Expat parenting is tricky. Brookfield’s 2012 Global Relocation Trends survey reported that 43% of international assignments involved families with children and for those of us who make up that statistic, it’s a constant balancing act – wanting our newly expat children to experience the world, other cultures and languages, while trying desperately not to scar them for life with constant upheaval. As a parent whose oldest child announced in February that we had “ruined his life” only to be startled by a choice of college major that involved global travel, it appears we are never going to get it right. Still, in the interests of improving my (obviously poor) expat parenting rating, I have compiled a list of relocation resources that others in the same boat can turn to in their hour(s) of need…
Full disclosure. I have received no compensation from anyone for this post (unless you count the three bars of Australian Cadbury’s Fruit & Nut chocolate that Trisha Carter of the CICollective smuggled into FIGT 2013 for me. But as she managed to inadvertently leave with my Burberry sunglasses and signed copy of An Inconvenient Posting, I would argue that I still have the financial moral high ground..), and the opinions expressed are my own.
The brainchild of psychologist and Intercultural specialist Trisha Carter, this comprehensive resource provides ebooks, webinars, podcasts and an Ask the Expert forum for families going through global transition. There are plenty of excellent tools and information for the adult family members (the CICollective has one of the best family-centered transition collections I have seen), the resources aimed at children are down to earth, useable and address the needs of the different age groups individually.
Trisha’s passion and expertise shines through in the attention to detail and very personal feel, while her use of professional educators in developing each child-centred resource means that you get the best possible advice from both perspectives. Access to the site is provided through individual or corporate membership, and the monthly newsletters announcing the latest offerings testify to Trisha’s awe-inspiring work ethic.. Visit the CiCollective here.
Pixie’s New Home
Written by Emmanuelle Payot Karpathakis, herself an expat and mother of CCKs, Pixie’s New home is a wonderful way to introduce young children to the idea of moving, addressing many the emotions and challenges of relocation. Beautiful illustrations allow even pre-readers to follow Pixie’s experiences, encouraging children to ask questions and discuss concerns with parents, while keeping hold of the excitement, the hopes and the potential for new friends and adventures.
Pixie’s New Home is available in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German and Russian, with both more languages and adventures to come.
Read more about Pixie here
At the recent FIGT conference, I was mesmerized by a stuffed caterpillar (complete with tiny wings) making it’s way around the halls. It was accompanied by Dr Jill Kristal, a clinical psychologist who, along with her colleagues at Transitional Learning, specializes in supporting individuals and families through transition. The company produces the excellent ‘Our Move‘ range of resources that help stimulate discussion and address the issues of moving from a child’s perspective. They are tools that I wish I had known about when we first started moving, and reflect both Jill’s personal and professional experiences of expat life, being both simple, accessible and genuinely fun to use. They focus not just on the challenges ahead, but also on a wider perspective – questions like ‘What will you be glad to leave behind?” (inevitably one of the teachers) and “Who do you think is most excited about moving?” prompt children to see the move from a family perspective rather than a solely personal one.
As for the caterpillar? It’s a testament to Jill’s commitment to encouraging others that she should come to a conference carrying a product by another company rather than promoting her own – in this case Kimochis, a series of seven different soft toys designed to help children express their emotions. Bugs (the name of aforementioned creature) was brought to FIGT specifically because he “is afraid of change and has to work on being brave and preparing himself for something new”. Each character comes with a set three ‘feelings’ which can be tucked into the toy’s tummy to reflect the feelings of it’s owner, so it was fascinating to watch Bug’s (and Jill’s!) progress over the two days. Frankly, some days I could do with one all of my own..
Sea Change Mentoring
Sea Change Mentoring is an organization founded by the dynamic Ellen Mahoney, which pairs teens in global transition with mentors who have already successfully navigated expat childhood and adolescence. As a parent of a teen, I am all too aware of the need for communication outside of the occasional grunt, but am stymied by the fact that my status as parent automatically excludes me from any meaningful dialogue. Meanwhile, life on the move means young adults don’t necessarily have access to friends and family who understand the challenges, and parents who are struggling with their own adaptations. Enter SeaChange Mentors, who I like to think of as Expat Life tutors, allowing teens to work through the problems and confusion of nomadic life in a safe space with expertise and real life experience – and let the parents simply be parents.
Mentoring (like most of teenage life..) is carried out online by professional mentors, and while there is a well developed curriculum underpinning the program, the focus remains firmly on the needs of the individual. It’s online format means that the mentoring relationship is portable, and so can provide a welcome source of stability at a time when everything else is in transition.
While we are on the subject of the challenges of raising a teen, let me introduce you to Arborbridge. If you haven’t already heard of them, they are an online tutoring resource that, in their words “connect students all over the world to America’s most elite tutors.”. Which sounds ambitious, but if their website is anything to go by, they are doing a darn good job.
It’s a problem that most expats face; no matter how bright the child, how distinguished the school or how smooth the transition, there will be gaps in knowledge – both your child’s, and your own. The time spent moving, the impact of change or simply the differences in curricula between locations means that vital information will be missing, and when it comes to pre-college entry tests, the consequences of being unprepared get serious.
Enter Arborbridge. They provide an interactive tutoring platform for making college entry testing – the SAT and ACT – available globally, providing access not only to experienced, talented tutors (and let’s face it, finding decent tutors is an ongoing parental headache), but also to a full range of services to help you navigate the college admission
minefield process.. The site also features free information on a range of high school curricula (the International Baccalaureate, for instance), international college applications, recommended / required standardized testing and links to all the relevant websites, so if (like me) you are struggling with the whole college entry issue, you might want to head over there..
The Global Nomad’s Guide to University Transition
It’s easy to think that once our children have made it to college, that all the challenges of a nomadic life magically disappear. In reality, college bound CCK’s often find that a lifetime spent away from the country that they think of as home has left them with more in common with international students than their fellow nationals. It’s an issue that expat parent, adult TCK, cross-cultural trainer and author Tina Quick addresses in her groundbreaking book, The Global Nomad’s Guide to University Transition.
Tina’s passion, expat experiences and commitment to better preparing families for transition make this book a must read for anyone who has a college bound child. She clearly explains the challenges that they may face, using the voices of students themselves to introduce each section. Most importantly, Tina highlights practical suggestions for tackling each issue – and when I say practical, I mean it. It’s like sending your child off into the world with a reliable friend, an extra parent and a wise counselor all in one, and if there was one essential textbook that should be on every expat student list, it’s this one.