From chaotic India to organised Holland.
With my mind still in Bangalore and myself and my belongings back in Holland, residing in a holiday rental with the kids, I decided to look at my website "Feeling Home Abroad" again and wondering how to become active again in my home country. No more trailing spouse, no more expat coffees and bookclubs, no more pilates at the pool, no more volunteering. Instead working hard to start up our Dutch life again, organising the move back, getting the children settled back in, organising after school activities and thinking what my next goals will be. Exciting new "old" beginning!
The 2017 Families in Global Transition Conference will revisit the basics: What is the definition of an expat? A Third Culture Kid? A foreign assignment? High mobility? A global family? The FIGT network of researchers, educators, counselors, relocation specialists, artists, humanitarians, entrepreneurs, students and parents will unpack the terms and frameworks that help make sense of global mobility’s impact on identity, career and community development. Through discussion about updating definitions, we will advance our understanding of cross-cultural and globally mobile communities in an age of profound cultural, economic and political complexity. If a common basic need for our diverse communities is a sense of belonging, what are the practical steps to finding your “tribe” and helping others do the same?
Follow-up of the earlier BBC article. Do expats ever reintegrate or are they changed forever?
What is your reason for returning to your home country, a new job, your children, your parents or do you just want to settle down? Do you think it was difficult and how did it correspond with your expectations?
According to this BBC article it is pretty hard going back and often expats keep traveling the world and take their home with them.
Psychologist Doug Ota (who helped me with my final thesis for my Masters Degree) argues in his book Safe Passage, that if handled properly, mobility across cultures can be a catalyst for tremendous growth in children. Read about it in this interesting article.
And here is his website: www.dougota.nl
It's springtime. Yes! Winter is over, time to enjoy the warmth of the sun and the fresh air outside. Time to enjoy the day with an empty head and explore the environment that you are in. But this is also the time of the year when the same question is popping up over and over again:
"Are you going to move away this summer or not?".
This keeps us expats very busy. And I mean VERY busy.
"Who is leaving? Where are they moving to? What.....are they leaving as well? Who is organizing the farewell party? What about going away presents? Can we still hang out with them before they leave?
And most importantly....are we going or not? What did the Company tell you? Do I need to Google schools, housing, moving companies, permits...(if not I will do it anyways)? We only have a couple more months to make all the arrangements!"
These uncertain times are exciting and thrilling: " YES, we might move to the other side of the world!". Or you don't like them at all: "Now that we've finally managed to settle down we have to leave again?". Whether you'd like to move on or not, these times are most often accompanied by stress ("Aaargghh"), sometimes envious feelings ("How come they got exactly what we've wanted?") and in any case mind breaking thoughts ("Do I need to cancel our rental contract and sports clubs already or can I wait another month?"). If handling these turbulent times yourself aren't occupying enough, there's also the question on when and what to tell the children.
How to keep sane in these turbulent times?
For one try to keep your focus on where you live now. Don't spend to much time thinking about "what if", but try and enjoy the country you live in and the friendships you've made. You'll regret it if you don't. Plan like you are staying, so keep your sport and social clubs going. Don't cancel things until you know for sure. Don't hold back meeting old and new friends.
Be honest with yourself, do you want to move because you are restless or unhappy (be aware that you will take this with you to another place) or is it because of a career choice?
Try and keep the stress limited to a certain time a day. For instance say to yourself "I will worry about this tonight (after the children are in bed)." or "I can search the Internet for possible new houses for an hour, then I will spend quality time with my children or friends.".
Respect everyones opinion about a possible transition. While you may feel like leaving today, understand that your spouse or your child may not want to leave his friends at all. Try not to convince the other family members but simple let everyone have their own opinions and emotions about it (whether it's anger, sadness or joy).
Don't tell to many people you might move away, only share with a couple of good friends. People tend to also protect themselves for hard goodbyes and might distance themselves from you when actually you need them most.
If you find there's too much chaos in our head, try and make a plan for the coming months. Be ready to change the plan or make a final plan when the decision is there. Then you will have enough time thinking on how to say farewell, but that's another blog to come.
Well, these are only a few things to bear in mind. I always get new energy thinking about a few lines in a Garth Brooks song which is actually about love, but appears to fit to expat life as well:
"Life is not tried, it is merely survived if you're standing outside the fire"
So, get in there, live your life. Accept there will be uncertainties. That's part of the expat life that you are living and remember it gives you so much joy as well!
Found this article in a Swiss newspaper ("Blick am Abend"). "Is Switzerland a hell for Expats?". I was also wondering why Switzerland is always ranking high on the lists of best places to live as an expat, but at the same time I hear so many expats having trouble making friends and feeling at home, even though it is a beautiful and safe country. But that's not always enough. What do you think?
Just finished reading this book: Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum. It is hilarious, sexy, emotional and devastating all in one. A must read if you are an expat living in Zürich/Switzerland!! The Swiss newspaper "Blick am Abend" called it "50 shades of grey" combined with "desperate housewives"!
Sorry, in Dutch only.
Great stories about how Dutch families are experiencing living abroad and keeping up their mother tongue (Dutch) through the system of the Dutch Education Worldwide.
If you have children transitioning to University you might want to read this article (or book by Tina L. Quick called "The Global Nomad's Guide to University Transition").
Finding it hard settling back in after you visited your family and friends in your home/passport country for the holidays? Here are a few tips I came up with to help you to get back on track.
1. Keep busy, plan the weeks to come and set a small goal for each day.
2. Meet up with friends who also just returned from their home country and compare your experiences.
3. Acknowledge your feelings and take time to grief, but don't make any drastic decisions (like "I want to move back home" or "I am never going home again").
4. Think of positive things in your host country. Make plans to visit some of the things you haven't seen or go back to your favorite place.
5. Think of things that were stressful during your home visit and how you can change this with your next visit (Did you have enough time for yourself in between all the visits and driving back and forth?).
6. Recognize that relationships back home may have changed, not worse just different. Accept the fact that some relationships may have become more distant, some closer.
Have a good first week!
I cam across this quote by William G.T. Shedd on a Sunday "lantern walk" near Zug (Switzerland), with 300 wisdoms in each lantern and thought this was a good one for us expats!
My son was invited to a Swiss birthday party. This really doesn't happen all that much to my kids here, in comparison to the international school in Warsaw where usually the entire class was invited. But anyways, in The Netherlands when you go to a party you also congratulate the parents (and grandparents and brothers and sisters and other visitors...), so I immediately started kissing the parents on the cheeks (yes, three times) and said "congratulations!" very cheerfully. Then came an awkward moment and the dad stumbled....."you know it's not my birthday but my son's". Err-mm, yes, I know....whoops!
Also, in Poland when the kids at our birthday parties even smelled candy or cake they would run up to the table putting sweets in their mouths. A little bit like the opening of the birthday presents, quickly and if possible at the door in The Netherlands. The first time we had a birthday party for our daughter in Switzerland, all the girls nicely sat around the table waiting. I thought maybe they didn't like the cake, but in fact they were waiting for my signal to start eating. Wow, that never happened to me before!
So, be aware and don't automatically assume that what you are used to is also a custom in another country.
Robin Pascoe in her book "Raising Global Nomads" (2006) shares her own lessons learned from raising her two children while living abroad, with examples you will definitely recognize and laugh about.
Talking about Culture Shock she explains the different stages: the honeymoon period (everything is interesting and enchanting), the crisis stage (everything is foreign, no longer exotic, although the mom often skips the honeymoon stage having to arrange everything at once), the flight stage (you want to run away and your kids are asking to go home) and readjustment to the new surroundings and having found a new balance your life.
Be aware that Culture Shock is not a single event, but a process in which an individual has to adjust to an unfamiliar surrounding. It is an subjective experience and everyone moving abroad will experience it, although in different ways. Acknowledge it and learn from it while going through the process, on average it will take you and your family one year to adjust. But also keep in mind that sometimes "it's not the place, it's just life that's happening here. Things go wrong no matter where you are."
How do I know I have Third Culture Kids? Because they keep switching between languages without any trouble, my son knows more about geography then the average adult and he even told me that being in the same school for six years must be sooooooooo boring!
If you want to read more about this subject I can recommend "Third Culture Kids. Growing Up Among Worlds" by David C. Pollock and Ruth E. van Reken. And see the website: http://www.tckworld.com/
My cousin Jeanette gave me a book a while ago, it's called "Sunshine Soup" by Jo Parfitt. A very nice book about an expat family living in Dubai. But she also has a couple of nice websites where you can find lots of information and books to read!