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Columnists > Toni Hargis

Toni Hargis

Finding Your Feet In Chicago

  Posted Sunday January 20, 2013 (00:00:06)   (5676 Reads)

Toni Summers Hargis

Like many serial expats, especially the “trailing spouse”, it can be hard to keep a professional career going. This month I’m talking to Veronique Martin-Place who has re-invented herself, professionally speaking.

Veronique, can you tell us what your expat background is?

I am a French citizen and I started my journey as an accompanying spouse in 1999! Wow, just saying this date makes me jump off of my chair! So I have been following my husband for 14 years abroad. I lived three years in Norway (1999-2002), three years in Sri Lanka (2002-2005). Then we moved back to France for three years where I experienced the repatriation process, which is far from being the easiest! Then we packed again to Chicago where we stayed from 2008 to 2012. Our family relocated to Shanghai in China during the summer of 2012 and we are now posted there until 2015! Phew!!!

Along the way, I became the happy mother of two lovely daughters.

But I am not just an accompanying spouse and a mother. During this journey I faced several professional adjustments because of our constant relocations. It was hard on me because I define myself not only as a spouse and mother but also as an active and professional woman. So in 2009, less than a year after moving to Chicago, I decided to launch my own portable career in the writing and editing industry as a freelance writer. I founded my website Writer Forever and my blog Expat Forever.

What prompted you to write Finding Your Feet In Chicago?

First, I started to write my experiences and emotions in personal notebooks a year before settling in Chicago, so in 2007. I began my blog in 2010. On Expat Forever, I deal with expatriation and all topics related to it from an active accompanying spouse and mother point of view. Right from the beginning, I received a lot of positive feedback and questions from parents who planned to move to the US.

At the same time, I experienced education and school culture shock when my daughters started school in the local and public system in Chicago. Everything was different and not always comprehensible even if I spoke the language!

After several culture shock experiences at my daughters’ school, I noticed I was not the only one having troubles. Several families moved almost at the same time as us from different parts of the world to Chicago. We all had the same problems regarding family and child topics. We were all searching for the same information and advice so I started looking for a local guide for expat families and found none. In addition I had to answer questions from my blog readers who were potential expat families in Chicago.

So I decided to write Finding Your Feet In Chicago to help current and future expat families.

What was the process of writing the book and how long did it take you?

First I did some research about what was available on the market in terms of books and guides for families living in Chicago and also about the local expat community. I made a table of content draft and I pitched a publishing company specialized within the field of relocation and expatriation.

My idea was accepted so I started to write, to make interviews with local expat parents to illustrate the book with lots of testimonials about what it is to settle and live as an expat family in Chicago. Then it was time to edit the book and it was the longest and hardest part for me. I hired an editor to help me in this task since I wrote the book in English, which is not my mother tongue.

From the idea to the publishing of the book, it took me about a year and a half.

What kind of useful information will expat families find in your guide?

This guide is the perfect match for families relocating to Chicago.

Everything they need to help them settle into the US third largest city is here from practical aspects to cultural and intercultural topics. This book targets expat families who wish to settle fast and well.

The main useful information expat families will find are:
• How to find the right school for your child
• How to find the right place to live
• How to make friends and have fun
• How to make the most of your host city

Moreover the book is full with case studies, interviews and testimonials of expat parents living in Chicago but also very practical tips for daily life to make your life easier as the new parents on the block.

If you had to give advice to future expat parents planning to relocate to Chicago, what would it be?

I have five main pieces of advice to share with them:
• Make a choice of life style: decide early on if you want to live in the suburbs or within the city of Chicago. This decision will highly impact your stay and your family way of life.
• Choose your children’s school first and then your home: most of the public schools in Chicago are ‘neighborhood schools’, which means that they accept mainly students living within the school boundaries.
• Get involved in your local community: it is key to a successful stay in Chicago. Volunteering in the US is very important and well recognized socially and professionally.
• Prepare for the Chicago weather! Winter can be extremely cold and the summer humid and warm.
• Subscribe to a local newspaper to get familiar with what is going on in the Windy City in different fields such as politics, economics, arts, business and travel.

Finding Your Feet In Chicago – The essential guide for expat families, by Véronique Martin-Place can be found on Amazon.com, Amazon.fr and Amazon.co.uk. It is available on Paperback and Kindle Edition.

Toni Summers Hargis is the author of "Rules, Britannia; An Insider’s Guide to Life in the United Kingdom", (St. Martin’s Press) and blogs as Expat Mum.

Read Toni's other Expat Focus articles here.

Toni Hargis
Toni Summers Hargis is the author of The Stress-Free Guide to Studying In the States; A Step-by-Step Plan for International Students (Summertime). She is also the author of 'Rules, Britannia; An Insider’s Guide to Life in the United Kingdom' (St. Martin’s Press) and blogs as Expat Mum.
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