Recommended reading: September 3rd, 2018

My latest collection of recommended posts about expatriate life and Third Culture Kids. This week includes topics such as transition, self care, identity, and ordinary expat life.

Dear Parents Launching Your Third Culture Kids
Djibouti Jones
A beautiful piece from the always lovely Rachel, this time describing the emotional storm of dropping her twin TCKs off at university – and leaving them there.
You feel alone. You look at the other parents, the ones who live in the same city or the same state or the same country and you are jealous or angry or feeling protective. You think no one understands all the questions and losses and griefs and fears racing through your mind and heart. You’re confused because no one told you raising TCKs would end up here, would end up with you on the other side of the ocean finally appreciating what you’ve put your own parents through all these years abroad. No one told you this would be harder than moving abroad in the first place.”

Never just a curry
Jo Parfitt
I love this! Food is so powerful – a memory trigger, a comfort, and so relational. In this post, Jo traces her family’s history of curry, across countries and continents – to the excitement of a new discovery.
For most of our 30 years of marriage, ask us what our favourite food is and we’d say Arabic without pausing for thought. But this week it hit me. It’s time we changed our answer – to Indian curry even though we have never lived there. I have not even visited. Curry has been a red thread through our lives abroad.

Football, Children, and Culture: Not Just a Game
Multicultural Kid Blogs
In this post a mother of TCKs talks about creating memories for her sons that connect them to the country that formed her, a country they have not lived in. A lovely read.
There are so many memories wrapped up in Watford football matches for me. And as I sit next to each of my sons on the terraces where those memories were made I am carefully unwrapping some of them and passing them to my sons for safe keeping. At the same time, my dad and I are making childhood memories for my sons – ones they will never forget. . . It’s hard for my children to imagine I had a life elsewhere before I ‘turned Dutch’. These trips are a small window into that life. They see the town I used to live in, they see a part of the life I had before I moved to the Netherlands and became their mother. They get a glimpse of the culture that has formed me, and them too.

6 Essential Practices for Hard-to-Reach Stressors
World Tree Coaching
Another great post from Jodi, this time exploring background stress and what we can do about it. This all rings very true for me at the moment! Life overseas pretty much IS background stress. There are so many little things that are different or difficult, so many small uncertanties and stressors, and they all add up. Background stress is one of those things we slowly adjust to until we’re drowning and don’t quite know why. The self reflection required to keep on top of this, to recognise the background stress of life in a different setting, takes a lot of conscious effort.
To deal with the challenges that hit at our egos, our values and our sense of purpose – it’s important to develop habits of self-reflection and insight. Taking the time to look more closely at who we are and how we fit in the world can be difficult. Sometimes the effort can feel daunting. We may not be sure we’ll like what we find there. On the other hand, deep down most of us know it’s important to do this type of inner work so that we can grow and develop into our full selves. One way to cultivate a more reflective state is to develop practices that naturally foster paying attention to our experiences. These skills can help us turn towards what’s going on inside and around us, giving us more information about the source of background stress.

Staying Healthy Overseas: Emotional and Mental Wellness
Taking Route
This is another good post in the same vein – looking after ourselves well enough to not only get through life but actually enjoy it, expat bumps and all.
It is easy to get burnt out while living overseas. I know that, you know that, but are we doing enough to make sure we don’t get burnt out? The answer for me is almost always “no.”…This article is not really a guide on how to do wellness overseas as much as it is a letter to myself to prioritize my emotional and mental wellness while living abroad.”

Redefining French Identity
The Parent Voice
This is a really interesting post – a story and reflections on identity, translated into English alongside the original French. Anissa talks about her experience of identity – two passports, from Canada and Tunisia, and being born in France but never having had French citizenship. She talks about the chameleon and the salamander as metaphors for changeable identity. For her the chameleon adapts by blending in, whereas the salamander cuts away pieces. She also talks about active vs passive – when I make the choice to adapt myself, rather than changing in response to the perceptions of others.

Simple pleasures: grocery shopping
Stories from Tanya
And finally, I’m sharing something from my other (more ordinary) blog, where I recently started writing again after a two year hiatus. I realised that this particular post is the sort of thing I would share as recommended reading if I read it elsewhere, so I figured I’d add it to the list this week! In it I deconstruct a trip to my local Chinese market, and why the experience was relaxing for me. It touches on transition, language, culture, and stopping to appreciate the lovely in ordinary life.
I don’t like standing out as a stranger, but I don’t mind so much when it happens less randomly. If I’m interacting with someone for a separate reason, and they remark on my foreign-ness and command of Mandarin, that doesn’t irritate me. Most of the time, I enjoy these little interactions. The person is not encroaching on my existence, they are sharing it for the moment that we are involved in a task together. . .I succeeded in being a local member of my community, for a few minutes on a sunny Monday morning.

Recommended Reading: July 9th, 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.

10 Alternatives to ‘Where are you from?’
Multicultural Kid Blogs
I love this!! “Where are you from?” is one of those questions that just roll of our tongues when we meet people. It’s not an easy question, for a lot of expats, and especially for TCKs. Yet it still takes effort to rewire our brains (and mouths!) to ask different questions. Also, I’ve found when I take the initiative to ask different questions, I get asked those sorts of questions in return. And I find them much easier to answer myself! I’ll add my own favourite to this list: “Where were you living before this?” It has a concrete answers, rather than a subjective one, while still offering an invitation to share some of their story.

But What’s So Different about Being an Expat Family, Anyway?
Velvet Ashes
Yet another helpful reflection from Rachel as her TCKs prepare to leave for university in their passport country. Her daughter wonders aloud how her life is different to that of peers in her passport country. What I love most is that while Rachel expresses some of the differences she sees, she also knows she can’t answer this question for her kids. She rests on the values their family holds close, and trusts that her kids will work it out as they live and grow.
I can’t explain to my twins how their childhood has affected them. They’ll need to discover the answer to that question on their own. I couldn’t begin to articulate one. I have ideas, but sometimes the only way to answer our deep questions is to experience a contrast, to set our question and our experience against something new, opposing, different.

Expat Homesickness – 3 Ways to Deal with it and Heal from it
Talaera Thoughts
This is a great post in which Stephanie reflects openly on her experience of culture shock, homesickness, and resulting depression. (And reminded me a little of my own post on expat homesickness.) She gives some great advice. I was particularly touched by the gentleness of her first point – to be your own parent. By this she means to speak kind and comforting words over yourself. This is so important!
My mom would never tell me to just “suck it up”! She would give me permission to feel sad and depressed. This is a crucial step because I need to allow myself the feeling before I ever stand a chance of extracting myself from the pain. . .If your mom was mean, be a kind and gentle version of your mom because she is what you need right now.

See, Say, Spell, Repeat
What do you do when you feel caught between cultures, and your name reflects one of those cultures strongly? Prasanta discusses her journey of identity and what’s in a name.
I was raised in the U.S., but you aren’t sure of that by looking at me. . . since we think and speak alike, I wondered if it would help to have a name that does sound like you. I thought it would be taking down a barrier — a big one — between us. I couldn’t change my skin color, which was Big Barrier #1. But, I could change this. Maybe it would make a difference. Maybe it would make it easier for you to talk to me. And admittedly, I wanted to make it easier for myself as well.

Territory and Third Culture Kids – Building our Safe Places
Life Story
Rachel was advised to keep her cat inside for a month after moving before letting her outside in order to help her with the transition. Rachel expands this concept to wonder how taking the time to fix ourselves in a place might give TCKs (and other global nomads) a sense of security so many seem to lack. Such a fascinating idea!
It is only because Jack knew her own home so well, that she was able to return to it safely at the end of the day. It was only because she’d spent so much time in it that she was able to feel it as her safe place. . .having home to run to is precisely what made out there safe to explore. . .Safe places are shelters. Shelters are, by nature, boundaried in some way. There is an out there and an in here. We use them to retreat from the elements, and their borders give us rest.

Expat reunions are a thing of wonder
The Expat Partner’s Survival Guide
A lovely post on the unique beauty (and deep emotion) of expat reunions. When you have the opportunity to spend time with someone who lived that part of your life with you, who knows those places and people, who you don’t have to explain those things to – wow. What a blessing!
Saying goodbye is hard because you really have no idea when, or if, you will see them again. But when you do – and I do believe the ones that are really important to you will pop up again sooner or later – you instantly connect again over the experiences that only you shared. . .As we move on with our lives, the memories of our expat days fade. But friendships will often out-last those memories and when we get together the years fall away and we are back living together in those distant lands.

Travel Is No Cure for the Mind
This post is a modern adaptation of Seneca’s letter to Lucilius about travel. The main point is that novelty gives way to routine no matter where we are; the solution is not a new place, but a new mindset. I found it helpful in a few ways. When people ask about your “exciting” or “exotic” life, it can help to explain that actually, you live an ordinary routine just like them, only in a different place. Also, the mindset advice is so key to enjoying life abroad – especially for those who weren’t too keen on making a particular move. Gratitude and curiosity are powerful tools!

Six Tips for a Good Transition

Last week I wrote about change and transition. I explained that while change is an event, transition is a process – and a very difficult process at that. We lose all our automatics and have to re-learn how to live life in a new way.

In this post I’m going to share my six tips for a good transition. They aren’t difficult or complicated. Mostly they revolve around recognising that we need extra time and care during a time of transition. Unfortunately, this is something we struggle with! We want to do and be busy and fix things. But while we do need the forward momentum of this activity, if we only ever push through the chances are the stress we ignore will catch up with us eventually. Doing transition slowly, with care and kindness, is healthier in the long term.

Now, without further ado, here are my six tips!

Tip for Transition #1: Remember, transition is hard.

Recognise that transition is big, and hard. Understand that it will take time and energy to do well. And probably more of both than you’d like. If you find yourself struggling after a big change, that’s not just okay, it’s totally normal! It’s difficult to re-learn how to do normal things, and re-write all your brain’s automatic choices. The hardest part is that so much of what makes a big transition difficult is invisible. It’s all those little things, things that people around you don’t notice. Things that you yourself might not consciously recognise. Making lists of changes, thinking through all the ways life has changed, or will change, is helpful because it makes you more aware of what it is that you’re going through.

Tip for Transition #2: Be patient and kind to yourself.

When you understand that transition is hard, that it takes time and energy, it is easier to be patient with yourself as you go through it. When you look at the people around you and wonder why life seems harder for you – remember that, first, you don’t know what anyone else is dealing with inside, and second, that transition takes extra energy. You won’t have the capacity you’re used to – you’ll get less done, your brain will feel foggy, or you’ll feel emotional and overwhelmed. Maybe, like me, you’ll experience all of those things! And that’s okay. Be patient with yourself. You’ll be yourself again one day, it just takes time. Instead of getting frustrated with yourself, stop and recognise that you’re doing something difficult, and choose to be kind to yourself. And be patient with the process of settling into a new life, which will likely take a lot longer than you’d like.

Tip for Transition #3: Persevere – do hard things.

Once you get into a new routine, and fill your new life with new relationships and new activities, things will get easier. Yes, transition is hard. Yes, you need to be patient with yourself and kind to yourself. But you also need forward movement. Sometimes things happen naturally and automatically. Sometimes they don’t. In any case, it’s unusual for your new life to simply snap into place; it will probably take time, and effort, on your part. So persevere.

Start building the connections that will eventually form your support network. Accept invitations, go to events, ask that person if you can catch up for coffee. And when you feel discouraged, that you’re not getting anywhere, that nothing is like it was, remember to keep going. Things will get better eventually.

Tip for Transition #4: Leave space to be sad.

Change involves loss, and transition is the process of adjusting to change. That means transition also involves grief – processing losses such as a place, a community, a position in that community, particular people, your place in your family, your identity as a person who knows things, and so much more. It hurts to lose things. That’s natural, but it’s not fun. Understandably, a lot of us try to avoid unpleasant feelings like sadness and grief. But during a time of transition we benefit from space to be sad about what has been lost.

So yes, go out there and do hard things, create new routines and relationships – but alongside all that good hard work out there, leave space to do the hard work inside. (Similar to the “water work” I linked to in this week’s Recommended Reading.) Let yourself have a few pockets of time in which to stop, feel the sadness, and the tiredness. Acknowledge that those feelings exist, that they are real. Do whatever works for you to let those feelings out. It doesn’t matter what you do, what matters is that you create that space, that your feelings are expressed rather than suppressed.

Tip for Transition #5: Maintain old friendships.

This might seem counterintuitive. Aren’t we supposed to ‘move on’? Won’t hanging onto the past make it harder? Well, yes and no. During a big transition the need for support is higher than normal, but there may not be much support available in the new environment. Even if you make good friends quickly, it takes time to build up the level of closeness you enjoy with existing friends.One of the best ways to transition well, therefore, is to lean on your established relationships while you’re starting out.

It is so helpful to remember that there are people elsewhere in the world who really do know you and appreciate you and are there to support you – especially if you don’t have friends like that in your new location yet. An important thing to keep in mind, however, is that online relationships are qualitatively different to in-person relationships. Try to think of long-distance support as scaffolding that will hold you together while you build up the foundations of a new support network in your new location.

Tip for Transition #6: Seek professional support.

Flight crews run through a safety demonstration on every flight while the plane is still on the ground. They want to make sure people know what to do if there ever is an emergency, but they don’t wait for an emergency to occur before giving out that information. In the same way, I think it is really helpful to look into professional support services even if you don’t think you need them. Know what resources are out there and how to access them so that if a situation comes up, you already know what to do.

Often we think about medical resources – where is the hospital, finding a new doctor, looking into whatever specialists we may have need of. Some families are also proactive about looking into educational support. But the main support I urge families to look into are mental health services. This is something few of us think to consider until we are already in crisis. Also, as with most things, prevention is cheaper and easier than cure – so you may want to consider how support services like counselling could help you find and maintain balance that will prevent a crisis situation occuring. There are lots of good options for expatriate focussed professional counselling these days, including counsellors who do online session via video chat, which are really helpful for a lot of people.

So that’s my six tips for a good transition. The bottom line? Transition is hard! So give yourself a break, and take advantage of any help you can find to make the journey easier.

Click here to read more posts about Third Culture Kids, transition, and expatriate experiences.