our columnists here)


Aisha Isabel Ashraf

Aisha Isabel Ashraf

A Taste Of The Past

by Aisha Isabel Ashraf, Saturday March 29, 2014 (17:44:27)   (926 Reads)
Aisha Isabel Ashraf
Moving Above Zero

We’ve had an exceptionally harsh and lengthy winter here in Ontario, but hopefully it’s almost over now. You know Spring is in the air when you feel a mounting inner joy akin to sap rising, and you can bet sap is rising in sugar bushes province-wide.

A sugar bush is a stand of predominantly maple trees and tapping for sap begins when daytime temperatures get above freezing but nights are still below. Once nighttime temperatures rise the sap stops flowing so you have to hit a sugar shack while you can. The season started later than usual this year thanks to our record-breaking winter weather.   more ...

Aisha Isabel Ashraf

Aisha Isabel Ashraf

School In Canada - Small Differences, Big Impact

by Aisha Isabel Ashraf, Thursday February 20, 2014 (23:09:17)   (1985 Reads)
Aisha Isabel Ashraf
Trawling online recently I came across an article about a UK school defending its decision to suspend a pupil over a wrestling logo shaved into his hair; and before that, another story about another school apologizing for insisting a parent supply a photograph of their chickenpox-stricken child for absence monitoring.

Taken together they were a startling reminder of the differences in education and social attitudes between Britain and Ontario, Canada, where we‘ve lived now for nearly four years; almost long enough to forget all the small ways life overseas can be strikingly different even in countries broadly similar.   more ...

Aisha Isabel Ashraf

Aisha Isabel Ashraf

We Hunkered Down And Pressed On...

by Aisha Isabel Ashraf, Thursday January 09, 2014 (19:13:54)   (1744 Reads)
Aisha Isabel Ashraf
Chillin’

2014 has blasted in with extreme cold weather here in Ontario, Canada. Windchill is in the minus thirties/forties and you risk frostbite if you’re out for any length of time with skin exposed.

This is our fourth winter in Canada and we’re better equipped to endure it now than ever. The children all have snowpants, snowboots and frost-protective coats and gloves – a far cry from our first year here when we scraped by with no car and the bare minimum.

Our First Canadian Winter

I remember how the snow began falling in earnest on the first of December, cleaving to some indiscernible timetable, and we didn’t see the ground again until April.   more ...

Aisha Isabel Ashraf

Aisha Isabel Ashraf

Time For Snow Tires?

by Aisha Isabel Ashraf, Wednesday November 27, 2013 (14:35:14)   (1703 Reads)
Aisha Isabel Ashraf
I must have been looking the other way because it’s suddenly winter and very cold. The manageable minus three degrees, crisp sunshine and bracing air that chased us into the supermarket at the weekend were gone when we came out – replaced by snow tumbling from the vast black maw above and a wind-chill of minus fifteen, so that I almost thought we’d used the wrong exit and stepped out into Siberia.

“Yay, it’s the sticky kind!” yelled my eldest, ecstatic at the prospect of snowballs and frozen frolics. Somehow we manhandled both shopping and three wired children into the Jeep – and then the fun began.

It was indeed the sticky kind. It stuck to the roads and became a slick mirror reflecting with crystalline cruelty the impotent wheelspins of drivers wrestling Momentum for control.   more ...

Aisha Isabel Ashraf

Aisha Isabel Ashraf

Canadian Creepy Crawlies: ‘Does It Bite?’

by Aisha Isabel Ashraf, Wednesday October 02, 2013 (23:02:00)   (2098 Reads)
Aisha Isabel Ashraf
One of the less vaunted aspects of adapting to life abroad is getting to know your neighbours. Not the human ones, with whom you can decide the degree of interaction you’re mutually comfortable with. I mean those household occupants we live cheek by jowl with who don’t share a surname or the rent (or any idea of personal space, come to think of it).

Before we emigrated I did a little internet digging on just how murderous Mother Nature habitually was in southern Ontario and was relieved to find Ontario's only poisonous snake is the Massasauga Rattler, which put us on a par with the adder in the UK. By moving, we’d just be swapping one for the other, the bonus being we’d hear this one coming!   more ...

Aisha Isabel Ashraf

Aisha Isabel Ashraf

4 Mental Hacks For The Expat Existentialist

by Aisha Isabel Ashraf, Friday August 30, 2013 (20:02:34)   (4163 Reads)
Aisha Isabel Ashraf
If you’ve ever asked, “What does it all mean?” or “Why are we here?” you’ve asked an existential question. If you’re reading this there’s also a good chance you’re an expat. Existentialist thought shies away from one-size-fits-all solutions and therein lies its appeal to the global nomad who is only too familiar with the complex nuances contained in seemingly innocuous words like ‘home’, ‘belonging’ and ‘edible’ (deep-fried grasshopper, anyone?)

Below are four principles of existentialism adapted for the peculiarities of the expat existence – because we all need a philosophy to cling to when life gets choppy, expats especially...   more ...

Aisha Isabel Ashraf

Aisha Isabel Ashraf

Food For Thought

by Aisha Isabel Ashraf, Wednesday July 17, 2013 (13:24:51)   (1223 Reads)
Aisha Isabel Ashraf
Food has a strange hold over us. All over the world, it’s a common bond, but our relationship with food is complex and subjective; it’s so much more than just fuel for our bodies. It’s used to express control, comfort, love, satisfaction, principles, culture; it spills over into so many areas it’s literally, as well as figuratively, messy.

If the food sucks, forget it!

As any traveller knows, no matter how alien the environment, how inscrutable the people, a meal of something sustaining and comforting can make us see things in a more positive light. And so it follows that however wondrous our surroundings and hospitable the host, if the food sucks, forget it! It’s my husband’s #1 reason for not wanting to work in China – I think he’s seen too much TV footage of insects on skewers.   more ...

Aisha Isabel Ashraf

Aisha Isabel Ashraf

Mental Illness And Expat Life

by Aisha Isabel Ashraf, Friday June 07, 2013 (09:27:43)   (2759 Reads)
Aisha Isabel Ashraf
Catastrophe-in-waiting or self-development opportunity?

Hi everyone! Since I’ve been away summer has smiled on Ontario and Toronto’s already had its first heat alert; the beaches are open and the festival season is about to kick off. While I apologise for my unscheduled absence, (more on that in a minute) it has given me the opportunity to share with you a personal issue that also poses a dilemma for some would-be expatriates.

Livin’ la vida loca

As readers of my blog Expatlog already know, I’m diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). You can read about what that’s like to live with here, but suffice to say its hallmarks are emotional instability, black-and-white thinking, poor impulse-control, a hazy sense of identity and increased anxiety in the face of change. 10% of those diagnosed commit suicide.   more ...

Aisha Isabel Ashraf

Aisha Isabel Ashraf

The Born-Again Expat

by Aisha Isabel Ashraf, Wednesday March 13, 2013 (19:57:09)   (2265 Reads)
Aisha Isabel Ashraf
I’ve often said becoming an expat is the closest you can get to experiencing life from the uncluttered perspective of a baby – if, and it’s a BIG “if”, you can detach yourself from preconceptions and the urge to make comparisons.

‘Travel broadens the mind’ is a proverb dating from the early 20th century. GK Chesterton’s 1921 comment on it is a significant travel quote, too: ‘They say travel broadens the mind; but you must have the mind.’ The expatriate life offers a chance to exist untainted by knowledge and expectation, to absorb the world fresh with colour and brimming with sensory overload. Moving to a new country forces you to think differently, to leave comparisons behind and accept new ways of doing things. It frees you from the restrictions of old definitions; you have a blank canvas on which to paint a new identity and the forgiving gift of the “foreigner” label to absolve your mistakes.   more ...

Aisha Isabel Ashraf

Aisha Isabel Ashraf

Canada Celebrates... February!

by Aisha Isabel Ashraf, Monday February 11, 2013 (20:59:37)   (1714 Reads)
Aisha Isabel Ashraf
Where “chilled” is more than just a temperature – it’s a state of mind…
Here in Canada, “the powers that be” recognize the restorative properties of a celebration and have worked hard to ensure they occur regularly throughout the year. Often at school there will be a Spirit Day, for no reason I can fathom other than the refreshing sight of everyone dressed as their favorite Disney character or in their pajamas.

This month, the humble groundhog takes the spotlight, as February 2nd is Groundhog Day, when people across America shun modern technology in favor of a buck-toothed rodent for prescient meteorological advice. Folklore has it that if a groundhog sees its shadow on Groundhog Day it'll flee back to its burrow, heralding six more weeks of winter. If it doesn't, it means spring's just around the corner.   more ...

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