Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Ten Year Guarantee. Not!

Pile of old luggage on the platform.
photo by hilldreamer

If you buy a set of luggage in the United States, it often comes with a 10-year guarantee. This 10-year guarantee is meant for Americans who have an average of two weeks of vacation a year—the least amount of vacation time in the western world.

If you move to Europe, where people have four to six weeks of vacation, the luggage you bought stateside now has more like a three to five-year guarantee. Remember this before you start blaming your beat up bag on Samsonite. Because maybe you should blame yourself.

Travel freak.

Takes one to know one. Last week, while vacuuming her Swiss apartment, Writer Abroad found a zipper handle on her carpet. It was from her luggage whose last and now final resting place will be Swiss Bunker That Is Her Basement.

Yep. Another one bites the dust. But Writer Abroad couldn’t be more pleased.

Writer Abroad thinks that having a dilapidated piece of luggage is one of the best things you can show for your life—especially if you’re a writer. She keeps them piled up in Swiss Bunker That Is Her Basement so that she can be reminded of just how much she’s seen of Europe and learned about the United States as a result.

In that spirit, she’s looking forward to her next bag beating. And what do you know, it’s Easter weekend, a four-day weekend here in Switzerland. So along with her travel journal, she’s getting out her newest travel victim. Let’s see what kind of havoc a bit of Slovenia can create on this little Samsonite.

Do you take pride in your beaten up bags? Will you be treating them to a little Easter pounding? Writer Abroad hopes so. She wishes you, your family, and your luggage a very Happy Easter.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Guest Post: Visas for Living Abroad

Forget foreign languages, lack of deep dish pizza, and being far from family. Often, the hardest part about the living abroad experience is just dealing with the paperwork to get there. Today Writer Abroad welcomes guest writer Lauren Fritsky, an American journalist and blogger currently living abroad in Australia, to talk about visa requirements and terms–and how they’ve changed.

Visas for Living Abroad

by Lauren Fritsky

Thinking of moving abroad? Then you might want to brush up on the latest visa requirements and terms. Here is what’s changed in recent years in some countries.

United Kingdom

Before: Individuals used to apply under the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme (HSMP) to seek work or self-employment opportunities in the UK without a specific job sponsorship. Work/holiday seekers could apply to the various individual programs in operation, such as BUNAC’s Blue Card Work in Britain program and Gap Year.

Now: In 2008, the UK changed immigration policies to a points-based system. The HSMP now falls under Tier 1 of the five-tiered system, and applicants still don’t need visa sponsorship (Tiers 2 through 4 do). Tier 5 now takes in work/holiday programs such as BUNAC.

More changes to UK immigration policies are possible in 2010. Reports claim Parliament might allow non-Masters degree holders under the Tier 1 Visa.

Web site:


Before: Upon receiving the work/holiday visa (subclass 462), you had three months to enter the country. Under the skilled–independent visa (subclass 885), which allows you to work and permanently reside, candidates had to apply for a skills assessment, but only had to take it if their visa submission was accepted.

Now: You now have a full year from the time your work/holiday visa is granted to head down under. As of Jan. 1, those wanting a skilled-independent visa must obtain a skills assessment prior to applying.

Web site:


Before: You could change certain visas to other types, and American visitors could get a visa within a day.

Now: Between the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing and last year’s swine flu outbreak, China has tightened its visa requirements. Express visa service is no longer available, and visitors must fill out visa applications in person. You can also no longer change tourist (L) and business (F) visas to other types.

Also, visa applicants may now be required to provide letters of invitation or certificates of family relationships.

Web site:

How about you? Was it difficult to get permission to live in your country? Do you have to renew permits every year? Writer Abroad wants to know!

Lauren Fritsky is a journalist and blogger from New Jersey currently spending a year in Sydney, Australia, on a work/holiday visa. Her work has appeared on major Web sites including AOL and CNN and in magazines such as Weight Watchers. Read her blog at

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Paris Writers Workshop

Ah, Paris. Not only does it have the romantic notion of being a writer's city, but it also sells notebooks with Writer Abroad's name. If those weren't reasons enough to go, the Paris Writers Workshop (PWW) is coming up from June 27-July 2. In the interest of of great notebooks and great experiences, Writer Abroad has asked former attendee and Paris-based writer and resident Laurel Zuckerman to tell us a little more about the program.

You first attended the PWW 20 years ago. What was the experience like?

At the first PWW I ever went to in 1990—not as a participant, but as a helper—I met Grace Paley and D M Thomas. I was only a reader then, and not yet a writer, but still I struggled against awe. Fortunately the atmosphere was a kind of relaxed intellectual chic I had never encountered that was entirely the creation of PWW founder Carol Allen.

Fifteen years later you once again attended the PWW.

Yes, this time as a determined but as yet unpublished author, I enrolled in the novel workshop with Helen Benedict which I found very helpful. In fact, the text I workshopped eventually became part of Les Rêves Barbares du Professeur Collie, which was published in French last year by Fayard.

Where were the writers from that attended and what did you discuss?

Half the attendees came from abroad. The other half: English-language writers from France. We talked craft, the business, the challenges of writing. We hunted down restaurants together and drank too much wine. It was, for a brief week, a community. I made friends, writer friends (which, as any writer can tell you, are both better and worse than regular friends).

You say that you enjoyed the workshop so much that you attended three more times and also published two books in the process.

Yes, I took short story with Michael C. Curtis (editor at The Atlantic Monthly) and non-fiction with renowned essayists Philippe Lopate and Viviane Gornick. Meanwhile I published a first book, Sorbonne Confidential, and I was honored to be invited to give a talk! (I seem to recall blathering on about the importance of a TV diet—I had recently done my first TV interviews and had been shocked to discover that no one listens to your insights on literature if you have bad hair.)

Do you know other PWW alumni that have also been successful in their writing careers?

Oh yes! Publications by PWW alumni this year include: Janet Skeslien Charles with Moonlight in Odessa, Christopher Vanier with Caribbean Chemistry: Tales from St Kitts, and Anne Korkeakivi with Folding Paper in The Atlantic Monthly. And those are only the writers I know well. A complete list would be fascinating--and, I think, very encouraging reading.

Do you recommend other writers attend the PWW?

Yes! Things have changed since I attended—new offices, new format, new instructors—so the 2010 edition cannot help but be a little different. But Paris is still Paris, and writers are still writers. If the past is anything to go by, it’d be a shame to miss it.

Laurel Zuckerman is a Franco-American writer and teacher. 
A graduate of France's HEC business school, she is best known for Sorbonne Confidential, a humorous exploration of France's unique method for selecting its English teachers. Based on her experiences at the Sorbonne in 2005, Sorbonne Confidential's suggestion that teacher training might impact students' results provoked such emotional debate in France that online discussions frequently spun out of control and had to be shut down. Laurel's second book, Les Rêves Barbares du Professeur Collie, recounts the comic adventures of a professor who loves his work just a little too much. Laurel lives with her family near Paris where she publishes Paris Writers News and works on her new book of Arizona stories. For more on Laurel, visit her website or the Sorbonne Confidential blog.

For more on summer writing programs, check out Switzerland-based writer Emily Lacika's post on the Oxford University Creative Writing Summer School.

If you've participated in the Paris Writers Workshop or another writing program abroad, Writer Abroad would love to hear about it. Please leave a comment or contact Chantal about writing a guest post.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Make Your Own Luck

Writer Abroad admits that sometimes she feels like kind of a bitch. She is living the writing life, she is doing it in Europe, and she hasn't even had to starve yet (thanks, Husband IT Manager).

Is she just lucky?

Reporter Michelle V. Rafter would probably say no. On Michelle's blog, WordCount, she has a post today titled, "The luck of the Irish wasn't just luck." In fact, she says, it was more like famine.

Because the thing is, you can look at anyone and say they're lucky. That life's unfair. That you're not as fortunate. But what people that say these things don't usually realize is that the people they consider "lucky" have made their own luck through courage, reinvention, forward-thinking, hard work, and refusal to give up.

If your dream has always been to be a writer living abroad and you're not quite there yet, figure out the steps you need to take so that you're one of the "lucky ones." Before Writer Abroad ever moved abroad, she remembers reading Eric Maisel's A Writer's Paris and thinking she would never be brave enough to give up her real job to write in Europe. But she was. Sort of. After she got another real job and got laid off.

It just took a little luck.

Happy St. Patrick's Day.

Monday, March 15, 2010

MediaBistro, Expat Books, & Spanish Rock

Hola! Writer Abroad is recovering not only from her sister’s 10-day visit but also from her first Spanish rock concert. How the heck she managed to confuse an intimate flamenco concert with one of the biggest rock events of the year in Spain is another matter entirely, olé!

Anyhow. Without further delay, another international round-up is here.

Writer Abroad has discovered a great new site called EuroWriter for those who want to get published in Europe.

Since Writer Abroad hasn’t linked to herself lately, here’s a post she wrote for one of her blogging clients on great expat books not to miss. She’s a bit biased, so of course has included a few Writer Abroad-featured writers on the list.

Speaking of Writer Abroad-featured writers, Philip Graham was interviewed by John Warner over at The Morning News and Writer Abroad was pleased to learn that she is not alone in her book-hugging habits. In addition, Philip inspires with tales of his first New Yorker piece, published when he was only 28.

For writers in Geneva, Switzerland, the Geneva Writers' Group offers workshops, conferences, and support groups for international writers. Writer Abroad wishes Zurich was a little closer to Geneva. Or that Swiss trains would go high-speed.

In other news, Writer Abroad is completing her book proposal for Hausfrau: The Memoir, thanks to an online MediaBistro class taught by Random House editor Jill Schwartzman. Writer Abroad has taken several online MediaBistro classes and highly recommends them to other writers who are New York City challenged.

Finally, Writer Abroad is tired of winter. Spring is taking longer than usual to arrive here in Europe and Writer Abroad spent the weekend wearing her ski jacket. Again. Even when surrounded by palm trees in Barcelona.

As a reminder, any writer wishing to become a part of the Writer Abroad-featured family is welcome to contact Writer Abroad. Offers of Lucky Charms or Jif Peanut butter are also encouraged, along with ideas for guest posts.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Writer Interview: Philip Graham in Portugal

Writer Abroad tries her best not to be biased, but once an Illini, always an Illini so she’s more than pleased to welcome University of Illinois creative writing professor and author Philip Graham to her little space on the big wide web. He’s written a lot of stuff, but his latest book is The Moon, Come to Earth: Dispatches from Lisbon, which was penned while he was in Portugal. Philip has also written for The New Yorker, North American Review, the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, the Washington Post and more. He’s a very impressive guy but Writer Abroad would expect nothing less from someone associated with her alma mater. Anyhow, welcome, Philip.

You spent a year living in Lisbon in 2006-2007 during a sabbatical from the University of Illinois. Can you first discuss why a sabbatical (corn fields got too monotonous?) and then why Lisbon?

Sabbaticals are built into an academic career—and fortunately so, since most colleagues I know work far, far more than forty hours a week! So every seven years, a professor is given a paid semester to recharge those mythical batteries, though usually a sabbatical is devoted to work—most often writing a book or conducting research.

I had been teaching full time at Illinois, part time at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, was director of the Creative writing Program at Illinois, and fiction editor of the literary/arts journal Ninth Letter, so I was desperately ready for some time off to ease the bags from under my eyes. I’d also received a grant with my wife Alma to work on a second volume about our experiences living in Africa, so a full year’s release from teaching beckoned. As for why Lisbon, I’d long wanted to live in Portugal and felt the call of its culture’s most characteristic emotion: saudade, a word that can only be translated in multiple ways—its combination of sadness, nostalgia, love and longing is a fruitful contradiction of sweet pain.

What surprised you most about Portugal? Any insider tips for perpetual tourists?

Though Portugal is two thirds the size of the state of Illinois, it is extremely diverse geographically, with a long coastline, several mountain ranges, long stretches of low rolling hills of wheat, beautiful river valleys, dense forests. Over two hundred castles dot its various landscapes, the pride of sometimes even the smallest towns (imagine Illinois’ Farmer City or Thomasboro with its own castle!).

But perhaps what struck me the most is how much writers are valued in Portugal. The culture of literature is quite strong in the country, and many of its contemporary fiction writers and poets are household names. Book launches and signings are covered on TV, serious novels are frequently adapted and performed as plays or operas, and even the most obscure literary prizes are covered by the media. In Lisbon, you can buy coffee cups, tee shirts, key chains and notebooks bearing the image of Fernando Pessoa, Portugal’s greatest poet of the 20th century. In one of the dispatches in my book, I write about the odd experience of attending the taping of a Portuguese realty show, where three of the four judges were well-known writers.

As for a tourist tip, visit the town on Monsanto, a small village perched on a craggy mountain, where enormous boulders dot the slopes and rub shoulders with the much smaller houses, and where the castle at the mountain’s crest seems hewn out of the surrounding landscape.

During your interview with Write the Book, you discuss how living abroad makes you hyper-aware of who you are as a person. How did this affect your writing and does this hyper-awareness stay with you after returning home? If so, is it treatable?

I’ve lived several times in small, isolated African villages with my wife Alma Gottlieb (an anthropologist who also teaches at the University of Illinois), and I’ve found a heightened awareness comes with the territory of breathing in the inevitable strangeness of a different culture. Any sharpened awareness is good for one’s writing, I believe—it helps undermine the habitual filtering of attention we grow accustomed to in ordinary, day-to-day life. Whenever I’ve returned home from any extended trip abroad, I’ve found my own culture now exudes strangeness—which of course it always does, if one only has eyes to see.

Is this condition treatable? Thank God no!

While in Lisbon, you began writing a dispatch series for McSweeney’s. Is this because editor John Warner is also a U of I grad and you’re a loyal guy? Or how did you get involved with the publication? How would you suggest other writers approach it?

I became aware of McSweeney’s interest in dispatches through Roy Kesey, a wonderful fiction writer who I’d published a couple of times in Ninth Letter. Roy also wrote dispatches from China, where he was living at the time with his wife and children, and I became a big fan of that series. As the time for my family’s year abroad in Lisbon approached, I began to wonder if I might try my hand at the form. But John Warner was running the site, so at first I hesitated contacting him, worrying that it might be awfully weird to have an editing relationship with a former student (let alone him having an editing relationship with a former teacher), and, of course, he might not think my idea of writing from Lisbon was worth pursuing. Luckily, my first efforts passed muster, and John proved to be a fine editor.

I’ve since recommended a few writers who wanted to pitch a series idea to McSweeney’s, such as Robin Hemley and Holly Jones, and they’ve both had successful runs on the website, writing from Manila and Washington D.C., respectively. McSweeney’s is especially interested in writers who are living abroad, and the site hosts or has hosted dispatch series from India, Iraq, Moscow and Montreal, and Kevin Dolgin travels all over the world and he writes lovely, witty dispatches about wherever he briefly parks his hat. My advice for any budding dispatch writers out there is to read through the various series on the site, then write one or two dispatches about your own exotic corner and offer your services.

Your dispatch series has been expanded into a book that was recently published by the University of Chicago Press as The Moon, Come to Earth. Can you talk about the path to publication from dispatch series to book? I hear in your case, it wasn’t too painful. But since the story revolves around your daughter maybe it was for her. Could you discuss?

Almost immediately after my first dispatches on the McSweeney’s site appeared, I began receiving quite kind letters from readers asking me if I was working my way toward a book, and this gave me added confidence in the series. Especially since I found myself, as the year progressed, writing the narrative of my family’s cultural encounters with no predictable end in sight. It felt as if my wife, daughter and I were developing characters in several interweaving unfinished stories, which, in a sense, we were, especially our daughter, who began the transition from childhood to adolescence during our year in Lisbon. That year took some unexpected, at times difficult turns, and then the writing became an attempt to make further sense of it all. I strove to be honest, but also to protect my family, and I would never publish anything a loved one objected to. Everyone’s still talking to me, so perhaps I managed that balancing act okay.

As for the University of Chicago Press accepting The Moon, Come to Earth, I was already writing another book for them, and my editor there, David Brent, was a fan of my dispatches, so he was a big supporter of shaping the individual pieces into a collection.

What’s the best question you’ve ever gotten from a student at the University of Illinois and how did you answer it?

Though I primarily teach creative writing workshops, I once offered a literature class called “Violence in 20th Century Literature,” which I taught as part of receiving a university grant to write about my experiences as a volunteer near New York’s Ground Zero. I included books from all over the world, in order to expand on the definition of “violence,” from Ha Jin’s Waiting to Elsa Morante’s History: A Novel, to Kurt Vonnegut’s Galapagos, Amadou Hampaté Ba’s The Fortunes of Wangrin and Ismail Kadare’s Broken April. Near the end of the semester, a student raised her hand in class and asked, “Professor Graham, when you were choosing the syllabus for this course, were you intending on altering our lives?” The rest of the class nodded their heads, waiting for my reply, curious themselves.

My response? Open-mouthed shock and delight that literature had so moved these students.

You’re a very accomplished writer and teacher. What is your approach to autographs? Do you write personal messages or do you not have time for that?

I always write something personal when I sign a book, and if I don’t know the person I try to start a conversation and glean something of them before I begin my nearly illegible scribbling. Though last fall, after one reading an unusually long line of people queued up for an autograph and I dispensed with the individual touch; in retrospect I wish I’d simply stayed longer. Reading can be a deeply personal experience, and a writer’s autograph should be too, a little door to help open up the book.

Your question makes me think, though—if e-books take over publishing in the future, book signings will join typewriters, eight-track tapes, and floppy disks on the ash heap of history . . .

Anything else you’d like to add?

How much I enjoy your website. I think it’s a great idea—writers living abroad especially need a sense of community, and bravo to you for helping supply that. I can still taste the isolation of living in small villages in Africa. The cliché about writers is that we vant to be alone, and while a solitude of one’s choosing is necessary for creating a world out of its initially invisible threads, we writers are also sustained by our literary relationships, the time we spend with like-minded crazies.

For more from Philip Graham, visit his website or order his book, The Moon, Come to Earth: Dispatches from Lisbon.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Writing Vacations, Souvenirs, and Taxes

Every Friday, Writer Abroad features a few great things she discovered over the week. She's biased, so she might sometimes link to herself. Please excuse her.

For your next Parisian souvenir, forget Eiffel Tower trinkets and notebooks with "Chantal" printed on them (although those are always great). Instead, be sure to get this souvenir t-shirt. It's très chic.

Anyhow. has announced their 2010 travel writing and photography vacations. Marrakech, London, or Istanbul all sound great to Writer Abroad. She’s never done one of these but would love to hear from someone that has. Anyone?

Writer Abroad recently started following Marianne’s Zen & The Art of Peacekeeping blog after she realized that she and Marianne are both in the process of writing a memoir set in a foreign land. (And also because Writer Abroad needs all the zen she can get--the clock tower across the street dings every 15 minutes 24/7).

Writer Abroad has come to the conclusion that tax forms written in English are almost as hard to read as tax forms written in German. But freelancer Jessica Monday has some tax tips for writers over on Chuck Sambuchino’s Guide to Literary Agents blog. Then, after all the tax talk, it's back to Marianne's blog for more zen.

Writer Unboxed is looking for a new contributor. You must be an unpublished writer who is interesting in blogging about fiction writing. Deadline to apply is March 7.

This weekend Writer Abroad will be hanging out with her sister, something that happens only a few times a year since Sister lives in Barbecue Land and Writer Abroad lives in a place where people think ribs should be served with sour cream. So if Writer Abroad doesn’t write much next week, don’t despair. She’ll be back soon.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Dreams of the International Lifestyle

A few months ago, Writer Abroad was reading a blog when she came across someone familiar—herself. In the process of reading this blogger’s post, Writer Abroad realized something: she was living this person’s dream. And also, thankfully, living her own.

It only took 31 years.

But the truth is that living a dream like writing abroad isn’t always all that dreamlike—even if you have things like Swiss cheese and chocolate bars to chomp on.

First off, getting to the point where you are brave enough to pursue your dream can be painful in itself. For Writer Abroad, it involved a layoff, a lot of German paperwork (just say “nein”) and feigned fluency, as well as a number of soul searching days that involved being scared to say no to writing manuals for dentists.

Later, living the international life can get even messier and involve things like double taxation (aren’t you proud to be an American?), rejection (in this case no worries about double taxation), and fun things like doubt.

But no matter what, if you’re living your dream, you’re a happier person. Writer Abroad definitely smiles a lot more than before even though no one else in Switzerland smiles back.

Anyhow, Writer Abroad is tired of talking about herself. How did you come to live your dream? Was it a messy, doubt-ridden process too? Please share. Writer Abroad loves a little Schadenfreude. It is a German thing, after all. Prost.


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