Allana, tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to be an expat.
My name is Dr. Allana Da Graca and I relocated to Portugal in 2014 to experience the lifestyle and culture of this beautiful community. I also have in-laws who reside in Europe so the thought of living in Portugal was exciting! I always had hopes of living in another country and when this opportunity arose my husband and I decided to relocate abroad.Although there were some who questioned me about leaving the stability and convenience of the States, it was an awesome opportunity to connect with family members and make new friends. During my preparation stage I wanted to learn everything I could about living abroad. Some of the questions I had were the following:
1. What can I expect as an expat in Portugal?
2. What are some of the customs about behavior?
3. How can I adapt to their culture?
4. What will be the most challenging aspect of living abroad?
5. How will I practice and learn the language?
6. What different experiences do I expect to have?
An awesome part of risk taking is the unknown answers to certain questions that can only come about from living the actual experience. Before hubby and I journeyed across the Atlantic, we decided to have somewhat of a brainstorm that mentioned all of the pros and cons about life abroad. Since we were not depending on retirement accounts, we were outlining our master plan as to how we would live abroad. In lieu of researching all of the preliminary steps for such a large move, I was happy to discover the Expat Focus blog. I met a few individuals who shared their experiences about living abroad and this was truly valuable. Once I arrived in Portugal, I wanted to capture all of the emotions I had about the experience and joined the Expat Focus blogging community. It served as a great outlet for me during my time abroad.
You're an author and you have three new books coming out – tell us a bit about them and what inspired you to write them.
Life in Portugal was exciting and challenging at the same time. The largest challenge for me was language acquisition, adapting to a new environment and the challenge of maintaining personal obligations back home in the States. I loved teaching English to business professionals at Keller Williams (Portugal), and had a blast laughing at myself when I attempted to speak the language and my American accent outweighed my Portuguese words.
Although I met wonderful individuals, I had plenty of time to ponder and reflect about aspects of life that I valued and desired. There is something fascinating about the Tejo river and I had plenty of time to reflect on whether or not I was leading an exciting life. With that said, I decided that there were still books, poems and reflections that I had yet to write. Surprisingly, I brought 13 years of journal reflections with me to Portugal. In that time, I began to write and create the book, Chronicles of a Poet.
This book is a creative expression of poetry that dares to highlight concerns about ageing, fear and self-doubt. Poems like 120 Days, and Chronicles, challenge individuals to see how valuable our time is. The idea is to find ways to use our talents in a way that sparks innovative expression and inspiration to those around us. Watch a YouTube video about the poem here
Women Build Confidence Coaching
As an educator and advocate of women’s issues, I was impressed with all of the advocacy that Portugal had around the role of women, entrepreneurship and expression. This sparked my continued belief that women need opportunities to hear narratives that encourage them to take risks. While in Portugal, I had a wonderful time connecting with women from all over the world. The common denominator was the role of self-confidence.
The Women Build Confidence Coaching Series is designed to help women demystify ideas about the definition of self-confidence, define realistic goals for personal achievement, and overcome hurdles from negative experiences from the formative years.
Tomorrow Can’t Wait: #TCW
One of the most expressive times I had in Portugal was the opportunity to create posts, blogs, and discussions with my fan members of my book Tomorrow Can’t Wait. You will find that I have mentioned the role of time in accomplishing personal goals. Many individuals speak about their goals, but seldom make time for them if they are of a personal nature. For example, an artist may have their paintings in the basement of their home, afraid that they will never be able to participate in a gallery because their demanding work schedule does not afford them the time to create. Taken together, they may give up on this dream altogether and live in continual dissatisfaction. The idea for the #TCW movement is to allow women and individuals to take hold of their goals in efforts to arrive at self-actualization.
To what extent is your writing influenced by your experiences as an expat?
The walks into medieval castles, discussions with loved ones inside pastelarias, and exchanges with new friends during a sunset picnic, are some of the most memorable moments I have of this beautiful country. The sincerity of the people, and integrity of nature definitely impacted my desire to write and return to artistry.
Do you have any advice for others who want to write their own books?
I believe that everyone has a story. Part of my inhibition for writing for so many years was due to the fact that I thought it was too late to share my perspectives. I had focused on academic teaching and research, but stopped my personal writing of self-help books and poetry. We really believe that there is nothing special about our stories because they are so familiar to us.
Surprisingly, many people would love to hear your story. I would say to begin writing your narrative today. Don’t leave out anything! When you share an insight or thought about something that you experienced, it may resonate with someone else. Many expats may forget this when they are busy acclimating to a new environment, but self-discovery is based upon the ability to analyze and re-visit perspectives, narratives and initial thoughts about a given experience. Now that I am back in the States, I marvel at these writings that were heavily influenced by my introspection during that time.
Your company, Turning On The Lights, encourages global communication. In an increasingly globalising world, what would you say are the most important qualities to possess in order to get ahead in life and business, and what can expats do to cultivate these?
As the founder of Turning On The Lights Global, it is our goal to help individuals to become effective communicators. In addition to this, we know that innovation, creativity, and pluralistic perspective taking must be employed to establish positive intercultural communication.
Some of the key qualities for moving forward in personal and professional goals are the abilities to take risks, learn new skills, and be open to new opportunities. In addition to this we can analyze the impact that social media has on the changing landscape of business communication and see that internationalization will continually call for educators, families, and individuals to find their voice in these new mediums. Connecting with others through online mediums allows expats an opportunity to still stay connected with loved ones, friends and more. I thought it was fascinating that I was able to present a Webinar to students in Brazil while I was still in Portugal. Taken together, I have been able to offer individuals, organizations and brands unique opportunities to grow in their communication
A lot of expats, especially in the academic sphere, experience burnout from long hours and low job satisfaction. What can be done to mitigate these effects?
When I was in Portugal, I had the pleasure of teaching English to corporate clients while teaching my graduate students. There was one season where it was quite difficult to manage. The challenge of maintaining personal obligations, course expectations abroad and meeting with clients in Portugal were a lot to balance. I eventually had to determine how many hours per week I wanted to work that did not rob me of all of my energy. Taking breaks, hanging out with friends and reading helped me to find my balance.
If you could give one piece of advice to people who are considering their first move abroad, what would it be?
1. Consider to do your homework when it comes to understanding the culture, cost of living, and food preferences.
2. Make a list of some of the important items you feel you cannot live without. This would be things like medications, special books, beauty products etc.
3. Have a transition plan that allows you to plan out your day during cultural withdrawal days (feeling homesick).
4. Have a Skype appointment with a close family member or friend when you need to talk
5. Have patience about time management. Portugal is a place where individuals value conversation, friendships and moments. Your meeting at 1PM may officially begin at 1:45PM
6. Try to make friends with natives. The more time you have with natives in the community, the richer your experience may be.
Finally, what do you like to do in your spare time?
In my spare time I love to watch documentaries about social concerns, artists, food and travel. I also enjoy everything that deals with nature!
You can keep up to date with Allana’s adventures on her website.