Tag Archives: children

Expat essentials. Writing a will. Defining Moves - The Art of Successful relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global expat family, trailing spouse, accompanying partner, global services manager, relocation service provider, destinations service provider.. you get the picture.

(Often Ignored) Expat Essentials – Writing a Will.

Yes, I know. You don’t want to think about it, much less talk about it, which is why I have been getting shifty looks from most of my expat network this week when I asked them the seemingly simple question: “Do you have a will?” Want to know how many people said “Yes”?

Two. Out of about thirty people, all of whom have high net worth, children from at least one relationship, and often dual citizenship / resident status. A little worrying, no? 

I can’t claim the moral high ground – we recently unearthed our Will, dusty from 10 years in an unmarked cardboard box in a storage container in Walthamstow. Not exactly accessible in the event of our demise, and even worse, was so out of date that the paperclip holding it together was rusty and the Feisty One was not even mentioned. So on her behalf, I am doing something about it… Here goes.

Expat essentials. Writing a will. Defining Moves - The Art of Successful relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global expat family, trailing spouse, accompanying partner, global services manager, relocation service provider, destinations service provider.. you get the picture. I have a new dirty word: intestate. For those of you who have been living a carefree life of blissful indifference, it’s what happens when you don’t have a will. For non-expats, the implications are unpleasant: it gives the state responsibility and control over the division of your estate, decisions about who will take care of your dependents, the timeframe it all happens and (of course) access to a large chunk of your assets via taxes.

It’s a simple fix – a Will. It’s the document that tells those left behind what you want to happen to your dependents and estate.  Most of us overthink it, imagining a torturous process requiring three weeks of desperate hunting for title deeds and old bank statements. Nothing could be further from the truth – the best wills are simple statements of intent, which give executors something to work with and a few clues about where you have hidden your treasure. Combine that with a good estate planning lawyer and you will create a plan that saves everyone time, money and heartache at a time when they are most vulnerable.

Introducing first part of the Defining Moves “Ducks in a Row” program. Our aims are simple:

  • To inspire you to act. Right now. Because this is important.
  • To get you to the lawyer on time. We want to prompt to you think, discuss, list and plan, so that any legal advice you get is based on reality, not just the bits you could remember in the car on the way to the lawyer’s office. And make sure that when whoever prepares your will asks a question, you know the answer and are not paying $300 per hour for them to watch you think about it / argue with your spouse / try to remember whether or not you mailed the last life insurance premium.

So grab your pencil and paper, and let’s get started…

 

Step one: The People.

There are three groups of people you need to consider when drafting a Will;

  1. your dependents
  2. your beneficiaries
  3. your executors

 

Dependents.

These are the people who rely on you for some sort of care, support and/or protection. Traditionally, these were children still living at home, but modern families are often complicated with blended families, shared custody arrangements, adoptive children, elder relatives and even pets added to the mix. Thankfully, lawyers have seen it all before, and, even better if you have a family as nutty as mine, are sworn to secrecy…

Make of the list of those who you are responsible for, whether physically, socially, financially or legally, and the type of care you provide. Keep it simple – the rest can be figured out later – at this stage, your task is to create a comprehensive list.

Now list any special circumstances that will have to be addressed.  For many families, this may involve shared custody, child support or special needs but for expats there may also be issues of differing nationalities, citizenship and resident status that may have tax and legal implications.

For those of you with your own business, bear in mind that you may also have professional responsibility for continuity of care of clients – check your licensing organization or professional code of conduct if you are unsure.

 

Beneficiaries.

Your beneficiaries are the recipients of your estate – usually immediate descendants, siblings, friends and charities. Typically, assets are divided equally between your children, so if you want to use a different split, make this clear to your lawyer so that they can prevent your will being subject to legal contest. Note also that laws differ about division of assets when you die intestate – half siblings, step and adoptive children are often treated differently, and the portion of the estate automatically assigned to the spouse varies widely internationally.

If you have any other people or organizations who you want to leave money to, add them to your list now.

 

Executors, Financial Guardians and Legal Guardians.

It’s your group of guardian angels, so pick wisely. These are people who you trust to administer your estate and make sure your wishes are carried out, to care for your dependents and to manage the finances of the beneficiaries if they are unable to do so. The roles carry huge responsibility, so discuss whether or not your intended choices are both willing and able. They can be family members, friends or lawyers; typically, lawyers are paid (and aren’t given custody of the children…) whereas family and friends are less likely to be.

Note that guardianship differs from child custody: while custody refers to the physical care provided by a parent (who may have no legal powers), legal guardianship may involve physical and/or legal custody, and continues until the child reaches adulthood or the guardian’s death. By contrast, especially in the modern family, custody is far more flexible and changes according to the situations of the parents.

Here’s where expats need to be especially careful, because the local laws may be very different to those of your home nation and custody / guardianship arrangements and next of kin may not follow familiar rules. In the UAE, for instance, if no will is in place, Sharia law prevails, meaning that assets and custody of children potentially follow the male line – your husband / partner’s parents, brothers and sisters. How is your relationship with your mother-in-law, by the way?

 

Step Two: The Money

Your estate is the sum total of your assets, and while many of you will be rolling your eyes that I am pointing out the obvious, I can guarantee that there will be plenty of things that you will have forgotten. The temptation is to run to the filing cabinet / junk drawer and fish out the most recent bank statement, and start noting down numbers, but don’t. Your assets are constantly changing, so you only need to include categories – current and savings accounts, property, jewelry stocks, shares, businesses, investment accounts, life insurance, digital assets (websites, videos etc) – and where those assets are held. For a starter list, click here for pdf cheat sheet.

While you are making your list, make note of who your beneficiaries are, and how they are reported. Typically, life insurance goes to the spouse, but in a world where divorce rates run at about 45%, there are a huge number of exes who are still listed as primary beneficiary. Take note, and make any necessary changes…

 

Step Three: The Decisions

Now that you have the information, you can start making decisions about how to pass on your legacy, human or otherwise. Your key priorities are the welfare of your dependents, so start with those and work from there.

Guardianship of dependents.

Who do you want to care for your dependents if you are no longer around to do so? Depending on the complexity of your family and the types of dependents, there may be more than one answer to this question, so set it all out clearly, naming each dependent individually. Talk to all the parties concerned before you head to the lawyer’s office – you may be surprised to hear who your children would hate to live with, or which relative is intending to move to Outer Mongolia next month – to prevent return visits. Factors that may affect your decision are not just emotional – also consider location (how will your children feel about leaving the country, for instance), age and health of potential guardians, relationship with other friends and family, support network and financial ability to provide care.

Include financial provision for your dependents and decide who you want to manage your estate for them if they are still minors. In many cases, life insurance helps to cover the cost of raising children, but once you include the cost of college education it may not go as far as you think.

Financial, legal and professional dependent provision will require discussion with your lawyer and with those who you nominate to take over; the good news is that if planned in advance, the process is straightforward (and certainly infinitely preferable to leaving your legal advisor / executor to try to unravel the mess in your absence).

 

Step Four: The Division

This is the fun bit, providing you have money to leave. But before you start divvying up between your offspring and the local cat protection league, here are a few pointers:

  1. Remember that your debts and liabilities (taxes, funeral expenses, etc) will be deducted from your estate before the remainder is distributed. You can offset many of these by establishing a Trust, which will will talk about in the next chapter, but for the moment, just remember to include your loans, debts and other obligations when you are cataloging your estate.
  2. Ensure that you own your assets outright before you will them away. Anything jointly owned needs careful consideration to avoid passing on a headache rather than a well-intentioned gift. If you hadn’t already discussed future plans with the co-owner(s), now is the time to do so.
  3. Now is not the time to make a point. Sure, you may have favorites, but remember that in many cases you are not just leaving behind a bequest, but a lifetime of family discord and ill-feeling – not to mention legal challenges. It may seem a lovely idea to leave the bulk of your estate to your newest grandchild/ favorite nephew or next door neighbor, but the resulting fallout can often sour the best of intentions. The same rules apply for property – find out which mementos, furniture or jewelry are most loved by your friends and family, and divide accordingly, informing all of them who has been given what. That way, any discussions, disagreements or disappointments can be directed at you, rather than unwitting recipients.
  4. While we are on the subject of leaving objects to people, think carefully about whether they want them, and the responsibility you are handing over. It’s difficult to part with things, no matter how ugly, unwanted or expensive to maintain without feeling disloyal to the person who gifted it.

Now you have done the difficult bit, it’s time to put pen to paper and make a rough outline to take to the lawyer’s office. If you are an expat, you may be advised to get legal input from both your home and host nation perspective – while the laws of your home nation usually take precedence, extended residence overseas may change the rules, so be sure to explain the situation rather than making assumptions.

You need to include:

  • Your name, and identifying details (usually your address, but if you are an expat, you will need to clarify your domicile (primary place of residence) with an experienced lawyer – it has significant tax and legal implications.
  • Names of beneficiaries; the people and organizations you want to leave your assets (whether money, housing, land, stock options, digital assets etc ).
  • The name of your executor (the person responsible for making sure your wishes are met).
  • Guardians of your dependents – Legal and physical.
  • Who gets what.
  • Your legal advisor should also include a “residual clause” that states the recipient for any assets you forgot to mention, or have been accrued since you wrote your will. “I bequeath any residue to” should take care of it.
  • Signature and date, with initials and date on every page.

Congratulations if you made it to this point- you are well on your way. In the next post, we’ll be introducing the fun stuff.. Planning your funeral, Living Wills and frustrating the tax man.

Bet you can hardly wait.

 

Further Resources:

Nolo.com – Legal encylopedia – Wills

USA.gov – advice on writing both social media and regular wills.

UK Citizens Advice Bureau information on writing a will.

Australia. gov – Resources on wills and power of attorney

Today We Celebrate! The Trailing Spouse Keeping the Family Together

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Career Choice and the Accompanying Partner Survey Release. Defining Moves, The Art of Successful Relocation. Information, Inspiration and resources for the global accompanying partner expat spouse.

The “Career Choice and the Accompanying Partner” Survey is out!

Career Choice and the Accompanying Partner Survey Release. Defining Moves, The Art of Successful Relocation. Information, Inspiration and resources for the global accompanying partner expat spouse.The eagerly anticipated “Career Choice and the Accompanying Partner” survey conducted by Evelyn Simpson & Louise Wiles is now available, and it makes fascinating reading.

“This report provides a view of the assignment experience and the impact it has on career choices and aspirations from the partners’ perspective.”

Respondents answered questions relating to their prior employment status, factors affecting their desire and ability to work in their host locations, and their levels of satisfaction and sense of fulfillment with the international assignment, and the responses, conclusions and recommendations made will have expat partners across the globe nodding in agreement.

Their findings included:

  • While 78% of accompanying partners would like to work while on their current assignment, only 44% do.
  • Unavailability of work permits inhibit many accompanying partners from working, but it’s by no means the only reason seeking employment while on assignment is difficult or impossible.
  • Theoretical availability of work permits doesn’t mean its practical to get one.
  • Other practical factors, such as language mastery, are more frequently cited as impediments than the lack of a legal right to work.
  • Working accompanying partners report higher levels of fulfilment than non-working accompanying partners.

For more information or to download a free copy of the report summary, click here.

Congratulations to Louise and Evelyn!

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

Coping with Expat Homelessness – My Family in Global Transition.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

This is how a heart breaks. Expat parenting

Expat parenting - this is how a heart breaks. Defining Moves - the art of successful relocation

You think when you have left school, taken exams, graduated from college and reached adulthood that the slings and arrows of the school playground can never hurt you again.

And then you have children of your own, and you realize that you were wrong. Only this time, it is magnified through the lens of their pain, your sense of powerlessness and the weight of parental expectations. I sometimes think that I should just have ‘Bad Mother’ tattooed on my forehead and be done with the pretense. It’s one of the harder realities of parenting.

A wonderful, heartbreaking post by Anne Egros at Zest and Zen International reminded me of the pain of middle school all over again – not my own (the UK doesn’t have a ‘middle school’, just primary and secondary) but instead the joy of experiencing it in all it’s misery; the challenge of expat parenting.

Middle school is widely acknowledged in the US as the tricky one. It serves the 11-14 year olds; that explosive mix of puberty, hormones and identity crises. It’s when the differences between girls and boys are no longer about sports and hobbies, and all about body shapes, gender expectations and the excruciating embarrassment of sex education.

Ironically, my son nearly made it through unscathed. He had a solid group of friends who played football in the park, consumed junk food in gigantic quantities and who had a healthy respect for parental sanctions. We heard of bullying, shoplifting and alcohol consumption, but they seemed either too lazy, too disinterested or too involved in the destruction of opposing medieval forces to be affected by it. His grades were decent, his self esteem was intact and when graduation came around, it should have been a very happy event.

It was awful.

In Britain, the only place you graduate from is college. Everywhere else, you just leave, mostly with only a modest school dance to mark the occasion. And although I knew the parents of my son’s school friends by sight, they didn’t know me well enough to know how uninformed I was. So when we turned up to the Middle School graduation ceremony, I expected a general gathering with a bit of applause, the acknowledgement of the star pupils and very little else.

The first clue I had of impending parental humiliation was the distant sea of undulating teal. It was the massed forces of the graduating 8th grade, all wearing robes. Despite many opportunities over the course of my former life to wear a cap and gown, I had managed to repeatedly avoid it, and yet here all 300 were, at the grand old age of 14, already donning the robes of academic advancement.

It got worse. They were also all in formal wear; shirts and ties, prom dresses and heels. Unlike my son who had dressed himself – in his own personal uniform of shorts and a t shirt. Yet again we had got it wrong, but never so publicly. We were all completely unprepared, and at that moment, I truly hated the fact that I was an expat.

We have faced floods, earthquakes, angry mobs, police questioning and personal injury, but there have been very few moments in my expat life that have brought me to tears. And yet, sitting in that auditorium, surrounded by parents I didn’t know all whispering about the ‘parents who had let their son come so inappropriately dressed’ was by far my lowest moment. It was humiliating, frustrating and unfair, and there was absolutely nothing that I could do about it.

Which is why, when Anne wrote her article yesterday, I was reminded just how important an expat support network is, no matter how many global transitions you have been through. You get better, smarter and more practiced at the art of relocation, but there is always something waiting in the wings to trip you when you least expect it.

The good news? We’ve all been there too, and if we can’t warn you about every challenge you will face, we will at least hold your hand while you pick yourself up.

Welcome to our world.

 

Expat etiquette - how to be the perfect guest | Defining Moves, The Art of Successful Relocation, with information, inspiration and resources for the expat trailing spouse and accompanying partner.

Expat Etiquette: How to be the Perfect Guest (2012 edition)

Expat etiquette - how to be the perfect guest | Defining Moves, The Art of Successful Relocation, with information, inspiration and resources for the expat trailing spouse and accompanying partner.
Expat etiquette #2: If you are going to use something from home, bring it with you, and bring spares to share.

Unless you have the misfortune to live in Britain (where the rain has been pouring down for so long it is now being rebranded as ‘severe precipitation’ and sales of Wellington boots have reached record proportions), you know that the summer holidays are imminent (if not already in full swing), and with them the impending arrival of visitors to your door. For expats who live in the more desirable locations, it’s the time you pay your dues, in rooms, meals and transportation services.. We have been doing this long enough to have beaten our guests’ expectations to the bare minimum (it’s the inflatable mattresses and midnight visits by the pets that do it), but many are not so fortunate. So no matter where you are in the world, for the 2012 summer season, we’ve updated our very own “Perfect Guest” etiquette list, to ensure an open door, a warm welcome and a repeat invitation worldwide. Feel free to print, post on doors or forward to your impending arrivals…

1. Be clear about your holiday dates and expectations before you even book the flights. Your host needs to know when you will arrive and leave, how long you intend to stay, and what you need from your host before they agree to take you on. And just to be clear, if you are expecting anything other than a place to sleep, eat and shower – book a hotel.

2. Bring supplies. There is nothing more annoying than someone arriving from home and immediately using the teabags that you yourself transported 4000 miles from their point of embarkation. It’s an expat etiquette deal breaker, so don’t do it. If you are going to use something from home, bring it with you, and bring spares to share.

3. Ask if there’s anything we need.  There is – Cadbury’s chocolate. We’ll allow you to use pretty much any appliance we own (so don’t bring hairdryers or heavy clothing – they are a huge waste of precious baggage allowance) if you bring the stuff we have spent the year pining after. If you are in any doubt, we can order it and have it shipped to your home.. Yes, the right brand it is THAT important. If you are coming to see me, bring chocolate and tea bags. And Bisto. Or if you are my mother, a 4ft artificial Christmas tree.*

4. Entertain yourselves. Successful guests are those that join in with a good attitude when there are things happening, but do not expect the host to find them transport, entertainment or conversation at every turn. As much as driving my kids to soccer / football / may not seem like much of a life, it is one that can’t just stop when you need a lift to Costco. I’ll be happy to forward you all emails from school / soccer club / drama club so that you get an idea of what I’m trying to juggle here. And if you’ve hired a car, feel free to pitch in with the carpooling..

5. Don’t be fooled into thinking that we live like this all the time. You will usually arrive to a clean house, a tidy guest room, and a slightly less chaotic schedule. We have done this because we love you and want you to feel welcome, but please don’t be fooled into thinking that it didn’t take a month of advance preparation, calendar shuffling and ruthless hard work to acheive it. And for goodness sake, don’t say “It’s alright for some, going out to lunch all the time”. We don’t, and you may find that your evening meals suddenly become a lot less appetizing..

6. Do feel free to help with the cleaning / cooking / washing. I may utter the words ” You don’t need to do that, you’re on holiday”, but I am lying through my teeth. Someone has to do it, and it shouldn’t always be your host. Seeing someone else cleaning, ironing or generally tidying up around the house sends me into blissful raptures, and guarantees you a return invitation. Take note though, if you have children, you should be solely responsible for cleaning up after them – forcing your host to try and navigate a minefield of sharp plastic objects when they get up for work will inspire dire retribution..

7. Give your host some time off. Any good host** will feel an obligation to entertain you and make you feel comfortable whenever you are in their home. Spending more than three days with anyone without giving them some time alone in their own house is akin to pulling the wings off flies. To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin; “Guests, like fish, go off after three days”. It’s good advice – after three days, go off. Anywhere, even for a few hours. And bring dinner back with you..

8. If you go out for the day, don’t automatically expect a meal waiting for you on your return. We said it above, but it bears repeating. If you are lucky enough to come home to a ready prepared repast, thank your host profusely, and insist on handling dinner the following night, whether taking them out for a meal, buying takeout, or cooking. You normally pay through the nose for the luxury of having your food cooked for you, and this is someone’s home, not an all inclusive resort.

9. Don’t bring people home. You’d be surprised how many times hosts are ambushed with unexpected guests dragged home by visitors for a cup of tea, a cream cake or to meet you. They inevitably arrive when you are just stepping into / out of the shower, or are inappropriately dressed for company. Pick a date and a venue for everyone to meet, and pick up the check… See how much you want to spend time with them now?

10. There is no maid service. Your host should be able to spend the time enjoying your company, not doing your laundry or picking up after you. And just because you leave the washing up until later at home doesn’t mean that your host is okay with it. Your housekeeping standards should reflect (and respect) your host’s home.This also includes cleaning your room and bathroom before you leave – no host should have to clean your pubic hair out of the shower..

11. And talking of housekeeping standards, it works both ways. If your standards of cleanliness are higher than your host’s, feel free to offer to help out with the chores, do your own laundry, but never, ever give us helpful hints for improvement. And please refrain from writing your name in the dust.

12.Keep electronic device use to a minimum. You have come to see your hosts and their new home location, not to stare at a screen, suck up their bandwidth and generally make yourself unpleasantly antisocial. Yes, we understand that you want to check your email, let your Facebook friends know what fun you are having and keep up with the football scores, but please do so in your own time, in the comfort of your room. And certainly not at the meal table.. Grrr.

13. Leave gifts. I am a firm believer in the miraculous healing power of a gift on arrival and departure. The arrival gift is usually the supplies that you have lugged across the world; on departure, a Thank You card, a gift card or some flowers are not only appreciated, they will rocket you to the top of the guest list for the future.

 

*In my defense, they were virtually impossible to get hold of in Kenya

**Thankfully, I am not such a good host, and am happy to disappear when I need a little personal down time.

 

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?

Everything you need to know about relocation, you learned in your first week of school

Everything you need to know about relocation, you learned in your first week of school..

Everything you need to know about relocation, you learned in your first week of schoolA conversation over coffee last week centered around how we all adapt to any new environment, and I offered up the Feisty One as an example of someone who had it figured out from birth. Watching her walk into every new school leaves me sitting in the school car park in tears, while she sets her shoulders, pastes a smile onto her face, and proceeds to network like a New York socialite.

Somehow, she has decoded the unspoken rules that guide social acceptance, and while her group of friends may change over time, within 15 minutes of setting foot somewhere new she’s worked out the social groups, the codes of behavior, and just who her new friends are going to be.

For the rest of us, here are the relocation lessons that we have learned, lived and long since forgotten..

 

Everyone is scared, but we all have different ways of showing it. Some get louder, some get quieter, some giggle, some snarl. Don’t let your fear define you, or how you judge others. A little patience goes a very long way.

The sooner you make a friend, the better it will be. Because two heads are better than one when it comes to figuring it all out, facing the world, and sharing the fun.

You’ll miss home and family, but you’ll learn to enjoy the time away and cherish the holidays spent together.

Some days are better than others. Some days, you just have to wait it out.

Some lessons you will love, some you will like, and some you will hate. Having favorites is good, but time and perspective will teach you that the ones you liked the least taught you the most.

People can be mean, but the earlier you learn how to deal with them, the easier your life will be.

Look after your lunch money. Mom won’t always be there to bail you out.

Your behavior affects the whole school, so choose your actions wisely.

Don’t believe all that you are told. Consider the source of your information carefully, and then decide the real story for yourself.

Being prepared feels a great deal better than arriving knowing that you didn’t do your homework.

Not doing your homework is the fastest way into trouble.

Being rude is the second fastest.

Breaking something once and you might be forgiven, break it twice and you’ve lost their trust forever.

You can do anything you set your mind to with practice, patience and help from others.

 

Friends Beyond Borders

It is hard to move from one city to another, even harder to move to a different country. One of the positive things about this though, is that you tend to make friends wherever you go. Of course, it’s painfully hard to leave them behind when you move again. However, it’s easier these days to keep in touch thanks to the internet.

A good place to make new friends, if you are a trailing spouse with kids, is at your children’s school(s). One of the things I love most about my kids’ School is that it is international; the students hail from all around the globe and back! There are 70+ nationalities (and increasing) represented in my children’s current school. Just walking around in this cosmopolitan environment is like getting a lesson in history, geography and culture.

When I was new in town and trying to get to know people, I made a point of introducing myself to other parents waiting around at pick-up time at school and at various school events. Now, many of my friends are moms and dads at my kids’ school. Of course, like their children, they too come from all over the world.

Today, I decided to sit down and list which countries my friends hail from. Here’s what I came up with (in alphabetical order, and not necessarily in the order of closeness, especially as Wales is at the bottom ;))

Where do your friends come from? How many ‘countries’ have you befriended? And, yes, play fair. I said friends, not acquaintances 🙂

Australia                                   Bangladesh                                    Belgium

Brazil                                        Bulgaria                                        Canada

China                                        Denmark                                       England

Ethiopia                                     Finland                                         Gambia

Germany                                    Greece                                         India

Italy                                          Japan                                           Kenya

Kyrgyzstan                                 Lebanon                                        Lithuania

Nepal                                        Netherlands                                    Pakistan

Philippines                                  Singapore                                      Somalia

South Africa                               Spain                                            Swaziland

Sweden                                      Switzerland                                   Thailand

USA                                           Wales

And as promised, here’s the link to some maps to print off and color in – feel free to take a photo of your to post to our Facebook page!

Printable World Map

Expat Communication for Friends and Family - What We Really Mean By "Fine". Part of the Defining Moves Expat Essentials Guide

Expat Communication with Friends and Family.. What We Really Mean by “Fine”

Expat Communication for Friends and Family - What We Really Mean By "Fine". Part of the Defining Moves Expat Essentials Guide

Conversations about resilience and coping strategies at FIGT 2012 prompted a great deal of thought about the role of the people who we leave behind when expats relocate. In my ‘7 Habits of Successful Relocation’ seminar, we talked about those who have invested time, energy and emotion into relationships with us, despite knowing that we may not be around for the long haul. Ruth Van Renken, author of “Letters Never Sent”, described it as “all of the grief, with none of the anticipation”. News of an impending transfer creates anxiety, stress and  uncertainty in more than just the immediate family.

It’s a communication no-win situation. When we try to put a brave face on it and focus on the positive, it sounds like we are having a wonderful time and not missing you one bit. When we moan about how miserable we are, we can almost hear the phrase “sure, living a life of leisure in the sun with no work and plenty of help – it must be awful” sarcastically running through your mind. And if you have enough patience and understanding to let us vent for hours without telling us to shut up, at some point we start to hear how whiney and unpleasant we sound and really wish you had.

The good news is that we do get though it, and the support of the people we leave behind is something that we value above all else. We may not speak to you on a daily basis, but I can promise we think about you often  and talk about you to our new friends, wishing you were there in person to join in.

So for those of you who are leaving people you love, or are finding it difficult to explain how conflicted life is as an expat, I’ve put together some pointers that you can share..

 

We are a confused mix of emotions right now, so please bear with us.

Some of us are excited to be going on this adventure, but we are also quietly terrified of what lies ahead, and can’t show it for fear we won’t get on the plane. We feel guilty about leaving you, but it’s like going into school for the first time – we are trying to put a brave face on. It doesn’t mean that we love you any less – the opposite in fact. If we didn’t have you as a safety net, we’d never step out into the unknown.

 

We need you more than ever, but it may not seem like it.

Remember when you started school, and it took all of your energy just to keep track of where you should be going, what the rules were and who and where to avoid? That’s what relocation is like. We hardly know what time of the day it is, let alone our own phone number.We are just barely holding it together, and a text or email make a world of difference, especially if it makes us laugh.

 

If you really love us, forgive us if we don’t answer immediately.

We are overwhelmed, we don’t know anybody here, the paperwork is bewildering and every waking moment is spent trying to keep our heads above water. When we finally get through this transition phase (and we will), we will remember for ever the fact that you stuck with us.

 

Birthdays and celebrations are always the hardest, especially for the first year.

Remember how I moaned about having to cook the Christmas turkey, or that every birthday card reminded me that I was getting older? I was wrong. All those things reminded me that I have friends and family to share my time, my home and my life with, and without them, it can be very lonely. We do find new people to share them with, but if we could have one wish, it would be to have everyone we have ever shared those times with all together in one room..

 

I may say ‘it’s fine’, but I’m being brave.

Please don’t be fooled. But I also don’t want to waste precious time talking to you by sniveling about the woman at the school, and I want to hear what is happening in your life. Just talking to you makes everything seem a whole lot better, and hearing about your day helps to put mine back in perspective. It reminds me that we all have our good and bad moments, and the trick is to have friends to laugh, cry and share them with.

 

You don’t have to write an essay – three words will do.

Or a photo, if that is easier. What we miss most is the day to day interactions with you all – the smiles, the snatched conversations in grocery stores and school yards – the sense of connection and belonging. So don’t think you have to send a three page letter for it to be worthwhile (although we love those too) even the smallest contact lets us know that someone, somewhere is thinking about us, and is missing us too.

Photograph courtesy of the Library of Congress