Interview with Expat author - Yelena Parker
My name is Yelena Parker. I grew up in Ukraine. I am American. At the moment I live in Tanzania and in July I will return to the United Kingdom, my latest country of “permanent” residence.
1. Why did you move abroad?
I moved abroad multiple times. 4 times, to be more precise. My first move was for pure economic reasons. I moved from Ukraine to the United States, straight to the heart of Silicon Valley to get an MBA. This was meant to open doors to gaining economic advantage.
Second time it was an expat contract, company transfer from the US to Geneva, Switzerland.
Third time, after our business was acquired, I got a local contract in the UK and moved to London.
Lastly, I am currently in Tanzania, volunteering and travelling for 4 months. Yes, I count it as an expat experience! 4 months of community work is truly plenty of time to absorb the local culture!
2. How do you make a living? Are you a fulltime writer?
Last year I quit my job of VP of Commercial Operations with a software company in London to finish writing Moving Without Shaking, my book about expat success based on experiences and views of 9 women, myself included, who have lived, studied and worked across 12 countries.
I have also started my business coaching expats and professionals as well as students interested in international careers, gap year choices and career transitions. Writing is one area that I plan to focus on because this is something I really enjoy but it is not likely to become my single source of income.
3. How did you start the process of writing a book and get it published? Did you go to a publisher? Self-publish?
We were at dinner at Oxford. It was one of those events at the end of Strategy and Innovation program at Saïd Business School where we invited our significant others to join us. I was talking to a girlfriend of one of my classmates about how much I wanted to write a non-fiction book to help other women to get started on their lives abroad. We have just completed the project part of our diplomas and I was extra confident in my writing skills as the feedback I was getting from my project advisor was really good.
I have been talking about writing a book for years. When you have lived in a few countries, your experiences are adding so many layers to who you are and what you know. You can’t help but want to share. Aleksandra, my friend’s partner, who was an expat herself, said that she wished that there had been a book on the topic of making your life abroad a success years ago when she was first starting out. That dinner really was what made me believe that it was time to start working on a book instead of talking about it.
I am a business person, so writing for me is not just a creative process. I am looking for ways to get the message through to the people who need it and building a marketing platform to reach them. Finding a publisher seemed like a very lengthy path to what I wanted to achieve. I didn’t bother with agents and publishers and found an online publishing business, Vook, that looked reliable. I literally made my choice based on their website information about the service they provide to authors who want to self-publish and have been very happy with the quality of support they had to offer.
4. What was the hardest part of taking your writing to a book format? Did you blog before writing your book?
I considered blogging at the same time when starting on the book. My “day-time” job was taking too much energy, so I didn’t get going with my blog until I quit to focus on writing. I launched my company website and the blog on expat topics last December. After the book had been published, I started blogging on Huffington Post and am very excited about it. What a great marketing platform to reach so many more people than a blog or a website of a first time author ever can!
5. What is your perception of the expat book market? Or is there a niche you consider your book to be part of?
Expat book market is not that different from the overall global book market. It’s largely fiction and non-fiction, isn’t it? Genres definitions to further match the book content to the audience are also pretty much the same. Just look at what tags we, expat writers, get at Amazon. My book is in categories of Women & Business, Personal Success, Success and Business Travel.
Who is an expat writer anyway? For centuries, authors who we still enjoy and regard as classics, spent considerable parts of their lives abroad. That’s what made them interesting: the knowledge and experiences that their readers didn’t have and wanted to gain. I like to put my book into “guidebook-meets-memoir “category. It’s not something that is an Amazon genre, but it should be. We eagerly read stories and experiences of people who also provide practical advice on a topic that we are interested in exploring.
6. What is your favorite part of the book?
I truly enjoyed writing the chapter about education. Education played a huge part in my life and gave me all the expat opportunities I dreamed about and more! I mean it when I say in the first subchapter “Men come and go, education stays with you”. Relationships that are wrong for us can have a significant impact on decisions we make. Every time you have a chance to go study or work abroad but choose to give it up for a partner, ask yourself if you are certain that 5 years later the relationship is still going to be there. Your knowledge and/or your diploma, however, will certainly be there!
7. What was the most difficult part to write?
It was really hard to finish. I felt like I was running out of ideas. I doubted whether the quality of my wiriting was good enough. I questioned whether I was qualified to give advice. Summarizing the book in the epilogue was the hardest part. I had to face that my dream of having a published book out there was going to come true soon. Was it good enough to be shown to public? This question was making it harder to finish than it should have been.
8. Besides your book, what book should everyone read?
This is a difficult question. I read a lot. Many books, both fiction and non-fiction influenced my thinking and writing. One of my latest favorites while I was working on Moving Without Shaking, was Eric Weiner’s The Geography of Bliss. It was really fun to read about his exploration of happiest and most miserable countries in the world and compare with my own impressions.
9. What advice would you give to other expats that want to write a book?
Go for it! Stop putting it off till “when you get back”. What if you never do? All my moves so far have been upwards and onwards. Tanzanian adventure will end with my first repatriation ever. In my book I suggest you shouldn’t put your life on expat hold. You shouldn’t do it to your book either. Enjoy the experience, get inspired, write down your thoughts, sketches, outlines, whatever works for YOU.
10. What are you working on now? Do you have plans to publish another book?
While in Tanzania, I took an opportunity to climb Kilimanjaro with my partner. Martin has come to spend a few weeks on vacation here with me and we started with the climb. It was the best experience in our lives. As urbanites, we were completely unprepared for the experience. Despite it, we made it all the way to Uhuru (Freedom) Point. On the way I have decided that this idea fits into my interests in writing about goal setting, achievement, living your life abroad and helping others to succeed at what they set out to do. Once my volunteering trip ends in June, I will be back in Britain writing another “guidebook-meets-memoir” book, this time to help people prepare for the climb of their lives before the famous snows of Kilimanjaro completely disappear.
Her book, Moving Without Shaking, is a guidebook-meets-memoir that presents practical advice on a variety of challenges an expatriate will encounter, addresses common fears, and covers the dirty details you don’t want to learn the hard way. It’s about moving without fear.
Yelena Parker is an expatriate, executive coach, and a writer. A US citizen born in Ukraine, she has worked in over 20 countries, and lived in Switzerland, Tanzania and the United Kingdom, where she is now based. She has a Postgraduate Diploma in Strategy and Innovation from Oxford University, Saïd Business School, MBA from San Jose State University in California and BA in English from Zaporozhye State University in Ukraine. She has more than twelve years of international business experience working with a variety of global and early stage technology companies, including Cisco, VeriSign, and Symantec. Parker founded her executive coaching consultancy, to help people achieve their dreams of living a truly global life.