J Simens.com

Blowing a “First Impression”? Tips for Expat Kids

Birth wrist bands hospitals 1957First impressions are incredibly powerful.

They can be nearly impossible to reverse. But it’s not entirely hopeless: Knowing how snap judgments work can give you a better sense of what kind of one you’re making.

Born in Kansas in the 1950’s, our hospital gave each baby their name wrist tag with their last name on it.  This was my first impression – wearing my name proudly. (I am unsure of the safety standards attached to this practice.)

Can we really judge a book by its cover?  Our brains take in a huge number of verbal and non-verbal cues almost instantaneously when we see someone. Even if we only see their photo! These powerful impressions that are often as accurate as the impressions we form over longer periods of time. What does this mean to an Expat child who underneath is not the same as his or her outer appearance?

There is a lot more to me than first impressions!

There is a lot more to me than first impressions!

Tip of the iceberg

Fail (2001) described global nomads ‘rather like an iceberg- what is hidden is much larger than what is seen on the surface. The international features of the lives of those who responded revealed how multilingual, well traveled and cross-culturally experienced they are but do not necessarily expose what is going on under the surface’. So how can an expat child show who they really are?

When my daughter went to college in the USA, she looked like an American. For those that knew her – knew she was born in Australia, lived in Indonesia and Nigeria for elementary school and Switzerland for high school. The tip of her iceberg appeared to be an American from the USA, but she had only spent a few weeks each summer in the USA. She was multilingual, well traveled and cross-culturally different than many of her classmates at the University.

Expats need to know about first impressions and how to make a good one.

2006 Princeton University study found that it takes just one-tenth of a second to make judgments about a person based on their facial appearance. Judgments — on measures of attractiveness, likeability, trustworthiness, competence, and aggressiveness — made within this span of time were not significantly different than those made without time constraints. In fact, confidence for some judgments actually decreased with greater exposure time.

With the amount of time Expats spend having and creating first impressions, this should be something we talk about to our kids. Imagine one-tenth of a second when you are in a crowded airport, one-tenth of a second as you enter your new school, one-tenth of a second as you meet your new neighbors.

Trust - How do you view it?

The researchers found that attractiveness and trustworthiness are the qualities we judge most quickly.

As a global family, how important is the trustworthiness in your family? How can you model this, so your child really understands what it looks like or feels like? How can you get a feeling of trustworthiness show in your face or manners?

First impressions are so powerful that they can trump prior knowledge, research has found.  A recent study found that when told a person’s sexual orientation, participants still identified whether a subject was gay or straight based on their first impression of how that person looked. While making quick first impressions is a natural cognitive response, these sorts of snap judgments lead to stereotyping.

“We judge books by their covers, and we can’t help but do it,” researcher Nicholas Rule of the University of Toronto said in a statement. “With effort, we can overcome this to some extent.” It is not easy.

Initial Perceptions – Posture and Voice Tone are Important        

A 2009 study published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that both clothing style and posture played a role in initial perceptions. The tone and tenor of your voice also play a significant role in determining what kind of first impression you make on others.

Often expat children are dealing with a second or a third language and perhaps they are shy about their language ability in their non-native tongue. How does your child project his or her voice in the new language? They might not have mastered the new language yet, but they can master the non-language image of ‘posture’. Have you worked on your child’s knowledge of how important posture is in first impressions?

Did you know that your tone of voice is what people use to judge trustworthiness, aggressiveness, and warmth?

“Psychologists have confirmed that people do make snap judgments when they hear someone’s voice,” Drew Rendall, a psychologist at the University of Lethbridge, told Science Mag. “And the judgments are made on very slim evidence.”

Have you ever talked to your expat child about a ‘snap judgment’ you’ve done and how wrong you were? Children need to learn about these judgments so they can better understand how they might be misunderstood.

Expats often have to make first impressions online.

A series of University of British Columbia studies found that first impressions are formed differently in person versus online or by video. The research found that in-person and video impressions were similarly accurate in judging various personality measures such as extraversion and likeability. However, passive video-based impressions were overwhelmingly more negative than impressions made based on meeting in-person. Another study found that first impressions made based on Facebook photos were as accurate as in-person impressions, but they tended to be substantially more negative.

“If you want to make a good impression, it is critical that it is done in person,”University of British Columbia psychologist Jeremy Biesanz said in a statement. “More passive impressions are substantially more negative.”

Expat parenting is about teaching and modeling.

As parents of global nomads, we must think how we can model ‘first impressions’ so our children not only understand the concept but see us in action. When you know you will be meeting new people share this with your kids:

  1. Today we will meet the new family next door, first impressions are important.
  2. When we go over to meet them, I am going to make sure I look each family member in the eyes and firmly shake their hands. Since their one child is only four, I will not expect her to shake my hand, but I will want to make eye and hand contact with everyone else in the family.
  3. I want my voice to seem warm and inviting. This will help them feel like they can trust me.
  4. I will want to make sure they know they can come over to ask questions or borrow something if it will help their family.

Then ask your child, “What will you do to help them feel like they can trust you?”  or “What voice will you use when you talk to them?” “What will your posture look like when you approach the new family?”

When you have been in a situation where your family has had a new ‘first impression’ debrief it after the family leaves. Ask your children, “Did the new person attempt to make eye contact with you?” Or, “What did his tone of voice make you feel?”  Or, “Did his handshake make you feel good?”  Anytime you can debrief a social interaction with your child, he or she benefits from your knowledge.

So many times as parents we miss true teaching moments!


Many thanks to Carolyn Gregoire

Related blog post- Making judgments

Three day weekend – Gaps between our values and our actions


unspoken wordsThe experiences in the early years of a child’s life profoundly impact them for the rest of their life. Having a close connection to a parent allows a child to reach their potential. Many parents let situation after situation happen in their family without using it to ‘grow’ a better relationship. Their actions do not fit their values.


How will you spend your three-day weekend?

Will your actions fit your values? Will you connect with your family or make a faulty connection? The types of faulty connections often continues in a family as the child ages. The strongest deterrent to high-risk teenage behavior is a strong emotional connection between your child and yourself. Healthy relationships create resilience to dangerous acting out behavior, but some parents can’t seem to understand how to connect with their teenager.

To forge that vital close connection to your child, you need to know the way healthy relationships develop. Attachment creates the foundation for virtually every relationship your child will ever have, beginning with parents, and later with siblings, friends, and intimate partners. This attachment is the cornerstone of parenting. It can help with keeping your child on track academically, managing challenging behavior and maintaining the all-important role of being the one they turn to for advice and support.

The most primitive and primary stage of attachment is proximity.

Through touch, contact, and closeness, the infant begins attaching to their parents. Research data supports the notion that young children feel most comfortable in an environment approximating that before birth. One dominant stimulus in the prenatal environment is the constant rhythmical beat of the mother’s heart. But often, as our children get older we forget the benefits that proximity gives to the role of parenting. The Parent- Child connection is greatly enhanced by gentle proximity.

Keys to proximity includes:

  • Sitting with your child on your left side – closer to your heart beat.
  • Sharing the warmth – is comforting for children but this is often neglected by parents as their child gets older.
  • Slight movements (stimulation) or rocking might be helpful.
  • Skin to skin contact – massage of shoulders or temples help with close connections.

Proximity must be built into the first stage of a secure connection. Parents often take the easy way out and talk to their child as they come into a room or even talk from one room across to another room. Some parents call out as soon as they get home from work and the child responds through a closed door, and yet, both parent and child feel this is communicating.

Imagine the power a regular intimate conversation would have on your child.

The number one overlooked situation for good parenting practices is being close enough to the child that they can hear your breathing, smell you and see that you are non-threatening. If you sit down or lie down side by side with your child, they can miss the ‘uncomfortable eye to eye territory” where a child might feel judged.

Placing yourself on an even playing field such as both sitting on the floor, or both lying on the carpet, where a parent is not taller or where the parent is not in the position of authority since they are so much bigger causes a child to relax and be more comfortable. If you can match your breathing to the rhythm of your child’s breathing, your child will feel safer. Being in this close area of proximity to each other usually keeps your voices at a more acceptable and comfortable level so more will be accomplished in understanding each other, compromising or negotiating what needs to happen. Children can be more honest when they don’t feel threatened.

Start with small steps!

If you do not have a relationship with your child, you will need to start in small steps, so it does not seem so demanding. Many families start developing a gentle proximity of four feet. Be in the same room, sit on the same couch but don’t press for conversations. A clear connection is usually not apparent until you’re within a few inches of each other but any starting place is better than giving up on the relationship.

Expat family with staff

A 4-year old view of his Expat family with staff drawn in pencil 

Many cultures raise their children in extended village families, where the babies are always ‘attached’ to someone, giving them security. This is not the case in many of our families. Some families even have caregivers who are interchangeable due to the family moving or the need for day care while a parent works. We owe it to our children to reconnect with them so we can make the most out of our relationships. Although the attachment relationship is universal, our parenting beliefs and practices do differ around the world.

Attachment methods are those responses that parents use to develop a deep and lasting connection with their child. There are an increasing number and diversity of these practices with all the movement of people around the world.

Attachment influences early brain development, which has an impact on a child’s lifelong abilities to regulate thinking, feelings and behavior. When you invite a child to be in your company, you’re promoting proximity. This most basic invitation to be near your child – whether it is a cuddle, playing a game or sharing a reading book together sends the message to your child that you want to be close and connected.

There is only one ideal way to work in close collaboration with your children – you have to get physically close to them. They need to hear you without you being too loud or demanding, so you need to lean in towards them and speak gently. Sometimes just sitting side by side without words can be very powerful. You need to be close enough that your child can feel your presence. This is a ‘comfort’ for many young children. It can also mean love for a teenager even if at times they appear not to want you close.

As a Parent – Rethink eye contact and pre-censoring

eye contactMany times it is important to avoid eye contact because our children are very good at reading our faces and our emotions. As, parents, you owe it to your children to give them honest verbal and nonverbal communication about your own feelings.

You also have to be careful that you do not pre-censor any activity or event that your child might enjoy or grow from with your facial responses when your child is telling you about them. In seconds, you can change how your child feels about an event, new toy, or new friend. This is particularly the case of anything that puts us out of our comfort zone or into our dislikes. In schools, a common concern is how a parent views his/her child’s new teacher. If the parent is not supportive or positive about the teacher, the child will quickly stop investing as much energy in learning.

Violence is closely associated with deprivation of close human physical contact either in infancy or adolescence, according to the neuropsychologist, James Prescott. Close proximity and contact define attachment behaviors in children.

Get close to your kids. The mixture of cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, and respiratory and other physiological sounds as well as movements have been found to have a calming effect on one person to another. All over the world, parents know that a combination of touch, movement, and speech calms an upset child. Research has proven that verbal empathy alone was ineffective as a soothing strategy, but if verbal empathy is combined with close physical contact, the soothing strategy is paramount in the emotional support a human feels.

Make the experiences in your child’s life impact them and have valid meaning for the rest of their life, get close!

Grangy Avery

In loving memory of one of the best Huggers in the world – My Grangy!  Edna Hawley Avery in Russell Springs, Kansas with my family. In this photo, Jackie is the oldest grand-daughter, followed by Jeff, then Jill and baby Julia.



The Moving With Kids Summit

Two weeks, 15 experts and everything you need to know about parenting on an international scale

So excited to be part of this group of experts!




Out of the vault: http://www.theexpatlifeline.com/summit/   Rachel Yates over at the Expat Lifeline helps expats make life simple, safe and sane. If you don’t know the work Rachel does, please check out her website. It is powerful to get help before you need help especially when you are moving your family abroad.

From June 1st – 14th, join The Expat Life Line for a  free online summit, bringing together some of the most inspiring, engaging and expert voices in the world of cross-cultural parenting.

Notes:  ME!  Julia Simens and all the other experts:

Rachel Yates – Ruth van Reken –  Maryam Afnan Ahmad – Lois Bushong – Tracey Ellis – Tina Quick – Dr. Jill Kristal – Karen Wilmot – Christine Gilbert – Katie Holloran – Elizabeth Sawyer – Rita Rosenback – Lucy Greenwood – Lisa Ferland

  • June 1st: What is a TCK anyway? With Ruth van Reken
  • June 2nd: Pregnancy and Birth Abroad – the Professional Perspective with Karen Wilmot
  • June 3rd: Pregnancy, Birth, and New Parenthood Overseas – Personal Stories with Lisa Ferland
  • June 4th: Tools  & Techniques for Transitioning Toddlers & Pre-Schoolers with Dr. Jill Kristal
  • June 5th: How to Use Play to Help Your Children Adapt with Maryam Afnan Ahmad
  • June 6th: Supporting Success in School with Julia Simens
  • June 7th: How to Find the Right School with Elizabeth Sawyer
  • June 8th: It’s Tricky… Supporting Teens in Transition with Ellen Mahoney
  • June 9th: Smoothing, Supporting & Surviving College Transitions / Dealing with Grief with Tina Quick (2 webinars)
  • June 10th: How to Raise Bilingual Kids with Rita Rosenback
  • June 11th: Finding and Integrating Learning Support Overseas with Tracey Ellis & Katie Holloran
  • June 12th: Successful Emotional and Behavioural Support Abroad with Tracey Ellis & Katie Holloran
  • June 13th: Coping After Crisis with Lois Bushong
  • June 14th: Essential Family Law with Lucy Greenwood
  • June 15th: Moving with Kids: My Journey to Almost Fearless with Christine Gilbert

15,242,400: Wow, that’s a lot of moments so dear!

Memory is a way of holding onto the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose”, wise words from Fred Savage. He played Kevin Arnold in The Wonder Years. Memories are what bind families together around the world. Memories shared are quality time spent with family. Memories are often all we have of past times.

Resilience – one of the most common thread is the quality of time spent with family

Simens Wedding
Simens Wedding

Five hundred twenty-five thousand moments so dear

How do you measure, measure a year?

In daylights – in sunsets – In midnights – in cups of coffee – In inches – in miles – In laughter

How do you measure a year in the life?

How about love? – Measure in love – Seasons of love


I am usually not one to talk much about my personal romances. Some things are private even if you blog about “home life” and “parenting“.

My first kiss was…

My first love was …

At times, it is hard to remember since Kevin has been the love of my life for 29 years!

At one time I did have a boyfriend younger than I was…

At one time I did date a basketball player …

I remember my first kiss with Kevin…

And I remember the last one…

You will see the reasons for my questions if you watch this film. I love the rainbow in the short movie.  Briand’s Apricot evokes forgotten memories. This film is a film for the Dreamers, a film for the romantics and a film for film lovers.



Today we are celebrating our 29th Wedding Anniversary. We had spent 15,242,400 minutes in love (not counting the three months we were engaged and the few shorts weeks before that when we met) There are so many things I remember about the last 29 years.

A visible record will provide some perspective

I could say our marriage has been a little rocky (that’s not the right word).

It has been a little stoney (still not correct).

OK, it has been a gem!

A few things stand out –

When we first decided we would start a ‘global life,’ Kevin wanted to give me a gift to symbolize our move from the USA to Singapore.  Of course, he bought me a lovely gem!  Little did he know that this simple tradition would slowly grow into a beautiful collection with so many International moves under our belts.  I am a firm believer that family traditions are a must for all families but vital for mobile households!  These types of rituals don’t have to be big or expensive – it is the simple traditions that keep a family strong.

When we made our first move from the USA overseas. We jointly made the long inventory list. We packed up multiple suitcases. We stuffed the air shipment full. We moved. We unpacked together and went shopping for our new home together. The last international move, I  updated the inventory. I left and went to the USA for the summer holiday.  Later that year, we packed up our home in Bangkok and got it ready to head to Balikpapan.

That last international move from Bangkok to Balikpapan – Kevin sent the air shipment off to our son’s college. Kevin unpacked our home in Balikpapan. Kevin then meet me in the USA where I was still on vacation.

It is important that global families are flexible with what works best for them at that moment in time.

When we retired we packed up our expat life together and headed to the USA. We would not be returning to work. We are starting a new life of not “working”. I was excited.

When we first moved overseas, we went as a family of two. We had long walks together, fun dinners with lively conversations and many talks about the upcoming trips we would be doing.  Two children later and 18 years with kids in elementary and high school, we are once again alone. When we left Borneo, we were a family of two.

Today we are enjoying long walks together, fun dinners and many talks about planning family vacations. This afternoon we will jump on a paddle wheeler and cruise around Emerald Bay. We will cruise around Fannette Island, the only island in Lake Tahoe. We will look at Vikingsholm, an excellent example of Scandinavian architecture which is a 38-room mansion.

It is important that the adults in the family remain close, so the children benefit from the quality of time spent with family.

It had been a great 29 years!



For those family members that flew to the San Francisco Bay area for our wedding, it was on May 2nd.  We are lucky enough to spend our 25th with about 25 of our best friends in Bangkok.  The only thing missing was our family!

Last year I was home alone in Balikpapan with Kevin on his way “home” to see me after a company golf tournament. We celebrated our anniversary one day late in Balikpapan but just in time for the USA. This year we had the champagne chilled, headed out to Lake Tahoe and took tons of photos to lock in this memory and share it with our family.

Notes: Movie – APRICOT -A Short Film by Ben Briand
by Moonwalk Films
Winner: Community Choice Award
Voted Best Narrative on Vimeo by its users

Olympic Torch Run with Julia Simens: Common Expat Mistakes

From the Vault: Building interest in the Olympics

You have got to love International Schools field trips!

You have got to love International Schools field trips! AISL -Nigeria to Greece – so much learned.

The Olympic torch has been lit in southern Greece, kicking off the countdown to Rio 2016. Grant and I were lucky enough to visit the site of Ancient Olympia. The Games were first held there in 776BC and remained there for 12 centuries.

This week, the flaming torch, which has a Twitter account, was handed to its first torchbearer, gold medal-winning Greek gymnast Eleftherios Petrounias, before beginning its six-day relay across the country.

My version of being involved in the Olympic torch relay several years ago is not as glamourous of this event in  Greece was where women in ancient-Greek-style dresses and men in tunics performed the symbolic rituals of cutting the olive branch and releasing a white dove into the blue spring sky, both symbolizing peace.

It all started out as an interesting thing to do. 

Just two American’s going to see the Olympic torch run through the streets of Bangkok.

First, the warning in the local paper…titled-”You’ll be playing with fire”.

Bangkok police stated protesters disrupting the Olympic-torch relay will be arrested immediately and prosecuted for public disturbance. Foreigners will be expelled and banned from returning. Those with residency will have it revoked permanently.

Still Kevin and I wanted to see something we had never seen before.

Flags in Bangkok

Flags in Bangkok

Then, the notice that 2,000 law-enforcement officers will be on duty and that “Bangkok has prepared everything to ensure the smoothness of the ceremony. It even showed two police officers assigned to protect the Olympic torch study a handbook on running.  I didn’t even know there was a “Handbook on running.”  I wondered if I needed a copy but decided we would just be on the sidelines and not running with the torch.

The day arrived, and Kevin and I headed out to the course which had been layout in the Bangkok Post. We decided not to be at the beginning of the race since it was starting at the Chinese Gates and we knew this would be an area hard to get our car in and out.  We opted to stop near the Democracy Monument.  Our Driver, Somchai found a parking spot near a temple.  This was ideal; we could buy cold local beer and even pay the 20 baht fee to get into the temple to use a bathroom if we needed.

Perhaps we should have paid more attention to what we were planning to do, what we were wearing and even perhaps who we should be going with to this event.  I thought nothing of putting on my made in Italy eyeglasses and a green top.  Of course, the matching green Capri pants would allow me some “coolness” as well as the ability to sit on a curb.  Kevin grabbed his new green Roatan shirt with the cute turtle logo and put on his dark shades.  At the last minute, I grabbed a light umbrella to keep the direct heat off of us.

Wearing green on Saturday in Thailand is often seen as unlucky. Why didn’t I remember that?  I was always good at wearing yellow on Mondays.

We scanned the crowded street and found a wide open area where most of the people were already lined up on the shaded side of the race route.  We were well prepared, so we opted for the less crowded sunny side.  As I settled into the curb area, Kevin grabbed two cold “Leo” beers.  A local cheap, almost impossible beer to drink but ideal when the temperature is approximately 100 degrees and the humidity is high. I noticed that we were the only non-Thai or non-Chinese people on the street.

Beer runs -Tropics – Temples – is this a good idea?

The race was slow in starting, so this required another beer run. All in all, that was not a bad idea.  Leaving me on the curb with a small plastic bag full of empty cans might have been just too much.  When Kevin returned, he wondered why this Thai man had decided to take up a spot on my right shoulder when the area around us was still almost empty. I wondered also and drank my beer.

Then, the people across the street started to get excited, one of them had a phone that informed him that the race had begun.  Kevin and I moved to our left about two steps to get a good clear view of the soon to be torch sprinter. The Thai gentleman stepped with us. Strange.  The racer was moving closer, flashing police cars were coming ahead of the parade.  The sponsor’s floats were soon in front of us.  I moved back this time to get a photo of the float. Strange, the man moved back with me two steps.  No matter where I tried to get a clear and clean picture, I had this man’s arm or head in my camera shot.


So instead of trying to “Not get him”. I focused my camera more on the view of him, forgetting the floats in front of me.  As I slowly click away on my digital camera, I finally focused on his cell phone and the small red words on it.  I zoomed in and slowly the words came into focus . . . p.o.l.i.c.e.  Yes, finally for the first time in my life (to my knowledge) I was pegged as a “concern”.  I had my own police guard.

My Dancing Partner on the Streets of Bangkok

My Dancing Partner on the Streets of Bangkok

Kevin was still unsure why this man was keen always to be between my camera and the race causing me not to see the race. Kevin was starting to get annoyed.  It must have looked to him like this nice Thai man was almost engaging in a silent dance with me, two step left, one step back, one step left, two steps right.  But it was not the time to ask any questions; the racer was almost directly in front of us.

That's it - my best attempt of being involved in the Olymipc torch run!

That’s it – my best attempt of being involved in the Olympic torch run!

The crowd went wild.  I got my camera up and ready to shoot. But a flag was in the way, a security runner was in the way, the Thai man on the street was in the way.  But I saw the man dressed in white running clothes with the torch.  He was just a few steps away, jogging, I would say not running.  I tried one last time to get a photo to share with you all but once again; I got a nice shot of this Thai gentleman in the crowd. Yes, another photo of my own Undercover Thai Cop.

Highlighting the plight of refugees in 2016 

This year one of the runners will be a Syrian refugee, who will carry the torch through the Eleonas refugee camp in central Athens — part of a conscious effort by the International Olympics Committee to highlight the plight of refugees around the world. For the first time in history, a team of five-12 refugee athletes from multiple countries will be competing in this year’s Games. They will march behind the Olympic flag at the opening ceremony in Rio.

Thai police trained to run

Thai police trained to run with the torch.

To all the Mom’s with Seniors: We have had the best job in the world

Education is one of the most important things that I value in life.  This is why I went to seek out the principal of the school and ran over the highs and lows of my child’s time at his school.  I  called it my exit interview. I felt it is important because as an educator that is not being paid by his school, I could be honest, timely and truthful about my feedback.


Children who will be ready to excel in college are the ones that have already failed.

Did they miss an assignment and their parents didn’t ask the teacher to ‘lighten up’ on their child?  Did they oversleep and their parents didn’t call and lie to the school? Did they miss out on an A by .07 and their parents said “Looks like you worked hard and I am sorry that you didn’t get what you wanted” but the parents didn’t comment about the teacher or gloss over the sadness of missing something so close. These parents are the real winners in the world.

Good parents = Good Job = Wonderful Kids

How do you measure success? Please let your children have some stress in their lives so they can grow into the best they can be.

stress diamond
Emotional Resilience and the Expat Child

For parents who have children that have grown up in a different country than their passport country, you might have some ‘interesting’ things to face. Where should your kids go to University? Where should they look for summer jobs? How or where will they get identification besides a passport?These are a few of the things you will have to iron out with your expat child.

Some things that I found out the hard way:

Getting a US driver’s license is hard due to all the rules and requirements. Many of my friends don’t own a car in the USA so their kids can’t take a driving test, you need to show proof of insurance and valid registration and rental cars won’t work.  Nevada has a great law; you have to have insurance in the state of Nevada, but you don’t have to have car insurance to drive the car off the car dealerships lot.  Oh, but yes, you do get a $100 fine if you then try to register the vehicle because you drove it without insurance.

A child might be good at flying all over the world, spend weeks traveling with friends in Europe but can’t get a hotel room traveling in some states in the USA because they are not 21 years old. If they were in the USA military, they could rent at 18 years old.

Using a company mail pouch can cause concerns in several areas. Your child might be labeled as coming from that address, so, therefore, they get pegged as a student from that state when in fact they are international.  Learning to pay bills online is easy but having to understand the US post system can be hard for some children who have always lived overseas.

Laundry can be a challenge for any child so let them do their own before they head off to Univeristy.

Connections to all family members – encourage your college student to reach out and make contact to all siblings, both mom and dad, and grandparents. Often in the past, communication was done in person or initiated by a parent to the grandparent. Make sure your college kid has a way to connect with everyone.

Hug every change you get your child soon will not be walking across your kitchen several times a day and as a parent you will miss that!

Death and Taxes and ?What Else? is Certain in the Expat Life

With USA tax deadline looming, I can only spin it as I know how …the Expat Way!

repairs abroadBenjamin Franklin said, “The only things certain in life are death and taxes.”  All my expat friends also know that doing repairs abroad is also just as “certain” to be a  challenge.

Taxes Worldwide

I have lived with USA taxes since I started working back in 1972. I was one of the lucky ones to get a summer job working at the local grain elevator. We would weigh the trucks going into the area full of wheat and then weight them after they dumped off the wheat. I got to check for moisture in the wheat which required crawling up into the bed of the truck and taking a random sample of the wheat. I often had wheat in my socks and shoes the rest of the day no matter how hard I tried to clean them off. I honed my skills of math, getting overtime by day three of a week since we worked such long hours and how to mix a little dirt into your food intake without noticing too much. Amazing how much dirt can blow around in a Kansas environment in the summer!

Truck Driving and Directions

In Balikpapan, I was helping with an English class for non-native speakers, and we had five different languages improving their English skills. We were asked, “How many of you have driven a truck?” I was proud to be able to stand up and respond, “I have driven a truck.” This was impressive to many of the ladies in our group. My truck driving experiences are really not that impressive. One experience, I can just remember being yelled at by a local farmer because I grated the gears together on his big old wheat truck.

Another experience, when I went to pick up my dad after his long day of farming, I went to the wrong side of the field. I had to drive the truck clear around the outside of the field to arrive where he wanted to leave the tractor. It was late at night and dark. There were no lights in that part of the field. In fact, there are no nightlights in most of Northwest Kansas. I had to slowly drive the truck to the correct location. My dad was not happy.  He had told me to meet him on the West end of the field and had even told me to turn right at the windmill.  My family knows that now  many years later, I still don’t do left and right very well and never can do the directional thing!  In fact, I loved living on a small island because sooner or later you get to where you need to be because it isn’t that far around the island so a left or a right is not that critical in directions.

Back to the real reason of this story. Taxes.

I paid taxes on every job I have worked and sometimes that is not easy when you are working abroad. The tax systems in each country differ. I have no sympathy for anyone who just has to just pay USA taxes. When you also have to pay Indonesia taxes, or Thailand taxes or Nigerian taxes, you are working on taxes all year long!

Some countries are very official, and you receive the correct paperwork with stated deadlines and all is good. Other countries have the expectation that you must “ask” for the paperwork, apply and pay. Sometimes this happens without a clear understanding that the taxes are going where they should be going. But just like in the USA…You must have faith in the system.

Most expats deal with taxes in a variety of ways. Extensions seem to be common. Equalizations from their main employer are also common. I get lost in the bilateral agreements, foreign source of income, residency status, compliance issues and TIEAs (Taxation Information Exchange Agreements).

“Death and taxes and childbirth. There’s never any convenient time for any of them.” — Margaret Mitchell

I agree with Ms. Mitchell but also think we should add “Expat Home Repairs”. There is never a convenient time for them.

I might get bogged down in the taxes in a foreign country, but I have mastered a few very key things all Expats should remember when they live abroad. First, you must be very comfortable with a whole household of people all looking at the same broken thing and talking in the language you only know four words to communicate with knowing full well that none of your four words will help in this situation.

  1. When the repair guy says the outlet “must go  here” - make sure it is not just because he doesn’t have a long enough extension cord to put it really where you want it.
  2. When the repair guy says he can’t fix it. Make sure to show him your own tools, especially any tall ladders and odds and ends you have in your toolbox. Chances he can fix it if he just has the right tools.
  3. Do not get you engineer spouse involved in any of the repair information,  this will just delay the actual work getting done and a long string of emails about the situation or more and more workers coming to look at the repair needed.
  4. Repair situations might cause you to revert to a language NO one in the room understands but you are hoping if you say it enough ways or in enough languages some way the issue will become clear.
  5. Keep your humor because when you finally go home you will find you have some of the same issues with your own home repairs.

Expat home repairs, death and taxes – three things we all would love to not deal with.

     Benjamin Franklin said, “The only things certain in life are death and taxes.”

Julia Simens said, “The only things certain in your expat life is home repairs will occur just like death and taxes.”


original photo – http://www.flickr.com/photos/numberstumper/389666281/


Summer Vacations and Families: What To Do With All That Togetherness

Summer vacations with the family can be the best of times or the worst of times.

Lake Tahoe - Ahhhh... becautiful lake

Travel to places you love!

Interminable plane trips, boring hotel rooms, exhausting hours together in the car, funky cabins on muddy lakes and six straight days of rain — family vacations can be difficult enough for adults, but for children they can be down right awful!

On the other hand, exploring new places together, sharing time and goofing off for days at a stretch, meeting new people or reuniting with loving relatives — family vacations can be the best thing since summer was invented.


How to have more of the best of times and less of the worst?

First of all, watch out for high expectations. 

Your own and the kids’. Enjoy the surprise of the vacation as it unfolds. This doesn’t mean don’t make plans. By all means, do make plans. And include everyone in the planning. Maps, brochures, photographs, letters, share them all. Make checklists, too, with responsibilities for everyone. This applies especially to the Expat family. We often build in too many expectations since our time with family or “home” is so short. Often the places we are dragging our kids to is not even a place they connect to as “home” and yet as parents, we keep saying “home.”


Allow plenty of time.

Don’t jam-pack days or crowd too much into the trip. If you’re traveling with young children or toddlers, take short jumps instead of long leaps. If you’re driving, often stop, get out and stretch, move around. Consider picnics instead of restaurant meals.

Expats need to allow time to debrief when you move from one family to another. Often going from one grandparent’s expectations or rules to the other side of the family and different rules can be very stressful for the kids. Sometimes parents might also act differently when they are around the various groups in an extended family. Stress levels will be different for the expat parent depending on the location.


Keep it simple.

Don’t schedule so many activities that there’s no time for just hanging out. Build in rest-time, too. Tempers have a tendency to flare when everyone’s packed together day and night for extended stretches of time. Create alone time, for you and the children. Everyone needs to recharge. Remember, both boredom and over-stimulation can result in acting out. Strive for balance. Don’t forget parents also have to deal with their boredom.

Be sure and allow a day or two for re-entry before you go back to work and the children return to their summer routine or start of a new school year. Coming home can be as stressful as leaving. Make homecoming part of the vacation, too.


Love knows no borders

Great books to take along for the trip!

 Middle School

The Worst Years of My Life, by James Patterson (Little, Brown)

Fifth Grade to Sixth Grade

How to Survive Anything by Rachel Buchholz, illustrated by Chris Philpot (National Geographic)

Racing in the Rain: My Life as a Dog by Garth Stein (HarperCollins)

Third Grade to Fourth Grade

Sidekicks by Dan Santat (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic)

Squish #1: Super Amoeba by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm (Random House)

Kindergarten to Second Grade 

Bailey by Harry Bliss (Scholastic)

Zombie in Love by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Scott Campbell (Atheneum/Simon & Schuster)


Grade a good book and read

Julia Simens – Author

If you are lucky enough to be traveling with several adults or teen kids, perhaps an excellent read aloud book for everyone to enjoy at the same time will break up some of those long drives.  So have everyone entertain themselves for 30 minutes, then you have 20 minutes of a common story time. Then everyone back to their own thing.  Keep some rotation going with the read aloud book!  It is good for the brain and also an excellent way to kill time.


If you have read “Emotional Resilience and the Expat Child, it would be a very good time to start getting some of those oral stories down, so you don’t forget them.  Use the books easy step by step approach on which emotions to target in your stories. Slide in your unique summer trip and you will end up with a special family emotion story that will last forever.  Many parents put these stories out digitally, others in a photo type journal and other let their kids choose what they want to do. It is great to build an oral story first and then try to capture it in some form.

Amazon Review: I grew up as a child who both moved a lot and spent a considerable amount of time in foreign countries due to my father’s work. While I was told that I was lucky, and I believe that I was, I didn’t realize the particular toll that this lifestyle took on me until later in life. Now, as someone who gets to interact with children who are expats, I have found author Julia Simens’ book to incredibly useful on several fronts. First, it has given me a lot of insight into the things that I went through as a child and didn’t know how to express. Secondly, this wonderful book is also helping me to relate so much better to the expat children that I am blessed to be associated with now. What a wonderful read that has so much to offer. Highly recommended.

I’d love to hear one of your stories! Please share them here.



Expat Easters and the Importance of the Egg!

Easter is an important holiday for our family

When I get ready to make another international move…I try to get all my ducks in a row. I put all my eggs in one basket, so I can carefully get ready for the move. I know many of you will think we should not have all of our eggs in one basket but when you make a commitment to go to a new job, a new location, a new school, and a new culture – you need to be fully committed. You need to have everything set and ready to go! You need to lay carefully out a plan!


Getting all your ducks in a row - or all your eggs in a basket!

Getting all your ducks in a row – or all your eggs in a basket!

When many Expats move, they have this vision that they can build up their lives into some nicely layered experience. They blend their home culture into their new culture. Making layer after layer build up into a beautiful, wonderful experience for the whole family. Not only do they want all their eggs in one basket, but they also want to stack their eggs! I am not sure this works very well for many expats.


stacking eggs

Amazing Egg Art with the artist standing by it

Reality seldom meets our expectations

As an expat, you can easily get side tracked and forget what is most important in your family. You get worried about your child’s interactions. You worry about the exposure you child has to something different from his or her home environment.

I can easily recall a valid concern I have had in each location we have lived in:

  • Pago – Pago – Will the ship ever arrive with basic supplies? (Laundry soap, tampons, and toothpaste)
  • USA – Houston -Will my boss get arrested for fraud? (The only job I have every quit)
  • Singapore – Will we make it home often enough to stay connected with family?
  • Perth – Will the kids know their grandparents?
  • USA -Danville  Can we pay the bills?
  • Indonesia – Jakarta -The preschool vs. a working Mom saga
  • Indonesia – Duri -Will the limited amount of friends scar my child’s interactions?
  • Nigeria -Will having security guards with automatic guns on the school bus harm my child’s development?
  • Thailand – Will the exposure to the seedy parts of the town harm my children?
  • Indonesia -Balikpapan – Will our kids every come to visit again?
  • Retirement – USA/Honduras -Will I ever have close friends again?
Sometimes we feel like we are in hot water and out of control!

Sometimes we feel like we are in hot water and out of control!

But this is our life and as Expats-

We are known to rise above the heat and make the best of the current situation we are in

Sometimes an international move is not in our family’s best interest. Different decisions have to be made. Often these same decisions are part of a family’s life that are not global nomads. Sometimes a family just runs into a tricky part of their life, and one family member needs a different type of support than what the family current offers.

Family in Crisis

Family in Crisis

Often when a family is in crisis – a family ritual can help the family feel connected and safe.

Family rituals are important

Children tend to love family rituals, even if they don’t admit it. Rituals provide a sense of security and can be soothing. A family ritual is anything your family does together deliberately. The routine of whatever you do is what counts. It can be anything. Just make sure you do it consistently.

Rituals are emotionally enriching. It is never too late to start a ritual. Some children may resist being involved in such rituals. But if rituals are presented in a non-controlling manner and you manage your expectations, all family members will ‘get on board’ much more readily than you thought. I have worked with many families that want to start building closer family time, and sometimes the rituals start with just one person, but if that person feels it is important and keeps trying sooner or later the event can become a ritual.

Sometimes the ritual comes from having another culture in your life

We have always celebrated Christmas over the top! We use beautiful Christmas plates with lovely scenes on them. Some are Santa related, and some have a religious theme. These plates travel around the world with us. We only use them during the Christmas season, but our children were always ‘delighted’ when I would get out the Christmas plates.

One Easter, my mother, was visiting Indonesia

We had a lovely Easter egg hunt in our garden and headed off to church. When we got home, our maid had set the table for our beautiful Easter Feast. She had laid out the Christmas plates. She put the fake Easter grasses around the center of the table and carefully laid our Easter eggs out as decorations. Then she had carefully added the silver tinsel we put on the Christmas tree.

The table was lovely but ‘strange’ for my young children and even more bizarre for my mother from Kansas. She was not used to Christmas plates and tinsel at Easter time. I told our maid the table was lovely.

“Sri, the table is lovely, but we seldom use these plates, except at Christmas,” I stated.

“Isn’t Easter like Christmas?” she asked.

We must have all had blank faces because she then replied, “You know with Jesus and all that Christian stuff?”

Yes, it made sense to our Muslim maid to have plates that celebrate Jesus’s birth also to use those plates to celebrate his death. We had not made the connection and had not used our Christmas plates in that fashion before this unique Easter celebration.

Now it is a family ritual.

I am often not as brave as Sri. When we have other families over for an Easter celebration, you will not see my table fully decorated with Christmas plates and Christmas tinsel.

Easter at jsimens com

But you will find a lovely plate of deviled eggs.  As more and more eggs disappear, you will see that they have been sitting on one of our beautiful Christmas plates. I will need to remember to pack a Christmas plate and leave it in Roatan for when we have Easter in the Caribbean.

We have to make sure one of our unique global situations has now become a family ritual.

Families who move together – grow together.

Stories we need to Tell – FIGT16NL

FIGT16NL – Closing Panel

We all know that storytelling began around the campfires – these stories were used to inform others about life, to educate them and to ignite their imaginations. Throughout the FIGT conference “Moving Across Cultures: Bringing Empathy and Expertise to the Evolving Global Family” we were given a sneak peek into stories others told.


Campfires at FIGT

Campfires at FIGT16NL

The campfire was replaced by Twitter and other social media. I was honored to be able to share the stories that our Pollock scholars have to share with us as well as be the closing panel for FIGT16NL. Some of the attendees were emotional drained, and some of them made more contacts than they ever thought possible. Check out @TCKchat and @FIGT16NL to see some of our stories. Due to the logistics of the conference and needing to shave off some of our panel time – I tried to capture the flow of the panel and why I wanted to have the  Pollock Scholar voices  be heard. I hope someone was able to catch their stories because I did not. You can view some of the Pollock information at http://www.figt.org/Pollock_Scholarship_Winners


Storytelling is not something we do – storytelling is who we are.

ytelling can start at any age

Storytelling can start at any age

I began my storytelling back in Kansas at the age of eight in 4-H a youth program. 4-H is a global network of youth organizations whose mission is “engaging youth to reach their fullest potential while advancing the field of youth development.

The original pledge was written by Otis E. Hall of Kansas in 1918. The 4-H pledge is: I pledge my head to clearer thinking, My Heart to greater loyalty, My Hands to larger service, and my Health to better living, for my club, my community, my country, and my world. The official 4-H emblem is a green four-leaf clover with a white H on each leaf standing for Head, Heart, Hands, and Health. White and green are the 4-H colors. The white symbolizes purity and the green represents growth.

I got my love for storytelling from my Mom, although she was often silent she was always able to weave a funny story into our extended family gatherings. Like the one Christmas, I returned from university with a potential boyfriend and every gift I had lugged half way around the world somehow became a joke! You remember how it is in college, not even enough money for decent food – Since I choose to leave Kansas and go to university in Hawaii, I always had to add on expensive air tickets if I ever wanted to see my family at holidays. As everyone opened my well thought out gifts bought on a small budget, they all laughed! Some of my gifts were not “laughable gifts” – they were well meaningful gifts. Well, maybe not the Hawaiian shirt I gave to my bull riding – cowboy farming Dad. It wasn’t until later that Christmas afternoon that my potential boyfriend shared the photo my Mom had so carefully added deep into the wrappings of each of my gifts.

Sharing the joys of childhood

Sharing the joys of childhood                       

Each photo had the simple words written on them in my Mom’s handwriting – Julia’s first boyfriend. No wonder they all laughed- they all knew the old lady that lived next door to our house except my current friend, he had no clue about so many of our family inside secrets. Each time the neighbor’s grandson came to visit her – he would end up at our door – asking to see me. He would stand there so politely and ask my Mom or Dad, “Can Julia come out to play or tell stories?” This year I became an adult orphan. I think of all the Adult Orphans around the world and in this room – we are the secret group almost everyone joins. This developmental hurdle is one that no one ever tells us that it will be a very special kind of hard.

I am missing my mom -I missed celebrating her birthday on March 6th, and I will miss stopping by her home after the FIGT conference, and I will miss sitting at her kitchen table.

We saw a photo of Ruth Van Reken’s (Founder FIGT) Kitchen Table and Melissa Dalton-Bradford’s (Global Mom: A Memoir) large dining room table and then you got to see the scholars around Julia Simens’ (Emotional Resilience and the Expat Child) bar tables.

Our FIGT stories began around the kitchen table.  Technology cannot replicate the emotional bond between people – the glue that connects people in a meaningful way is story telling. Our stories move hearts and minds.  What Ruth Van Reken knew years ago has finally been proven by Neuroscience.  Science now can now actually point out the benefits of storytelling – how a person pays attention, how they feel empathy and how they feel good. Storytelling is to inform, entertain and inspire. Christopher O’Shaughnessy started off the FIGT conference with storytelling that got us all laughing.

Pollock Scholars 2016

Pollock Scholars 2016

When we laugh, we change physiologically. We stretch muscles throughout our face and body, our pulse and blood pressure go up, and we breathe faster, sending more oxygen to our tissues. People who believe in the benefits of laughter say it can be like a mild workout. One pioneer in laughter research, William Fry, claimed it took ten minutes on a rowing machine for his heart rate to reach the level it would after just one minute of hearty laughter. Christopher gave us a good workout on the first day of FIGT16NL. On the last day of the conference, we got get to hear the Pollock Scholars and their stories.


Pollock Scholars

How many of you have listened to a magnificent story? Raise your hand.

How many of you want to hear a superb story? Raise your hand.

How many of you want to be program chair next year? Raise your hand!


I was just checking to see if you all were listening to me. 


But seriously you guys – there are many benefits of being on the program committee! You get to hear everyone’s stories when they submit their request for proposals – You get to step in when someone cancels – and this is how you get to share a story that you know Jo Parfitt would be proud to hear.  Or one that Jack Scott would admire. Or a similar story that many of you that are sitting in this room would have done or have done when you see a famous person.   I spotted “Jack” across a crowded hotel lobby – threw my large purse at my husband and started a mad dash across a crowded room – only to reverse back up grab my bag from my startled husband, fumble around until I got out my book. Reached even deeper and got my lipstick and smeared some on and–asked “How’s this” as if an engineer ever knows or cares much about the lipstick on his wife…


Jack Canfield and Julia

Jack Canfield and Julia Simens

I applied another quick dab and started running again. Out of breath, afraid I had missed my chance, I planted myself directly in front of Jack and said, “Mr. Canfield, You need to read my book.”As we all know as authors, we are to carry our books and show them to anyone that might remotely be interested. Right.


Being an author is really about being a sales person. The year I wrote this book I was lucky enough to give my book to one of my all time favorite storytellers and one that has led so many others to become story-tellers. Year after year, I’d buy a new Chicken Soup book to read at night before going to bed. Some of my all time favorites have been:

Chicken Soup for the Woman’s Soul: Stories to Open the …

Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work: Stories of Courage, …

A Taste of Chicken Soup for the Mother’s Soul 2

Chicken Soup for the Soul Celebrating Mothers & Daughters

Chicken Soup for the Soul Cartoons for Teachers

A Taste of Chicken Soup for the Christian Soul

Chicken Soup for the Soul Stories for a Better World

To this day, I don’t even know if Mr. Canfield has read my book, but I have a vision where I see it as a permanent fixture on his nightstand where he returns to it again and again – that’s my story, and I am sticking to it.

Our panel had some fascinating stories – I hope you were able to hear the Pollock scholar’s share their absorbing stories. We started with this question -What story do you tell and retell, again and again about yourself?



What is your personal Mythology – what stories do you tell and re-tell? 

We tell them for a reason; often they hold our deepest beliefs.

Carl Jung (1963) began his autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections by writing, “Thus it is that I have now undertaken, in my eighty-third year, to tell my personal myth.” Researcher Dr. Stanley Krippner Ph.D., Personal Mythology, guided readers through the program they developed in workshops taught throughout the world. Krippner describes personal mythology as “… an approach to personal transformation using the development of participants’ personal stories about existential human issues for self-healing and personal growth. There are also cultural, institutional, ethnic, and familial myths which influence our personal myths. We use our stories as personal myths. Often they can be found in our dreams, where we are often informed long before we know intellectually. Four factors influence personal myths: biology, culture, interpersonal experiences, and transpersonal experiences.

Think of grapes that struggle; they make excellent wine – Embrace your history.

struggles make our history interesting

Struggles make our history interesting



We still hear stories around the water coolers at work.  The Watercooler is always a rehash. Twitter is a campfire for us. We’re telling a story around a campfire, and these people are sitting around the campfire with us. Shonda Rimes said, “There was no such thing as live-tweeting a show before Scandal.” The FIGT16NL conference was a true campfire for us this year.




We live in story like a fish lives in water. We swim through words and images siphoning story through our minds the way a fish siphons water through its gills. We cannot think without language; we cannot process experience without story.




You are your life’s storyteller – craft something beautiful for yourself, weave a tale with fun and surprises, make room for sunsets and miracles and always include pages and pages of love.



I want to thank each and every one of you in the audience for coming to FIGT this year, I want to thank all the wonderful speakers who shared their wisdom and life stories, And a very special thank you to the Pollock scholars for sharing their stories and knowledge.


And I want to thank my first boyfriend who still believes I have stories to tell.

A story can change the world – isn’t it time to share yours?