Alison Meckiffe is the Chief Marketing Officer for International Organisations, Global Individual Private Medical Insurance, Government sector and Africa at Cigna.
This is her expat story.
Tell us about your expat move.
Originally from Cork, Ireland, I have lived as an expat many times. As a child, I lived with my parents in Cyprus (bizarrely my family’s health insurance was provided by Cigna’s International Organisations, a segment I now work within…small world!). As a student, I lived in Granada, Spain, while completing an Erasmus year. I’ve also worked in France, America, Australia and now in the UK. I haven’t actually lived ‘at home’ for about 25 years…so perhaps I am a permanent expat? Or a global citizen?
What did you find were the best ways of making friends as an expat abroad?
Continuing to do what you love – whatever interests or hobbies you have I can guarantee someone in your new location also shares your interest, and that is always a good conversation starter. For me this is yoga, running, skiing (not always possible in every location but always good to discuss with a fellow passionate skier!), wine & food. If you are learning a language in your new location, consider doing an exchange with a local speaker – as an expat student in Granada, Spain I had a number of ‘intercambios’ with locals while socializing.
As well as continuing to do what you love to meet like-minded people, also stay open-minded any open to new experiences – food, activities, culture - in your new location. Pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone isn’t always easy, but it’s always worth it.
What have been some of the biggest highlights from your expat journey so far?
Meeting great people, including my husband, trying new cultural experiences and, as someone who loves the challenge of new, setting everything up from scratch (btw this is an unexpected upside of expat living, you have the chance to de-clutter often).
What have been some of the biggest challenges so far?
Visas – they always taken longer than stated. Start early, and be ready for lots of red tape!
What do you miss about your home country?
The space, coast and dry sense of humour. Ireland is a country of only 4-ish million people so there is lots of space and a beautiful coastline, even if the weather is somewhat prohibitive to actually seeing it at times!
How much do you enjoy your role in Cigna?
I really enjoy the global nature of my role at Cigna and the variety of working with colleagues across the world. No day is ever the same and there is a real can-do attitude to any challenges we face.
What advice would you give to those who are considering making a move?
Do it! It is a dreadful cliché, but truly living in another country really does expand your mind and gives you some amazing experiences that will sometimes challenge you but will also give you life long memories and friends.
What would be the one piece of advice you wish you’d known before moving?
Just because your new country speaks your language, don’t assume it is culturally the same. Having lived and travelled extensively around the globe, I found the UK to be my most challenging expat move, perhaps because I didn’t expect it to be that much different to Ireland.
Finally, how would you describe your expat journey in 10 words or less?
A wonderful, fun and varied adventure that continues to give.