Container is coming: Any Tips?

We have been living with hardly anything for 10 weeks. We have just received a phone call: the container is coming on Thursday. Mixed feelings and a very quick turn around!

We received our container a little while back now but I was reflecting on the day the container turned up and felt that it was a particularly important landmark in the ‘moving abroad’ experience. At the time, I did not think about writing about this, perhaps a bit too busy, trying to manage the storm of the container.

The container topic is full of mixed feelings. We enjoyed living with ‘nothing’. We got settled into some routines with our limited furniture. It felt like a ‘proper’ adventure, borrowing, purchasing needed items. Children loved going shopping and getting a few bits.

All the personal effects and furniture that got packed now had a different purpose in a different country, some were needed and some others not. We were very conscious that the house we are renting was much smaller than our previous house. We had sold, given away a huge amount in the UK, but we were aware that we may need to do the same after the arrival of the container.

We were looking forward to live more comfortably, feeling like at home again. The container coming felt like a landmark as it made the move permanent. It really hammered  down roots…the container is no longer in a different country or at sea…it is here waiting to be dispatched…it makes the experience of moving abroad ‘real’ as the camping and somehow the adventure of arriving in a country with nothing is over.

As well as dealing with all these emotions and mixed feelings, there is a lot to do and sort out…a bit overwhelming…

Thinking back about that day and the weeks that followed. I write here some top tips, giving a taster of what it feels like to receive a container and some ideas I found useful.

  1. What to bear in mind

The movers will be different people to those who packed the container. They will move boxes and put them in the house where they see fit with the help of the labelling on the boxes. This is where it is important that boxes have been well labelled in the previous country, indicating the rooms where they came from. An international move is slightly different to ‘a within country’ move, all boxes need to be numbered and labelled as well as given a brief description on a checklist for custom clearance purposes. That list can then give a sense of what is the boxes and help the movers (and you) in thinking about where these boxes should go. However, movers want to get the job done quickly so they may be particularly attentive to all these descriptions. They are attentive to what is broken though as this may have repercussions on the company for insurance claims, etc.

Initially, the day appeared to go slowly and the movers had asked me to cross reference numbers of all the boxes coming in the house. As time went on, it became clear that I could not do that all day. I was needed in other places. I had my youngest with me as well so he needed my attention too. My husband had gone to work for the morning. I was on my own sorting everything out. As the morning unfolded, I became a little overwhelmed, movers started to work much quickly and the boxes started to pile up everywhere.

As we only knew work colleagues and the container came on a Thursday, we did not feel we could ask for help. We had to be self-reliant. That’s the nature of moving abroad, you may not have family members and friends nearby to help you on such a big day. My husband took a couple of days off and it was a bank holiday weekend so we ha 5 days overall to put the house in a better state.

2. Guided tour of the house and labelling rooms

Remember that all boxes were labelled in the previous house with either names of rooms, names of children, and/or a brief description. I think that is an important feature of moving as when you arrive in the new house, boxes may not go in the same place. You may have made changes to what you want in each room, etc. For the movers picking up briefly labelled boxes this can be confusing so they need a little bit of help.

I gave a guided tour of the house. I described what type of house we had before so they knew what to expect on the labelling. Features of previous house were not existing in our rented house so I had to provide some explanations. For example, I explained that boxes from the basement were going in the garage.

I had labelled all the rooms so that they knew where to put boxes, trying to match it closely to our house in the UK. It got a bit confusing because our old dining room contained a playroom and there was not any room for a playroom in our new house. I suppose it is important that boxes are labelled properly right from the start. I should have checked what movers in the UK labelled the playroom as ‘playroom’ and not ‘dining room’. At the end of the day, it is not hugely crucial, but boxes ended up not being in the right place and a huge amount of boxes had to be shifted after the movers had gone…some work that could have been avoided.

3. Post-it on walls to indicate where furniture is going

Container is coming…’what should I do?’ This was my first reaction. I was not sure what to do. I started thinking about what was coming on the container trying to anticipate the day. It helped to put post-it on walls to indicate where furniture was going to go. It helped me think about how to set the house up and also the movers in being more independent in placing furniture in the right place. The children also helped in thinking where furniture would go and asked for different pieces of furniture in their bedrooms, items they did not have in their rooms before. It helped shape our thinking about setting up our new house.

4. Clear all current furniture and unpack the kitchen first

We had purchased a master bed and borrowed single beds. We needed these to sleep in the night before. Movers arrived at 8am, wanting to start moving things in. We were trying our best to dismantle the beds to give them room. It is difficult to know what movers will unpack first as the container is loaded in a such a way. For example, it has different doors and boxes are put in wooden crates. For us, what was packed last, came in first. Customs will also look at boxes they want to look at. We had a different car coming with the boxes cleared by customs because they could not fit all the boxes back in the container. These boxes got unpacked in a very random way so we did not have any control about what was coming first. We also had asked for a partly unpack service so movers helped building wardrobes back up, build beds, etc. and removing packaging from furniture. I suppose clearing all current furniture and making sure movers have the space to work is important as the day evolves boxes get piled everywhere and space can become a bit of a problem.

Throughout the day, the kitchen remained a hub for drinks, food, etc. for the movers as well as for us. Children came back home from school and wanted to have snacks. I suppose as long as there is food and drinks, people feel their needs are met. It is a long day and when the movers have gone, you want to be able to make sure you can dinner and feed the children. Unpacking the kitchen first and making sure there is a place to have dinner in the house is definitely a must!

5. Keep calm and watch the weather forecast: You cannot unpack everything in one day

As the day evolved, I became a little overwhelmed, not knowing where to start. There is no way that you can unpack at the pace of the movers. I saw my role more about ensuring they had the space to work, unpacking boxes to give them space, managing direction of boxes and making sure people were fed. We unpacked most of the kitchen on the first day, but we intensely unpacked for a few weeks after that.

It takes time to unpack all boxes, in fact, we still have a number of boxes in the garage. The weather has turned colder and it is not as tempting to unpack boxes outside. We also wanted to do a garage sale but we did not have the time to fully organise that before the Winter. In fact, that is an incredibly important point to bear in mind. When moving abroad, get information about the weather and season patterns, you definitely don’t want to be moving at -30 to Canada in the Winter!

I suppose it is important to remember that moving abroad is a process, not everything can be perfect in one day. Being calm and positive will help accepting this process and deal with the different hurdles to jump.


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.

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. (
  • Expat: a person who is voluntarily absent from their home or country (
  • 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

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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