Challenges of Expats – Interview of the Month with Deborah Valentine

When moving to a new country, the most common challenges are usually related to  integration and languages.  Those questions are always part of my monthly interviews with expats, so their personal stories and advice can help you.

This month I introduce you to a new interesting story about Deborah Valentine.

Original country: My passport is Canadian (and now Dutch as well) but I was born in West Germany …which provides a clue to my age 😉

Expat countries : Germany …and Colombia; Brazil; Canada; Iran; UK/boarding school – Home leaves to: Iran and US/Dallas; Colombia; Canada; Ecuador, South Africa.

Current country:  NEDERLAND

thumbnail_Deborah pic Access

              Deborah Valentine

Who is Deborah: Born of a Canadian father and Jamaican mother who were on a diplomatic posting for Canadian government to Dusseldorf; eventually ‘migrated’ back to Canada for my University studies.

Got itchy feet, and after few years working in Toronto, journeyed into my own expatriate experience.

This started with UNICEF in Ecuador then Brazil where I met a Dutch Diplomat. We got married in Brazil by a Dutch Ambassador, and carried on as an expatriate – but on different plan.

I went back to school for Masters in The Netherlands at the age of 30, in 1994  while my husband was reassigned home, then continued my own adventure when I was able to work with UNICEF in the NEW South Africa while on his assignment.

 Then came expatriate motherhood to our first born, followed by another – child and expatriate relocation in Colombia.

Returned to NL where I discovered the perils of having been ‘out of the workforce’ for more than 6 years.

A coincidental meeting with the organizer of The Feel at Home in The Hague Fair in 2007 had me starting my own business in project management and copy writing. My business is called ‘a Hand in the Hague’ and it helps me to ‘earn’ my keep – which has kept me going since my divorce three years after we returned.


Today ….surprising even myself, my expat feet are itching.


Biggest challenges: Without wanting to sound arrogant, cannot think of any. Was blessed with parents who did not see challenges, but rather opportunities….

Overcoming fear: surround yourself by people you trust and who admire you for who you are.

Where you find inspiration from: every other woman I have met in my shoes – regardless of the expat adaptation stage they are in

What is your current business? Copywriter, project manager (current project: ACCESS) – business website:

Was it difficult to start your business? Not really, though it took a while to get established:  Networked, networked, networked, met and spoke to many people, volunteered

How you stay motivated: I talk and LISTEN to many voices- I talk to a lot of people, all the time, learning what needs are; how interests change; who is doing what; who I can work with; people who give feedback ….

Useful resources for expats: When you first arrive somewhere attend every club outing, meeting, coffee morning, reception …and then, and only then, identify the ‘tribe’ you need to move forward

What are your words of Wisdom?: Talk to everyone, share your story, who you are …..find the threshold which is comfortable to cross and there you will find others to help you cross/meet the next. Take one small step every time. There is always someone out there who needs you as much as you need them.

Plans for the future: re-starting an expatriate experience someday…? 

Final words or anything else you wish to share: Forget silver linings, just remember: the grass on your side of the fence is greener to someone else’s.

What was your first impression of the county/the people? Incorrectly assumed it would not be a culture shock, would be similar to my own – Canada – was shocked to discover that this ‘egalitarian’ country has in fact many layers ….

Did you integrate and adjust smoothly with the locals? Eventually. Though, being married to a Dutchie and having children in local schools helped.


Please tell us your important TIP(s) when moving to a new country: My TIPS:

(T) talk to as many people as you can;

 (I) inquire as much as is possible,

(P) participate when and where you can, in order to…..

(S) settle.


Thank you very much!

Interviewed by Rachel Smets