Expat feels

Here is another in my series of reflections on popular content from the past year. Today I’m sharing three posts from May, August and September last year. One is the most popular post I’ve ever written on this blog, and the others are in the all time top 20 most viewed. All three focus on emotional experiences connected to expatriate life.

Homesickness and the price we pay to be expats

This is the most viewed post on my blog, thanks in part to being picked up and shared by a few expat networks online. It also talks about something that’s been an important part of my expat life – openly acknowledging what this life costs me, and allowing myself to feel that pain, but alongside the sure knowledge that this was my choice. This emotional integration is an essential tool for finding contentment in life generally, but especially as expats.

There are two sides to this. First, the cost is real. The fact that I choose to pay the price doesn’t change the fact that it costs me something – something real. In my first years overseas, expressing my sadness at this cost often led to comments from my sisters about how “you chose this!” That was true, but it didn’t change the fact that I was sad about missing this event, or seeing that person. . .

Secondly, it is a choice, and that reframes the loss and pain of paying the price. I don’t just lose something – I have given up something good (many good things) in order to gain something I have deemed better. When we hold these two things together – both the reality of the cost, and the reality of my choice to pay it – we can integrate these difficult emotions, and come to a place of peace.

Click here to read the full “Homesickness and the price” post.

Expat Guilt: Being far from family

This piece is related: part of the price of my choosing to live overseas is being far from my family. That is a choice which impacts both me and them – and that brings guilt. I made a choice which affects them, which may feel at times like loving them less. In this post I share my own struggles with this common phenomenon of expat guilt.

Video chats are amazing but they don’t take the place of cuddling a niece or nephew, of interacting with them in person. I am so thankful for sisters who work to make sure I’m a part of their children’s lives, but I still miss being able to see them in Real Life. I know what it’s like to see my grandparents in person, and how very not the same it is to be far away – especially when they don’t use the internet at all, and now struggle to keep up with even a phone call.

And then comes the guilt.

Knowing that I can only blame myself. That I’m the one who decided to go. That I could be closer but chose not to be. Knowing I valued something more highly than being near the family members I love so dearly. That’s a hard truth to face – and yet also a hard one to escape!

Click here to read the full “Expat Guilt” post.

Phantom Pain: Feeling the pieces of self you leave behind

When I decided to share this, I honestly didn’t know how it would be received. I wondered if anyone would relate, or if they would think I was weird. But I put it out there anyway. In this post I explain a lightbulb moment I had after repatriating to Australia, trying to explain how I felt about China, now that I no longer lived there. I lived in China from age 21-32; it was where I lived out almost all my adult years and grew into my own woman. And even after I’d moved to Australia and settled into a life there that I enjoyed, China still felt like a part of me – albeit a part no one else saw, a part that was not tangible. It was particularly interesting for me to reflect on this now that I’m living in China again – a move I had not expected in the slightest!

Australia didn’t really feel like home. Not completely. I had settled into a routine, I had made friends, I liked the place I lived. But something didn’t feel right. I could still *feel* another place, a place that felt like part of me. I could feel the person I’d been there, I could feel the routines I’d had there, I could almost smell and taste the place I’d left. . .

I suspect anyone who moves around has the potential to develop this kind of phantom pain. The pain of sensing a part of yourself missing – a part of you which only exists in one place, one context. Losing a language, a role, a position – something you were or had becoming invisible, unreachable. Perhaps this is an inevitable (or at least highly likely) part of connecting deeply in and to more than one place. Another price we pay for this life.

Click here to read the full “Phantom Pain” post.

Re-reading the phantom pain post now, I realise it reminds me of something I shared in a recent Recommended Reading post – from an ATCK reflecting on how the language of her childhood home is a part of her even though she hasn’t lived there for a long time, and doesn’t often use it in daily life now.

That’s my reflection on the Expat Feels I’ve written about in the past year! It’s been a rollercoaster year of transition for me, and sharing these posts with you has been good for me, too.

Unrequited love of place

In a recent recommending reading post I linked to Mariam’s “break up letter” to Dubai, the city her family just moved on from. There were some things she wrote at the end of her letter that I found particularly poignant and worth some further reflection:

Dear Dubai, my bags are packed, my goodbyes are done. My memories are now strewn all over your glittering skyline. Your streets will forever feel like home, your parks and beaches are the background of my kid’s childhood photos. How many times over the past four years have I posted pictures of you and me together on Instagram and used the popular hashtag “#mydubai”? But then wondered, are you really mine? Can you ever truly be mine?

Today I wonder, why does it hurt so much to leave a city that was never mine to begin with?

Falling in love with you Dubai, is like falling in love with someone who says “I’m not looking for any commitment. Nothing serious, please.” Once an expat in Dubai, always an expat in Dubai, because there is no path to long-term citizenship in the UAE.

This is why I have to break up with you Dubai. Trust me, it’s for the best. I need to move on. Some relationships are short like yours and mine, but it doesn’t make them any less meaningful. Better to do this sooner rather than later, when it will hurt even more.

This captures beautifully the tension felt by many expatriates, and especially by many TCKs. Relationships are not unilateral. There is a two-way street. Can a place ever be truly mine unless it embraces me, too?

An immigrant is a person who has this two-way relationship with a country. They have chosen the country, and the country has chosen them. There is acceptance in both directions.

Expatriates do not have this.

An expatriate is someone without a long-term commitment. For some, it is because they do not want a long-term commitment. They want to go back ‘home’ after their time is done. For others, the country they live in does not want a long-term commitment. There is no path to citizenship, no way to legally become a local. This is where the “unrequited love” of the post title comes from. There are many expatriates around the world who have fallen in love with a country that will never fully embrace them.

That’s my situation, in China. I love this place, I really do. But I can never become Chinese. Not legally, and not in the eyes of Chinese people. I must live with the uncertainty of a constantly changing visa situation, and never having permission to remain more than one year at a time.

Many TCKs live with this. The place of childhood becomes inaccessible. There is no legal rights to belong. There is no recognition of their connection. The place they love, and were raised in, does not acknowledge them.

Perhaps a better relational analogy for the TCK experience is foster care. Temporary guardians, not permanent family. Some foster situations are joyful and warm, others are difficult and even traumatic. Some can lead to permanent adoptive situations; I’ve interviewed a number of TCKs who were able to gain citizenship in the country they grew up in as expatriates. But for many, that is not an option – even for those who wish it was.

There is a particular pain that goes with unrequited love of place. To feel at home in, identify with, love, a particular place – but have no security there. A place that says, as Mariam put it: “I’m not looking for any commitment. Nothing serious, please.” 

Amy Medina wrote about this feeling in a post I included in a different recommended reading list. She called it “forbidden roots” – creating those connections in a place you know won’t be forever. She also used relational terminology to describe it, writing: “It’s like coming to the realization that I’ve fallen in love with something that I can’t keep.

It’s hard to keep giving yourself to a place that won’t ever love you back, so to speak. To invest in a place that won’t invest in you. Mariam wrote of the choice to leave, before it hurts too much. Amy wrote of the choice to invest, knowing it will hurt much.

But here’s the crunch for TCKs, again – the lack of choice. This unrequited love of place is the result of choices made on their behalf. But as with anyone, in any life situation, all we can do is choose how we respond to what life has brought us. We can choose where to invest ourselves, our lives, our love – in this moment, and from now on.

erlizhuang.JPG

This quiet back road was part of my regular commute during my first year in Beijing (back in 2004).

Recommended reading: August 6th, 2018

My latest collection of recommended posts about expatriate life and Third Culture Kids.

Thoughts on Citizenship from Around the World
Velvet Ashes
Really interesting piece, which collects four vignettes from different women around the world reflecting on their experiences of citizenship – as affected by expatriate living, cross-cultural relationships, and adoption. I particularly like this little thought, which resonates with many conversations I’ve had during interviews:
I was becoming part of the fabric of life here in a way that just sticking to my role would never have achieved. And isn’t that part of being a citizen? Beyond passports and visas, I realized I started to feel like a citizen of this place when I began to be invested beyond my little niche.

The Labeling of Self
TCK Town
This is a fascinating, uncomfortable, important piece of reflection. It largely follows a conversation among a group of expatriates from various countries, as they negotiate ethnic labels and how they do or don’t self-identify, and who they do and don’t include in those identity umbrellas. It makes me stop and think. Something that international life has provoked for me is the way I have included people in umbrellas they don’t identify with, how easily I can make assumptions about others’ experiences. This piece sits in that discomfort, and invites readers to listen, and reflect on their own use of labels.
We all came out of the park with our egos a little bruised and worse for wear. Instead of peeking into our sandwiches, we had spent the hour delving into conceptions and misconceptions of labeling our identities.

Ex expats from NL: Dutch repatriates – how does it feel to be home?
Dutch News
An interesting piece on repatriates to the Netherlands, with quotes from several repats with different stories. They share different difficulties they’ve experienced, that will ring true with many expats/repats.
“People who’ve lived abroad for a long time, she explains, learn to look at the world from a different perspective. ‘You have seen a lot. That uproots you from your own country.’”

Phoenix Rising: Reflection on Expat Resilience and Health Crisis Abroad
I Am A Triangle
An interesting piece reflecting on a patient experiencing a health crisis while abroad. Carolyn uses one person’s experience as a springboard to consider the emotional resilience for expatriates generally. It is a longer piece, with several sections looking at different aspects of the experience of coping with this sort of situation. These include self-care, emotional support, multi-faceted healing, and adaptation.
Normal emotional and stresses that come with illness or injury are compounded by his being so far from loved ones and by his difficulty communicating with healthcare personnel. He misses his three children and the normal routines they share together. Creating a support system doesn’t happen organically for him in this setting. The language barrier prevents the casual rapport-building that would normally take place between strangers brought together by a common denominator. He misses the simplicity of these types of human connections and consciously searches out other English-speakers within the hospital.

Dear Dubai, Can We Please Part as Friends?
And Then We Moved To
Mariam pens a break-up letter to Dubai, her home of the past four years. It is sweet, thoughtful, emotional, and insightful. It starts like this:
Dear Dubai, If you and I were in a relationship on Facebook, I’d choose the relationship status “it’s complicated.” You know it and I know it. We have had a love/hate relationship since day one, and four years later, its still messy to describe my feelings for you or the way I affectionately refer to you…

Tips for Strengthening Families in Transition
Our Goodwin Journey
This post is written by a missionary and so there are a few assumptions from that perspective, but the general content is really helpful for all families experiencing transition. There are practical ideas, covering topics such as being proactive, dealing with emotions, and maintaining relational focus.
“For our family, we all sense the next transition and begin feeling the effects about 2 months prior to the move. We all feel the emotions building. We all experience the mixed mental challenges of being here and being there at the same time. So many decisions, goodbyes, frustrations, to-do lists and challenges come into play each day through a cross cultural move. Stress rises, tensions escalate and tears flow. Random meltdowns for kids and parents alike are normal for families in transition…But what can we all do to help families in transition get through the moving season in healthy, good ways?”

The Expat Blues
The Expat Mummy
One “trailing spouse” wife and mother reflects on the depression and purposelessness that can strike after moving to a(nother) new location. She knows the right things to do, sees the progress on paper, yet struggles with identity. This post doesn’t offer a lot of answers, but offers validation of the struggle. I really appreciate that.
“So why mock that ever so helpful list, after all the tried and tested remedy for loneliness is the same the world over and it’s not wrong. My problem with the list is that we aren’t always looking for advice, sometimes what a trailing spouse needs is recognition.”

Recommended reading: July 30th, 2018

Last week’s recommended reading had a TCK perspective theme – a collection of posts written by TCKs reflecting on their experiences. I’m continuing that theme this week, although this week I’m also including some posts about TCKs, written by those who care about them.

On Welcoming the Third Culture Kid
A Life Overseas
Fabulous post by the always wonderful Marilyn, offering lists of DOs and DON’Ts for how to support Third Culture Kids walking through repatriation. There is so much gold here! For example,
DO: “Let them talk about their past. They have left so much, let them talk about what they have left.”
DON’T: “Put a time limit on their adjustment and their grieving. We are all different. We grow and adjust at different rates. So don’t put time limits on the TCK. Allow them room even as you continue to love and challenge them.”

Third Culture Kid Diaries: Connecting with Locals and Making Friends
Restless Feet Adventures
This is a great post by a Taiwanese TCK sharing four tips for how to build relationships. Her reflections come two years into repatriation, and includes that perennial TCK problem – why is it so much harder to make friends at ‘home’ when I did it just fine elsewhere? Now – back to her four ways to connect with others, anywhere: shared experiences, similar interests, pop culture, and mutual friends.
“I realized I let my focus on the fact that I didn’t grow up in Taiwan overshadow all the other ways I made friends in the past…Sometimes I have to remind myself to go out and socialize with people because I’m so comfortable and enjoy doing things alone. But building and maintaining relationships is important to me so I just have to keep reminding myself to go out and do it!

A high-school reunion, international style
Monday Morning Emails
In this post Terry reflects on the reunion of six high school friends – living in different countries, holding different citizenships – including her son. It’s a great piece! Here’s a taste:
As I listened to a conversation that straddled countries as easily as ‘hopping on that plane’, it confirmed that despite the obvious challenges of a global life, it fosters engaged global citizens. We can be proud of this. As parents we often question this overseas life and the impact that it has on our children.

Finding common ground in Minnesota
TCK Town
One TCK shares about her friendship with another TCK. For me, this piece is about showing grace in the face of racism. By that I don’t mean staying silent – not at all! – but I mean not letting those negative experiences steal the possibility of good experiences. Being the best version of yourself, even when treated unjustly. Taking the first step to build connections with others, even when they wouldn’t do that for you.
“I’m so thankful for this friendship and all it has taught me. Without Samiya I would not know how amazing Somali tea is, I would not know the traditions of Ramadan or that Syria has some of the nicest people you will ever meet. There is joy in loving people who are different than you. If we can learn to love those who are different than us, we could see how rich and flavorful our lives can be.”

Continental Drift
Expitterpattica
A very sweet poem from an expat mum to her TCK children, as they approach a(nother) international move. It is a beautiful piece, and I’ll share a few lines from it with you here:
You don’t want to change, you don’t want to go,
you want to stay put, I know, my love, I know,
It’s OKAY to feel worried or nervous or fearful,
I feel all those things too and saying goodbye still makes me tearful,
But we have to let go, step into the unknown,
I promise Life will unfold and you’ll never be alone,

It’s that time of the year again… ‘Moving Season’
Little Miss Expat
One TCK interviews a good friend who moved a year ago. Some lovely responses here reflecting on both the positives and negatives of moving to a new international location. What I most appreciate, however, is the way she encourages “stayers” like herself to both recognise the difficult of the leaving season for themselves, but also to aim to support “leavers” well.
“Overall, I think it’s just super important to remember that life is what you make of it, you can’t control everything that happens to you, but you can control the way that you deal with it and what you make of the situation. People moving away is one of those situations which is sad, but also exciting as it’s the start of a new adventure for the person moving. And as the friend staying behind, you also have to support your friend with this new chapter in their life. Don’t view moving as something bad, shift your focus, and see it as the start of something exciting and different.”

Itchy feet
Third Culture Queer
I really appreciate this perspective, from a queer TCK who looks at the intersection of those two identities. This short post considers the “ichy feet” syndrome familiar to many internationals, but with the extra layer of difficulty that comes with a queer identity. I especially appreciate the conclusion, which holds truth for us all – both going and staying are choices, and both hold some sort of risk:
Being gay is illegal in many countries, and only a handful of places are vaguely okay on the whole trans and non-binary thing. Do I want to live somewhere I would not be able to be myself, where I would have to hide? . . .Whatever I decide, it is a risk. A risk I will have to censor myself. A risk I stay here stuck in a rut. A risk I don’t take control of my own life. But each risk has its payoffs, and I need to decide which I want to go for.”

Recommended reading: July 23rd, 2018

This week’s recommended reading has a special theme: TCK perspectives. All the posts I’m recommending this week were written by TCKs reflecting on their experiences – as missionary kids, military kids, diplomatic kids, from and in various countries. I haven’t written much by way of  “summaries” of each piece. Instead I strongly recommend you go and read them. Most are short, and the power of first-person narratives is worth the extra clicks – I promise.

Growing Up Behind a Brick Wall
Global Nomads World
Alexa writes about living in a diplomatic compound in Russia. She paints a vivid picture of childhood experiences that draws you into her world there. She concludes by describing the strange experience of returning later:
…the true essence of the place is never-changing. . .And yet not a single thing is the same – except for that essence. No one recognizes you. It’s like coming back home after college but instead of all your family friends saying, “it’s nice to see you!” they say “it’s nice to meet you.”

Little Soldier
TCK Town
In this poignant piece, “Military Brat” Shannon reflects on her understanding of and relationship to her mother’s profession as a soldier. She also says something I’ve heard from lots of different TCKs, not just military kids: “I had to be on my best behavior for my parents’ sake. This kind of responsibility makes every member of the community feel like part of a team.

A Third Culture Kid’s Soul
This is Katha: thoughts of a traveling mind
Katha writes about the tension of wanting to go-explore-encounter, but also to stay and be rooted at home.
“Two souls rage inside of me. Telling me to go. Begging me to return and stay. . .I leave pieces of myself behind whenever I have to say goodbye. And then I travel to find them again.”

Free Verse: human mess
Embassy Kid
This is a lovely short poem about a mix of cultures in a single life and the tension that creates.

What is Going Home?
My Island Journeys
This post starting with a prompt about “going home”. What follows is a lovely set of memories around an IKEA, and learning to hold onto and let go of “home” in different places.
For me, going home was permission. Permission to concretely remember a place, and therefore to concretely admit that I’d left it. Permission to grow up, now that I had clear memories of the place that I’d left in a fog of grown-up-too-soon grief.

Life as a ‘Third Culture Kid’
The Gryphon
This is an older piece, but valuable for including short perspectives from four young women, each with (different) European passports. One of many standout quotes:
I feel obliged to identify as a Belgian, given my nationality. However, having just lived in Belgium for a year and a half, I don’t feel that’s completely accurate.”

A TCK’s Struggle with Depression
TCK Training
Aneurin talks about his struggle with depression, and how this struggle has interacted with his TCK experiences. Of particular note is the way he describes swinging from feeling his TCK experience was all good, to all bad. It’s much harder to exist in the shades of grey between extremes, but such an important skill to learn for long term emotional health.
I now know that mental illnesses are common like a cold. I also know that TCK’s are more prone than monocultural people to suffer from them. These illnesses are often our body’s response to traumatic events. . .I think being a TCK is amazing, but it needs to be done well. There are many challenges that need to be navigated, things like the challenges of transition or unresolved grief. We are a remarkably resilient people group, but we always need to get help from others, particularly when it comes to mental illnesses.

Home and Rootlessness – TCK Art Gallery
Noggy Bloggy
Finally, this post is from Aneurin’s regular blog, and introduces a TCK Art Gallery. The post showcases three pieces picked out by Michele Phoenix as particular favourites of hers. The gallery itself features a wide range of visual art, photography, and also poetry. Lots of beautiful work worthy of time and reflection.

My difficult experiences of going home

There are two countries I’ve returned home to, twice each. The country of my childhood, and the country of my adulthood.

I grew up in my passport country, Australia. But I spent two years of high school living in Connecticut, in the US. Then I went home.

Ar 21 I moved out of my parents house straight to China, where a study year turned into 11 years abroad. Then I went home.

Two very different repatriation experiences. Both difficult, in different ways. The first time I was desperate to go home and be normal and fit in, and was desperately discouraged to find those two years had changed me – that I no longer fit in, that I still stood out. The second time I knew what to expect. I knew all the theory, I knew it wouldn’t be easy, that I wouldn’t feel totally at home. It was still more difficult than theory alone could express.

I thought that season of my life was over – but I was wrong. I made two very different visits to China during my three year stint in Australia, and then moved back here (to Beijing). In a way, it was going home. But it wasn’t what I expected.

It’s those more unusual homecomings I am pondering today.

My first return trip to Beijing was unexpected, mostly unplanned, and rather last minute. There was a sale on plane tickets and I moaned to a friend back in Beijing about how tempting it was. I really couldn’t afford a ticket, even a cheap one, even if I could justify the expense for one week (the longest time I had free between commitments). Then that friend bought me a ticket. Again, I knew a lot of theory, and I thought I knew what to expect. It had been two years. I had changed. Beijing had changed. It wouldn’t feel the same. I thought that perhaps this would be a helpful goodbye trip for me, a chance to farewell this place that was such a part of who I am, that I still missed. Looking at my life logically, at where I thought I was heading, it didn’t seem at all likely to me that I would live in China again. I hoped I would visit, but it was only a theoretical hope.

Instead, as I moved around Beijing the feeling of HOME hit me so hard that I felt it almost viscerally. I felt a deep sadness that it was no longer my place – it FELT like my place; every fibre of my being wanted to be there. I thought that since so much of my community wasn’t there any more that it wouldn’t feel the same. I discovered instead that I felt connected to the PLACE itself, not just the people with whom I had shared it. The sights, the sounds, the colours, the smells. I feared that had I not had a close friend’s wedding to attend in Australia I would have struggled to get on that plane and leave again.

I had grieved leaving Beijing two years earlier. So I thought. In hindsight, I think I did a good job of grieving the people I was leaving, and the life I was leaving, but I didn’t grieve the PLACE in the same way. Upon my return, all those connections to place were still there, waiting to come to life, to shower me in grief – the recognition that I had left the place that felt like mine.

A year later, I made another trip to Beijing. This time, everything was different. I had started dating someone who lived in Beijing. A few months earlier I had decided I would move to Beijing at the end of the year, when I graduated. And now I was coming to visit the man who was about to become my fiancé. A very, very different trip!

This time, Beijing felt very different. It did NOT feel like home. It felt familiar, but also foreign. In the year since my first trip, I’d finally settled into life in Australia, started to feel at ease there. I’d connected to THAT place – and now felt disconnected from THIS place. The connections I’d recognised and grieved a year earlier weren’t there anymore. There was nostalgia, and enjoyment of place, but none of that visceral sense of deep connection.

It didn’t help that I was staying in a very different part of the city. It was where my partner lived, but it was a place I didn’t know, a place that had never been mine. During the whole trip I felt very disconcerted. I was going to move there in six months – and suddenly I felt really apprehensive about that move. I wasn’t going to be coming home after all. I was going to have to start again in a place that used to be home.

Having that realisation 2.5 years after repatriating, only a few months after finally starting to feel at ease in my passport country, was devastating. I was going to have to start that same process all over again. At least this time I’d only been gone 3 years, not 11 – maybe that would help. At least this time I would be recognised as a foreigner – maybe that would help. I would be with my partner, but he wouldn’t be experiencing the same transition with me. It left me dreading the turmoil I could suddenly see coming my way.

Now, people ask me how long I’ve been back in Beijing and I find it hard to answer. 6 months? But I’ve travelled in and out a lot, and lived in three different apartments. 3 months in this apartment – but I was gone for most of the first month. It’s only in the last month or so I’ve started to feel able to begin the process of settling into a new life and routine here.

Right now the best I can manage most days is just getting by. Take small steps toward building a life here. Celebrate tiny achievements. Look for little moments that encourage me, that tell me it’s going to work out and one day I’m going to find my feet here, in this new life. Transition is hard. It’s exhausting. But it’s also worth it.


(This post was inspired by a prompt on Communicating Across Boundaries, in which Marilyn wrote about “Going Home”.)

Recommended Reading: July 16th, 2018

Welcome to this week’s edition of Recommended Reading! I don’t have a particular theme for this week. Instead, here’s a collection of posts I’ve read recently that I feel have something of value to offer expat and TCK communities around the world.

A Letter to the Stayers
Aylssa Cowell
I love this! We absolutely need to recognise the impact of STAYING in transient communities. Whenever I do transition seminars with students in international schools I ask how many times people have moved, how many schools they’ve attended – but I also ask how many close friends they’ve watched move away. Every time I ask that questions there are students who refuse to answer – too many to count. It’s a real and deeply difficult experience, and one that is often overlooked.
We don’t really talk about the emotional hardship, of the loss felt by those who stay. We know it is hard for those who leave. But for those who stay some of you will have lost 4, 5, 6, 7… countless people who were close to you. The school is the same but it’s not really the same. . .Look out for each other out there – if you are lucky enough to have your friends stay – look out for those who don’t. Invite them to sit with you. Say hello in the corridors. Ask them if they are okay. Our words are powerful and you should never underestimate the impact of a small gesture.

I Think It Is Okay to be an Alien
Velvet Ashes
What happens when you stand out in every situation, everywhere you’ve lived, your whole life? What happens when they places you consider home consider you an alien? Erika writes about making peace with her alien status. But I think what I appreciated most was how she so adroitly summed up the “misunderstood” feeling that undergirds much of my book:
As a third culture kid, I tried on many identities. Like most of my MK friends, I went through a “proud Canadian” phase, through a phase of “I’m from all of North America” and a “nothing but Mexican” phase. None of them worked. I found I could relate to people from all of these places, but none of them — not even family — could relate to all of me. And that made me alien.

My top tip for parenting through transition
Meet Jesus at uni
I was so touched by this piece! One mother articulates the guilt and struggle of seeing her young children wrestling to find a way through transition – again. “I do things to help them through transitions…Those things help, but they do not fix anything.” But then she remembers – “the normal initial adjustment period for humans after trauma or significant change is 6-8 weeks“. The best thing she can do is keep remembering that it’s going to get better – to relax and be patient and kind to herself and her kids as they adjust yet again. (Sounds like something I said recently!)
“This happens every time we do a transition. Between 4 and 6 weeks, things come to a head and I panic as I hurt for my little boys and the mama guilt overwhelms me. I wonder if the crisis versions of my sons are simply who they are now. But if I can remember that 8 weeks is our usual adjustment time, and if I can tolerate it until then, my little ones start to know themselves again. I just have to hang in there with them. And be ready to do it all again in the not-too-distant future.”

How Having A Name That No One Can Pronounce Taught Me Who I Really Am
Huffington Post
In last week’s recommended reading I included a piece in which the author reflected on wrestling with identity through her name – how it defined and separated her, especially when peers could not pronounce it. This piece shares a similar story: “I’ve always felt like a part of me was lost in translation. My name, so beautiful in my parents’ native Tamil, doesn’t quite fit my flattened American accent.” I really appreciate the telling of how her frustration shifted from one object to another over time. She ends by acknowledging the stress while embracing the different influences that make her who she is – name and all:
“Today, I still get a little shy before I introduce my name. I still stress out about the logistics.. But now, I️ understand that I’m not Indian or American, but both. I might be a product of my ancestors, but I am also the speaker of my own name“.

The New 11 Commandments of Relocating Overseas
International School Community
Good piece with solid advice for those who will be relocating abroad. There’s a lot of overlap with things I suggest in my Six Tips for a Good Transition. One piece of advice from this post I particularly appreciated was the suggestion of combining old and new – mixing new experiences with familiar comforts. What a great approach! “try to combine an appreciation of new cuisine and dishes with some of your old dietary staples.” My summary of these “11 commandments” is as follows: Be positive, be flexible, be teachable, be lighthearted, be understanding. Expect the adjustment to take a long time. Look for encouragement and comfort – both here and there. Lean on supports.

Forbidden Roots
A Life Overseas
I was deeply touched by this piece which boldly faces the problem that comes with putting down roots in an adopted home: one day, I will have to leave the place I have made my home.
I am not a citizen, or even an immigrant. My passport is still American blue; Tanzania is not my country…Yet the thought of leaving someday fills me with an intense grief, knowing that it will tear away part of my being. Not just a loss of place, but a loss of who I am. The experience has become real life. Which is a good thing, of course. It’s what every expat should want to attain. But it’s also a tragic thing. It’s like coming to the realization that I’ve fallen in love with something that I can’t keep.

Dig Deep and Shine On
I Am A Triangle
A hopeful and encouraging post about the ongoing need to build relationships when you live a life full of transition.
Eighteen months into my repatriation and new home, new perspective washes over me…I’m in a new place, making new friends (some are international friends) and loving new experiences. AND, it’s taken eighteen months! Over these past months to learn, grow and dig deep, I’ve made friends, added life experiences, and taken several trips. . .One of my people secrets is say “hello” to anyone within three feet of me. Some will return the “hello” and some may not. My personally coined mantra: people are faces until they’re your friends.

Sri Lankan expat enchanted by Ramadan in UAE
Gulf News
And finally, a little piece I appreciated, in which a Sri Lankan expat reflects on his first Ramadan in the UAE. Going from a muslim minority culture to a muslim majority culture made it a very different experience for him: “It gives a sense of togetherness as everyone becomes part of our fasting, iftar and suhour.

Recommended Reading: July 2nd, 2018

Welcome to this week’s edition of Recommended Reading! This week I’ve collected a few recent posts on the theme of leaving the expat life. It seems fitting for this time of year, and after collecting this list I realised that my recent posts on transition and how to do it well are a good accompaniment to the rest of the list, not to mention my reflection on high school graduation for TCKs.

Some of the posts on this list are about TCKs repatriating, either after finishing high school or with a family. Others are about expats generally. Some are about decision making, some offer practical advice, and some reflect on the emotion of it all. I’m so glad there are so many different voices out there for us all to listen to and learn from – we need all these perspectives!

When “Home” isn’t a Place– The Challenges of Repatriation for Expat Kids
Expat Kids Club
This piece provides a great foundation for considering the emotional impact of repatriation on TCKs. Kate reflects on six aspects: identity, role, change, culture, grief, and benefits. It’s hard to pick a single quote to share – it’s all good, solid stuff!

Arriving “Home”: an Expat Paradox
Taking Route
I love this thoughtful piece on all the little things that contribute to the beautiful mess that is returning “home” after time away.
The first few days are a firehose of new information, new places, new smells, new tastes — and varied emotion. It’s crying over things that broke in the suitcase and fretting over stuff you’re sure you packed somewhere. It’s being thrilled with a restaurant just down the street and being disappointed when something should taste familiar and doesn’t.

Leaving well when leaving well is not possible
The Culture Blend
I really appreciate this post. There is a lot of talk in the expat/TCK world about how to leave well. It’s something I write and talk about myself. But in this piece Jerry stops to reflect on a painful reality – sometimes leaving well is simply outside our control. This whole post is worth taking time to slowly read and reflect on. Here’s a couple of little gems:
Sometimes leaving is a mess, not a choice. . .Plans get made — sometimes they work. When they don’t, here are some things to consider. . .Leaving is a process — not a moment. . .PLANE RIDES DON’T end relationships. Soak in that for a moment.

Third Culture Kids, College, and Culture Shock
A Life Overseas
Rachel reflects on college visits with her twin TCKs who are now preparing to repatriate and begin their university studies. She talks through some culture shock moments – such as vocabulary, wardrobe choices, and what is considered interesting and important. The aspect I most appreciate about this post is the way Rachel points out that the misunderstandings and judging go both ways – and gently warns TCKs to watch out for their own attitudes.
Yes, some people think Kenya is a city near Africa. Even college-bound people. And correct, no one knows what a Djibouti is. Again, sorry. And again, try not to judge. Remember how you didn’t know what broomball was? . . .Everyone has a lot to learn and that’s a huge part of what college is for.

15 Things I Want Tell My Graduating Third Culture Kid Seniors
Djibouti Jones
And another post by Rachel, this time with thoughts and advice for her kids as she sends them off into new lives. Lots of good stuff in here, with thoughtfulness that shows an understanding of some of the difficult aspects – as well as the opportunities – of repatriating for university. For example:
Don’t be afraid to ask questions or to ask for help. People might think it is strange that you don’t know something they think is normal American life, but most of the time, they will also enjoy helping you and you never know what friendship might come of it. Be humble.

Culture shock in the same country
Bonnyville Nouvelle
This is a sweet little post about how transition stress goes with any big change – even moving to a new place within the same country! Author Robynne was an international orientation leader while at university, so she understood about culture shock etc. But she was surprised to find these lessons apply to HER as she processes a recent domestic move.
“I originally didn’t think the move would be that big of a deal for me, if I’m being completely honest. Unlike the international students at UOIT, I wasn’t leaving the country, I was just going over a couple of provinces, and driving through a couple of time zones. No big deal, right? Wrong. . .I realized that there was going to be an orientation period for me once I got out here, but I had no idea how much I would doubt myself during this transition.”

How To Welcome Her Back for the First Time
Velvet Ashes
Amy reflects on her first time visiting her family in her passport country after living abroad. Then she offers advice on welcoming well. There is a gentleness about this – the suggestions of leaving space, expecting change, accepting where the person is at. While this is a blog for missionaries, this post was full of helpful reflections for expats generally, as well as their passport country friends and family.
You all have changed. You all are changing. And you all are still the same because you are friends and family. This, of the first visit back, is rich with paradox.

The Last Week – A Graduation Story for the TCK
Communicating Across Boundaries
In this lovely vignette Marilyn reflects on her own high school graduation as a TCK. She introduces the piece with these poignant words:
We [Third Culture Kids] are not only leaving a school – we are leaving a home, a community, and a country. While most kids can go back home without a reason, the third culture kid cannot. The third culture kid does not only say goodbye to a school, they say goodbye to a life. Graduation for the TCK is a type of deportation.

Seven things expats should consider before moving back home
Expat.com
This is a simple but helpful piece with a list of things to consider when thinking about repatriation. There are no easy answers, but a solid guide to some of the things that may affect your life after repatriation, and how to take these into account when considering a move “home”.

Recommended Reading: June 25th, 2018

Welcome to this week’s edition of Recommended Reading! This week includes posts that capture a range of expressions of the inner conflict that comes with living between places, languages, and people.

This Man’s Twitter Thread About Being A Young Immigrant In America Is Incredible
Distractify
The writer of this post, a child of immigrants, reflects on an experience shared by a Korean immigrant. The series of tweets telling the story are explained and expanded in a helpful way. As a newly arrived immigrant child, this person was in a science class that was taking a quiz (which he wasn’t expected to complete). He knew the answers – but not in English. There are so many valuable reflections here on what it means to be new, to feel incompetent and stupid because you can’t be the articulate and smart part of yourself in a new language and culture. Most expats and immigrants have felt this; that experience should compel us to grace and kindness to anyone going through it – no matter where we are. The best part of this story, however, is what happens after that moment of frustration. I won’t spoil it. Go read it for yourself – it’s worth it!

How to Make – and Keep – Expat Friends
Wine and Cheese (Doodles)
A wonderful post on navigating the difficulty that is balancing friendships around the world. How do we keep making new friends, and maintaining them, with all the change going on? Lots of great stuff, but I particularly like what she says about knowing that while you can maintain a friendship long distance, it will be different:
When you’ve moved on or have friends that have, the original bond that held you together, being in the same place at the same time, is broken. You’re not experiencing the same endless shitty winter or worries about math class together. . .Your conversations will flow differently because you’re experiencing different things. . .But that doesn’t mean the friendship can’t or won’t survive. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that expat friendships can’t – or shouldn’t – evolve. They can.

Why international days and celebrations are difficult for true internationals
Expat Since Birth
Ute does a wonderful job explaining the inner conflict that “international days” (as celebrated at many international schools) can stir up. For some TCKs I know, these are the days they are dressed up in clothes that represent their parents’ country of origin. For others, there is the stress of which country to dress up as. For still others, there is the conflict of knowing which country they are expected to represent, but feeling much more connected to somewhere else.

Returning Home
Velvet Ashes
In this post missionary wrestles with the concept of home – what happens when you have added another place to your heart? While not everyone will identify with the author’s Christian worldview, her reflections on the tension of “home” are poignant:
I can’t go home…because I have more than one. Someone else has said, “Home is where the heart is.” Where is my heart? Is it in the states with my family? Yes. Is it here in Germany? Also, yes. . .Returning to the states for good would mean giving up everything here – leaving the home I have built here. I do love my home here. But returning here after a visit home to the states means leaving my family, the people I care about most. Home will always be where my family is. But home is also the life I have built here.

Is cultural knowledge more important than language skills?
BBC
This is a really interesting piece, considering the impact of linguistic fluency and cultural fluency for expats in different parts of the world. There are a lot of vignettes from expats all over the place, but no sweeping conclusions. The general theme seems to be that for short term living, speaking the basics of a language are enough. But to really adapt long term, both cultural understanding and fluency of local language are important.

Saying Goodbye… Advice For Expat Teachers On The Move
Intentional Learning
On the surface this is a short post with good advice about leaving well – like many others. But there is one point in it that stood out to me and made it worth mentioning: “Thank the ‘lead locals’ in your life. As expats we come and go, but how intentional are we in expressing our thanks for the hospitality (and tolerance!) shown to us by those whose country it is in which we live?” I suspect for too many of us this isn’t the top of our list of things to do when leaving, especially those of us deeply engaged in expatriate communities. Definitely worth a second thought…

Third Culture Kids – Stone and Water Work
Life Story
In this piece Dr. Rachel Cason uses the metaphors of stones and water for work that we do in order to process our lives. The image is of a bowl of coloured stones in water. The stones are all the pieces of self to be identified and expressed. The water is the space in which those pieces are heard – equally important, but easily overlooked. This is why I talk a lot about the importance of TCKs having space in their lives – space to work out who they are. Without this space, there is no way to process all the pieces.
Water work is the piece of work that allows the stones to be heard… it is the precursor of active sorting out and shaping, it is active stillness. . .Water work is the part of therapeutic work that is often the most challenging. The stone work feels more pressing, more active, more ‘doing’. But the water work is where we learn about our selves

5 stages of adapting to your new country’s culture when studying abroad
Study International
To finish up, I’m sharing this lighter piece outlining common stages students go through during a study abroad program. Expats in general may well recognise these! And a few silly GIFs never hurt anyone ;)

 

Recommended Reading: June 18th, 2018

Welcome to this week’s edition of Recommended Reading! The posts I’m recommending this week concern parenting. I think it’s worth pointing out that posts about parenting aren’t just for parents. They have lessons to offer others, too. A lot of these posts aren’t specifically for expats, but they have a lot to speak to the expat experience. I’m not a parent myself, but I often find that parenting posts have a lot to offer me, too. They help me understand parents’ perspectives, and as I work with young people a lot that is helpful too, but they also can have helpful messages for me personally in my own situation. Each of these posts are worth reading no matter what your individual situation is.

Two Challenges That Homeschooling Families Face on the Field
A Life Overseas
I love this post by Elizabeth. She starts with a quote and idea from the homeschooling section of Misunderstood, then expands and explains it beautifully. Honestly, if I ever release a revised edition of Misunderstood I’ll probably want to quote this article in a revamped homeschooling section! I thought this quote was particularly telling:
I had sufficient time to home school, I felt equipped to home school, and I wanted to home school. We still needed more support than we had been receiving.”

A Sense of Home: Raising International Children With Irish Hearts
Huffington Post
I had a bittersweet feeling as I read this post. I appreciate so much the work of parents like these to help their children connect to their heritage country. I love that this mother recognises the power of experiences, sights and sounds and tastes, to create a sense of home. I love that she recognises that “home” is multi-faceted for her international children. But I can’t help but hope that she also knows that the oh-so-important experiential connections she is fostering between her children and her homeland will be different to hers. I hope she understands that yes, she is ensuring her children “will always know that they are Irish and that Ireland is their home“, but that this might mean something very different to them. It’s such a tricky balance! TCKs benefit so much from strong experiential connections to their heritage cultures, but at the same time, those connections don’t add up to the same experience as growing up in that one place.

10 Things to Expect When You Take TCKs “Home”
Taking Route
I really appreciate this insightful and sensitive piece by Emily Jackson – and it is an appropriate follow on from the post I just mentioned. Emily writes about what happens inside TCKs when they go “home” to a passport country they haven’t lived in for a long time. Everything on the list is good, but number 3, “Pop-up Processing”, really stood out to me:
“They were probably too young to form it into words when it was happening, or it was so much a part of their everyday life that they never stopped to think if they liked it or not. Once you’re out of the culture a bit, those thoughts and emotions have a chance to bubble up and get processed, and might pop out when you’re least expecting them.”

The transition we travelers rarely talk about
Lola Akinmade
Award winning travel photographer Lola Akinmade discusses the struggle to balance the need to travel with the need to spend time with family. She comes to a lovely conclusion – that travel is about attitude to place, and that this attitude of curiosity and discovery can be applied wherever we are, on short trips and during long stays: “Wherever I find myself for extended periods of time. I don’t just exist in a place. I need to get beneath it, understand how it flows culturally, and learn from it. I don’t just quietly exist in Sweden. I explore it deeply.

Be Fearless! Pass On Your Heritage Language and Culture To Your Children
Multicultural Kid Blogs
As I travel and speak to parents in different countries, I am frequently asked about engaging children in the parents’ language/s. Some worry that this could be a hindrance to their kids. Others are disappointed in their kids’ lack of interest in learning a heritage language. The main piece of advice I give is that it always helps for kids to have access to their heritage languages (looking back they may regret not learning them, or may try to go back to them) but forcing a child to study something against their will always backfires. Therefore, the best thing you can do is find ways to make the language part of family life. This post is a great encouragement to parents who want to engage their kids linguistically, but feel unsure of how to do this. Amanda “Miss Panda” gives lots of simple, practical advice. She also points out that language is not just language – it is about culture, about ways we connect to a cultural community. Helping your child absorb a language is about so much more than the words you speak.

Should I Stop Speaking my Native Language with my Children?
Bilinguistics
And on that subject, this article lays out a lot of research related to bilingualism in children, aimed at giving solid advice to parents who are worried about the impact of language on a child’s development. Lots of references to different research in the area – fantastic resource!

Expat parents in Belgium: how to help your children with homework when you don’t speak the language
Expatica
For many families, the choice to live internationally means children will not be educated in the family’s home language. This can add an extra stress to parents who feel ill-equipped to help with their kids’ school work. This stress can also build up over time, as students begin to do more advanced reading and writing, with linguistic quirks beyond the parents’ grasp. This article is based in Belgium, but the concepts and advice offered are applicable beyond Belgium.

Parents, Know Thyselves In Your Child’s College Admission Process
Forbes
While the article itself is not expat/TCK specific, this is an important topic for a lot of expats. There is a high expectation that TCKs will go to university, often in different countries (where parents are less familiar with the system). Both TCKs and their parents can feel a lot of pressure to apply to (and attend) the “best” schools. This article has some good tips for parents about how to engage with the college application process – and how not to. Advice includes working with (not against) guidance counsellors, and stepping back to allow kids to own the process, and the decision making. I found this quote particularly helpful:
It all comes down to trusting that you’ve done your job as a parent up to this point. Of course, you’ll have doubts and worries, moments of panic and a sense that you’re losing control of your student. And in a genuine sense, you are, but not chaotically, just in the natural process of separation.