Category Archives: Integrating Into a New Culture

Relocation & Expat Resources – Cultural Orientation, Integrating into a new culture. Information, Inspiration, How-To Guides and Tools for Trailing Spouses, Accompanying Partners, and Families in Transition and

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…

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!

Essential expat steps for speedier settling in - Defining Moves, Information, inspirations and resources for the global trailing spouse.

Essential Expat: Simple steps to speedier settling in.

Essential expat steps for speedier settling in - Defining Moves, Information, inspirations and resources for the global trailing spouse.I’m getting better at this moving thing. This comes as something of a relief, because this is the 8th house in 16 years. And despite the fact that we have bought yet another fixer-upper (there will be comprehensive mutterings on the dubious wisdom of buying this type of property as an expat, mainly because one consigns oneself to a life of finally getting somewhere habitable, only to leave within the next 3 months… it’s like clockwork…), on the whole I have remained emotionally intact, with only the odd descent into babbling incoherence – and then only when the drains back up for the fourth time in a month. Predictably, in the bathrooms that we just finished remodeling.

The more observant amongst you will have noticed that this calm and serenity comes at a price – namely the complete lack of any activity outside the house-hunting/mortgage application/signing on the dotted line/painting/tiling/grouting variety. Hence the echoing silence on the blog, causing those who know me well to be concerned by what for me is a very unusual silence.

Those of you who noticed and enquired about my life/health/sanity, thank you. I am now back, and your email inbox will once again be cluttered with occasional wisdom and eagerly awaited tales of the Other Half’s latest foray into home maintenance…

In the meantime, here are my essential steps to remaining sane, whether you are moving across town, across the country or across the world.

1. Know yourself.

It’s the defining moment of your first expat move – what to put in your household goods shipment. Especially if (like us) you have two small children and a container the size of the average office desk. What’s so important to you and your family, that you can’t leave it behind?

Eight years of expat life later, I know the answer, at least for myself. Our sense of family is strongest at mealtimes, so our dinner service – the plates, the silverware, the serving dishes – all get shipped. So do family pictures, treasured mementos, Christmas decorations and the numerous animals, but that’s about it. Furniture, clothes, books are all replaceable, so instead we use our allowance to take things that will make our future life easier. Things like industrial quantities of chocolate, laundry detergent and Bisto.

For you, it will be different. It may be bicycles, board games, films. The good news is that there is no right answer, there is only the answer that is right for you – and the only people who will ever know about your inability to part with your treasured collection of china cats will be you and the customs official…

2. Understand what lies ahead.

We all do it. Someone says they are being transferred to Hawaii, and we groan with envy; mention Angola and we wince – reactions purely based on second hand media reports and the odd travel brochure. Not exactly the most reliable source of expat advice, now we come to think of it. But there are plenty of excellent blogs, websites, forums, Facebook groups and networking sites, full of information and real, live people who have been there, done that. So do your own research from a wide range of sources, understand that the information you get will be from someone else’s perspective and use that to guide you.

3. Set up an expat and local support network before you go.

This is the era of the internet, of social media and of cheap VOIP calling, so you have no excuse for not staying in contact. Create your own expat preparedness kit; get an independent email address, set up social media profiles, sign up to cheap calling, get a comprehensive contact list, and start introducing yourself to your new network before you set foot on a plane.  If it all sounds too daunting to tackle by yourself, check out our guide and cheat sheets here and here.

4. Come prepared to make friends.

If you have done your research and made some social media contacts, you should know what other resident expats miss, what will be valued and what you can bring as ‘hostess gifts’. It’s an instant “in”, not because of the gift itself, but because you have shown you have what it takes to be a successful expat – the willingness to share, an interest in the welfare of others, and the understanding that not a single ounce/gram of luggage allowance should be wasted. Ever.

For those who are currently screaming the words, “I’m not moving to XXX just to mix with expats” at their screens, please don’t misunderstand me. I expect you all to get out there and meet whoever your heart desires, but take it from me, settling in and getting established is a whole heap easier with someone to point you in the right direction, who not only understands your language, but also where you are coming from. As a Brit in the US, I can assure you that there is plenty of scope for cultural misunderstandings, and I can only thank my lucky stars that the locals here are a forgiving bunch…

5. Know that you will have times when you want to go home.

That’s why you have set up your international communication strategy – so that when the rubber hits the road (or the other stuff hits the fan, and take it from me, it will, repeatedly), you have a voice at the other end of the line to help you get through it. In time, you will develop a local network, but for the first few months, use the “who wants to be a millionaire’ approach, and phone a friend. Preferably one who has the right answers.

6. Say yes.

You may have absolutely no interest in a tour of the local sewerage management facility / scrapbooking /fellwalking club, but if someone has invited you, say yes. It a) gets you out of the house, b) introduces you to a whole new set of people, c) shows that you are interested in trying new things (an essential trait in the successful expat) and d) if nothing else, gives you an excellent (and preferably hilarious) horror story to tell later (another accomplished expat characteristic).

7. Remember, it’s a numbers game.

The more people you meet, the greater your odds of meeting your expat soul mate, so the quicker you get out there, the better. No, you don’t have to commit to a lifetime study of yoga or the collected works of Agatha Christie – you just have to show up with a positive attitude, a desire to meet people, a willingness to go with the flow, and preferably, one of the aforementioned hostess gifts.

8. Give yourself space.

It’s the lesson that has taken me the longest to learn, because we all have such great expectations (some good, some bad) about our new life, but underestimate the amount of time, effort and sheer emotional energy that building it takes. For me, it meant taking an unplanned 3 month sabbatical from writing simply to move 5 miles across town. But I know from experience that my personal and family wellbeing are closely linked to a sense of home and a network of friends – and that takes work and commitment, so treat it like you would any other job and give yourself realistic goals, appropriate resources, and most importantly, time off. You need downtime, a moment or three where you are not on best behavior and where you get to please yourself and refill your cup.

 

As for me, things are gradually starting to get a little calmer; most of the walls are now painted, we have withstood the obligatory new home dramas and I am finally able to devote time to something other than project/crisis management. We are indeed, finally, settling down.

 

 

 

 

 

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

expat life

Resilience and the Trailing Spouse. Especially for Gill and Sarah..

It has been echoingly quiet on this blog for the last month, with only the infrequent post and the odd lonely tweet. I’d like to blame this on the increased workload of the impending move (the eternal blight of the trailing spouse), my current role as co-chair of the Teacher Appreciation Committee (those of you who are familiar with my previous comments on volunteering will now be choking on your morning coffee) or my incredible behind-the-scenes productivity on the series of checklists that I am creating. Alas, none would be true.

expat life
Photo courtesy of ana-white.com

The truth is far less glorious. I have lost my perk.

For the last month, I have looked like a wet hen, moping around with a downcast air, a surly temper and absolutely no interest in doing anything but watching reality TV and Downton Abbey reruns. It is the pre-move gloom, biting hard, and it’s crushing my creativity.

Thankfully, this morning, my pecker is back up, all thanks to a couple of wonderful websites that I discovered – none of which have anything to do with relocation, but everything to do with creating a home. Yourself. With tools.

It turned my thoughts to previous partners in DIY crime, Gill and Sarah. Gill, who at 6 months pregnant was heaving up floorboards in our old Vicarage (don’t feel sorry for her – she returned the favor by bestowing on me the dubious honor of spreading 10 tonnes of horse poop on her very large and prickly raspberry patch) and Sarah, who flew 4000 miles to grout my tiles. (Both of these activities sound like euphemisms for something far more fun and frisky, but neither are. They are grotty horrible jobs made only bearable by having good-natured, willing and long-suffering helpers, and copious amounts of alcohol at the end.)

Hence the title of this post. Sadly, Gill has the policy of generally ignoring any blog post with the word relocation in it, because she is happily settled in rural Wales (or, as we refer to it, God’s own country. Not particularly modest, the Welsh..), with a large vegetable garden and a now glaringly absent (and therefore completely useless) gardening assistant, currently writing these words from the comfort of a warm bed, 4000 miles away from the rampant raspberry bushes and piles of manure.Having witnessed so many of my epic disasters, she is only hungry for tales of chaos, knowing that they go hand in hand with a thriving, curious and spontaneous person who relishes making mistake because frankly, they make the best stories.

Which, as you can tell from the crickets chirping in the background, has been the person who got lost for a while there.

But thanks to a morning of excellent internet connection and the wonder of Pinterest, I’m back now, and this is very good news on two fronts.

The first is that in honor of Gill and Sarah, I am including the links for the two of the best DIY websites that I have ever discovered, full of projects that you would actually want to display in your home and very, very detailed instructions.

The second? We have spent the last 2 years in San Francisco in a rented home, so not one of my geographically convenient close friends is familiar with this DIY obsession, nor my complete disregard for life, health, personal commitments and designer clothing in my pursuit of a spare pair of hands.

These unsuspecting dears are coming over to the new place for dinner on Sunday. It’ll be like lambs to the slaughter. I sense some really good inspiration coming on..

 

 The Friendly Home  (Great name, huh?)

Ana White (and here’s a direct link to her chicken coop plans)

 

Cultural Orientation - How to Make Friends and Introduce People. Defining Moves - The Art of Successful Relocation

Really Useful Cultural Orientation – How to Make Friends and Introduce People..

Cultural Orientation - How to Make Friends and Introduce People. Defining Moves - The Art of Successful RelocationYou’ve spent the first half of your life learning acceptable social behaviour, the last ten years telling your kids not to care what people think, and then wham! Relocation. Suddenly you’re stuck right back where you were on the first day of high school, having to walk into places you really would rather run screaming from, and make nice with a sea of people who have no idea who you are. Welcome to our world.

If your cultural orientation training was anything like mine, it revolves around the country currency, demographics and religious practices. What it might not tell you is how to find the people with whom you can laugh, cry, and everything in between with. So here’s my best advice, based on years of social gaffes, awkward situations and offending people.

 It does get easier. Just as the first day of school was the worst for most of us (apart from the boy who had diarrhea in assembly in 9th grade – that’s a tricky one to beat), the first few weeks of any move are the hardest. The quicker you get out there and start circulating, the quicker you will find your first friend.

It’s a numbers game. You didn’t expect to like everyone in high school, and nor will you like everyone you meet, but you have to go through the numbers to get to one who will become lifelong friends. Go to as many gatherings as possible, safe in the knowledge that somewhere out there is someone who is doing the same thing and hating it every bit as much as you do..

Talk to a cherished friend beforehand, so that you are

  1.  more confident about yourself and will present yourself in a more relaxed way
  2. have vented all your relocation angst so that your new acquaintances don’t think you are a moany old whingebag and hereafter avoid you and,
  3. so you have someone impartial waiting to hear all the gory details. Knowing that you have someone far, far away who relish all the post party gossip and can never tell makes putting up with the fifteenth “what does your husband do?” far more palatable.

Go to where people gather to be social. This issue cropped up the other day – in Europe there are higher numbers of dual income families, so there are fewer opportunities to meet socially through school, and so a friend with school age children is struggling to meet new people.  Instead, take a class, or do something that people go to alone. And no, I don’t mean bars.

Be prepared to watch, learn and smile. There will be new social rules (cute does not have the same implicit meaning in the UK and the US), a new dress codes, language differences. You may be an avid taxidermist, but that’s probably not going to be your best icebreaker at the school social. And if you are anything like me, try to avoid sarcastic, flippant or hilarious remarks, such as “Will there be alcohol served?” at the new parent breakfast. My strategy is to seek out the person that sparks the most antipathy, and watch for who else in the crowd is wincing. Instant friend, right there.

Don’t undervalue yourself. Most relocation advice suggests voluntary work as a great way to develop a social network, and while this may be true, I have seen more people than I care to count take on the first volunteer opportunity that comes their way, only to end up in glorious isolation doing the photocopying for the PTA. (Actually, I met one of my favorite people doing exactly that, but I just got very lucky..). Find something that both gives you a sense of fulfillment and attracts like-minded people, and feel free to test drive opportunities before you commit. Tell them I said so.

Talk to anyone. My mother does this, and it drives me nuts, but she can find a friend faster than anyone I know. Her favorite targets are anyone with a British accent, anyone in a book store, anyone wearing Marks and Spencer clothing, and anyone with grey hair. And if you happen to have a baby, your chances of escaping uninterrupted are nil.

At all costs, avoid asking “What does your husband do?”. A little piece of my soul dies every time that question is asked in social circles, as if the person being spoken to is unworthy of interest. Add in the fact that you are assuming that they are a) married, and b) they don’t instead have a wife. My personal answer when asked is “Put a gun to my head and I still couldn’t tell you”; it conveys accurately both my knowledge of what he does, and my interest in finding out. As yet, no-one has taken me up on it, but feel free to find your own, less dramatic response.

In the interest of fulfilling the entire title, when you do finally get out and meet people to talk to, the basic etiquette rules of introduction are as follows:
Self Introduction:
“Hi /Hello / Nice to meet you”, “I am XXX”;  and then a single descriptor (e.g. “friend of the host”, “so and so’s colleague”, etc.)
Introducing Others: Generally, men are introduced to women, younger people to older people, and lower-ranking individuals to more senior – think of it as presenting a subject to the queen. So it would go: “Your majesty, this is my husband, the Other Half.” In a social setting, it is considered good form to give the newly introduced couple something to talk about. And no, that does not include politics, religion or embarrassing facts about each other..
I would like to pretend that I know these facts from early presentation to the Queen and life in elevated circles. Alas not.

Now it’s your turn – any suggestions?

Choosing schools - the Defining Moves Expat Guide to Relocation

Choosing Schools

Choosing schools - the Defining Moves Expat Guide to RelocationOh boy. If you thought sending your child off to school for the first time was the hardest day of your parenting life, think again. Try taking them out of the first school, transporting them across town /state/country/continent (delete as applicable) and then asking them to go to a new one, where they know “NOBODY – ALL MY FRIENDS ARE BACK HOOOOME..”.

In reality, starting a new school is not the end of the world that our children would have us believe, but until they are settled, it is incredibly stressful for all concerned.

The bottom line is that you and your child are looking for completely different things in a school;  for you, you need to be sure that the school provides a safe and nurturing environment and is academically stimulating, while your child wants friends, interesting teachers, fun play equipment and good snacks. Not necessarily in that order.

Ask yourself what is most important to you long term.  For “Third Culture Kids”, they are unlikely to achieve long term academic success without first addressing their emotional well-being, so my advice is to look for a school that meets those needs first, and worry about the academics later. The same applies to a local move however – no matter what the reason for the move, until a child is comfortable and secure in their environment, they are unlikely to learn anything effectively.

My mother, a child development specialist, always maintained that children only developed in one area at a time, so when they were going through a physical growth spurt, their emotional development would slow down for a time, and if they were in a socially challenging situation, their academic performance would dip.  Education is a journey, not a race, and so my preference is to go with a school that meets their social and emotional needs, rather than necessarily having the best academic record. However, there are plenty of people who would disagree with me, so whatever your parenting preferences, here are my top strategies for choosing schools.

 

Make a list of available schools.

Ask your HR department, future work colleagues, destination service provider, relocation counselor, realtor or your Embassy. Go online, do a Google search, and explore expat websites like School Choice International if you are still struggling.

 

Contact schools in advance,

requesting a prospectus or information. Private schools will usually have a printed prospectus available, public schools may have a website.

 

Information to look for includes:

 

  • Numbers of children at the school, and demographic profile
  • Numbers of children moving in and out of the school
  • Academic curriculum followed – most commonly US, UK or International Baccalaureate
  • Age range at school, and which schools children commonly progress to
  • Class size / student:teacher ratio
  • Range of classes offered
  • Qualifications of teaching staff
  • Test results
  • Overall philosophy and values of the school
  • Antisocial behavior policy.
  • Fee schedule
  • Transportation – public / school bus / car pools / sidewalks
  • Accessibility – traffic, bell schedules, after school care

Bear in mind that school test scores can be affected by high numbers of ESL / EFL (English as a Second /Foreign Language) students, by having a higher number of students with differentiated learning needs, or by rigorous entry requirements. It is most important to find a school that reflects your values, whether they be academic rigor, cultural diversity, sporting excellence, alternative teaching methods or all the above, rather than looking simply for high test scores or a foreign language program. However, if you know you will be moving often but would like your child to attend college in a specific country, it’s a good idea to follow a single type of curriculum that is widely accepted once they reach high school years. While colleges are becoming more flexible about the range of entry qualifications they accept, there is no point in making it more difficult for your child than it needs to be.

 

Consider curriculum options.

Depending on if, when and where your child/ren will be attending college, choose a curriculum that will support those future choices, while meeting their wider learning needs. Consider also the long term implications: should your assignment be extended, become permanent or your allowances change, will you be able to afford the fees privately, and will you be paying international student rates.

 

Visit shortlisted schools.

If possible, take the child attending the school with you, so that they can experience it, and  you can see how school staff interact with your children. Visit during school hours to observe classes, watch how the children and teachers behave, and get an understanding of the school culture as a whole. Encourage questions from your children, and take time to visit the parts of the school that they want to see. Especially the bathrooms – you can learn a great deal about a school from their bathrooms..

 

Request a copy of the school transcript

Once you have selected a school, arrange for your child’s school transcript to be sent to them in advance and keep a copy for your own records. Request copies of the new school calendar, the name and email of your child’s teacher, and any immunization, uniform or school supply requirements, and the contact details for any parent organizations, both in the school and the community.

 

Write a brief note to your child’s teacher,

introducing yourself, your child and anything you feel would it would help them to know, and invite questions from them.

 

Ask if there are any supplies / resources / donations etc. that you can bring

as part of your household shipment that are not on the official list. Teachers have home lives too, and are a wonderful source of information, recommendations and support in the early days, so any efforts you make now will be amply repaid when you land…

Social Media useful for the relocating accompanying partner

Making Friends and Building Support Networks: Using Social Media in Expat and Domestic Relocation

Social Media useful for the relocating accompanying partnerOne of the most important parts of successful relocation – establishing a new social and support network – can also be one of the most difficult, especially when you first arrive. Social media is an excellent tool for expats, transferees and accompanying partners all to make their own connections and get established.

For those of you who missed this my not so quiet meltdown, I’m going to be presenting at the Families in Global Transition conference in March, and I don’t know a soul there. Enter Social Media – in my case Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin, and the miracle that is the search feature. I still haven’t met any of my new friends face to face, but instead of quietly dreading the event, I now have a list of people that I really, really want to meet.

The same strategies that I used are just as helpful when you are relocating across the city, the country or the world, and frankly, if I can manage it, anyone can. There will be hoards of you out there who are far better at this than I (hints and tips in the comments section are gratefully received!), but for those of us not so technically gifted, here’s the Defining Moves guide to Social Media and Relocating.

The two most useful for the accompanying partner are:

Facebook. There are 517,760,460 Facebook users – about 7% of the world’s population – and all of them are using it to connect with others.. So if you don’t currently have a Facebook page, now’s the time to start one. Here’s a great how-to link, and here’s our online security guide.

Twitter defines itself as “a service for friends, family, and co–workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent messages. People write short updates, often called “Tweets” of 140 characters or fewer. These messages are posted to your profile or your blog, sent to your followers, and are searchable on Twitter search.” If, like me, it’s all very new, check out their FAQ page for more details.

Once you have an account, make it expat network friendly:

Post an appropriate photo of yourself. People feel more comfortable connecting with someone they can see, but make sure it is one you would be happy for your mother / employer / youngest child to see. Social media is all about sharing, remember..

Safeguard your personal information. Avoid entering very personal information such as contact details, religious and political philosophies, family member details and personal photos. There are control buttons to the left of all the information boxes which allow you to decide who can access your information, but it’s better not to enter it at all – accounts can and do get hacked.

Watch your Wall. The incoming information on your Facebook page is referred to as your ‘Wall’, and any of your friends can post something on it. As many have found to their cost, this is not always a good thing. Before you explore new networks, consider ‘hiding’ posts that may cause offense (there’s an X to the top right of each post), or where you have repeat offenders, an entire newsfeed. With Twitter, it’s called a Timeline, and you only have the option to block ‘tweets’ by specific people, but the same rule applies – carefully choose the company you keep, and if you inadvertently post something offensive, delete it immediately.

Use the Search and Hashtag (#) options. These are invaluable to relocating expats; searches involving ‘expat’, your location, and any hobbies or interests will quickly give you a list of people and groups who are delighted to hear from you. If you want to keep track of ongoing responses to a search term, a (free!) service like Hootsuite will allow you to have all your Social Media accounts and searches in one place, and update them for you. Be warned – it’s a little overwhelming at first, but is seriously useful if you want a constantly updated list of potential new friends.

Reach out. It’s not just enough to simply lurk in the background – you have to make contact with people. The best piece of relocation advice I was ever given related to making new friends; “it’s a numbers game”. The huge advantage with social media is that you have millions to choose from, so reach out to anyone with whom you may have something in common and introduce yourself. Not everyone will respond, but on the whole, if they exist on social media, it’s because they want to be social..

Network. Don’t limit yourself to the contacts found by your search terms – look at the groups they are involved with, their contacts etc. Just to start you off, here’s Defining Moves on Facebook and Twitter – feel free to Like and Follow. See? It’s working already!

Interfaith Calendar – Holy Days, Celebrations and Festivals in February 2012

Photo courtesy of morning_rumtea

February seems to be food month for many of the world’s religions – either as part of  the celebration of the transition from Winter to Spring, or the feasts marking beginning or end of a period of fasting. Here’s your interfaith calendar for February; dates are shown using the Gregorian (Western) calendar. Some dates may vary regionally because they are determined by the lunar calendar. Jewish festivals usually begin at sunset on the previous day.

 2

Candlemass (Christian)

Also known as the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, it marks the day that Mary took Jesus to the Temple to present him to God.

Imbolc / Oimelc / Candlemass (Pagan)

Celebration of the changing of the seasons and the growing strength of the sun

3

Rissun / Setsuban (Shinto)

The Festival of the change of the season from Winter to Spring, celebrated by the scattering of beans in the home and the temple.

4

Milad un Nabi / Mawlid an Nabi (Muslim)

The birth of the Prophet Muhammed is celebrated today by large numbers of Sunni Muslims. Because it is also the date of his death, it is considered a quiet holiday, and is marked by the retelling of stories about the Prophet Muhammed’s life by parents to their children.

7

Magha Puja (Buddhist)

Also known as Fourfold assembly day.

8

Parinirvana – Nirvana Day (Buddhist)

Marks the anniversary of Buddha’s death and his achievement of nirvana (enlightenment) at the age of 80.

Tu B’Sherat (Jewish)

The Jewish celebration of Spring, the ‘New Year for Trees’, and a day when ‘fruits’ associated with the Torah often eaten, namely wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates.

 9

Milad un Nabi / Mawlid (Muslim)

The marking of the birthday of the Prophet Muhammed for Shia Muslims.

 11

Our Lady of Lourdes (Christian)

Marks the first time the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to St Bernadette in a vision (1858).

 14

St Valentine’s Day (Christian, Secular)

First celebrated in 496, this festival is historically associated with fertility, and is now seen worldwide as a day to celebrate love. It is often marked by the sending of anonymous cards and gifts to loved ones.

15

Nirvana Day  (Buddhist)

Alternate date to the 8th February.

20

Mahashivrati (Hindu)

The festival honoring Shiva, one of the Deities of the Hindu Trinity. It is traditionally celebrated by overnight fasting, and the dedication of food prepared from seasonal fruits and vegetable, which are then eaten for ‘break fast’ the next morning.

 21

Shrove Tuesday / Pancake Day / Mardi Gras (Christian / Secular)

Marks the day before Lent begins, and is derived from the ancient ritual of ‘shriving’ – confession sins. The practice of eating pancakes comes from the need to use up perishable foods before the 40 days of Lenten fasting begins. Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) has the same origins.

 22

Ash Wednesday (Christian)

The first day of Lent, traditionally marked by fasting to represent the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness.

27

Clean Monday (Christian Orthodox)

The beginning of Great Lent in the Christian Orthodox calendar.