These past few months found me preparing for the Families in Global Transition Conference. I was to deliver a short speech – set to twenty slides that shift every twenty seconds. It’s been described as, “Say it in six minutes and forty seconds with exquisitely matched words and images, then sit the heck down!”
This concept is a complete departure for someone like me who, as a former tour guide, is given to elaborating, meandering and drawing out a story like a languorously painted mural. Challenged not only by brevity but by the need to memorize my impactful six minutes and forty seconds, I was in new territory.
Two Tokyo based architects are credited with this mode of communication which endeavours to convey a message not just succinctly, but also poignantly. Their innovation, dubbed pecha-kucha ペチャクチャ, means ‘chatter’ or ‘chit-chat’ in Japanese. However this translation is rather misleading. Chit chat usually implies an unrehearsed and natural exchange, but as I’ve recently discovered, pecha-kucha is anything but this.
I was one of six delegates at the recent FIGT Conference tasked with delivering this precise format. Before traveling to The Hague from our various parts of the world, we each embarked upon days of preparation – writing the narrative, selecting slides, rehearsing tone, rhythm, injecting meaning and emotion, honing and memorizing. I hadn’t appreciated that something so brief could have demanded such commitment.
I recall sitting in a coffee shop in my hometown of Kimberley, the ski hill my backdrop, the deadline looming. My thoughts were crystal clear as the idea had percolated for months, yet I had no idea how to combine eloquence with economy to finesse everything into just under seven minutes.
For me, opportunities such as the FIGT Conference are a cause for pause and for celebration. The four day gathering is a meeting of people discussing, disseminating, listening, learning and sharing – then taking these ideas back to our global community.
Those of us who move from county to country settling our families with seeming ease and confidence, in reality face myriad complex issues. The conference is a yearly gathering, our forum to revisit and resolve those challenges in the embrace of friends – old and new.
We discuss essential matters such as Third Culture Kids (children raised in cultures different from their parents) and their transitions, identity and professional challenges. We talk of dealing with family issues from afar, educational challenges and a host of other topics. Yet along with these weighty matters, I wanted to celebrate the joy and abundance this life on distant shores offers.
And so the stage was set in The Hague. We had rehearsed, cued our slides – even selected our preferred microphone – the time had come to translate hours of preparation into an impactful six minutes and forty seconds. We had become our own little tribe of support and encouragement. “The audience is great, you’ll be fine once you’re on the stage”, each speaker rallied as they came ‘backstage’ to the sound of applause, a look of pride and elation etched on relieved faces.
Maryam Afnan Ahmad enlightened and inspired on the experiences and the ‘why and how of Muslim
expatriates’. Lisa Travella-Murawsky spoke to ‘the power of team sports to create a diverse tribe’. The audience heard of how a vibrant TCK English teacher, Megan Norton, ‘created a globally local network in a Hungarian village’. Maria Lombart’s poignant ‘perspective of childhood losses, TCK’s and identity development’ was a reminder of the strength and resilience it takes to transition from an upbringing in a distant land. Janneke Muyselaar-Jellema spoke of her heartfelt journey from a life in Africa to home in the Netherlands; ‘how to find your voice, your tribe and other voices through blogging’.
For myself? I shared my journey from self-doubt and longing for meaning, to this abundant and fulfilled time in my life. And I was humbled by the reactions. My presentation seemed to trigger thoughts of creativity, provide catharsis and forgiveness for times in one’s life which might have been more productive. To my great joy, I’m told that it inspired.
FIGT has that impact on people; it elicits conversations and narratives, inspires and questions, heals and reassures. It fosters connections and communities, forges friendships and kindredness. I hope you’ll think of joining us at next year’s conference – you’ll be welcomed into the warmth and wisdom of this global community.
But for now, may I offer just a bit of ‘chit chat’…
Finding Joy and Abundance as an Expat – Planning your Fulfilled Life Abroad and Building Your Tribe.
It is just one story…of self doubt and longing, of joy and passion, of fulfilment and possibilities. It is my journey.
How I dreaded hearing it, “find your passion” you have all the time in the world. Find something that will bring you joy. And except for raising three busy sons…I had time.
A stamp in my passport while living in the U.S. for 6 years reminded me…not allowed to work. I volunteered, I took some courses, I even worked ‘under the table’ in interior design.
I did what we expats know how to do. I settled my family in yet another country and got on with it. Yet by year 5, I questioned my identity, my purpose, and yearned for fulfillment.
I had taught English in Japan, Qatar and Oman. I had made a difference in people’s lives.
I now had an overwhelming sense of under achievement and felt that time was slipping away. And then I heard…our next posting is Norway. I was overjoyed.
But before I could move forward, I had to forgive myself for lost time, for what I hadn’t done. And I vowed to treat the next country as an opportunity for growth, a place perhaps to find that elusive passion.
As the endless rain and the autumn winds welcomed us to Norway, our lively
household dwindled from five to three. And for months, I surrendered to the adjustment and the heartache, of two children an ocean away.
The sad reality was, only I could rescue myself. It was time for resolve, time to move forward. Time to embrace new opportunities and weave a different path which is often easier in a new country. Time to re-set, to re-create, to move out of my comfort zone.
I took stock of my strengths and my shortcomings…hopeless with numbers and technology. Yet intensely curious about cultures, research and passionate about history.
As important as it had been to me, I declined to teach as I had in other countries. I believed there would be a new opportunity and if I reverted to what I knew, I would not be in a position for this new country to infuse and inspire with its beauty and uniqueness.
And it did! I studied and became a tour guide and admittedly a bit of a crazed Viking expert. Weaving historical narratives that entertained and enlightened, I met and worked with from people from around the world; I simply loved it.
Yet the narratives were ephemeral and sailed away with passengers that had heard them. But now without a doubt, I knew history and culture were my passion.
Travel diaries lined my shelves and hinted at the future. A borrowed book led me to a writer’s retreat, in Tuscany, led by Jo Parfitt.
Serendipity is not luck, it is the art of placing oneself in new situations which might just bear fruit, revealing something new about yourself. For me that was Tuscany.
Was it frightening and challenging…yes
Instructive and inspiring…yes again
I had taken a chance, found my voice and the belief that just perhaps, I could share my passions through my writing.
But the path wouldn’t be quite that easy.
We departed my beloved Norway and soon called the soviet-style streets of Kazakhstan home. And we became empty-nesters.
Without a school network to ground you and with a yearning for your children to completely unsettle you, you must learn to live with the new reality.
And I believe to be what is truly important….it is essential to ready yourself for daily life without your children. Embrace your uniqueness, your talents and thrive.
And I did…I became a writer! My passions now conveyed in my blog, endeavouring to inform, entertain, inspire and make the world a smaller place.
In Kazakhstan we found ourselves living in a hotel suite, the Caspian my backdrop, a world of time before me.
My writing flourished, I travelled more, I jaunted off to another writer’s retreat, FIGT was now marked on my calendar. Take advantage of what more time allows…
As a fellow empty nester recently mused at a cafe in Singapore, “What is there not to like? I have a beautifully structured day with endless possibilities. And I can have a gin tonic at 5:00 o’clock with impunity!”
She is in my ‘tribe’, we were writers at FIGT 3 years ago. A reminder that your tribe will grow effortlessly and beautifully, as you journey on a path with like-minded people.
I now live in India, country number nine. A place easy to succumb to the travails of expat life….the pollution, the chaos of the roads, the distance from family in Canada.
Yet on most days I choose to be joyful; to embrace the colour, the culture, the mysteries of India.
These are the joys: of discovery, of evolving, of fulfillment in whatever that may be for you. Happily for me, it is having collaborated on a book this past year…it seems I’m an author.
I recall something my husband said, on one of those despairing days in Houston. “Imagine how great it will be when you’re part of a group who shares the same interests and dreams..”
He didn’t use the word tribe…but that is indeed what has transpired.
Perhaps my most read blog… a ‘trailing spouse’ sums it up best.
Checking in at the airport to return to Kazakhstan, an agent said, ”That’s a fine set of luggage Ms. Wilson.”
I chuckled a thank you, what was I really thinking? There’s more in there than you’ll ever know. My resilience, my wanderlust, my talents, my joy.
Photos of my precious family and my partner that I’m more than willing to accompany anywhere in this beautiful world.
My tribe, I’ll find them scattered here and there.
So there is never truly ‘wasted time’ if we grow from it.
I would not change those six years in Houston, I realize now it was a crucial part of my path. And the abundance in my life now is that much more meaningful.
A lesson perhaps, it is not just the destination that should bring us joy…it is indeed the entire journey.
- Now you know how it’s done. I challenge educators to encourage their students to explore this format. They’ll walk away having delivered a message in a structured, engaging method and I believe they’ll feel as I now do…of enrichment, growth and immense satisfaction from the experience.