“Maman, Maman, are we going on this plane” (E., 3): Top Tips when travelling on long haul flights with children

I am sitting on our flight Melbourne to Los Angeles and thought I would jot down a few points…my persistent mistakes and some helpful ideas!

It is the first time we leave Australia. We are travelling from Melbourne to Los Angeles, Los Angeles to New York, New York to Montreal…a long journey…We have done much shorter journeys over the last 13 years such as London to Montreal, but recently our migration has meant that we are much further away. We did London, Abu Dhabi, Melbourne last time, this time it is a little longer with an extra stop. We are also flying going east which means that we will live the same day twice!

Children got packing yesterday, although they were particularly excited and somehow difficult to manage, I was pretty impressed with their packing skills. I thought to myself that perhaps, over the years, I have given them some good tips and they are now able to pack without thinking about it…it has just become natural…First flights with an infant or a young child are pretty daunting, as children grow older, they learn what to expect, prepare and live on the plane, again it becomes routine…Here are some top tips, tips we have experienced over the years and feel are working well…

  1. Involving the children in packing their bags

I have always packed the children’s cabin luggage and suitcase with them, up to the age of 8-9. Now, we are at a stage where the older two pack all their luggage alone and I check it afterwards to add any items they forgot. In the packing stage, I give them some small and measurable tasks such as “pack 7 pair of pants”. It was beautiful yesterday to see my daughter helping our 3 years old pack his cabin luggage. She knew exactly what to bring, what to think about and what he would need. Involving them means that they know what they have in their luggage for when they get on the plane and during the holiday or at their destination. This really helps them being independent.

  1. Basic essentials in hand luggage

We have experienced a number of situations over the years, lost luggage, delayed flights, delayed or cancelled connection, children being sick on us, spilling food or drinks on us. When experiencing cancellations or delays, we had to stay in a hotel for the night until the next flight. I always pack a t-shirt, some underwear and some basic essentials in my bag and the children’s bag such as a toothbrush and under 100ml basic products so that we are prepared for different situations. I am still luggage less after four days at our destination, my extra t-shirt has been particularly welcomed!

  1. Preparing for a carousel of activities:

Preparing for diverse activities helps when planning the cabin bags and informs my few next points. The journey can be long so the idea of having different and diverse activities helps the children feel stimulated as well as feeling they are passing time having fun. The carousel idea is that you present one activity, this activity lasts around 10-20 minutes, complete the activity when the child is still interested, but when you can see interest is going down slightly, put it away, bring another activity out. Alternate activities, re-introduce earlier activities, also include eating, toilet and self-care, sleeping.

  1. Electronic devices such as DS, Ipad and tablets:

We always bring these. The evolution of this technology has changed our lives. We upload some television programmes and games before travelling. This helps when waiting or for long journeys. It provides an alternative activity/station to the ones available on the flight such as movies, games on the screen, eating, sleeping.

  1. The cabin bag: Books, a bag of little people, colouring pencils, a colouring book, a sticker book

These ‘toys’ are particularly helpful for children 2-7 years old. Many children I know absolutely love ‘sticker books’. A bag of little people also helps bringing diversity to the carousel of activities available to a more imaginative play, a very welcomed change.

  1. Talking about the journey ahead

Reading a book about airports and planes with a young child can help them develop the language related to airports and the journey. I never tell the children (2-7 years old) too long in advance our itinerary and plan to travel so that they do not create weeks of anticipation and expectations. When they become a bit older, I tend to have it on the calendar so that they know when it comes, can prepare, ask questions. I suppose there is a transition here to be made between the younger children becoming able to talk about it and anticipate the event without too much excitement. Telling the children too much in advance make and create lots of feelings and then behaviours that are tricky to manage in the run up of the event. Really everyone wants their sleep and continue the routines as much as possible until the event. Less disruptions will help cope with the journey.

  1. Living on a plane: Snacks, Eating, Sleeping

As my oldest two are older now, I have not thought about bringing snacks for a while. Really I should because it can take a while to be served the first meal on the plane. Really we have needed it. Some flight companies are better than others at providing child friendly foods so having a little reserve of little snacks can help complement the meals. Some sweeties and chewing gums can help children when taking off and landing. It helps stimulate the swallowing reflexes and clear their ears. Similarly, for infants, I have found it very helpful to feed (bottle or breast) them during take off and landing for the same reasons.

For late flights such as leaving Montreal at 7 to 10pm arriving in London at 7am, over the years, we decided to feed the children before we get on the plane and just completely ignore service, buckle our seatbelt over our blankets, so that we all get a night sleep straight as we get on the plane.

Our routines have changed now that we do very long haul flights. For flights to and from Australia to the Northern Hemisphere, we have found that we just need to sleep, eat and relax as much as possible. There is plenty of time to settle in the flight, watch films and sleep. It is important that the children feel relaxed as much as possible so that the journey feels pleasant enough. When they are relaxed and at ease on the flight, it helps them stay on their seat and enjoy their ‘seat environment’ instead of feeling they need to explore the plane.

  1. Establish routines and encourage positive behaviours and manners

Children need to learn the routines of a long flight and the need to relax, take it easy. For the first few journeys, this may take a little more help by talking to them about the routines, model the routines, encourage them to observe others. Soon enough, children realise what to do. I also insist on implementing positive behaviours such as respecting other people’s seat (not kicking the seat in front of them). I also encourage them to be independent. There is not much that can happen on a place so I encourage them to go to the toilet on their own, ask for help independently if they need to.

When travelling as a family, it becomes easier to establish ‘a seat environment’ where children feel they can move, play together, invade each other’s places if needed. I remember travelling with one child on my own and being particularly conscious of disturbing others around me, with cries, or space. Now that we travel 5 of us, we tend to set up a space where the children feel comfortable. We allow them to sleep close to each other, lifting arm rests, and lying down on seats, etc. Basically, they now use the space in their own way, respecting others around, and this helps them feel settle during the flight.

As parents, we relay each other in supporting the younger children, allowing one parent to sleep. We also find it helpful to settle everyone and then sleep when the children sleep.

  1. Encouraging observations

In airports, flights and during the journey, we encourage children to look at their surrounding, talk about what they see and observe, identify similarities and differences with previous flights and airports. We also encourage them to observe others, think about others’ behaviours so that they feel more confident about being a competent traveller. For example, in the last few flights we experienced, my daughter insisted on going to the toilet when everyone is waiting in line to exit the plane, but this created chaos as she tried to move around the aisles. We discussed best times for going to the toilet, i.e. as they announce preparation for landing, usually half an hour before landing.

  1. The aftermath…

There is no doubt that after a long journey, there is a recovery period. Over the years, we have found that the easiest way to recover is to get into the routines of the final destination as soon as possible, such as respecting activities and time of sleeping and eating patterns of the time zone. Having social activities organised in the country of destination also help get back into the routine. We have also enjoyed journeys ending in the evening which means that when arriving at the final destination, it is night time, and after some wind down time, everyone goes to bed for a good night sleep.

There is also a need to expect some disruptions to bodily routines, feeling hungry and feeling sleepy at odd times of the day. Children may feel the jet lag and experience disrupted or shorter sleep patterns. Although difficult, we have found that establishing some ‘after flights’ routines also help. For example, when children get up very early, we tend to insist that this time is a quiet time with low key television and a light breakfast. I insist in helping children understand that ‘it is not fun time’ because it is too early for that. As parents, we relay each other in getting up early when needed, or going for a light nap in the afternoon.

Over time, families adjust to travelling and develop strategies to cope with these adventures. It is important to keep an open mind, try different strategies and be positive about all these global adventures…it is a particularly enriching gift to give to the children.

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It’s Winter…in my heart…

4 months living in Australia…and it’s Winter…colder, wet, but still light enough compared to the UK in the Winter, sunny and crispy on many days, temperatures at around 12 degrees and much cooler at night…Ironically, we had a snow fight celebrating Quebec Day on the 23rd/24th June…

It’s Winter, but mainly in my heart.

It became inevitable, it had to lead me to write about this on here, a blog about global migration…I never thought it would affect me so much…A Brexit ‘Leave’ vote…In the last few days, I have felt so sad. I was not entitled to vote because I am not residing in the UK at present, but did until very recently for 18 years. After the vote, I tried to reach out, listen to the news, read articles, keep in touch with many, tried to understand and initiate thinking with others from the Leave and Remain camps about the future of the country. I felt some resistance and I was also very upset. I then thought to myself: ‘Why am I so sad?’, ‘maybe I am not well’, ‘maybe Winter is getting to me’, ‘I was fairly happy a few days ago, what happened?’ I then started thinking, ‘no, I am deeply affected, but why?’: ‘I am not even British’, ‘I don’t even live there at the moment’, ‘I should take it lightly’. I then realised it is profound, much more profound than I thought. Then it made me think that perhaps people do not necessarily understand why I feel so sad, perhaps I need to take the opportunity to write about it, it may help me, it may help others.

For the last few months, I have been writing this blog on global migration, talking about opportunities and challenges as global citizens. For me, it consisted of a particularly brave and innovative way to talk about our adventures in more formal way, support other families who may experience similar experiences. Brave, because I need to consistently work hard to perfect my writing. Innovative, because I had never done something like this before. I am not considering myself as necessarily talented in information and technology design. I had never used writing as a form of expression, I am much better verbally, but I am far away now, I cannot use this mode of communication.

I never anticipated I would use a written form to express some deep feelings, the ones I am feeling at the moment. There is a sense in me where I feel I need to explain why I feel so sad and it is important to do so…for the future.

Why am I so sad?

A Land of Hope, Dreams and Opportunities

I arrived in the UK in 1998 with a packsack, on my own, with a visa allowing me to work for 4 months initially and 2 years overall. Having chosen Scotland as an interesting place to discover, I settled there for a short-term employment opportunity. I was meant to stay for the Summer but life happened. I met my future husband and gained a post as a French teacher in a special needs school, an opportunity I always dreamt of. Scotland/UK became for me a land of hope, discovery, permanent employment, security, a place where I was able to expand my skills, my career, improve my oral and written language skills, a place where I felt accepted, appreciated for who I was. We spent 5 years in Scotland, life took us in a different direction, to the South of England. Opportunities continued to grow and develop. Children grew up in a society where I continued to pass on my cultural heritage as well as ensuring a full integration in the community we lived in, with our diversity and our thirst to continue to learn about new cultures. A country who welcomed me and believed in me…

Significant opportunities across the Channel

Yes Britain offered many opportunities but did not fully fulfilled the desire to live and learn different languages. We found ways to expose the children to new adventures. We found a French school funded by the French Government in Britain and the children attended this school every Saturday mornings. Their skills improved dramatically and their ability to communicate with their family in Quebec increased.

We also travelled all over Europe, camping and for other trips. It was so easy, pack the car full of camping gear, drive to the Channel crossing, wait half an hour, and drive to our destinations across the Channel. We met a number of people from many countries in campsites as well as friends from the UK we arranged to meet on our travels. Children were amazed at having to use a Deutsh/English phrasebook to communicate with campers. They were able to meet many children with their French language skills and their openness to other cultures. We felt the opportunity of free movement for cultural exchanges, opportunities to discover and explore, expand one’s horizons were absolutely amazing and enriching. A unique continent where one can embrace all this diversity on one territory…

Being an Immigrant

Britain is a land who accepted me as a young adult. Initially I did not speak very well in English. People supported me, encouraged me, insisted I wrote ‘Bonne Fête’ in birthday cards. Over the years, I built my own identity through the opportunities and challenges I faced. My identity was always going to be different as I arrived with an already lived journey, but Britain gave so much in return and I gave so much in return too, leading to tertiary qualifications and a career helping others. This land who ‘adopted’ me, gave me great opportunities. My identity developed to the point that I now feel there is much more to my identity than ‘just being a girl from Quebec’…perhaps Britain shaped my experiences more than I thought, perhaps I belong in Britain more than I thought.

It has not always been easy. There were a number of moments where I felt I needed to make significant effort to integrate the communities I lived in. I felt that I had to explain my story, talk about differences and similarities. I made the effort to develop a sense of belonging, integrate and perhaps ‘assimilate’ to a certain extent, perhaps more for my survival more than anything else.

People may think ‘Pascale, you are not an immigrant’…but fundamentally I am…different culture, different language, a newcomer to the country, the country ‘adopted’ me. An adoptive country who took me under its wings, built and developed a relationship with me over time, hard times and happy times…a country where I felt nurtured, as a parent who adopts a child. Yes I felt Britain did this over time.  However, in recent years, it started to become more difficult to accept comments from specific party members talking about the migration discourses, including hate discourses directed at immigrants. Although I blended in the community, there was a national front against immigration.

The thing is that I always worked, had a strong work ethics, working with commitment and passion. I have always been employed due to my experience and qualifications. I gave back to communities I lived in much more than I claimed back in terms of benefits. I never claimed benefits. I claimed job-seeker allowance twice and had three maternity leaves, ‘benefits’ I was entitled to as I had paid National Insurance contributions for a significant amount of time. I paid for my studies both at masters and doctoral levels.

Many migrants are in the same situation as me, contributing to the society in a positive and meaningful way. I have never stolen a job from anybody. I always gained employment on merit because I could give back.

Now, I have to go through the same process in Australia. It’s not easy having qualifications recognised and finding people who will offer opportunities. We do not have the same rights as citizens, such as being to claim for benefits, rebates and tax credits. Migrants work hard and have a huge desire to be accepted for what they can offer, what they are worth, migrants are determined, resilient and have positive outlook on life…to a certain extent…it’s survival!

Values and discourses

Despite me believing in my adopted land and working hard at making it work, I feel a sense that living in an accepting, respectful, inclusive, united country may become harder and harder. Someone may say, but ‘you are not British, why do you worry about this?’ I worry for my children, my husband, my family. This land who adopted me and nurtured me seems to be changing. I try to promote positive values of inclusion, acceptance, unity and togetherness in my work, with my children, in my relationships but these seem to be more and more different to what I once knew. I also feel it is important for the children to grow up hearing messages of openness, inclusion, resilience, communication. To me, being in Europe represents a sense of being opened to other cultures and discourses, being able to communicate in many languages, feeling a sense of diversity. It also represents a sense of resilience, working hard in trying to understand others’ points of views. It also represents a sense of unity and togetherness, despite differences and cultural diversity.

I have felt completely overwhelmed with emotions, sadness, anger when Jo Cox was violently murdered, because she tried to promote democratic values and convey messages of compassion, respect for one and another, and many others. Watching the news from a distant land, this message of anger was reinforced, for me, not only by a violent murder, but also by some aggressive behaviours from supporters at the Euro football games. I am not comparing both incidents here at all, but feeling sadness and frustrations, complete despair, at those trying to convey a message without respect, listening skills, communication and mediation. I felt the same last Summer when some actions were taken to send dogs, more military support and erection of fences during the immigration crisis, without engaging in some mediation, compassion, communication. There may be global fears about terrorism which impact on people’s perceptions of immigrants. How can the immigration debate be improved? How can we engage in healthy debates about controlling immigration without being rejectionist? How can we ensure that immigrants feel safe and secure wherever they live?

I fear that Britain may become even more isolated in its relationship with Europe and the world. There was already a sense of hardship and difficulties. For example, in all the semi-rural areas I lived, children in schools often felt there was no need to learn another language, or lacked awareness about other countries and cultures. I also fear division, division between those experiencing cultural diversity or not, division between different parts of the country. How do we teach openness to other cultures? How do we increase mutual respect for other cultures? How will children learn the need to appropriately communicate with someone from another culture? How do we teach the importance of multiculturalism and inclusion? How do we ensure that migrants are fully included, communicate, have a sense of belonging to their adoptive country? How can people live united and happily?

There is a view that migration will stop, if not in the EU. The thing is that migration from EU countries is minimal compared to the migration from other countries. Opting out of the EU is one way to prevent migration numbers. The other thing is that as soon as immigration is mentioned, many start inflating it to rejection, sending people back, not protecting the most vulnerable, not welcoming asylum seekers. The other problem is that immigration policies have to take into account historical relationships, not only an EU, but also Commonwealth populations and political refugees. Could there a point system like Canada and Australia? It would have to be contextualised to a UK context. There are a number of visas and ways that immigrants can move globally and in and out of the UK, not just on visas based on a point system. Yes it is a small territory for a dense population, but it is also a country who has always wanted to be economically strong and a leader of the world. These aspirations cannot be achieved alone, Britain has always had many partners. At the same time, Britain has always been very strong in wanting to maintain its traditions. Can both be maintained equally?

Leaders’ discourses regarding a diverse society has always referred to the importance of promoting ‘tolerance’. I always found the term ‘tolerance’ as an interesting choice. Yes tolerance may represent the ability to tolerate others’ opinions, but it also represents a form of negative connotation that refers to enduring adverse circumstances and reactions. ‘Tolerate’ refers to ‘putting up with’; ‘enduring’, refers to a situation being ‘hard’, ‘difficult’, ‘having problems’, ‘fighting against’. This discourse does not necessarily refer to ‘embracing others’ opinions’, ‘listening’, ‘respecting’, ‘communicating’. Although I have lived in Australia for only a few months, and still lots to learn about culture and politics, I have enjoyed hearing politicians talk about the need to promote ‘mutual respect’ as a discourse reinforcing the importance of a diverse society.

What do I say to my children?

Initially, I was like ‘why should I be so sad, I am not even British’. I never applied for the citizenship. I always felt that travelling on my Canadian passport was absolutely fine. I had permanent residency which allowed me to work and vote. One of the major factor which may have made me apply for a British passport would have been to be able to have opportunities in Europe, perhaps live and work in France or Belgium. With a Canadian passport, although there are some partnerships, these are not as strong as the ones the EU provided, it is not easy to move from one country to another without a free movement policy. It is a gift of life to be able to give children cultural and global opportunities, just as it was an amazing gift to be able to experience free movements between European countries. By leaving the EU, will these opportunities be the same? What will our children say in 20 years time when they say I would have liked to go to Paris to study, or would have liked to travel around Europe but becomes more complicated and costly?

During our travels, the children loved meeting new people, loved seeing new cities, exploring new cultures, routines, rituals. We visited many sites. Inspired by some sites and cities, our oldest expressed that he wanted to go to University in Copenhagen. University fees are likely to be at an international student rate, very very high. Fees in the UK are already very high. How can we ensure that our children continue to be able to experience diverse experiences? How can we protect our children’s future and opportunities?

We have a number of friends from different countries, European friends living in the UK. We embrace, as a family, different cultures. How can these cultural exchanges be welcomed in the future? To what extent will the UK embrace diversity? How can we ensure that our children feel their own diversity is understood and respected?

UK achieving independence, wanting to take control?

UK was always independent. It is a country in its own right. Did people vote to express years of dissatisfaction with austerity? People have recognised a need for change, have they opted for the immigration and EU as ways to initiate this change? Yes there is probably a need to restructure politics to ensure that politicians really represent their constituents’ views, but are immigration and EU the real issues?

The other major point to bear in mind is that European elections and decisions about MEP representatives have always been totally and utterly unnoticeable in the UK, except for immigration issues which have been talked about more predominantly by one party, a party who had a number of MEPs in Brussels. Interestingly, Australia has a system where voting is compulsory. What was the quality of representation at the EU Parliament, a representation able to fully embrace all issues, able to engage in healthy debates, there and back in the UK?

There seems to be a surge of involvement in politics since the debate. Why were people so disaffected in recent years, but are engaged now? My husband stood up as a local councillor. He lost the last election to an extreme right party candidate who never attended a meeting and then resigned based on saying he did not feel he had the power to change the system. Why parties found it difficult to recruit new councillors, new candidates for elections? How can the public engage in debates close to them on a regular basis, all the time? How can they be engaged in meaningful political debates, debates that are healthy and respectful? How can we teach respectful debating in schools and political involvement and engagement as essentials to being a responsible citizen?

It’s a Democracy

Democracy comes from Greek, demo (people) and cracy (power, rule) and refers to a system of government in which all people of a state are involved in making decisions by voting, generally for electing representatives. Democracy also refers to the active participation of the people as opposed to aristocracy which refers to the rule of elite. One main characteristic refers to the majority rule with the importance of having protection for minority groups to ensure their views are represented through different processes such as petitions and other processes (Definition based on basic Google searches).

My questions here would be: Who led the referendum debates? Elite or the people? Were the people able to fully understand points made by the leaders of the debates? Many have now explained how they regret their vote.

Living in a democracy also refers to listening and protecting minority views. European citizens residing (for many years) in the UK were not allowed to vote. Isn’t democracy to be part of a debate, listen to others, present respectful and healthy debates on both sides and give the right to vote to all involved.

I have spoken to people in Australia and have been in touch with friends from Canada who were not aware of this debate. Did the debates involve international partners who may be affected by a decision to leave? Britain with its history has a huge impact at an international level, issues were also related to global matters. Were these fully debated and discussed with all involved?

So what’s next, what about the future?

‘Get over it and move on’

I find that particularly difficult to accept. By engaging in a debate and voting, people also accepted to continue the debate, continue to discuss ways to shape and plan for the future. A vote Leave now brings division as both Northern Ireland and Scotland voted decisively to remain in the EU, where does that leave them?

People say they are fed up with political posts, news, etc. Uncertainty and difficult times need communication and togetherness despite adversity, not a withdrawal from the discussions and debates.

In the meantime, I will have to tell my children that opportunities for them within an EU system are slightly slim; University in Copenhagen is a distant dream; A society, with a very small majority, has decided that cultural experiences and future opportunities may be more difficult and costly; They may grow up as British citizens, but their diversity may not be fully understood and accepted; They may have to fight to regain some privileges they enjoyed. Will Europe ever be a future opportunity, is Australia the right choice at present and for the future?

Am I being pessimistic? No. I am trying to identify future steps, where work needs to be done to rally people in debates of the society, think about the future, think about where we go from here, where changes need to take place, ensure people understand the difficult times ahead and the need to engage in debates, ensure that we are involved all together in healthy discussions, but with direction encompassing future solutions. I am trying to explain how I feel so people understand my devastation and are then able to be empathic in initiating debates and are aware of these deep rooted feelings that may explain behaviours. We live in a democracy so this is where people can define positive discourses and show that debates and discussions can take place with sensitivity, mutual respect and a sense of future. Not all may have the words, the courage or even the reflective insight into fully exposing their feelings, articulating some arguments and ideas for the future.

Socialisation vs Isolation: Survival Tips

I have lived in different places and countries over the years. As you move around, socialisation becomes a very important part to settling and promoting a positive adaptation. It is a sign that you know people, can relate to one and other and feel that you belong to the community. I remember feeling very anonymous in a number of places I lived. I never disliked it because I just got on with what I had to do. After a few months, you start bumping into people and it is then you realise how it is great to meet and connect with people, bumping into someone somewhat feels a joyful and happy experience, like if it was a party! Socialisation becomes crucial when your husband/partner is the one that goes out to work, and potentially abroad too, as you are the one initiating contact with a number of agencies, systems, and you can also spend days without having a ‘proper’ adult conversation. Socialisation becomes an important part of your own well-being.

Having children also brings another dimension to socialisation. It becomes easier to meet someone or initiate a conversation over a dropped toy in a shop, for example. They are great at initiating conversations with strangers or asking for someone to come back home to play. When children start school, you then become part of a system which may have some ways to promote socialisation between parents such as special events, social and fundraising activities. During the years I lived in Scotland with no children, I felt so much lonelier than after having children. Now that my two oldest are a bit older, they are also great company, we can chat about different experiences, they initiate conversation everywhere too and build relationships with lots of different children in various clubs and at school.

Why is socialisation important to adults and children?

Schaffer (1996) explains that socialisation refers to processes which include standards that are passed from generation to generation and that it is during childhood that these standards are acquired and eventually adopted by children as their own. He goes on to explain that children cannot necessarily master the abstract concept of morality which is part of socialisation and therefore learn through different milestones social standards and norms such as eating with a fork, sharing toys, being kind to a younger child. Schaffer (1996) mentions that socialisation is a process which mainly takes place in families through the agency of parents. He also explains that the aim of this process is for children to learn acceptable behaviour patterns specific to a society and cultural norms through family life.

In addition, customs, values, ideologies, habits of a society are learnt through this process and needed for participating in their own society. To be a functioning member of society, these norms and skills need to be acquired. This process is also considered to be a lifelong process as, for different reasons, this learning process may well continue into adulthood. One particular reason springs to mind, a society evolves and changes over time as different influences and historic markers bring changes. One significant example in our world today, compared to 20 years, has to be technology. Cultural norms and habits in this respect have completely changed, our children often knowing as much as we do.

As global migrants, the process of socialisation becomes particularly important as it enables the family to discover new rituals, customs and norms within the new society. Parents are then no longer sole agents of this process in trying to transmit norms and behaviour patterns, as parents themselves may not know or understand the cultural norms of the new society. Learning about these then become a family experience, a way to share and learn together about the host country. Other social agents will then become particularly important in supporting the family in adapting to these new cultural norms and behaviour patterns. Some difficulties may present itself when the family becomes isolated and restricted from learning about new cultural norms, values, behaviours.

Survival Tips

Over the years, as you live abroad, you develop strategies to cope with absent family members. I write some tips as to how to meet people, ways I found helpful:

  1. Speak to people locally, shop keepers, estate agents, etc.: they often have a good knowledge of the community. Ask simple and trivial questions about the area, places to visit, places of interest. Visit the local library, churches, tourist information, they often advertise community activities.
  2. Evaluate your interests, talents and passions and find out about local groups where you can meet people who can share these: sewing, painting, antique, golf, cycling, running, etc. Discuss these with people you meet as they may know someone who can connect you with someone else.
  3. Create an opportunity to meet someone: speak to a parent in the park, at the local pool, at the school gate. It is often not easy to break the ice, but it can create some great connections and friendships later. When trying to break the ice, describing the situation often helps to initiate a conversation.
  4. Join a local group/become a member of a club/join sporting activities: the best thing I ever done in terms of socialising was to join a local choir (for the singing too!). It was a great way to socialise and make great friends as you all have a common goal. We have met so many people through different sporting clubs and activities, scouts, playgroups, volunteering activities.
  5. Get involved in a fundraising activity or a community activity: again great was to meet people as everyone is there sharing a common goal.
  6. Offer to help: be attentive to opportunities to help either in a group or just in a one-off activity. As you are helping, it becomes perhaps easier to communicate with people and break the ice, again there is a common goal.
  7. Accept an invite: accept invitations, even if it is just for something very trivial. You never know when you will be in a situation where you then a person who becomes your best friend, or has connections to your field of work, or knows someone who knows someone, etc.
  8. Children: children are great at making friends. They often come back home with a number of a friend they have met at school, asking if they could go and play at the weekend or after school. If your child is younger, you can always ask your child, who did you play with today and ask the teacher to put your number in their bag, and then invite the parent/child after school for tea/coffee/cakes, or to meet at the park/beach at the weekend. We have made great friends with people who have put their name and number in our child’s bag.
  9. Invite people over: we have often had evenings/BBQs with lots of people, mixing friends, neighbours and colleagues. It is a great way to build a sense of community around you and feeling you belong. We have never had family around us so friends, neighbours and colleagues have always been very important to us. Create an event for a special celebration, ‘6 month being in the country’ party, a national day (Burns night, Quebec day, etc.), colleagues’ evening, games evening, swimming pool party, BBQ at the beach, Christmas Eve, a dinner, birthday or a thank you party. Ask everyone to bring a plate of food to share. Ask everyone to bring along a friend. Sharing food and drinks is always a great way to meet people. Parties for birthdays are great to socialise with people you may not know, invite parents for a drink when they pick up their child from the party, or invite the parents to the party too (for support and social!). It creates a great sense of belonging and community.
  10. Use technology and join local groups on social media sites. It becomes a great way to ask questions, get to know what’s on, special events, people’s interests, etc.

I really like socialising and meeting new people and maintain relationships with friends. As my husband worked abroad a lot, there were issues, particularly when the children were younger, with me having some special activities that are regular where I could commit. It becomes then important to build a social and support network around you so that you are able to socialise, either people coming to you because it is tricky to go out in the evenings when children are in bed and you are at home alone, or to have a babysitter so you can go out for some activities that are important to you. All the top tips above will help in creating this very important social network.

Although I really like meeting people, I also feel that I need my solitude, time to think, space to be. I have learnt to be alone, enjoy my own company, pursuing my own interests. It then becomes important to balance the social and solitary times. I sometimes could go on for days without meeting someone, just reading, writing, thinking, doing chores, meeting the needs of my family. I suppose when days like these take place for more than 2 or 3 days, I then push myself to go out, arrange to meet someone, go places. It is better to prevent the feeling of isolation than getting to the point where you feel isolated and finding it hard to find socialisation activities. Preventing isolation becomes particularly important as feelings of homesickness, missing great friends and the family can have a huge impact on your experiences of the new country. Keeping busy and socialising certainly help to overcome these feelings.

If you do all of the above, you will have a pretty busy diary, and you may need to choose between some activities and feel you can’t do it all!

Schaffer (1996). Social Development. Blackwell Publishing: Malden, MA; Oxford, UK; Carlton, AU.

Educational Settings Supporting Global Families: How to help?

In the last few months, we have had lots of adventures adapting to three different educational settings. We have been welcomed everywhere and found our way around these systems. I am writing some key points here to raise awareness about global families entering completely new educational settings.

What to bear in mind?

  • Culture, language, previous experiences can be completely different to those adopted in the educational setting.
  • Families may have limited furniture, may be sleeping on camping mats.
  • Families may have limited toys and outdoor equipment, such as bikes.
  • Families may not have access to phones, computers, television. There may be a delay until phones are purchased.
  • Families may have difficulties sorting out some things in the house. For example, we have been asked to print so many documents, but we were waiting for our printer in the container, but we have now found out that the ink cannot be replaced here. Families may not have in the house all of the commodities one would consider as essential or ‘normal’.
  • Families may miss their previous life or not. Families may have to deal with some emotional goodbyes, difficult or positive experiences in the home country.
  • Children may want to be there. Children may be reluctant to be in a new country.
  • Families may have to communicate with their friends and families abroad late in the evening or early in the morning.
  • Families may not know what to do for special events, may not know if it is open to parents, grandparents, toddlers.
  • Families may not be aware of the school calendar typical activities such as reporting systems. Parents may have experienced completely different educational systems themselves so they may not know the natural occurrences of term dates, reporting systems, meet the parent evenings, seasonal activities, holidays, etc.
  • Families may need to learn about seasonal activities being different from the country of origin.
  • Families may be cautious, anxious or scared of being in the country or visiting the educational setting. Families may be excited, keen, eager for children to start school.
  • Families may not know informal and unwritten rules present in the school system.
  • Families may not have all necessary paperwork with them. It may be in a container, lost or in the previous country.
  • Families are sorting out a huge amount of paperwork all at the same time. They may not have all of the information required for standard forms.
  • Families will most often enter a new cultural and educational system at a different time from all other families.
  • Families may not speak the majority language at home or may have difficulties in communicating verbally.

It is evident from all of these points that families are experiencing a significant transition…

Transitions as a rite of passage and mutual accomodation

It may be particularly important to remember that entering a new system can be quite daunting, full of the unknown with potential challenges and opportunities. Many authors explore the definition of transitions. I chose the following two for their meanings in relation to our experiences.

Transition is defined as a ‘rite of passage’ which is a celebration of the passage which occurs when an individual leaves one group to enter another. It involves a significant change of status in society. From the French language, it also refers to all the attitudes, rituals, routines, that the newcomer to the new group has to adopt to become part of the group. It implies that the newcomer will become part of the group when he becomes ‘competent’ with knowing rules, routines, attitudes in the group. There a number of ceremonies celebrated in many cultures and groups to welcome a newcomer who has passed its ‘probation’, to name a few, a scouting promise, certificate in assembly as a welcoming gesture, a graduation, a probation. More and more, it has been acknowledged that it is not just the newcomer, in this case, a child starting a new school, but all the family that enters this new system. All the family has to learn about new rituals, routines, timetables as all of these have an impact on the family life.

Indeed, a child alone cannot be the full responsible for a positive adaptation to an educational setting. Bronfenbrenner (1979) writes ‘an ecological transition occurs whenever a person’s position in the ecological environment is altered as the result of a change in a role, setting, or both’ (p.26). He later explains that transitions represent great examples of the process of mutual accomodation between the person and the environment. In other words, Bronfenbrenner refers to the child at the centre of the new educational setting as in full interaction with the new environment, as well as its own family, siblings, home culture, and considers a transition as an accomodation process where a child and the environment will interact and get to know each other, as well as taking into consideration all of the family and siblings supporting the child in another environment, the family.

I think these two definitions give lots of food for thoughts to educational settings when welcoming global families. Practical ideas to support this significant transition are outlined below. There may be a number of ways to support global families. I write key points below based on our experiences.

What can educational settings do to help?

  • Allocate a member of staff who will welcome the family, listen to their story and welcome them in the setting. Be curious, learn about their journey/story, accept the differences, embrace this cultural diversity. It may be completely different to your own. Take the time to learn about a new family entering the system.
  • Ensure that the family is handed a handbook explaining routines, rituals, and rules in the system. Be curious, routines may be different at home, routines may have been completely different in the previous educational setting. Be clear about routines, visits, entry points.
  • Ensure that you explain policies, financial matters and compulsory key points very clearly with written support, such as payment policies, bus fares, attendance and holidays policies, etc. Allow the families to pay for fees over a period of time as they may experience an influx of bills all at once.
  • Allow the family on their first or second visit to complete all enrolment documents, printed by the educational setting. It can take a long time to complete all documents. Provide a comfortable space, offer a drink.
  • Ensure that rules with uniform and stationary are clear so that families purchase the right clothes/equipment. A written list is a must to avoid any difficulties with language barriers. Allow the families to purchase the necessary uniform items quickly and buying remaining items at a later date to avoid huge costs all at once.
  • Ensure that educational and social calendars are shared with the family. If special activities are planned such as a camp, a day out, etc., ensure families are given plenty of notice as they may not have all of the equipment needed and may need to borrow or purchase.
  • Keep the communication open by different means of contact, preferred ones to the family.
  • Ensure that all unwritten and informal rules are openly discussed and shared. Unwritten and informal rules can be obvious to people who experience the system every day, but very confusing for new families, especially when they have experienced completely different educational systems.
  • Encourage a culture which promotes socialisation and support for the children and the parents such as a buddy system, classroom parent representative. A named person the family can ask questions to when in doubt can also be a good way to feel that ‘no questions are stupid’.
  • Ensure that the family is given details of any social media sites or websites that the school has and share information there.
  • Ensure that social events are well advertised so that families feel included and can participate. When advertising special activities, ensure that clear guidelines are given to families: use this entrance, so and so welcome, etc. If there is a special event organised where extended family members are invited, treat this sensitively with children of global families as family members will not be close by. Children of global families could be invited to contribute in a different way: bringing a picture, an object representing the family member, bring a quick video.
  • Ensure that the system embraces cultural diversity, not just by having some ‘welcome’ signs in different languages in the entrance, but by people being able to share this cultural diversity, staff being curious about different cultural stories and aware of cultural diversity. An international day/special events where parents are invited to bring a dish from their country or talk to children about their culture/country can encourage this exchange. Promote discussions about cultural diversity with the children. Other ways to promote cultural diversity could be by having different maps on walls, clocks indicating the time in different countries, flags of countries represented by children, parents and staff.
  • It may be helpful to write a transition policy for global families so that all of the above is rigorously followed, particularly as global families may start at the educational setting at a different point in the academic year.
  • Be kind, helpful, empathic and considerate; assume the families don’t know anything about the system.

Families are having to sort out a lot all at the same time, give the families time to adapt to new system by being supportive, amicable and positive! It will make such a difference!

 

Bronfenbrenner (1979). The Ecology of Human Development. Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA & London, UK.

Van Gennep, Arnold (1909). Les rites de passage (in French). Paris: Émile Nourry.

Don’t know how and where I will die, in the meantime I enjoy where I am…

Listening to Pierre Lapointe tonight, a more morose and philosophical me arose…

‘Where and how will I die’ has become a theme that has hit me in recent years. I was in my early twenties when I ‘moved’ abroad, I never thought about living in a different country and having to die there. I was young, free, full of aspirations and dreams, not thinking about family members dying or dying…

Recently, I faced loss of significant people in my life. I started to ask myself where and how will I die…not necessarily imminent, but a pertinent question as you never know, pertinent for specific arrangements for a will and children…I always imagined dying in a place I love, in a chalet, in the woods around a Canadian lake, with people around I love, somewhere I have lived for a long time where my children and family can connect and relate to.

When you live abroad, this ‘type of dream’ and the technicalities of it all become somewhat overwhelming and full of challenges: ‘how do you learn about someone’s passing when you live abroad’, ‘ who tells you, how do you find out, do you get to know’, ‘how can I support family and friends of ‘a home country’ person who dies, ‘how can I be part of a community I grew up in when someone dies’, ‘when and how should I be close and travel’, ‘what about my children if I die or my husband dies, both of us die’, ‘who will take care of them’, ‘who will be able to give them the full cultural diversity and heritage’, ‘where will they be’, ‘where should I rest’, ‘who will be close enough to be present on the day, for my children, for my husband’, ‘what about furniture, souvenirs, memories, how are these kept miles away’, ‘where should I be buried so that my children have a place to grieve and have some closure, which country should that be in’…and many other questions. Significant questions as there are so many technicalities and logistics to ‘dying’…when you lose someone close, you realise these technicalities even more…

Having lived abroad for a long time, all of these questions made me realise that you only live once; you can plan it all, have it all laid in a will, but it will not work out the way you planned. People will travel if they can, people will give their best wishes wherever they are…yes it would be good to be present. I have been sincerely touched by friends and family who were there on such days. A gesture, a thought, a card, are also meaningful…you never know how you can touch someone by a written message, a bunch of flowers, an email, etc. Does it really have to be on the day? Grief and loss is not a one day experience, it is there with you to stay…there are many ways to express grief and loss over time…

As to where and when will I die…don’t know…does it really matter? I am here to live…and try to enjoy life to the max…in the meantime, I enjoy where I am…I am sure the children will find a place to remember me when it comes…and who knows how it will come…and where I will be…I have started to like the idea of having my ashes thrown at sea, whatever sea, close to a lighthouse. A lighthouse is a meaningful symbol as it represents a guide and lightened path through adversity, a path that I know my husband is working hard at developing. Even the children refer to Papa has having his permanent office in a lighthouse! Will it be what I want to happen in the end, don’t know, this is where we are at the moment…but I can be reassured that if something was going to happen I would have a meaningful plan laid out…not for me as I will be dead, but for everyone else around, who may need comfort and closure…after questioning and experience of loss, being abroad can also bring an interesting sense of calm to it all…

 

 

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!

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/