For years I followed the Families in Global Transition conferences at a distance. I checked their participants, programs, events, tried to grasp the atmosphere. Having been an expat for more than half of my life, this event looked unique to me: nowhere else before had I come across something so structured and stimulating for mobile individuals and families
Unfortunately, the venues of the conferences were always in the States. You can imagine my excitement when I found out that the 2016 conference was going to be in Amsterdam instead, a destination I could finally reach.
I booked my place to be just part of the public, but my colleagues pushed me to present Expatclic.com, the website I created years ago and that is an intrinsic part of my experience abroad. I was then flattered and moved when Colleen Reichrath-Smith invited me to speak in a session on Growing a Global Business with a Community. Participating in a FIGT conference was already a dream come true, but being part of such a panel brought me absolutely to the sky.
The conference was great, for many reasons: It was the perfect way to meet like-minded people and the atmosphere was inclusive and warm; it gave me a lot of inspiration for my future; it introduced me to many interesting people, books and initiatives; it gave me space to stop and reflect about my personal and professional life; it gave me ideas to develop.
However, three are the things that really made the difference for me:
1. For three consecutive days I was able to walk around and talk to complete strangers without having to explain anything at all: mobile life, its richness, pain, implications and nuances, was the real protagonist of the conference. Knowing that no words were needed to explain the complexity of my life as an expat was an immense relief;
2. For years I have been working online, and virtually met loads of interesting people. Thanks to the amazing variety of public it can reach, this conference gave me the chance to meet many of them in person. I could hug the first woman who ever asked me to write about my experience abroad and see face-to-face lots of women with whom I had corresponded or worked through the years. This has been an enormous plus. It shows that this conference is not only a place where you can intellectually recharge your batteries or find useful material and contacts, but it also offers a huge and warm human capital;
3. Mostly and foremost, though, what I took away from FIGT16NL was a seed planted by Christopher O’Shaughnessy during his keynote speech. While all speeches and presentations were interesting, Chris’ one touched the audience profoundly and let us go with a renewed sense of purpose in our expat experience. In a few words Chris made us shift the perspective to give us awareness of how deeply meaningful the expat experience can be, and how it can be constructively used to actively participate in making the world a better place.
After the conference a colleague of mine who was also in attendance, wrote a beautiful piece entitled What Expats Co Do: bringing hope to the world about the feelings Chris’ speech provoked. We talked about it a lot. We exchanged impressions, compared our experiences abroad under a new light. We felt this invigorating turmoil needed and could be channelled into something constructive and good. Something that, while helping ourselves to live our life in contact with different cultures more deeply, could also stimulate others to reflect on the treasures mobile life gives us, and how to use them.
This is how What Expats Can Do was born.
The main goal of the project is to encourage expats to stop and think of how they can use their experience abroad in a more meaningful and creative way to contribute to the stock of empathy and hope of this world, which, as Chris says, is running dangerously low nowadays.
It is a big challenge, because its practical implications touch such a wide spectrum of life situations that it gets sometimes difficult to explain. We launched the website of the project in October and since then we have been collecting positive initiatives that we believe show how expats can spread empathy and hope in their communities. We would like to grow this project as a collector of information, contacts, ideas, initiatives and whatever is related to empathy, and turn it into a reference point for expats who want to challenge themselves in the difficult task of giving their hope contribution to the society.
What place would be better to present What Expats Can Do than the one where its seed was planted? This is why we are going to talk about it at 2017 FIGT conference, where we once more have the honor to speak, and this year’s theme, “Building on the Basics: Creating Your Tribe on the Move” is a perfect match.
A tribe on the move needs a sense of belonging: Sharing the common purpose of using our experience abroad to make the world a better place seems to us the best way to find one.
Claudia Landini is a cross-cultural trainer and mobile career coach. She has lived in nine countries over five continents. Twelve years ago she created Expatclic.com, and since then she has been writing about her life abroad and helping expat women in many ways. She is also the creator of Expatwomen at work, a community platform for professional expat women, co-creator of Expatbooks.org, a virtual library of books written by and for expats, and Expatatable, a cultural/culinary portal on gastronomies all over the world. She currently lives in Jakarta, Indonesia.