What kind of little Muse are you? ?
I’m Catherine Martel, a psychologist in training. I’ve been an expat for over 15 years in several countries: Turkey, Romania, Cyprus, Vietnam, Austria and I currently live in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Where do you live ?
I live in Sarajevo, a city that’s unfortunately best known for its link with the start of the First World War and because it was under siege for 4 years in the war with the former Yugoslavia. Fortunately, it’s also known for hosting the 1984 Olympic Games and the ski slopes are just half an hour from the city centre! It’s an endearing city, multicultural, with churches next door to mosques and the countryside on the doorstep…
How did you come to be here?
My partner’s profession has meant I lead this life of successive moves abroad.
How long have you been here?
I’ve been here for 6 months with our last son who will be 16 soon; we also have 2 daughters who are students, one in France and the other in Amsterdam; we’re a real expat family! The biggest challenge in terms of adapting was for our son who’d completed all his schooling in the French system and had to then join the English system as there aren’t any French secondary school classes in Sarajevo. So, he isn’t getting ready for his Bac but, instead, he’s doing A levels …
You’ve developed a project: where did you get the idea for this and why did you choose this theme?For over a year, I’ve been dedicating my time to my Expats Parents project, which isdesigned to help expat families. I’ve been an expat for 15 years and my family is in different countries, which is why I noticed that life on the move is a source of great diversity, opportunity. It also creates challenges to overcome, especially for teenagers. I also noticed that parents were very under-equipped when a child had problems with settling in, whether in school or otherwise.
As a psychologist, I decided to create a collaborative site that would help families to live better nomadic lives. I contacted people who had personal and professional qualities that were in harmony with my approach and offered them the chance to contribute to developing this site, sharing things they’d written or reflections in line with the project’s objectives. The enthusiastic responses I got from both professionals and parents reassured me that this project was useful and important. In any case, it has recently won second prize in an open competition for awards to French people living abroad! In addition to the site, there’s a very active Facebook group where more than 7,000
parents share their experiences in a caring and mutually beneficial manner.
Tell us how you organise your activities around your personal life
The two activities are closely connected.
Since this activity is more of a passion than a job, I practically spend all my time doing it. I try to take my foot off the accelerator a little more at the weekends but, since the start of the project more than a year ago, there hasn’t been a day that I haven’t spent on it in one way or another… in order to continue developing the project, I’ll need to find a way to delegate certain areas …
So you’re a very busy “Mompreneur”?
Yes, you could say that! My children don’t need me to be there as much as they’re grown up now. Fortunately, new technology means we can be in contact every day despite the distance. Having said that, it would be nice to see one another more often…
So, I can spend a lot of time on Expats Parents. This is unfortunately at the expense of investing my time in the life of the little international local community…
Can you share one of your sudden inspirational moments of happiness?
I get instant pleasure from the numerous messages I get from parents who tell me how useful and helpful they find this project. It’s also the almost daily exchanges with one or two of the authors on the site: it’s very encouraging to share the same values and objectives!
In addition to being a “Mompreneur”, what do you like to go out and do culturally either on your own or with your family?
In Sarajevo, I like going to the National Theatre, which is a theatre, opera house, ballet venue and concert hall! It’s a lovely little room with Viennese undertones and is only a 10-minute walk from my home; this is where most cultural events take place.
On a different note, the city is also great for nature walks: Sarajevo is surrounded by hills and mountains that have magnificent panoramic views and allow you to breathe fresh air …
Time for a bit of culture: Can you quote one of your favourite books or paintings?
I can’t say I have a favourite painting or artist, even though I spent three years in Vienna, which took me right into the heart of works by Gustave Klimt and lesser-known, very different works by Hundertwasser. On the other hand, in terms of music, I really admire the works of Johann-Sebastian Bach!
Is there a cultural event on at the moment in your city or region that you can recommend?
We recently went to a Joan Baez concert: a really amazing event! She had already sang in Sarajevo when the city was under siege in 1993 to attract international attention to the tragedy unfolding in the city. Therefore, this concert was very symbolic, just like the 77-year old singer herself, who is soon to be retiring from the stage. Among the cultural events with an international dimension, there’s the Sarajevo film festival, which began during the siege of Sarajevo and promotes regional cinema every summer on an international level, as well as a renowned jazz festival, the Sarajevo Jazz Fest, which
takes place in November.
In a few words, can you tell us about the lifestyle in the country where you’re an expat?
There are lots of cafes in the little streets of the old town; the locals like to take time to have a coffee or smoke a pipe on the terraces. Otherwise, I particularly like dusk: the twilight is beautiful and the muezzin’s chanting rises up from the dozens of minarets around the city: it’s a magical time!
Can you tell me about your project? How did you develop it?
I started ‘Expats Parents’ (Parent expats), to help families to become expats. It all started in January 2017 when I created a Facebook group, which grew very quickly thanks to word of mouth: around 500 new members now join every month and we now have nearly 700 families on board! At the same time, I launched a website for the project, with contributions from around twenty authors (now about thirty): it’s frequently updated with new articles.
Soon, we had a monthly newsletter and began to hold interactive online workshops. There are also other projects in progress… I don’t need any premises or materials: it’s a really nomadic kind of activity that I can run from anywhere with just a computer and an internet connection … I’ve recently signed up as a ‘micro-entrepreneur’, which give me legal status and the ability to set up partnerships and publish ads on the site.
What do you get from your experience in professional terms when it comes to settling into the country and family life …?
The ‘Expats Parents’ project is the culmination of all my training, family history, professional experience and associated commitment.
It’s been coherent journey despite all the changes. Being uprooted through life as an “accompanying partner” has made me live in line with each new place we are sent to. The satisfaction of knowing I’ve benefitted from all the skills I’ve picked up here and there, especially through volunteering. The feeling of having created something that was missing and is useful to numerous families. The joy of seeing that others are ready to answer my call and share their skills and experiences. The pleasure of seeing connections and exploring beyond borders while all pulling together. That’s what ‘Expats Parents’ is all about.
So, all in all, you could say it’s a rather amazing experience!
Can you sum up your professional journey?
As a psychologist in training, I worked in France for about ten years (in education and then in recruitment) before moving abroad. In every country we’ve been to, I’ve got involved in business life, setting up several associations, with two FIAFE (International Federation for French hospitality and French-speaking expatriates) hosting groups. I’ve also taught French after training in this area. For some years, I’ve been carrying out psychological consultations online. However, I’m now dedicated to ‘Expats Parents’.