Category Archives: The Trailing Spouse

My tortured path to relocation nirvana – a completed website with no broken links, no spelling mistakes, and finally understanding what SEO means.. This could take a while..
Oh, and staying sane while I’m at it.

heartbleed: the expat edition

Heartbleed: the expat edition

heartbleed: the expat editionContrary to the mythical serenity of expat life, 2014 has been the year of security breaches in the Defining Moves household. And we don’t seem to be rising to the challenge.

In February, our cars were broken into while they sat in our driveway, under the carport. There are two things of note with this; firstly, the only reason we knew that they had been targeted was that the thieves very kindly left the doors open so as not to wake us. Hence the first conversation was not “we’ve been burgled” but a lengthy, accusation ruled tirade about “who came in last and left the car doors open”..

It continued in the same vein when the Sheriff arrived. Her first question pertained to the ‘break-in’, at which point I squirmed.

” Define the term ‘break’..?”

Predictably, we had all left our car doors unlocked, and the genius in the family (that would be me) had also left a handbag in the car, now noticeably absent. A round of lengthy phone calls to the Department of Motor Vehicles, various card companies and the bank ensued.

By far the most annoying part of all this was the Other Half, who constantly nags me about locking the car when leaving it for more than three seconds, and who correctly predicted that I had left my purse in it. There are few things in life more irritating than the words ‘I told you so’ coming from a smug spouse.

The theme continued last week, with the advent of the HeartBleed virus. It prompted a flutter of panic in my heart, not so much the virus itself, but thought of

  1.  remembering all those passwords in the first place and
  2. having to update all the people who I shared said passwords with.

There is a certain irony when hackers are the only people who actually do know your log in details..

The Other Half came up trumps, with a list of sites affected that narrowed down my workload to a mere sliver. I crafted a new password that would pass even the most convoluted security requirement and set to work. And promptly spent the rest of the evening binging on Hulu’s back catalogue, which according to my list, was one of the sites unaffected. Safety first, I always say.

But the Gods of spousal comeuppance were smiling on me this morning, as the Other Half trudged into the bedroom with a strong waft of Burning Martyr following close behind.

“Why were you so late to bed last night?”

“I was changing all the passwords.” (said with a pious, superior air.) Do you know how many we have for all our expat health insurance? And our credit union accounts? But don’t worry, we’ve got a really strong password now”

At which point he reels off a long string of garbled numbers, letters and symbols that Bletchley Park would struggle to remember. And judging by the number of hesitations, missteps and corrections, so did he.

Cue pregnant pause.

Me: “Please tell me you did only do the ones that were listed on that email you sent me? The sites that actually use Open SSL encryption?”

OH: Silence

OH: “I’ll write the password down for you.”

Good to know that security is a priority. Now anyone who wants to get hold of our passwords has to navigate the enormous stack of unfiled paperwork that the Other Half leaves constantly in his wake.

Sometimes, low tech is the best defense.

 

Expat family essentials: Estate planning checklist. Defining Moves: information, inspiration for the global expat family. Trailing spouse, supporting partner, expat partner, accompanying partner, international assignment

Expat Family Essentials: The Estate Planning Checklist

Expat family essentials: Estate planning checklist. Defining Moves: information, inspiration for the global expat family.  Trailing spouse, supporting partner, expat partner, accompanying partner, international assignmentWhen my mother came to visit us in Los Angeles, she neglected to bring her swimsuit, and was faced with the challenge of what to wear in our pool. My generous offer of a string bikini was rudely rejected with the words “Over my dead body”. I am taking her at her word, and when she moves on to a better place, we will be marking her passing with an open casket viewing and the aforementioned attire.

Just to compound your already low opinion of me, I also respond to unwanted maternal points for improvement with the words “ Just remember who’ll be choosing the nursing home”…

Let this be a lesson to those of you who are feeling complacent having written your will; if you also want a say in your care and send off, do in it writing, and make sure it can be found before the services (healthcare, financial or spiritual) have taken place. It applies to all of you, but if you are an expat, the risks are even higher..

 

There are four more documents that you need to consider preparing:

  • Guidelines for your funeral arrangements
  • Power of Attorney
  • Trust / Catalogue of assets
  • Letter of intent

Funeral arrangements. 

If, like myself, you have specific ideas about your funeral, you need to put a plan in place so that loved ones left behind can honor your wishes. For those of us with a somewhat warped sense of humor, it’s a great time to mess with everyone a little, but I appreciate that not everyone out there is as cruel as I.

The key points to cover include:

Location for service (church, crematorium etc.), preference for cremation or burial, memorial service, storage / distribution of ashes, etc.

Funeral preferences – hymns, caskets, flowers, donations, clothing (yours, but feel free to have a little fun with their dress code too…). You could even write your own eulogy and obituary, complete with an embellished (and  potentially wholly fictitious) list of accomplishments.

Funding – it’s the one we all forget, but if you are living overseas and wish to be buried in your home town, make provision for the costs of repatriating both your body and your family. Your embassy can give guidance, but the costs are entirely your own. Bear in mind that your heirs can’t easily access accounts left in your name once you have died – funeral expenses are deducted from the estate before it is divided between the beneficiaries, but flights etc are usually paid in advance, so ask your lawyer the best way to facilitate this.

Power of Attorney.

The Durable Power of Attorney / Enduring Power of Attorney is a document that designates a representative to make financial, health care, or other business decisions for you if you become unable to do so for yourself.

This can be general or limited / springing. A general durable power of attorney gives permission for whomever you name to make every decision on your behalf, if you are no longer able to advocate for yourself. A limited durable power of attorney cover specific events, like selling property, making investments (often given to financial advisors / brokers) or making health care decisions (also called an Advance Directive of Health Care).

You can choose anyone to act as your agent, but commonsense rules apply – choose someone trustworthy who has your best interests at heart, and who is physically able to make those decisions; while many decisions can be made remotely, those living overseas should consider choosing someone who is able to travel.

Trust.

I am not a lawyer, nor have any legal expertise or qualification, so I am leaving the explanation of what exactly a trust is to those in the know – click here for the best explanation I could find, or check out the additional resources at the bottom of the page. Your task is to go away and get legal advice on whether trusts are applicable to your situation.

Simply put, a trust is a legal holding zone for assets, which are controlled by individuals known as ‘trustees’, for the benefit of other named parties “beneficiaries”. You nominate multiple trustees and beneficiaries, allowing both flexibility (it is relatively straightforward to change the conditions of the trust) and smooth transition of both control of and benefit from the trust.

The vast majority of people set up trusts for financial reasons – properly crafted, your trust can help to avoid significant estate taxes. However, for expats, the ability for assets to be transferred seamlessly is often far more important; especially where the remaining spouse is on a dependent visa and no longer legally entitled to remain in the host country.

It also has the advantage not just cataloging major assets but also specifying how beneficiaries can access the funds contained in the trust, meaning that should the unthinkable happen and both parents die, they can leave instructions for funds to be released at appropriate intervals (for example, lump sums to cover college tuition and living costs, down payments on a first home etc) rather than giving total control when the children reach legal adulthood.. As someone with a 17 year old who is unable to manage his birthday money effectively, the thought of leaving him in charge of half our net worth in a year’s time sends shudders down my spine.

Letter of Intent.

Finally, it’s the easy one – your letter of intent. It’s not a legal document, instead simply some guidance to the guardians of your estate and your dependents about what your wishes, your hopes and your future plans for your dependents are.

There are two things to bear in mind:

  1. Think of your letter of intent as a set of guidelines, not rules. You are handing over the job to someone who is not you (and never will be), so let them do their best with the situation they have; if there are any ‘dealbreakers’, it’s probably a good idea to discuss them in person before you assign them the responsibility.
  2. Make sure you have the funds to back it up. There’s nothing like being left with a laundry list of expectations, and no money to do it. It’s the same lesson we teach our children; if it’s that important, you should be willing to pay for it with your own money..
  3. Don’t assume children are your only dependents; you may need to make provision for your parents, your pets or your clients.

So there we go – you are well on the way to getting your plans a little more ‘future-proofed’, whether in terms of money, care for your dependents, or what they say about you in your obituary. Just remember; your epitaph really is the one thing that is written in stone…

 

Open letter to a teenage son (expat parenting) Defining Moves - the Art of Successful Relocation; information, inspiration and resources for the globally mobile; expat partners, trailing spouses, expat families, international assignments,

Open Letter to A Teenage Boy.

Open letter to a teenage son (expat parenting) Defining Moves - the Art of Successful Relocation; information, inspiration and resources for the globally mobile; expat partners, trailing spouses, expat families, international assignments, In a rare moment of family harmony last month, the Wiggy One and I went to our local hardware store. We made it round without becoming irritated with the other, managing to laugh and talk. As we walked to the car, a grandfather and small grandson were on their way in; the grandson skipping alongside, swinging on his grandfather’s hand and turning up his face to share a story. The older man was bending down to listen, both of them were delighting in the other’s company. And there I was with my now 6″1′ son, for whom life is no longer so simple, and who is trying to bridge the gap between childhood and becoming a man.

In a reversal of the scene playing out in front of us, I looked up at my son, and shared my own secret.

“Just so you are aware of the magnitude of the ‘Bait and Switch’ trick life played on me, you were just like that.”

What I forgot to add, was so was I. I remember the moments when time disappeared as I watched him discover the world, and it makes me sad to realize that he’s not the only one hardened by the passing years – I am too.

In an effort to explain why we as parents seem so unreasonable, so angry, so irritating, so controlling, here’s an open letter my teenage son – and probably others out there. It’s what we are thinking at 3am when we are rehearing our own words, and wishing them unsaid..

Dear Wiggy,

Firstly, I love you. Those may not be the words that always come out of my mouth, but please know that it is the one enduring, irrefutable truth in my seemingly erratic behavior. But imagine, just for a moment, you are given a small child and are expected to stand by and watch them navigate through busy city streets. That’s what parenting feels like. It’s terrifying, and you’d be a little crazy too.

I will always see you as three years old – the days when you greeted me with delight in your eyes, excitement in your voice, enthusiasm in your hugs. The days when I was invincible, when your greatest need was to be held close and your biggest challenge was how to balance on a bicycle. It makes it hard to watch you go out there and face the world, armed only with the inadequate advice I tried to give you and knowing full well that you weren’t listening and are probably thinking you know so much better.

You may be right, but the only way to find out is to test that hypothesis and take risks. I have failed far too many of the challenges facing you, and a little bit of me dies knowing that you will be hurt and will learn that not everyone is kind. You will make good choices and bad choices, and feel the consequences of both for years to come. You are too big for things to be fixed with a kiss and a bandaid, but it doesn’t stop me from keeping a secret stock of them just in case.

I know you think I am nosy and intrusive – I am. You have a whole life that is private – it’s called your private life for a reason. And that’s ok, it’s part of becoming a man. But just because you keep it private, doesn’t mean it stays that way – if you are keeping quiet because you would be embarrassed to see it on the front page of the New York Times, it’s probably a bad idea. I know this, because enough of my secrets have been told, and I learned the hard way. The bad news for you is that you have social media recording every mistake, and I desperately don’t want to find out about yours via Instagram. So just think of my questions as your filter; if you are worried that I will find out, you will just a little more cautious. Which is exactly what every parent wants.

While we are on the subject of private lives, know that how you treat people you love now will influence the success of your future relationships. One of the things I most love about your father is the way he treats his mother – no matter how irritated he might be, he treats her with respect. When we first met, it felt like he was choosing her feelings over mine; as I get older, I realize that she taught him to value women, and that I am now the one who reaps the benefits.

I can’t force you to do things any more – you make your own choices. You are bigger than me by about 6 inches, so I can’t just send you to your room or drag you home.  So when your automatic response to a problem is “it’s your fault’, I know that you still have a little more growing to do, because really, most of your life is now down to you. I can protect you, I  can advise you, I can comfort you, I can punish you and I can help you understand the meaning of consequences, but the days when I could make you disappeared when you outweighed me by 40 pounds and joined the football team. I know it, and it’s hard to watch – so I am impatiently waiting for you to get it too. It’s ironic, but the day you turn around and say, without prompting “it was my fault’ is the day that we know you are truly becoming a man.

Here’s the thing – one day (preferably 10 years from now) you will have children of your own. And when you do, I will be there, knowing that your children will have a great father who has made plenty of mistakes, but came through it better, stronger, wiser. One who will love them, protect them, teach them and advise them, and then, when they are teenagers, will also be told how little he knows.. And I will be there, with hugs and bandaids and a huge smile. Because karma is a bitch.

Expat Success - Make your mistakes quickly. Defining Moves - The Art of Successful Relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global trailing spouse, accompanying partner, international assignment, expat family, expatriate

The Secret to Expat Success… And Why.

Expat Success - Make your mistakes quickly. Defining Moves - The Art of Successful Relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global trailing spouse, accompanying partner, international assignment, expat family, expatriate

 

 

I knew it. Finally, the insanity that is my expat life – and most of the website – has been vindicated, and it’s all thanks to Ellen Mahoney over at Sea Change Mentoring. She introduced me to the groundbreaking advice given by a tech start-up entrepreneur, as a recipe for global success and world domination…

 

Make your mistakes quickly

 

As a person whose family motto is “Disaster soon follows”, I have long been a proponent of this approach, with no idea that I was such thought leader. I had just assumed I was incompetent and (in a rare moment of self-acceptance) decided not to fight it. It’s a phrase that could be part of every expat mission statement, and should probably replace a lot of the well intentioned advice given in the all-too-brief briefing sessions; “learn the language”, “ get out and make friends” and my personal favorite “ join a gym”… Hmmm. Instead, the secret to expat success is familiar and effortlessly achievable – the global gaffe. And here’s why.

 

1. It reminds us that we will make mistakes.

In the assignment planning stage, it’s important to focus on the positive, but in doing so we often forget that expat life is still life. Mistakes happen, and when you are in an environment with unfamiliar language, culture, rules and expectations, they happen a lot. Making your mistakes quickly reminds us to expect – and even plan – for those mistakes. Whether that means working with a destination service provider or an expat coach, doing your own exhaustive research or simply being patient with yourself while you transition (or all of the above), it’s vital to acknowledge that perfection is impossible, and good enough is, well, good enough.

 

2. We focus on ‘right’ as a victory, rather than ‘wrong’ as a failure.

I once did a stint as a sales consultant and one of the job requirements was calling customers to set appointments. It was (and no doubt, still is) a miserable task –  you knew that your cheerful introduction could be greeted with anything from interest, to polite refusal, to a torrent of abuse and a dial tone. Thankfully, I was armed with a secret weapon; the company set targets for calls made, and let the actual results take care of themselves. So every call made was a relief – one less to do, one step closer to reaching the goal. Acknowledging that mistakes are inevitable (and in the early days, we are more likely to get it wrong than get it right) is incredibly freeing. It gives us permission to focus on the actions and let the outcomes take care of themselves. It prepares us for failure, and when things do go right, we get to stop, acknowledge it for the triumph that it is, and celebrate.

 

 3. It gets you out there.

Having taken away the fear of failure, there’s nothing like the element of competition to spur us on. Experienced expats (i.e. those who have been comprehensive in their cock-ups) can entertain for hours with hilarious stories of endless mishaps, miscommunications or general disasters; just visit the bar at any FIGT conference and listen for the raucous laughter if you don’t believe me. It’s the expat version of the Olympic Decathlon, with extra points for speed, style and variety. All that’s missing is the opening ceremony, the national uniforms and the lycra. But don’t let us stop you…

 

4. It helps you to bond.

If there’s one thing that unites the expat world, it’s our inability to watch people struggle without feeling some serious empathy. It’s one of the unwritten laws of expat life; we’re all in this together, and in my mind, there is a special place in Hell for expats who don’t help each other. Putting yourself out there and making mistakes publicly transports us all back to our early days and disasters, and gives us something in common that transcends language, culture or belief. It reminds us that we are human, and we love you for it.

 

5. It makes you brave.

Fear of failure is crippling, and stops us doing so many things that would take ordinary life and make it extraordinary. By contrast, being forced into situations where mistakes are inevitable and accepting them as a mere part of life’s journey gives us the motivation to be creative, to take risks and to try new things constantly. We dream big, and even if it doesn’t work out perfectly, we don’t go home. We learn that it hasn’t killed us, and we are really are stronger.

 

So there you have it – official permission to create chaos and have fun doing it. Providing of course, you follow our lead and share all your finer moments. Now we just need merit badges and an awards ceremony…

The Fragile Finances of the Expat Trailing Spouse. Defining Moves, The Art of Successful Relocation

Women, Money and What ‘Dependent Partner’ really means. The Fragile Finances of the Expat Trailing Spouse.

The Fragile Finances of the Expat Trailing Spouse. Defining Moves, The Art of Successful RelocationUpdate: After considerable lobbying from consumer groups, the US Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection has amended the rule requiring evidence of independent income when applying for consumer credit, replacing it with a declaration of household income. This is excellent news for accompanying partners in the United States who had been denied access to credit and left unable to build an independent financial identity, in a country where a credit card or credit history is required for everything from hiring a car to setting up a cell phone contract. Sanity is restored…

I came to a horrible realization the other day that I was beholden to my husband. It sounds incredibly old-fashioned; even using the word ‘partner’ in that sentence would be wrong, because it implies an equality that I had let slip away.

The dictionary describes the term beholden as owing something to somebody because of something that they have done for you’, so if you view being shuffled from pillar to international post as a favour, the word pretty much covers it. I realized that although I live in California, where community property and a 50/50 division applies, I did not have the independent means to pay for legal advice. And when he leaves all his dirty breakfast dishes on the counter above the dishwasher for the 5 millionth time, there is a big emotional difference between don’t want to divorce my Other Half, and CAN’T…

As with the vast majority of dual career couples, when I agreed to the OH’s first relocation, I was aware that from now on my own career would take a back seat. Global mobility research discusses the change (usually reduction) in income when a couple relocate, but discussion centres around household income, rather than individual earning power.

Which is exactly what I have lost. I have never worked in professions known for lavish salaries (nursing or teaching, anyone??), but I was able to earn significant personal income with opportunities for promotion. Now, however, my sole income in drawn from the ‘household’, and as such, is vulnerable. And I’m not alone.

It’s not just those of us who relocate that are in this position. It’s anyone who has chosen to reduce or give up work to manage family commitments, whether you are in constant global motion, or have never set foot outside your home town. If you have no independent source of income, whoever earns the salary holds the keys to your supposed household income.  And while you are legally entitled to a portion of those, it requires court approval to gain access to them, whatever the circumstances. Which also requires legal counsel, who (funnily enough) will want to be paid.

Take credit cards. Over the last 20 years, we have become used to being approved for credit, regardless of our personal income; the household income has always been taken into account. Sure, the credit limit may be small, but it’s quickly increased once our payment history shows our ability to make payments and manage the account well. However change is afoot, certainly in the US, where credit card issuers are changing their rules, and making it far more difficult for the accompanying partner to gain credit (and a good credit history), unless they are employed outside of home.

Last year, the Fed ruled that credit card applications should ask about a consumer’s individual income or salary rather than his or her “household income”. This isn’t just for students under 21, but for everyone. That means that a stay-at-home parent is considered as unworthy of credit as an unemployed college kid–and seven out of eight stay-at-home parents are mothers. No one without a pay stub, no matter the value of her contribution to her household, can get a line of credit unless her spouse cosigns the account. (Anisha Sekar,  July 7, 2011)

Now, in light of the recent economic meltdown, placing more focus on individual income and ability to repay debts is no bad thing, but it does have ramifications for those of us who suddenly lose the ability to get even the most basic forms of credit like a cell phone contract or credit card. It also means that unless you are named on the account, you lose the ability to make financial decisions, access accounts and resolve disputes, which if, like mine, your partner spends a great deal of time out of the country and on air flights, can make financial management impossible.

The Other Half is also the primary name on the host country bank account, and I don’t have automatic access to his account. Typically, he goes ahead to take up his new post, while I remain behind with the children to finish up the school year and pack the house for the move. It works well for us, but does mean that he has sole responsibility for setting up basic financial services in the new location, so it is his name on the salary transfer and tax details, and therefore his name on the account, at least until we get around to updating it.

We choose to manage this by having me sign all the checks (if he signed one himself, it would probably be dismissed as a forgery), I have the ATM card and PIN number, and I’ve set up the internet banking with my passwords. And while this unusual state of affairs makes for amusing dinner party conversation, it gives me absolutely no legal right to the household funds in that account, nor access to them should he suddenly develop amnesia / get run down by a London bus / decide to trade me in for a younger, blonder model…

The mention of Tax ID and salary above should alert you to the fact that opening your own bank account is not necessarily as easy as it first appears. Requirements vary from country to country, but most require evidence of who you are, your legal right to be in the country, how you will pay tax on any interest, and how you intend to fund the account. So when you turn up with your passport and cash, you may be disappointed… However, it is something that is worth doing if you value your sanity, because things can and do go wrong, and I am willing to bet that it is you who will be left holding the can when it does. If the money is in your sole name, you have control over it; if it’s not, you don’t. Simple as that.

And finally, let me mention the dying thing. I have known a few situations where a spouse has died at a young age, and not once did I ever hear the words “well now, let’s get on and sort out the money”. What I saw were people who had their lives knocked out from under them, who were trying to cope with immense loss, overwhelming grief, and devastated children. Imagine how much worse it gets when you are overseas, your right to be in the country expired with the demise of your spouse, and all your assets (and therefore your ability to get home, to make funeral arrangements, to pay medical bills and to pay for normal household expenses) are now severely compromised. I have seen it happen, and it was horrific.

So, if you do nothing else today, do these things for me, wherever you are. Get started on your own personal credit history, even if you have to take out a secured credit card to do it. Promise to keep track of your credit score, every month. Get an independent bank account in your host country, and commit to funding it, every month. And finally, make a joint will, keep it simple and safe, and make sure it is legal in the country that you live in.

Oprah would be proud. I feel more secure already…

Expat Parenting – The International Peace Treaty..

expat parenting - how it takes more than one village to raise a CCK / TCK. Defining Moves, information, inspiration and resources for the global trailing spouse, accompanying partner, international assignment transferee..  When I originally wrote this post, I had yet to hit the expat parenting minefield that is the adolescent CCK (Cross Culture Kid). I now know firsthand the dubious pleasure of putting a career on hold to focus on transplanting children, only to be calmly told that I have “ruined” their lives.. 

Thus comes the realization that parenting is a truly thankless task, and it’s only the support of fellow sufferers that keep one from running screaming to the nearest liquor store. It’s why expat parents become experts at nurturing a large group of people who will provide support, comfort, alcohol and surveillance services through our child’s teenage years, people who, regardless of location, language, culture or religion, follow the same, previously unwritten code. For those of you who we rely on for our daily dose of sanity, here it is..

  1. Thou shalt not post pictures of home-made birthday cake excellence on Facebook, so that my children spot them and spend the next ten years bringing up my own birthday cake inadequacies.
  2. Thou shalt not point out that your child is walking and talking while mine has spent the last three hours with his hands down his trousers.
  3. When spying my child indulging in antisocial activities in public, thou shalt utter the words “her mother will be very cross when she finds out about that”; implicitly underlining that a) I am the all seeing, attentive parent, and b) I have high behavioral standards. It is irrelevant whether you believe this or not, and extra credit is given for saying it when other parents are present.
  4. When spying my child inappropriately dressed, thou shalt sing out in a helpful tone “Would you like me to call your mother to drop off your sweater / trousers / anything that doesn’t look like a Britney Spears outfit?”, thus communicating to the child that a) she’s busted; b) you are willing to go there; and c) there are eyes everywhere. Extra credit is given for not telling me about inappropriate attire unless there is a repeat occurrence.
  5. When my teenage child makes an inappropriate remark, thou shalt enter into a lengthy and awkward story about your own teenage angst, preferably with reference to kissing. The mental picture of adults ever indulging in such behavior is enough to silence any outburst, and serves as a cruel and unusual punishment which rarely has to be repeated.
  6. When my child comes looking for sympathy about my latest parenting gaffe, thou shalt listen kindly and then retell the story about how aforementioned child once had diarrhea next to the deli counter in a crowded supermarket, and until life roles are reversed, I still have the moral high ground.
  7. When my child comes looking for support in opposition to the latest parenting policy, thou shalt listen sympathetically, nod furiously, make noises of agreement, and then reiterate policy without the benefit of parent type shrieking. Extra credit is given if child thanks you for being so reasonable and fails to notice that it is the same policy.
  8. When my child leaves home, thou shalt not mention how many times I uttered the words “I can’t wait for them to leave home” and instead hand over tissues and gin to drown my sorrows.
  9. Should my child get married, thou shalt attend the wedding without publicly mentioning the pant fumbling, the diarrhea, the inappropriate clothing or the teenage years. Extra credit is given for having photographic evidence for use in ensuring timely Christmas visits etc.
  10. When my child has children, thou shalt join me in watching them recreate all my worst mistakes, smile and enjoy the show..

Photo courtesy of Clare Kruse, who inspired this post by breaking Rule 1..

FIGT Conference March 22-23 2013

Why You (and every expat) Should Be Going to FIGT 2013

FIGT Conference March 22-23 2013It seems incredible that a year has passed since the last Families in Global Transition conference; forever infamous as the one where I had a complete (and very public ) online meltdown at the eminence and credentials of my fellow presenters, only to have my cover blown by one Judy Rickatson, (aka @wifeinasuitcase) who is the expat online version of Wikipedia. If it’s out there, she knows about it, Tweets, Likes and Pins about it, and, I strongly suspect, has superhuman powers. If she was in charge of the search for the Holy Grail, it would have been found years ago, and it has become my life’s work to try and find an expat blog that she hasn’t yet discovered. She is the Simon Cowell of the expat social media world, discovering talent from the four corners of the globe; only much, much nicer.

Hence my blubbering gaining the attention of various members and supporters of FIGT, who all headed across to the Defining Moves website to offer kind words, support and offers of hospitality. It was the single most generous spirited gesture, and it embodies all that is special about the FIGT organization. People with years of experience, a hugely diverse range of backgrounds and an incredible depth of knowledge, all passionate about making expat life better.

It’s why I can’t wait to go back this year, and why you should all be joining me too. It’s a two day whirlwind of people, presentations and discussions from every perspective; starting with a keynote presentation from the brilliant Pico Iyer. Whether you are an accompanying partner, a expat service provider or from corporate HR, you will leave with a wealth of information and a host of new friends and real, live expat human resources. The only dilemma is how to fit it all into two days.

As for me, I have very personal reasons to want to go there too. It will be the first time I will actually meet many online friends in person, both those who regularly pop up here in the comments sections, on the Facebook page and on my Twitter feed.

At the top of my list?

Judy, of course.

 

If you need more information about Families in Global Transition and the FIGT 2013 conference, here’s the link to their website, including information on registering, becoming a member (as well as all the other benefits, you qualify for a reduced registration fee), global affiliates, sponsorship,  the New Attendees information webinar and the New Attendees welcome evening. I hope to see you there!

Embracing expat life - relocation and repatriation. Defining Moves - Information, inspiration and resources for the global expat trailing spouse, accompanying partner

Restore Default Settings. The Expat Relocation and Repatriation Dilemma.

This post was written 10 days ago, when after nearly a year of negotiating, selling and house hunting and 45 days in escrow, the expat dream of actually owning our own home was still hanging in the balance. At the time, it seemed a little too much like tempting fate to publish it, but now that I have a) keys and a signed contract and b) the Other Half 4000 miles away and blissfully oblivious to the havoc that I am wreaking on our new abode,  I am  now brave enough to share..

Embracing expat life - relocation and repatriation. Defining Moves - Information, inspiration and resources for the global expat trailing spouse, accompanying partnerAnyone who happened to be using the site last Wednesday would have left with a growing sense of confusion and a really good headache, thanks to a small, insignificant button at the bottom of my dashboard page.

It said “restore to default settings“.

Ironically, all I was trying to do was change the color of the page links from a difficult-to-spot-but-definitely-elegant gray, to a glaringly obvious red (I finally settled on a rather fetching lavender blue, but that’s another story). Try as I might, the tool for changing the color wouldn’t co-operate, and so remembering that the theme came with a red link text default, I resorted to pressing the aforementioned button.

Chaos ensued. My painstakingly crafted header logo (the creeping cat) disappeared, to be replaced by an advert for a website developer. So did the tiny logo that you see in the web address bar. The text reverted back to Times New Roman, strange boxes containing Latin gibberish appeared, and a whole drop down menu’s worth of content vanished.

I think the angels made it happen, in response to an impending “I’ve had enough, I want to go home’ tantrum that was brewing.

You see, we are currently trying to buy a house, something that (in theory) should be a happy and joyful event in expat life. It means we’re putting down some roots, taking some time to breathe, and in Wiggy’s words “finally getting to paint my bedroom a color that I like”.

Instead, it is turning into a harrowing catalogue of frustrations, starting with a real estate market that is so quiet it has crickets chirping in the corners, then finally finding a house – in the wrong school district, negotiating school transfers, discovering dry rot, navigating the ever changing rules of the mortgage lenders and finally, four weeks on, being thousands of dollars poorer with no sign of a completed house purchase on the horizon, and no printer ink left.

Yesterday’s debacle was a timely reminder that no matter how complicated it gets, you can’t go back. You can relocate or repatriate physically, but while the basic content may not change, the details have – the colors, the shading, the nuances that you have added along the way that makes you different from the person you were, and makes you view the world around you differently. And what surprised me was how important those details are once they are gone.

We forget that change is an integral part of life – not just for us, but for those around us. Friends from home have been traveling a similar path, and they view us differently too. Instead of the “I’ll just pop round for a cup of coffee/ borrow the lawnmower/drop off the kids for a playdate/” type friendship, it’s a relationship that has to be nurtured over distance, telephone lines and internet connections, and the supporting roles that we used to play in each other’s lives adapt and change. It’s not right or wrong, good or bad, it just is.

Life is messy sometimes. It’s what makes us grow, tests our strengths and reminds us that we are indeed alive. It’s why we travel, why we learn, why we uproot our lives and relocate to the other side of the world. It’s what helps us to embrace new ideas, new places, new faces, new challenges. It’s why we survive and thrive as expats, as parents, as partners.

And despite what you may have thought while watching the Defining Moves website disappear in front of your eyes, we’re not crazy. We’re just pressing all the buttons offered to us.

Photo courtesy of University of Washington Libraries Digital Collections

Today We Celebrate! The Trailing Spouse Keeping the Family Together

Today we celebrate! All of us trailing spouse moms and dads, who have chosen to follow their spouse’s/partner’s careers over their own, who have sacrificed to keep their family living at one place.

Today is not about what we’ve missed out on but what we have tried to create. A home, a family, a sense of security for the ones we love and a sense of knowing that we will always be there for one another.

We don’t know what direction our families’ lives will take in the future but we all try to do our best to shape our tomorrows. We may or may not succeed but we have to give it the best we’ve got. We all make our choices and some of us choose to put family first because we believe that is the best thing for us. That it’s better for our kids if our family stays together, providing more time to spend together.

Thanks to the visitors from Freedom from Chemical Dependency (FCD) and, later, reiterated by the Director of our school, I now know that research has shown that one of the strongest factors “in protecting young people from getting into trouble with alcohol or other drugs are positive relationships with parents.” Again, according to research, if parents are uninvolved in their child’s life, it increases the likelihood of children becoming problem drinkers (http://www.fcd.org/content/resources/newsletters.asp).

There are varied norms in different countries and many different types of families all around the world. By and large, they are all very happy and successful. I am simply stating that involvement with kids is paramount to any society where people organize themselves in families, whatever the shape, size and nature of family it may be! Yes, parenting can be accomplished from a distance but many of us trailing spouses have chosen to keep our families close.

So when you are asked for the umpteenth time as to where do you work, what do you do all day, give a broad smile and answer “I work very hard at home!”

FCD Educational Services is a nonprofit substance abuse prevention organization http://www.fcd.org/content/index.asp

Coping with expat homelessness - My Family in Global Transition. Defining Moves - the art of successful relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global expat trailing spouse / accompanying partner.

Coping with Expat Homelessness – My Family in Global Transition.

Coping with expat homelessness - My Family in Global Transition. Defining Moves - the art of successful relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global expat trailing spouse / accompanying partner.It’s the latest expat dilemma in the Defining Moves household, and in answer to our newly homeless state, I’m moving in with my sister. She may be currently unaware of her impending fate, but I’m guessing that she will be the recipient of quite a few panicked phone calls to inform her within minutes of this post being published.

It’s been a tricky few weeks in our family life; a combination of relief/grief that our home (albeit not one we have lived in for the last 7 years) has finally sold. It’s the first home that the OH and I bought together, the one we spent 8 years of blood, sweat and tears (and near financial ruin) renovating, and is the place where Feisty entered the world, prophetically at high speed and interrupting a particularly good Royal Variety Performance.

It’s hosted Millennium parties, expat students, copious numbers of chickens and too many renovation weekend projects to count. Friends and family have been coerced into everything from installing septic tanks, tiling bathrooms and ripping up floorboards, regardless of ability, stage of pregnancy or copious quantities of small children. Ask most of my Facebook friends for their memories of the house and they will cite brambles, dust, chaos, dodgy alcohol, and hopefully, laughter.  But for the last eight years, it’s been rented by a number of tenants ranging from the delightful to the dire, and is beginning to show the strain.

Throughout our expat travels, it’s what we have always called home, so ten days to pack up a household and fifteen years of memories, friendships and roots were all too short. We saw so many friends that we have missed, and missed seeing too many more. All the while, we worried that we would lose our roots, our stability, and our sense of home.

But a funny thing happened as we drove away, en route to my sister’s house. As the house disappeared from the rear view mirror, we didn’t feel sad anymore. We had had a brilliant ten days, surrounded by people who we only get to see every few years, and yet we picked up the threads as if it were only yesterday. We blended back into life without so much as a ripple, and when answering questions about when we would be returning, it was clear that not only would we be coming back, but that we knew how, when and what adventures we are going to have. This particular chapter may be over, but the story is far from finished.

I had imagined that the kids would be sad, saying goodbye to the only home that they had ever known, but I had missed the obvious point. It has not been their only home, and everywhere they have lived, they have been surrounded by people who care for them, whether blood relations or friends. The people at ‘home’ have taught them about friendship, strength of character and what is really important, and those values are what the rest of our gathered global family have in common.

We have gained so much more than we have lost, and it took selling the house to realize it. We were so focused on the safety net below, we had forgotten to look at the view. Somehow, having no house to call our own meant absolutely.. nothing. We still had the laughs, the stories, the catching up and the paintball bruises. We still have friends who find time to spend with us, who tolerate the months of silence followed by hours of chaos and who understand that if we didn’t catch them this time, we will definitely see them next visit. The memories of good times didn’t disappear once the pictures were packed, and we don’t need to be in the same room to share a common ground.

As the miles began to build up between ourselves and our former home, the Wiggy One made a observation, in rather less sombre tones than you might expect.

“Auntie Sarah’s is our home now”. He was smiling when he said it.

I had been thinking the same thing only that morning, when I woke up in her house, on a makeshift Ikea bed, amid the accumulated debris of my (temporarily displaced) nephew’s bedroom. In under two weeks, my physical residence in my home nation has gone from 6000 to 3 square feet. The only things I owned were in the suitcase on the floor and in a top drawer of the dresser – my drawer.

It represented permanence, the expectation that you are returning, and when you do, you will always have a place here. It’s all the things that we treasure about ‘home’, acceptance, love, laughter and a profound sense of stability. What we didn’t realize before was that it was held in bonds not bricks, hearts and not houses and people, rather than simply places.

It’s funny what having your own drawer can do. And a wonderful, kind and incredibly generous global family, who welcome us home; wherever, whenever.