Thursday, February 24, 2011

Help for Expats Abroad

Being an English teacher abroad, it’s always a good idea to keep an eye on the news and what’s going on around you.   At the best of times, things such as strikes can spontaneously break out and disrupt your daily business, as has happened this week at the uni where I used to work.  Students have taken it upon themselves to strike against University “financial irregularities,” or corruption to me and you, and consequently bugger up transport around the place.

Then there’s events like elections, in Colombia the sale of alcohol in shops, bars and nightclubs is brought to a complete halt by law for the entire voting weekend.  A bit drastic insisting on people vote sober some might say, but there are serious safety reasons behind “La Ley Seca” (Dry Law), which when looking into Colombia’s recent history, isn’t hard to fathom why.

However, volatile political regimes and different systems of government around the world do mean that in some cases, your adopted hometown can very quickly turn full circle into a virtual war zone, as in some areas of the Middle East at the moment.  The news has been dominated by the ongoing situation in Libya and the plight of British expats trying urgently to leave the country, a lot of these people will have similar jobs to myself, being teachers in international schools, universities and institutes who've gone to live abroad for a different adventure and experience.  It just so happens that on this occasion the adventure has unfortunately got a bit too real and so they've had to frantically pack up and put their life on hold for the moment.

The British Foreign Office appears to have received a fair amount of stick about how they’ve been 'evacuating' these expats, and it got me thinking about a possible predicament in Colombia and what’d happen here in a similar situation.  I’ll emphasise now that Colombia is currently very stable politically, probably more so now than at any point in the last thirty years or so, but natural disasters such as the earthquake in New Zealand, can happen here and provoke much needed diplomatic help for citizens abroad.

As Britain supposedly has the highest amount of expats from the developed world with figures suggesting up to 5 million of us live abroad (I'm not sure what that says about Britain itself!), it's no small feat to look after and provide assistance when required to them all through costly embassies and consular offices.  Obviously, most enquiries are probably to do with passports lost on a drunken night out, amongst other more bizarre requests, some of which just take the piss really, but do provide entertaining reading.

From time to time however, more serious situations arise as in Libya and New Zealand now, and British citizens genuinely need help, and for this the Foreign Office has a service called 'Locate'.  It encourages expats abroad to register their personal details in case of emergencies so that assistance can be organised, whether that be sending an email with some advice or an entire chartered plane as in Libya's case.  If you're reading this from abroad and you're not registered, I recommend doing so.  I've got no experience of actually using it myself, but you never know when it could come in handy, and for the sake of spending a few minutes giving a few details about yourself, it's hardly an effort.

It's worth looking at at their travel advice whenever you're going away, it's specific for just about every country in the world, and is constantly updated.  I do think it can be a little too cautious, but I suppose they have to be like that, and going on a weekend trip to Paris is not quite the same as backpacking around South America, but it's horses for courses, and if anything did happen, your parents would be the first to complain anyway!

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Global Reach of Blighty's Sport and Music

I was watching the Super Bowl highlights last night, not really understanding American football as usual, but thinking how this event, one of the most watched in the world, represents completely different things inside and outside America.  Inside, it's the end of the domestic season for the national sport, the culmination of a 6 month long, nationwide competition.  Whereas for the rest of us around the world, it's the $3,000 a seat, Black Eyed Peas performance, and million dollar commercials that send a message loud and clear to us all - this is the country that puts on the biggest show on the planet and the place to be.

Well, the Super Bowl and America may have their moment once a year, but I think one of England's greatest exports of recent times, the Premier League, has a much wider and more profound impact around the world.  The video below is shown on Fox Sports and ESPN all over South America, and I imagine further afield too, before the start of the games and really does paint the country in a fantastic light.  Beautiful, iconic landmarks, both old and new, lovely weather (!), brilliant English music and some of the most historic clubs in the game make our 'football' look much cooler and more exciting than that American version over the pond.   With end to end games like 4-4 draws and 5-3 wins last weekend, you can see why.

You only have to walk around any city centre in South America and see the hundreds of people wearing and selling counterfeit Man Utd, Chelsea and Arsenal tshirts to realise the incredible reach the Premier League has, much more so than the traditional American sports, and that despite America's dominance of TV in Latin America.  More English games are broadcast live here than back home, and the main broadcasters, ESPN and Fox, are included in standard cable TV packages that most homes have across the continent, rather than an expensive Sky package.

It's easy to see how our 'big' teams can so easily claim to have millions of fans across the globe, and how that plays such an influence on potential future stars of the game.  Hugo Rodallega at Wigan is the one current Colombian schoolboys look up to, but Faustino Asprilla's Champions League hat-trick for Newcastle against Barcelona is what is constantly brought up in conversations with Colombians.  The rags to riches stories of Brazilian players using football as a way out of the favelas to the grounds of top European clubs is a dream of many young men here, and even though it will remain just that, a dream, for the vast majority of them, that is more than enough motivation to spend a childhood devoted to football in the park.  The hopes and dreams being to escape lives where drug gangs and poverty are much more prominent than social provision and education.

On a slightly different note, the new Coca-Cola commercial for South America is also introducing the masses over here to English culture.  Oasis' "Whatever" is the song  for the "Reasons to Believe" advert, basically telling us the world is not all bad, we should buy a coke and be happy.  Very clever advertising, getting a load of kids to sing Liam Gallagher's words in a less Mancunian accent appears to work wonders.  My kids at school are all asking me if we can sing along to it, so a great excuse to introduce them to not just that, but all the other magnificent Oasis tunes too, and then the Manchester music scene aswell, The Smiths, Happy Mondays et al - a lesson planned like that!  Maybe Oasis should strike whilst the iron's hot, get back together and do a South American tour on the back of this?  On the other hand, I'm sure the royalties from that advert will be more than sufficient for a few more years before the inevitable reunion tour.