When many people talk about having cultural competence, they come up with some key things that showcase your competency. They are
respect for difference
practice curiosity, eager to learn
willingness to accept there are many ways to view the world
recognizing & rejecting own pre-existing beliefs about culture
avoiding over-generalizing or labeling persons
Where do I fit in?
I have worked a lot with children who are adopted. They often look different from their family, but as a “whole” the family unit thinks alike. Many people can relate to being a foreigner, especially if they are travelers. As soon as you start weaving down the aisle of the airplane and hit foreign soil, you look different from the Host country nationalities, and you think differently from them. For many people, we tend to hang around people that are a lot like us. People that look alike and think alike are called “Mirrors” in the PolVan Cultural Identity Model.
I have recently repatriated to the USA. I am a “Hidden Immigrant.” I might look like most of the other women shopping in The Village Market, but I certainly think different from them. When I am looking at the fresh turkey breasts, I am checking the expiration date only because in some of the homes we have lived in abroad the frozen turkeys were often well passed their prime. One year, we were surprised to find a Thanksgiving turkey in May, but under closer inspection, it had been frozen and refrozen on the shelves in Balikpapan, and it was already five months past the expiration date. I am not thankful for ancient turkeys. At Village Market, they are only two days old or less.
What does it mean to belong, to have a home, to know where you’re from? “Neither Here Nor There” is a 35-minute documentary that explores cultural identity for people who have grown up in places other than their home culture, known as Third Culture Kids.
As I gear up for my 9,682-mile flight to attend the Families in Global Transition annual conference, I decided to look back at pivotal moments that my own family “knew” being global nomads would be O.K. What better way to share that than with memories of their past.
When should we move abroad?
Every family asks, “When is the best time to go abroad with kids?” My response has always been when you feel you are ready or want to. Remember the first thing you need to do. That is to get everyone in the family frequent flier cards. We missed out on some essential flights by waiting until our oldest child was two years old before getting her the first Frequent Flyer card.
First get your kids an FF mile card – global family needs
Often traveling with children is not the best but we all power through and get to our final landing location. Here is Jackie’s first exposure to her Frequent Flyer card. We were in Perth, Australia and often traveled to Denver International Airport to see her Grandma and extended family members. She was not that impressed.
You are never too young for a Frequent Flyer Card –
The second questions parents often ask is “How do you tell your family that they will be moving!” This is also one of those times when the sooner you do it, the better just like the FF card!
You need to set the stage!
You need to build the drama and then let them know what their new adventure will be. We were in an ideal situation, our company had moved us back to the head office, and we were lucky enough to have Grandpa and Grandma live in that city. It was fun because the kids were four-years-old and one-year -old so they got a lot of fun Grandparent time. Then we got the invitation to move to Jakarta. Now the kids were five and one-half years old and two and one-half years old so we had to make sure that the kids would be excited to move so far away and start a new adventure.
Get them excited by what interests them!
I decided to show them books about the Indonesia and the neat places we might see. But the biggest hit was the books about packing and the massive trucks!
Yeah! We get to move! And there is a big truck!!
As parents, you have the right to focus on what makes the most sense to your family at that point in time. To have long discussions about missing Grandparents didn’t make sense since time and distance were strange concepts at this age. We needed to focus on what was going on right then. That was boxes and trucks for our family!
Focus on what your family needs in the here and now – global family needs
After the initial focus of moving, the next biggest hurdle is the actual flight. For many people, this can be a 4-hour flight from one part of the country to another, but for many of us, it was often several flights and some over 13 hours long. We all call these our ultra long-haul non-stop flights. According to the airlines, these flights are commercially operated with no scheduled intermediate stop of any kind, and a route length is over 7,500 miles!
Many of us, often have several flights and some of these flights are over 13 hours long. Ultra long-haul non-stop flights can be enjoyable if your child can eat and go to bed and treat it like a regular night of sleep. If they can not – it is an awful situation for everyone. There is no place to go, no place to have a meltdown and no way to escape until you have landed.
Now the longest non-stop scheduled airline flightis from Dallas/Fort Worth, USA, to Sydney, Australia. This flight is almost 17 hours! That would have been great when our kids were small, but it still meant we would have had a flight from Denver to get to Dallas and then a flight from Sydney to get to Perth!
Recently I have been flying Toronto to Hong Kong and these 15 hours flights are no longer fun. Some people say traveling with kids is never fun, but as a mom, I have to say I liked flying with my kids. I must also admit that sometimes we might not have done the traditional things families do on planes.
How do you kill time on the airplane with a two-year-old?
Yes, that is my two-year-old with a paintbrush on a plane! These were “paint with water books.” I know that now these books are hard to find. Thank goodness there are some still on Amazon. Two-year-olds can sit for an hour or so paint these books, and the clean up is not that much. Like most things – they change. We had the one-time use ones and loved them. Now they make ones called “water WOW ones.” The WOWones dry and then you can do them over and over and over again.
Time changes everything.
I love to see global families. I know they are building a ton of special memories for their children. If you happen to run across Grant or Jackie in some airport, please ask them what was more enjoyable traveling when they could easily curl up in the airplane seat or now as they are over 5ft 10+ tall?
If you see me looking out the window of 22A looking sad, just smile and walk on. You will not want me to share the “extended” version of how hard it is to travel alone when you are used to traveling with children. You won’t want to hear about Jackie wearing big girl panties on the plane when she was two or Grant heading off to business class alone since “Mr. Simens” got upgraded. He was seven year old – leaving Jackie and I in economy class. Sometimes the empty nest issues hits you in the strangest places.
I am flying to Washington DC from Lombok, Indonesia where I just spend a wonderful week of rest and relaxation! What a perfect way to start a long trip. As we sat on the beach, the local ice cream man arrived on his motorcycle. The song instantly transported us back to Jakarta where we raised our kids for five years. The music brings a tear to my eye as I remember Grant running to the front door of our home singing, “I’ll be good, I’ll be good as I eat the ice cream.” We still don’t know the real words to this jingle, but we are aware of our family’s version.
Many of my friends are International school teachers and they celebrate 100 days of school. I have put two things I hold dear to my heart. Kids and Emotions. Here are my favorite 100 emotions that we can help every child know and learn! You can download an easy tool to see all 100 basic emotions here.
If you are a parent raising your child abroad, it is important that you know about emotions but you also need to know about “Transition Education”
The first researchers we had on this subject were Unseem and Langford. They said we need to provide children with the knowledge and skills to successfully manage transitions while affirming and celebrating their unique experiences and backgrounds.
Most children are affected by a transition in some way during their lives.
If they do not move, it is likely that at some point a friends, relative, or classmate will move. The children left behind will also experience adjustments. Helping a child understand the cycles of a transition and being able to label how they are feeling helps them and others in their life.
History of Transition Education
Useem said in 1976 – She found children growing up outside their home country shared unique characteristics. She was concerned that few educators were aware of this.
Mary Langford in 1998 shared the same concern and conducted research among international schools. She asked – “What is it that educators understand about global nomads and what are international schools doing to accommodate their needs?”
This was the first study in the field of transition. – Educators thought international schools have to have a role in meeting the needs of these children. It logically follows that schools everywhere have a responsibility to meet the needs of their mobile population. Debra Rader in 1998 made a model of transition education.
I travel around the world giving presentations to educators, parent organizations and school administrators explaining to them the need to support the families as they relocate around the world. Here is an example of one of my talks.
The common experience of international mobility – for kids they can lose their sense of security, feel disoriented when their routine is changed and all that is familiar is taken away. It is important to balance past experiences and focusing on helping them adjust to the new place. As educators and parents, we must “see” and “know the child” and where they have been or their history. This affirms their sense of self and gives them a sense of security that will help them settle into the new place.
Moving back – Children often have certain expectations of “Home” and are disappointed when these expectations are not met. They think they are going to feel completely comfortable and have a sense of belonging – yet things have changed. Some kids even want time to stand still while they were gone…it does not. But most important is – many children moving to their passport country are not really moving back – but in fact, it might be the first time they are going to be living there. “Home” in this case, is actually their parent’s home. Their version of “home” is where they have been growing up.
The process of transition – remember parents and children respond differently to these stages and may move through them at different rates. The attitudes of parents are often reflected in the attitudes of their children.
Problem-solving skills –children who move are adjusting to a wide range of new circumstances and well-developed life skills are a tremendous asset.
Friendships and relationships – leaving and making friends can be the greatest concern for both adults and children who move.
Personal and cultural identity – easily seen, words, behavior, food we eat, clothes, festivals we celebrate – these things make up our culture. Children are influenced by the cultures of babysitters, teachers, friends, neighbors and other people who are significant in their lives.
My favorite books that every school counselor and global parent need to read.
“New Kid in School” Using literature to help children in transition By Debra Rader and Linda Harris Sittig – view it here.
Lucky you!On March 24th – I bet you will be glued to your seat listening to seven experts in this global world.
What can you say in 800 words!
At an Ignite event, each speaker has a time limit of five minutes and must use 20 slides with each slide advancing automatically after 15 seconds. This forces speakers to maintain a rapid pace. At a just-comprehensible clip of 160 words a minute, Ignite speakers can utter about 40 words per slide, making a total of 800 words for the whole talk.
Volunteers organize FIGT17NL Ignites – we ask participants to speak about their ideas and personal or professional passions. Ignites all over the world have one motto, “Enlighten us, but make it quick!”
AT FIGT17NL in The Hague, you will get to hear these great topics from these experts!
Expat Networking in the New Age by Rita Golstein-Galperin
Business cards? Fluorescent-lit ballroom with too-warm hummus, boxed wine, and stiff suits? Over-rehearsed elevator pitch? Ditch all of those. If you are looking to truly connect with people and (re)create your tribe — it’s all about your “value funnel”. No, we will not be seeing the light at the end of it, but we will learn step-by-step strategies to truly connect with people, build lasting relationships and amplify your expat experience through people around you. It’s the new-age networking reality.
How a TCK English Teacher in a Hungarian Village Created a Globally Local Network by Megan Norton
Megan had lived in eight countries before she decided to uproot herself again to move to a small village on the Hungarian-Austrian border to be an English teacher at a secondary school. Having moved all her life, she assumed this transition would be “seamless”, never imagining the challenges she would experience adapting to life in a post-Soviet developing country. In this Ignite session; Megan will capture the culture shock and the community she navigated in this small village. From implementing the “Flat Stanley” project with her students to integrating herself into community development initiatives, she will showcase how single, young, independent women can build their “tribe” abroad across networks.
Finding Your Voice, Your Tribe, and Hearing Other Voices Through Blogging by Janneke Muyselaar-Jellema
Janneke uses a blog to raise awareness, to create a platform to share comments, to increase coping skills, to give parents and educators insight into the world of (adult) third culture kids. She will share her experience of blogging over the past five years and more than 200,000 page views later. Through her blog, she has found her voice, enjoyed the freedom of the Internet, and found her tribe. She will give insight on the dilemmas of choosing the language to blog in, popular topics and how we can use blogging as a tool to raise awareness
The Power of Team Sport to Create a Diverse Tribe by Lisa Travella-Murawsky
When thinking of the word sport, what often comes to mind? Do you think of physical fitness, skill development, competitiveness, and coordination? While many of these attributes contribute to the excitement and enthusiasm for team sport, it is possible to think beyond these borders and use terms such as community, common language, welcome, and inclusivity. This Ignite introduces how the Brussels Sports Association (BSA) model enables families in global transition to find a tribe outside of the traditional work and school communities. It answers the questions: “How is the common language of sport able to break down traditional barriers, and allow the expat family to find a relaxed, non-intimidating tribe quickly? What are the crucial elements in the BSA sports model that encourage this sense of belonging and collaboration for a diverse busy expat community?
Childhood Losses, TCKs, and Identity Development by Maria Lombart
This Ignite considers TCK childhood losses and how they influence identity development. When an adult TCK considers their identity, they may not relate it immediately to the liminal experience they had as a child, living between cultures, and to the repeated losses of identity anchors. It is vital that TCKs understand this layer of their experience and that parents of TCKs be prepared to manage the effects of loss to strengthen the positive aspect of constant moving.
Exploring the ‘Why,’ the ‘How’ and the ‘Who’ of Muslim Expatriates by Maryam Afnan Ahmad
Is there such a thing as the Muslim Expat? Does the term expatriate even apply? Are they a single homogenous community? Are they represented, underrepresented or worse, misunderstood? What factors may be limiting their participation on forums like FIGT? How does one engage, empathize or even understand this community of Muslim expatriates? Given the current political and social world climate, Muslims all over the world are caught in the glare of renewed intensified analysis. Maryam is a Muslim ‘chronic expat’ herself and would like to use her presentation to take a look at the Muslim expatriate experience and whether it is different from other oft-documented expatriate stories. Her main focus is to find answers on whether it is possible to practically increase understanding of and engagement with Muslim expatriate communities.
Finding Joy and Abundance as an Expat – Planning For Your Fulfilled Life Abroad by Terry Anne Wilson
The complications and emotions of transitioning can offer little time to cultivate our own personal growth, especially when ensuring children are settled. Empty-nesters also find transition challenging as school networks no longer exist. Deliberate steps can be taken to identify your skills, strengths and most importantly, your passion. Building a life in a new country provides the ideal platform to carve a new path, seize new opportunities and establish a ‘new tribe.’
Please join us at FIGT17NL to hear these fantastic presentations!
The first Ignite was held in 2006 in Seattle, Washington, United States (US), and was the brainchild of Brady Forrest and Bre Pettis.
What can you do when your brain doesn’t match your hand?
A perfect five-year-olds holiday – I hope their parent’s vacation plans matched up to their child’s expectation. (note– child’s spelling as written by them)
playing at the beach
going to Maine
swim in the pool
going to McDonalds
going to Singapores
go on an airplane
going to Bali
going to hawwloeen
going to holland and the snow
going shipping to put food in the hotel rfrigeratr
going home ot see my family
playng in the sand
I found a random sheet of these words in a file while looking for a “tax” sheet of paper. It took me right back to my teaching job in Indonesia many years ago. I wish I had put each child’s name on their personal statement to help with my memory. I do recall asking them ‘What are you looking forward to doing this vacation?”
Now is the perfect time to capture your child’s memory of their recent holiday. I’d ask them three simple questions:
If we were able to “re-do” one thing again in the vacation, what would you like to experience again?
Since food, smells or sights help us remember the memories, what item do you remember the most about our past vacation?
What emotion would you put on that memory?
I am always sad when I go into a classroom and see –
“My favorite…” or “The best part of my vacation was…”
I think adults often want the kids to be happy and express emotions that they find enjoyable. So putting the label as ‘best or favorite’ only allows the child to feel it is possible to be ‘good’ or have ‘happy’ thoughts. What happens if this past vacation wasn’t that way. What happens if some other emotion is how the child feels about the events?
Remember to be a whole person we need to experience the highs and lows and learn how to deal with them at a young age.
… and the whole range of emotions.
So many parents do not talk about a vacation after it is over. They just move on to the next event coming up. Young children need to reflect on their experiences and to label and file them into their memory.
So many expats take wonderful vacations but don’t take the time to make these lasting memories for their young children. It just becomes something we have done but not a “Memory” to keep. I always encourage families to revisit the holiday so they can capture some of the key things to lock away into a memory.
Here is an example of capturing one of our vacations to the Cook Islands where we meet up with Grandparents to spend the Christmas Holidays. We were traveling from Jakarta, Indonesia and they were coming from San Francisco, CA, USA. A story as told by my four-year-old:
If we were able to “re-do” one thing again in the vacation, what would you like to experience again? I’d like to visit Grandpa at the beach again to make those circle of flowers to wear. (circlet of flowers known as an ‘ei katu) We had fun making one for everyone to wear Christmas Day. I made your‘s the prettiest! I loved Rarotonga.
Since food, smells or sights help us remember the memories, what item do you remember the most about our past vacation? I liked the really yellow banana chips that were hot, salty and looked neat with red ketchup on them.
What emotion would you put on that memory? I’d put overjoyed when building flower gifts with Grandpa and tickled when eating!
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 or ceremonies 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 routine that the whole family looks forward to attending.
Rituals are Good for Families.
They create a climate of support and security.
They can provide emotional healing.
They create a sense of family togetherness.
They create a structure of shared time.
They can develop a sense of shared joys and positive memories.
They can bring humor into the family.
Most children enjoy reminiscing about good times. Many family rituals are what make up our memories. Talking about the fun times that your kids had together in the past can be a great way to help them reconnect. Build these connections when they are young so everyone can stay connected through their teen years and when they go off to college. The family rituals and emotion stories of your family’s past will keep siblings connected because they are sharing a common experience.
Good Memories Help Eclipse the Upsetting Ones.
It can be a smoothing experience for both parents and children to review past experiences (pictures, video, stories), sharing your emotions to past experiences. Many families seem to have gaps in their lives. Usually, this is because everyone got too busy to ‘recall’ the fun times while they were still a memory. Maybe your ritual will be for everyone in the family to record the ‘moment’ that was the most fun this past year. Then do the ‘moment’ that causes you to laugh the loudest this past year. Finally, do the ‘moment’ that made you feel the happiest with your family this year.
Family Rituals Create Closeness.
My family has a series of rituals that we love. Some are tied to holidays, birthdays, and special events, but some are just around because of their longevity and fun. When your children are expatriates, often parents look for things that might connect their child to their ‘home.’ Also, many rituals can be based around food. We make S’mores. They are a favorite campsite treat for young and old. They are sticky and gooey and loaded with sugar and carbohydrates.
One ritual we have is making your initials with the pancake batter. I make a killer “S” actually it is a “2” but when modified just a little and when flipped over – it is a perfect “S.” Then I have to make “J” these are easy just a make a loose “L” and when it is flipped you get a perfect “J.” I got lucky and only had to master making a “G” which I discovered is a backward “9”. I am not sure if my kids thought my pancake initials were perfect but I do know that they loved the ‘drama’ in my breakfast making! So the Christmas I made snowmen pancakes, I was amazed how much easier it was. Three circles in various sizes connected just big enough that the cooking tool could still flip them. I breezed through the bowl of batter and wondered if we could now do special snowman birthday pancakes instead of the initial pancakes! My kids said “no.”
Our Christmas rituals are not what many of our extended family members think of when they think of Christmas. Often we do a trigenerational Christmas on a warm tropical beach. We have loved Ko Samet, Ko Chang, Rarotonga, the Canary Islands, Roatan, and Aitutaki plus more tropical islands at Christmas. Our ritual is often sitting on the beach and watching the sunset on Christmas Eve then an excellent seafood meal. Our kids have had to make Christmas trees in strange and far away places because we didn’t have a tree to put the packages under. One year a tree was made from the plumeria tree on the balcony. One year all of the pillows from the hotel room including the couch pillows made an awkward leaning tree by our young children. One consistent thing that we have always carried around the world for our Christmas is the handmade Christmas stocking that my sisters made for my kids.
Used from 1991-2012 Yearly
These precious Christmas stockings often find their ‘privileged’ position in my carry-ons as we go from one assignment to the next assignment. Somethings just can’t be put into a suitcase and somethings can never go by ‘slow boat’ to our new home. I am sure the TSA people wondered why I was carrying two Christmas stockings in my carry-on bag in August when we moved from Bangkok to Borneo one year. It was to maintain one of our family rituals!
I think it will be hard for me to pass on these stockings to my children – I might want to keep them always.
I am always amazed when I realize “my perception” is off. As a counselor, you are often able to see things others do not see. You might notice small changes.
As a Mom, you are always able to see or feel when something just does not seem right.
Here is your chance! Watch this and let your brain comprehend if you were ‘spot on’ or why you were so “shaking my head off.’
Family functions at the holidays can make some people leave while SMH and some even SMDH or /O\. Why is this?
These events can seem like a room full of people with the psychological phenomenon called change blindness. This blindness is when a change in a visual stimulus goes unnoticed by the observer. Many families are not very observant especially when they only see your expat family once or twice a year.
How many of your family members actually know you or know your kids?
Research on change blindness developed from investigations of other phenomena such as short-term and working memory. Although individuals have an excellent memory as to whether or not they have seen an image, they are extremely impaired at recalling the smaller details in that image.When we are visually stimulated with a complex picture, it is more likely that individuals only get a gist of a picture and not the image in its entirety.
Change Blindness seems to me to be very similar to an ‘Expat Extended Family Gathering’. Although your relatives have an excellent memory as to whether or not they have seen your children, they are extremely impaired at recalling the smaller details of what makes your child tick. They only get a gist of your child and do not understand them in their entirety. – Julia Simens
This was well said by James R. Mitchener on his blog “Third Culture Kid Life.” He said, “I am a TCK, and so no matter where I go, I am always a minority. My culture is not shared by anyone because it was built out of the fragments of so many different pieces of so many different cultural puzzles.”
This is why it is important for parents to talk to their TCK’s before a visit “home.”
First, remember it is not their home. It might be your’s or your partner’s home.
Second, relatives will have selected memory about your children and their habits, dreams and real life events.
Third, your children will need to realize that no-one has the same different cultural pieces that they do so miscommunication might occur.
For some adults sharing a tale from their own ‘strange’ Christmas past that ended in humor will make your children feel more comfortable if things start to feel weird for them.
Here is an exchange we had in our household many years ago
“Remember how sometimes you feel pressed to say the right thing or do the right thing?”
“Yes, I hate that feeling.”
“One Christmas, each of the nieces and nephews all got fun games and things to do when we were visiting our old aunt. Except, for me. I got a pair of forest green stockings. Not socks but panty-hose, pull up type leggings. I was ten!”
“What did you do?’
“At the time I was greatly disappointed, but I said thanks and looked at my Mom. She quickly looked away from me so that made it even harder to understand why my aunt could be so ‘wrong’ about a gift for me. But now I realized my Mom just wanted that part of the day to be over so no one’s feelings would be hurt. Now I can laugh about it.”
“Well, my aunt was off target in so many ways. I was only ten and never wore any type of stockings yet. I never wore green – ever. I mostly wore jeans and seldom a dress. They were so hideous I couldn’t even change them with any of my cousin’s gifts. I couldn’t even get my older sister or Mom to take them after Christmas. I don’t think I threw them away until I was moving off to college, eight years later.”
“So you kept a bad gift for eight years!”
“Yes, but every time I had to move them I would think fondly of my aunt because at least she didn’t ‘forget’ me, she just forgot what I would like.”
Please spend time with your kids explaining situations that might happen at the extended family gatherings so everyone can come away with memories that are worth keeping a whole lifetime. Families are precious and even more so for our global nomad families.
What was the best thing you told your kids before a large family gathering?
So often family gatherings can be a much-wanted event, but as adults, we are often unprepared for it. Tom Gagliano has an excellent book out “The Problem was Me: How to End Negative Self-Talk and Take Your Life to a New Level.” This might be a wonderful Christmas gift for yourself or one of your loved ones. Listen to “How to Reduce Holiday Stress” with Tom Gagliano.
SMH – Shaking My Head
SMDH – Shaking My Damn Head
/O\ – Frustrated, hands on head
What is your favorite Thanksgiving memory? Why are these memories important?
I am often asked, “How can we identify risk factors for our children, so potential problems are minimized?”
My Top Three:
Family is the key
Knowing your ‘emotions’ is essential
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.
When I got ready to celebrate another international Halloween…I need to get all my ducks (or pumpkins) in a row. This was always hard when you are living in a new country or location and you are trying to celebrate American Halloween for the first time in that location.
When witches go riding and black cats are seen, the moon laughs and whispers. Tis near Halloween.
I realize it is now late October but for many expats, the planning of Halloween started long before the month of October. Some people put things into their suitcases from this past summer holiday in plans for the upcoming Halloween. Others commander the suitcase space of their traveling spouse to ensure that treats are in their new home country prior to 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 was only 92 more shopping days left before Halloween.
When many Expats move they have this vision that they can build up their lives into some sort of nicely sugar-coated layered experience. Blending 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.
Expectations are hard to meet!
Parents need to be careful and connect with what is special about this holiday for your family. As an expat, you can easily get side tracked and forget what is most important for 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. You worry 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 McDonalds 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, over indulge in candy, wear costumes and even let the local children have this holiday.
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 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 is 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 electric 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’.
We have made sure that our unique global situations allows us to still have Jack o’ Lanterns that are uniquely ours. It has become a family ritual.
Then it got me thinking about all the issues friends can bring up around Halloween when you are an expat child (or any child).
“Should we dress alike?”
“Should we let ‘so and so’ go trick or treating with us?”
“Do we have to share with them?”
What should be a time of family fun and fun with friends can often end in an evening full of tears. There are of course some expected heighten emotions when you add too much sugar and a later bedtime, but parents can do a few simple things to help the evening go smoothly.
1. Remember if you are celebrating this holiday abroad, the expectations might not be what the parents or the kids want. The local candy might just be ‘awful’ so remind your child that there will be lots of local kids that would love to have the candy so focus on the ‘giving’ instead of the ‘taking.’
2. Remember that it can be an evening where fitting in is more important than the outfit. Let your child pick what they want to be or dress like and forget the parent’s wants on this when you are abroad. Nothing ruins a holiday more than an unhappy child.
3. Remember if your child decides to exclude ‘friends’ to remind them what the core values of your family are with words. “Our family values politeness.” Or “Our family values courtesy.” Or “Our family values civility.” Try not to say, “You should invite her.”
Halloween is for friends! Trick-or-treating is a customary celebration for children on Halloween. Let your kids celebrate. Love your child unconditionally, but hold him/her accountable for decisions or behavior that go against the family’s values.
Sunflower Bob – “Do I have to wear this?”
In “Emotional Resilience and the Expat Child, I wrote short stories that take place in a variety of locations. The emotions are described in these short stories. Then it covers why the location is so unique. Some of these stories were from Jackie’s experiences around the world, and some were from Grant’s. To make it more predictable for young children to read or understand, I have made each story be about a boy called Jack.
If you are reading to a two or three-year-old, sit with them in your lap or lie down next to each other. Let them hear your voice acting out Jack’s words and his mother’s words with two different voices. Let him see the pattern in the stories.
If you are reading to a four or five-year-old, you can ask them if they know what is coming next. You can take turns being Jack and repeat his words after they are read. You can also do as suggested above.
If you are reading with an older child, ask him what he would like to do. How would he like the story to be read?
See if your child can take some of their experiences and place them into their own emotion stories. Most children can relate to other kids. Ask your child, “When did you feel like Jack?”
Joy During Halloween – Jack’s Story
Oxford English Dictionary
A vivid emotion of pleasure arising from a sense of well- being or satisfaction; the feeling or state of being highly pleased or delighted; exultation of spirit; gladness, delight.
The expression of glad feeling; outward rejoicing; mirth; jubilant festivity.
A source or object of joy; that which causes joy, or in which delight is taken; a delight.
For a young child: Your face is really, really happy. You feel wonderful. You might even want to dance. This is the joy.
Neighborhoods around the world where families are involved in Halloween. You can experience joy while going through your trick or treat bag after a late night of running around the neighborhood. As you pile the candy into two very different piles; Candy that is well worth keeping and Candy that needs to be given away as soon as possible. As you take your fifth piece of candy and slowly unwrap it, so the wrapping does not make any noise, you smile with joy. It has been a fun evening for you and your friends. You wish it could have lasted longer.
Jack’s Story – Joy
The evening ritual begins. The moon starts to shine and Jack rubs his eyes. As Jack and his mom start the short walk across the neighborhood to their home, she asks him, “What was your evening like?”
“Let me think about it,” Jack grabs her hand, looks up with a smile and continues the walk home.
“How was your evening?” she leans over and asks again as he snuggles into his bed.
“Mommy, I had a good night at “trick and treating.” What should I dream about tonight?”
“Dream about what you experienced this evening,” she softly says as she leans closer and smoothes his pillow.
“Mommy, I am thinking about all the joy I felt tonight. I am going to dream about the parade we all took part in. I am going to remember the smiles on everyone’s faces as they walked around the neighborhood. I will remember their joy when they realized that they received some Halloween candy that they love. I am going to remember my joy when I saw you dressed up in your pumpkin hat. I am going to remember how much joy I had when I got to lug my huge trick or treat bag back home. Mommy, that is what I am going to dream about.”
“Do you know how much I love you?”
“You love me a lot.”
“More than you will ever know,” she says as she smiles and kisses him good night.
He just smiles and snuggles down in bed pulling the covers up towards his chin.
“Mommy, I love all the things we do on Halloween. I loved being a werewolf this year. It was fun to go all over the neighborhood shedding my hair! Good night Mom.”
“Good night, Jack.”
Imagine my surprise when this video was sent to me from a friend!