Former Japan expat starts website for parents mulling move abroad

by William Hollingworth

Kyodo

A British mother is using her experience as an expatriate in Japan to help other parents living in foreign countries.

Carole Hallett Mobbs, 48, who lived in Shinjuku, Tokyo, between 2006 and 2011, decided to set up a website after realizing there was nowhere offering general advice to parents contemplating a move overseas with children.

Originally, she was going to write a book about the issue. But she soon realized that a website would have a more immediate effect. She had also come to value the Internet and social media networks as a way of communicating with friends and family in the aftermath of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

Since setting up the site in September, Hallett Mobbs has been surprised by its success: The site draws 3,500 views and around 800 new visitors each day.

The website (expatchild.com) draws from her experiences in Japan and Germany, as well as articles supplied by friends and various companies and organizations. It addresses issues such as packing, finding the right school, children’s well-being overseas and personal stories.

“The website is going surprisingly well. There’s a need for it,” Hallett Mobbs said in a recent interview. “People who move worry if it’s the right thing to take their kids overseas and I say, ‘yes it is the right thing to do.’ They learn so much.”

But moving abroad with children is not always easy, and it is important to do some forward planning.

“It’s things like packing. What do you pack when all your possessions could be held up in a container for several months? And not everyone can visit all the potential schools before relocating overseas, so we offer advice on that area as well,” she said.

Hallett Mobbs admits that while there is quite a lot of information for expat parents insofar as specific countries, the sites are frequently outdated and tend to focus on babies and toddlers rather than young children and the schooling issues they face, such as whether they should go to an international or local school.

Hallett Mobbs, who describes herself as a “trailing spouse,” moved to Tokyo in 2006 with her husband, who works for Britain’s diplomatic service. Her daughter attended the British school.

She found her time in Japan relatively trouble-free and misses the expat community in Tokyo which, she says, is much stronger than in Berlin, where she is currently based.

“I found the Japanese to be so welcoming. The main problems encountered are deciphering labels and signs and some spouses and partners found it very hard that they were unable to find work in Japan,” she said.

Hallett Mobbs believes the golden rules for relocating overseas are open-mindedness, timing and patience.

“Just go for it, but don’t read too much beforehand because it’s always written with someone else’s point of view,” she explained.

“One of the things we read was that Japan is a very urban country and there isn’t any countryside. Really?”

“Timing is also important. Is the timing right for you at this point in your life? How does timing look from your children’s point of view? Moving during the school year is particularly hard for them.”

“We arrived in Tokyo a month before Christmas intending to buy lots of lovely new Christmas decorations to replace the ones we left behind and I couldn’t even find wrapping paper!” she said.

Hallett Mobbs, who is soon to move to South Africa, does not work, although she admits most of her time is now taken up with the website.

“I need to find a way of earning money from it. Sponsored posts come in occasionally and I charge for that. Other posts are from expat guests,” she said.

“It’s done for love and to keep me occupied. I didn’t expect the website to take off so quickly.”

Hallett Mobbs was a magazine publisher before she moved to Tokyo and worked as a freelance writer.

  • Joe Lowry

    I lived in Japan with my family from 2000 to 2005 and then moved on to Shanghai. My daughters were 7 and 10 when we arrived in Kobe and both graduated from high school in Shanghai. I was sent to work inside two Japanese joint venture companies and had no colleagues from the US – only Japanese staff. We loved Japan despite a few challenges. In my opinion, most people who don’t adjust to life abroad come trying to recreate their home environment instead of embracing their new surroundings. I have a blog about my experiences. http://www.jpl-expatblog.blogspot.com

  • Joe Lowry

    We moved to Japan when my children were 7 and 10. We moved in the middle of the school year. We spent over five years in Kobe and then moved to Shanghai where both my daughters graduate high school. Maybe we were lucky but we all loved Japan and China. We were surrounded by ex-pats but did not live our life in the ex-pat bubble so many people embraced or maybe better stated “clung to”.