Welcome to Globally Grounded, a company and website dedicated to supporting students crossing cultures, their families and those who educate them as they navigate through the triumphs and challenges associated with cross-cultural domestic and/or international transitions. This may be from one country to another, one state to another, one city to another or from one subculture to another such as indigenous to non-indigenous, rural to urban, family home to boarding school and vice versa. We consult to international and local schools, families and students crossing cultures – developing their understanding of the impact of cross-cultural mobility, designing programs and implementing support mechanisms to enhance learning and life.
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Have you ever dreamed of visiting a distant land after seeing it captured in a documentary, cheering on your favourite sporting team in real life or seeing a certain acclaimed artwork or salient sculpture in person? Recently I fulfilled one of those long-held dreams. Viewing Auguste Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’ (Le Penseur) sculpture in Paris has been ticked off my Bucket List! Walking into the Grande Palais exhibition marking the centenary of Rodin’s death, there he was, larger than life – thinking. Quietly studying his features, it struck me how intentionally reflective he appeared and I immediately began making connections with my own life and what I had learned from the Families in Global Transition Conference (FIGT) in The Hague just a few weeks before.
Rodin’s most iconic sculpture, Le Penseur, is more contemplative than other famous sculptures such as the commemorative Statue of Liberty in New York or Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro. It came into being after Rodin had sculptured ‘The Gates of Hell’. You may notice some similarities between the man at the centre of ‘The Gates of Hell’ and ‘The Thinker’. Rodin used his past experience and understanding to create this new work, adding more detail to every facet of The Thinker’s body, to capture this quintessential introspective moment. Walking through the gallery in Paris that day, I observed that it was full of miniature plaster and clay sculptures, each one building on the previous until Rodin had it just right before sculpting in bronze or marble. I confess to being a little disappointed when I first saw this Le Penseur because it was in plaster and not the bronze I had hoped to see. Understanding his creative journey, however, I am now thrilled that I saw one of his early original works in progress – a stepping stone that led to the full realisation. Also throughout the exhibition were drawings depicting many of the sculptures from different perspectives, using a variety of techniques and mediums such as ink pen or pencil. “Seeking the sources of a renewed sculpture in the very process of developing form became a constant practice for Rodin. This approach, which was entirely original at the time, would go on to become extremely widespread among future generations of artists,” said the exhibition program. It was clear that Rodin valued the reflective thinking process and looking at things from different perspectives to improve his craft, creativity and the end result.
I too, believe in the power of reflection and looking at things from different perspectives. As a student I found reflective thinking helped me to learn from my mistakes and make sense of the world so as a teacher, I made it a priority to help my students develop their reflective thinking – both of their school-work and their personal life. As a parent, I do the same, every evening in fact, as we sit around the dinner table and reflect on our day, celebrating and learning from what was, in the hope of enriching was is and what will be. As an adult, I make time to reflect on my spiritual, personal and professional life and as a youth intercultural transition specialist, my work revolves around helping students to reflect on their past in order to enhance and bring meaning to their present and future.
That’s what is so powerful about reflection. It’s about looking back at what worked and what didn’t, why, what was learned and how this can be applied to the status quo, in order to adapt, improve and aspire. As I stood before Rodin’s sculpture I was taken back to my MEd studying days and the work of John Dewey – yes, the same guy who gave us the Dewey system for library cataloguing. Often seen as the father of reflective thinking, he maintains there are four elements for effectiveness:
It is a meaning-making process
It is intentional and disciplined
It occurs in community, in interaction with others
It requires the thinker to value the personal and intellectual growth of themselves as well as others. *
Standing in the Grande Palais, such reflective thoughts soon moved to revelation as I realized this is exactly what we did at the FIGT Conference a few weeks before. This year’s theme was Building on the Basics: Creating Your Tribe on the Move. Thanks to the program carefully crafted by Daniela Tomar, we intentionally went back to investigate the terms, concepts and frameworks associated with families in global transition, which have been developing for over 60 years. As our world continues to change, it was, and is, important for us to acknowledge those foundations and to build upon them in order to gain understanding whilst embracing the change. By doing so we remain relevant and effective to the very people with whom we work, live and educate. What resulted was a gathering of “researchers, educators, counsellors, relocation specialists, artists, humanitarians, entrepreneurs, students and parents”** to make meaning in an intentional and disciplined way, as a community, valuing the personal and intellectual growth of others and ourselves.
Ruth van Reken’s presentation during the ‘Finding Your Language on the Move’ panel was a meaning-making process for me. Stepping through the timeline of terms used to define and describe children in cultural transition, Ruth clearly depicted how our world has and continues to change. I was struck by the strong legacy that has increased our awareness and understanding and upon which we now build. Thanks to Dr Hill-Useem’s ‘Third Culture’ in the 1950s, David Pollock’s ‘Third Culture Kid’ (TCK) and Norma McCaig’s ‘Global Nomad’ in the 1980s, Ruth’s own ‘Cross Cultural Kid’ in the early 2000s, Michael Pollock’s recently updated ‘Third Culture Kid’ and more terms along the way, we have been given a language which helps identify, understand and support the many variations of kids crossing cultures in the 21st Century. Reflective thinking.
Intentional and Disciplined:
One of the reasons I attended my first FIGT conference was to hear the latest research on students in global transition. The research findings tabled at FIGT are methodologically robust, relevant and insightful. I rely on them to inform my work. This year, I particularly appreciated the intentional and disciplined research into
the educational experiences of TCKs attending international schools presented by Anastasia Lijaldi,
Katia Mace’s study of TCK Identity and the variables that make a difference and
Ann Baker Cottrell’s investigation of the terms associated with Globally Mobile Children over time by asking the question, are they one tribe or many?
Each paper deserves their own blog post but all of them used the past to inform their research questions and build upon their understanding of the present and future, which in turn helps me/us too. Reflective thinking.
During the FIGT conference I tweeted the statistics – “288 delegates, 36 countries, 3 days, 3 keynotes, 7 Early Bird sessions, 70 Presenters, 33hrs of inspiration, countless connections”. Thanks to Twitter’s 140 character limit, what I didn’t have room to tweet was the 14 kitchen table conversations, 6 Ignite sessions, 2 panel discussions and the hours upon hours of dialogue, debate and deliberation that occurred outside the structured program. FIGT is a place where discussion is valued. Whether it’s the three days of the FIGT Conference, the Facebook group for FIGT Alumni or the regular FIGT Webinar’s, the perspectives of others are appreciated and respectedand I come away from each interaction having learned something new. Reflective thinking.
Valuing the personal and intellectual growth of ourselves and others:
A prime example of this element of reflective thinking occurred on the last morning of the FIGT Conference, when over 60 people arose early, and enthusiastically joined the Safe Passage Across Networks (SPAN) Steering Committee to learn about the vision and what transpired at the inaugural SPAN Pre-Conference just days before. It was a time to review, debrief and to hear the perspectives of others not present on that historic day. SPAN delegate Claudine Hakim represented the thoughts of many when she spoke of her realisation that as educators, “we have a responsibility not to focus so much on ‘our’ program but to actually look at our community – the transition in and the transition out and our duty to work with other communities to ensure our Tribe are looked after when they leave our community.” Jody Tangredi, not present on the Pre-Conference day, asked important questions about SPAN’s organisational development that had us all thinking deeply and practically. Reflective thinking.
Back to Paris – I had no idea that seeing one of my favourite sculptures in person would evoke such deep thinking! Rodin’s life’s work was based on the reflective thinking process and resulted in him being praised as the man who brought sculpture back to life. “Each generation of audiences and creators view his work in a new way, and a different Rodin is discovered with each passing decade. Far from relegating him to a bygone era, these new perspectives constantly enrich the way his art is understood,” states the Rodin Exhibition program. In a similar way, the FIGT Conference helped me to view the work of our global transition pioneers in a new way, appreciate the intentional and disciplined approaches of our current researchers, use the perspectives of others to enrich my own life and those with whom I live, work and educate whilst also valuing the intellectual growth of others. Thank you FIGT for creating a safe space for me to think reflectively so that like Le Penseur, who appears to be on the verge of putting his ideas into motion, I am now propelled to put my thoughts into action.
* Rodgers, C. (2002) Defining Reflection: Another Look at John Dewey and Reflective Thinking, Teachers College record, v104, n4, p842-866
The train departed Dordrecht Station promptly at 8:37am. Taking her seat beside the rain-spattered window, a silent yawn escaped. She had barely slept a wink the night before, in anticipation of the week ahead. By the time the sun set on today, they would be reunited, in Paris. How did it come to this?
The Netherlands landscape raced by – farmhouses with red-pitched roofing, long lines of green pastures punctuated by water dikes, dark brown soil arranged by the plough in perfect parallel lines, windmills with their giant slow-spinning fans dotted abstractly over the distant plains, cattle grazing, sheep resting and a tall chestnut horse being put through his paces in a dressage arena. All the while her mind is elsewhere, in a land and time far away.
The land – Australia. The time – 2009 and the phone call that changed everything. A job opportunity in Singapore meant she, her husband and their little family would be leaving the home they had just built in paradise, for the unknowns of Asia. She recalled the tears that flowed when she walked into her boss’ office to break the news. She would be leaving her dream job and would not be able to work in her new host country. Sitting in the crowded train carriage, she now realizes that her boss is the reason this reunion is occurring.
The ‘She’ is me. In a few short hours I will have travelled through three different countries (still difficult for my Australian mind to comprehend) to spend a week in Paris with two girlfriends, who, less than ten years ago, I had no idea existed. I am reflecting on a very treasured friendship and how incredible it is that three women, born in three different continents can meet, instantly connect, do life together for less than one year, and somehow remain lifelong friends. No. Not merely friends, soul mates.
It’s a funny thing – international friendships in the expatriate or ‘Third Culture’. A connection is made very quickly. There’s an intensity that is perhaps absent in the early stages of friendship in a monoculture. Driven by the knowledge that we don’t know how long it will be before one of us leaves the location and a need for companionship, support and a sense of belonging when the usual support mechanisms are not available, we dive in. If successful, it is rich, it is real and it is raw. This is how it was for us in Singapore.
It all began thanks to ‘The Network’. My boss sent an email to an associate of his who had recently moved to Singapore. The subject read, ‘Jane meet Jane’ (I know, how funny that we both have the same name…and as we would soon discover there were a lot more similarities besides). A brief introduction followed and the friendship was forged via email, before I had even set foot in the land that would soon capture my heart and mind. On the other side, Jane’s husband had worked with Vanessa’s husband. They introduced their wives to each other over dinner during the ‘Singapore Discovery Visit’ of Vanessa’s family. There was an instant connection. People know people and when you move to a new location, those networks are lifelines. And if you don’t know people, groups such as I am a Triangle have people who do. Living abroad somehow creates a desire to come alongside others, even if you’ve never met, providing practical information, moral support and allowing one person’s stumbling blocks to be another person’s stepping stones. Little did I know that one email would help me to find soul mates.
Our first face-to-face meeting was in the upstairs café of a busy Singapore Mall. With views of the Botanic Gardens beyond, the three of us found common ground very quickly. Interests, values and faith were, and are, the anchors. Personalities, a sense of adventure and a lot of laughter became the sails. We laughed, we cried, we cheered and we sighed. Six months on, we would be celebrating milestone birthdays as if we’d known each other since birth and nine months later one of us would depart Singapore’s shores – a familiar scenario for international friendships.
It takes nine months for a precious baby to be fully formed inside its mother’s womb. It took nine months to develop a treasured friendship that now sees us meeting in Paris to celebrate another milestone birthday. We’ve come from across the globe, as often happens with friendships nourished whilst living abroad – Vanessa from the UK, Jane from Singapore (yes, she’s still there and sure she’s going to be the last one left to turn out the lights) and me from Australia. Authentic friendships can span the globe.
The Train Conductor announces that we will soon be arriving at Paris’ Gare du Nord Station. My mind jumps forward to the present. In the case of Vanessa, we go years now without seeing each other but when we do, we pick up where we left off. No small talk, no delicate dipping of toes at the water’s edge. We just jump right in…and make quite a splash! In the case of Jane, we see each other more often – once or twice a year so the conversations can be more surface, initially. They don’t stay there for long though as we dive down to the bottom of the ocean and explore the many treasures to be found there. From parenting to politics, religion to retirement, soul-searching to sex – nothing is off limits! We’re not always in agreement but we do appreciate each other’s perspectives. I’m looking forward to more of these conversations in the week ahead, far beyond what our social media platforms of choice can ever hope to deliver.
As the train pulls into Platform 5, I can barely contain my excitement about seeing these cherished friends and sharing the next week with them. There has been plenty written about how to make friends whilst living abroad and in recent times, about finding your tribe on the move. In fact, the whole reason why I am in Europe already is because I have been attending the Families in Global Transition (FIGT) Conference in The Hague and facilitating a Writers’ Forum on that exact topic – Connecting with your Online Tribe Through Blogging Whilst You’re Repatriating. The theme of this year’s FIGT Conference was “Building on the Basics: Creating Your Tribe on the Move”. This is my second year at the FIGT Conference and it was another reminder of the powerful connections and friendships made with people on the move. I have enjoyed and benefitted from connecting with friends made last year, friends and associates whom I’ve only known online until now and new friends and associates from across the globe. Making friends and finding your tribe on the move is being written about and spoken about because it is so important. Friends made abroad become family. They can help you feel at home, bring balance and create a sense of belonging that is innate in each of us.
A wise person once wrote, “It’s the friends we meet along life’s road who help us
to appreciate the journey.” This is true of all my friendships – old and new. What a blessing and what a privilege.
So what about you? What is your experience of making friends on the move? How have those friendships developed? How has it impacted your life? I’ve obviously written from my perspective as a woman but I’d love to hear from the men reading this post. What is your experience of making friends whilst living abroad?
Today, it is a privilege to introduce my special guest, Hannele Secchia, to you. Born in Ethiopia to German and Finnish parents, she lived there for most of her developmental years. Hannele repatriated twice to England at ages six and eleven and spent her high school years at boarding school in Kenya. At eighteen, she moved to England to study and whilst there, met her Italian/South African husband. They lived in England until 2009 before moving back to Ethiopia where they are now raising four of their own Third Culture Kids (TCKs). I met Hannele, an HR manager currently based in Addis Ababa, at the recent Families in Global Transition (FIGT) Conference in The Hague. As a first time attendee, here she shares her reflections about the conference and being part of a very unique sector of our global community.
“When my colleague, Steph, asked me last year, to join her at the 2017 FIGT Conference, I had no idea what to expect. I just knew it fitted well with what I was hoping to do in the future – expatriate care in Ethiopia. I bit the bullet, registered, booked the flights and the hotel, even though at that point Steph wasn’t sure if she would make it. I could do this even on my own, right? I was relieved when Steph was able to come after all – at least we’d get to spend time together, if nothing else.
A week before the conference, I considered cancelling as I had just been in Germany, away from the family two weeks previous and I was still recovering from the dizziness and nausea that accompanied a bout of flu. The thought of four more flights was not in the slightest appealing! Thankfully, I felt much better by the weekend before the conference.
As the Monday rolled around, the first selfie arrived on the conference Facebook page, accompanied by words of excitement and joy. As the selfies and expectation continued to build over the next couple of days, I commented to my husband on what a strange conference this must be… Never before had I seen people post selfies of themselves travelling to conferences with such a sense of palpable anticipation! I joined the selfie crew and posted a picture of Steph and me, the intrepid travellers, pulling our suitcases through the mud…
At first glance, the conference would have seemed like any other to the random passerby – registration desk, bookstore, plenary hall, breakout rooms and a room serving delicious food and drinks throughout the day to keep us going. Had that random passerby stopped to linger for a moment, however, they would have noticed how quick attendees were to introduce each other and how little reticence there was to take the plunge, introduce yourself and quickly find common ground to talk about. They would have observed the lack of niceties and pleasantries and the abundance of deep conversation as if attendees had known each other for more than just a minute. The exchange of business cards was a rapid affair and having returned from the conference, I have realised that the business cards I hold in my hand feel more like mementos from a special trip that link me to precious memories.
Another thing I quickly observed was that there was a core of people who were clearly the cogs of the organisation, making it happen. There were those with administrative gifts, those who held the the keys to history, those whose enthusiasm bubbled over the edges, those with the gift of putting thoughts onto paper, those with the gift of addressing large audiences and those with the critical thinking and analytical skills to gain an overview of this world of global transition. The attendees were as varied as the cogs, from writers to bloggers, to school administrators, to teachers, to researchers, to psychotherapists, to cultural experts, to trainers, to those just trying to find their niche in the world…
The depth of knowledge, experience, wisdom and understanding in this group of seemingly disparate people from across the globe was astounding and as the conference got underway, it was glaringly obvious that a common theme binds us all together and is stronger than any language or nationality. It is the theme of identity, of belonging. The conference provided a safe space for us all to be ourselves, to drop the masks so many of us wear from day to day, to explore who we are at the deepest level and to bring something to the table. It was clear that everyone had something to offer because we all have varied experiences, and stories to tell.
I was impressed with the level of professionalism of those in the room and of the conference itself. No expense had been spared to ensure that everything ran smoothly, that everyone was informed, that everyone was fed and watered, and this freed us up to concentrate on the real purpose of the conference – that of connecting;not only connecting with others, but with our inner selves to explore the recesses of our being and continue the work of understanding how a global lifestyle affects the individual.
The sessions were lovely and varied, with keynote speakers, interview panels, the fast-paced and impressive Ignite presentations, researchers presenting their findings and many break-out sessions to choose from, whether you were looking for information on TCKs, on schooling, on marriage in our context, on parenting, on psychotherapy and the list goes on. The Kitchen Table Conversations were a great idea, but with each table so well attended it was, at times, difficult to have meaningful discussion in the 30 minute window allocated.
For me personally, there was one particular “aha” moment, which explained a deep discomfort I had felt for a long time. There was also a chance to put things I had felt into words for the first time, as well as research to back up ‘gut feelings’ I had but couldn’t prove.
I have come away with the sense of having been on a deep spiritual journey and with that, the not-so-pleasant bump back to real life. Last night as I processed once again with my husband, the tears rolled down my face as I faced the enormity of the grief of all the lost things, but at least I now know more than ever that I am not alone on this journey. Although each of our stories is unique, there are others that have trod this path ahead of me and others who are walking alongside me, even if they are a continent away; people I can reach out to when I have a question, when I need to work through something, when I just need a virtual hand to hold.
I am filled with encouragement and hope at the thought of a community of people who will be at the forefront, leading the world into the increasingly global future. We can demonstrate to the world that it is possible to live in peace with one another, to celebrate each other’s differences, to work through the challenges of mobile people and come out stronger at the other end.”
You can see that Hannele’s journey from Ethiopia to The Hague has had a significant impact on her – one that will have a ripple effect on those with whom she lives, works and beyond.
Families in Global Transition is a welcoming forum for globally mobile individuals, families, and those working with them. They promote cross-sector connections for sharing research and developing best practices that support the growth, success and well-being of people crossing cultures around the world.
Spring has sprung here in The Netherlands. The days are getting longer, the temperatures are rising, the tulips and daffodils are blooming and the birds are singing their celebratory Spring chorus. This morning I was awoken by the busy sounds of a bird outside my bedroom window. Singing away, she was flitting back and forth, busily building her nest – a twig here, a piece of cotton there. As I watched her work, whilst sipping my morning cup of tea, I was reminded of a theme that ran through many of the presentations at this year’s Families in Global Transition (FIGT) Conference. Home.
The word can send shivers down the spine of a globally mobile individual who often lives between worlds. Many presenters at this year’s FIGT Conference referred to ‘Home’ not being one physical place. Like the bird who designs and builds her nest in a new location every Spring, globally mobile families build their homes in a variety of different ways, and what ‘Home’ means to them varies also.
As a former professional basketball player and survivor of the Brussels Airport attack of a year ago, Sebastien Bellin had us all on the edge of our seats yet thinking reflectively during his presentation. Focusing on quality and not quantity, it was the thought of his family that quickly became his focus in the moments after the Brussels Terrorist attack. “I had so much quality in my life.” he said, “so much to live for.” ‘Home’ for Sebastien is his family and he was determined to return to them. His comment, “the more quality you have in your life, the more you have to draw on in challenging times,” resonated with me. Building quality relationships with our family members brings a sense of belonging – Home.
Kristin Duncombe, a psychotherapist currently based in Geneva, Switzerland, highlighted to me the responsibility the family plays in building that sense of ‘Home.’ Cross-cultural children “need to understand their cultures of origin,” she said. We as parents have a responsibility to tell the stories of our developmental years, jump at every opportunity to engage our children in dialogue about the cultural disconnect that occurs when moving between cultures and focus on what is working well and build on it. By doing so, we parents create a secure place for our children to call ‘Home’. It may not be bricks and mortar but it is an emotional place in which they can develop their cultural identities in a healthy and authentic way thus giving them a sense of belonging – Home.
The term Third Culture Families (TCF) was introduced to the world, by Marielle de Spa, at #FIGT17NL. These families have moved internationally on a regular basis, usually from the time their children were born or were very young. What distinguishes them from other globally mobile families is that they have no defined plans for returning ‘Home’ usually because there is no home base to return to. Perhaps the parents are from different cultures or the family is unable to return to their passport country, TCFs build their ‘Home’ based around relationships with those around them. “The people give us what we become,” Marielle says, a Global Talent Advisor currently based in Rio de Janiero. They understand what a mindful relationship is, being present with that person in the moment because they never know when one of them will move on. Host country families take the place of extended family and they each fully invest in the relationship for the time. In the words of Katrina Kenison, “home is less a location than a discipline” for TCFs. They build their identity and sense of belonging around relationships rather than locations – Home.
Do you notice a pattern? Relationships. ‘Home’ is centered around relationships for many globally mobile individuals. The nest might keep changing but the relationships are what make a ‘Home’. The FIGT conference is a bit like that too. The words that are spoken, the connections that are made, the friendships that are ignited and re-ignited get under our skin, permeate our thinking and find rest in our hearts and souls. Thank you to the FIGT Board of Directors and Committee Members, the Presenters and the Attendees who each flit here and there, bringing together their own twigs and pieces of cotton, to create a place for each us to belong. For many, FIGT is ‘Home’ – a place where we can be authentic, understood, valued and allowed to grow. It’s where we find our Flock, our Tribe, our Home.
What does the word ‘Home’ mean to you? Share your thoughts in the comments box below.
I have taken up a challenge thrown down by Blogging Abroad to reflect on my re-entry, in the hope that it will help others along their own re-entry journey or bring understanding to their loved ones watching from the sidelines. It’s not all good and it’s not all bad. It is a journey and one I’m pleased to have worked through. In 5 words, I describe my experience of returning home after living abroad.
Going home after living abroad is like eating dark chocolate. That first taste is a shock. Bitter. Then the creamy texture kicks in as the chocolate melts and sticks to the roof of your mouth. Sweet. You know dark chocolate is better for you than its full-bodied counterpart. Going home after living abroad is like this – good for you but bittersweet.
Returning home meant saying goodbye to treasured friends, some of whom became an integral part of our family. It also meant being close to immediate family – 3 nieces and a nephew were born whilst we lived abroad so returning home meant building relationships with them for the first time. Bitter. Sweet.
Having lived 137km north of the Equator for the last 6 years, returning home to that first Winter was a shock, just like that first taste of dark chocolate. We all suffered from illness and shivered our way through, only to then experience a majestic Spring, filled with birds chirping, blooming flowers and bright blue sky days. Bitter. Sweet.
In our case, we knew that the education on offer at home was better suited to our boys’ needs but it also meant forfeiting some incredible experiences and opportunities. I mean who goes to another country and snorkels in a pristine World Heritage marine park for their Grade 5 school camp? Good for our family members but bittersweet.
True confessions, I had never been on a roller coaster until I became the Mother of two adventurous sons. The whole up, down, round and around motion sent my stomach into a spin and that was when I was standing on the ground! Re-entry is like being on a roller coaster – up, down, round and around. Good days, bad days and days when you feel both – several time over. There were moments when I wanted to shut my eyes and not look at what was ahead, but there was also a sense of accomplishment (and relief) when the roller coaster feelings subsided. I had survived and felt better for overcoming the challenges associated with returning home after living abroad.
Speaking of challenges, I’m a big believer in the notion that challenges are good. In the right measure and with the right support, they can be springboards for growth. Returning home after living abroad is challenging. It impacted every part of my being – physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and social – but because I was well informed about the process of re-entry and therefore prepared, I was able to use those challenges as learning opportunities. Being informed didn’t mean I, or we as a family for that matter, avoided the challenges associated with returning home but it did help each of us work through them effectively.
We’ve been ‘home’ for two years now and during that time there has been a lot of soul searching. Everything changes because of an overseas assignment. We’ve changed. Our family and friends have changed. Our home country has changed. In many ways, returning home has meant starting again – which provided me with the opportunity to dig deep and determine the person I wanted to be. My faith has been instrumental in this journey. I have found the power of self-reflection and my writing has certainly helped there too. The person I was before we lived abroad no longer exists so returning home has helped me prioritise – people, perspectives, places, possessions, plans, purpose.
All that soul searching has led me to a good place. As a 40 something woman, returning home has given me an opportunity to re-launch myself. All my experiences, knowledge, challenges and triumphs, have provided a launching pad for me to plan and create a new global life. That doesn’t mean I’ll be criss-crossing the globe continually but it does mean using my overseas experience to positively impact others near and far. Yes, it’s true, re-entry is hard (some say it’s the hardest of all international moves) but I have grown so much during the process. By the way, I have borrowed the word ‘Relaunch’ from Dr Cate Brubaker whose Re-Entry Series I found very valuable.
So there you have it – my re-entry journey in 5 words – bittersweet, rollercoaster, challenging, soul-searching and re-launch. You can see from these words that re-entry is a process not an event. It takes time and requires an engagement in that process. Once I saw that returning home was not the end of the journey but another step along the journey, I progressed much more efficiently. What about you?
This post is part of BloggingAbroad.org‘s After Abroad Blog Challenge. Would you like to join the After Abroad Blog Challenge? It’s a great way to engage in and process your re-entry. Find out more here.
As the world celebrates Women everywhere, I’d like to celebrate the Women who are prepared to move anywhere.
Today is International Women’s Day. This year’s theme is ‘Be Bold for Change’ and, in my opinion, defines Globally Mobile Women across the world. Boldness and Change – two words that are synonymous with living abroad. Globally Mobile Women are bold stepping into change. They are bold working through change. They are bold because of change. They are bold for change. As the world celebrates Women everywhere, I’d like to celebrate the Women who are prepared to move anywhere.
Who are these Globally Mobile Women? They are Grandmothers, Mothers, Sisters, Daughters, Wives, Partners and Friends. They are those whose careers take their family abroad and the many others who have put their careers on hold to accompany their partner across the globe. They are those who packed their bags to work or study abroad solo and those who have returned ‘home’. I am proud to be amongst this Tribe of Women.
Many women accept overseas assignments and build their career abroad. According to the 2015 BGRS Global Mobility Trends Survey, however, these women are still in the minority, representing just 19% of the entire international assignee workforce. Double the number of 20 years ago, they are bold and bringing change to what has long been a male-dominated community. Take Cath for example – a 40 something woman, happily married with two teenage children, her job is the reason her family has embarked on the adventure of a lifetime and has taken the risk to live abroad. She took the bold step from her comfortable corner of the globe to be a change agent in a multi-national company based in Asia. Leading change, Cath is embracing the opportunity to develop her cultural competency as she works alongside colleagues representing many nationalities and cultures whilst subtly pushing the boundary towards a more inclusive global workforce.
For all those women whose careers have taken their families abroad, many more have put their careers on hold to accompany their partners to far-flung corners of the world. Possible reasons why this is so include (but are not limited to) visa restrictions or the need for family stability amidst a partner’s grueling travel and work schedules. Known by a variety of often-unsavoury labels, including Expat Women, Trailing Spouses (the most unsavoury of them all) and Accompanying Partners, these women are not wallflowers. “We are the ones negotiating to have the Wifi connected – in a language completely foreign to us, driving to soccer practice – in a car on the wrong side of the road, and catching up on our partner’s day via FaceTime – only after calculating time zone differences to ensure it’s not 2am there,” says Jane, a former PR Manager who has lived abroad for more than 5 years. In most cases, these women boldly take charge of creating a new ‘home’ for their family, help their children understand and navigate the challenges and triumphs of change that is an everyday part of globally mobile life and role model how to step out of their comfort zones to make new friends and say goodbye to old ones. They are raising the next generation of Global Citizens whom our world desperately needs. They are also women who have boldly stepped into change and allowed it to change them. For example, the Veterinarian who became a Life Coach supporting Expatriate Spouses to explore their gifts and reconnect with their passion for life, the Psychologist now known globally as an expert in helping people from different cultures to work effectively together and the Teacher who, after 20 years, returned to study and completed her Masters of Education with Distinction. They certainly do not sound like they are ‘trailing’ their partners do they?
It is bold to move abroad with your family. It is an entirely other level of boldness to move abroad on your own. With no support structure to lean on, age does not define these women. Character does. Gabrielle is a Learning Support Educator. Originally from New Zealand, she has either worked or studied on every continent. Change has emboldened her. Now she goes where she is needed, specialising in supporting students who are trying to navigate a world with their behavioural and emotional difficulties. Arriving in her latest post, Slovakia, Gabrielle knew no one and did not speak Slovak. Boldly stepping into change, she learned a new language, made new lifelong friendships and developed her cultural intelligence to positively impact her students, their families and the world in which they live and learn.
The impact of change is perhaps, most profoundly felt upon repatriation and the ensuing re-entry process. Repatriating women quickly discover they have changed, those they left behind have changed and ‘home’ has changed. They are the women who have returned home to access the best possible education for their children, to take care of their ageing parents, to escape an unsafe environment or because the Company said so. Some have returned solo, some with their entire family but others have made the difficult decision to return whilst their partner remains abroad. The Company needed Mandy’s husband in a country where her safety could not be guaranteed and the education options for her senior school children, limited. Unable to stay in their host country due to visa restrictions and no potential job opportunities for her husband locally, she returned ‘home’ so her children could finish their education. Conducting a long distance relationship, being a single parent and working through re-entry – that takes boldness.
All these women are my Tribe. Globally Mobile Women – bold as you step into change, bold as you work through change, bold because of change and bold for change – arise. Today (and every day) I salute you. You are flexible, resilient and risk takers. You are internationally minded, culturally responsive and capable of being a bridge between and among worlds. You are curious, adventurous and open-minded. You embrace both the challenges and the opportunities that living abroad brings – allow them to shape who you are and inform who you will become. Stand tall Globally Mobile Women wherever you are. Our world needs Women like you!
Amid the constant departures and arrivals of an international school, let’s consider one group of students that is often forgotten.
The front door flew open, the school bag dropped to the floor, and fast, furious footsteps stormed up the stairs. The bedroom door slammed. Silence. We had been living in Singapore less than four months the first time I witnessed this chain of events unfold. My six-year-old son came home devastated because his new school friend was leaving. It became a familiar scenario.
In any international school there are three types of students: The Leaver, The Arriver, and The Stayer. The Leaver is the one running around the playground, clutching his or her cultural memento half-filled with signatures and well wishes from staff and students, saying heartbreaking goodbyes to beloved people, places, and possessions. The Arriver is the new kid on the block, who has walked a mile in The Leaver’s shoes just weeks before. This one is wide-eyed, ready to make new friends, and happy to capitalise on the opportunity of living in a new country. Most international schools support The Arriver and a few provide some support for The Leaver. What about The Stayer?
The Stayer is the student who is left behind when The Leaver leaves and the one still in situ when The Arriver arrives. He is thrown into transition, yet his suitcase is still in the closet. For most globally mobile kids “the collection of significant losses and separations before the end of adolescence is often more than most people experience in a lifetime,” according to author Ruth Van Reken. After a few seasons of people going and others coming, it may seem easier and less painful to stop making the hellos because they only lead to goodbyes. But is it really easier?
The answer is no. Avoiding the hellos to minimise the pain of goodbyes is not a healthy way to manage relationships. Too often, it makes staying harder, learning arduous, and developing and maintaining relationships difficult later in life. What can The Stayer do to ensure success?
Six Steps towards being a successful Stayer
Feeling Sad is OK – Winnie the Pooh says it best. “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”
Talk or Do – tell a trusted adult or friend how you feel. Hearing your own words can help bring clarity and calm. If verbalizing your feelings is hard, try to express them differently. Write in a journal, draw, compose a song, go for a walk.
“Build a RAFT,” says sociologist and author David Pollock:
Reconcile any differences you have with The Leavers or The Stayers. Forgive others and ask for forgiveness.
Affirm those Leavers and Stayers who are important to you. Write a letter or email, give a gift, say it face-to-face. Create a list of all the things that are still good in your life, even without your friend.
Farewell The Leaver appropriately and the places that are meaningful to you both. This takes time.
Think ahead about how to maintain contact with The Leaver yet remain open to The Arrivers. Create a Hope Calendar, recording events that you are looking forward to in the coming months.
4.“Move AFT on your RAFT,” says Doug Ota, psychologist and author, by answering the following questions:
Actions – What am I actively doing to say goodbye, connect with others, and get involved?
Feelings – Why do I feel sad to see my friends leave? Do I feel OK about making new friends? How do I feel about my life here?
Thoughts – Am I preparing to see my friends go? Am I ready to make new friends? Do I belong here now? Refer to Step 2 if necessary.
Extend Grace – to those leaving, arriving, and staying (including yourself). The process of transition is different for everyone.
Open the Gate to your friendship circle – it is possible to make new friends without being disloyal to your old ones.
As international schools prepare for the hellos and bid farewell, they must also care for those left behind. Successful Stayers bring stability to our international school communities. What can your school do to support your Stayers?
Jane Barron is an educator with 24 years of experience in international and local schools and a Youth Intercultural Transition Specialist at Globally Grounded. Jane consults to international and local schools, families and globally mobile students – developing their understanding of the impact of cross-cultural mobility, creating programs and implementing support mechanisms to enhance learning and life.
Pollock, D.C. and Van Reken, R. E. 2009. Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds, Boston: Nicholas Brealey Publishing.
Ota, D. W. 2014. Safe Passage: How mobility affects people & what international schools should do about it. UK: Summertime Publishing.
Originally published in Vol. 31 No. 3 February 2017 The International Educator