J Simens.com

Are Celebrations Like THANKSGIVING Good For Us?

What is your favorite Thanksgiving memory? Why are these memories important?

Postcard of memories past

I am often asked, “How can we identify risk factors for our children, so potential problems are minimized?”

My Top Three:

  1. Family is the key
  2. Knowing your ‘emotions’ is essential
  3. Family memories and family traditions build strong kids

Do emotions help make more ethical decisions?

I believe they do. If the child cannot understand their emotions or tune into the emotions of others in their family or with peers, this is a huge risk. If the child is unable to make ethical decisions, they are a risk to themselves and a danger to society.

If the child does not have a sense of “family” this is a huge risk. The impact of a strong family identity and the connectedness factor is often long lasting, giving messages to the child that they are loved and accepted and belong to a wider network of people who matter.

It is my perception that no child is immune from pressure in our current, fast-paced, stressed filled environment so families have to be aware that at any time in their life a child might need help and support. They need to cope better with everyday challenges and be able to bounce back from disappointments. The concept of resilience is straightforward if you think about kids needing to thrive emotionally, behaviorally, academically and interpersonally. Families need to use Thanksgiving as a time to connect.

Cross- cultural impact of this holiday

I often tell parents that their perspective on an event is not the same as their child’s.  Sometimes the smallest things can be misunderstood.  Every year, as a family, we try to do the traditional turkey and stuffing as we celebrate this event.  Imagine my confusion when one of my children wrote in a school journal!

“My favrit Thanksgivn dinr is turkey stufed with tacos”  or translated into adult-speak…

“My favorite Thanksgiving dinner is turkey stuffed with tacos.”

What I commonly called my “Thanksgiving stuffing” was full of great things. Besides the usual bread and chopped onions simmered in butter, it had celery, sage, and sausage.  Living in a Muslim country for most of their young lives, ground pork or sausage was not very often served in our home.  We did have our fair share of tacos with ground beef. It made complete sense to my child that we had tacos inside that big old bird!

I often decorate things to make the special event even more ‘unique.’  I have been known to put candy fall leaves on my sugar cubes. I have made little stocks of wheat out of vegetables and sunflower seeds. I have even written names on brussel sprouts just for the fun of it.  I wonder what my kids wrote about those traditions? Or if the teacher even believed that was what happened at our home on Thanksgiving.

I love to celebrate!

Happy Thanksgiving Jsimens

Instilling Family Values as You Move Around the World

Sometimes you read something that needs to be sent out to the large population.  This statement from Gulley needs to be heard.

“Some things are just silly. We require schools to teach family values. We demand that politicians legislate family values. We even expect Hollywood to promote family values. Everyone is supposed to instill family values, except for families.”


Let’s take it from the top. Schools are here to educate. Politicians are here to govern. Hollywood is here to make money. But families are here to nurture, to love, to support, and (dare I say it?) instills values.

So how do we pass on values? We practice them as parents. Simple. But hard. Consistency is the key.

If you want to teach peace, model forgiveness.

If you want to teach abstinence from drugs, empty your liquor cabinet.

If you want to teach integrity, keep your word.

If you want to teach thrift, practice simplicity.

If you want to teach sexual purity, don’t cheat on your spouse.

If you want to teach compassion, rein in your judgment.

If you want to teach mercy, be merciful.”

By Philip Gulley

As expats we often don’t have a stable ‘family porch’ but the fact is, the whole world is our front porch.

As we sit around the world with a multitude of other families, we can quickly pick and choose what family values we want to hold dear to our hearts and instill in our children.

What we must do as expats are to surround our children with adults that share our values and will help us give a voice to these values, so they make sense to the children.

Technology makes it easy for us to keep in touch with our extended family and this is very special to our global nomads. We need to give our children face to face time with other caring adults as we move around the world. Your job as a parent is to seek out these adults. They are often in roles of teachers, coaches, neighbors and your peers in your work environment. Invite them to spend time with you and your family.

jsimens We hear you
Thanks for listening.


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Expat Halloween and the Importance of the Pumpkin!

I  never met a pumpkin I didn’t like.

When I lived abroad and got ready to celebrate another international Halloween…I needed to get all my ducks (or pumpkins)  in a row. This was always hard when living in a new country or location and you are trying to celebrate American Halloween for the first time in that place.

When witches go riding, and black cats are seen, the moon laughs and whispers.  Tis near Halloween.

I realize it is now October 31st,  but for many expats, the planning of Halloween started long before October. Some people put things into their suitcases from this past summer holiday in plans for the upcoming Halloween. Others command the suitcase space of their traveling spouse to ensure that treats are in their new home country before this candy loaded holiday.

What I hadn’t realized is how this impacts places like Canada. This photo was taken on July 31st at a sale at Loblaws in Westboro, Ottawa. This means there were only 92 more shopping days left before Halloween.

Early shopping for Halloween













When many Expats move, they have this vision that they can build up their lives into some nicely sugar-coated layered experience. They want to blend their home culture into their new culture.

Making layer after layer build up into a wonderful, beautiful experience for the whole family. They are just like kids going trick and treating, they want all their old and favorite candies in their tick and treat bags along with some new and exotic candies.

They want to cling on to some of their background, their history, and their Halloween rituals.

Halloween pumpkins

Expectations are hard to meet!

Parents need to be careful and connect with what is unique about this holiday for your family. As an expat, you can easily get sidetracked and forget what is most important for your family. You get worried about your child’s interactions. You worry about the exposure your child has to something different from his or her home environment. You fear that your child will miss out!

I have talked to a lot of five-year-olds and their parents from around the world. Here are a few things I have been told about Halloween. Remember my sources are five-year-olds!

Austria – We leave bread and water out at night for the dead people.

Belgium – We light candles for dead people in our family.

 Canada  – The best part is the Jack O’Lanterns!

China – ‘Teng Chieh’ we put food and water by the photos of our dead family. We have lots of lanterns.

Czechoslovakia – We put one chair by the fire for each person in our family, even the dead people.

 England – Our pumpkins or ‘punkies’ are made out of large beets. We sing a ‘Punkie Night Song.’

 France – We also see pumpkins at McDonald’s near Halloween. We are all ‘scary’ not ‘fairy princesses.’ We get treats in the stores, not at your home.

 Germany – We have to be careful on Halloween, and we can’t use knives.

 Hong Kong – ‘Yue Lan’ (Festival of the Hungry Ghosts) It is about spirits!

 Ireland – it is just like in the USA. We do costumes and go trick-or-treating. We play ‘snap-apple,’ (an apple on a string and you try to bite it) and ‘knock-a dolly’ (where you ring the doorbell and run away).

 Indonesia – We don’t have Halloween, but we like candy.

 Japan – We don’t have this Halloween. We have ‘Obon Festival’ with our dead family members. We clean the house and the graves. It is in July.

 Korea – We have ‘Chusok.’ It is in August, we visit our dead family and take them rice or fruit.

 Spain – We have ‘El Dia de Los Muertos’ (days of the dead), but it is a happy celebration. We go to the grave and have a picnic. We have parades.

 Sweden – We have ‘alla Helgons Dag.’ We get to have a vacation day from school.

But this is our life, and as Expats, we try to fit into the host country, but most American’s want their children to get scared, overindulge in candy, wear costumes and even let the local children have this holiday.

Halloween Night Pumpkins


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 routines 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 begin with just one person, but if that person feels it is essential 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 often celebrated Halloween over the top! In Duri, Indonesia the expat engineers took over one of the houses on camp and made a truly ‘scary house’ for all of us to experience. I am not sure who had more fun the adults making the house or the kids going through it.

When you let a group of engineers take over the event, it can be way over the top!

I thought the eels in the stairwell with plexiglass that you walked over them was a great touch!  The pig’s head that moved in and out of the toilet scared me; I can’t imagine what it did to my seven-year-old.  The electrical engineers did a great job with the lights and sounds.  What took the engineers two full days to complete allowed all of us to be like kids again on that Halloween night.

Years later, I wonder if people are still calling that one home the haunted house?  I know the family that moved into it only a few weeks after Halloween. They had no idea what it took to get their empty house back to normal.

Some of my highlights of Halloween living overseas with our young children were carving our pumpkins –

One time our pumpkin was a green coconut!  We have used Cassava Root to be a pumpkin in Indonesia. We used a Taro root as our pumpkin in Nigeria. Now that was a scary ‘pumpkin.’

Root vegetable in the market









We have made sure that our unique global situations allowed us to still have Jack o’ Lanterns that are uniquely ours. It has become a family ritual.

Families who move together – grow together.

Halloween tradition



Cassava Roots – http://newsimg.bbc.co.uk/media/images/44493000/jpg/_44493567_02nigeria_afp.jpg
fancy carved pumpkins http://www.flickr.com/photos/44124412397@N01/2962675525/in/photolist-5vNudv-5vSLhh-5vSLXQ-5vSMZW-5vSNXj-5vSPpA-5vSPyb-5wFHwT-5wL3vA-5wMPqa-5x3TWv-5x3XeV-5x3Y8x-5xuiTH-5xHcG2-5xWN7c-5y57h7-5BiPJf-5BJKm9-5Cexc1-5DtTqE-5Nddv4-5NhtLq-5QQikP-6aqioL-6bYozM-6xGtDz-6xGtKt-6xGtNH-6xGtR4-6xLCqG-6xLCtw-71Zedv-75mvd7-76CAMk-77KG2c-77ZLJp-7a7Fvr-7abvfs-7aBR4a-7aFDtE-7aFDY3-7b5g3T-7bz9Gn-7cpKLw-7fENbM-7gfK2W-7gKNAh-7hiRsB-7ipDvY-7mhGSH
peanut free: http://www.flickr.com/photos/93663762@N00/4872539224/in/photolist-8qz39Y-7E6yWk-dpRtDc-dqxymx-aBjdrE-8uXDLT-8uXDQa-fYyQ2W-8NNSeK-aALxBh-8Pz1Pm-dgdv7U-aAXkYY-88fysa-aAB3oK-at1upA-dq2SLW-dq2GUp-dq2SNY-dq2GNk-dq2GQT-dq2SRh-arcK1B-dpBaRe
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Do words matter?

Screen Shot 2013 05 02 at 7 47 08 AM
Word Choice is Important

I believe that they do.

“Mom, I am so ugly.”

How do you respond?  Please tell me you are not one of those parents that say, “No honey, you are not ugly.”

Kids love to announce that they are not good at something. They usually do it just after they try something new and challenging, and they say it with finality as if issuing a verdict. I’m not good at math! I’m not good at volleyball. They also like to throw out “I’m ugly” or “I’m fat”  or “I’m not macho”.

At that moment, your parental instinct is to fix the situation.

You say, “Oh yes you are!”

HINT –  This never works.

You have just put your kid in the position of actively defending his or her ineptitude. It is a lose-lose. As a parent ignore the instinct to fix things. We often use a word that works for the moment, but it is not the correct word or not the word that really marks how we really feel.  Yet, this is how our children learn how to express their emotions.

Since we are global nomads and often move, I would use that time to voice how I was feeling and allowed my children to express how the move was making them feel. It was always an interesting time since family members are seldom on the same emotional wavelength when it comes to moving.  Our timing was often off.

Model this for your children when you are in the moving process!  Imagine how much they would learn about emotions.

When you have a child that proudly voices they are dumb, ugly, or unable to do something. Simply add the word “yet”.

Add the “yet”  in a matter-of-fact tone – “I am not good at math”, becomes “You are not good at math yet.”

“I am not good at volleyball” becomes “You are not good at volleyball yet.”

The message is: Of course you are not good ” because you haven’t worked at it. But when you do, you will be good.

I’m sure some teens roll their eyes when they hear it. But I also think it has an effect because it tells a clear story about the value of effort and struggle, and that story is aligned with the way the brain grows.

Word cards are helpful even at home

When I worked in kindergarten classrooms, I would often make “word family cards”. I would show the kids how we can go from “Beautiful to Ugly” or voice our opinions about a peer’s artwork without hurting our friend’s feeling. We were still being honest with our feelings. If we didn’t really like something we would be comfortable with saying, “Your picture is fine.” Everyone knew this meant it was not beautiful and not ugly.  Kids were always happy to get honest feedback.

I was always proud to hear a five-year-old tell another child that this painting was magnificent!  Some of my students would love to hear that their horror picture was revolting!

beautiful to ugly

What I loved the most was seeing a child sorting out the cards to pick out the exact word he wanted to use. In the “Beautiful to Ugly” card set, I used a pack of old playing cards and glued a word on each card.  I then numbered them in order so the kids could understand how one word might be more in line if what they wanted to say or the next word choice might be better.  Some classes might only need a few cards to understand that word choice is important. Then add more cards later on in the school year.

Build up your child’s word choice

If your child is often stuck on one word.  “Gross”, “Bummer’, “Dork”  or  “Neat” were common during my growing up years. Heard “Oogly” lately? “Sick” or “Flop”?  JOMO seems like a great thing to me.

If you have a hard decision to make or your child is trying to make a decision – PLEASE check out the chart above. It is a helpful emotion and feelings words to give you a way to categorize how you are feeling about that decision. What a great gift to give to your child, time to help them work through how they are feeling. If they don’t want to do it with you…pick out a personal situation that you are going through or have gone through and just show them how you were feeling at that time. Show them this chart and then give them space.  They might appreciate you – even if they never tell you!


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Privacy – A need for all humans

As a child, adolescent and family therapist the issue of child safety and privacy is often a topic in my discussions with families. Everyone needs to have privacy, but it is a fine line between safety and
the guidance that will make a child and a parent feel comfortable.

I encourage families to use the Webster Dictionary definition of
privacy “the quality or state of being apart from company and
observation.” Privacy in this way means ‘down time’ and ‘alone
time.’ With eight and nine-year-olds,  it also means in a safe
environment such as their bedroom or alone in the family room.

Privacy does not mean having a playmate over and ‘Mom can’t come into the room.’ Play with peers is not an area that needs privacy at
this age; adult supervision can still be necessary.

Privacy does not mean being online.

Being connected should always be
in an area where the adult can observe, interact and supervise with
children the ages of eight and nine. I encourage all computers to be in a
public area of the house. Also, a bedroom computer can interfere with

Children do need the time to ‘not be accountable’ for the time or just
the space to sit, think and do nothing. Sometimes play is not really to play; it is just a calming activity that a child enjoys.  Parents asking “What did you make?”, “What legos did you build?” and “What books did you read?” can cause the child to be under-stress even in their downtime.

Kids need to play. Kids need to have free time.  Kids need to have downtime.


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Siblings – let them fight!

After so many parents came into my office complaining about the relationship between their children.  Fighting. Fighting. Fighting.  I always tell the parents to rethink the fighting. Siblings who simply ignore each other and have less fighting – their relationship remains cold and distant in the long term.

As we age, it is important that our children remain in contact with each other

Dr. DeHart at New York College compared how four-year-old children treat their younger siblings versus their best friends. The kids made seven times as many negative and controlling statements to their siblings as they did to friends.

Parents can help an older child see how they treat siblings by asking a simple question. “Would you say that to your friend?” and let the child reflect on that.

Parents can also show their kids photos from the past where they looked like they were having fun and enjoying each others company. Remind them that they can connect without fighting.

Yeah! We get to move! And there is a big truck!!

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All parents have lost it …at sometime

With school now in full swing for many families, I wonder if any of you have lost it? Yelled when they should not have? Walked away in the middle of conversations with their children?

Of all the families I have worked with I have always had parents share one time they “lost it”.


I think we owe it to ourselves to prepare our children for times when
we might not act as expected or we might need them to understand. I
call these ‘teachable moments’ that happen before you actually lose it.


1. You see a Mom yelling and yelling at her kids don’t just quickly
walk by and pretend it did not happen. Go to a place far enough away
from the scene so you can talk to your own child and ask “What do you
think is going on there?” Then have a discussion on why a parent might
behave that way.

2. TV is also a great place to see abnormal behavior so talk about
what you are both seeing. When the young star comes home pregnant and
the mom just smiles ask your child “What do you think your best
friend’s Mom might say or do?” “What do you think might say?”

3. When you see a person getting medical attention don’t hurry your
child by.  Just slowly walk away, and then later talk about the situation. “What
happened to her kids?”, “What do you think was the most important that
that child could have done in that situation?” “What would you do if
Mommy fainted at the Mall?”

Travel, Stress and Me

I have traveled around the world so many times with my own two
children that they have had lots of teachable moments because travel
tends to bring out the worse in some people. Use those moments to
show your children that humans have different behaviors according to
the emotions they are feeling. They only thing you can do as a human
is to really understand your emotions and how your actions cause
reactions in others.

One time I thought I was going to pass out in a major overseas airport
and I said to my son that I was feeling really sick. He replied,
“Don’t worry Mom, I will be sure to grab your purse because it has our
passports and you won’t want it to get lost.” Smart boy.

After the fact as parents, we must always be responsible for our
actions. The best way to address this is not to apologize for our
actions but to tell our kids “Mommy wishes that I would have done
this or this instead, I am sorry I didn’t respond like I wanted to at
the moment.” You need to model appropriate behavior on what to do if
you happen to blow an interaction. This is the best way for children
to learn to be honest about their feelings and yet responsible enough
for their actions.

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19 reasons to come along to #FIGT2019 in Bangkok (Families in Global Transition)

19 reasons to come to #FIGT2019 in Bangkok

(Why you must plan to attend and bring a friend)

Rachel Yates – Master of Ceremonies at  FIGT 

If other conferences have left you a little-disillusioned then attending #FIGT2019 is a must!

 #FIGT2019 is an incredible event where you meet loads of new connections, personally grow and speak to experts in the field of global movement around the world. There is still time to submit a proposal or even get a scholarship to attend #figt2019

I feel magic happens when insightful people hang out and share what they are working on right now. So to help convince you that this is the conference you need to be at, I have come up with 19 reasons why you should head over to Bangkok and join us at FIGT.

1. You’ll know about new research before anyone else.

FIGT has woven research throughout the whole conference. There is always very cutting edge research shared. The researchers ask you to give feedback and next steps.

2. You can choose your learning adventure by picking which sessions you want to attend.

Several days of incredible conversations!  There are many concurrent sessions across the days, showcasing so many stories. Get specific on your goals, then design your learning adventure.

 3. It’s for the global population, by the worldwide community.

The FIGT board has unparalleled expertize in supporting people around the world.

4. FIGT attendees are global experts.

traveling shoes

My traveling shoes

FIGT has been going on for 20+ years now.  It is compelling and engaging. You will be welcomed by people who are genuinely glad to see you.

5. A lot of opportunities to make new best friends.

FIGT is renowned for the potential of meeting new connections, bringing new resources into your projects, or even starting new ideas. I know FIGT is one of the best events to connect with others authentically.

6. You are the expert.

Every presenter will end their presentation with a Q & A and ask the group for input. Your opinion and experience matters.  You can gather around the central conference area for sessions to hear from people sharing their passion. Mixing younger and tenured presenters also provide a unique opportunity for mentoring among participants.

 7. It’s enjoyable so bring your team – this enables greater knowledge absorption.

There are welcome receptions, snacks, there are food stations, and there’s entertainment. FIGT believes learning and sharing should be fun.

As a team, employees can talk about and plan around a strategy for the event. Having a larger group attend #FIGT also allows individuals to take a ‘divide and conquer’ approach to the program, share notes and explore resources that might be otherwise missed. It also encourages a dialog around the sessions, speakers, and topics that will likely lead to a greater overall understanding and appreciation for the content.

 8. Great speakers.

Many of the speakers you have heard of before, but they also have many you haven’t heard of before. I love that and think of them as our anonymous extraordinaires. Everyone who takes the stage is working on something tangible to improve the lives of the global population.

9. It’s affordable.

I believe in the power of opportunity amplified through great professional contacts. FIGT can make a significant impact on your life. Some people only attend one day, but for many, we participate in the whole conference.

After a full day – Get ready to do it all again. Different speakers, lots of side surprises and healthy snacks to keep you going. It doesn’t matter what stage of relocation you’re involved in; there’s something for every attendee in every session each day of #FIGT2019.

Financially speaking, it often feels like an expensive proposition to send a large group of people to a conference. But in truth, sending a team will help cut professional development cost in the long run for organizations committed to providing annual opportunities for their employees.  Additionally, FIGT will offer discounted registration rates for groups.

10. It’s optimistic and focusses on the great work happening around the world.

Everyone is a legend at FIGT. It’s like a big family gathering. A respect-filled room full of people who love global lives, love change and respect each other. What you will hear are beautiful, hopeful stories of making lives better for people across the world.

11. FIGT helps solidify learning and professional growth.

FIGT believes in what they are doing, and so this is an event full of character. Some people say, “You’ll be a better person as a result of attending this event.”

Attending #FIGT2019 is a powerful way to develop new skills, catch up on the latest trends, spark inspiration, rekindle passion, hear from experts and more.

12. A global gathering.

You can make powerful connections, engage with professionals in curated small group sessions, experience innovations, learn a considerable amount, and of course do it all while having a great time.

 13. It’s in one of the most magnificent cities in the world.

Our friends at NIST have partnered with FIGT to make sure you have a brilliant few days immersed in the city I love too. Bangkok can be a magical place.

The Temple of Dawn, Wat Arun is located on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River, opposite the Grand Palace. It is a must-see sight in Bangkok as the architectural design is unique to that of the other temples in Thailand’s capital. Don’t forget The Grand Palace. It was built in 1782 and once the home of the Thai King, the royal court and the administrative seat of government, Bangkok’s Grand Palace is the most glorified and world-renowned landmark in the capital.

Throw in Soi Cowboy and Khao San Road for people who want a fun nightlife, and you can see why Bangkok ranks as a must visit location!

14. FIGT is personable, and they do good.

Everyone zealously works toward bettering the conditions under which others live around the world. We look to amplify the impact of organizations that are showcased at FIGT.  Our members will be sharing their stories, and you can find out how you can work with them to improve outcomes in your personal and professional life.

15. We all love to travel, so it is easy to share your current situation and location.

Some members travel from as far away from Asia as you can image. Some people can ride the water taxi to the conference since they live near the Chao Phraya River. Everyone has a story to share that involves travel. So that is a win!

16. Tea.

Yep. Tea. Or coffee or Cha Yen (Thai iced tea), whatever is your standard go to drink in the morning. Grab it and join in the fun.

17. It’s the best gathering of “globals” in the world.

FIGT make participants feel amazing. Get excited by the people and stories in the room, remember to make it personal and have a fantastic time. Attend the conference with your team to strengthen your company culture and foster team-building. FIGT will help inspire shared excitement and passion around work-related topics.

18. We’ve got heaps of home-grown talent. 

I will be excited to see which experts show up from Asia; I hope to hear from all the educators around Bangkok. NIST International School in Bangkok, where #FIGT2019 will be held is a school that recognizes the impact of global transitions and aims to help its students build resilience for these transitions. Additional schools in the greater Bangkok area should also highlight all the great work they do with their global population.

19. It’s the one conference that you make plans to attend the next year while you are still in this year’s conference.


Personal Highlights of past #FIGT conferences 

FIGT16 – “Moving Across Cultures: Bringing Empathy and Expertise to the Evolving Global Family”  Julia Simens panel Stories you need to tell

Stories we need to Tell – FIGT16NL

You can find this talk here.

FIGT15 –  “Finding ‘Home’ Amidst Global Change,”  – Panel of Dudes

Led by author Chris O’Shaughnessy, with panelists Tayo Rockson, Grant Simens and Niels Ota, this was a humorous and insightful session. Here are some of their gems of wisdom:

Life lessons from growing up as a TCK:

  • “Finding myself in the unexpected position of being a teacher.” – Tayo Rockson
  • “Don’t say goodbye to the people that matter. It’s important to make an effort to stay in contact with and see friends.” – Grant Simens

On social media:

  • “Use it as a connecting tool.” – Grant Simens
  • “Use it in moderation… don’t forget to connect in person.” – Niels Ota
  • “Use it to create platforms and business – it allows you to be uniquely positioned to travel and still have a business.” – Tayo Rockson

FIGT14 – “The Global Family: Redefined”   – Beloved Stranger by Julia Simens

If you are interested in the presentation, you can find it here.

She’s a cow – Are these words you want to hear about your daughter?

school counselorsDoes your child stand out like at “cow” in her new school?

Questions to ask your TCK or CCK!  As an expat student moving to a new school, how do you stand out amongst the vast sea of other students? How do you get potential friends to pick you over others? You need to be remarkable. Being academically good is, well, not good enough. You need to be the purple cow.

What color are you?

The purple what? The purple cow means someone who is out of the ordinary. In a pasture, a purple cow would stand out from the rest; you’d immediately notice the cow. A purple cow garners attention. When your child is a new student to a school, he or she deserves recognition. As a parent, we hope this is positive attention.

The term purple cow came from the title of a poem written by Gelett Burgess in 1895 but was popularized more recently by Seth Godin’s book, Purple Cow.

Things that new students can do to draw friends to seek them out

According to my children

  • Your face says it all, even if you are nervous a smile can go a long way.
  • Don’t cling to the first person that says hello to you.
  • Never have an opinion of a teacher, kid or school event the first two weeks, give yourself time to see what matters. Being quick to have an opinion might isolate you from some great friends.

 For your older children:

Here is a short set of ideas on presenting yourself to a new school in a more remarkable way, thus grabbing everyone’s attention and separating yourself from others in your class.

  • Have a unique, but honest way to greet people. If you have a lovely Spanish accent, welcome them in Spanish even if you are from Tokyo.
  • Wear a discrete necklace or bracelet from your past “home” so it is a conversation piece. Wearing your name in hieroglyphics might get you a friend.
  • Tape postcards from your favorite places on the front of your notebooks, so it shows your name and the locations that you love to visit. An excellent way to connect with other students.

These ideas assume your child is already proficient with making friends if they are not, then improving their basic skills should take priority because it does them no good to try new things if they can’t make eye contact, smile and be interested in other students.

PS on a personal note:  If your child asks for a horse – they want a horse! I was lucky enough to grow up in Kansas and if we wanted a horse…we got a horse. I got Mr. Brown one snowy Christmas morning. I never asked for a purple cow.



When your child doesn’t get the teacher you want!

“My perception is the best perception”

This is what most parents must overcome when it comes to evaluating a child’s upcoming teacher.

I have worked on five continents and the worry about the new teacher is world-wide. Having worked with 8000+ families, I do have a few tips on how to make the best of this situation. This is a topic I can talk about for hours so I will answer some of the questions and stay on your target.

How do most schools make classroom assignments?

This is totally up to a school district or private school. It runs the gamut from random to sophisticated sociograms based on good academic and social working pods. Some schools try to balance out gender, nationalities, academic abilities and needs (Language, Learning support, Behavioral). Other schools start with parental requests of teachers and allowing children to pick one or two ‘friends’. One school I worked with gave each child from the same family with the same teacher so the teacher and parent connection would grow with each child.

When a parent requests a ‘certain teacher’ sometimes it is for all the wrong reasons.

Some teachers are very good with PR but not so good at teaching, other teachers might be the one who connects the best with the kids causing more educational progress for the child, but these same teachers might find the adult interactions, not their strength. Guess which teacher will have the best reputation of being the better teacher?

When parents don’t get their ‘first choice’ they must trust in the educational process and believe that the school has their child’s best interest at heart. Every school wants what is best for the student. I always tell parents to take care of the “kid” and let the school take care of the “student”.  Subtle different but helps gets the point across that sometimes what we see as a parent that might be good for our ‘kid’ might not be in their best interest as a “student”.

The best way to start any school year is to stop thinking and talking about this new year -the unknown.

Instead, start talking about your child’s strengths and successes from other school years. All children approach things feeling stronger if they are reminded of past successes. When a child comes into my office upset about moving to our new school, I always ask them what they did really well at their old school. We chat about what things they were successful with and what things they did to make and keep friends. This focus on their strengths is what makes them feel good about themselves, parents should do this also.

Focus on your child’s strengths not the unknown interactions with a new teacher or a new situation.

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