In any doubt, don’t give up, be resilient, learn to ride the storms!

There are some challenges that are more significant than others when you move abroad. Technicalities and logistics tend to sort itself out with some creativity, problem-solving skills, communication and, often, just with pure physical hard work (like shifting boxes!). There are some challenges that are not easily solved and take more time and determination to come to a solution. Don’t give up, be resilient!

What does being resilient mean?

There are many definitions of resilience, but one more common is that ‘competence and success despite severe and prolonged adversity and disadvantage’ (Luthar, et al. 2000). Fonagy, Steele, Steele, Higgit and Target (1994) define resilience as normal development under difficult conditions. Resilience comes from the medical model of pathology and illness. Researchers started to be particularly interested in individuals who were doing well, developing all milestones, despite living difficult adverse circumstances. It led researchers to think of studying more particularly the positive skills and assets of these individuals rather than studying the negative aspects such as symptoms and illnesses. Resilience is therefore an area of positive psychology focusing on studying strengths, skills, assets of individuals demonstrating competence and success despite setbacks, disadvantages and difficulties.

Luther et al. (2000) explain that resilience is a dynamic developmental process where the exposure to substantial adversity is presupposed. Should we presuppose the presence of adversity, what is meant by adversity?

Wright and Masten (2006) define adversity as ‘environmental conditions that interfere with or threaten the accomplishment of age-appropriate developmental tasks such as poverty, child maltreatment and community violence’ and risk as ‘an elevated probability of an undesirable outcome such as the odds of developing schizophrenia being higher in groups of people who have a biological parent with this disorder’ (p.19). Research has identified a number of different factors within children’s lives that place them ‘at-risk’ from, or vulnerable to, restricted life outcomes such as problem behaviours, mental health difficulties, and educational failure or disadvantage (Armstrong, et al., 2005; Wright & Masten, 2006).

Should we consider moving abroad as adversity?

There is no doubt that migrating presents with a number of challenges and setbacks. Adams & Kirova (2007) write a well detailed book on global migration and challenges associated to education. They explain how migration can be different for many people depending on political, economic and personal circumstances. Different authors present a number of factors that shape children’s and families’ lives when experiencing migration as such a significant transition. Although not a full list, I summarise here a number of these factors:

  • displacement
  • needing to learn in a different language, different culture and system
  • different expectations
  • assimilation
  • adaptation
  • integration to a dominant culture
  • maintaining identity and culture vs belonging in a new culture
  • socialisation
  • segregation
  • discontinuity in education
  • fluency in language of host country impacting on opportunities
  • failing to find opportunities matching education levels
  • maintaining basic necessities when arriving in a new country
  • finding employment
  • process of settlement and establishing a new life pattern
  • prejudice, rejection and racism
  • changes in family dynamics
  • mental health and well-being


As well as experiencing the issues exposed above, global families may face some more day-to-day challenges. You may feel you are making headway, but then there are a number of setbacks. Don’t expect everything to be amazing straight away…you may need to bounce back!

  • You may knock at lots of different doors for help, and many may close…There is so much to sort out all the time: logistics, practical and technical You may have to speak to lots of different people. It can be frustrating and demoralising to be told ‘no, sorry, we can’t help’. It is not easy, it often feels personal, although it may not be, but you can feel that as if it is ‘you’ people can’t help.
  • There is a huge emotional side to moving abroad, living abroad. There may be days where you feel you want to be in your own country and see your friends and family. Children can feel like that too. It can be more intense on special days, special occasions, birthdays, etc. It can be isolating.
  • People may talk to you about different places, concepts, terms that you don’t know anything about so this will also ask a lot of your energy. Expect to feel tired as there is a lot to think in all at once. Talking to lots of different people can be stimulating but also tiring has they may a different accents and ways to express themselves that are unfamiliar. Again, this can take lots of energy to deal with this. Expect the children to be excited and also tired, great combination!
  • Moving to a country where a different language is spoken may also bring some other issues, particularly tiredness is an important factor. I remember when I arrived in Scotland. I needed a nap at 4.00 every day as it was just so exhausting to take all the language in. I found the children on many occasions feeling the same when we visit family In Quebec. It takes them some adaptation initially, they are slightly more silent than usual, excited and tired too. After a few days, they often comment on their first dream in French and they carry on as if they had always been there…
  • I found driving around particularly in the UK initially as I had to drive on the other side of the road, roundabouts and other road signs were all very different from home too so it took a lot of my energy in adapting to driving. Initial drives to the north of Scotland were scary and I felt very anxious. Don’t underestimate these feelings as these can take a lot of energy to recover from. Similarly, in Australia, I found driving around fairly easy as I did not have to adapt to driving on the other side of the road, I had already done that, but I got lost so many times, driving around, trying to find my way. It is also gets very dark when the sun goes down, perhaps not so much street lighting, not sure, and I found driving in the dark tricky, again getting lost, missing a turn. Having children in the car also helps or hinders…They insist on telling me how to drive and where to go which can create some interesting discussions and making me particularly anxious. On the other hand, my oldest has been good at using his or my phone to give us directions. Don’t underestimate how tired driving may make you feel…give yourself some time to find your way before and after…
  • Children may also have some setbacks. It is important to be able to deal with our own challenges as parents as well as supported the children in thinking about them.

When faced with all of these challenges and setbacks, how should we think, what should we do?

The Language of Resilience

The language of resilience focuses on strengths and protection against adversity, setbacks difficulties. It aims to observe a better outcome, a positive change, an amelioration of an individual’s current state. It moves away from looking at deficits, symptoms, illness and maximise talking about possibilities, changes, modifications to foster one’s well-being and positive adaptation. Research suggests that the value of strengths is particularly important as it will encourage insight and perspectives in your life, provide a sense of direction, bring a sense of fulfilment, help achieve one’s goals (Clifton & Anderson, 2001-2002). Studies have shown that schools promoting…

  • caring relationships between pupils and teachers
  • high expectations for pupils to do well through practices that are strength, interest and intrinsic motivation for learning based
  • pupils’ meaningful involvement and responsibility with opportunities to express opinions, make choices and work with one and other

…act as buffers against disadvantage and adversity (Cefai, 2008).

When talking to your children, or to people around you, have a little think…

‘What language do I use when describing an event?’ Do I dwell in talking about difficulties and setbacks or do I talk about strengths, possibilities, changes?’

Yes, perhaps, it is helps to describe the problem to fully understand the situation, but after that initial description of the problem, where does the conversation lead to?

I drew a mind map to illustrate the language of resilience.



What helps?

  • Allow some time to adapt to take in the language and challenges.
  • When overwhelmed with the language, have a nap if you need to, if you can.
  • Ensure you are using language based on resilience, strengths and possibilities. See the mind map above as a tool for reflection.
  • Keep positive and focused on your goals. Be realistic and transparent in setting specific goals. The task of moving and adapting often feels unsurmontable. Make sure that you set some small steps and landmark points and celebrate these. Ensure this vision is shared and that all involved know what you are trying to achieve.
  • Allow your emotions to surface, keep them in check. You can do that by self-monitoring your emotions (Carr, 2004) using a mood diary to monitor causes in your mood: activity helping your mood change, beliefs associated with the mood change and the consequent mood change on a scale of 1 to 10. This may allow to understand better causes for specific emotions, such as homesickness, and activities that can help.
  • When things are tough, recharge the batteries: take a break, allow a special day out, a special treat, explore something new, do something you like doing. Evaluate effective and less effective emotional release. For example, a walk in the woods, physical activities, motivational self-talk (‘come on you can do it’), social interactions, relaxation and music and pleasant distractions (hobbies, shopping) tend to be more effective than direct stress reduction such as alcohol and drugs, avoiding a person or event, passive mood release (TV, coffee, food, sleep) and being alone (Salovey, Mayer & Caruso, 2002). I have to admit that I find this point very important. I have been amazed as to how a regular walk in the woods has made me feel in the last few months. I went shopping in a fruit and vegetable shop last week and bought lots of fresh products. It was a beautiful experience, lots of colours, smells, a very enjoyable and uplifting experience, after a hard week full of difficult news. Finding effective emotional release is definitely a must when moving abroad.
  • Make sure you revisit why you are there in the first place. When we initially discussed moving abroad, we drew some mind maps, pros and cons for the move. We kept these and we refer to them when in doubt. Take the time to reflect on why it is tough, brainstorm around some possible solutions, all solutions being a possibility. You can do this by doing a mind map or talking to your partner and other people. Positive emotions such as enjoyment, happy, playfulness, love affection, warm friendship can enhance resilience and our ability to cope and can enable us to be focused on problem-solving and reflections on negative events, and facilitate our capabilities to bounce back (Frederickson, 2001).
  • Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. Ask for feedback. Open the communication, send reminders by emails when needed. Give another ring, follow up queries. If a door opens, follow that door as it may lead to a possibility and solution. Always say ‘thank you for your help’.
  • Keep the communication with people in a transparent and honest way. Explain your challenges and dilemmas. People will remember your challenges and may think of you if they find an idea or solution.
  • Keep open communication with the children. We have dinner every evening together where we talk about our day. We often have a ‘family meeting’ to discuss plans, next steps. We try to involve the children in our adventures as much as possible, explain to them where we aim to be in the next couple of weeks, what needs to be done, how we will do it, how they will contribute to this, etc. A constant challenge, but worth the result as they feel it is their adventure too.
  • Ensure that in your communications you include the language of resilience so that others (including the children) understand your challenges, but also see how positive you are and how prepared you are in finding a solution.

Adams, L.D. & Kirov (2006). Global Migration and Education. London: Lawrence Elrbaum Associates, Publishers.

Armstrong, M.I., Birnie-Lefcovitch, S. & Ungar, M.T. (2005). Pathways Between Family Support, Family Well-Being, Quality parenting, and Child Resilience: What we Know. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 14 (2), pp. 269-281.

Boniwell, I (2006). Positive Psychology in a Nutshell. Personal Well-Being Centre (PWBC): London.

Carr (2004). Positive Psychology. Hove and New York: Brunner-Routledge.

Cefai, C. (2008). Promoting Resilience in the Classroom. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Clifton & Anderson (2001-2002). StrenthsQuest. The Gallup Organization: Washington.

Dyer, J. G. & McGuinness, T.M. (1996). Resilience: Analysis of the Concept. Archives of Psychiatric Nursing, 10 (5), pp. 276-282.

Fonagy, P., Steele, M. Steele, H., Higgit, A. and Target, M. (1994). The theory and proactive of resilience. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 35(2), pp. 231-257.

Fredericton (2011). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology: The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. American Psychologist, 56, 218-226.

Luthar, S.S., Cicchetti, D. & Becker, B. (2000). The Construct of Resilience: A critical Evaluation and Guidelines for Future Work. Child Development, 71 (3), pp.543-562.

MacAuley, C. & Rose, W. (2010). Child Well-Being: Understanding Children’s Lives. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Salovey, Mayer & Caruso (2002). The positive psychology of emotional intelligence. In Snyder & Lopez (ads), Handbook of Positive Psychology Practice (pp. 159-171). New York: Oxford University Press

Wright, M. & Masten, A.S. (2006). Resilience Processes in Development. In Goldstein, S. & Brooks, R. (Eds.). Handbook of Resilience in Children. New York: Springer Science and Business Media, Inc.


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.