Reflections on FIGT 2019

FIGT logoFIGT stands for Families In Global Transition, and it is a volunteer-led organisation that resources the globally mobile community. One of the big impacts of FIGT comes through its annual conference.

I first attended FIGT in 2017 and I had an incredible experience. The 2019 FIGT conference in Bangkok was my second – and it was both a very different and very familiar experience! It’s hard to adequately explain to someone who has never been quite exactly how and why this conference is so special. But I’m going to try – because if you’re reading my blog, chances are you are in some way connected to international life. Perhaps you live overseas, or used to, or people you care about do. Whatever your connection, FIGT is a community worth connecting with and investing in.

Community

I used that word deliberately, because this is one of the big things that makes FIGT stand out. It isn’t just a conference; it is a gathering of people who form a community. This community is scattered across the world most of the year, but when you get them together – wow! It is special. FIGT conferences are often described as a “reunion of strangers”. You can be in a group of people you’ve never met and yet feel so at home. You all already share a certain understanding and experience of life – even if you don’t know how to articulate it.

FIGT President Dawn Bryan said that being a “welcoming community” is one of the top priorities of the conference – and I love that. I love that this is a conference that knows it is different, and embraces that relational connection as a vital and central part of its character.

Post-conference the community continued! Drinks, food, and swimming on the rooftop of the hotel many of us were staying in.

Post-conference the community continued! Drinks, food, and swimming on the rooftop of the hotel many of us were staying in.

Conversation

A natural result of a conference with a community focus is that you end up spending a lot of time in conversation. I loved having meaningful conversations with all sorts of people, from all sorts of backgrounds. I doubt there were more than twenty people I’d met in person before, perhaps four or five I’d seen in the past year. So while I did have some lovely conversations with people I’d talked to before, most of my conversations were first conversations.

figt19_jj-thThere were so many people I felt like I knew – I had been in online meetings with them, read their books/blogs, or interacted with them on social media. There were people I met for the first time, but felt like I was catching up with an old friend. (Jerry Jones was a great example of this feeling!) There were also people who, when we met, shared greetings sent to me from mutual friends.

There were also conversations with perfect strangers – people I’d never met, and had no other connection to. Conversations that were interesting and intellectually stimulating and often emotionally powerful as well. I don’t think I can overstate the quality of people at this conference. Drawn from so many different places, sectors, and experiences – and all of them wonderful! It is literally inspiring – giving me new ideas, clarifying my vision, and re-energising my motivation.

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A mix of people I’d met and people I felt like I’d met!

Content

FIGT is known for having tonnes of amazing content. There are always difficult choices to make because you can only go to one of the amazing concurrent sessions in each time slot! I was involved in managing the event logistics for this year’s conference, which meant a very different experience of the conference content. I didn’t make it to many sessions. I presented twice, and was at least physically present for most of the plenary sessions on the final day, but my exposure to the amazing content was somewhat sporadic. And yet!

Working at the conference (with the rest of volunteer board!) was another lovely experience of community.

Working at the conference (with the rest of volunteer board!) was another lovely experience of community.

I think what surprised me most was how much I felt I walked away with, simply from my first two points alone – community and conversation. This was really interesting to me, and I think quite important to note. The content is brilliant. So much research, so many different sectors represented, opportunities to engage with your own niche field or be exposed to lots of new ideas. So much creativity, authenticity, and excellent material. And yet – this amazing content isn’t where the magic comes. The magic comes from the people with whom you share and experience the content. There’s something about being together that makes it all the more powerful.

That said, I’m extremely glad that as an FIGT member I have access to lots of content from the conference, especially for amazing sessions I couldn’t attend! Lots of notes and presentations, and even some videos, will be made available to all members – not just those who attended the conference! I honestly think it’s worth considering joining as an FIGT member for access to resources like this alone. (I believe an individual membership is about $65, which is really quite reasonable, and there are student discounts.)

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Captured during a session I co-led with Debbie Kramlich, looking at how cross-cultural education can impact families.

Being in my field

Something truly wonderful for me about FIGT is that it is a place where I can exist in a shared professional space in REAL LIFE, not just virtually. There are a number of people around the world working with and advocating for TCKs – writing, speaking, consulting with international schools and organisations – in short, doing what I do. But we’re spread out all across the world. FIGT is one of the only opportunities I’ve ever had to spend time with a group of people who are working in similar and parallel fields to me.

It’s also an opportunity to spend time with people who are aware of and value the work that I’m doing, whether my field generally, or my own work in particular. Reflecting on how deeply this impacted me, I struggled to discern if my joy was due to ego-stroking. Did it please my pride to be told that someone loved my book, used (and cited) my work in their own presentation, praised my work in glowing terms, described herself as a “fangirl”…? Possibly. If I was arrogant about these things it definitely would. But really, as I reflected on my feelings, I realised what all this did for me was give me a sense of validation.

I spend a lot of time alone at a computer. I do public seminars and visits to schools, but it is generally me dropping into an existing group and then leaving again. I’m a special guest, rather than part of their community. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love what I do! I know I’m doing important research. I know my work is valuable, and appreciated. But I rarely get to hear it. And I very rarely get to spend time with people who know my field, and can have deeper-level conversations about topics we engage with. It felt a little like stretching my intellectual muscles, doing some heavier lifting. It reminds me I really do love what I do, and I want to do more of it!

What a wonderful experience! Already looking forward to next year...

What a wonderful experience! Already looking forward to next year…

FIGT is coming to Thailand in April 2019!

Families In Global Transition (FIGT) is a great organisation connecting international individuals and families around the world. I attended their annual conference in the Netherlands in 2017. I had an amazing time! Given the craziness of my 2018 it’s unsurprising I couldn’t make the trip there this year, but I am super crazy excited that the 2019 conference will be in Bangkok, Thailand!!!

If you are an international anywhere in the world, the FIGT conference is hugely valuable. If you live in Asia or Australia, however, this is an amazing opportunity! Previously the conference has been held in North America or Europe. The fact that it will be happening on this side of the globe is incredibly exciting! I highly recommend it, and I would love to see lots of my international connections in Australia and Asia make the trip to attend their first FIGT conference!

Who should go?

  • Anyone who has moved around the world
  • Anyone raising their children outside their passport countries (TCKs)
  • Anyone working in an international school
  • Anyone teaching or working to support TCKs
  • Anyone supporting international families (counsellors, for example)
  • Anyone working in HR for companies that move workers (and families) internationally

Why should you go?

  • Fantastic resources – great speakers, great books in the bookstore, and lots of great brains to pick.
  • Solid research – there are always researchers presenting fascinating recent work on expatriates and Third Culture Kids.
  • Relational opportunities – there are so many wonderful people at FIGT. It is one of the warmest groups I have ever walked into. It’s so intimidating to walk into a conference knowing no one, but FIGT makes it so much easier!! There are big sessions and very small sessions, so there are ample opportunities to meet different people throughout the three days.
  • Real answers – if you have a question about global mobility and international life, how it affects you, your family, your organisation – this is the place to come.
  • Inspiration – when a group of people like this gets together, there is a sense of energy and momentum, lots of new ideas and new projects sparked. (This was very true for me in 2017!)

So, am I getting paid to say all this??

Hahaha the short answer is definitely not! I am someone who went to the conference and was blown away by how great it was. I know that taking the conference to Asia is a risk for the organisers and I really want to see a huge response from all the international families on this side of the world. I know there are a lot of people who have felt the lack of resources for international families here, especially those working for (and moved around by) multinational companies.

I’m hoping to be a bit more involved myself this time around, and I’ll be sure to update you with more information, especially when registration opens.

Initial reflections on FIGT 2017

The Misunderstood blog has been very much on the backburner the last six months. I poured a lot of energy into it around the book’s release, which put me behind in my studies. I’ve been working hard to catch up and keep up – and 2017 has been jam-packed so far!

Attending the Families In Global Transition 2017 conference in The Hague (Netherlands) a few weeks ago reminded me that supporting TCKs and expatriate families is what I really care about, the field I want to work in. So despite the busyness of student life, I’m hoping to get into the expat headspace more often from here on out.

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FIGT 2017 was an amazing three-day experience. It was my first time attending the conference, and I met a lot of incredible people with whom I had inspiring conversations. Some were people I had already “met” online – I had read their books and blogs, they had contributed to Misunderstood, or written reviews of it. I felt very lucky to have the opportunity to turn online connections into Real Life connections.

(I hung out on twitter a lot throughout the conference, reflecting on key moments as they occurred to me and to others in attendance.)

I was stunned to discover that some of the very authors I consider giants in my field (such as Ruth van Reken and Linda Janssen) were actively looking to meet me! One of several surreal moments was being asked to sign a copy of Misunderstood for Valerie Besanceney – an author I greatly respect and whose books I regularly recommend. There were also people at the conference I met for the first time and who turned out to have already bought and read my book, or had been hearing about it and bought a copy while at the conference. It was quite astonishing to me!

Also astonishing – my book selling out! Misunderstood was stocked in the conference bookstore, and the recommendation was to bring up to 10 copies. Those sold out in the first day, so I went through my suitcase and brought along the six copies I had with me – which sold out on the second day.

Beyond the Misunderstood connections, FIGT was a wonderfully enriching experience. I had the privilege of listening to a range of researchers discuss fascinating research they are conducting regarding various issues connected to expatriate life.

I was so encouraged by the work of SPAN to build networks of international schools who actively work to smooth transitions for students as their families move – to create safe passage. (Safe Passage is, not-so-coincidentally, the title of another book I regularly recommend, by another author I was delighted to meet in person – Doug Ota).

I had conversations which strengthened my convictions as to the importance of my work with TCKs and expat families, and conversations with prompted me to think further and in new directions. I listened to thoughtful talks unpacking different aspects of expat life – sometimes affirming things I have experienced and believe, other times challenging me to consider a new point of view.

There were three ideas which impacted me most deeply – which inspired me to think in new or deeper ways. The first was expat empty nesters; the second was dual careers for expat spouses; the third was the experience of being a twenty-something TCK. I’m still processing the things I heard and learned and the new ideas that have sprung from my time at FIGT, but I hope to write a little more about these things as I continue to reflect.

Right now I’m still in Europe, and over the next week I’ll have two opportunities to meet and share with groups of expat parents. I’ll be sharing with them some of what I’ve learned in 12 years spent working with TCKs, some stats and stories from Misunderstood, and taking time to listen to their stories and talk through their questions. I am really looking forward to both times.

After that I’ll be headed back to Sydney – and a pile of study to catch up on! But hopefully I won’t be quite so silent here anymore.