Category Archives: Schools

Relocation & Expat Resources – Schools. Information, Inspiration, How-To Guides and Tools for Trailing Spouses, Accompanying Partners, and Families in Transition and

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!

Developing Resilience and Expat Life. Defining Moves - Information, Inspiration and resources for the global expat partner, accompanying partner, trailing spouse

Developing Resilience in Expat Life. It’s been one of those days..

Developing Resilience and Expat Life. Defining Moves - Information, Inspiration and resources for the global expat partner, accompanying partner, trailing spouseIt’s been one of these days that we read about under the heading ‘Developing Resilience as an Expat’, and already I am an expert. To be fair, it’s nothing life and death, just a seemingly endless parade of disasters, bloopers and general humiliation that characterizes rather too much of my life. In Global Mobility literature, I believe they are referred to as ‘challenges’ or ‘opportunities for development’. In my world, they come under the heading of ‘oh, sh…ootarabbitdead’.

Current life in my world, involves the attempted purchase of a home while our bank accounts, assets and credit history all languish the wrong continent. Factor in a housing market where any homes not scheduled for immediate demolition are selling within a day of being listed and the impending Relocation Assistance cut-off date and you begin to see how the ‘challenges’ of international currency transfer, non-local residence and 8 hour time difference all begin to fray the nerves.

In amongst all this is my abortive attempt to submit my proposal for FIGT 2013, ending with me managing to apparently delete my entire presentation – predictably without making a copy. It would have been a little less embarrassing if I wasn’t on the selection committee and already in receipt of plenty of obviously glitch-free proposal submissions. It’s not an auspicious start.

So back to today. I got an early start on it all, which with hindsight, only meant that I managed to cram rather more chaos into a day than the average expat.

The morning began bright and early with me attempting to make a payment to an online currency exchange from our UK bank. Predictably, since the global financial meltdown, banks are now somewhat reluctant to part with deposited cash, and years of corporate financial shenanigans are now being remedied by tighter security for those of us who have yet to do anything shady. Perhaps if they applied the same rigor to their own dealings, we wouldn’t be in this mess, but who am I to comment on the morality of banking practices.

So, an hour and two international currency transfer attempts later I was walking the dogs, clutching the mobile phone registered to my account in a rather sweaty hand, lest security need to contact me to verify my inside leg measurement. Sadly, for reasons known only to themselves, they had chosen to make the call not on the painstakingly registered-and-verified-by-fifty-million-security-questions phone, but instead on the never-registered-just-used-once-on-an application-form-somewhere UK line. Not only was my transfer not complete, I was now locked out of internet banking, and all hopes of transferring a home deposit before Halloween were disappearing before my eyes.

Should anyone need to know where every single customer service department in Santander is actually based, I could now tell them. Three hours, and a oft repeated ricochet between Belfast and Liverpool call centres later, my account is now reinstated. Predictably, international banking is now closed, unaware that they have my call to look forward to tomorrow.

So when the email from the delightful Maureen at FIGT came through, complete with a retrieved copy of the proposal, I thought my luck had turned. I had demonstrated resilience, patience and good manners, and my efforts had been rewarded – I had both a functioning bank account (albeit still not he wrong continent, but I was determined to stay positive) and I now had a chance at demonstrating my charm, wit and intelligence on a global stage. All of which demonstrates why I will never earn a living as a psychic.

In my defense, I thought I was being both funny and helpful, neither of which I am ever attempting again. Mrs B had called with a request for more information about tonight’s Open House at the High School, and I felt if was my duty not only to share the official details, but also my behind-the-scenes-for-those-of-you-who-have-never-done-it-before review. It was witty, it was insightful, and if it displayed a somewhat less respectful tone (I believe a hip flask was mentioned), it was at least informative. It was also – thanks to a lack of attention to detail and a unerring skill for the inappropriate for which I am notorious – sent, not to Mrs B, but to the Principal of the aforementioned school..

There is that horrific moment at these times when you are desperately clawing at the computer, willing the laws of Google to suddenly change and allow you to recall something that you know full well is pinging into their inbox at that very moment. You want time to stand still, and then when it does, it finds you replaying in your mind just how that acerbic riposte sounded to someone who might not find your dry humor quite as hilarious as its intended recipient.

As all the literature will tell you, a sense of humor is one of the pivotal characteristics in developing and demonstrating resilience. What you might not know is that it’s even better when the other person has one too. That and the kind of grace under pressure that allows you to work with 12oo teenagers all day and stay sane and smiling. Clearly, the Principal has read all the literature about dealing with unfamiliar language patterns, acceptable behavior and diverse cultural norms and offered the universal gesture of tolerance, acceptance and forgiveness.

She laughed.

Thank God. I thought we were going to have to move schools.. Yet again.

 

Creating a Relocation Budget. Defining Moves, the Art of Successful Relocation. Information, Inspiration and Resources for the Global Trailing Spouse, Expat partner, accompanying partner.

8 Money Rules for Creating a Relocation Budget

Creating a Relocation Budget. Defining Moves, the Art of Successful Relocation. Information, Inspiration and Resources for the Global Trailing Spouse, Expat partner, accompanying partner.
Creating A Budget. Striking error in our hearts since 1917..

Relocating plays havoc with your money; the cost of moving, the unpredictable expenses, the loss of local financial history and the soaring banking costs all make creating a relocation budget the greatest work of fiction since Harry Potter.

Despite the uncertainty, financial preparation and clarity is vital to a successful global transition, because if you think cultural orientation is challenging enough, try learning the Mandarin for “Why has my card been declined?”.

So for those of you considering (or already) living overseas, here’s part one of the  commonsense rules to follow for creating a relocation financial plan.

1. Budget no more than 25- 30% of your net household income for housing

– including rent or mortgage, property  tax and insurance and security services. While this may seem low, it gives you greater financial flexibility, so when other unexpected costs crop up, you are well prepared.

It’s especially relevant for homebuyers – while corporate assignment contracts often include a buyout policy, in the current financial climate you may get offered far less than you expect, or even be ineligible for the program. Check the fine print carefully before you buy if you may need assistance when selling or if you move on short notice – but for maximum security the less income you have tied up in property when you lead a nomadic life, the better. Read The Golden Rules of Expat Housing – Buying a Home.

2. Make friends with your tax advisor.

Expatriate taxes are complicated and while you need a qualified tax professional to oversee them, but don’t just relinquish responsibility.

Their priority will be to complete your taxes in a timely and accurate manner, but they have a wealth of information and experience relating to your tax breaks and liabilities for future plans and destinations and can help you avoid making costly mistakes. Higher education and retirement costs continue to rise, and with expat life comes the uncertainty of where these costs will be incurred and what support (if any) is available locally.

Most locations have tax free savings or investment policies for retirements, college funds etc., but you need to get independent expert advice to help you make the right choices. My personal favorite? Grant Thornton, for their knowledgeable, down to earth, easy to understand approach.

3. Plan for the Relocation “Money Roller Coaster”..

Changing location means fluctuating expenses – often much larger than you expect. Healthcare, school and college fees, retirement, cost of living and tax liabilities all vary hugely between locations and having a financial cushion can be the difference between all going well, all going into debt or all going without.

Don’t confuse this with your emergency savings account (for more on that, see part 2);  this fund is purely to manage expat related expenses that you can’t accurately predict. Anything from last minute flights home, the extra security deposit because of your pets or extra tutoring for your children – all are common expenses that most of us will have to cough up at one point or another, so forewarned is forearmed.

Once the dust has settled in your new home, add up how much you spent relocating – it doesn’t need to be accurate to the last penny, just a rough estimate. Divide this figure by the length of the assignment in months, and set up an automated bank transfer to a separate ‘transfer expenses’ account.

If the amount seems terrifying, don’t panic. Even $100 per month over the course of a 2 year assignment will net over $2400, enough to handle most short term expenses. The key to remember is that something is better than nothing, and the earlier you start, the bigger your cushion will be.

For a guide to cost of living expenses, use Xpatulator.com as a starting point but remember to take into account your individual family needs. While local clothing or groceries may be cheap, your preferred brand of  breakfast cereal, school wear or laundry detergent may be far more expensive than the index suggests.

4. Don’t Get Used To Expat Packages.

The days of the longterm expat living in one location for 10 years or more are over – nowadays, the trend is for shorter term assignments or moving the long term employee onto local, local plus or ‘expat lite’ programs. These packages may look seductive on paper, but they are designed to reflect the actual cost of living rather than as a perk.

While your income seems larger in the short term, you are exposing yourself to longer term financial challenges (potential loss of spousal income, international college fees, privatized healthcare and changing pension benefits to name a few), so explore the long term impact of your assignment and budget accordingly before you assume your increased income is disposable.

Read 9 Essential Questions Every Expat Should Ask  and

Don’t Let Your Expat Dream Become a Financial Nightmare.

 

Coming Next: Protecting Your Credit, Life Insurance, The Expat Emergency Fund, Long Term Plan.

Global Expat parenting - Defining moves, the art of successful relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global trailing spouse, accompanying partner or expatriating family.

Expat Parenting. Just how far do you have to go to escape the PTA?

Global Expat parenting - Defining moves, the art of successful relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global trailing spouse, accompanying partner or expatriating family.No matter where in the world we live, there are some things that remain constant. The unwary fall into the trap of thinking that expat life might be different, or that this relocation will be the one where you have freedom to think, space to grow, and finally, a life that looks something like the ones in the glossy magazines. Think again. For those of you who are currently struggling with the school registration vortex, here’s a repost of one of my favorite pieces..  

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there was a life that didn’t revolve around a steering wheel. Life was peaceful, the land was quiet, and the people were happy.

But discontentment snuck in. “Where were the children?” they asked. They could play in the fields, and learn in the schools. They could be polite and cheerful at all times, and help in the house. They could go to college, become professionals, and keep their parents safe and dry in their old age.

So they had children. For four years, everyone in the land was happy. But then the children started school, and the letters began. At first the letters were happy tales of the children’s day, and invitations to meet the kindly teachers. But then, the dark times began.

“Your child” it said ” has headlice, and will need to be kept away from school until you have successfully treated them and been clear for two days.”

And then another. And another.

“Please submit your TB vaccination certificate to the school office by Thursday”

“We require forty-seven volunteers, seventy-three cupcakes and three tubs of glitter for the Halloween party. Please indicate your donation below.”

“Your child has been cast in the class Nativity play. Please send in a cow costume (with detachable udders for hygiene purposes) by tomorrow.”

“We need 6 parents to drive on the field trip next Monday. Please complete attached form, with evidence of public liability insurance, TB vaccination certificate, auto service history to the class teacher by Friday. You will be subject to a background check.”

On and on it went, until  the house was unrecognizable, with papers covering every surface. Soon letters were being lost, the forests disappeared, and the cries from parents all over the land could be heard. And so the search began for a new way, a better way.

At first, email was good. But then the evil force took over, and soon parents’ inboxes were filled with clamorous voices from every side. “Come and support your child in the band recital / mandatory meeting for parents of the drama club students/ volunteer sign-ups for the soccer team / Back to School Night / Halloween Party chaperones and donations /school registration requirements / Orientation days”. It never stopped. Parents knew that if they didn’t keep up, their children would no longer be happy and would never go to college, and so the parents drove and drove, until they no longer spent time in their homes, but simply lived in their cars.  And just when they thought they could take no more, the “Reply All’ button was discovered, and insanity triumphed.

But somewhere, in a hovel in a small corner of the kingdom, an old crone discovered an answer to the chaos that had taken over, robbing her of her family, her life and her health.

It was the delete button. And it was good.

 

The Expat Packing List- Household Goods. Defining Moves, the art of successful relocation

Unconventional but Essential Items for your Household Goods Shipment… Your Expat Packing List

The Expat Packing List- Household Goods. Defining Moves, the art of successful relocationMy Facebook page is bubbling with excitement this week, as three members of my friends and family are due to receive their household goods shipment. Somehow, the arrival of your previously treasured possessions brings home the reality that you have arrived somewhere for the long haul, and for the kids especially, it comes as a combination of Christmas and birthdays rolled in to one.

The flip side of course, is that the sea of boxes in front of you is a brutal reminder that you are not, after all on vacation, and there are three days of unpacking to be done. Which, when you get to it, inevitably leads to the question, “What on earth was I thinking when I packed that?!”

There are very few rules about what to take to a new location, and most will center around advice from other expats – all of which will be from their own personal perspective, not yours. So for those of you inveterate overpackers, here’s my list – the result of three continents-worth of accumulation, dejunking and general dislike for the unpacking process…

 

Stuff that makes you feel at home.

For me, this is white porcelain china, good silverware, bed linens and vases. My way of nurturing people is to feed them, so anything involving food preparation and service is first on my list. I do, however, only own 5 cooking pans –  Le Creuset saucepans, frying pan, and a wok and  huge stainless steel stockpot – and I have yet to need anything else.

I am ridiculed locally for my rather rigid approach to decorating; everything is either white, sand, silver or slate grey, but these are the colors that I find soothing, and after the chaos and confusion of packing, air travel, temporary accommodation and the endless form-filling, any serenity that comes from a packing box rather than a wine bottle is very welcome.

N.B. No matter where you are in the world, if your children go to school and you have any sort of non-local accent, you will be required to exhibit at the school International fair. Virtually every school (especially the International variety) hold one annually, during which you will be expected to represent your home nation with flags, costumes and other assorted paraphernalia. Using valuable luggage allowances to ship Welsh hats, dragons and love spoons was painful, so take it from the formerly unprepared; pack a box of anything that is traditional to your country now. Think 6ft x 3ft table with backdrop and go wild…

 

Photos.

An anonymous apartment quickly becomes home when you have photos of your family and friends in it. The good news with photos is that they are easy to pack; remove them from their frames, just in case and make scanned copies. I no longer bother taking many picture frames with me, instead buying local ones for each house.

 

Books.

I’d love to pretend that these were the collected sonnets of Shakespeare and a few Greek tragedies, but in reality, my literary tastes center around historical whodunits and the complete works of Janet Evanovitch. Hardly highbrow, but they provide escapism, humor and just enough mental activity to keep me engaged without keeping me up all night. And somehow, the sight of the familiar titles on a bookshelf anywhere reassure me that I will always have something enjoyable to read, even if I already know who killed whom, and how and where.

 

Board games and cards.

No family room is complete without a set of rarely-played board games, and they are the ultimate antidote to childhood boredom. The words “if you’re bored, we can always play a game” instantly empties a room of any moaning offspring, who disappear off in search of more understanding and less demanding company. Promises of a Friday Family Game night can be used to improve involvement in local community programs, after school activities, and extra credit homework. Unless you discover the “Settlers of Catan’ series, in which case you end up with a house full of wool-trading teenagers… I kid you not.

 

Personal Mementos.

Every expat parent will be familiar with the lament “you never kept my … ,” which arises every time a teacher sets some sort of personal history project. There is a teacher training torture center somewhere that collates all previous child memento projects, and in attempt to keep the children interested and the parents completely bald, changes the requirement every darn year. Last year it was their first shoes, this term it’s ‘first pictures’. Next year it’ll be the family tree, interview your grandma, or yet another task that we have no way of fulfilling without a private jet or a clairvoyant. So, before you put all your worldly goods in storage, put together a comprehensive memory box to thwart even the most tyrannical of kindergarten teachers. It should contain: first shoes, early artwork (scans or photos will do, providing you are willing to recreate them surreptitiously), any school certificates and trophies, no matter how precarious the pretext), photographs of the ENTIRE family (both sides) and any other items of specific religious or cultural significance, and dates of first steps, first words and first day of school, etc, etc.

In the event you are reading this 3,000 miles away from the storage unit that contains the above, there is still hope. It can all be found in the form of Google, a printer, the local thrift shop and the ability to lie convincingly. For more detailed instructions see “Relocation Dilemmas – Faking Your Family Tree”… You have my blessing.

 

Photo Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum 

 

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…

Four Rules for the managing emotional health of transitioning expat children

How to survive moving your kids to a new school, district, city, state or country..Four Basic Rules for Transitioning Children –

Four Rules for the managing emotional health of transitioning expat childrenI can’t pretend to be a child development expert, nor a global relocation counselor, but having transitioned two children through a total of 15 schools over 3 continents in 11 years, I’ve worked out a few basic rules of my own for getting from A to B while minimizing tantrums, traumas and general rebellion. (These rules relate to the emotional transition rather than the physical ones – for my (dubious) wisdom on the rest, see the Basics – Family section or click on the links at the bottom of the page.)

1. Keep them informed, but not overwhelmed.

My mother spent many years working in child development, which included doing the dreaded ‘puberty’ talks. Experience taught her that the earlier you give them information, the less intimidating it becomes and that they only absorb what they are emotionally capable of taking on, so you may have to repeat things later. This advice holds true for relocating; once you know you are moving, include them in the planning and discussions, and let them have some control over their own lives. The amount of information and input will vary according to the age of the children concerned – see the Basics – Family section for more specific information.

2. Move at the end of a vacation, not at the start.

The biggest mistake we ever made was moving to the US at the start of the summer vacation, thinking it would be exactly that – a vacation. Instead, we were swamped with paperwork, house hunting, car and home furnishing purchases and generally no-fun stuff – all with two very lonely, grumpy and unhelpful children in tow. We learned our lesson, and on the next move, we spent the summer in our old location, with the kids fully occupied with friends and us free to do a great deal of the planning, packing and paperwork in the comfort of our own home with internet, friends and leisurely goodbyes. We arrived rested at the new location, with five days to get oriented. It was enough to unpack essentials, register at school and meet a few people before the kids headed into school  and I could get on with the grunt work of establishing a new home. Within days they had friends, play dates and a routine that made them feel more secure, and within six weeks, I was once again Chief Transportation Officer for their many and varied social activities..

3. Fill the void.

For the first month or so in our new location, I plan activities geared around the children, including many things that I would ordinarily avoid like the plague. I do this for two reasons; firstly it helps to remind my children that I once was good at something other than nagging and gets them desperate to make friends and escape family outings, and secondly, it fills the time void with things they have chosen to do in the local area (and hopefully have planned themselves). I also make sure that they have unlimited texting on their cellphones (cue eye roll) and access to email and Skype, so any extra time can be filled moaning to their global buddies about just how lame their parents are. It’s a strange form of normal, but it bridges the gap remarkably well..

4. Expect issues.

The more they transition, the more they understand the process of relocation, but sometimes that works against you, and you get a stubborn, unwilling teenager on your hands who can make your life a living Hell. I’d like to offer sage wisdom to get you through it, but all I can really say is that it is our fault so deal with it as best you can. Robin Pascoe’s excellent books are a great place to start, and in most cases it will work itself out once they start to make friends and establish their own life. If necessary, get counseling for whoever might need it – either with a local family therapist, or via online expat counseling.

Finally, bear in mind that you are under a great deal of stress, and so you will almost certainly be taking this very personally. Sadly, no-one has written the definitive, foolproof instruction manual for raising children in a static environment, let alone a nomadic one, so just give yourself a break, remind yourself that no-one is perfect, and we are all doing the best we can. If you need evidence of how badly the rest of us are doing at the whole global parenting thing, check out the Trailing Spouse blog. You are in excellent company..

The F Bomb – Expat Education Challenge Update

Update – He has just received his PSAT results (yet another test of which we have very little knowledge) and apparently his results were considerably better than his grades predicted. He is now avidly consulting college resources to explore his career options, with the current frontrunner being anesthesiologist. The reason for this? “It’s well paid, and you get to sit down and read magazines”. I can sense a visit to the career counselor coming on, lest he be unleashed on the health service..

We had a particularly interesting moment with the Wiggy One this week. Normally very mellow, he occasionally explodes into a seething mass of hormones, hair, uncoordinated limbs and spectacular examples of poorly thought out accusations.

The latest detonator was the high school ‘Grade Point Average’ system. For the non-US expats amongst us, college entry in the US is based on academic scores over the high school period across the classes. An A requires an above 90% score for the class, and gives you a 4.0 GPA; a B is 80 – 90% and scores a 3.0, and so on. Sadly for all concerned, this level of academic scrutiny is carried out for the next three years, during which they are going through puberty, growth spurts, acne and obsession with all things Xbox, so the potential for disaster is huge.

Needless to say, the grades that prompted the explosion were not A’s. Nor were they B’s. They appear somewhat later in the alphabet, and are usually associated with profanity. Which is exactly the unguarded response that they triggered in the Other Half at the dinner table when we finally learned of their existence.

Parentline, an excellent British parenting resource (which sadly does not have a toll free number for expatriates, but really should have) recommends staying calm in these moments, and maintaining channels of communication with the Tasmanian Devil formerly known as Tom. (They also don’t specifically refer to him by name, but I’m thinking of suggesting it for future advisory publications.) So I took a deep breath, washed it down with a large amount of gin, and reminded him that the longer he took to inform us of these small hiccups in his school transcript, the less able we were to help him resolve the issue, and the fewer choices he would have down the line when he was applying to college. (Excellent Mother Moment, even if I do say so myself).

His response showed the maturity, wisdom and critical thinking skills that can only be gained by an expensive, global, carefully chosen and often privately funded education, which has been our highest priority throughout our expatriate journey. It showed passion, attention to detail and considerable volume. And it took us a little by surprise.

“I don’t even want to go to college – it’s just four more years of work!”

Quite what he felt would happen to those ‘college years’ should he chose not to attend is a mystery. Maybe they give out scholarships for excessive hair growth or ability to sleep for extended periods, without the necessity of attending an institute of Higher Learning? He appears to be under the impression that work and/or college are optional extras only to be attempted as a last resort between editions of Call of Duty, and that living with your parents is a long term life plan.

So I’m off to see the school Career Counselor today. We obviously need to start with the basics. Like ‘Where do  Mummy and Daddy go when they leave for the day?’ and ‘How does money work?’

Wish me luck. I may be some time..

The expatriate accompanying partner, non-working by choice or circumstance?

This is a guest post by Louise Wiles, herself an accompanying spouse and founder of  SuccessAbroadCoaching.com. Louise together with her colleague Evelyn is currently running a survey Career Choices and the Accompanying Partner which you can access by clicking here. Read the article to discover more:

 When organisations assign employees to overseas postings they often also assign an accompanying partner and family. The experience is usually sold and described by the assigning organisation as a wonderful learning experience for all, and of course for many it is. However what is often overlooked is that relocation abroad can also be a stressful and emotionally charged event for all.

This new school year was our second at the international school that my children attend. I watched as the new parents looked anxiously on during those first few days and weeks. Their greatest concern; will the children fit in, make friends and be happy? There were teething problems for some, but for most the initial tricky period of adjustment was soon over and new routines were established and friendships made.

And so now, children settled, the working partner picks up their new roles, business trips and long working days commence and the accompanying partner begins to mould their new lives. Some join the local international/expatriate clubs, others take up sport, local charity work and some start to scour the local job vacancy listings. Many talk of past careers often in professional and corporate positions with skills, qualifications and experience that currently seem somewhat redundant.

Some partners welcome the career break, the chance to focus for a time simply on their family. But, according to research conducted by the Permits Foundation in 2008, it would seem that not all partners are happy to embrace a non-working lifestyle abroad.

The research found that whilst 90% of partners were working prior to relocating. Post move only 35% stated that they were working in the host location. Of those who were not working 75% stated that they wished to do so.

Of those who were working, two thirds stated that they were either satisfied or very satisfied with their current employment opportunity, with 61% working at a level that was either equivalent or higher than the level of their employment before relocating abroad.

So if those who are working are satisfied to very satisfied with their current roles and employment opportunities abroad, why do the majority of accompanying partners not find employment even though they state that they would like to do so?

These are questions that I, Louise Wiles (Success Abroad Coaching) and my colleague, Evelyn Simpson (The Smart Expat) are keen to answer. We have designed a survey which aims to investigate the partner’s perspective on career choice and employment opportunities whilst abroad.

The Permit Foundation Report found that although 85% of partners would welcome organisational support in respect of career and employment abroad only 18% actually received it.

We hope that by better understanding the views, experiences, hopes and needs of accompanying partners we can then help to promote their needs more effectively with employers.

Families who adjust well and are happy abroad have a positive impact on the expatriate employee. This has important follow on benefits in terms of ability to focus effectively on work issues, preparedness of the family to stay the full contract term, willingness to extend the contract and willingness to accept future assignments.

If you are a working or non-working accompanying partner currently living abroad then we would greatly appreciate your help in completing the survey.

You can access it by going to this link. It is anonymous and takes only 15 minutes to complete. We will happily send the results of the survey to you. All you need to do is click done on the last page of the survey and leave your name and email address. As a sign of our appreciation we will enter your details into a free prize draw with some great coaching packages and books as prizes.

If you are able to forward this article and link on to other accompanying partners we would be very grateful. The greater the number of participants the more reliable, representative and therefore useful the results will be.

Thank you, your help is much appreciated.

If you would like to contact either Louise or Evelyn, they can be reached by email:

Louise@SuccessAbroadCoaching.com

thesmartexpat@me.com