Can you Forward your Mail from South Africa?

When we moved away from South Africa, one of my last errands was to return my post office key. I went to the local post office in Dainfern Valley and asked how this is done.

“Oh, you just give me the key,” was the answer. “That’s it? No form to fill out? Won’t I get a receipt?” “No, you just give me the key,” at which she shoved the key into some drawer and gave me a dismissive look. Oh well. It seemed a bit irregular, but then again, I was leaving the country. And, frankly, any time you are not asked to fill out a lengthy form by a South African official, you are thrilled and don’t want to spoil your good luck by asking any more questions. So I left, and didn’t bother to ask the next obvious question, i.e. how any mail could be forwarded to our new address abroad. Leaving a hole in my meticulously assembled moving-out expat to-do list. Which is why I was so thrilled to hear that a friend of mine explored that very question when it was her turn to leave South Africa recently.  Maybe she could provide some answers. This was her conversation with the post office:

“I’d like to redirect our mail internationally from South Africa.”

“That’s not possible.”

“It’s ... 


The Joys of South African Bureaucracy

I’ve recently been suffering from Africa withdrawal.

As a cure for my blues, I thought I’d reflect on a particularly annoying reminder of South African bureaucracy that keeps coming up time and again, by way of my email inbox:

The SABC has not yet received your television licence payment for the current licence year. Your licence year runs from ... 


Girl Power

This post is dedicated to my two daughters. Who have got to be the best two daughters in the entire world.

I mean, who else would make me a birthday card such as this?

Not my boys, that’s for sure. As I’ve told you before, girls and boys are made of entirely different stuff.  At least the ones in our family.

I know my sons will be sure to distinguish themselves in another way some day. Like, for instance, if they ever install a wireless router that actually works in my house. I shall be forever grateful. Because I sure as hell can’t figure ... 


Moving to Johannesburg with Children

The following is a guest post by Barbara Bruhwiler.

I remember the guilt and the worries. Worries about sadness. About loneliness. About possibly having to pay for a shrink for my children throughout their teenage years.    But most of all I remember my feelings of guilt. Ripping my child out of her comfortable home, out of her social net of family and friends, means ripping her heart apart, right? Forcing her to learn a new language is condemning her to weeks and months of being unable to express herself, isn’t it? And hauling her into a city with a soaring crime rate is nearly a crime in itself, or is it not?
Moving time. It’s hard enough, without having to also worry
about how your children will take it.
  Thankfully, my guilt disappeared in no time. Johannesburg became a home to my children at the drop of a hat. They play outdoors every single day of the year, they love being fluent in English (which meant that they could understand everything when they visited Disney World last year), they have a great time at school, and they never tire of exploring the African wildlife – including spiders, worms and bugs. Grandparents? They conduct video phone calls via Skype. Language? I blush with embarrassment when I think back to how quickly they learned English, and how long it took us by comparison. Crime? Not on their mind. Our children lead perfectly normal lives – even though protected, of course. Is it just us, I wondered? Are we the odd ones who fell in love with South Africa and now act like the proverbial lover in “love is blind”? Blending out each and every disadvantage and deficit? While writing my Guide to Johannesburg, I did a lot of research into the topic of expat children and their adaptation, since it is of such high importance to us expat parents. As part of my research I interviewed Ilze van der Merwe with Bella Vida, one of Africa’s leading child psychology centres. She reassured me that a lot of how the child feels about moving has to do with the parents’ attitude. Since our children did not experience anxiety or any other problems while moving across continents, it seems that we got this right. Phew. Must be the ‘falling in love with South Africa’ thing. Blindness or not, I’m just glad that it seems to spare us from endless years of driving our children to a shrink – and paying for it.
If everyone seems to be a bit “off” because
of an international move, you may have to
shift your perspective to make everything
“line up” again in the right way!
  So I had our own experience and the practitioner’s view, but I wondered what findings and conclusions were offered by science. I searched and analysed studies that have been conducted on expats. What I found was very interesting, and it was a lot of material, and because I like to write books, I wrote a small booklet about it: Why Expat Assignments Fail and What to Do to Make Yours a Success My husband and I don’t seem to be the only expat parents who found that their children were far from unhappy after the international transfer. One international study determined that “on the whole, children have little trouble in accepting the move overseas and mostly enjoy life in their new country.” Now how encouraging is that?! Buried in the mass of scientific data were also a few gems of practical advice for us expat parents. For instance this one: children settle much more easily and quickly if their parents learn as much as they can about their host city. Especially where to find their child’s favourite pastime, sports, cinemas, and so on. Familiar and favourite foods and treats were not mentioned, but certainly go down well, too. At least in our family.   Studies also stress the importance of spending time with your kids. Not always easy to remember when you are in the moving frenzy.
Find out as much as you can about the place you are moving
to, and go exploring with your children!
  Another important factor is the matter of routine. While everything is new to you and life feels more like an extended vacation, your kids might expect you to bend the usual rules. Don’t give in. Even though it may not make you their hero, sticking to a familiar routine like bedtime rituals will provide continuity, which will benefit your kids while settling in. I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but the research is quite clear in this regard. Far less surprising, of course, is that finding a good school for your child is a top priority. But what should you look for in a good school? The educational curriculum is important no doubt, but as the aforementioned studies revealed, other factors should also be considered. Like providing an environment for meeting friends in the after-school hours, or opportunities for meaningful activities.
South African schoolchildren mingling at break time
  The latter is something South African private schools are very, very good at. The amount of extracurricular activities offered by my children’s school, especially sports, is amazing! South Africans love sports – to put it mildly – and most local schools engage in a bit of competition, even at an early age. Therefore our children do not only practise their favourite sport at school but also get to play matches against other school teams on a regular basis. Transport and logistics are typically provided by the school, so if you don’t want to watch each and every one of your children’s matches, you just have to remember at what time to pick up your child at school after they’ve been returned.    It doesn’t come any more convenient than that.
Home is where your friends are
  International school or not? According to the research, this doesn’t make a difference in the expat child’s well-being. In Asia and the Middle East most expat children attend an international school, whilst the vast majority of expats in Australia, Canada, and the USA choose local schools. Most likely this has to do with the local language.    While in some countries local schools are equivalent to public schools, sending your children to a government school in Johannesburg is not really an option. But in recent years more and more expat parents have become aware of the fantastic education offered by private South African schools (typically at a much more affordable price as well) and have been choosing them over the international schools. The last advice scientists give is rather hard to follow, I know, but give it a try: have fun in your new host city! Johannesburg has a lot to offer, so make sure you take advantage of the culture, the wildlife, the great food on offer, the leisure activities and last but not least the friendliness of the South Africans.

Barbara Bruhwiler lives in Johannesburg with her husband and two children.  ...