Tag Archives: FIGT

Two book launches… an Indian chai cafe and a tall, Dutch gabled home

Standard

IMG_4562

I write from The Hague on a chilly March morning, just before I travel back to India. The Netherlands is one of the places in the world I most consider home. It is not surprising as I’m half Dutch – our first son was born here and I have visited often with my mother – keeping strong connections with our Dutch family.

And now, another of life’s milestones has unfolded amongst these cobbled streets and gabled homes that I so adore – my first book has been launched!

IMG_4557

The setting was my co-author’s lovely, gezellig home. That Dutch word for cozy, typified the evening of March 7th. With a crackling fire, candles lit and tulips artfully arranged, and gifted, Jo Parfitt and I welcomed our guests. Many were dear friends who we see but once a year at the Families in Global Transition Conference; many having just arrived from the US, from Switzerland, Hong Kong or perhaps Dubai. Others were local friends or some involved in Jo’s mentoring and publishing life. All of them were congratulatory and pleased for us that Monday Morning Emails was ‘hot off the press’… stacks of boxes tucked away in a corner to prove it!

With Jo and I seated before the warmth of the fireplace, I peered out to the crowd of thirty or so people and soaked in the moment. A book launch is the gilded prize, reward for many hours of silent endeavour – the culmination of a dream. For me, it is my first published book and needless to say, I was a little ‘over the moon’.

“Your first book is always the most poignant,” Jo had admitted the day before as she handed the book to me for the first time.” Its silky cover was more lovely than I had hoped. When I thumbed to the back, to my author’s page, I was euphoric.

The evening of the book launch progressed with readings and discussions. Also with my penning many heartfelt messages as I signed copies of the book. And curiously, after all of this, I found myself back at my hotel, sitting cozily and reading a little of our book. Through it all, I was enveloped in sheer contentment and joy. Yet Monday Morning Emails is not always an easy, calm read. It is thought-provoking and truthful, a vulnerable exchange between global mothers. Between the two of us, Jo and I have raised five sons around the world in twelve different countries. We have supported our husbands careers and found our passion in writing, mentoring and publishing. But with that has come myriad issues as the backdrop of our life has changed every three, four, six years, perhaps after only three months!

In May of last year, Jo and I decided to write to each other every Monday. We well knew the power of writing and initially thought our book would be about the empty nest stage and raising global children, especially as each of us had a son who was having a difficult time with depression and anxiety. As we wrote of this, our dialogue also turned towards the loss of identify of children, building homes for ourselves against an ever-changing backdrop, ageing parents, health and wellness, traumatic childhood experiences – the topics tumbled forth. We found that over the six months we migrated organically from subject to subject exploring not only trying times, but also of great joy. We have experienced so much that makes a global life worth living – unique cultural experiences and privileged insights that we forever treasure.

Our accounts are truthful and personal, and we thank our family for understanding our ‘mission’ – to enlighten, to offer solace, to let people know that they are not the only family going through issues. “Mom, I don’t mind if you write my story,” my youngest son said with support. “If it can help someone not go through what I did, or help parents, then I’m happy to do that.”

IMG_4323

That evening of the book launch not only did I think of my family, who happened as is often the case to be scattered to the four winds – in Canada, in India, in Nepal. But I thought of a group of wonderful people that had already helped launch Monday Morning Emails. A few days before I had travelled to The Hague, I had given a two-day writer’s workshop in Mysore, India. Two hours by train southwest of Bangalore, Mysore is a charming small city that I have visited often and it has always felt like home.

As always, I was welcomed with open arms, arms which extended to an invitation to speak at the launch of a ‘Chai Patthe’ book club event. I had mentioned to my husband that indeed it was an honour to be doing this, but thank goodness I hadn’t been asked to be the ‘chief guest’ as I noticed the title on the announcement. Yet as the book club launch unfolded, that is indeed what seemed to happen.

The setting was an older bungalow that had been transformed into a charming Chai cafe. Older repurposed doors dotted the long narrow room, by coincidence coloured in the same hues as our book theme. I felt immediately at home.

The room was full, prompting some guests to listen and peer through the old barred windows of the once cozy bungalow. Seated up front as one of the ‘dignitaries,’ I gave a short speech. I mentioned how book clubs had always played an important role in my overseas life and how I had journeyed from avid reader to now, a published author. Without an actual copy of Monday Morning Emails, I had wrapped a copy of the book cover around a random book – yes pretending it was really the published version! The crowd chuckled when I admitted the truth, that in fact the launch was going to be held the following week in The Hague.

“When is the launch in India?” one of the guests asked eagerly.

“There isn’t one planned,” I admitted, not anticipating what was to come.

“Well,” someone chimed in, “this can be your launch in India. Now, here in Mysore.”

“Yes, in India before anywhere else!” another attendee added proudly.

“Can we? How wonderful,” I think I exclaimed and then proceeded to read the back of the book blurb, just to make it ‘official.” A round of applause erupted. I was asked questions and a lively discussion followed. Yes, just like you might with a true author… it was starting to feel more and more real. It was a magical evening with people who have become friends and wonderfully, many with whom I’ve shared the joy of writing. And so that evening in The Hague was of course our official launch, but how fortunate am I to have had two such poignant events.

IMG_4512Monday Morning Emails is part memoir, part diary, part self-help. The latter part of the book gives way to advice from eight different experts – including counselling, psychology, retirement, career advice and wellness.

The support that we’ve received since the publication of Monday Morning Emails has been heartwarming. It appears to resonate with readers, offering an unvarnished glimpse of a life that often seems so glamorous, yet is played out in the same ordinary tones as life ‘at home’. For this reason, it is also a book for those who don’t live a peripatetic life but live in one place, yet also face many of the same issues.

It is also starting conversations between parents and children, even those who are older and lived an expat life before any dialogue about this unique life was the norm. Many have also shared that it would be a good read for book clubs to discuss, and with that in mind, we are formulating book club questions and a Monday Morning Emails website.

It turns out that writing of the present and reflections of the past, was not only therapeutic, it was a joy to claim our stories. For indeed, our collected stories are narrations of life’s journey, whether they be global or otherwise. And after all, mothers are mothers wherever we may call home.

IMG_4532

My first touch of Monday Morning Emails

 

 

 

 

 

‘I Am’… The Embrace Of A Writer’s Retreat

Standard

IMG_1838

My year has ended in the embrace of a cherished, almost spiritual experience. My husband often chides me and asks if he can switch places as I venture off to a writer’s retreat – this time it was to Penang, Malaysia. I don’t blame him, I know how fortunate I am and it is partly because of the retreat experience that I am, where I am.

At a retreat, it is the inspiration found, the treasured time with kindred spirits who share the love of words and story telling. It is the mutual appreciation of the indulgent cocoon a retreat offers – of putting aside your everyday life and following your creative soul.

‘Retreating’ is five or so days of immersion in something you love to do – or believe that you just might. And of course the long animated dinners, the inspiring ‘field trips’, and the new (and established) friendships are also part of the experience. On the second to last day in Penang, we writers ended an already creative day at the beach, soaking up the beauty and the tranquility. It was just before sunset and we thanked the universe for the fullness of the day. We breathed in the moment and appreciated what we were sharing – never to be repeated and now imprinted forever on our writer’s souls.

IMG_1521

My first retreat in Tuscany also comes to mind. A short train journey to Lucca found four of us venturing no further than the closest piazza where we wined and dined the afternoon away. After all, one of the writers was a famous London based screen writer – you can imagine the stories flowed as easily as the chianti! Oh we were so full of love – for the setting we found ourselves in, for the new-found friendships, for the sheer magic of a time and a place. I’ve written of that retreat in Tuscany and how it was a life- changing experience. Inspiring retreats in Phuket have also contributed to my growth as a writer and I encourage anyone not quite sure of the retreat experience, to go… if possible, make the commitment to this next phase of your writing, to yourself.

Each retreat seems to unfold like a richly, layered novel. As the days pass, writers reveal themselves in the slow flowering of creativity – in the comfort of a safe-zone with your fellow writers. Yes at times we ‘block’, we’re hesitant about the ‘task’, we worry that a piece of work doesn’t ‘measure up’. Yet it’s often these growing pains when we stretch ourselves that improves our writing, and together we produce a beloved body of work. Prose that you are the first to savour at those privileged late afternoon or evening readings. Writings where you are wonderfully transported, then pluck a favourite thought or line for yourself to cherish. Maybe a piece truly moves you and your fellow writer is lavished with encouragement… “This is what you must write, this is your voice, your story!” 

And as you find your own voice and dig a little deeper, your writing becomes more vulnerable and truthful. Perhaps humour comes to you, or even poetry – as it does with me, but only it seems when I’m ‘retreating’. In Penang, a clear inspiration for a new book revealed itself – an inspiration for historical fiction. Having co-authored a coffee table/history book about Penang last year, one of its historical characters gently ‘whispered’ to me as we spent time in the storied Suffolk House… ‘Tell my story, from a woman’s perspective,” she seemed to entreat. It was a sentiment echoed by my fellow writers and I hope to do so… to do justice to the story.

Inevitably a retreat draws to a close and you say your farewells, knowing that somehow this is where you were meant to have been. The words and ideas, the inspiration and the friendships get packed into your suitcase… as carefully as your brimming notebooks.

IMG_1431

Once back home in India, I was thrown immediately into work as I am nearing the completion of my latest book project. With my friend and mentor, Jo Parfitt, we are in the final phase of a book that will be published in March. Monday Morning Emails is the vulnerable and honest account of expat life… the tears, the joys and the tough stuff. Combined, we have created homes for our families in Japan, Dubai, Qatar, Malaysia, Scotland, Canada, Oman, England, Kazakhstan, the US, Norway and India. We have raised five sons globally and supported husbands in the oil/energy business for the past twenty-five years, ish! We’re confident that we have a compelling story to tell and along with Experts who will enlighten on some of the issues, we’re excited about introducing it at the next FIGT.

Yes, I believe none of this would have transpired if I had not ventured to retreats where I’ve found my passion, my confidence, and guidance through Jo Parfitt and Anne O’Connell – and from the writers who have become part of my ‘near and far writer’s circle’.

And of the writing from these retreats? Many pieces have found their way into a blog, an article, a presentation, or even into that upcoming book. Yet there are some pieces that wait quietly in my writing file, hoping to glimpse the light of day. And so why not? Today I thought I’d share a few of those ‘ forgotten darlings’ and one new from Penang… allowing a little sunlight to fall on those pages.

 

Paradise Writers’ Retreat, Phuket. Task: we were handed a piece of salt water taffy to sample and asked to write a short story in thirty minutes…

Salt Water Taffy

“Welcome to Pier 21,” the tour guide boomed. He was gentlemanly and older. Perhaps the same age as my mother who stood beside me on this ‘girl’s trip.’

“Folks before we begin, I’d like to welcome you with a salt water taffy, a treat from Nova Scotia. One for each of you,” the guide said cheerily, proffering them to the group.

The wrapping on the candy looked clean and childlike – the white and blue lighthouse signaling safety. Or was it the unexpected, even danger.

I hesitantly unwrapped the mass of sugar and soy, my lips already puckered in defiance.

“Gawwd, I can’t eat this mom,” I moaned, nibbling off a mouse-like bite under duress. “It’s ghastly!”

I looked at my mom whose jaw was already moving up and down; like a gum boot pulling out of mud, like honey dripping in slow motion.

“I love it,” she managed to mumble while masticating the sticky mass.

“Seriously, I can’t believe it,” I said incredulously. “You don’t like anything sweet, not even chocolate.”

“Annie, it was the first treat given to us when we reached this shore after sailing from Holland. The first bite I ever took on Canadian soil,” Mom said, managing a smile through the stringy taffy. She was already reaching for my wee-nibbled piece.

 

 

Writer’s Retreat at The Watermill Posara, Tuscany. Task: at the local village market, find one person to focus on, write…

Market at Fivizzano

They amble into Piazza Medicea, hands clasped behind hunched backs, they fold easily into the bustle. Bonjourno Signorie, they nod.
Stalls gathered geometrically inside walls of creme, ochre and terracotta,
shutters green, new and cracked, some open, most shut.

Reggiano, porchetto, parmignano like a marble block.
Sausage, salami, puffed like fingers reaching down.
A quick glance at the fish and its lifeless steely eyes, a chop of its head,
efficiently wrapped for lunchtime. Grazie Mille… Prego!

Beans, zolfini and piattellini also don’t entice.
Plump tomatoes, zucchini, and fennel, ignored.
Cheap sandles and belts – distractions.

The bells chime, strangled to some, but marking noon and
the piazza clears, the tourists depart.
Now, finally, at Piccola Cucina their chairs are free.
A Moretti, an espresso? No difference, the conversations begins…

 

 

Paradise Writers’ Retreat, Phuket. Task: trip to the beach, the shade of a palm tree our ‘office’. Write Misbehave and Suffocate, You’re a Beach Bum…

You’re a Beach Bum 

The crash of the waves imitated the rhythm of our love making. And when it happened, my mind crawled out of the suffocating hole this beach has buried me in.

I believe in one-hundred years time, I’ll be referred to as a beach bum. I’m certainly not here by choice.

The sinking of the steamship has marooned us somewhere in Asia, at least the Captain is quite certain of that. Coconuts clump together on tall palm trees, sand as fine as sugar creeps into every pore, and the sun beats down, relentless on our fair skin. At night, the air fills with haunting sounds from the nearby jungle; monkeys and birds and mosquitoes that pester endlessly. I loathe it all.

Seven of us Saloon passengers have survived. We were enroute to the majestic Rocky Mountains of Canada, a passage to mark the turn of the century. With suites booked at the glamorous new CPR Hotels in Banff and Lake Louise, oh how very excited we were!

We had sailed from Australia and the journey had been fine – morning strolls on the deck, afternoon high-tea at promptly 3 p.m, dinner at precisely 7. Oh and the invitation to the Captain’s table… it was beyond refinement and glorious. And all those eligible young bachelors, gone, to the depths of the oceans… and my hopes along with them.

Now we survivours wither in the blazing sun, including Marnie, my cruel and obtuse aunt. Tasked with chaperoning her eligible young niece, she now looks at me with disdain as I release my golden curls from my bejewelled hair pins. She glowers as I push up my bustier and straighten my under-slip. In this savage heat, I’ve long discarded my frilly, cumbersome frock.

Marnie has refused to unclothe herself. Her long flowing dress has frayed at the hem and she’s ever more prude-like as she continuously brushes sand from her tall, straight as a bamboo self. It’s as if the sand is the contagious disease that we’re all likely to succumb to any day now.

I no longer care. Last night’s moonlit rendezvous has changed everything, I want him again tonight. Oh joy indeed, the shackles of modesty and correctness have been truly broken.

 


Me-Treats, Penang. Task: who are you, tell us in verse or poem

I Am…

I am a daughter of a beautiful woman, IMG_1792one of her ‘pride and joys’. And I hold that dear, like a grandmother’s finest crystal. My treasured mother is my touchstone, my heart.

And I am a mother. One who loves and laughs, who cries and listens, who shares so much joy – yet longs for the soft caress of her babys’ touch. A mother of three sons; their love stamped on my unfailing maternal heart.

I am a wife who holds my travel companion’s secrets, his hopes and desires – his well lived yearbooks of life and our life’s treasured past. I turn to him often and whisper, “I never want this to be over.”

I am a true friend who holds friends dear – the laughter, the insights, the secrets… the stories of our lives.

And oh, how I am a traveler – one who has roamed and traversed, soaked in and marvelled at this compelling, glorious world. Its labels are firmly attached to my wanderlust soul – Florence and Oman, Singapore and old Siam, Osaka and Amsterdam, Kathmandu and even old Madras.

Most assuredly, I am a writer and a researcher. Give me the past to unravel, the characters of old to pluck out like fine golden nuggets – to relive their journeys and dreams. Or maybe it is the romance of the Renaissance, the storied sagas of the Vikings, the rich history and minareted sky of pretty Istanbul… all of it, I am.

Lastly, I am the calm and the bluest of oceans, the greenest of rainforests. The vibrant verve of a city – chiseled architecture and sparkling sights, or silk and saffron in packed, lively bazaars. Yet give me the beauty of a flourishing garden to find calm and solace in its gentlest pinks and softest whites – water lilies, fragrant frangipanis and velvety Dutch tulips.

Yes, I am the tapestry of my life – still richly weaving… thread, by thread, by precious thread.

IMG_1570

Post Script – I encourage you to take some time over this holiday season and write… I Am. Take the opportunity to appreciate you, your loves, your passions, the richness of what makes you, you. Once claimed on ‘paper’, it is there for you always.

For me, along with my next project, I am happily joining a few more retreats in 2018, yet I am now also hosting my own workshops. Let’s hope they too will inspire and evolve into retreats… I have a location or two in mind!  

And lastly, I offer many warm wishes, good health and peace for this holiday season and the New Year… fondly, Terry Anne xx

 

 Jo Parfitt’s Me-Treats are held in various locations, Tuscany for Write Your Life Story

 Anne O’Connell’s Paradise Writer’s Retreats are now held in Halifax, Nova Scotia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Snowy Winter Collection…an antique fur & the new year that awaits

Standard

 

DSC02065

‘Doll-like’ buildings in Lubeck, Germany

My winter collection isn’t one of lavish coats and fur-lined boots that protect from the frozen air; it’s more a collection of memories. ‘Doll-like’ European buildings dusted with powder-fine snow, simple wreaths bidding welcome to candle-lit homes, snowshoeing through fairy-tale pines.

IMG_4687

Wreaths bidding welcome

It’s usual for me to be home this time of year, in the mountains of British Columbia. I’m mindful that many of my favourite places, my most cherished memories, are of cold countries where a chilled climate quickens the pulse and deepens the senses. Even as the dream-like scenery fills me with wonderment and exhilaration, I yield to the serenity of wintery landscapes.

In a month or so we depart for warmer climes, to our next overseas posting. With endearing memories of the holiday season, these first weeks in January find me calm and peaceful as I’m surrounded by feathery snow, bluebird skies and stately stands of larch and pines.

DSC01976

Old Stavanger, resplendent after a snowfall

At the turning of the year, WordPress has reminded me of the year passed, of the one-hundred and some countries where my blog was read and of those places that I wandered to in 2015; Kazakhstan, Spain, Malta, Thailand, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Malaysia. Most of those destinations are in fact warmer climates, yet Kazakhstan and Canada indulged my penchant for snow.

DSC01913

An antique fur to warm

In Kazakhstan my recycled fur coat from the ’50’s was donned once or twice, melding with the local fashion to combat deep-freeze temperatures. The coat embraced me as we lingered alongside frozen inlets of the Caspian and trudged through snow-hushed Soviet-style streets. Ironically, that coat is packed in a shipment awaiting the next posting, one in which fur will be as useless as cozy mittens and hefty snow shovels.

IMG_4719

Powder-fine snow in Stavanger, Norway

I find a photo of myself snug in the antique fur in another country that I associate with glorious winter days…Norway.

Old Stavanger was resplendent after a snowfall, its wooden buildings a serene backdrop for shades of ethereal whites, contrasted with sprigs of heather and fresh pine on door stoops.

And of that old Winnipeg fur, ideally it should be here in Canada as I enjoy these last winter days before we transition yet again. Instead, I’m gathering my wardrobe of summery clothes to be shipped along with the things we need to build a new nest; collectibles, furniture and books. All that is important…except for our three sons. At this stage in our lives we live in different countries for much of the year; we’re proud of them and supportive, we’ll miss them dearly.

Our family has been happily ensconced under one roof over the holiday season, the first occasion since this time last year. We’ve seen each other throughout the year at various times and places, but to all gather around our table to dine and linger over conversation that we’ve waited a year to enjoy…well, it’s very cherished.

IMG_1135

Tranquility in British Columbia

20160102_111723

Fairy-tale pines

The season has seen us skiing and snowshoeing, playing games, making merry…being a family. We’ve regaled each other with stories and shared plans for the upcoming year. For me the next four months will be busy and challenging; a mentoring role in Amsterdam at the FIGT Conference and shortly thereafter, a trip to Malaysia to collaborate on a book project.

And not forgetting, the move in February to the ninth country that we will call ‘home’. So it seems my new year is to be filled with inspiring ventures and challenges, and most certainly some interesting travels. I wish my readers near and far, a fulfilling year in all the ways you wish yours to be.

But for now, for a few more precious weeks, amidst the planning and preparations, visas and packing, I’ll embrace the treasure that is winter. My crackling fire will warm me and these comforting walls that have welcomed us safely home, will give strength to embrace the endeavours ahead.

But I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the destination of the impending move…it’s Bangalore. It’s India!

 

I’ll most certainly keep you posted,

Warm regards and a very fulfilling New Year, Terry Anne

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A ‘trailing spouse’…an accompanying partner with ‘a fine set of luggage’

Standard

IMG_1086I unwrapped it expectantly. It had been awaiting my return to Canada, top of the mail pile. I’ve had magazine articles published before, but this is the first time to have articles in a book…Insights and Interviews from the 2014 Families in Global Transition, (FIGT).

In fact my first blog post, written about a year ago, was penned after returning from that conference in Washington. I had been one of the eight writers, tasked with documenting the insightful lectures and talks. Many long hours of writing and editing later, I submitted my work, only now seeing the finished compilation. Of course, it’s a grand feeling.

And it’s timely, as next month we come to the end of our posting in Kazakhstan. This is exactly what FIGT concerns itself with; transitions, culture shock, ‘third culture kids’ (TCK’s), identity loss, and the many issues that families face as we relocate worldwide or even within one’s own country. I feel the usual trepidation, yet excitement as the next move looms. In just over a month or so, I will live in another country, likely a different continent. I will pick up and follow my husband…I am a ‘trailing spouse’.

And yet ‘trailing spouse’ is a term I don’t embrace. It suggests a lack of purpose, identity, lack of choice, which are all true to some extent. This post is dedicated to those of you who, like us, live an international lifestyle or for those contemplating setting off across the seas to explore. For those of you who don’t live the expatriate life, I beg your indulgence to take a little glimpse ‘under the hood’ of the whole thrilling enterprise, yet also into the more mundane and sometimes alarming aspects of this life we hold dear.

sc000855f5

Bitten early by the travel bug

I was bitten early by the travel bug; trips to Europe and then to Thailand confirmed my love of exotic places and an urge to wander. I met a Scottish guy who shared my passion. He rolled into Calgary just before the ’88 Winter Olympics. Our first date was to a travel show about Africa and a year later we were backpacking through Thailand, India, Nepal and China before settling in Japan, and why not? It was a magical time.

We taught English and reveled in the young western ‘Gaijin’ crowd that occupied Osaka and Kyoto. We embraced this lifestyle with open arms just as we embraced each other, got married and started a family…and ventured onto an unknown path.

Our first home was in The Netherlands and we kept going from there; mostly, it’s been an exciting adventure, a privilege all these countries later. Yet the seemingly effortless mechanism that allows us to glide between borders has on many occasions been exposed to reveal a trying and more complex reality. And then you add raising kids to the equation.

This expat life is a lifestyle choice that only works well if it’s a partnership, if the spouse that ‘trails’ is happy, or at least content. An acquaintance of mine asks me..Does hubby know where he’s going yet? Well it really isn’t just hubby (who works for an energy company), it’s both of us that will once again adjust to a new life.

True, it doesn’t seem as complicated these days. No need to arrange schooling in the next country, worry whether the move coincides with junior or senior high. No need to feel guilty for taking the kids away from friends, yet again. Won’t have to say goodbye to countless families that we camped and boated with, traveled to hockey tournaments with, dined and danced with at villa parties until the wee hours of the morning. These friends became family because we were all without our own, raising our young children and teens together. Oh those were glorious years.

UnknownYet with that phase behind us, the pending location still impacts our life and even those of our now adult children. Will it be somewhere we can see them more often and other family as well? Is it a place they could come visit, Kazakhstan wasn’t exactly an easy location to welcome visitors! I’m fortunate that I jump on flights and make it home for family occasions despite living here, yet the long haul flights are wearying with jet lag at either end. No, I’m not complaining about the excursions I enjoy along the way, I know I’m lucky. So perhaps in that sense, I’m not a ‘trailing spouse’. Am I not that travel companion I always was, from the beginning?

And even the relative ease of this upcoming move seems too good to be true, at least in the physical sense, almost like back in those carefree days of backpacking. I arrived with luggage, ‘only luggage’ stuffed with as many books as possible. The usual relocation of furniture and household effects didn’t pertain to this posting. No this time there’s only memories and a few other ‘intangibles’ to pack away.

So what’s the problem then? Well, we do have a say in where we choose to relocate next, but the final decision isn’t ours, so to speak. And as any expat will admit to you, while you’re waiting to hear your ‘fate’ you tend to get a little nervous. And even though you’ve done this umpteen times before, half of you wants to fly home and lock up your passport.

Our young expat family

Our young expat family

And so I ponder the options…yes in a few of the locations I already have friends there, true some countries are closer to home than others, indeed the climates and cultures vary drastically…literally options around the world. And that’s when the other half of me gets excited.

Back to that problem? Will it be somewhere that I can inhabit happily…a true ‘home away’ from home. This short posting was anything but that and yet I believe I made the most it. But I now have a list of what I’d also like in country X; a writer’s community, an inspiring place to write and to host more writing workshops and hopefully a treasured circle of friends.

But the real clincher…please let me I’ll feel like I’m not wasting these precious years by living in a place that doesn’t gel, just doesn’t work. If you’ve committed to a 3 or 4 year assignment and it doesn’t work, well that’s when I’ve seen women fly home, kids in tow and not return. That’s when depression can set in, when marriages might fail, when one despairs...What on earth have we done!

Thankfully in retrospect, all of our locations ultimately succeeded, often beyond our expectations. But It was our move to Houston that brought me back down to earth; perhaps the first crack in my ‘idyllic expat wife veneer’. For the previous seven years, I had happily taught ESL whilst living in the Middle East. It was part-time and ideal in many ways as I still had time with our sons. I started the ESL program at the British School in Oman and taught children from around the world. I tutored a young prince from the Qatari Royal Family who loved to bring his prized falcon to class. I taught adults who were delightful and showed their appreciation with gifts of incense and silver. I adored it.

And then the axe fell, so to speak, with that move to Texas. A threatening stamp in my passport reminded me that I was not allowed to work. The irony of it all; there I was back in North America after 14 years abroad and I couldn’t work. Despite being busy with three children and yes, many wonderful times, an identity crisis crept in.

images-1At the aforementioned FIGT Conference, one of our writers in Insights and Interviews, Cristina Bertarelli, interviewed Evelyn Simpson and Louise Wiles. They’ve created a company that focuses on, ‘Decide to Thrive’, which supports accompanying partners with the ultimate goal of ‘Discovering Global You and Empowering Global You’.

Simpson and Wiles discovered that there is a clear connection between an active working partner and a successful family relocation. A survey revealed “that despite 78% of participants saying they wanted to work whilst they were living abroad, only 44% were doing so and of those only 16% were working full time. Our findings also showed that higher percentages of people who were working reported high levels of life satisfaction and fulfilment versus those who were not working.”

Yet Simpson and Wiles also remind us that many expat wives are happy to have a career break and focus on families. However, the survey concurred with the situation that I soon experienced myself in Houston. A long term quest to find something that was going to sustain me going forward. During those six years, I now realize that I truly felt like a ‘trailing spouse’ and often bemoaned my fate. It wasn’t just me. Off the top of my head, I think of my friends around the world who sacrificed their careers to follow their partner. They are doctors, psychologists, nurses, engineers, accountants and teachers…professionals.

Some of these friends lament that their qualification doesn’t apply to their present country or after a break, it’s a challenge to return to their IMG_1088profession. And often that’s accepted as we happily live life, raising families and supporting husbands. In many cases we may have homes to take care of in different countries with endless flights to book, schedules to organize. We require flexibility to travel at any time for a family event or an illness. It all gets incredibly busy and then one day you realize your path has meandered down a side trail and albeit a very interesting, colourful road that you’re pleased you traveled along. But that original path is gone…now what will you do? Especially if you find yourself in a country you had no intention of living in, as I did with Kazakhstan.

In our book, Insights and Interviews, another of our writers, Justine Ickes, interviews Linda Jansen, author of The Emotionally Resilient Expat. Linda sums it up concisely.

“We undertake momentous transitions as we cross culture…It is those transitions and change which bring opportunities, struggles, enriching gifts, difficult losses, but above all they bring growth. It’s up to us whether to choose to embrace this growth as positive or negative.”

Agreed, and indeed we are often more resilient and resourceful than we give ourselves credit for. We volunteer, serve on school boards, organize and coach sports teams or teach other pastimes, study, gain languages and learn new skills. I became a tour guide in Norway and studied Viking history. I now can also add kayaking and cross-country skiing to my list of new pastimes from our years there. The salsa lessons didn’t work out that well for me! In short, I along with many of my friends, embraced Norwegian life. It made all the difference.

But back to that arrival in Houston…if only to remind us that there are times when we all face difficult challenges, wherever we may be. To encourage us that we can make our way out of that dark ‘tunnel’, it just might take time.

I recall arriving at my children’s new school for the first time. I looked out to an auditorium of strangers. I remember feeling dread, despair. Not one person did I know, not a familiar face, never mind a friend. I’ve got to start all over again! Every day for those first months I wanted to flee, back on a flight to Oman which had been our home in every sense.

One of those 'breathless holidays'

One of those magical holidays

When we relocate, the husbands (or wives as there are also male accompanying partners) continue with work in the new location, the children start school and then it is up to those of us who accompany to find a way to adjust. If it’s a new country, we figure out where to shop, perhaps get a new driver’s license and maybe learn how to drive on the other side of the road. We decorate yet another home, find new babysitters for our kids, and very importantly…hope to forge new friends.

Four months after we moved to Houston, I went to a ‘Yay! The Kids Are Back In School’ coffee morning. A Scottish lady with a stylish hair cut was introduced to me. “How long have you been here? Where were you before this?” The usual questions we expat wives invariably begin first conversations with.

It seems we were best friends waiting to find each other. And we now had, in each other, someone that understood our transition woes. After years in Indonesia, Gillian was also struggling with culture shock. The two of us walked and talked our way through those first years in Houston; you always feel you can go forward with at least one good friend.

Part of me also knew I had to integrate and feel useful. A month or so after the move, I found myself on a baseball field on a humid evening. I had signed up to coach my youngest son’s baseball team. After all I had set up a league in Oman and coached for years. Yet I had almost backed out. We had been at a welcoming neighbour barbecue and I had mentioned that I would be coaching the upcoming season. There was almost stunned silence.

“Y’all know how serious these Texan fathers take their baseball, haven’t seen a woman coach before.”

I’m pleased I went through with it. Halfway through that first practice, I walked over to address the parents. I shan’t forget her, Penny was her name. She looked out to me and spoke on behalf of the parents, “Ms. Terry, we’re all just sittin’ here praisin’ your name!”

In true Texan fashion, I was welcomed with open arms. Maybe it was going to be just fine after all.

vintage-luggage_ggiul_01 Relocating is a challenge and often demands all of our resources. But whether it’s through volunteering, working or studying we integrate, re-define or even re-invent ourselves. For those who embrace change, there are many varied and colourful moments as an expat; days when you pinch yourself, life is just so great. But the peaks of emotion can be steep and the lows incredibly deep without family close at hand, with language and cultural barriers, with continuous farewells to friends. And when they jet off to the next location, you don’t want to be left behind; the proverbial ‘itchy feet’ syndrome sets in.

In one of my articles in Insights and Interviews, I write, “The trials and difficulties we experience as expats are often not discussed or fully appreciated by non-expats… My mother has often defended my ‘privileged’ life by asking people how they would cope with finding new schools, homes, doctors and friends every four years or so. More often than not, the response is that they had never really considered any of that.”

As time passed, I found ways to compensate for the fact that I couldn’t work. I mentored high school students who were in distress and know that I made a difference in their lives; an opportunity I wouldn’t have missed. I took a few evening courses and yet time was ticking. I would question, what do you want to do with the rest of your life?

After six years in Houston, we relocated to Norway which eventually would be a catalyst for the images‘good place’ I feel I’m in today. Jo Parfitt sums it up in a book she co-authors, the very useful and successful, A Career in your Suitcase.

A portable career is work that you can take with you wherever you go. It is based on your unique set of skills, values, passion and vision and is not based in a physical location.”

As if she were speaking to me directly, Jo summed up my situation. My time in Norway is when I was finally able to meld my passions and talents, finally culminate them into the start of a new direction; a readjustment. But it isn’t just us accompanying partners that must continually adjust, it’s also our children, those TCK’s.

Our writer, Dounia Bertuccelli, addressed this when she covered a session at FIGT. She knows the trials of being a TCK, having lived and studied in 7 countries herself.

“By the time they are 18, most TCK’s have said goodbye to many people and places. Sometimes they were leaving, other times they watched friends move away. At International Schools students must regularly cope with the emotional upheavals of leaving…”

I shall never forget the sorrow of my 17 year-old in Norway as he arrived home after saying goodbye to his first love. We were moving, they had no choice in the matter. As a parent, all one can do is hold them…and be thankful that time heals. Yet does it completely?

The writers at the 2014 Families in Global Transition Conference

The writers at the 2014 Families in Global Transition Conference with our leader, Jo Parfitt

Our well rounded, seemingly adjusted son would handle the transition from Norway to his home country of Canada far worse than we anticipated. He had visited every summer and Christmas, but had never lived there.

Sue Mannering, one of our writers currently living in Singapore, covered a FIGT session led by Danau Tanu, a TCK that has written a thesis regarding the topic of “Where are you from?”

Sue wrote…”How do you answer ‘Where are you from’…the answer might be how much time have you got?”

I remember waking up one morning at our cabin a month or so before my son was to start University. He had come across a blog that a young TCK had written about not knowing where to call home. My son had forwarded it to me with the title…This is me Mom, where do I call home??

He was reaching out as he tried to cope, figuring out how to go forward…distressed. Seemingly those experiences and friends that he missed from a life abroad, now had to be tucked away from his identity. As expat parents we are continuously questioning our decisions in this lifestyle…should we have moved sooner so they could have had a home town, what if their academic skills don’t translate, do they feel like they have roots, how will we forgive ourselves if they come to us one day and suggest we ruined their life for ‘dragging’ them around the world?

IMG_6336

New horizons and our FIGT compilation

You remind them of those magical holidays, the experience of people and cultures, the opportunity to play in sport tournaments throughout Europe, etc, etc. I have heard it time and time again from parents. We want to believe we’ve given them a good life, yet seem to also second guess this privileged life of travel and private schools. We want to believe they’ll just plunk themselves home when the time comes and all will be well.

As partners, our emotional well-being can often end up taking a backseat as we help our children transition. And yes, this can go on into the University phase as was the case in our family. That morning after reading my son’s email, I hastily made my way back to the city. He needed counselling and three hours later, he understood that he needed to embrace all of his life experiences and proudly acknowledge his international past.

And that is essentially the key. Whether it be our children or as an accompanying partner, we must endeavour to…well, one of my lovely Texan friends gave me a handcrafted tile before I left. It summed it up beautifully, Bloom where you’re planted.

So thrive and grow, some days it’s far easier than others. Those difficult days have to be accepted and put away. Our TCK’s need to be re-assured that they will find their path and like us, a small piece of their heart always be waiting for them in the countries that they’ve lived…and with friends that they’ve loved. Thankfully there are now many resources available to us for support, such as FIGT and their links; even our newly published book that we are all proud of.

So I shall soon know where I’ll next be ‘planted’. And one more requirement now that I think about it, is to live somewhere that I can easily get to the 2016 FIGT Conference, next March in AmsterdamAnd I encourage expats to consider being there. You will be enlightened, inspired and make new friends, as I was, and most certainly did.

Jo Parfitt summed it up in the forward of Insights and Interviews, Here are the people who know the answers. The experts, the gurus, the leaders. This is where people ‘get me.’ It has often been said of the event that it is a place where ‘best friends meet for the first time.'” Then again, you can be sure I’ll be there, no matter where I am in the world.

UnknownAs I checked into the Calgary Airport for the trip back to Kazakhstan this past visit, the Air Canada agent noticed my luggage as I heaved it onto the belt. I myself had my eye on the scale, hoping it wouldn’t be overweight yet again.

“That’s a fine set of luggage you have there, Ms. Wilson.” I chuckled a thank you.

But what I was really thinking was…Yes and there’s more packed in there than you’ll ever know. My ‘wee career’, my resilience, my wanderlust, my friendships, a photo of those precious sons with that traveling partner that I’m more than willing to accompany….wherever it may be in this big, frabjous world. And no, I wouldn’t have it any other way.


Insights and Interviews from The 2014 FIGT Conference and The Emotionally Resilient Expat are available at summertime publishing

Completing our group of writers are Alice Wu, Becky Matchullis and Nikki Kazimova.

The emptying of a nest…

Standard

I have three sons and in precisely five days, my eldest will fly away with a backpack and an itinerary with destination points such as Bangkok, Phnom Penn, Hanoi and Luang Prabang. He and his girlfriend have earned their degrees, worked and saved for a year, now they’re off!

How can I not be thrilled for them, I did the same when I was just a few years older than they are now. At the time, I promised I’d be back in six months, yet didn’t return to live until last summer. Some twenty-four years later and that’s what I am afraid of, and yet not.

IMG_6866I’ve just had the pleasure of living with the ‘vagabond to be’ these past nine months. After four years of separation while he was at university on one continent and I on another, it was a joy to have shared this time with him. The fact that he worked at a wine boutique was an unexpected bonus. I’d often be preparing dinner and receive a text asking what was on the menu so the wine could be paired. I shall miss that, and him as we would chat about life over a glass of Grenache or Merlot until well past bedtime. Yet, I’m faced with the realization that once this young man steps on that airplane, he will have officially flown the nest. Grad school in Sweden awaits after the trip and I stoically write… it is how it is meant to be.

Almost five years ago, our nest dramatically emptied by two. It was arguably the worst months of being a parent that I’ve known. I ‘lost’ two kids in the space of a week and moved to a new country just to top it off. With my husband and youngest son already relocated to Norway from Houston, it was I who had the daunting task of settling the other two in Canada. It was their home country and yet they had never lived here which concerned us greatly. Our middle son went to a boarding school in the West and the eldest to university on the other side of the country. Those of you that have experienced this know how utterly difficult it is to walk away and leave your ‘babies’ to fend for themselves. It definitely is not how it’s portrayed in the movies with smiles and a quick hug goodbye. No, it’s wrenching and traumatic. After the second ‘delivery’, I drove through tears to the Toronto airport to catch a flight to my new life in Stavanger. All the while, vowing under no circumstance would I take the third son alone to university when the time came.

My view that cheered me

My view that cheered me

After collapsing in my husband’s arms once I arrived across the ocean, I spent many days of those first months curled up in a ball. With the rain pouring and the wind howling around me, I struggled to cope. Not only was I dealing with transition, I was in the throws of empty nest syndrome. I remember feeling as if part of me had been amputated.

Evening dinners were the worst. Three places set instead of five. Three of us struggling not to pine for that busy household of five. It was too quiet, too lonesome and many nights I would burst into tears, not able to contain my emotions. The beautiful surroundings and our view to the fjord helped somewhat. However, our youngest was also in turmoil and yet it was his humour that got me through the worst of it. He was suddenly an ‘only’ child with no bros to hang out with or kick a ball around with on a whim. No, now he got all the attention; just him alone which isn’t exactly what a sixteen year old finds ideal.  It is well known that the effects of an empty nest also impacts siblings and they also can deal with a sense of loss and bewilderment. They require attention and understanding as they cope with new family dynamics.  I remember many chats and hugs as the three of us did our best to adjust.

The reality is that nothing can truly ready us for this new phase in life and the advice I can give is thus; prepare yourself. With the relative ease of having only one teenager at home instead of three, I made the conscious decision to take on new challenges; it was essential to the process of moving forward. I wandered off to a writing retreat, studied art in Florence* and started a book club. I also took on a job that I adored. The silver lining is that it gives you the green light to do something different once that role of motherhood is more ‘part-time’. It may be trying something new such as a class, volunteering or finally finding time to complete projects that you’ve put off. I have friends that have taken up quilting, produced photo books and learned a new language now that they have more time on their hands. Some of us also started power walking which helped me cope as we walked, while we talked and talked. A number of dear friends helped me get through the worst of it. They know who they are and I will always be thankful for those long walks along the fjords and through the mossy woods.

A break from  studying in Florence; enjoying some new found freedom.

A break from studying in Florence; enjoying some new found freedom.

At the recent #FIGT conference*, empty nest syndrome was mentioned a number of times as women cope with the realities of their changing role. However, some of us agreed that it was also liberating. It was allowing us to explore new experiences and even job opportunities. I whole heartedly agree with Robin Pascoe in her excellent book, Homeward Bound.*  She writes, “Your life is your career. Women would better serve themselves by defining the word career as a path through life.”

How true, being a mother is a ‘job’ that we have for life and the skills that we gain are endless. Yet as the saying goes, there are two things we must give our children; roots and then wings with which to fly away. As mothers we have to be prepared to pat ourselves on the back for the good job we’ve done, yet try to move forward. Opportunities lie ahead for us, just as they do for our young adults. I know my parents gave me their blessing to move away and as painful as the separation was at times, they’ve seen places in the world they wouldn’t have had the privilege of doing so. They’ve scoured beaches in Oman with us, rode camels in Qatar and happily sweltered at baseball fields in Texas, watching their grandchildren play ball. All part of where that road may lead when we leave home for a path unknown. It’s brave to recognize that leaving the nest that we’ve been raised in and comfortable with is part of life’s rich tapestry, if that is what is chosen.

The three that will soon have flown the nest

The three that will soon have flown the nest

At the end of this summer, we’ll be empty nesters. Will we miss these three guys of ours, yes most assuredly. However, I’m excited about their next chapter, as I am my own. A few years ago my sons gave me a mother’s day card that I cherish. It’s elongated and folds out to the shape of Cleopatra. Listed on her dress from A to Z, is what my role has been these past years. What we’ve all achieved by being ‘just’ a mother.  And it reads;

Accountant    Babysitter    Chauffeur    Decorator    Educator    Fashion Guru    Guidance Counselor   Head Chef     Interior Designer    Janitor     Kitchen Supervisor     Landscaper      Mechanic    Nurse    Officer  Psychiatrist   Quality Control Director    Referee    Storyteller    Travel Agent     Underwater  Swim Instructor    Valet    Warden    X-pert Caretaker     Yard Technician       Zookeeper 

Yes, just a few skills for that well honed resume we acquire through the years of raising children.  A priceless and noble job, but also one that we can use as a stepping stone to a continued, fulfilled life. Also, we can be consoled by the fact that we are always home, meaning we parents endeavour to provide a nest for those kids to come back to, whatever the age. And that’s a wonderful thing.

And, so as I write this I’m thinking of those two young university grads setting out on their adventure of a lifetime. They’re elated and I know we all wish them, simply…the time of their lives!

 

 

P.S.  Hubby was indeed with me to take the youngest to University of Victoria last summer.  How could he refuse as we dallied in Canada’s wine region on the return, the beautiful Okanagan Valley. Thankfully, it was all just a little easier the third time round!

 

*Renaissance Art at the British Institute of Florence

*FIGT as mentioned in my first blog

*Robin Pascoe is the author of numerous books on the subject of global living.  They can be found at expatbookshop.com

It Takes A Village…

Standard

It occurred to me at the #FIGT conference, that I had never referred to my three sons as TCK’s or third culture kids.* Listening to the varied educators, authors and specialists at the conference, I came to understand why I hadn’t done this. I wanted them to be ‘normal’.

So despite having lived in seven countries, having had different experiences AND losing their friends every three, four or six years, they were supposed to be like any other child. What I realized throughout the conference is that excellent support and care exists for expat families who live overseas. There is often a need for this. I’m thankful that for the most part, my three coped fairly well. However partly what FIGT is concerned with and facilitates, is that for many children and their parents, this global life can be challenging, confusing and leave kids without a sense of belonging to any country.

Three children raised by a global village

As parents we feel guilty that they may not have a home town to call their own. We worry that they only see extended family during holidays. We fret that they don’t have ownership to any one place, even their home country feels alien at times.

And yet as the esteemed Dr. Fanta Aw reminded us during her keynote speech at FGIT...it takes a village to raise a child. And this is precisely what we do as global parents. We pull out all the resources to ensure that our kids have a sense of home in which ever country they’re living in; parents, teachers, coaches and volunteers all contribute to raising expat children. We all become their village.

My husband and I created a sense of normality (from a Canadian’s viewpoint) by starting and coaching a baseball league in Oman. I wasn’t pleased that my boys may not grow up playing baseball and so with the help of passionate coaches and parents, I started a baseball league. We soon had over one-hundred kids from all over the world playing. Some of these families also helped with the hockey team, also a first to be formed in the stifling heat of Muscat. Our coach, Teppo Virta, will always be a hero in the eyes of my boys.

I was overwhelmed years later when one of my sons depicted me as a ‘hero’ for facilitating their desire to play a sport that wouldn’t have been possible. I had only done what many of us do for our children in foreign lands; form and nurture clubs and organizations of every description. For we know that when children grow up globally, it’s even more important that they belong to something that represents their home culture and identity.

As Dr. Aw, reminded us, “It’s an intersection of experiences, relationships and friendships that become family.  It’s the people that claimed you in good and bad.” And that is what a village does. Be it physical or not, as in the case of many global families, our extended family has helped raise our cherished children. We ask so much of these resilient kids; arriving, living and leaving so many countries. And yet if we all do our part to help raise them, the ‘village’ is a pretty good place to be.

I recently asked one of my sons if he would change anything from his overseas childhood. “No mom, look at the experiences and opportunities that I’ve had. Not to mention the friends I have all over the world.”

Yes, all part of that village that we’re fortunate indeed to be a part of.

*Note, a TCK is defined as a person who has spent a significant part of his/her development years outside their parents’ culture.  As summarized in Linda A. Janssen’s informative book, The Emotionally Resilient Expat published by Summertime Publishing