Expat, Migrant, Third Culture Kid, who am I?

I was reading some blogs and resources related to global migration. I was surprised to find so many different terms associated with being a ‘person living outside one’s home country’. It made me think about which term I would use to explain my/our migration. Here are some definitions:

  • Migrant: a person who moves from one place to another in order to find work or better living conditions. (https://www.google.com.au/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=migrant+definition&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&gfe_rd=cr&ei=XmsxV_npIKLM8geq2plI)
  • Expat: a person who is voluntarily absent from their home or country (http://www.thefreedictionary.com/expat)
  • Third Culture Kid (TCK): ‘…a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture, building relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any’. Although elements from each culture may be assimilated into the TCK’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background (Pollock & Van Reken, 2001)
  • Cross Culture Kid (CCK): ‘is a person who is living or has lived in, or meaningfully interacted with, two or more cultural environments for a significant period of time during childhood (up to the age of 18)’. (Pollock & Van Reken, 2001)

Am I a migrant? Not necessarily, although, initially, when I left Quebec/Canada, I felt there were more employment opportunities in the UK. I certainly did not migrate for better living conditions. Surprisingly, Scotland was ‘very’ cold, dark and windy in the Winter, and humid, cloudy and light at night in the Summer. I wore shorts once in 5 years of living there. Tesco ran out of BBQ at the first ray of sunshine! Definitely not a migrant!

In regards to TCK and CCK, I grew up in a very rural area of Quebec, all my childhood, definitely not a child who has lived in different cultures…I would perhaps consider my children as CCK, but certainly not me.

I never really considered myself as an expat. Yes, I voluntarily left my home or country for a trip abroad, but I never intended to ‘leave’ my country as such. Life just happened. I have always had a very strong sense of identity and respect for my home culture with the desire to pass it on as much as I can, with its challenges. I try to go back for holidays as much as possible to catch up with family and friends, soak up all my culture again and ensure that my children experience that culture too. I have established a number of rituals and traditions in our family that are from my home culture. My oldest has become a real connaisseur of ‘poutines’ and keeps talking about how he could invent new recipes!

I married someone from a different cultural heritage and have embraced some of that culture too. My culture alone is no longer part of my existence, there is a lot more to it and many layers to it… Many traditions, rituals, routines we have adopted as a family have reasons to exist in our family and have been carefully chosen or thought of.

We now live in a different country to which neither of us come from. I lived 18 years in the UK, does that make me an UK expat, a culture which was not my own to begin with anyway?

The word expat has an interesting connotation to it…it sounds like as in ‘patriotic’…It is also often referred to as ‘a group of people from one culture living close by’. I have always felt uncomfortable with that word for many reasons:

  • I have never met a person from Quebec in my travels and experiences. Never been able to share being an expat with people from my own culture. In fact, I know a handful a people from Quebec who live or have lived abroad.
  • I am able to evaluate customs, traditions and attitudes that I like about my home country, but I am also able to contrast with other cultures some specific aspect of my own culture that I don’t necessarily embrace. Although I am particularly fond of my home culture and my origins, I am not patriotic at all costs.
  • I also don’t like the ‘ex’ in expat as if I am an ‘ex’ to that culture. The ‘ex’ part makes an assumption that it is over, finished. I personally don’t feel like an ‘ex’ at all. I still live and embrace that culture every day, in my own way, yes perhaps not on that specific piece of territory/land, but I am still sharing and living it, it’s part of me.

Where does that leave me? Who am I?

In all the forms I have to complete, I am a ‘white other’. Does that describe me well? Not sure it is particularly helpful. I have always found the word ‘other’ as not particularly respectful of one’s culture…’just that other one’, ‘feeling left out on the side’, and not well identified. For the school Census in England, every year I had to complete forms for the children’s schools. Every year, I added ‘French’, next to the ‘English’ ‘language spoken at home box’. Every year, it came back with ‘English’ as the only language spoken at home. Our identity at home was somewhat not fully respected there either.

Your passport, your identity?

On my passport, it says that I am Canadian, which brings some other implications with my identity. When I arrived in the UK, for the first time, the immigration officer was very puzzled as to the reasons why I was not able to understand him at all. I had to explain that I spoke French and not English. Many would assume that travelling with a Canadian passport means that you speak English. This immigration officer was shocked!

I am entitled to a British passport. Yes, I understand that culture, I lived there, I have many friends and family there. Although I lived there for 18 years, I don’t feel necessarily British as I speak in a second language to the primary language of that country and grew up with different rituals and culture and still embrace these.

Identity through Language?

Many people will hear you speak, say ‘Hello’, look again, look again, and you can see people thinking…’she is not from here’. And then you carry on, do what you have to do, and there seems to be this silence, this puzzling face, ‘where is she from?’ Sometimes people ask, sometimes people carry on, on many occasions people question further which then leads to THE conversation…’Where are you from?’ Over time, I started to say, ‘have a think, what do you think, have a guess!’ Nobody ever ever guessed…’French? (the name gives it away a bit)’, Irish?, the main one has been ‘Scandinavian?’, perhaps more for appearance than anything else, or perhaps because our accent becomes similar, northern countries, somehow, not sure…After a long time being in one place, where people tune in to your accent, become accustomed and know you well, in Australia, people have turned heads again, and then I just say ‘I have just moved from the UK’…’ahh ya I can hear it’ and then I say ‘I am Canadian, French speaking’…more puzzled, they then ask: ‘Can you spell your name for me?’

Can language identify your nationality? Well, I am writing a blog, in my second language, with many oddities I am sure! Yes I chose to write in English for many reasons. It is very far from my home culture, in fact, many people from my home culture may judge me for it…I go back to my home country and it takes me a couple of days to tune in to my home language, without looking for a translation for the odd words or sentence. I speak in French, people from my home country think I have an English accent, I speak English, I have an accent as I am not native and speak and write with some grammatical oddities (only a few!) that only the native will learn.

My children, who I try hard to pass on my language and cultural heritage to, speak with a British accent when they speak French. Does that make them less Canadian or Québécois? No, they are Canadian citizens in their own rights!

Who do I feel I am?

Interestingly, no form, no Census, will ask me that, rarely anybody has asked me that question. There was a recent video posted on a social media site ‘Don’t ask me where I am from, ask me if I’m local’ from Taiye Selasi, a very inspiring and powerful message. I related to this post and thought to myself: ‘I have been local there, there, and there…I can name these towns, give an address, talk about people I met there, the great local markets and shops, the charity organisations and schools, the landscape sceneries, to name a few…and so what, who do I feel I am? If I say, I am local, will people ask me about my journey, do locals ask people about their (international) stories? Will I then be expected to be similar to the locals?…Talking about my journey, is that important? Why should it be important? It describes who I am today, battles, languages, journeys, knowledge about specific areas, connections and relationships with people, trips, dreams, talents, ideas, I lived and come across…and what if I wanted to tell my story…not the one the form or the Census prescribes, not the one prescribed by a country, a history, a geography, and local map boundaries.

I ask…what about we asked each other, as narrative therapists would say (White & Epston, 1990), ‘what is your story?’

If I had to really choose a term, being global citizens seem to gel more easily with me. I embrace different cultures in my daily life. I share and talk about different cultures with my children and my husband. We are able to contrast and compare experiences lived in Canada, England, Scotland, and now Australia, as well as in Europe as we travelled there too. My husband also comes back with stories from his travels abroad from lots of different countries. In our travels and experiences, we have met people from all over the world. We share and discuss rituals and cultures with them too.

The term, global citizen, implies a notion of positivity, a sense of responsibilities, duties, and that you live in a world that refers to a globe, embraces a certain unity, aims to seek unity, a world of togetherness. It certainly has some interesting and deep meanings, perhaps much closer to how I feel we live our cross-cultural experiences, our daily experiences.

Pollock, D.C. & Van Reken, R. E. (2001): Third Culture Kids. Nicholas Brealey Publishing: London.

Taiye Selasi

White, M. & Epston, D. (1990). Narrative means to therapeutic ends. New York: WW Norton. ISBN 978-0393700985

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A Jungle full of adventures: The King of the Swingers or the Jungle VIP?

I recently went to see the Jungle Book movie, a story particularly close to my heart because of my scouting and personal experiences. I was a Bagheera as a Cub Assistant Leader a few moons ago (something like 20 years ago!), became an Akela recently, but did not have the time to settle into that role as we moved abroad. My father-in-law was a Baloo, and a great Baloo too!  My children have been in Scouts and know all about the story. My youngest loves animals and calls the woods here, the jungle. For his first experience at the cinema, we were in for a treat!

The movie made me think of different parallels associated to moving to a new country. First, the jungle of the Jungle Book reflects in many aspects what it feels like to experience all the adventures of a new country, some happy, exciting and some more difficult and challenging. Second, many themes related to global migration are presented in this story:

  • leaving home
  • leaving loved ones behind
  • feeling different in a dominant culture
  • being ‘adopted’ in a different culture
  • using different skills and strategies to survive and live
  • meeting a number of different people on route
  • meeting people who become special friends
  • needing to judge people who are friends from the ones who can hurt you
  • needing to fight for oneself and protect others
  • respecting culture and values in a fight
  • being part of a team

Third, each character also has a different way to approach adventures and jungle. These different ways of being in the jungle also have great resonance in how one may approach adventures in a new country and this is what grabbed my attention…I make some analogies here, there may be a number of others…

Mowgli is a keen adventurer. Initially naive about the dangers of the jungle, he encounters a number of hurdles that could have cost him his life, but he perseveres, carries on, finds his way. He uses skills, strategies, speed, finesse to deal with these adventures. He succeeds in putting his ideas across to build more advanced methods of food hunting. He is reliable and loyal to his friends and those protecting him. He develops close friendships and uses teamwork to fight against violence.

Bagheera, a great protector and a coach. Firm, he accompanies others closely, warns of dangers, allows reflections of one’s skills as well as strategies as to how to approach adventures. Although, he gives specific advice, he gives space to others to develop one’s own experiences. He is there in the distance and always comes back to protect. He is observant and strategic when dealing with tricky situations. After observing one’s skills, effort and hard work, he respects it. He allows one to fight with his own strengths. He is loyal and respectful of others as well as appreciative of one’s presence and skills. Although, he appears more a solitary character initially, he builds confidence in others’ skills and works as a team.

An easy going character, living life to the full, Baloo delegates chores he feels he cannot do/does not want to do, the bare necessity, a minimum effort as we say in our house! His humour and easy way of life helps in finding a happy and secure environment in the jungle. Spending time, sharing and building strategies with others aiming to meet primary needs are his main activities in the jungle. Life seems simple and happy around Baloo. He finds great companionship.  His determination to overcome his own difficulties allows him to defend a friend. Although, he is seen to ask everyone favours initially, he works as a team to fight.

Akela is the leader, the head of the pack, protector, fights for the pack which costs him his life. Although, surrounded by a team (the council), there is a sense that he must remain strong and take the ultimate decisions alone. He insists that one should fight with the skills Akela taught.

Shere Khan has ultimately developed some maladaptive behaviour to deal with an earlier experience. He is relentlessly trying to deal with what he believes is an earlier mistake, but many will fight against. He is disruptive, frustrated, aggressive, difficult and manipulative. His ultimate goal is to destroy.

Kaa appears amicable at first, but manipulates others with her charming powers. She takes a long and enlacing approach to talking to someone, being convincing that one must be on her team and respect her, but ultimately perceives one has a prey.

Raksha, a mother figure, protective of her ‘children’, loving and attentive, she lets one go  for safety, adventures and self-discovery. Although devastated, she understands that it is now the time and that she has given her ‘child’ all a ‘child’ needs to explore the jungle and survive. She recognises skills and strengths in others and believes in one’s skills and strengths. Although worried, she appears to have a positive sense of future…’everything will be alright’.

King Louie is a firm, powerful character. He has built a huge empire where many people live around him and defend him. He hides in a huge castle/kingdom. When he decides to be part of the battle, he destroys all his kingdom and everything else in his passage.

So, when going in the jungle of adventures such as moving abroad, which character are you? What skills do you need for moving abroad? What approach works best?

Well, my husband is definitely a Mowgli! I was surprised at Bagheera’s role in accompanying Mowgli and particularly connected again with this character. The movie reminded of a Raksha I volunteered with, who played a great mother role in the pack. I particularly related to this role, now being a mother of three. I suppose skills, strengths and attitudes evolve over time…there may be a need to be more than one characters along the way! As per skills and the best approach, I will let you reflect on this!

Some fascinating analogies, no wonder Baden-Powell asked Kipling to use his story for the Cub Scouts…a great story for all sort of global migration adventures!

Mission Impossible?

There are just days that are just like that…feeling that missions are impossible. Since, we arrived here, I have had a number of missions, more more fun than others. From road tax and medicare offices, to garages, shops, estate agents, mortgage brokers, medical centre, schools, to name a few, I feel I have had many missions. Some missions are completed successfully and in a straightforward way, but others are particularly complicated…

I register all the children in schools and childcare centres. I am given appointments where registration depends on many factors such as opening hours of the uniform shop, school tours, form filling; we respect that and go along with that. I register the little one to a childcare centre. Whilst he has a little play in his room, I sit in a family room, complete all the forms. We come back for a second visit with more forms completed, the receptionist realise he has asthma and eczema which means they need a full treatment and care plan, a plan fully signed by a GP before he can stay. We do not have a GP yet so I register to the medical centre and try to book an appointment. You will need a Medicare number. Ok go to the Medicare centre, sorry we cannot see you alone, your husband has to be with you. My husband is at work during the day, what are your opening hours? well, 9 to 4…ok, will ask husband to take an afternoon off and come back another day…can’t really take an afternoon off until next week, some busy days, etc. I managed to have an appointment with the GP without a medicare number and very rapidly too because a child had to be seen, but still sometimes it feels that you are in a chicken and egg situation…

After years of trying to get qualifications to work as a psychologist, in the first instance having my qualifications recognised from Canada in the UK, and then getting on a conversion programme to access a doctorate programme, I feel that I am now back at square one, having to go through it all again. I don’t know many times I have been police checked in Canada, in the UK, for employment, for voluntary work, I would have not have been able to work in education the last twenty years if I had not been properly police checked, but I now need to go through a full international police check. I also need to apply to a psychology board for registration, but I cannot apply until I have a fully transitional programme in place, which includes supervision, and cannot be employed until I am registered…a full chicken and egg situation again…I am completely mind boggled…

There are definitely days that feel missions are impossible!!!

 

 

Series: Anchor Points Favouring Adaptation

I became familiar with the concept of anchor points to school adjustment for my Masters thesis. I find this concept interesting when associated with global migration as I have experienced a number of situations where I felt anchor points are particularly helpful in promoting adaptation to a new country and environment.

Definition

From language related to navigation, an anchor is defined as a heavy hooked object that is dropped from a boat into the water at the end of a chain in order to make the boat stay in one place (Collins Dictionary). In psychology, the word ‘anchor’ has been used to describe specific points during a process of adaptation, such as experiences that are significant in staying in one place and adapting to the new environment.

Koizumi (2000) defines anchor points to school adaptation as elements of a person-in-environment system, which facilitate transaction between the person and the environment such as information, knowledge, family, friends, physical bases for activities, institutions and organisations. He outlines dimensions of the environment and explains that socio-cultural issues are particularly associated with anchor points:

  • Physical: buildings, location and rooms
  • Interpersonal: family, friends, teachers, siblings
  • Socio-cultural: culture, language, behaviour patterns

Koizumi (2000) explains that anchor points are used by a person to develop a perceptions and evaluation of the environment and to structure a basis for individual experiences. He continues by saying that there are anchor points in both pre and post transition experiences and that a person who explores a new environment will be using these to develop their own schemas or cognitive map. He explains that anchor points facilitate the structuring of the environment and later adaptation.

Reconnecting

We had lived in seaside locations for twelve years in the UK. As a Canadian, I felt I missed the woods. Growing up in the Yorkshire Moors, my husband also felt he missed the woods. We therefore decided to live in a location that reminded us of earlier experiences, something we missed greatly. It has massively helped in settling where we are now. We both feel at peace when we walk in the house. The kids have plenty of space to explore outdoors. The walks around the reserves are great. We had great fun yesterday playing hide and seek in the woods with our youngest.

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Moving to Australia, I have been particularly surprised at the number of anchor points that reconnect me back to my home country. Some of these I had completely lost in the UK and it has been great to reconnect. Here are some top anchor points, some more trivial than others!

  • IGA logo and shops
  • Coffee culture
  • Smell of Palmolive
  • Being in the woods
  • Veal
  • Laundry rooms and built in wardrobes in houses
  • Drier and sunnier weather

Anchor Points for Children

Anchor points are also an interesting concept when thinking about children’s adaptation to a new country. Although some exciting and new adventures are great and stimulating, children may also need some specific anchor points to encourage adaptation. This week, I was unpacking toiletry boxes. We do not have much storage in bathrooms in our rental house so I was aiming to declutter and throw lots out. Although I did not like the cluttered look, I put all the toiletry on the window ledge. My daughter commented on my work and said that she was so pleased the house looked so much more like a ‘home’ now. Although quite trivial, our toiletry, for my daughter, created a sense of home.

Children have also asked to do activities they feel good at such as hockey, cricket and netball. Although they are learning the rules of Aussie Football, their favourite sports are surfacing and they are keen to be part of some teams. My son was delighted when he found his hockey bag in our boxes.

Food and Culture

Over the years of living away from my home country, I have found that sharing food is one of the greatest way to connect with others and talk about my home culture. I regularly receive guests with a ‘fondue chinoise’ or ‘a raclette’. I have to be creative because I cannot find sliced meat, the same as in Quebec, but over the years, I have managed to find alternatives. I still make the same sauces and bouillon as my mother did and a caesar salad. I also feel that eating over a fondue creates a great atmosphere as it is a long dinner and talkative dinner. I always feel that there is a certain form of comfort to cook food from your home culture and share it with others.

It is comforting to find food that you like in the supermarkets or being able to cook something familiar. I often bring back in my luggage St-Hubert sauce for poutine, or des herbes salées du Bas du Fleuve. Visitors bring for us ‘des chips au ketchup’ and ‘Froot Loops’. I feel that by having some food from home, it helps me not to miss it so much. It is there as an anchor point, promoting my adaptation to global migration. It also helps the children to know about food from my home country and they love it…they love a ‘pâté chinois’, a ‘raclette’, a ‘fondue’ and home made ‘poutine’!

We have been able to find a number of ingredients from the UK here. It will be much easier to find food from the UK than food from Quebec. Many British people who moved to Australia must have felt the need to settle with these as anchor points!

Anchor Points: A Second Layer, A Deeper Meaning

In my experience, anchor points can be as important and great such as living in the woods, or very specific and little such toiletry. I have found that there is a second layer to anchor points, those associated with senses. Smell I feel is a particularly important anchor point that can generate some very strong emotions. For example, my grandparents owned a florist shop and, as children, we used to visit and help at the shop. The smell of the greenhouses and fresh cut flowers is particular and strong. If I walk in a florist shop nowadays, anywhere in the world, I am particularly overwhelmed by the smell linked to my childhood memories. A bunch of cut flowers in the house or learning about different flowers are also important to me. I have a lot to learn in Australia as my knowledge of flowers on this continent is pretty limited, but I recognised last week stephanotis growing in a bush, just at the front door, a flower I remember smelling in my grandparents’ greenhouse, a flower I had in my hair for my wedding…I was amazed when I found it and now I am smelling it every time I go past.

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As a child, I also remember walking the greenhouses and gardens with my grandmother and my mother looking at the plants and naming them. Recently, we had a visitor who did the exact same thing with me, she initiated a walk around the garden and she named all the plants and flowers. Unknown to her, it was a particularly precious moment as I have lots to learn here, but mainly because it was a particularly important anchor point for me, an activity of the past brought into learning about my new environment.

Anchor Points: Connecting with others

People can make such a difference in adaptation to a new country, in creating some particularly important anchor points. When talking to people here, I found it easy to connect for lots of different reasons:

  • people have relatives in the UK (I also experienced this when I arrived in Scotland, I met so many people who had relatives in Canada)
  • people have travelled and lived abroad too
  • some colleagues visited us a couple of years ago in our house so they can relate to us when we talk about our house in the UK
  • lots of connections to places we have lived, come from or been

Discussions then flow and it makes it interesting and fascinating to connect with others. The amicability of the Australians has certainly made a big impact on our opportunities to connect and meet others. Meeting one or two significant persons can also help hugely so that you can ask a couple of questions about the culture, the new environment and lead you in a different direction, to another person. I have found that just one person connecting you to a social media site or sending you just a bit of information has been very helpful.

Some Difficulties with Anchor Points when Moving Abroad

Although I meet many people from the UK in Australia, all these years away, I have never met someone from Quebec, either in Scotland or in England, and now the likelihood of meeting someone from Quebec in Australia seems particularly slim! Living in a majority culture, the language and the distance certainly influence the opportunities global citizens may have in meeting people from their home country. There is never been a big concentration of ‘Québécois’ around the corner from where I live!

Systems also use anchor points to promote adaptation in their setting. For example, in two of the educational settings my children attend, grandparents have been invited to come in to read to the children. For us as global citizens, grandparents morning is a tricky one, they are not close by. Although, educational settings may be using this strategy as a way to promote connections and adaptation for children, for us, it has the opposite effect. It may create some feelings of missing them, and wanting to be with them…not always easy to fully explain that we cannot see this person immediately.

Systems Facilitating Anchor Points

Systems can also facilitate the creation of anchor points. One of the schools my children attend has a class parent rep system. Very quickly after arriving here, I was invited to an evening out with mothers of children in the same class as my child. It was flattering to be invited, a great social opportunity. It really helped meeting people in similar situations and connect with them. I felt very welcomed and connected!

Some systems we have been part of have celebrated an international day where everyone brings food from their country. Children drew flags, learnt songs and stories from that country and culture. It really helped my children share, explain their cultural heritage and experiences abroad and ‘normalise’ their situation in a dominant culture.

We have recently realised that colleagues in my husband’s department experience  cultural diversity too so we have organised an evening at home where everyone has been asked to bring food and drinks from their country. We are certainly looking forward to the variety this will bring and also looking forward to hear their stories.

Objects and Artefacts

Over the years, we have built a number of objects related to our travels. We have also bought pieces of furniture and artwork/picture frames in different places around the world. When we decided to move, we did not want to let these items go as they all have stories. From our past to the future, we felt important to bring these items with us, stories that follow us around the world, significant anchor points indeed.  Significant objects and artefacts always reminds me of the Freud Museum I visited in London…I am sure we will find some new objects and artefacts that represent our experience here too.

Anchor Points in Global Migration 

I would certainly agree that anchor points promote adaptation. It helps connect past experiences and the new environment together. Do we find them? Perhaps not so much, they tend to emerge in a very informal way and unexpectedly as you find your way around this new environment you live in. Some information and knowledge may be easier to find than others and some specific strategies may promote these anchor points to be present in our lives. Systems can have a huge impact in implementing strategies that will promote the adaptation of global families. Some anchor points may take you more by surprise as these may be particularly meaningful. As a global citizen, it is important to be aware of these anchor points and how these can support a successful adaptation. These can be favoured by the individual, family and by people and systems around too. If you are moving abroad, look out for these anchor points, trivial and meaningful; if you are welcoming someone moving from abroad, you can also make a difference too!

Koizumi, R. (2000). Anchor Points in Transitions to a New School Environment. The Journal of Primary Prevention, 20 (3), pp. 175-187.

Familiarisation Visit: What to do and think about?

We were invited by the company for a familiarisation week in Australia. It was a particularly challenging adventure as we had to find childcare for our three children in the UK for that week. Luckily, we had amazing support from friends. It was a busy week as my husband was attending a corporate management week and I spent the full week in full reconnaissance mode.

Planning Stage

  • full organisation of childcare for the week, including schedules of who does what and when…explanations of routines, etc. I had a full plan!
  • discussions with the company about possible dates, plane tickets, accomodation, car rental, itinerary for the week, booking flights and applying for a visa
  • looking on different websites and reading books about weather, culture, etc.
  • asking the children what they would like of their new school, visit websites of different schools, looking at pros and cons for different settings
  • Bookings of some appointments during the week: schools, nursery and potential employers by email or from a person who can help in the country

What I did during the week?

We had a very busy week, full of social events, professional activities and visits. It was quite a challenge as I have three children, in three different educational stage so I had to arrange a number of school visits. All very beneficial so I would not know what to cut out in the week. It’s long journey back so we slept then!

  • My husband and I spent one day together recovering from jet lag and discovering the area together.
  • I had a day booked with a relocation agent who showed me some rental and house to buy so that I could get a feel of the housing market in the area.
  • I visited 9 educational settings in the area of my husband’s work: 5 secondaries, 3 primaries and a nursery and picked up all the prospectus to show the children. I also took some pictures of the environment around the school to show them. I took notes as I visited the schools so that I could explain differences in the system to them. Some visits were booked prior and others not. I booked many visits during the week as I got to know the area better. Everyone was very opened and amicable to me visiting the settings.
  • I made contacts with estate agents and arranged to visit some houses.
  • Social events: We had dinner either on social events or some future colleagues most evenings. We found that beneficial to get to know everyone and create some great anchor points for the future.

What did I find helpful, glad I did?

  • We were very short with time as my husband had to go to another trip after our familiarisation visit. We debated plane journeys, shorter, longer, thinking of the children too. We found it very helpful to spend a day together before the start of the week so we could explore together initially.  I was then able to discuss my visits with him and he understood where I had been.
  • Visiting a number of educational settings and houses to really be able to make the most informed decision possible. There are lots of other schools in the area that I have visited, but could not visit them all.
  • Lots of driving about, getting to know the area. A Sat Nav was essential!
  • Speaking to future colleagues about schools and the area.
  • Going to the Tourist Information to pick up maps and lots of leaflets about future activities. More defined maps were very helpful when it came to choose a house to rent. I bought some souvenirs from a Post Office, some nice story books about Australia. We also bought some presents at the airport but these were much more expensive. These were great tool for talking about the area to the children. (Top Tips: Preparing Children for a Move Abroad).
  • Not to overload my week initially and add appointments during the week as I found  out more about the area. Allowing myself time to drive about and explore the area between appointments.
  • We managed to contact the children via video call most days or every other day, depending on time difference and activities (theirs and ours).
  • I enjoyed watching the news in a different country, interesting and different news coverage.
  • Although it was a busy week, social dinners were definitely a must!

What did I forget, should have done better?

  • I should have been a bit wiser and ask more questions about transport to secondary schools. We later found out that the schools we were keen for our oldest to go to did not have a bus route back to the house we had chosen to rent. Although we are kind of sorted now, it created some initial headaches in the planning the move stage and when we arrived here.
  • We struggled with me having a phone for the week so it made it tricky to make appointments. I eventually managed with WI-FI, emails on my iPad and the hotel phone, but it would have helpful to get a Sim card in Australia as soon as we arrived. Well, we tried but we were not successful, the system of the shop at airport was down so they could hand out Sim cards.
  • Purchasing presents prior going back to the airport. I had not been close to shops at all…

Overall, the familiarisation week was extremely beneficial and I am really glad we had that opportunity prior the move. It made it real, created some anchor points and a much easier adaptation when we arrived in the country as we know where we were going. I would certainly recommend a familiarisation week to anyone thinking of relocating a family abroad…

Interview At Planète F

I participated in an interview on global migration and citizenship. Please find the link below. A very interesting article in French (and an interview in English) which relate well opportunities and challenges for global families. I summarise here themes discussed by the different families in the article, very similar themes to the ones I have talked about here so far:

  • living in a different language, needing to learn a new language to communicate in an adoptive country and being accepted with a different accent
  • understanding your own culture versus new ones
  • knowing your cultural heritage and origins
  • similarities and differences between political and economic migration
  • needing to come ‘home’ regularly, leaving some deep roots behind
  • saying painful and emotional goodbyes
  • needing to reflect about opportunities outweighing roots and relationships
  • difficult adaptation and integration
  • technology helping communication with relatives and friends

http://www.planetef.com/dossier/familles-post-nucleaires/familles-migrantes-monde/

 

Not sure what to do with Australians’ Amicability

Everywhere I go, supermarkets, educational settings, tax road centre, shops, people are so amicable and friendly…everywhere…People are particularly attentive to children, asking how they are in a very easy going way…

Last night, I went to the wine shop. I left my two oldest putting the shopping away in the car and popped in very quickly to the wine shop next door. Conscious of sibling rivalry and possible conflicts, I am quickly grabbing some bottles, 3 for $20…I am in a rush, don’t think about anything else…The shop assistant starts a conversation: “What will you do with the rest of your Monday night?” Completely thrown by this amicable question, I say: “I will go home and drink these babies, not all of it, but some of it”. He burst out laughing: “At least you are being honest”, and we laughed even more. The thing is I don’t know how else to react to such amicable behaviour by everyone around, so it looks like I am going for the quickest route, what comes to mind spontaneously, perhaps honesty…

This amicable behaviour everywhere goes a long way. The car broke down on a very tricky spot, where all the double carriageway traffic was getting backed up, a very dangerous spot, at the bottom of a steep hill. Children were at the back, wet from swimming in the sea and had little on, so they could not help. A woman got out of her car and said: “let’s get you out of trouble and push you up the hill a bit further”. She tries to push on her own with no success. Within minutes, 5 guys come out of their car and start pushing the car too. The traffic was able to move again. These guys all stay with us. We have a chat, what about next steps. I am a bit shocked, not sure who to phone, what to do, my husband is away in Paris. Three of the guys stay behind, have a chat. One says he has to go, but only lives around the corner and that if I have a problem to contact him. He gives me his business card and his address. I keep his card safely in my wallet. The other two guys say that they can stay with us for as long as we need to, take us home if needed. I borrow their phone (mine had ran out of battery). They initiate conversations with the kids: “where do you go to school”, “who are your teachers”, “is so and so still at that school”. Children have a chat…I am amazed, I think people are so amicable and lovely. On their own accord, children also reflected on this experience saying how they were amazed at people’s friendliness and amicability.

As my husband was going away, I had picked up a number of his colleagues’  business cards at his office’s reception desk so that I have contact numbers in case I needed help…It’s notorious that as soon as my husband travels abroad, something goes wrong…well, I am glad I had picked those cards because from the side of the street I was able to contact someone quickly to help with the broken down car…

This is where it gets funnier…A few days later, I present myself at the school reception to sort out some bills and ask questions about a few things. The school receptionist asks me to update the list of emergency numbers I had provided on the enrolment form…I say of course I have all of these numbers here and I write names and numbers in the appropriate places. During this time my son is standing next to me, not necessarily paying attention to what I am doing, looking a bit bored. In a glance, he then says “Maman, not that one, that’s the bloke from the street who pushed the car the other day”. The receptionist and I just burst out laughing, hysterical laughters to the point of crying…we could not stop…I was completely shocked, the guy had the same first name as one of my husband’s colleague so just thought it was his card…

Everywhere you go, people are amicable and also very helpful. Yesterday, at the tax road office, the officer had done all the registration transfer papers for me. We are just getting our heads around a new system, so he says “anything else I can do for you” so I asked questions about transferring driving licenses…again very helpful, answered all my questions in such a nice, pleasant and amicable manner…It goes along way because you don’t feel the need to be heard, or shout, or having to explain a problem over and over again, nobody is saying “sorry we can’t help you with that one”…

It’s so simple to be amicable..such an easy going way of living…Even though I am still not sure how to react to it all, I find it particularly pleasant and helpful…and I laugh a lot along the way! It feels healthy!

 

Important days: a social myth?

Yesterday, I found myself celebrating Mother’s Day for the first time in 18 years on the same day as my home country. A heartfelt day as my mother isn’t there anymore. For the first time in my adult life, I would have been able to celebrate motherhood of my children and my mother on the same day…

Over the years, I have learnt to not attached so much importance to celebrating an important day on the same day. I always found some strategies to cope with not being there for Christmas, not being there for an important birthday. Over time, you build some resilience, you toughen up, find other activities to do as you are not visiting your own family, you build friendships with others in similar situations. This year, the social myth surrounding the need to celebrate Christmas on the same day as everyone, became even more meaningful. My husband became very ill and was hospitalised over the Christmas period. I had a particularly difficult decision to make, celebrating Christmas with him in the UK, allowing him to have Christmas all together, with our children, or flying to the Caribbean to meet my family as planned. Impossible dilemma…With reflection, it made sense to think that Christmas could be celebrated one week later…letting my husband recover in peace, letting the children have an amazing holiday with their cousins. Who decides that Christmas has to be absolutely celebrated on the 25th December? Isn’t the values and the spirit of the celebration that are more important?

Is it that important to celebrate THE day, on the same day as everyone else? The media attach so much importance on these days, and now social media sites bring a different dimension to it all…You see everyone posting about their experience of the day, it brings some feelings in you, you respond in your own way by posting your experience, by sharing how happy you are for others, or you let go completely, or switch off all devices…How to cope with all these feelings? There is also all the commercial side attached to all of it…you have to have a tree, you have to buy flowers, you have to buy chocolate and share these with your loved ones…what if your loved ones are hundred, thousand kilometres away…is it as meaningful then?

Visiting family on THE day is also affected by travelling abroad. Flight costs become completely and ridiculously unaffordable during special periods. Schools (in England) do not authorise holidays within the school term days. Councils have established a fine system for those who take children out of school within term days. There are also policies to increase attendance in schools as attendance is considered as being crucial to school attainment. As global citizens, you then become completely stuck between the dilemma of high cost flight fares, fines and penalising children’s education. As a parent, you then have the task to weigh this all up:

  • is it ok for the children to miss some days of school to access cheaper flight fares (against all odds as the system says you should not)?
  • is it ok to consider the family visit as equally educationally beneficial?
  • is it ok not to visit family at all?
  • is it ok to only visit when you have saved the high flight fares?
  • is it ok to think that children should maintain their cultural heritage and be part of the extended family for some special occasions?
  • will children’s education be penalised for non-attendance? could there be other arrangements made?
  • how often is it ok to take children out of school during term time?
  • how often can we really visit family to coincide with with our annual leave, school holidays in both countries?
  • could we spend a couple of months abroad? what would the school say about that?

and then, you feel that surely there must better ways to support global families, but it is easier to change your own mindset.

Over time, I have learnt that ‘I don’t have to celebrate on the same day’, ‘I will do what feels right to do’…it has taken some creativity. We have celebrated Christmas on New Year’s Day on many occasions. We have had Christmas days in the Summer instead. We have visited at Easter when schools in Quebec are not on holidays and arranged a two week learning experience in the local primary, a very rewarding experience for all. Technology over the last 2o years has also changed our lives…social media sites with chat rooms, texting, video calling and the easy access of the web: listening to the radio live, catching up with news on podcasts, reading papers on-line, have all made a huge difference to the way we can communicate with our family and friends and keep in touch with our cultures.

I have also learnt to cope with these complicated emotions in my own way, by allowing traditions and customs to be part of the celebrations, as well as creating new ones. For example, the children have become accustomed now that when a family member from abroad comes to visit, there will be a special Christmas moment, all of us sitting down in the living room, over a cup of coffee (to recuperate from jet lag), with lots of cuddles and ‘thank yous’. They cherish that moment as a very special moment and anticipate it with excitement. New rituals become very important and part of your own little family. For example, children will always sing Happy Birthday in French and English when they send their wishes to family members by video or phone call. We allow those new rituals to grow and become part of our way of living.

Only recently, I decided I really wanted to be present for a family celebration to see my special special grandmother who is now 93. I had missed so many celebrations over the years and I felt that on this occasion I wanted to be there. I flew over to Canada from England for a weekend! I had never done that in my life, but it felt right to be there and surprise everyone.

How was I meant to react about celebrating Mother’s Day on the same day as my home country, not sure, it took me by surprise. Yes I had a lovely day with my children, making our new traditions, in a new country, eating Japanese food we have now discovered which is available everywhere here and going to the cinema together. With reflection, although you may try to find strategies to cope with not being there for special celebrations, as a global citizen, there will always be some feelings attached to your home country as there are so many reminders that will make feel that way…media, commercial and many others…

Isn’t ok to ‘feel’ as it shows you are well alive, and these feelings may bring new rituals and traditions…

J’aurais bien aimé t’appeler hier Maman, j’ai beaucoup pensé à toi…