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  • 22 Feb 2015 3:26 PM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    This is the third in a series of excerpts from the  first FIGT Yearbook, written by the 2014 Parfitt Pascoe Writing Residents

    Insights and Interviews from the 2014 Families in Global Transition (FIGT) Conference

    The Global Family Redefined

    By Dounia Bertuccelli

    More and more children are growing up among worlds, calling many places home and picking up unique skills from their international childhoods. Until recently, there was no organization to help these kids transition into adult- hood and make the most of the skills they have acquired. But Sea Change Mentoring’s founder and CEO Ellen Mahoney has created just the place for them.

    Ellen grew up as a Third Culture Kid (TCK) in various locations of the US and Asia. As an adult, after attending university in Oregon, she lived and worked in Washington DC. and New York. She is currently based in San Francisco, where she lives with her husband Jared, an American who lived in the same town his whole life (in Southern California). He has some experience as an expat from living in Korea during his time with the Air Force.

    As an Adult TCK Ellen knows the challenges that come with a global lifestyle. Having worked regularly with kids, both in schools and youth development, she knew how to build relationships with them. She also wanted to give back to the international community, so she combined her professional skills with her personal background to create a one-of-a-kind mentoring program.

    The Beginning: Returning ‘Home’

    Growing up as a TCK, Ellen was exposed to many cultures while attending schools in Tokyo and Singapore. But upon returning to Connecticut for school, from 7th-10th grade, she was shocked by the intolerance and racism she encountered.

    “It was a mono-cultural and very privileged society,” she recalled. “I felt like an outsider.”

    She was happy to move to Singapore for her last two years of high school, as Asia is where she felt most comfortable. But once she graduated she returned to the US for college.

    After a difficult first year at Wittenberg, in Ohio, Ellen contemplated dropping out because she was so unhappy. But her high school English teacher and mentor advised her to switch colleges and attend the University of Oregon, where her son was also a student. That change made all the difference. Knowing another TCK helped the transition and she finally found stability, made friends and completed her English degree.

    Despite this positive transition, she battled with depression for seven years. She suffered from reverse culture shock, not knowing other TCKs and having no support system nearby. She eventually went to therapy, which helped, but she didn’t talk about growing up overseas.

    Only years later she realized the impact of her experiences and the importance of her time at the International School of the Sacred Heart in Tokyo. It was there that she had a first glimpse into her future career because it taught its students about giving back.

    “It planted the first seed [of mentoring], and many of my friends have also gone into jobs that help [their communities],” she said.

    The First Step: Working in Education

    Before Ellen began her career in mentoring she worked in different sectors of education. While she was still a student she volunteered at Girls, Inc., which worked with ‘at-risk’ youth in junior high. It was an eye-opening experience.

    “It was my first insight into the public school system in the US and I was shocked,” she recalled. She had really believed in the system and the opportunity for free and fair education, but she realized that it wasn’t always the case. She was surprised and impressed by many of the students she worked with.

    “Those girls were smart, bold and brave,” she said.

    That first foray into education eventually led her to Washington DC. where she worked at the Lab School of Washington and wrote a new curriculum on media literacy. She then got a degree in counseling from George Washington University and worked at the School Without Walls as a Humanities and creative writing teacher.

    What she learned during her years in education and working with children would have a huge impact in her future career. Her experiences taught her what works best with kids and how to help them.

    “I understood the power of a relationship,” Ellen said. “One adult outside of parents who believes in you can make such a difference.”

    The Next Step: iMentor

    Unfortunately not everyone she worked with had the same motivation and determination to help. She was seeing kids excel in difficult situations, but then fighting against barriers created by adults. After working in several different organizations and needing new inspiration, Ellen began looking for a well run non-profit.

    She had very specific guidelines in mind and wanted an organization that:

        Had sustainable and diverse funding

        Used technology

        Knew that relationships were important

        Had adults who removed barriers instead of creating them

    The non-profit she was looking for turned out to be an innovative start-up, with a ‘big brother/sister’ mentoring program: iMentor. Today iMentor is a leading e-mentoring program with over 200 employees but when Ellen joined she was the 9th person hired. At iMentor she screened and selected all the mentors, did quality control, and even strategic work with the CEO, but there was one area that really stood out for her. “I fell in love with research,” she said. “It was our ethical responsibility to know the research in our professional field.” This interest and diligence in research would prove to be very useful in the future when Ellen would look into creating her own company.

    The Epiphany: 2011 Tsunami

    Although Ellen was happy at work, had friends, got married and had a good support system, she still didn’t have any TCK friends. Even though she had grown up as a TCK, she didn’t really embrace her background.

    “I never allowed myself to acknowledge that part of me,” she observed.

    She wondered what kind of a role model she could be when she didn’t even recognize all of herself. But then a catastrophic event opened her eyes. The 2011 earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan opened an unexpected floodgate of emotion she couldn’t explain. Her husband reminded her it was normal she was so upset because Japan had been one of her childhood homes. Only then did she start to understand the importance and the depth of her TCK background.

    Ellen realized she wanted and needed to help. She emailed her school in Tokyo to ask what she could do to help. That led to a Skype call with her old home-economics teacher, who told her the students weren’t getting any help after leaving school and they really needed someone to guide them. That’s when Ellen came up with her idea for a TCK mentoring program. She knew what worked with kids, she had experience in youth development and she also knew the impact the TCK lifestyle could have.

    “Someone had to help,” she recalled. “And I had promised to help.”

    The New Beginning: Sea Change Mentoring

    Ellen stayed true to her promise and very shortly after the tsunami she created Sea Change Mentoring. She reviewed the research, outlined a curriculum and talked to the community.

    “I felt so energized,” she said. “And so lucky to find an intersection of my professional skills and my personal story.”

    Her program works with TCKs between the ages of 16-23, helping them through transitions and to market their skills in the working world. She emphasizes the importance of not generalizing when it comes to TCKs, because everyone’s experiences are different. She also notes that TCKs and expats are no longer mostly American and organizations need to be aware of those changes. At Sea Change support comes from multiple perspectives and she tailors her work for each young adult, family or organization. She knows that the best way to help someone is to ask questions and be attuned to each person’s individuality.

    “We identify the strengths of each child to help him/her build on those,” she said.

    Ellen maintains a rigorous screening process to ensure all the mentors are professional and there is no risk of them projecting their experiences onto their protégés. After potential mentors make it through the initial screening, they have a personal interview with Ellen; they must also provide three references and show they have mentor characteristics. All mentors must be ATCKs, and anyone interested in mentoring must apply via the online form on the Sea Change website. Once selected, they receive ongoing training and are paid mentors, not volunteers.

    The mentor-protégé relationships last for at least two years, with online meetings about once a week. The Skype sessions usually last one hour and are always recorded with an app for supervision and safety reasons. The mentors follow a curriculum Ellen wrote with her advisor Josh Stager based on TCK and youth development research.

    How the mentors help their protégés:

    “The mentors use this [the curriculum] in various ways, including conversation starters, activities and games,” she said. “We also evaluate the program via online tools that helps us capture the growth and satisfaction of the protégé.”

    “By simply being there, listening and relating (which is more powerful than people realize)”

    “Sharing information with them about social emotional adjustment, moving, saying goodbye, choosing a career and tertiary education”

    “Connecting them with resources and ideas that can help the protégé make good decisions”

    Ellen wants to help young people develop the positive aspects of their TCK background – not only support them during hard times. A lot of services come across negatively and that is not the way to help families. There must be a reinforcement of positive youth development, while still acknowledging the challenges.

    “Sea Change is not just about prevention; it’s a promotion tool,” she explained. “It helps promote the assets of young people.

    Funding for Sea Change comes from families, who pay a yearly fee for the services, and also from investments/partnerships with international schools and corporations. The cost for families can vary depending on how much income they bring in, whether the parents are paying the fee directly or if they have a sponsoring organization and what kind of services they are seeking. “We provide a lot of additional services like evaluations and trainings so the fee structure differs,” Ellen explained.

    At the 2013 FIGT conference, Ellen was just getting the word out about Sea Change for the first time. At the 2014 conference, she had an Ignite session and a Concurrent session, where she shared her insights about creating her own company and the joy it has brought her. “It feels like a blessing and like it was meant to be,” she said.

    Some of the most important lessons she learned while creating Sea Change Mentoring are to believe in yourself, set the bar high and also to ask others for help. “You can’t be an entrepreneur without depending on the generosity of others and their faith in you,” she advised.

    She truly believes it’s never one person against all odds and that the only thing keeping you from achieving your dreams is you.

    Her final piece of advice was simply: “Anything is possible.”

  • 08 Feb 2015 6:59 PM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    This is the second in a series of excerpts from the soon to be published first FIGT Yearbook, written by the 2014 Parfitt Pascoe Writing Residents

    Insights and Interviews from the 2014 Families in Global Transition (FIGT) Conference

    The Global Family Redefined

    CONCURRENT SESSION led by Rebecca Grappo, Ryan Haynes, Ruth Van Reken and Alexandra Pomeroy

    By Sue Mannering

    I raised three of my own Third Culture Kids (TCKs) in the Middle East but I never knew such a term existed until attending the 2014 Families in Global Transition Conference.

    ‘A Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture. The TCK frequently builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture may be assimilated into the TCK’s life experiences, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar backgrounds.’

    – Ruth Hill Useem

    Insights into this session’s topic were provided by four panelists whose backgrounds are as diverse as the TCKs they were discussing.

    Rebecca Grappo has lived in 12 countries over the last 30 years and raised three TCKs of her own. Her specialty lies in individualized college advising for TCKs and boarding school placements. She is president of RNG International Educational Consultants, LLC and has a Masters in Education.

    Ruth Van Reken was born in Nigeria and is an Adult TCK and author. Her work includes Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds, which she co-wrote with David Pollock. A revised edition was released in 2009. The co-founder of the Families in Global Transition conferences, Ruth has spent almost 30 years travelling the world, speaking about global family living.

    Ryan Haynes has a degree in Sports Medicine and a Masters in Counseling Education and has worked as a High School counselor for 15 years in four different countries.

    Alexandra Pomeroy has a B.A. in International Relations and has worked as an employment counselor and a Balkans program officer for various government departments. Alexandra is on the board of the Foreign Service Youth Foundation and as the child of a Foreign Agricultural Officer lived in five different countries in her youth. Though she fits the definition of a TCK, her take on the term itself is an interesting one because she rejects the label.

    How do TCKs Differ Today From the Past?

    Ryan cited access to the Internet as one of the major differences, calling today’s TCKs ‘digital natives’. We are more connected than ever, apps such as Whatsapp, Viber, Facetime, and Skype help keep us globally connected. Air travel is easier, cheaper and thus more accessible than ever before. Alexandra mentioned other social networks such as Facebook and Google hangout, but, she said, these networks can also serve to make us feel disconnected.

    Cyber bullying, porn and violent video games are some examples of the destructiveness of technology says Rebecca. Some kids are hiding behind the screen. Addiction to video games can occur when they don’t feel connected. They “descend into their own isolated world”, an alternate virtual world full of imaginary friends. While listening to this I think of the teenager I tu- tored in English some time ago. Eastern European, living in the Middle East, addicted to video games played all night, linked via cyberspace with friends from the passport country, her father posted to Asia.

    Ruth added that despite the advantages of connectivity, the fact that today’s TCKs live in many different countries may prompt you to ask, “how do you change your cultural mirror?” and “how do you sort out who you are?” In addition these moves are increasingly complicated by what she refers to as ‘non-intact’ families (divorced or separated and living on different continents, for example). You can stay connected but it doesn’t change how far away you are from each other.

    Rebecca suggests that the environment impacts TCKs today too. Some postings are to countries in turmoil. Terrorism threats have an impact on schooling. Your passport or the nationality of the school you attend may mean security is upgraded from time to time or always. Certainly when my own family lived in the Middle East, the international school my daughter attended was occasionally subjected to upgraded security, and she would come home wide eyed and tell me all about it. After a while, it became the norm, and she may have mentioned it in 

    The separation of a close family member will impact TCKs too, says Rebecca. Consider the case of an unaccompanied assignment for a family member to a danger zone. And my mind wanders this time to fathers posted on temporary assignments to neighboring countries, flak jackets part of their luggage.

    Cultural Complexity

    Alexandra listed the terms ‘cross cultural, bi-racial and TCK’ and then she said something surprising, to me, anyway, particularly as the term TCK was new to me. She said the terms were contrived and that the definitions were mostly ‘academic debate’. She doesn’t identify with the word TCK and she finds the label and other labels annoying. Furthermore, she argued that she and her friends found the term TCK in particular, to be elitist.

    Ruth, in her quiet, caring and understanding way, countered that young people don’t like labels yet there are issues and terms that provide a common ground for discussion. Teenagers want to be normal so may reject the term TCK. “It’s not productive to tell kids who they are,” said Ruth. Let them tell you and describe it rather than others prescribing it. Yet it’s important to ‘connect the dots’ and to encompass all examples of this concept, for example, children of refugees. It’s important to talk about loss, both overt and hidden. Transitions, she said, are universal so how do we take the message and apply it? Ideas grow and change with time and she questioned how to take these base assumptions and build on them. It would be ideal to find a ‘language that connects with everyone’. Rebecca added that the term TCK covers a variety of socio-economic groups and it’s helpful for people to put a name to these experiences.

    Ryan, who currently works in an international school in Bangkok, and has seen culture clashes firsthand said, “people are curious.” What’s it like to be a TCK in a country where you stand out? What’s it like to repatriate? Any child who studies in a different country will go through a re-entry ‘process’ if they return to their passport country.

    I couldn’t help but think of the rejection of another term, ‘trailing spouse’, by many at the conference and have empathy for Alexandra’s hypothesis.

    Strengths and gifts of being a TCK
    Looking beyond the challenges of the term TCK, those raised as one can benefit from the strengths that being a TCK offers, strengths such as:

    • The ability to talk to anybody
    • Being unafraid of, in fact, welcoming, new experiences
    • Generally being able to transition well
    • Having a three dimensional view of the world
    • Being flexible
    • Seeing the world as an interesting place
    • At 40, using who they are
    • Using their background of diversity in their ability to interact
    • Having a sense of adventure


  • 28 Jan 2015 9:42 PM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    This is the first in a series of excerpts from the soon to be published first FIGT Yearbook

    Insights and Interviews from the 2014 Families in Global Transition (FIGT) Conference

    The Global Family Redefined


    IGNITE SESSION Led by Julia Simens

    By Terry Anne Wilson

    “My home is a plane that drops me into new places.” This statement by Julia Simens resonated with the audience as she discussed the nannies, cooks, drivers and security staff that become part of those overseas homes. Understandably, these ‘beloved strangers’ become part of our family yet are left behind as we transition, often having a lasting impact on them and our children. Julia is a family therapist and educator who has helped countless families transition globally. She draws on personal experience as well as poignant perspectives from families, especially children. The term Beloved Stranger was coined by FIGT two-time attendee, Eva László-Herbert, who had suggested a session on this important subject. Unfortunately, she was unable to attend the conference and the idea was deemed so important that Julia took over the task of conducting the session. She was the perfect choice, her heartfelt message brought tears to many in the audience.

    Two important issues were raised.

    Impact on Children and Staff

    “We need to look beyond dinner parties, pressed t-shirts and daily cleaned floors,” Julia reminds us. She elaborates that the relationship we have with these ‘beloved strangers’ who help facilitate a certain lifestyle, can be powerful and passionate. Children can have a close relationship with these caregivers, in fact they’re often more interested in them than are the adults themselves. Kids can rattle off their names, for example, while parents may only know the man they entrust the safety of their children with as ‘driver’. In her counseling, Julia has often noticed that kids will draw family pictures with their hired help included, yet that is a term children are often reluctant to use.

    When her son was young for example, he had the wisdom to realize that these ‘beloved strangers’ are not defined by a job title, but by the individual people they are. He refused to use the word ‘servant’ Proof that in the eyes of a young child they can become family members, especially since extended

    family isn’t nearby. In fact, Grant Simens, aged about 4, drew a picture of his family, coloring his blood family in bright colors, but the domestic helpers in pencil. A sharp intake of breath filled the room when this was shown.

    Considering the time spent together and commitment shown by many staff, close bonds are understandable. That bond can reveal itself in different ways such as a child late at night wanting to speak the language he had learned from his nanny, as was occasionally the case with Julia’s son, Grant. What a wonderful gift to have received from a loving caregiver, that of language. Undoubtedly fond memories are evoked to this day when that language is heard. My youngest son for example, was fiercely protective of certain things only Gina, our nanny, could do for him. One of them being having his ears cleaned. Only his beloved Gina, was allowed anywhere near him with a Q-tip; the mention of it still brings a smile after all these years. He was only six months old when we welcomed her into our home in Doha, Qatar. Having left behind a one-year-old in the Philippines, one of her four children, we can only imagine how wrenching this would be and the sacrifice it is to leave your own young family behind, to care for another. All the more reason to treat staff with care and “consider them part of our team,” Julia stresses.

    Recognition and Appreciation

    Treat staff with respect and appreciate their service, we are reminded. Ju- lia points out that just as they ‘visit our world’, we must offer them the same consideration and some appreciation of their background. This can be celebrations of their culture and food, such as a recipe. Many families depart with favorites their nanny or cook spoiled their children with, only to find we’ll never prepare it quite as well as they did. My butter chicken is a sorry substitute for the delicious rendition our houseboy in Oman would spoil us with!

    Appreciation can be shown in more substantial ways of course, such as providing additional flights home or a course to better their career options. I know a family who continued to provide for the education of their staff’s children, long after employment had ended. All these are fine examples of acknowledgement and being in a position to act upon it.

    If a family has developed a close relationship with staff, it’s important to retain that once you relocate or to rekindle those relationships if contact has been lost. Julia recommends ensuring they have a photo of themselves with the children and with today’s social media, it’s easier to stay in touch and reconnect. We recently did just that with our beloved Gina, and my three sons are still hers, she happily reminds us on Facebook, and it is special to have her in our lives again. As Julia rightfully says, “the hardest part of living is that nothing lasts forever.” True indeed, but we can do our best to ensure these ‘beloved strangers’ are appreciated for the role they’ve played in our families’ lives.

  • 25 Jan 2015 7:00 PM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    Claire (not her real name) had been in Lagos for about 5months. She was invited to a dinner outside the apartment complex for the first time with newfound expat friends and got back sometime after 23:00. They rolled up to the gate and waited. Nothing happened: the guards didn’t open. She got out of the car and knocked on the window to the gatehouse. She could see the two guards inside, fast asleep. She was incensed. How were the guards going to do any guarding if they were asleep? She had a good go at them and the next morning reported them to the estate manager. But Claire has seen guards asleep since that first incident and is now convinced that Nigerians (guards and estate manager) are incompetent.

    This is a typical example of an event we would call ‘culture shock’. Claire experiences a behaviour that she considers unacceptable, spends a lot of time being irritated and all her worst expectations about the locals are confirmed. Not only that, but her best efforts to change things go to naught.

    Interculturalist Joseph Shawles[1] uses neuroscience to describe why we get irritated by behaviours when we live in a new country. Basically, our conscious mind recognises a difference between the way things are done in the new place and where we come from. As we try to make sense of what we observe, our unconscious mind automatically uses the reference we know to come up with an explanation. We use our own cultural norms and values.

    You can think of this subconscious reaction like the process of baking a cake: The recipe Claire borrowed from an American friend says 3 cups of flower but she uses the European weight system so she uses a coffee cup; the recipe calls for 1/3 cup of milk so she uses 1/3 litre of milk. Her cake comes out like a cement brick – and she blames the recipe.

    There is a leap in logic that Claire is not aware of:

        Guards are asleep = sleeping is a wilful disregard for the rules or gross incompetence;

        The estate manager knows of this behaviour but does nothing = he is also incompetent.

    These two statements would be true in Claire’s home country. But in Lagos they don’t take into account the fact that the guards are paid very little money for their jobs. In fact, I think it is a miracle they do any guarding at all. Also, it happens often that their measly salary is paid days late. When that happens the guards struggle to find money to get to work and then are not able to buy food for dinner or coffee to keep themselves awake at night. They know they shouldn’t sleep – they have the same value for a job well-done - but they succumb to fatigue despite their best efforts.

    Their behaviour (the sleeping) does not reflect a culture of wilful negligence. Rather, it reflects the system of borderline poverty that they live in.

    As for the estate manager, he subcontracts a company who supplies the guards and pays their salaries. He has switched security companies before when it became clear that the company was keeping the bulk of the fee and paying their guards such a pittance that they could not realistically expect any service from these men. If he complains to the security company, they fire all the guards and hire new ones from the gigantic pool of jobless men desperate to find a way to feed their families. They tell these new ones not to complain about their salary and for God’s sake, stay awake.

    I am not excusing the sleeping guards – night guards must be awake at night or they are not doing their job. But yelling at them and the estate manager will probably make matters worse: Claire will continue to be irritated, the guards and manager will recognise her as a problem and so a cycle of mistrust and dislike grows. And nothing changes.

    Is there a solution? Yes.

    When you see a behaviour that shocks you:

    1. Realise that subconsciously you are judging the situation based on your own expectations, cultural norms and values.

    2. Ask around to find out what the context of that behaviour is – why is this happening  and why does no one else seem to think it is a big deal?

    3. Always begin by assuming that people are acting according to THEIR rules that govern good behaviour or at least doing their best to live by those rules – innocent until you can prove them guilty of wilful evil.

    4. Realise that you have can choose how you react: you can simply allow yourself to get irritated; you can try and understand the situation; upon understanding it you can accept it, try to change it or figure out how to live with it…

    5. If you really want to change the situation, realise that you will have to understand the context in order to identify workable solutions.

    Notice that all of these things are to be done by the expat – the onus is on us to adapt to the local culture, not the other way around.

    Is it easy?


    But what’s the alternative? Stay frustrated, hibernate, leave?

    In the case of the guards where Claire and I live, perhaps a solution would be for us residents to get together and buy the guards a bag of rice per month so that they are assured of having something to eat. Or perhaps we can share in the cost of providing them with coffee through the night.

    Or not.

    Perhaps we could ask the guards what they think a solution would be. Showing our interest would be nice – I bet they would be more determined to risk their lives guarding us if they knew we cared about their ability to do their job.

    Contributed by Diane Lemieux, a Canadian/Dutch writer who has lived in 11 countries and speaks 4 languages. Her latest book is The Mobile LIfe: a new approach to moving anywhere. Find her blog at http://diane-lemieux.com/mobilelife/

  • 11 Jan 2015 7:24 PM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    Leading Across Cultures - video from Elizabeth kelly on Vimeo.

    Contributed by Elizabeth Vennekens-Kelly, an intercultural trainer, consultant and author. Elizabeth helps individuals to be prepared for their expat assignments and she encourages assignees to exam all aspects of expat life so they have realistic expectations. Elizabeth combines her familiarity of expat living and intercultural knowledge to help people to develop the knowledge and skills to be successful in multicultural situations. She is a member of various organizations: VOKA, VIW, FAWCO, SIETAR and FIGT.

  • 28 Dec 2014 6:13 PM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    I am a firm believer that the more we understand about ourselves, the better we communicate to others and the more fulfilled we tend to be. Working with the global population has always given me many concrete examples of how they try to process their global upbringing.

    Recently, I was working with 7 -10th graders at a school. We went over all the different parts of our culture to help us understand our own unique identity.  I asked the students to think about 10 areas that pay a key role in “who we are”.

    These are:

    1. Family (Meaning who is living currently under your roof, including any staff or host country people who share the same living environment)
    2. Extended family (those we see often or just yearly but are a part of our lives through social media when we are not physically together)
    3. Rules of behavior (Many families have multicultural rules and norms – so it is important to understand as a young kid “What rules of behavior do I internally have?” and to be able to put these rules down in written form.)
    4. Languages that we have mastered. (To be able to read, speak and understand at least 300 words in another language)
    5. Traditions – which ones do you see in your current home or which ones do you really like.
    6. Religion – which ones are in your home or in your neighborhood that you are aware of.
    7. Art – which type of art are you drawn to.
    8. Music – which type of music are you drawn to.
    9. Food – what are your favorite types or your favorite food
    10. Interest groups- what do you identify yourself as a passion or what you do in your free time.

    Moving in a country allows regional cultures to become part of our mix.

    Global Nomads have many different cultures in their lives.

    We are often good at realizing the cultural differences between countries but as we work with these global souls, we also need to be mindful of the geography differences due to regional cultures.

    This student felt his base language was Bahasa Indonesia but was speaking and writing above grade level expectations in English. He also could communicate in Makassarese which is used in South Sulawesi island, Toraja-Sa’dan a Malayo-Polynesian language spoken in Western Sulawesi, and Manado Malay which is spoken in Manado.  Imagine mastering five languages prior to becoming a teenager. He also was confident that his language skills would continue to develop since he communicated often with these extended family members and they did not fall back into English because they were aware of the need to keep their base languages strong.

    He also had an extended family that were Christian, Buddhist and Muslim. He had the ability to understand all of these core beliefs and see similarities and differences. He said, “As a family we celebrate a lot of religious events, we understand the need to honor every ones belief.”

    Sometimes the students write powerful personal glimpse of what it means to be a global nomad.

    Story # 1  My view is not the same.

    I grew up in a small village in Indonesia but half way through my elementary school years my family moved to Balikpapan. My Dad does not carry an Indonesian passport but he gets a work visa to stay with my Mom, who is Indonesian. They decided to move me to an international school once we moved to Balikpapan.

    My English quickly got a whole lot better. I still so most of the same things that I did before coming to Balikpapan.

    When we worked on our culture or identity and you walked us through all the things that makes up a person’s culture, I go it. I could finally understand why I don’t always see eye to eye with my mom or my dad.  My dad sees things that he knows or through his culture.  My mom sees things or knows things through her culture. I am unique, I see things through my culture which is both cultures.

    Story #2 Why can’t I have both?

    Why can’t I have both – why can’t I pick what I want?

    It seems like I live in two worlds all the time but find neither one of them perfect. When I am in Indonesia, I dream and want to be in Australia. When I am in Australia I dream of being back in Indonesia. I have mastered both languages, can tolerate both kinds of music from our countries and actually love both Australia and Indonesian food.

    Why can’t I have both – why can’t I pick what I want? I have good friends at school in Indonesia but always feel like I am missing out on things going on in Australia. I have great friends and family in Australia. But I also have great friends and family in Indonesia. Why can’t I have both?

    Why can’t I have both – why can’t I pick what I want? In my dream, Australia will be perfect.  But it is not in real life.  In my dream, Indonesia is perfect but it is not in real life. Why can’t I have both – why can’t I pick what I want?

    Here is the classroom presentation:

    It can be also viewed at: http://prezi.com/vohav6owhsyb/international-school-balikpapan-grades-78-and-910/#

    Contributed by Julia Simens, an American writer who has lived on five continents and raised two TCKs. Her book "Emotional Resilience and the Expat Child: practical storytelling techniques that will strengthen the global family" is commonly found in many international schools and embassies where she gives talks to parents, teachers and families living a global lifestyle. Find her blog aat http://www.jsimens.com


  • 14 Dec 2014 8:46 PM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    Especially if you are moving for your spouse’s job, you may have the feeling that you cannot make decisions about your own life. But psychologist Paula Vexlir reminds us that — despite the uncertainties of expat life — each one of us has the ability to determine our own life directions and values.

    By Paula Vexlir

    An edited version of this article was originally published in Expatriates Magazine. See below for English language version.

    La incertidumbre y la vida como expatriado generalmente van juntos. Ya sea que tengas dudas sobre cuestiones culturales, sobre cómo se espera que se relacionen las personas (qué se puede decir, cómo se espera que reacciones, etc.), sobre tu nuevo lugar de residencia o sobre cómo lograr hacer las cosas allí. En algunas ocasiones tampoco está claro cuánto tiempo uno se quedará allí con lo cual se suma más incertidumbre a la cotidianeidad.

    Si bien es cierto que no todos los cónyuges acompañantes (¡Qué feo que suena esta denominación!; Si a alguien se le ocurre una mejor, ¡bienvenida sea!); es muy común observar que les resulta difícil recuperar el control de la propia vida. Es que quienes acompañan a la persona expatriada terminan sintiendo que hay un montón de decisiones que dependen del trabajo del cónyuge, de su jefe o incluso de las políticas de la empresa para la que trabaja. Es claro que esto le puede suceder a personas que viven toda su vida en el mismo lugar (¿Quién no ha escuchado comentarios en ese sentido en cualquier pareja?). Pero en el caso de los expatriados el impacto de todo lo que se ha dejado atrás por "acompañar" un proyecto termina afectando la manera en que se maneja la situación. En general escucho que uno de los problemas que se presentan es el no poder tomar decisiones acerca de la propia vida.

    Esto puede sonar extraño pero si alejamos el foco de nuestra vida en particular, si agrandamos el área de visión, podremos ver que vivimos con la incertidumbre de manera diaria, cotidiana, o, cómo se suele decir en otros lugares, -24 por 7. Cuando cruzamos la calle no pensamos que quizás haya una persona que esté manejando distraída y pase la luz roja; cuando vamos por la vereda (o acera, como prefieran) no pensamos que podría caerse una planta desde algún balcón. La mente está "entrenada" para evadir ese tipo de pensamientos (sí, ya sé, algunos los tienen todo el tiempo pero eso es otra cuestión). La única certeza real es que no podemos predecir lo que va a suceder. Aun así, cuando algo sale diferente a cómo lo planeamos, decimos que fue un imprevisto, un accidente. Pero si miramos nuestra vida y la de los demás en perspectiva veremos que hay un montón de accidentes o imprevistos; algunos fueron buenísimos (lo mejor que nos podría haber pasado) y otros..., -quizás no tan positivos.

    Volviendo entonces al tema del "cónyuge acompañante" tendemos a olvidar que ante todo hubo una decisión propia. Mas allá de que nos guste o estemos arrepentidos [1] es importante recordar que hubo motivos, razones que nos llevaron a decidir que queríamos apoyar esa oportunidad laboral de nuestra pareja (y aquí entra una lista que es distinta para cada quién, desde mejoras económicas para la familia hasta apoyar a la pareja pasando por todas las ideas que cada uno tuvo que poner en la balanza). El tema es que sentir que no podemos tomar decisiones acerca de nuestra propia vida nos lleva a acumular resentimiento, fastidio, molestia hacia nuestro cónyuge, su trabajo, su jefe y la empresa. Esos sentimientos terminan por hacernos sentir peor, los padecemos y nos producen un gran sufrimiento. Van creciendo en nuestro interior y van envenenando nuestras relaciones, nuestros vínculos (y en algunos casos nuestra cotidianeidad). 

    Entonces quizás podamos pensar en cambiar la mirada, el enfoque, e intentar uno que esté relacionado con la resiliencia y la flexibilidad (lo cual sería una ganancia real, una que nadie ni nada podrá quitarnos porque es absolutamente personal). Ojo, se me impone una aclaración importante: sé perfectamente que no es nada fácil cambiar nuestra perspectiva y en algunos casos necesitamos ayuda con eso. Mantener una actitud positiva puede ser sumamente complicado y difícil y eso es simplemente normal: nada es peor que sentirse mal y aumentar el malestar por no poder estar con una mentalidad positiva y tampoco es bueno forzarse a sentir algo que uno no siente. La propuesta es más bien recordar que la vida puede traernos un cambio grande e imprevisto en cualquier momento. Entonces la próxima vez que estés dudando acerca de empezar un proyecto, anotarte en unas clases o pensando qué es lo que quieres hacer con tu vida undefinedespecialmente si estás sintiendo que no puedes planificar nada porque no sabes cuando te irás de ese lugarundefined te propongo que recuerdes que, si bien hay incertidumbre, la dirección que le des a tu vida y tus valores siguen siendo una decisión 100% tuya.

    [1] Arrepentirse no tiene nada de malo, también puede pasar; lo único que falta es que si uno lo esta pasando mal también se achaque el haberse arrepentido de la decisión.

    Ever Felt Lost in Uncertainty?

    By Paula Vexlir

    Uncertainty and expat life usually go together. Sometimes you might feel insecure regarding culture, relationships or how to get things done in your new location. Also, it might be quite unclear how long you are going to stay and that brings even more uncertainty to the equation.

    What is certain: Uncertainty

    Even though not all expat spouses have left a job/career behind, a common trend is to find it quite difficult to regain control of your own life. It is easy to feel that there are lots of decisions that depend on your spouse's job, boss or company policy.

    Of course, this could happen to people living in the same location all their lives. But all the things left behind have a huge impact when dealing with the situation. Overall, you may have the feeling that you cannot make decisions about your own life.

    It might sound weird but if we enlarge our vision, if we widen our look, we will see that we live 24x7 with uncertainty. When we are crossing the street we don´t think that the driver could get distracted and pass the red light; while walking on the sidewalk we don't consider that a plant might fall from a balcony onto our head. Our minds are “trained” to avoid those thoughts.

    The only thing we know for certain is that we cannot predict what will happen. We usually call the events that change our plans “accidents”. But if you look at your and other people's lives, you will most likely find lots of “accidents” or unexpected situations. Some led to great results and others… maybe not so much.

    Remember there was a decision

    So going back to the accompanying partner situation, we tend to forget that there was a decision in the first place. Whether we like it or regret it, there were reasons that made us decide to follow our spouse's job opportunity.

    Feeling unable to make decisions on our life just leads to resentment towards our spouse, his/her job, boss and company. Those feelings make us feel bad, constrain us and cause us to suffer. They grow inside us and can poison our relationships.

    Know that you have choices

    A different approach would be helpful: one that involves resilience and flexibility (which, by the way, will be a real gain, no one will ever be able to take that away from us).

    Don't get me wrong: I know that it's not easy to change our perspective and sometimes we might need help to get there. Maintaining a positive attitude can be quite hard and that it´s just normal.

    But knowing that life can give us huge and unexpected changes any minute might be a good reminder.

    So next time you are feeling doubtful about starting a project or signing up for a class, think about what you want out of life. Especially if you are feeling that you cannot plan anything because you are not sure when you are heading back, remind yourself that things are uncertain but your life directions or life values are your own ultimate choices.

    Paula Vexlir is a clinical psychologist specializing in working with the Spanish-speaking expat community. Since 2002 she has been providing counseling for migrants and expats. By offering an online service she can support Spanish-speaking expats worldwide. She blogs at ExpatPsi.

  • 07 Dec 2014 3:15 PM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    For many young American adults returning to the USA to attend college or university after being expats or global nomads since they have been following their parents careers overseas, “Sophomore Slump” starts after about 6 weeks in the new university.  This is when it dawns on them that their lifestyle of travel is now over.  No more vacations in foreign countries on long weekends. No more traveling to and from exotic places at Christmas. No more team sports that causes you to carry a passport.

    Some global nomads find the start of college so hard but can usually settle down into the new system soon. This is when it is key to have some sort of support system on campus. Or near by. Teens are often good at masking what is going on for them by text or even skype. They seldom want to admit to their parents that things are not going as well as they wanted.

    Changing Universities

    Sophomore slump hits repatriated teens often and they show how upsetting this is by changing universities.

    If you look closely at the retention rate in a university from freshman to sophomore at some schools it is alarming. What is causing all these teens to try one university for just a year and move on? Most of the time it is not because of grades but because they are finding a ‘slump’ or the excitement of the university does not match up to their expectations.

    As the author of Emotional Resilience and the Expat Child, I am greatly concerned about these children as they return to the USA to attend university in their home country. I often feel we have not prepared the child enough for this transition without their family.

    Two children = Two Locations

    Since our two children decided to look at two very different locations for college, it has complicated our travel plans. Colorado is a state that receives many teen repatriating because it is such a lovely state. Toronto is also known for it’s high rate of international students. Many expat children do not have a ‘home’ so they pick a geography site that they love.  Then the match of a university to this location to the child’s long term goals is applied.  This is hard for many families.

    We are slowly approaching our second year in this location, Balikpapan. In our short time here, we have already seen a large amount of turnover in the Expat population. The things that have bothered me the most during this expatriate move without children are:

        My easy lifestyle of booking four tickets to one place is no longer possible. We now have to book three different travel plans to get to one place.

        I no longer want to go on long weekends out of the country since I am saving up my days to be with my kids.

        My kids have done the exotic places for Christmas and now wish to do something more relaxing and mainstream.

        My passport does not get used as much as it did since I am not traveling to see my kids in all those high school events that international schools are so good at setting up.

    Contributed by Julia Simens, an American writer who has lived on five continents and raised two TCKs. Her book "Emotional Resilience and the Expat Child: practical storytelling techniques that will strengthen the global family" is commonly found in many international schools and embassies where she gives talks to parents, teachers and families living a global lifestyle. Find her blog at http://www.jsimens.com


  • 30 Nov 2014 8:46 PM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    The bright, wonderful, hot burning sun,

    The scent of the suncream we used,

    Mixed with the spices of the ocean


    The sound of people, waves


    The hot sand, too fierce for my soft little feet,

    A ride on a strong shoulder to the shore, with love,

    To the coolness of the waters


    There used to be a school of fish,

    Always there waiting for me

    We played 'Catch' , really, bet you can't believe.


    The hotdog stand, I wish it's still there,

    Nothing special in it, but one of a kind.


    I was small,


    I looked above to see all those tanned women and men in their bikinis and shorts.

    They were different from me, my parents' faces told.

    But somehow they slipped into my 'future to be',

    Now a 'past that never was'.


    I thought I was American,

    My heart told me I was native Hawaiian.


    Only to be my parents' little girl,

    Pure Asians with their strange English tongue.


    A part of me buried,

    For years and years.


    No wonder the beat of my heart's so weak,

    I left so much behind.


    I dream of a day,

    A day back on the beach,

    To get back, nicely brown with a lei on my neck.


    A dream I dare,

    A place I long so dearly for.


    I know I can never get back,

    The past should be laid down.


    The years are gone,

    And I'm no longer six.


    I'm no longer the Hawaiian girl,

    Who danced the Hula with grace.


    Home, sweet Waikiki


    I call your lovely name.


    I know you've changed,

    As I too, have.


    But one day, if I get a chance to meet you,

    Can you send me some fish?

    Who knows how to play 'tag you're it'


    So maybe I can be six again.


    Cerine NJ 21

    Hawaii, Poland and South Korea

    Moithetique - Wagamama - Daydreamer

    This is one in a series of excerpts from the recently published The Worlds Within TCK Anthology, now available for purchase on Amazon.com.  A portion of the book’s profits will be donated to the FIGT David C Pollock Scholarship Fund. 

    Cerine NJ 21

    Hawaii, Poland and South Korea

    Moithetique - Wagamama - Daydreamer

    his is one in a series of excerpts from the soon-to-be published The Worlds Within TCK Anthology.  A portion of the book’s profits will be donated to the FIGT David C Pollock Scholarship Fund.

    Cerine NJ 21

    Hawaii, Poland and South Korea

    Moithetique - Wagamama - Daydreamer

    his is one in a series of excerpts from the soon-to-be published The Worlds Within TCK Anthology.  A portion of the book’s profits will be donated to the FIGT David C Pollock Scholarship Fund.
  • 23 Nov 2014 5:42 PM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    When working with colleagues, what does an expat need to keep in mind?

    Keith (Singapore)Almost half of the workforce in Singapore is comprised of foreigners and permanent residents.  Local Singaporeans are also a diverse group comprising of Chinese, Malays, Indians and Eurasians.  Because of this, the expat needs to understand the motivation, communication styles, leadership preferences and cultural differences of each group.

    Jeff (Vietnam): In Vietnam, expats need to keep in mind the contradiction between Eastern and Western values and appreciate the deep historical, ancestral, Confucian and Buddhist roots of the Vietnamese –which translates into strong family orientation, strict hierarchies, top-down decision making, respect for authority as well as seniority and age, and the need for balance and harmony.   In business, transactions are usually affected by politics, procedures, infrastructure, and personal relationship.  While Vietnam is a fast-changing country that is learning the ways of international business, modern Vietnamese are often conflicted between family and career, communism and capitalism.  Workers are accustomed to following instructions undefined so if you want feedback, suggestions, self-reliance, collaboration, or innovation, say it, write it and show you mean it.

    Rose (Philippines):   In the Philippines, personal relations are very important. Business is done on the basis of trust and being comfortable with the person they are doing business with.  Although Filipinos speak English and communicating is easy, there are many things communicated through facial expression, tone of voice and behavior.  Politeness is key and colleagues will be turned off by aggressive orders or reactions so be mindful of your voice volume.  When looking for assistance it must be requested and not ordered.  When making requests, keep in mind that a Filipino associate will always be polite and say “yes”; however, many times the answer may really mean “no”.  It’s always a good idea to clarify understanding.

    Let’s discuss daily living.  

    Kristen (Singapore): Over one million expats reside in Singapore. This makes for great living as you will quickly have friends that have come from all over the world. Much like other metropolitan cities, housing is smaller and closer together. There is a fantastic public transport system (called MRT) and since the duty on cars is over 100%, you will make great use of it.  There are great entertainment options year round undefined the Formula 1 night race is a city wide party, many good concerts with head line performers, art and film festivals, excellent museums, and the list of good restaurants keeps growing. While shopping could be considering a national pastime here in Singapore, prices are quite a bit more than those in the US.

    Claudia (Singapore): For Singaporeans and expats alike, living in Singapore is not only clean, safe and organized but also very comfortable and practical. Distances to work are usually no more than one hour by public transport to and from most locations. If necessary, services such as electricians and other contractors are available within a day. However, work life balance is not as good as it is in Europe and the US. Work comes first here and everyone works longer hours, even on holidays.  There is lots of traffic.

    Jeff (Vietnam): Daily living in Vietnam’s major cities (Saigon and Hanoi) can be a challenge undefined dealing with traffic jams, pollution, and property crimes.  But both cities have good options for modern and affordable apartments, comfortable international expat communities, good restaurants and an assortment of sports/entertainment, plus reliable and inexpensive domestic help.  Corporate executives and other expats most likely will want to hire a cook as well as car-and-driver.  Keep in mind that Vietnam is one of the world’s largest two-wheel cultures, so an expat might want to join the masses and have a motorbike if he wants to get around efficiently; if you’re going to ride in a vehicle with four wheels, you’ll want a driver undefined and a lot of patience.

    Rose (Philippines): Manila is the Philippines most modern city and the majority of expats live there. Expect the normal issues that come along with city life – namely, pollution (the air quality may affect those who are sensitive) and traffic (always allot additional travel time).  Most expats will employ a local driver who is familiar with the roads. Keep in mind that Filipino drivers are terrible on the roads; they will tailgate and occupy every space they see. For example, a 3-lane road can easily become 4 or 5 lanes.  Many areas in Manila are very modern with shopping malls, condominiums and subdivisions with secured areas.  Some expats hire household help and you have a choice of live-in or live-out.  This usually depends on how big the house is and whether there are young children.  The shops offer local and imported goods and there is a store similar to COSTCO called Sand R.  We recommend staying away from the wholesale markets as they can be a bit dangerous if you are not vigilant and aware.

    What’s the latest on the housing supply and international schools?

    Kristen (Singapore): Housing, especially apartment living, is plentiful but expensive. Be prepared to move into a smaller home with limited outdoor space. Condo living can be wonderful as you have an instant community and amenities such as pool, BBQ area, and fitness center. There are international schools for just about every curriculum including American, British, Australian, German, Swiss, Japanese, Indian, etc. Several schools have long wait lists. If you are anticipating a move, and hoping to keep your children on an American curriculum, expect a six month wait list.

    Keith (Singapore) In Singapore, various housing options are available from condominiums, landed properties (houses) and public housing (called HDB which stands for Housing Development Board).  If you want to live downtown or close to schools, be prepared to pay more.  If you are keen to embrace the local cultures and want to live like most locals, then you can rent a HDB.  The HDBs are located near MRT stations or public transport and have amenities like food centers, shops, cinemas and libraries close by.  A 3 bedroom 1,200 sq. ft. HDB apartment rents for S$3,000 (US$2,500) monthly and prices can go up to S$30,000 (US$25,000) or more for an 8,000 sq. ft. bungalow.  Note that Singapore is often ranked one of the most expensive cities in the world.  A 400sq ft. 1-bedroom apartment downtown can cost easily S$4,000 (US$3,300) a month, while a 1,200 sq. ft. 2-bedroom apartment downtown can be S$8,000 (US$6,600).

    Jeff (Vietnam): After a decade of modernization and construction of high-end residential properties that ended in 2009, Vietnam today is in the midst of a prolonged real estate slump and is a buyer’s market for apartment rentals.  The inventory of luxury apartments in particular is strong and relatively inexpensive.  There are several very good international schools in the big cities, especially Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), and a school of choice for expats in Hanoi tends to be the school sponsored by the United Nations, it’s one of only two in the world.  In Vietnam’s public school system and at the post-secondary level, the options are limited, although acceptable public schools that emphasize English are available for families seeking a rich cultural experience.

    Rose (Philippines): In the Philippines, the housing supply is abundant especially with new condominiums. Expats also have several international schools to choose from and most are located in the same area.  Examples include the IS (International School) and BSM (British School Manila). However, as soon as you are outside Manila, international school availability becomes scarce. Keep in mind that the system of education in the Philippines is patterned after American Education, so the local private schools are use English as a medium of instruction. The many private Catholic Schools all over the country will accept foreign students and some expats have discovered that this provides an affordable high quality education.

    Are there other things expats need to be aware of such as restrictions, security, culture, currency?

    Kristen (Singapore): Singapore is incredibly safe and a wonderful place to move, especially for young families. Singapore recognizes four main cultures, Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Western cultures and all are celebrated equally. English is the national language with most Singaporeans speaking at least one more language.  We affectionately refer to Singapore as “Asia-lite” and for most Westerners, it is an easy transition to move here. The hardest thing to get used to is the heat and humidity. Thankfully air conditioning is everywhere.

    Jeff (Vietnam): Expats need to be aware that Vietnam is just one generation removed from starvation poverty and hundreds of years of war that ultimately led the country to accept a one-party government that provides political stability and values security more than individual liberty.  For expats, some practical implications they can expect to confront are: cumbersome bureaucracy, excessive regulations/restrictions, and the expectation of under-the-table payment for public services.  On the other hand, as individuals Vietnamese are very pragmatic; so if you want to get something done, deal with the people and trust that they know how to deal with the government.

    Rose (Philippines)Filipinos have a silent/unspoken social system similar to a caste system depending on economic means, educational attainment and upbringing.  Generally, Filipinos are more passive than assertive and have a tendency to be subservient and very shy.  But those who are from higher economic status with high educational attainment will show more assertiveness and confidence in their approach to foreigners.  There are many areas in the city that are generally well secured such as near the financial district.  However, as with any city it pays to be street smart and vigilant.  Consider travelling with locals and, as a general rule, ask about the place prior to going there – especially when going out of the city.  Filipinos are Asians but can be very westernized even if he/she has not lived abroad; the influence of media and education has been very strong. It is very easy to get along with Filipinos because they are adaptable and open to other cultures.

    Contributed by Charisse Kosova, Director, Intercultural Training and Development at IOR Global Services.

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