“My Gutsy Story” Belinda Nicoll

Something that made my life take a different direction


I’ve learned that personal transformation can be inspiring, unless the forces of change set you adrift and you lose sight of yourself. Early in the year 2000, enjoying new-found independence thanks to my belated career as a copywriter, I decided to end my twenty-year marriage. I’d been married since the tender age of nineteen, and my husband and I had drifted apart. I trusted that our two children aged nineteen and seventeen were capable of dealing with the family break-up. What I did not anticipate, though, was that my decision would mark the start of the most distressing period of my life.

When I shared the news of my marital troubles with a colleague, she suggested that the two of us and another male colleague sign up for a self-empowerment workshop offered by a rather eccentric guru. By the end of the course, the three of us had formed a close bond. Shortly after, our male colleague accepted a job in Saudi Arabia. I kept in touch with him via e-mail, and by the time I’d finalized my divorce our friendship had turned into a long-distance romance. At the end of that year, he returned to South Africa to marry me.

His return coincided with my daughter finishing school and getting ready for a year abroad as an au pair. She’d applied to go to America, but fate intervened and she ended up with an offer from a family in Cologne, Germany. Ten years later, I’m still shaking my head at the irony of that development, because no sooner had she signed the contract than my fiancé got a job offer from an international healthcare advertising agency in San Francisco. While his employers sponsored his H-1B visa, which would permit him to work in the U.S. as a professional in a specialty occupation, I would get an H-4 visa, which permitted me to be a spouse. He said not to worry about the ‘spouse’ thing,’ that we’d sort it out as soon as we were settled in the U.S.

I’ll never forget the thrill of our prospective adventure. But I had my trepidations, too, about separating from my daughter, leaving family (not least of all my son) and friends behind, saying goodbye to my country, and putting my career on hold. The next few weeks turned into a huge rush: we got married, packed up our personal belongings, advertised my husband’s apartment as a furnished rental, said our goodbyes, and left—we’d booked our departure to coincide with my daughter’s flight to Germany.

Belinda and her children, Warrick and Juanita, who now live on three different continents.

My husband’s promise to me was that our expatriation would be a short-term stint, a year or two, three at the most. But how could we have known that our arrival as expats would coincide with one of America’s biggest disasters—two hi-jacked planes crashing into the World Trade Center? The event and its aftermath numbed us as much as it impacted the nation’s future, leading directly and indirectly to a string of personal setbacks that kept us from returning to our home country. It took more than three years to get our green cards. Caught up in changes in our host and home countries, as well as the global economic decline, over the next ten years we’d relocate from California to the North, South, and Midwest, my husband pursuing his career in advertising and I making more than a few career changes as a trailing spouse.

Belinda and her husband, Bruce

We’re U.S. citizens now. My son still lives in South Africa. My daughter returned home after her year as an au pair in Germany, but only to finish her studies as an occupational therapist, before moving to Ireland to marry the love of her life whom she’d met in Cologne.

Even now, as I take stock of all the personal and global changes, I can’t help wondering about the significance of the upheaval in my life and the uncertainties in the rest of the world, and what it all means for the future. But it doesn’t help to mope about it; change also presents opportunities—in the last ten years, I’ve traveled to many exciting destination, locally and abroad, excelled as a life coach and writer, finished my Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing, and published my first book. Life, good or bad, always presents us with many learning curves.

Belinda Nicoll’s Bio:

Belinda is originally from South Africa and has been a citizen of the United States since 2010. She and her husband love traveling and share a keen interest in cultural diversity. Their journeys and careers have taken them to various parts of the world. Belinda holds a BA degree in the social sciences and an MFA in Creative Writing, works as a creativity coach, is writing her first novel, and recently published her memoir—Out of Sync—a story about personal transformation and global change. Check out her Website and Blog (she writes about creative writing, personal coaching, and expatriation. You can connect with her via Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, too.


Out of Sync


Belinda shares an excerpt from her book here. I read it, and felt transported into her life in South Africa. In those few pages, I became part of Belinda’s life. I sensed what she was going through as a mother, and a woman ready to embark on a new life in the U.S. She described her life in South Africa as a child, and the politics and people of South Africa in a manner that finally made me “understand” what was actually going on in the 60’s, and the changes that occurred.  I also feel a connection with Belinda when she says:

“These days, being rootless is an integral part of how I choose to be.”

Sonia Marsh Says: Belinda, I feel a strong connection with you in that we are both expats, and have moved around the world. I also believe that when our kids have been exposed to life in different parts of the world, they are likely to do the same as we did: they move to another continent. You mentioned change also presents opportunities, which I know to be true, and that’s what makes our lives exciting. I’d love to meet you and share our adventures. Thank you for your story and all the best with your memoir, Out of Syncwhich is my kind of book, and the novel you’re writing.

Do you have a “My Gutsy Story” you’d like to share?

To submit your own, “My Gutsy Story” you can find all the information, and our sponsors on the “My Gutsy Story” contest page. (VIDEO) Submission guidelines here.


Please leave your comments for Belinda and she will be over to respond. Also remember to share the “My Gutsy Story” series with your friends by clicking on the buttons to your favorite sites below.

 Thanks, Sonia Marsh.








Comments (14)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Veronica Wege says:

    I loved Belinda’s book! I was unable to put the book down..a must read! I loved her style ..the words just flow …a very inspiring memoirs ,especially for all expats struggling to adapt in a new country.

    • Thank you, Veronica. I’m glad you enjoyed my story. It sure is difficult finding yourself in a foreign country for an indefinite period, especially not knowing when you’ll see your family and friends again. The hardest part of expatriation for me was separating from my children.
      Belinda Nicoll recently posted..Self-publishing: Lessons Learned #2My Profile

  2. barbara says:

    So interesting on so many levels. I’m glad to see you liked it well enough in the U.S. to become a citizen, after your ordeal on first entry.

    I can’t imagine being a continent away from my family but technology does ease that pain, I’m sure.

    I totally agree it is easier to get through life without deep roots in one place.
    barbara recently posted..We’re Into the Beyond and I’m Naming Names!My Profile

    • Hi Barbara,

      There are many things I’ve always liked about the US, and these days it truly feels like ‘home.’ I care about the country’s wellbeing as much as I do about that of South Africa.

      My difficulties in the beginning had more to do with the strangeness of my new reality (not least of all the post-9/11 distress) and pining for the familiar stuff of my past. Yes, technology makes it all easier these days.

      Thanks for responding.
      Belinda Nicoll recently posted..Self-publishing: Lessons Learned #2My Profile

  3. Penelope J says:

    Belinda, I can relate a lot to your story – an expat living here, your life-changing move across the globe, advertising background, the time when you arrived – though I came in 2000 – and your belief in synchronicity. I read your excerpt and found fascinating insights into South Africa and your life there. Good luck with your book.
    Penelope J recently posted..Never Give Up on Your DreamMy Profile

    • Hi Penelope,

      Thank you so much for responding and for your good wishes regarding my book.

      I’ve been to your blog – what a fascinating life you’ve had – ups and downs, and you never gave up. You’re an inspiration! Bruce and I have been to Mexico, and we loved it. The thing that impressed me most was how family-oriented they are – wonderful people!

      When I read your background, I can’t believe there are still people who deny the existence of a global culture.

      Go well; and let’s stay in touch.
      Belinda Nicoll recently posted..Self-publishing: Lessons Learned #2My Profile

  4. Belinda, I enjoyed reading your story and am amazed at your coping skills — leaving children on two separate continents following a divorce and remarriage and arrival in the U.S. just as we are dealing with the worst disaster to hit the continent! And I thought my divorce after five years of marriage and one toddler in tow was stressful — not. 🙂 I’m looking forward to having the opportunity to read your memoir. Not having traveled widely, I’m always fascinated by the stories of those who have. Thanks so much for sharing your story here.
    Sherrey Meyer recently posted..Dancing in the SkyMy Profile

  5. Hi Sherrey,

    I think it takes someone with coping skills to spot another; you’ve not had easy times and you came through it with so much grace. I love your blog – that photo of yours with your great-grandson is just too darling for words! Nashville is on my list of places I’d like to visit, someday soon.

    Take care; now I’ve got one more friend in the virtual world.
    Belinda Nicoll recently posted..Self-publishing: Lessons Learned #2My Profile

  6. I’ve so enjoyed my visit to your blog, Sonia – thank you again for hosting me, and for your continued support and encouragement.
    Belinda Nicoll recently posted..Works In ProgressMy Profile

  7. Belinda, thanks for reading my story and for taking time to leave gracious and encouraging comments. I’m glad to know that I have another virtual friend as well! I’m so glad you liked my blog and that great-grandson is something else — quite the flirt already and just 9 months old. 🙂
    Sherrey Meyer recently posted..A Cautionary Reminder Perhaps?My Profile

  8. Global changes! How exciting! I LOVE change!
    Thanks for the delightful story.
    Teresa Cleveland Wendel recently posted..Crop Circles in my BackyardMy Profile