An Expat Husband’s Manifesto

 

 

Spoiler alert for the young and in love . . . marriage is hard.

 

One more for anyone considering a life abroad. That’s hard too.

 

You read it here first.

 

My wife and I have been living both of those realities for a good, long time and to be honest we thought we were pretty solid on both.  Oh we knew they were hard (we crossed those bridges ages ago) but we’ve pushed through that part.  We’ve survived BOTH honeymoon phases and the crashes that followed.  We’ve learned (through repeated trial and even more repeated error) how to be on different pages and stay in the same book.  We’ve set up systems for everything from fighting better fights to dealing with my crazy travel schedule.

We’re good at this.  That’s what we thought.

Until we found out that we’re not.

Here’s the thing — we recently discovered that our brilliant systems have been skillfully (if not consciously) crafted for the sole purpose of protecting us from the hard stuff.

We call a “time out” when things get heated to protect ourselves from saying stupid things that we don’t really mean (man, I wish we had known how to do that in our first year).  We “switch modes” when Daddy travels so she can focus on home and I can focus on work (because both of those are really important).

They’re not BAD plans . . . but they’re not enough either.

Our systems protect us.  They have us playing good, solid defense but the best case scenario in any ALL defensive endeavors is that you break even . . . and breaking even only happens when your defense is perfect.  Ours is not.

We want more than a break even marriage AND we want more than a so-so life abroad.

So here is my Expat Husband’s Manifesto 

 

My wife will be my first choice.

I am blessed.  Super blessed.  Hyper blessed.  Hashtag blessed with good friends.  I genuinely feel guilty sometimes when I think about the number of BFF’s that I have all over the world and I absolutely love spending time with them.  They are worth every long trip and every late night.

But my wife will ALWAYS be the one that I pursue the hardest, invest the most in and sacrifice more for.

 

I will connect when we are disconnected.

I won’t turn our relationship off when we are apart.  I won’t “check in” periodically but I will work so she knows that I have never checked out.  I’ll tell her when something funny happens.  I’ll let her in when I’m stressed out.  I’ll text her pictures of things that remind me of her and I’ll do my dead level best with those emoji things.

If she is out of sight I will be intentional about keeping her in my mind.

 

 

I will make it real.

There are so many things in my head that rarely make it through my mouth.  I will work to change that.  She is so incredible.  So beautiful.  So smart.  So creative.  So fun.  So many things that go unsaid and consequently never become real.  I will choke the assumption that she already knows what my brain is thinking.

I will turn my best thoughts and my heartfelt intentions into tangible, touchable realities.

 

 

I will close the gap.

I travel for work.  She stays home.  I’m the extrovert.  She’s the inny.  I go places and I meet people and they become a part of my world.  She has never seen those places or met those people.  There is a whole part of my life that is a blurry fog to her.

We’re going to close that gap together.  Not all at once and not in huge overwhelming doses but over time and as we are able I am going to take her to the far off places and connect the faces to the names.

 

I will get the order right.

Our marriage does not exist inside of our life abroad — or my job — or even our family.  On the contrary, our lives together are the setting for all of the rest of it.  The traveling, the adventures, the bumbling foreigner stories, the good things and the hard things are all side plots in a bigger story.  Our story.

We could lose our visas tomorrow.  “THIS THING” that we are doing could change a hundred times but we will still be doing this thing together.

 

 

I will stay on course.

We have set our trajectory towards “old and gray.”  We have unanimously decided that, as we grow old, we want to do MORE of our lives together instead of less.  We want to be THAT old couple who always go together.

We’re not there yet.  We’re still in the crazy pace, divide and conquer, you pick up the kids and I’ll stop at the veggie shop phase of life . . . but we’re pointed in that direction.  As we are able and on a consistently growing scale we are going to move towards doing more and more life together.

 

I will fall forward.

This would be so much better if I was already good at it.  I would love it if I could just write words in a blog post and make it all true, unshakable and resolute — but we’ve been doing this long enough to know that’s not how it works.

I WILL ABSOLUTELY and UNAPOLOGETICALLY DO ALL OF THESE THINGS.

Until I don’t.

And then I’ll do them better the next day.

 

I love my wife and I love our life abroad.

 

 

Five Things Every New Expat Should Know

 

There is nothing in the world like the beginning of a cross-cultural experience.

 

It is a jumbled, beautiful mess of every possible emotion, wrapped in giddy wonder, coated in absolute confusion.

 

Chances are, if you’re just beginning your expat adventure, you’ve read the books and the blogs.  You’ve watched every Youtube video and you’ve tested the gracious limits of a been there- done that with endless questions like, “can I get ketchup there?” and “does Mcdonald’s taste the same?”  Maybe you’ve even been through the training and learned all about cultural dynamics, dimensions, profiles and contrasts.

You’re prepped.  Ready.  Excited.  Confident.

But regardless of what you have done to equip yourself, the inevitable reality of stepping across cultural lines is that a significant dose of unpredictablity is waiting on the other side.  It’s a part of the deal.

Here’s the good news — wrapping your head around the inevitable but unpredictable realities early on will lessen the impact that they have on your healthy transition.

So tuck these five things away for those irritating moments in the not too distant future when you’re feeling blindsided by the stuff they didn’t cover at the seminar.

 

ONE: It’s not what you thought it was

This place.  These people.  That food.  The experience altogether . . . as it turns out is not exactly like you had it pictured in your head.  It may be worse.  It could be better but to be sure  . . . it is different.

I know, I know — it’s a bit of a “well duh” point but you would be shocked at the role that the gap between pre-going expectations and first year realities plays in the overall success of an expat experience.  The biggest problems happen NOT because we are wrong but because we still think we should be right.

This will save you a world of stress — when it comes time, be willing to acknowledge where you were off and adjust your expectations accordingly.  To be fair, you can also adjust the realities but that requires tremendous energy that would be better spent elsewhere in your first year.  Save that for later and be willing to adjust your own understanding first.  That’s where the good stuff is.

 

TWO: The devil is in the details

I have never (not once) spoken to someone who is about to go abroad and would look me straight in the eyes and say “this is going to be easy”.  They may be PAINFULLY naive and even irritatingly oblivious to their actual capacity to handle what is about to happen — BUT — NO ONE goes in thinking it is going to be easy.

No one.

However — there is a huge difference between knowing it is going to be hard and finding out HOW it is hard.  The HOW is what get’s you.  When the speculation materializes into actual problems it is a whole different game.

Humans in general tend to be both overconfident in our future capacity to handle problems AND oversensitive to our present state.  The result is pre-goers who get strangely excited about the potential of a military coup and have a meltdown when their plane is delayed.

Brace for the details.

 

THREE: Relationships are harder than Culture

This one kicks people in the teeth.  We come in thinking that the biggest challenges will be figuring out the quirky little cultural bits like when to hug and when to bow or what kind of gift to bring to a dinner party.  So we focus our prep time on crash coursing high culture.

HOWEVER the big shocker often comes when we discover that the most painful part of cross cultural life can be the colleagues and teammates that speak the same language and come from the same place we do.

  • The loudmouth expat who constantly gripes about the locals.
  • The nosy neighbor who needs to know every part of your business.
  • The over-helpful co-worker who thinks you’ll fall apart without him.
  • The standoffish longtimer who has no space for newbies.
  • The overreaching parent who yells at your kid.
  • The judgy purist who thinks you’re not legit unless cancel your facebook account.

Am I getting close yet?  There are more.

Be warned — people are hard — no matter where they are from.

 

FOUR: Adventures are boring

Maybe you never dreamed you would do something like this in a million years.  Maybe this is just the first in what you fully anticipate will be a lifelong string of global journeys.  You are a born explorer.  A true thrill seeker.  An adventure lover.

But guess what.

The dishes still need washed and dinner isn’t going to cook itself.

Sometimes, in the excitement of a whole new normal, we lose sight of the reality that real life stuff travels with us.  There is a significant percentage of cross-cultural life and work that is just plain mundane.

Blah.

Meh.

Boring.

That stuff never makes the brochure.

 

FIVE: Grief is a part of this

I tread lightly around this one for good reason.  I would never draw direct parallels between standard expatriate transition and a major life loss like death or divorce.  Those are different and they deserve a different space.

However — with that disclaimer established — there is a lot of loss that comes with cross-cultural transition.  Often times, BECAUSE we can’t put a label on it (like “death” or “divorce”) we have no idea what is happening to us.

You let go of some things to do this.  People.  Places.  Things.  Memories.  Experiences.  Dreams.

That is legitimate loss and the natural result is grief.  You don’t have to feel guilty for that and you’re not selfish simply because you are sad.

Recognize that grief is a heavy process.  Talk about it with a trusted friend or write it out on a trusted notebook — regardless, don’t just carry it.

 

Three action points:

 

ONE:  ADJUST YOUR PACE

Slow down.  You’re not supposed to be moving at full speed in the beginning.  It probably drives you crazy that it takes you longer to accomplish to simplest tasks.  That’s normal and it will get better.

Go slower.  Learn more.

 

TWO: CREATE SOME SPACE

Be as student of yourself.  Know what it takes for you to recharge and be intentional about creating places for that to happen.  Need down time?  Make it a priority.  Need people?  Go find them.  Need to take a retreat to a place where there are only familiar things?  Do it but don’t stay there.  Recharge and re-engage.

Take care of yourself.

 

THREE:  GIVE GRACE

It is crucial to a healthy transition to recognize that you are not the only transitioner.  Cross-cultural life is a transition that never ends so look around . . . it’s everyone.  You are allowed to bumble your way through this but you don’t own exclusive bumbling rights.

READ The Transition That Never Ends: The ongoing cycle of expat Stayers, Goers and Newbies

Be good to people — even when they haven’t earned it.

 

If you are just getting started don’t be discouraged.  It is hard because it is good.

If you’ve been doing this for a while, what would you add?  Comment below.

If you know someone who could use this — pass it on.

 

On Being Bright Green: 500 Words | Day 19

Welcome to Day 19 of a 31 day challenge to write 500 words or more.  For more on that click here:  goinswriter.com

Colors
by Whitni Thomas, MK

I grew up in a Yellow country
But my parents are Blue.
I’m Blue.
Or at least, that is what they told me.
But I play with the Yellows.
I went to school with the Yellows.
I spoke the Yellow language.
I even dressed and appeared to be Yellow.
Then I moved to the Blue land.
Now I go to school with the Blues.
I speak the Blue language.
I even dress and look Blue.
But deep down, inside me, something’s Yellow.
I love the Blue country.
But my ways are tinted with Yellow.
When I am in the Blue land,
I want to be Yellow.
When I am in the Yellow land,
I want to be Blue.
Why can’t I be both?
A place where I can be me.
A place where I can be green.
I just want to be green.

This poem is an open door — and invitation to come in and take an up close and personal peek at what people like me have been trying to figure out.  Whitini Thomas gives the perfect visual to what she feels like as a TCK.  Torn between two places, not completely connected to either but wishing she could be her own thing.

The lines that gets me is the fourth from the last and the last . . . “Why can’t I be both? . . . I just want to be green.”

It has become a part of my heart to help TCK’s and their parents recognize that green is good.  They CAN be green.  In fact, they can be BRIGHT GREEN.

There are several dynamics to the whole concept that need some thinking through.  Here they are in vomit (500 words) formation:

ONE:  People are resistant to the idea of being bright green if it is not communicated carefully.  I haven’t nailed down the perfect language just yet but I do know that this runs the risk of sounding like it is dismissive of the genuine and legitimate down sides of growing up cross-culturally.  Kind of like we’re trying to put a happy stamp on the whole experience.  “Just look on the bright side” is tantamount to “Just ignore the hard stuff.”  So in the language of any talk surrounding “bright green”, realistic empathy must be present.

TWO:  50-50 does not work.  Much of the conversation, training etc. around TCK’s leans heavily on a pro-con list.  It’s on practically every website, in every book and in most of the training.  I get it.  There are two sides but just presenting the facts offers very little hope.  ALSO if you share a 50-50 list of good things and bad things with a group of parents who are raising their kids abroad they are going to filter that into practically all negative.  Fear is a stronger motivator than hope.  So I personally feel we need to dial up the hope and apply the hope to the fear.

THREE:  Creativity is key.  Being bright green is about engagement not information.  Information is important and there is probably training that can go with this but where it becomes active is where it will connect.  I’m not sure exactly what that looks like but I’ve got a lot of ideas.  It definitely needs to become a crowd-sourced idea though.  Artists and writers and creatives of all sorts need to be added to the data finder mix to give this any hope.

FOUR:  I love this idea.  Not simply because it could help a lot of people but because I want my kids to be bright green.  I want them to recognize the strengths of their upbringing.  I want them to move forward with confidence that even though their formative years have been filled with transition, they are anchored to something solid.

And those are my 500 words.

Ten Questions That EVERY Expat (or Repat) Parent Should Ask About Their Kids

ten questions

 

Let’s start with a quick summary of this whole post.  

This is a longer one (at least for a blog post) so let’s break it up.  I’ll give you all ten questions up front and then you can work through the rest as you please.

There are lots of resources and extras below but first things first:

 

Here are 10 QUESTIONS THAT EVERY EXPAT (OR REPAT) PARENT SHOULD ASK ABOUT THEIR KIDS

 

#1.  What are our ROCKS? (What stays the same when everything else changes?)

#2.  What is a Third Culture Kid (TCK)?

#3.  If my kid were in Star Wars who would they be? (what is their personality profile?)

#4.  What is my kid’s Love Language?

#5.  When my child grows up how would I like them to finish this sentence: “When I was a kid, we always . . .”

#6.  Same question, only flip it around: “When I was a kid we never . . .”

#7.  What pictures (that I haven’t taken yet) do I want to someday show my grandchildren?

#8.  What do my kids love about their international lives? (and do they know it?)

#9.  What do my kids hate about their international lives?

#10.  What is our family culture?

 

There you go.  Feel free to chew on that or move ahead.  This is a great conversation to have with your family, your friends and your community.

 

And Here is the long form version:

 

Raising kids with an international twist is hard.

Scratch that.  Raising kids is hard – doing it internationally just adds an extra, very specific layer with specific challenges and specific benefits.  I’m actually a big fan of the whole concept.

 

Read When I was your age: An Expat Father’s note to his kids

 

I love what my kids are getting out of this experience.  I love what is being built into them.  I love who they are becoming . . . but I’m not an idiot.  This is hard.

It’s hard for us and it’s hard for them.  So as a parent I want to be in touch with the realities — the specific realities, good and bad — of who my kids are and what they are going through.

 

Here are ten questions that every expat (or repat) parent should ask about their kids.  

 

rockNUMBER ONE:  What are our rocks?

It’s a simple concept.  The lives of global families are marked by change (did I hear an amen?).  Packing, moving, airports, new people, new places, new languages, new foods, new friends and old friends constantly running through the revolving door of expat community.

Even when you are not the one moving, life moves around you.

A lot.

Here’s the thing  . . . When everything changes, something needs to NOT CHANGE.

Those are your rocks.  That’s where stability comes from.

 

Read Rock, Paper, Scissors: Helping Kids Thrive in Transition (part 1)

 

Knowing what your family rocks are frees you up celebrate them, emphasize them, debrief them and critique them.  Sit down with a piece of paper (an iPad if you’re under 30) and ask yourself “what are our rocks?”

What are the things that you can do, will do and do do no matter where in the world you are? (I know . . . I said do do.  Grow up.)

Think in terms of:

  • RELATIONSHIPS: What people will be a ongoing presence in your children’s lives regardless of time apart or distance?
  • STUFF:  What physical objects (toys, pictures, blankets, collections etc.) can and will travel with you no matter where you go?
  • ROUTINES:  What do you do daily and weekly as a family that can be reproduced anywhere in the world?
  • TRADITIONS:  What do you do annually that can be reproduced?

 

TCK BookNUMBER TWO:  What is a Third Culture Kid (TCK)?

I tread lightly here for two reasons.  One, some of you have heard this so much you’re bored sick with it.

Fair enough — however, for many it is a brand new, mind blowing concept worth repeating.

Here’s the textbook definition (and the starting point):

“A TCK is an individual who has spent a significant portion of his/her formative years in a culture that is different from their parents.”

“A TCK builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture are assimilated into the TCK’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background.”

 

Buy the book here: Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds

 

This concept (and the narrative around it) has shed light and breathed life into global families that didn’t exist 30 years ago.  It has given life-changing insight to befuddled parents and hope to kids who just thought they were weird.

It is brilliant.  Genius.  And good.

However (and this is my second tread lightly reason) like any culture TCK’s are fair game for stereotyping.  If your kid is a TCK, learn everything you can.  Read the books and the blogs.  Go to the seminars.

BUT — Don’t forget that they are completely unique.

In fact . . . the books will all say exactly that.  You’re kid may fit into the TCK category but don’t put them in the TCK box.

Keep reading.

 

YodaNUMBER THREE:  If my kid were in Star Wars who would they be?

Don’t like Star Wars?  Not a problem. You have a ridiculous number of options (hold that thought).

Let me pause and make my point before I jump down this rabbit hole.  You should be a student of your child’s personality.  It’s what makes them pop.  It’s who they are.  It’s how they process the world.  If being a TCK is what connects them to a group then personality is what sets them apart.

There are a billion tools to help you define and assess a personality.  Pick the one you like.

If you weren’t a Psych major and you just need a place to start then go with Myers Briggs (MBTI).

 

You can learn about it here.

You can take the test (for yourself or your kid) here.

 

It’s simple, insightful and people have gone insane expanding on it which makes it crazy fun . . . oh look, a rabbit hole.

It’s one thing to know your kid is an INTP but it’s way cooler to know that makes him like YODA.

 

Click here to find see the Myers Brigg Star Wars Chart 

 

Now buckle up because this is nuts:

 

Click here to see the Harry Potter one.

And here to see Frozen

Or other Disney women

Disney men

Disney villains

DC heros and villains

Marvel heros and villains

The Muppets

The Simpsons

The Lord of the Rings

The Hobbit

Dr. Who

Phineas and Ferb

Downton Abbey

Pride and Prejudice

Parks and Rec

Big Bang Theory

Fictional book characters

U.S. Presidents

Christmas show characters

And I kid you NOT — click here to find out which dinosaur personality . . . dessert personality OR SHOE PERSONALITY your kid has.

Have fun with that but learn something about your kid.

 

5 Love Languages KidsNUMBER FOUR:  What is my kid’s Love language?

Love Language goes one layer deeper than personality.  Knowing how your kid gives and receives love is golden insight into what motivates them.  It is also likely to shine the light on your most common miscommunications.

In a nutshell the Five Love Languages are

  1. Words of Affirmation
  2. Physical Touch
  3. Quality Time
  4. Gifts
  5. Acts of Service

So if you keep telling your little girl how great she is but what she really needs is a hug, you’re missing something.  And if your boy keeps bringing you a bouquet of weeds it might tell you something about how to love him back.

 

You can learn about Love Languages here.

Take the test (for yourself or your kid) here.

Get tips on Kids ages 5-8 here.

Ages 9-12 here.

Teenagers here.

Buy the books here:

The 5 Love Languages

The 5 Love Languages of Children

The 5 Love Languages of Teenagers

 

NUMBER FIVE:  When your child is grown, how do you want them to finish this sentence:  “When I was a kid we always . . . “

There are so many directions this could go right?

. . . we always moved around.

. . . we always fought.

. . . we always ate dinner together.

. . . we always stayed connected to Grandma and Grandpa.

. . . we always tried to guess which row of the airplane we would sit in.

. . . we always ate pizza and popcorn on family night.

Memory is a funny thing.  It is selective and fuzzy and at the very same time vivid and emotional.  If you ask this you are answering a question that won’t even be asked for years.

What do you want to be the FIRST THING that pops into their brain when they hear this question years from now?

Once you have the answer you can be intentional about moving towards it.

Here’s a tip — If you’re not sure how to answer for your future kids, try answering for your present self first.  How would YOU finish the sentence about YOUR childhood?  Do you hope the same for your kids or something completely different?

 

NUMBER SIX:  Same question only flip it around:  “When I was a kid we never . . .”

. . . we never traveled for fun.

. . . we never had family dance parties.

. . . we never ate out.

. . . we never missed a family night.

. . . we never played outside.

. . . we never listened to music.

Same basic concept but you’ll learn something new if you ask it this way.

 

JJcryNUMBER SEVEN: What pictures (that I haven’t taken yet) do I want to show my grandkids?

Someday your grandchildren may climb up on your lap and say, “what was my mommy like?”  or “tell me about daddy when he was my age.”

 

Pictures are powerful story tellers but lives marked by transition tend to have missing chapters.  In the chaos of consistent moves and constant changes you typically end up with the highlights (portraits, birthdays, Christmas and selfies in front of major global landmarks) but . . . the real life stuff gets missed.

None of these really answers the question — what were they like?

Build your list of pictures that tell the story.  Family portraits?  Sure.  Eiffel tower and Pyramid selfies? Absolutely.

But don’t put the camera away when they’ve painted the baby’s face or thrown a ball through the window or fell asleep in the airport or created a superhero costume out of underwear.

Get the day to day stuff, the frustrating stuff, and even the painful stuff . . . it all tells the story.

Here’s a tip:  Don’t keep everything.

At the very least have a file for “keepers” that is separate from the massive, multi terabyte wasteland of “every picture ever”.  It’s the paradox of living in a digital camera age.

Think about how you want to tell their story and go get the pictures to illustrate it.

(Again, if it helps to frame the question, think of it this way — What pictures do you wish you could see of your parents now?)

 

NUMBER EIGHT:  What do my kids LOVE about this experience (and do they know it)?

I’m pretty vocal about the fact that I love raising my kids cross-culturally.  There is so much to love but a fair pushback goes something like, “well that’s nice, but do THEY love it?”

I think that question is unanswerable.  It only has two possible answers and both are wrong . . . “YES” or “NO”.  One way everything is perfect and the other they are falling apart.  Neither is the case.

Some of this life is awesome and YES they absolutely love it.

Some of it is NOT.

As a parent I can’t answer, do they love living abroad BUT I can have a pulse on what they do love.

My kids love airports.  They love going home in the summer.  They love it when Dad gets to drive a car.  They love their international school (even though they’re not thrilled about school in general).  They love having friends from all over the world.  They love eating seaweed.

They love a lot of things that are unique to an international life.  Stuff that I never dreamed of at their age.

Here’s the kicker . . . they don’t think it’s international . . . it’s just life.

For me the contrast is huge but for them it’s just day to day stuff.  Knowing what they love helps us as parents do more of it and do it well.

NUMBER NINE:  What do they HATE about this experience?

Don’t be the Happy Stamper parent (I have to fight this tendency).  Some of this is hard and it is hard specifically because you are living (or have lived) internationally.

You’re a foreigner — so are they.

Know what my kids hate?

They HATE saying goodbye over and over.  They hate getting stared at.  They hate not having a big house with a big back yard.  They hate not having roller coasters nearby.  They hate not having a car.

My daughter, who is ethnically Chinese, absolutely HATES it when people expect her to speak for our family.  She hates it 6 levels deeper when they make her feel stupid because she can’t.

I hate that too.

And it’s ok.

Global life is not multiple choice.  It is a sliding scale.  My kids can love it and hate it at the same time but I should know where they’re at.

NOT so I can fix them — so I can know them.

 

NUMBER TEN:  What is your Family Culture?

Hands down the greatest definition of culture that I have ever heard came from a 5th grade girl.

Ready? Here it is.

“Culture is the personality of the group.”

Simple.  Brilliant.  She said it one time and I will remember it for the rest of my life.

 

Read The Best Definition of Culture I’ve Ever Heard

 

Every group has a personality.  They have distinct characteristics that set their herd apart from the rest of the animal kingdom.

Countries do for sure.  Continents too.  Churches.  Schools.  Rock bands.  Basketball teams.  Chess clubs.  Protesters.  Gangs.  All of them.

Anytime people move together in a group they take on a personality.

That is their culture and your family is no exception.

Your family has a culture.

Why not take some time to deconstruct it?

  • What are your values?
  • How do they show up in your actions, your clothing, your language, your relationships?
  • What makes you weird?
  • What makes you the greatest family on earth?
  • What about your history makes you proud?
  • What would you rather forget?
  • How do you celebrate?
  • How do you mourn?

Any question you would ask about a country — ask about yourselves.  It will give you a whole new perspective.

 

There they are.  Ten questions that we should all be asking.  They are not the only ten.  There are many more.

 

What would you add?  What questions have given you a broader, better perspective?  Which conversations have strengthened your family in the context of global life?

 

Creativity Abroad: Turning Global Family Facts Into Practical Connections

Screen Shot 2017-04-13 at 1.01.18 AMCreativity changes things.  It just does.

 

Data stirs things up.  It makes us think.  Opens our eyes.  Boils our blood.

But it changes nothing.

I love Statistics.  Especially the cultural ones.  I geek out on the numbers that peel back the layers and show me something new about myself . . . my family . . . this life abroad.

Did you know that an expat moves every 44 seconds?

I’ve met that guy .  He was exhausted.

Did you know that if you raise your kids abroad you increase their likelihood of staying married, getting a college degree, speaking a foreign language and desiring to raise their own kids abroad.

You also increase their likelihood of feeling rootless, restless, homeless, and like a foreigner in their own passport country.

Google it.  The data is there.  Tons of it.  More now than ever before.

 

But knowing information doesn’t change anything.  It takes creativity to do that.

 

I get to learn a lot about TCK’s and there are two very distinct forces that drive my understanding.

One — I teach this stuff.

Two — I have some living in my home.

On the one hand it is my job to know the data, stay up on the research and communicate the concepts to parents who are living or moving abroad.  What I’m discovering though, is that I can know all about TCK’s and not know my own.

Someone needs to translate the numbers into real life stuff.  Practical stuff.  Actionable.

Creative.

Unfortunately most (not all) of the training and the seminars and the websites lean disproportionately towards reporting data and understanding theory versus practical application and creative solutions (I know mine has).

So let’s change that.  Let’s soak up all the facts and figures that we can wrap our brains around and then say, “SO NOW WHAT?”

How can I balance what I KNOW with what I DO?

 

  • If I KNOW my kids will probably feel rootless what can I DO to ground them?
  • If I KNOW they’ll feel disconnected from the place I call home what can I DO to reconnect them?
  • If I KNOW their lives are going to be marked by transition and change what can I DO to give them something rock solid?
  • If I KNOW that they look at a world map and see real people (not just stereotypes) what can I DO to celebrate that with them? (because that’s pretty cool)
  • If I KNOW that “goodbye” is always going to be a hard reality for them what can I DO to help them stay connected to their global network of great friends and great family? (because that’s pretty cool too)
  • If I KNOW that they take pride in where they’ve been what can I DO when we cross the border to a brand new place that will mark that moment in their minds for the rest of their lives and remind them that borders are not boundaries?

I’ve got the answer . . . ready for it?

Here it is — start somewhere.

That’s it.  Do something.  One thing.  Anything that goes beyond a cerebral processing of facts into a place of real connection with your kids and the things that make their lives unique.  Do something that breathes life into the data.

  • Have a conversation.
  • Ask a question.
  • Do a project.
  • Write a song.
  • Learn together.
  • Go exploring.
  • Draw a picture.
  • Build a robot.
  • Dance like you think you know how.

THEN — Tell someone else about it.  Creativity is inspiring and frankly, those of us who get stuck in the data, could use a little inspiration.

I’ll go first  (I’m actually pretty excited about this).

 

If you don’t know where to start but really want to connect with your kids.  If you are convinced that there is something good about having a global family and want to make the most of it, sign up below and I’ll send you CREATIVE ABROAD: 10 Simple Ideas That Will Strengthen Your Global Family.

It is exactly what it sounds like.  I’ve started with the data, the facts, the stats and the concepts and asked the question, “So now what?”

It’s a short little ebook and it’s FREE.

Promise me this . . . try one of them.  Pick one.  Doesn’t matter which — just start somewhere.

Tweak it.  Customize it.  Make it your own and then tell someone what you did.  Inspire them.

  • Comment below (I would love to hear your story).
  • Share it with your friends, your team or your community.
  • Post what you did on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, whatever.
  • Pass this post on to someone else.

Got another idea? Great.  Share that too.  There is a global network of people like us who have seen the data and have good ideas.

We should talk more — because creativity changes things.

It just does.

 

Subscribe below and get the book for free.

CREATIVE ABROAD

FREE EBOOK!

ENTER YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS AND I'LL SEND YOU 10 SIMPLE IDEAS THAT WILL STRENGTHEN YOUR EXPAT FAMILY

BOOM! Success! Just check your email to confirm that you are not a robot (unless you are a robot) and that's it.

 

 

On the Discipline of Binging: 500 Words | Day 18

Welcome to Day 18 of a 31 day challenge to write 500 words or more.  For more on that click here:  goinswriter.com

 

I press on.

The 500 words a day revisited experiment continues . . . slowly.

I have obviously not yet established the discipline of writing daily that I was holding out hope for when I picked this project back up.  However, I heard something today that offered a glimmer of something, slightly hopeful.

I listened to a podcast of two uber-best selling authors who declared unapologetically that they were binge writers.

Binge writers.

That has a nice ring.

There is a liberation to it.

The comparison is the highly routined, scheduled type of writer who somehow develops a cut and dried daily habit.  So much so that it is the first thing they think about every day . . . after coffee of course.  Their time is neatly sectioned and sanctioned so they write.

I like that idea.  I’m not giving up on that someday being a part of my life but when this author spoke of binging as a writer it rang my bell.

GONG! YES.  That is what I do (which is made perfectly clear by the frequency of my posts).

Here’s the thing.  Binging can actually be tremendously effective but not outside of discipline.

These authors had recognized that for whatever reason, be it personal preference or demanding schedules, the idea of setting aside the exact same time every day to write was unrealistic.  However, they set aside time . . . dedicated time . . . focused time . . . to hit it hard and just write.  48 hours in a hotel room.  Writing residencies. Time away to walk and write, walk and write, walk and write . . . nothing else.

So in a sense it is the same basic picture of a disciplined daily habit, the pixels are just larger.  The writing moments are larger as is the time in between . . . but if you zoom out you would still see the same patterns.

In short — this strikes a chord but it doesn’t let me off of the hook.  The thought of binge writing makes sense to me and is incredibly attractive.  Maybe it is an idea to play with but it still requires intentionality.

Something to explore.

The idea of planned laziness is a concept that I have been thinking a lot about lately.  There is so much value in rest . . . but doing nothing with no plan is a slippery slope.  Practically anything valuable can become dysfunctional.  Reading a book is a good thing . . . but total withdrawal is not.  Watching a movie is fun and restful  . . . but doing nothing else leads to a dark place (which I have visited on numerous occasions).

Even exercise can be taken to a destructive end.

BUT — Binging intentionally is a whole different beast.  Setting aside time to be absolutely LAZY actually allows you to ACCOMPLISH laziness.  I did NOTHING . . . but that was my plan so I am a success.  The alternative (and much more common option) is post laziness regret.  Holy cow, I did nothing all day . . . I am such a loser . . . but I have to finish this season of Gilmore Girls . . . one more won’t hurt.

Here are the pieces that I think are important and hope to explore concerning Disciplined Binging.

 

Intentionality:  Thinking future tense instead of past.  “I am going to do this” vs. “this is what I have done”.  Planning vs. regret.

Purpose:  Establishing a firm grasp of why this is happening BEFORE it happens.  Even if the activity seems completely lazy — maybe that’s what I need today . . . for the purpose of rejuvenation . . . rest . . . stress relief . . . etc.

Awareness:  On the spectrum of functional, helpful and healthy to dysfunctional, destructive and damaging, where do my activities fit?  NOT what activities fit on there but how does my current engagement with them fit?  When does it start to lean towards unhealthy?  What are the indicators?  What are the results?

Honesty:   What questions to I need to ask myself to that will help me be genuine in my endeavors?

  • Is this more healthy than hurtful?
  • What do I want the answer to be?
  • Am I lying to myself?
  • What other questions belong here?

Something to think about.

And those are my 500 words.

 

 

ROOTFULNESS: The flipside of the TCK stereotype

Large and exposed tree roots visable above ground

ROOTLESSNESS.

It’s the plague of the “TCK” isn’t it.  Kids growing up cross-culturally have been branded with a scarlet letter R.

I get it.  It’s an understandable, tangible way to illustrate some of the challenges that come with this life and on one level it makes tremendous sense.  It goes hand in hand with all of the other bullet points in the “downsides” column.

  • I can’t answer the question “where are you from?”
  • I don’t know where “home” is.
  • I move a lot.
  • Even when I stay everyone else moves a lot.
  • I say goodbye way too much.
  • I see my grandparents like once every two years.

    I MUST BE ROOTLESS.

I get it . . . but I hate it and I actually couldn’t disagree more.  Maybe it’s a matter of semantics but if that is the case could we please reconsider the wording?

 

Let’s deconstruct it a bit.

 

ROOTLESS means “without roots.”  Agreed?

So the metaphor presumes that we are talking about something that NEEDS roots and DOES NOT have them.  We’re comparing TCK’s to a tree not a car . . . or a cow . . . or a crescent wrench.

That’s how metaphors work.

SO . . . if we are calling my kid rootless we are insinuating that they NEED some roots (I have no argument with that part of the point).  But IF we are metaphoring about a tree which is rootless we have to stay true to the metaphor all the way through.

Fallen log, Olympic National ParkA tree without roots . . . dies.  Period.

It shrivels up.

Dries out.

Withers away.

Falls down when the wind blows.

 

That, my friends, is where the metaphor breaks down.  Why you ask?  Take a look around.  There are TCK’s all over the globe who are the polar opposite of shriveled.  Not all of them thrive but MANY do.  There are also LOADS of monocultural kids whose homebase has never once changed and are about as dried out and shriveled up as you can get.

 

There is so much more to having roots than staying in one place.

 

To be rootless means you have been cut off from what gives you nourishment, connection and strength.  That’s the function of a root (you can look it up).

I would agree that my kids have been cut off from SOME of the things that CAN bring them nourishment, connection and strength . . . but not ALL.  Not by a long shot.  Not even close.

In fact I think they are tapped into sources that I never dreamed about in my monocultural childhood.  Beyond that they are FAR MORE transplantable than I ever was.  You could pick them up and drop them anywhere and they will thrive.

THAT IS NOT ROOTLESS.

My kids (and TCK’s everywhere) are ROOTFUL.  Filled with roots.  Lot’s of them.  Fast growing, healthy roots.  So much so that they will never dry out moving from one spot to another.  There will be challenges to be sure, but that’s the thing about roots . . . challenges make them stronger.

They still need to be tapped into the things that feed them . . . AND THEY ARE.

  • A family that looks and acts the same in any living space, airport, hotel or hemisphere.
  • Routines and traditions that don’t change and can travel anywhere.
  • Solid friends that they have met along the way and stay connected to.
  • Core values that drive every decision.
  • A deeper grasp of fluid community than they ever would have picked up elsewhere.

I love geographical stability (being planted in one spot and never moving).  It can and does produce some really solid lives.  In fact some of my greatest nourishment, connection and strength has come as a direct result of being tapped into people who have barely moved in their lifetime.

It’s a good way to do things well . . . BUT IT’S NOT THE ONLY WAY.

Living cross-culturally CAN be every bit as rootful.

 

On Rootfulness: 500 Words | Day 17

Welcome to Day 17 of a 31 day challenge to write 500 words or more.  For more on that click here:  goinswriter.com

ROOTLESS.

It’s the plague of the “TCK” isn’t it.  We’re pretty quick to brand kids growing up cross-culturally with a scarlet letter R.

I get it.  It’s an understandable, tangible, metaphorical way to illustrate some of the challenges that come with this life and on one level it makes tremendous sense.  It goes hand in hand with all of the other bullet points in the “downsides” column.

  • I can’t answer the question “where are you from?”
  • I don’t know where “home” is.
  • I move a lot.
  • Even when I stay everyone else moves a lot.
  • I say goodbye way too much.
  • I see my grandparents like once every two years.

    I MUST BE ROOTLESS.

I get it . . . but I hate it and I actually couldn’t disagree more.  Maybe it’s a matter of semantics but if that is the case could we please reconsider the wording?

Let’s deconstruct it a bit.

ROOTLESS means “without roots.”  Agreed?

So it would seem that the metaphor, presumes that we are talking about something that NEEDS to have roots and DOES NOT.  We’re talking about a tree not a car . . . or a cow . . . or a crescent wrench.

If we are calling my kid rootless we are insinuating that they NEED some roots (no argument with that part of the point).  But IF we are metaphoring about a tree which is rootless we have to stay true to the metaphor all the way through.

A tree without roots . . . dies.  Period.

It shrivels up.

Dries out.

Withers away.

Falls down when the wind blows.

That, my friends, is where the metaphor breaks down.  Why you ask?  Take a look around.  There are TCK’s all over the globe who are the polar opposite of shriveled.  There are also LOADS of monocultural kids whose homebase has never once changed and are about as dried out as you can get.

To be rootless means you have been cut off from what gives you nourishment, connection and strength.  That’s what a root does (you can look it up).

I would agree that my kids have been cut off from SOME of the things that CAN bring them nourishment, connection and strength . . . but not ALL.  Not by a long shot.  Not even close.

In fact I think they are tapped into sources that I never dreamed about in my monocultural childhood.  Beyond that they are FAR MORE transplantable that I ever was.  You could pick them up and drop them anywhere and they could thrive.

THAT IS NOT ROOTLESS.

My kids (and TCK’s everywhere) are ROOTFUL.  Filled with roots.  Lot’s of them.  Fast growing roots.  So much so that they will never dry out moving from one spot to another.  There will be challenges to be sure, but that’s the thing about roots . . . challenges make them stronger.

They still need to be tapped into the things that feed them . . . AND THEY ARE.

  • A family that looks and acts the same in any living space, airport, hotel or hemisphere.
  • Routines and traditions that don’t change and can travel anywhere.
  • Solid friends that they have met along the way and stay connected to.
  • Core values that drive every decision.
  • A deeper grasp of fluid community than they ever would have picked up elsewhere.

I love geographical stability (being planted in one spot and never moving).  It can and does produce some really solid lives.  In fact some of my greatest nourishment, connection and strength has come as a direct result of being tapped into people who have barely moved in their lifetime.

It’s a good way to do things well . . . BUT IT’S NOT THE ONLY WAY.

Living cross-culturally CAN be every bit as rootful.

And those are my 500 words (PS — I think I’ll post this one separately)

 

On Destination Limbo: 500 Words | Day 16

Welcome to Day 16 of a 31 day challenge to write 500 words or more.  For more on that click here:  goinswriter.com

There are multiple realities for the expat that fall under the “takes some getting used to” category.  The lifestyle of living abroad requires much more adjustment than just cross-cultural transition.  There are dozens of aspects that have nothing to do with the differences between “my” culture and “their” culture but actually take up significant space  For example:

  • Life in community.
  • Constant goodbyes.
  • Navigating time zones for communication.
  • Frequent travel.
  • Raising third culture children.
  • Homeland visits.
    • Dealing with frustrating comments from friends and family (bet you’re glad to be back)
    • Learning to tell our stories.
    • Learning that not everyone wants to hear our stories.
  • Packing bags to EXACTLY the maximum weight limit.

This list goes on for miles . . . or kilometers . . . either way.

Here’s one though, that there seems to be very little information on . . . Life in Limbo.

Limbo is very much a reality for people who do transition a lot.  By nature, transition is moving and changing from one place to another, one existence to another and one reality to another.  As we make preparations for those shifts we tend to focus our attention on one or the other.  We round out our current reality and start preparing for the next.

Meanwhile we feel stuck . . . In between . . .  unable to fully connect anywhere.

It happens when we are preparing to move abroad.  It happens again when we move from that location to another, whether it be back “home” or on to something else.  On a smaller scale it happens during high transition points during the year, like the Expat Exodus.

Here’s the thing — Typical expats transition a lot.  Limbo times may suck up six months each time (3 months before leaving and 3 month after).  So let’s do the math.  If you transition 6 times in 20 years (not a ridiculous thought) you will spend 3 threes in limbo (expat purgatory?).

Here are some of my initial thoughts on how to deal with life in Limbo.

  •  Make Limbo a Destination:  Don’t just let the in between times be the residue between two times that matter.
    • Name this time (something besides “Limbo”)
    • “That time we . . . “
  • Ask the right questions:
    • What can I accomplish during this time?
    • What can I do now that I never have the time for apart from limbo?
    • What relationships can I focus on?
    • What are my goals?
  • Zoom out
    • Look at the timeline
    • What is significant about this time?
  • Do what you can
    • Send out your CV (resume)
    • Learn about where your going etc.
  • Don’t do what you can’t
    • Don’t waste time worrying about what you can’t control.
    • Don’t focus on scenarios that aren’t going to happen.
  • Hang pictures on the wall
    • Settle in — even if you’re only there for three months
    • Have some things that travel with you are remind you that you are solid.
  • Maintain your routines
    • Hold on to family night
    • Date night
    • Morning and bedtime routines
    • Don’t let your disciplines get washed out in the chaos.
  • Keep Learning 
    • Don’t let your brain settle
    • Learn something local
  • Live the memory.
    • Don’t let limbo get washed out.
    • Live so you will be saying, “Remember that time . . . ”  for years to come.
    • Do a project
    • Take a trip

And those are my 500 words.

On Expat Rhythms: 500 Words | Day 15

Welcome to Day 15 of a 31 day challenge to write 500 words or more.  For more on that click here:  goinswriter.com

 

Cross cultural life is easily and often described with negative words.  Fair enough.

Frustrating.  Challenging.  Overwhelming.  Stressful.  Confusing.

Chaotic.

 

That’s the one I love the most.  It feels so accurate doesn’t it?  The picture in my head looks something like this: standing out in the barnyard while a tornado goes by.  The house is being blown away.  Boards and chickens are flying by and I am clinging for dear life to the old oak tree trying not to get sucked into the vortex.

Nothing is in my control.  Everything is chaos.

Here’s the thing though.  Life here is not chaotic.  People have been living and doing quite well here for thousands of years.  I see them out there, every day, living their lives without a cloud in the sky or a chicken in the air.  The chaos is not actually an external reality, it is an internal condition.

I FEEL chaotic but life is NOT chaotic.  My chaos is directly connected to the gap between what I expected to happen and what actually ends up happening — the gap between my desire to accomplish something and the time and effort it takes me to accomplish it — the gap between how I want things to be and how they really are.

Much of the chaos of expat life, though could be resolved by understanding the rhythms.

They rhythms are the things that you can see coming.  They are the events that are bound to happen over and over again and even though we may not like them we could have braced for them, prepared for them.

When I look at my life through chaotic lenses I say things like this:

  • We have moved 8 times in the last 9 years.
  • We travel all the time.
  • My kids feel rootless.
  • People in our community constantly leave.
  • New people keep showing up.
  • I don’t know who my friends are going to be from year to year.
  • Everyone stares at me when I go out.
  • I don’t speak this language well and it’s frustrating.

 

My theory is that there could be a significant shift in perspective if we could find the rhythms in what feels like chaos.  Asking some simple questions could be a good place to begin.  Questions like:

  • What happens (or is likely to happen) every January regardless of what else changes?
  • What is Tuesday likely to look like no matter what?
  • When do people leave?
  • When do new people show up?

Then asking, “how would knowing the answers to these questions help me bring some order to the chaos?”  Being familiar with the cycles and the repetition affords me the luxury of adjusting my expectations . . . and when I know what it coming it’s hard to label it as chaotic.

So many rabbits to chase on this topic.  Here are a few that have come up just from writing this one post:

  • Pessimism’s impact on life abroad
  • Expat Gaps
  • The uber significance of intentionality

And those are my 500 words