A showcase of FIGT Members' written work, focusing on the issues we study, the best practices we share, and the strategies we provide to support expatriates and cross cultural individuals and their families. Contributions are a privilege for Small Business and Corporate membership levels only and you can submit up to 3 posts per year. Please use our online form below to submit a blog for consideration or contact blogeditor@figt.org.

  • 13 Mar 2019 12:42 AM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    In February we reported back on the progress of FIGT’s new membership strategy, as announced at FIGT2018. The growth in our small business/associate level as well as corporate members is a testament to the collaboration, networking, resources and visibility FIGT provides these members. And we are delighted to see connections being made, projects being hatched and activity increasing within our community.

    Today we would like to reflect on – and appeal to your insights about – our individual/student members. How can we better serve them, better offer them the wealth of what we, as a community, have to offer and contribute to their own ‘successful navigation of crossing borders and cultures.’ Not to mention, learn from their own experiences in order to enrich us further. Read the blog and please share your questions with us!

So, our question to you, this month is this: what do you recall as being the ‘first’ question you had – when starting your global journey? 

    What for many of us, is second nature – if not first – is not the case for many others. So, we would like to ‘check-in’ on some assumptions, gain insight from those starting and then, weave these needs into our own mission, vision and value propositions for individual/student members.

    Can’t recall what ‘that' question was? Check in with your colleagues, clients and acquaintances. Ask them: "what ‘blank’ did you have when you heard you were going ‘global'?" And, please do share them with us. 

    Remember. There is NO such thing as a ‘silly question’: because the answer may just be what makes the difference, and what is silly for one, can be monumental to another. We are excited AND curious to hear what you have to share. Together, we can all make the difference. That much we, at FIGT, know.

    GO! Share your questions with us.

  • 12 Mar 2019 12:06 PM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    We are always delighted to feature submissions from our Member community, and today we are excited to share the second part of a two-part series by Carolyn Parse Rizzo, a longtime FIGT supporter, conference attendee and 2018 Conference Presenter. You can read Part I here.

    Many thanks to health psychologist Vivian Chiona, founder and director of Expat Nest, for her important contributions to this article.

    By Carolyn Parse Rizzo

    It can be extremely stressful when we, or someone we love, becomes ill abroad. As well as the (very normal) physical and mental turmoil of illness, we often find ourselves dealing with additional challenges that are unique to international life.

    At the 2018 Families in Global Transition (FIGT) conference last spring, psychologist Vivian Chiona of Expat Nest and I got together with other FIGT supporters for a “Kitchen Table Conversation” on exactly this topic.  

    Participants included missionaries, financial planners, educators, executives, researchers, writers, coaches, artists, and others within the international community. They were also parents of children with serious medical conditions, spouses to partners with a serious illness, or medical patients themselves.

    Swiss, Canadian, Italian, Austrian, Australian, English, Israeli, American, African, Belgian, Taiwanese, and Dutch passport holders have all contributed to this ongoing discussion. 

    In Part I of this article, we discussed the interplay of the following eight challenges when facing a health condition abroad: Lack of Knowledge, Financial Impact, Isolation, Communication, Mistrust of Medical Personnel, Overwhelm and Indecision, Complex Parenting, and Pain and Discomfort.

    In Part II, we share four overarching strategies that experienced expats have utilized in their own healthcare journeys abroad: Being Proactive, Practicing Mindfulness, Cultivating Fun, and Connecting with Others.

    The advice and insights to follow come from those who have chosen to see their health challenges abroad as opportunities for growth and vital enrichment. Their experiences, though sometimes excruciating, have opened the doors to love, self-reliance, relief, personal empowerment, creativity, confidence and inner strength.

    Imagine a tool-belt loaded with the strategies below. Choose what fits for you. Be curious, explore, and remember that like with any new skill, we become more proficient with planning, commitment, practice, and a connection to why we’re doing it in the first place.

    1. Be Proactive

    Expats who take peremptory action against potential problems when it comes to healthcare say this is the foundation to their success.  Not every situation can be controlled, but they urge others to identify the things for which they can prepare.  Research and learn the logistics of the medical system, they say. Don’t make assumptions, nurture your inner leader, and take care of yourself, so you aren't left reacting to a situation with limited tools within reach.

    • Don't Assume

    Patrice "Pattie" Schweitzer reminds us that part of being proactive is being careful not to make assumptions. For example, Pattie has managed her complex healthcare needs across eight nations, over a span of 34 years. She's learned from experience that different countries have different regulations for medications. While one country may require a prescription for a given medication, another sells it over the counter. Or, as Pattie experienced, a prescribed medication in one country could be classified as an illegal substance in another.

    She urges others to plan with their physicians well before their travel date to identify alternative medications or to adjust their treatment plan based upon regulations in their destination country.

    Other assumptions about treatment protocol, hospital services, or payment options can lead to unnecessary stress. Whenever we assume we know something, based upon our former experiences in other countries, we set ourselves up.

    • Embrace Your Inner Leader

    Looking back, those patients who describe a real sense of personal power and satisfaction around how they coped with their healthcare challenges are those who also claimed some authority over their own bodies and medical history. They’ve honed in on their intercultural communication skills, persisted if dismissed, got creative, and kept searching for a physician who shared their values.

    For parents of young patients, having confidence in their unique knowledge of their child’s medical history, temperament, personality, and coping style is vital when crossing cultures.

    “Everything we used to prepare ourselves in earthquake zones, we used with the ‘earthquake’ at home.”

    — Jeanne Piether from www.healingyounghearts.com

    One mom talks about crossing four different borders with her son's medical condition. She became a pro at choosing healthcare providers and coordinating services across cultures. She explains how clarity and cohesion around their parenting values, helped she and her husband build a strong sense of leadership around the medical care of their son.

    Pattie shares how she crossed five borders with an auto-immune condition and came across a wide variation of communication styles and beliefs around treatment protocols. At a certain point, she says she had no qualms "firing" a doctor who did not value, or respect her personal experience living with the illness. As the only constant in her health care across borders, she makes sure to keep hard copies of all her medical records, sharing only copies with new physicians.

    • Prioritize Self-Care

    Aside from good nutrition, adequate sleep, and basic hygiene, the definition of self-care is personal. It doesn't have to mean three days at a spa or a weekend away. It can mean meditating in the hospital chair as a loved-one sleeps, walking laps around the hospital, regular visits to a space set aside for prayer or contemplation, or stepping outside for five minutes to breathe fresh air.

    One partner explains how she searched for a peaceful, light-filled place in the hospital where she could take 10 minutes to restore once or twice a day during her husband's long hospitalization. Another partner etched out time to practice yoga between hospital visits, working, and household tasks.

    An expat having gone through chemotherapy in Qatar explains how much better she felt when donning beautiful head wraps, jewelry, make-up and having her nails done, even if she was feeling physically terrible.

    Along with self-care, many parents of kids with complex healthcare needs, talk about the importance of “couple-care”. Finding a way to take time to be with each other is a real challenge when living abroad with a medically complex child.

    When Alessandra Giocometti's toddler experienced an unexplained respiratory disorder while they were living in The Netherlands, she and her husband benefited greatly from the "rucksack" program that provides a stipend to families with children with complex medical needs. The stipend pays for home-nursing and medical child care, so that parents can take time to connect outside of the home, or participate in activities that are rejuvenating.

    Self-care begins with acknowledging that it’s a basic need and making it a priority. The “how” comes later.

    2. Practice Mindfulness

    Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. Mindfulness teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn calls it “a love affair with life.”

    The ability to pay attention, on purpose, in the present moment and without judgement is vital to making the shift from seeing a situation as unmanageable, to seeing it as filled with new opportunities to live more deeply.

    • Stay in the Present

    Staying in the now prevents our brains from racing forward into the black hole of 'what ifs'. When Jodi Harris’ young son experienced life-threatening symptoms of type I diabetes in Madagascar, a firm foundation in meditation and mindfulness practice got her through the initial chaos of her son's diagnosis (including an emergency evacuation from their home of 18 months).

    Because she’d been developing these skills over time, she was able to apply them immediately. Jodi believes this was the fundamental factor to her ability to stay level-headed and reliable throughout his near-death experience and recovery.

    Pattie, too, after multiple, serious medical encounters and years living abroad with fibromyalgia and asthma, named her most effective coping strategy as “focusing on the present moment.”

    • Feel and Acknowledge

    ALL Emotions After losing part of his leg due to what was thought to be a bacterial infection, one participant stresses the healing that experienced when he allowed himself to feel and express his sadness, grief, and regret. Another who waited three long weeks for biopsy results, stressed the importance of talking about one’s fear rather than sitting on it letting it fester and grow.

    Jodi, too, says that permitting her fear, sadness, and sense of loss to flow through her body in real time, allowed her to stay present and be an effective parent for her son during his recovery.

    Several parents talk about the discomfort of living in limbo without a diagnosis for their child and spending years wondering if they'd done something to cause their child's developmental difficulties. One mother recalls her feelings of guilt and self-blame for what had happened to her child.

    "What did I do wrong?" she wondered, only to find out years later that his developmental struggles were unpreventable due to a genetic condition. Allowing herself to release that old guilt has allowed her to be more present for herself and her family today.

    Another participant shares that acknowledging her own depression and expressing her feelings to others in similar circumstances, allowed her to receive the support she needed so she could move through depression in a healthy way with an experienced counselor.

    • Choose Words and Imagery Consciously

    Words carry energy. Notice how words influence feelings, for example. When we use words that lift us up and resonate within us deeply, we feel more powerful. The opposite is also true.

    Some chose to call themselves a “survivor”, rather than a “patient” or “victim of…”. Others kept their illness and their personal identify completely separate. For example, one woman explains how she made a point not to identify herself as a cancer patient or survivor. She chose not to wear pink, wear a ribbon, or join in cancer-awareness activities. From her perspective, she was treating a temporary illness and did not invite it to become part of her identity.

    “Like Raku’ —the cracks are repaired with gold dust, the more cracks, the more valuable the piece becomes.”

     -- FIGT18 KTC participant

    When asked about inner strengths, participants used words and phrases like "born a fighter", persistence, and grit. Mantras like “quiet the mind to save the body”, and healing imagery like being wrapped in a “blanket of love”, rainbows after rain, light shining out of darkness, and a phoenix rising out of the ash helped partners and patients alike to feel more powerful or safe.

    When asked to name his healthcare journey, like a chapter in a much larger tale, a story of vulnerability, broken bones, and surgery while on vacation in Spain became A Spanish Tumble. For the years she zigzagged across the world trying to navigate a wide range of medical systems, Pattie’s journey became The World Maze of Healthcare. Giving it a name creates distance, so that a person can look at their situation from the outside.

    • Practice Gratitude

    Focusing on what is going right creates an energetic shift for many people. Some use a gratitude journal to record the little and grand aspects of their daily lives, incorporate their thanks into their daily prayers or into an intention they set for the day. Others in the group make the effort to give direct thanks to the people or organizations that helped and supported them through their medical ordeal.

    • Know Thyself

    Those who feel like they are living more profoundly with a greater sense of connection to others and life itself, have taken the time to reflect on their healthcare journey and their own strengths and vulnerabilities. We all have a dominant personal coping style, an Energetic Profile and an Energetic Stress Response. Understanding how the human stress response works and how we, or our loved-one, cope under stress provides the opportunity to make stress work for us, instead of against us. Once we understand what triggers our stress, we can work to transform it.

    3. Cultivate Fun

    Adults benefit from play just as much as children do. Not only is there therapeutic value in creativity and recreation but the diversionary aspect of play reduces stress, induces the relaxation response, and often provides avenues for connecting with others. Research also tells us laughter and smiling have direct health benefits and actually change our brain chemistry.

    For some, long waits in the treatment room, during dialysis, or chemo treatments become opportunities to practice a skill, create, or lighten the mood for others. One participant knits through her chemotherapy treatments. She uses photography to create self-portraits with a humorous slant, like a shiny green apple juxtaposed against her shiny pink scalp. She spends time with a group of women who share her sense of humor.

    Another describes his own mischief-making during a long and isolating hospitalization. Using meditation techniques to slow his heart rate he was able to set off monitor alarms, causing his nurses to come running.

    Discussion participant, Cath Brew, author and illustrator of Living Elsewhere, draws cartoons with often humorous and sometimes poignant captions about the experience of living abroad. She sees the lightness in the shadow side of being a global nomad and has found a way to heal and expand her own support system using creativity and humor.

    4. Connect (and Accept Support)

    Feeling isolated and alone is one of the most frequently mentioned challenges expats describe when facing a health crisis abroad. Far from family and close friends, some described their hesitancy to cross professional boundaries by informing colleagues of their situation or asking for assistance.

    Several participants who were working abroad and single, expressed the loneliness they experienced and how much they appreciated the help their colleagues provided. No one seemed to regret that they’d finally reached out and accepted help from acquaintances.

    For these expats, little things like hospital visits or telephone calls from colleagues, and larger gestures like retrieving fresh clothes and personal items from the patient’s home, or sitting with a hospitalized child while the parent takes a long overdue immediately broke the sense of aloneness they were experiencing.

    • Choose Your “Healing Team”

    One US Department of Defense civilian employee describes how she created a "protective bubble" for herself while going through cancer treatment in Italy. She discussed her illness only with those who had gone through treatment themselves or those who offered to help in tangible ways. She chose not to talk about the illness at work, allowing her to maintain a much-needed sense of normalcy in that part of her life.

    Another expat receiving cancer treatment in Qatar described her "core group" of "succulent women" -- high energy friends who were living life with zeal. This allowed her to stay engaged and inspired.

    • Use Social Media Consciously

    Several participants talked about how social media was both a blessing and a curse, urging others to choose carefully what, and with whom, they share online. It's important to know what purpose social media will serve and use it mindfully. Not everyone on social media knows how to be supportive or empathetic. One person chose to post nothing about her illness and recovery, while another used it for daily support.

    • Have Faith, Build Trust

    Many people with whom we spoke, expressed a sense of complete confidence or trust in something. Be it a higher power, the medical team, a greater purpose, or their own inner strength, turning towards a faith or life philosophy that held meaning and hope carried many through otherwise impossible times.

    Eliafra Seror, an American mother of nine living in Israel, says she had a very clear thought in her head after experiencing debilitating rheumatoid arthritis at the age of 42. "I knew I would find a way out of the pain," she says. “I thought to myself, ‘This is not how my life goes. I will find a way out. No doctor’s going to dictate how life will be.’” She had a one month old, seven other children and couldn’t dress herself.

    Some talk about prayer being the backbone of their recovery, imagining themselves in the "palm of God's hand" or "being healed by God's light," as Eliafra describes.

    Many talk about how important it is to build trust with their physicians. When parents are considered part of the team, trust immediately increases. One Italian mother describes an evening when she and her husband host their son's neurologist in their home for dinner while living in The Netherlands. Though unorthodox to some, this was a turning point in their relationship, she says.

    • Say Yes!

    To friends, to help, to love."Say YES!"exclaims Jodi Harris. When her young son required hospitalization and a medevac out of country, she accepted whatever help she and her family were offered, acknowledging their gestures of love directly, making her gratitude known. It’s not the time to pull away or let complex feelings get in the way of accepting support. Allow any outpouring of love to carry you through.

    • Make a Difference for Others

    For many, the opportunity to turn a painful, frightening, difficult path into something more meaningful comes to those who find value in sharing their experience, support, and wisdom with others who are facing similar challenges. Acting as a mentor to someone new to the situation is an opportunity to give others a chance to “say yes,” connect, and build trust.

    Some choose to work toward making systemic change in the areas they felt were lacking within their own experience. One former patient, is taking part in a medical school reform project called Patient as Teacher in Qatar. Here, she and other former patients provide education about the patient experience for young medical students and doctors.

    We invite you to join our discussion by sharing your own tools and strategies for thriving through health challenges abroad. What unexpected opportunities have emerged from your healthcare challenges? What would you add to this list? What insights do you have for those facing a life-shifting health experience abroad?

    If you are considering seeking professional support, working with a professional coach or psychologist creates a safe place to express your thoughts and feelings, create solutions, make decisions, and feel more satisfaction, peace, joy, and vitality in your life. A Certified Child Life Specialist can support you and your child or teen in preparing for an upcoming medical event, developing and rehearsing a coping plan, providing psychological preparation, and education around a child's understanding and experience of illness and loss.

    Many thanks to the 2018 Families in Global Transition Kitchen Table Conversation participants and other interviewees who have shared their stories and insights with us over the past eighteen months. You are all inspirational leaders in life and the expat community at large.

    Carolyn Parse Rizzo is a Certified Child Life Specialist and life coach for global families facing health challenges and change. She hosts a quarterly Vibrant Women's Circle for expat women in Northern Italy where she lives with her cross-cultural family. https://www.intervallifecoach.com/ 

  • 11 Mar 2019 9:30 PM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    The FIGT conference has changed everything for me! Will it do the same for you?

    I attended my first Families in Global Transition conference was in 2016, since then I have never missed a single conference. If fact, that is probably the only one trip that each year I know I’ll be taking for sure despite the long distance.

    I remember the day I arrived to Amsterdam to attend my first conference, I have to admit I was a little skeptical. I was wondering if I had done a huge mistake with this major investment for me to fly all the way from New York to be there. The conference had of course been highly recommended to me by some peers, but still, it was quite a leap of faith to decide go.

    My initial motive to go was simply to research my market and grow my network as I had launched a podcast show and was looking for interesting guests and experts to interview.

    However, from the moment I entered the room of the reception and attended the first keynote it suddenly felt as if I already knew these people, they were my people!

    Everyone was so welcoming and felt so familiar, despite the huge diversity of people, coming from all origins, ages and backgrounds. Also, it was such a relief to not have to go through the exhausting explanations about where I come from, where I lived, where I was going, and what is my mother tongue…

    Little did I know that this was just the beginning for me… After those three days, I left with a family and friendships with emotional and intellectual ties that are beyond explainable. But I also left with so much knowledge and understanding of everything I have been going through in my life, my career and my identity while living on the move since childhood, belonging everywhere and nowhere at the same time.

    I also discovered the wide range of great experts and resources that are designed to help expats and global nomads make the best of their experience on the move. My thought then was “why did I not know about these things before? I would have saved so much energy and time figuring it out on my own!”

    Therefore, since then I have been so passionately spreading the word to make sure that every global nomad in general and every expat spouse and expat parent in particular that I meet knows about this amazing platform.

    I am always impressed by how professional is the organization of this platform and by the high level of each conference I attended (Bangkok is going to be my 4th conference in a row, and the distance is twice as long!).

    All of this is made possible by a small team of amazing volunteers who generously offer their precious time, skills and energy. I honestly now can’t imagine a world for global nomads like us without the existence of Families in Global Transition.

    This was my personal experience with FIGT and why I keep going every year.

    However, in few words, here is how I think you should consider if you should join this conference and if it will make a difference for you:

    • If you want to connect with like-minded people who understand the whole complexity of your lifestyle, you will find your tribe of people who understand you at first glance and know how to build relationships that last beyond borders and time.

    • If you encounter identity, cross-culture, career, business, or legal challenges that you or your family struggle with due to your nomadic life and global transitions, you will find there all the expertise and guidance you need to make the best of your experience!

    • If you are an expert, coach or entrepreneur who has services or products that can truly help global nomads and expats, this is the perfect place to contribute with your expertise, grow your network but also find a community of entrepreneurs to stay in touch with and find potential partners.

    • Also, know that if you have participated to the conference and get to understand the spirit of FIGT, you will have a good chance to be selected to speak at the following conference.

    As a business coach, I always invite my clients to make sure to have at least one regular event or platform to belong to and attend on a consistent basis, but this has to be done from a place of true curiosity for other members and authenticity.

    That is one of the things I love most about the FIGT conference and why I feel so comfortable going each time, I do not have the feeling that attendees (or even sponsors) are there to just sell! Although a lot of attendees and speakers have indeed services or products to promote, everyone is so curious to learn from others and everyone supports each other beyond the business aspect. That, is for me the most mindful way to actually grow your business.

    As each year, it looks like I am going to have such a hard time choosing between all the great sessions. But here is just a small glimpse of topics that I find really interesting:

    • Prevention is Always Better Than Cure: How This Applies to International Family Law Issues with Lucy Greenwood and David Hodson

    • Cultivating Stillness in a Fast Moving World with Jody Harris

    • How To Prevent Your Relationship From Being Put to the Test When Your Life Is in Transition with Sundae Bean

    • Is Online the Future of Therapy for the Globally Mobile? With Sonia Jaeger and Vivian Chinoa

    • Strategies to Support Families in Global Transition with Gender Expansive and LGBTQ Youth with Lauran Anderson

    And I also hope to meet you at the concurrent session I will be presenting on April 27th at 11.30am! It is entitled How To Grow a Portable Business That Will Create the Impact You Want To Make.

    Whether you join this concurrent session or not, I still hope to have the opportunity to meet you there and get to know you if I do not already ;)

    See you in Bangkok!


    Amel Derragui is a business and marketing coach and the founder of Tandem Nomads, a podcast show and entrepreneurship platform designed to help expat partners and global nomads grow a successful portable business and create the impact they want to make, even when living on the move.

    After a career in advertising, she joined her husband abroad and launched a marketing consulting business cross three continents. Six years later, discovering a real need for expat spouses to find their own source of fulfillment and financial freedom, she launched Tandem Nomads. Featured in Forbes Magazine, Global Living Magazine and other media, Amel speaks at various events for corporate companies and organizations such as the UN or the World Bank.

  • 05 Mar 2019 12:36 PM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    Sarah Black, our current social media lead, wrote this piece on her return from FIGT2017, and it beautifully sums up how many of us feel about our first-ever Families in Global Transition conference. 

    One of the greatest challenge in the run up to any FIGT conference is explaining it's unique appeal to those who might not have been to one. Those of us who have had the joy of attending any of the conferences over the last two decades use phrases like "a roomful of friends we have yet to meet" "finding my tribe" and "an  overwhelming sense that I belonged".

    The difficulty is that those phrases might imply strong preexisting networks and community, when in reality, every single one of us felt nervous, awkward and often intimidated before we arrived.

    And each of us can retell the moment when those feelings were replaced by warmth, belonging and joy at being somewhere where we were understood, inspired and supported, no matter our background or experience.

    By Sarah Black

    Sometime around two weeks before I was due to fly out of Houston to attend the 2017 Families in Global Transition (FIGT) conference in The Hague, I began to wonder if I had made a terrible mistake.

    I had just started a new job, my first full time position in seven years, and there were deadlines looming on either side of my trip to The Hague. I hadn’t managed to post anything on my blog in weeks as I struggled to adjust to my new routine. And I couldn’t remember the last time I had spoken to another expat, other than my husband.

    The timing felt all wrong. I felt that I didn’t have anything to contribute to a group of globally savvy, experienced travelers. I was intimidated by the conference program. I wasn’t sure that I would fit in.

    I packed my bags with more apprehension than anticipation. I focused on the thought of spending two days in Amsterdam with an old friend rather than the conference just after it.

    To say that I need not have worried is an understatement. While the conference program boasts some of the most qualified, expert and erudite academics, entrepreneurs, writers and leaders in the expatriate and global nomadic world, it is much more importantly what we Irish would call ‘great craic’ (pronounced ‘crack’).

    Let me explain to you what the ‘craic’ is. It is notoriously hard to define but the essence of it that 'good craic’ is good conversation, light-hearted exchanges, occasional high spiritedness and in fairness, perhaps a wee glass of something alcoholic, though it is not an essential ingredient. To be able to have a bit of ‘craic’ with someone, there must be trust, a meeting of the minds and a recognition of another as a kindred spirit. It is the exchange of ideas; it is a bonding experience.

    It is something to look back upon fondly.

    The ‘craic’ is also personal – its whatever is going on with you; it is your story, it is your experience.

    And there is plenty of ‘craic’ to be had at FIGT. This is a place where everyone’s story is valid and accepted; where strangers become friends over the course of a single Kitchen Table session; where ideas are exchanged with enthusiasm, passion, and empathy. This is a place where big ideas are debated alongside the celebration of individual’s highly personal stories.

    It is a place where all of us who face the challenges of living in ‘global transition’ can talk freely about the anxieties, the fears as well as the opportunities and be not just heard but supported, emotionally and psychologically.

    As an expat and as a writer, FIGT is probably one of the safest spaces I’ve ever been in. I look back and realize that I missed opportunities because I didn’t fully anticipate the scale of the opportunity presented to me as an attendee.

    If you are reading this as a potential future attendee, I highly recommend that you take advantage of the opportunity and become part of the whole FIGT experience.

    I promise you, the craic is great.

    This article was originally published in Insights and Interviews from the 2017 Families in Global Transition (FIGT) Conference – Building on the Basics: Creating Your Tribe on The Move (available through the FIGT bookstore).

  • 26 Feb 2019 9:25 AM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    Some of the enduring themes that capture the cross-cultural experiences of FIGT members and our broader global community are transition, change, identity, stability, and growth. When these same topics are at the core of a long-time sponsor’s newest endeavor, and she chooses to share that news by not only renewing but increasing her sponsorship of FIGT, it is particularly exciting. We are thrilled to announce our newest Gold Sponsor: CrossBorder Living Institute, led by Jennifer Patterson.

    “As many of you know, for several years our advisory firm, Patterson Partners had the honor of sponsoring FIGT,” Jennifer said, sharing how discussions at several of FIGT’s annual conferences helped identify specific financial needs among the globally mobile. “During those years we were privileged to have plenty of robust conversations, many of which really helped highlight the gap that exists in the market between consumers who need access to solid information and resources, and the ability of regulated financial services firms to adequately serve in that gap.”

    “The models for today just don’t exist, particularly when it comes to roles, money, identity, and frankly, personal financial matters while living across borders,” she explained. “The stresses on families and relationships are increasing. The stresses that accompany making informed financial decisions among the dizzying array of advisor types, advisory compensation models, changing economies, changing tax rules, and rules that conflict with one another across borders are staggering. It’s no wonder that family units are breaking under it all.”

    “My solution to begin closing this gap was publication of my second book, Financial Planning for Global Living, which in many ways exposes the gap, and the creation of The Cross Border Living Institute. We want to make a difference to more people than we can in Patterson Partners.

    We created the Institute to start a conversation, provide access to the information that is otherwise hard to find, and help synthesize the information through a capstone program as well as resources including how to communicate about money and improve financial intimacy as a cross-border couple.”

    Jennifer knows firsthand the complexities of globally mobile life, having lived overseas more than half her life, and raised two tri-national kids with her dual-national husband.

    “We have learned so much, both living the life and working with clients one on one over the last few years. We’ve honed the model in the trenches and know that there is such a need for resources that help cross-border individuals, and couples in particular, navigate everyday issues, make an impact, and thrive today and sustain that into the future. ”

    FIGT appreciates the continued commitment of Jennifer Patterson to recognize the challenges and help make life easier for the globally mobile, and welcomes CrossBorder Living Institute as a Gold Sponsor.

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  • 19 Feb 2019 8:39 PM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    “Attend, connect, hang out with a ‘community of strangers’-there really is

    nothing else quite like it.”

    (FIGT 2018 attendee)

    Are you a counselor or coach looking to attend FIGT this year?

    If you have not yet decided or are looking to find out more from a counselor’s perspective, here is Shellee Burroughs' personal FIGT story:

    In 2017 I finished working as an international school counselor and went from being the family ‘bread-winner’ in Malaysia to the ‘stay at home’ mum back in the UK. As a result, I then decided to attend FIGT 2018 in The Hague in order to connect and re-evaluate the next steps in my journey after a very difficult repatriation.

    Connecting with others could not have come at a better time for me. After spending time with counselors, coaches, other TCK parents and a huge variety of like-mind individuals, I realized that I had finally ‘found my people’. This resulted in my recognizing the importance and value of the changes I was experiencing and how I could utilize my unique skills as counselor and Art Psychotherapist within this incredible community and move forward from the paralysis of re-patriating without employment to self -employment within the globally mobile field.

    Are you a coach or counselor?

    2019 is an exciting new stage for FIGT as we will be meeting in South East Asia for the first time! This is a fantastic first for many coaches and counselors from the area who I know have been looking forward to this event and who are looking to connect with other like-minded people in Bangkok in April.

    So, what can I gain from attending?

    There are so many reasons, here are just a few:

    • Meet other professionals from the coaching and counseling profession and related fields.
    • Contribute your skills, experience and knowledge to the coaching & counseling field
    • Learn more about current developments and research in the globally mobile arena
    • Attend our first affiliate meeting and connect with other members.
    • Come and join the FIGT family.

    What are the specific benefits for counselors and coaches?

    Again, there is a long list, but professionally you will benefit from:

    • Connecting with other counselors and coaches
    • Learning about new approaches and developments relevant to the field
    • Developing exciting collaboration opportunities
    • Discovering and sharing exciting resources and ideas
    • Being on the cutting edge of new developments
    • Having access to an extensive knowledge base
    • Joining the Counseling and Coaching Affiliate and attending our first meeting
    • Professional networking opportunities
    • Continuing Professional Development

    On a personal level, you will also benefit from:

    • Counseling and coaching can be isolating at times, connecting and sharing with
    • others is extremely beneficial.
    • Be energized and reinvigorated by the conference itself.
    • Are you in transition? FIGT promotes connection which can really help
    • Making friends and professional connections for FIGT 20 and beyond
    • Returning home with a fresh outlook and great memories

    What sessions might be of interest specifically to counselors and coaches at #FIGT2019 this year? If you are interested in hearing more about developments in the field of identity from established pioneers in the field here are some sessions of particular interest:

    Day 1:

    Early Bird Forum:

    Meeting of the FIGT Counseling & Coaching Affiliate’ Daniela Tomer & Shellee Burroughs

    (This early bird forum is to gather as a group and connect as an affiliate for the first time. As a result, there is no presentation during this session).

    Panel Discussion:

    ‘FIGT: Reframing Traditional Approaches to Identity & Belonging’ Ruth Van Reken and Daniela Tomer

    Day 2:

    Early Bird Forum:

    ‘Counseling & Early Bird Forum on Emotional Support of Children in Global Transition’ Emilie Frijs Due & Pascale Paradis

    This session will consist of two presentations followed by an open discussion on best practices counseling children in a cross-cultural environment.

    Concurrent Sessions:

    If you are interested in learning more about a therapeutic art-based tool I have used for many years with the globally mobile, I will be presenting the following hands-on session:

    ‘Create an Island: A Hands-On Workshop Using This Art-Based Tool for Working with Globally Mobile Children, Adults & Professionals’ Shellee Burroughs

    Other concurrent sessions of potential interest for counselors and coaches include:

    ‘Surveying the Landscape: Common Practices, Challenges and Opportunities in International School Transition Support’ Ellen Mahoney

    ‘How to Prevent Your Relationship from Being Put to The Test When Your Life Is In Transition’ Sundae Schneider Bean

    Kitchen Table Conversation:

    Is Online the Future of Therapy for the Globally Mobile?’ Sonia Jaeger & Vivian Chiona

    Day 3

    As an Art Psychotherapist and supporter of the arts in therapy, I personally can’t wait to find out more about:

    ‘The Universal Language of Music and Role in Fostering Identity, Understanding & Connection’ Melissa Indot

    Take a look at the rest of the program -there are many other wonderful presentations, panels and discussions taking place over the three days of the conference.

    Why am I excited about attending FIGT in April?

    If it wasn’t for FIGT last year I would not have had the pleasure to have met Kelli, Tami and Jacqueline with whom I was approached by Daniela Tomer to help set up the first Counseling & Coaching Affiliate. Our first early bird meeting takes place this year and 2019 is already an exciting start for us as a new affiliate group because we started our ‘virtual coffee’ monthly zoom meetings in January. ‘Virtual Coffee’ has generated a great deal of interest and a growing affiliate group as a result which just illustrates the hard work and dedication of all involved.

    I am also looking forward to meeting people I met at FIGT in 2018 and also seeing old friends from South East Asia who I haven’t seen since leaving Kuala Lumpur. Hearing new speakers, meeting people with exciting ideas, random conversations in lifts, laughter over coffee with strangers-the list goes on and on. Come and connect with your global family. It is worth it on a multitude of levels and for a multitude of reasons and I really cannot recommend it highly enough.

    Shellee Burroughs is a Registered Art Psychotherapist and trauma specialist who repatriated to the UK from Malaysia in 2017 with her husband and two TCK children. She now runs 'Therapeutic Art Approach' courses and presentations to a wide variety of related groups (therapists, coaches, parents, staff etc) and is looking forward to presenting at FIGT in April.

  • 14 Feb 2019 2:50 PM | Anonymous

    We are very pleased to announce our second keynote speaker for the #FIGT2019 conference – Anita Kapoor. Anita’s keynote will focus on the concept of LEAD.

    TV presenter, writer, travel show host, emcee and international media celebrity, Anita knows what it means to live a global life. Born in India, Anita has spent most of her life in Singapore (the place she calls ‘home’) but both her professional and personal life continue to take her around the world and satiate her appetite for travel.

    Renowned for her ability to seek what lies beyond the obvious and discuss global yet personal issues such as feminism and death, Anita’s reflections are always exciting.

    A fierce advocate of individuality and a spokesperson for equality, Anita has learned to use her Third Culture Kid (TCK) status to her advantage. ‘It’s often when we feel that we’re on the periphery of things, of places, that we are granted a clearer sight in’ she explains.

    With that insight, and with the opportunities that travel and global living can bring, comes a sense of responsibility. ‘Being grateful is so important to me’, she says modestly. ‘Yes, I’ve had a charmed TCK life. I’ve also lived through challenges. But I believe that it’s through being grateful that we gain empathy’. One senses what Anita really means - without empathy, the global life lacks depth and meaning.

    Anita’s keynote will focus on recognising and accepting our individuality, and learning to become ‘enlightened stakeholders’ of wisdom and understanding. ‘I am not interested in applying labels and living in bubbles’ she explains, but instead will focus on the great opportunity that a global life can bring.

    Anita’s work continues to take her around the globe; between mid-February and #FIGT2019 in April, Anita will have spent time in India and Nepal. ‘Who knows how the next two months will change me and what more I will be able to bring to you’ she explains.

    One thing is certain, the keynote will be energising, inspiring and most probably challenging.

    For those who do not know Anita’s work, please see the links below.

    Further links

  • 13 Feb 2019 1:30 PM | Anonymous

    Almost a year on since the launching of the new FIGT membership strategy, our membership has increased by 37%. We take this moment to reflect on our growth and invite you to share your thoughts.

    Since launching the new membership strategy at #FIGT18NL, we are pleased to share that we have witnessed at 37% increase in our members. Thank YOU to all the #FIGTMembers who continue to support the work we do by investing in us, and benefiting from the privileges we offer.

    More small businesses/non-profits members

    As you can see in the chart below, the new level we introduced in March in The Hague, that of ‘small businesses/non-profits’ has proven to be very popular. Welcome to all those who took the step to take advantage of this, and join our Public Directory - thus sharing with the globally mobile community the services, expertise and support you offer!

    A reminder though, to ensure you are ‘found’ we encourage you to login to your profile, ensure it is complete -- social media tags, key words -- and of course an image. For the latter, please contact admin@figt.org for support in adding an image.

    Active affiliates

    We also see an increasing number of events being organized by our affiliates in the last year -- FIGT is clearly hitting a mark, and making an impact.

    Did you know we have 10 affiliates across the world, and two thematic/virtual ones? Or, that FIGT membership is NOT required to participate in them? Check them out here. This is just one of the ways you can discover FIGT and the people who, like you, are drawn to it.

    Share your thoughts!

    With 261 members and counting, and more affiliate events being planned, what advice would you give to encouraging more individuals to join FIGT and be a part of our community?

    Share your thoughts with us by emailing them to membership@figt.org, or bring them to #FIGT2019 where we can discuss them further.

    Alternatively, share your thoughts within the FIGTMembers Group on Facebook where we can start a conversation among #FIGTMembers.

    Stay tuned for added #FIGTMember privileges leading up to #FIGT2019.

  • 12 Feb 2019 11:47 AM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    We are delighted to feature submissions from our Member community, and today we are excited to share one by Carolyn Parse Rizzo, a longtime FIGT supporter, conference attendee and 2018 Conference Presenter.

    Many thanks to health psychologist Vivian Chiona, founder and director of Expat Nest, for her important contributions to this article.

    By Carolyn Parse Rizzo

    It can be extremely stressful when we or someone we love becomes ill abroad. As well as the (very normal) physical and mental turmoil of illness, we also find ourselves dealing with additional challenges that are unique to international life.

    At the 2018 Families in Global Transition (FIGT) conference in March, psychologist Vivian Chiona (Expat Nest) and I got together for a “Kitchen Table Conversation” on exactly this topic.

    Participants included missionaries, financial planners, educators, executives, researchers, writers, coaches, artists, and others within the international community. They were also parents of children with serious medical conditions, spouses to partners with a serious illness, or medical patients themselves. 

    Swiss, Canadian, Italian, Austrian, Australian, English, Israeli, American, African, Belgian, Taiwanese, and Dutch passport holders have all contributed to this ongoing discussion. 

    8 Common Concerns of Expats

    Below are eight common concerns that emerged from this fascinating discussion with expert expats and expat experts alike! In Part II of this article, we offer four overarching strategies that are packed with opportunities to get you through, or altogether avoid, these potential roadblocks.

    Participant Michael Watkins, an expat who experienced a life-threatening medical crisis while traveling in Switzerland, named the first three major challenges faced by expats and travelers who experience health issues. 

    1. Ignorance

    In the true sense of the word, many expats and travelers, have little, if any, knowledge or information about the local healthcare system until they are faced with a crisis. The process, coverage, and payment protocols differ greatly from country-to-country, but we often make assumptions that our healthcare experiences will be similar to those in our native country (or our last country of residence).

    Regardless of the outcome, assumption and lack of knowledge add undue stress to an already stressful situation.

    One mother described a scenario where she made daily trips to the ATM machine in the hospital where her preschooler was admitted. Every day, she'd withdraw the maximum, thinking she would have to pay thousands for her child's five day hospital stay. Her husband was out of town. She'd been studying the language, but it wasn't enough to understand the process.

    In the end, she was charged only 60 euros, the price of her meals while accompanying her child.

    Though this was a welcome and pleasant surprise, her own assumption and lack of knowledge caused needless anxiety.

    2. Insurance, Financial Burden

    The wrong insurance (or no insurance) can lead to a personal financial crisis. Those who have been through a medical crisis abroad, stress the importance of understanding the host country's local medical coverage and how it interacts with private insurance carriers, including medevac coverage and pre-existing conditions. 

    An American couple traveled all over Europe believing they were covered by Medicare. After one sustained a serious bicycle accident, broken bones, head injury, and week-long hospitalization in Italy, they learned that Medicare did not cover them outside the United States.

    While they were not denied care, the stress of trying to navigate how they would pay these international bills while also figuring out how to transport her seriously injured husband home for surgery (where it was surely covered) was overwhelmingly stressful.

    Another traveler described the financial barrier he and his wife faced in Spain when "the hospital demanded upfront payment for most of the cost" of a surgery and hospitalization after he sustained a fall.

    In this case, they were covered by insurance, but were forced to use credit cards at admission and would not be reimbursed for some time, causing a period of financial hardship. Additional room and board costs were not covered.

    Sometimes you get lucky like Watkins who explained how he learned, after the fact, that his private insurance covered not only his private room, but higher quality medical equipment, medicines, and food during his lengthy hospitalization in Switzerland. This detail varies from country-to-country as well.

    3. Isolation

    Almost everyone described the sense of isolation and lack of support they felt being far from a personal and professional support system. Whether alone for weeks in a stark hospital room, recuperating at home as a single, without the support of close friends or family, or posted in a remote area, far from quality facilities, isolation can be a major obstacle to recovery. 

    Lack of emotional and logistical support (e.g. like someone to collect kids from school, run household errands, or cook) contributes to this sense of isolation. Without a close support network, individuals and families dealing with a medical crisis abroad can feel unmanageable stress and fatigue, decreasing their ability to cope, make decisions, or maintain a positive outlook.

    In addition to the challenges born out of Ignorance, Insurance, and Isolation, issues related to Trust, Communication, Overwhelm, Parenting, and Pain also came up in our Kitchen Table Conversation. While several of these may be true for anyone facing a health crisis, we agree that it is the interplay between them amplifies the overall challenge, creating a unique experience for expats in this arena.

    4. Communication

    Or rather, miscommunication, or misunderstandings with healthcare providers due to a language barrier or cultural differences in communication styles and expectations is a real roadblock. Even routine check-ups and screenings can be put off or missed altogether.

    For some, these misunderstandings lead to a general mistrust of the medical system, itself. Once this has happened, it can be hard to reconcile, to return to the same system when a need arises again.

    5. Mistrust

    Trust can be difficult to cultivate when communication is a struggle, but when a patient's symptoms are not believed or validated, or where a misdiagnosis occurs, a patient is left to suffer both physically and psychologically, as described by more than one participant.

    When a patient is empowered and knows themselves well, not being believed, heard or helped when they are suffering is even more maddening.

    There could be a cultural or individual bias at play and the solution may be as easy as switching primary care physicians or specialists, but overcoming mistrust of an entire medical culture is a heavy burden for those who must continue to engage with the system.

    6. Overwhelm and Indecision

    Some described a sense of paralyzing overwhelm when they received news of a new diagnosis; a long list of tasks to complete within a limited time-frame, under stress, not knowing how or where to begin.

    This feeling can lead to indecision or the "freeze" stress response in which no action is taken whatsoever. 

    Another version of overwhelm is "analysis paralysis" where the person who must make the medical decision becomes overwhelmed by all the information and possible pathways, becoming stuck and unable to move forward.

    7. Complex Parenting 

    There are a myriad of scenarios that make parenting more challenging when there is a health crisis in a family. If one parent must split time between hospital visits and home routines, but they are lacking social-emotional support themselves, stress levels rise even higher. Finding time to recharge seems nearly impossible.

    If it is a parent who is injured or ill, children may also need extra emotional support at a time when the parents’ emotional reserves are low. It may be overwhelming to think about how to talk to the children about what's happening or to know how much to share.

    If the child is the patient, there are often social-emotional and scholastic implications that arise, in addition to the physical issues. Depending upon where the family is based, there may not be access to necessary medical care or support services. A career may be cut short, siblings lives suddenly up-heaved.

    A couple of parents described hasty departures and medevac rides, uprooting in search of a posting that could support their family's well-being.

    8. Pain and Discomfort 

    Anyone who has experienced acute or chronic pain, understands how it can dominate everything else listed here. Aside from learning how to survive and thrive physically, patients and their loved ones reported feelings of guilt, self-blame, doubt, sense of loss, grief, anxiety/depression, hopelessness, helplessness, and fear.

    How human pain (both physical and psychological) is interpreted and treated varies widely between cultures. Some cultures medicate for every ache, while others hold off on pharmaceuticals. Some systems provide substantial patient support services, while others provide only essential medical care. Non-pharmaceutical pain management options may be suggested, but no coaching provided on how to implement them.

    Finally, mental health is not always covered by the local system and if it is, it may be difficult to find a local therapist in one's native language. Culturally, the role of a psychiatrist may be primarily to prescribe medications without therapy and monitoring, so those seeking both may feel like they're falling through the cracks.

    If you are considering seeking professional support, working with a professional coach or psychologist online or via telephone is another option. There are virtual "offices" where you are invited to express and explore your thoughts and feelings about your health journey, develop coping strategies and ultimately experience more satisfaction, peace, joy, and vitality in your life. 

    A Certified Child Life Specialist can support you, your children, and teens through a medical event or illness by helping you design an effective coping plan and providing age-appropriate explanations of diagnoses and medical procedures. 

    What would you add to this list of challenges? What insights do you have for crossing cultures with a medical condition? 

    Continue on to Part II, where we explore strategies and solutions to some of these challenges, as well as unexpected opportunities.

    Carolyn Parse Rizzo is a Certified Child Life Specialist and life coach for global families facing health challenges and change. She hosts a quarterly Vibrant Women's Circle for expat women in Northern Italy where she lives with her cross-cultural family. www.intervallifecoach.com

  • 09 Feb 2019 5:21 AM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    It’s been a busy time for #FIGTMembers with news hitting various newsfeeds.

    #FIGTScholar, Jessica Sanfilippo-Schulz, featured on the Leeds University news site. The article described the Pollock Scholarship and FIGT and congratulated Jessica on being awarded the Scholarship. We add our congratulations and look forward to meeting you in Bangkok Jessica, and thank you for sharing the FIGT story with Leeds University.

    Congratulations too to #FIGTMember Chris O’Shaughnessy and his bride Joy who were married in January – and invited everyone to join them in a FB Live event. That’s the way TCKs can include all their global friends in such a special event.

    Another heart-warming event that we heard about via FB was from #FIGTMember, and previous Social Media Lead for FIGT, Lillian Small, who had a baby girl. She looks so lovely, Lillian – congratulations.

    Back to romantic relationships, #FIGTMember, Mariam Ottimofiore and her husband Martino, were recently video interviewed by Fuschia Magazine about their 12-year marriage. Titled How A German Fell For A Pakistani Girl... they discuss cross cultural relationships.

    There was much interest on FB as #FIGTMember Vivian Chiona announced the launch of the Greek website of Expat Nest. It’s great to see such valuable resources available in another language.

    Jo Parfitt, #FIGTMember and recently announced Keynote Speaker for #FIGT2019, announced the publication of the 2018 FIGT Conference book. Many #FIGTMembers contributed to this book and news of its publication was welcomed by many as a permanent record of the presentations from the conference in The Hague.

    If you are an #FIGTMember and have news you’d like to share with us please let us know.

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