House to Home

From House to Home: Creating a home abroad

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Life coach Sarah Novak guides expats through creating a home overseas.

I'm Sarah Novak and I'm an accompanying expat spouse, currently living in the Philippines. I feel I’ve barely earned the title of expat since we’re only nine months in, yet I’ve already learned my share of lessons in this short period!

In particular, I’ve learned how frustrating it can be to find yourself living in a place that feels foreign – within the walls of your house as well as outwith. Together with professional organiser and fellow expat Mindy Jeppesen, I wrote From House to Home: Personalizing Your Overseas Living Space, a free e-book to help expats create homes that support and re-energise them.

Sarah's story

First let me tell you a little about myself. I had always thought living abroad would be interesting, but didn’t really think it was a reality for my future. Little did I know that I’d fall in love with a man who grew up in the Foreign Service and dreamt of one day becoming a diplomat like his parents.  

The opportunity came sooner than we expected, about 18 months into our relationship. In October 2008 he told me he had an offer to become a US diplomat and in the same breath asked if I’d be his wife and accompany him. How could I say no to the life of adventure ahead of us? Count me in!

Moving abroadBefore I knew it we’d wrapped up our two weddings (one civil, one church) and were kissing our families goodbye as we left for Manila in June 2009.

The first few months were a blur of new faces and exploration. Setting up home was the last thing on my mind during those first 90 days in Manila; learning the transportation system and locating grocery stores were of far greater concern. We had only bare-bones accommodation (with our air shipment and government-issued furniture) but we were quite content with discovering the city outside our apartment.

The problem: This house ain't no home

It was only when our household shipment arrived that I began to feel overwhelmed. As a first-time expat, I had chosen to bring many of the wrong things and WAY too much stuff. Some of the funniest things that ended up in our itty-bitty two bedroom apartment were my elementary school artwork and a box of possessions I inherited from my grandmother! Oops, those definitely should have stayed in storage!

My frustration and questions began to build up. Why did I create this challenging situation for myself by packing so much? Where will I fit everything? How could all of this be mine, when those around me have so little? Did I really think I needed three sets of dishes here?!

I also quickly became disenchanted with the feel of my home. Everything annoyed me from the colour and style of my government-issued furniture, to the ‘blah’ walls and corners that screamed for a touch of personalisation.

I started to avoid hanging out in certain rooms because I didn’t like the energy of the spaces and found myself paralysed by inaction. Something had to give!
Sarah's home - beforeSarah's home - after

Before and after 

The challenge: Create a resource

I complained one day to my friend Sarah back home about how I couldn’t find a resource to assist me with fixing this problem. Brilliant woman that she is, she challenged me to create one myself! Fellow Foreign Service spouse Mindy Jeppesen, who happened to be a professional organiser, was the ideal partner for the project and we set about remedying this problem for other expats.

The problem, as we saw it, was that creating a home overseas is a far different experience than creating one in your home country. Some of the many differences you might experience include: living in a place you didn’t select, not getting to use your own furniture, dealing with all-white walls, having some of your favorite possessions break, losing items during shipment, and being in a different type of housing than you’re used to (house vs condo or apartment). All of these can add up to make the space feel entirely foreign.

The book: A toolkit to transform your home

Our vision for the book was that it would contain three parts: a workbook, a tips and tricks section and an action plan.

In Part 1, the focus would be on reflecting on what you liked about past spaces, assessing your current space and creating a rich vision for what you want now. In Part 2, we wanted to take you deeper into the process, teaching you the secrets of creating a home that supports and re-energises you.

Part 3 was about bringing it all together; getting into action and walking you step-by-step through what needs to be done to make your vision a reality.
Creating a comfortable, energising living space was the single biggest factor that ensured my successful integration into the Philippines. It is my hope that our e-book will give you the tools and framework you need to transform each new space you occupy!

To receive your free copy, click ‘From House to Home: Personalising Your Overseas Living Space’.

Sarah Novak / Expatica

Book coverSarah Novak, MBA is a Certified Professional Co-active Coach and founder of Envision Life Coaching. As a Cancer Mindset Coach, Sarah empowers cancer patients to leverage their illness as a catalyst to step into their higher purpose.

Connect with her online at and


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