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Does your child conform: School lunches can be the key to miscommunication?

Julia Simens normal

Parents and children often have a different feeling about ‘school lunches’.  What seems to work and be good for one generation might make the other generation cringe. I was interviewed about CCK’s and the issue of holidays and food.  We have a lively conversation about the pro and cons of being an American who is an expat and what happens around the traditional America holidays.  Then we got around the to upcoming start of the school year, and we talked about the issue of cross-cultural school lunches.

The article can be found on Eatocracy- CNN.com Blogs in the article The Kid with the Stinky Lunch.

Apple Map

As a Global Nomad World-Wide Food is always a part of your life!

Do you have any real tales of alienation or acceptance in the school cafeteria? How do your global children cope in their changing environments?

My kids were TCK’s born in Australia where they grew to love Lamingtons, Tim Tams, and Fairy Bread often found at birthday parties. I never packed them into their school snacks, but I knew how much they loved them. When they moved to Indonesia, they grew to love Sambal, Satay, and Rendang which often showed up in their school lunches. Their move to Nigeria brought them the love of  Suya, Dodo, and Puff Puffs. They were growing up to be connoisseurs of food from around the world.

Co-Mingling  of Cultures through Food

You can imagine our delight when we recently got to merge the various cultures of two of our favorite foods in a restaurant in Los Angeles, California USA. They had perfectly mixed the best of Korean mains with American Desserts. Korean BBQ is one of the most fun and delicious communal dining experiences ones can have especially when it is with your adult child that you don’t get to see enough times in the year.

Lucky for me, my son knows banchan from bulgogi, and soju from sambap. We had a delightful lunch.  He knew how to season the grill, flip the meat and let me know when we should eat. His skills made the food ready fast, and it seemed to be non-stop. We were stuffing our faces constantly over the course of the meal.  When the server arrived asking us if we wanted the desserts offered today, Gyeongju bread ( a small pastry with a filling or red bean paste) or Yumilgwa a deep-fried mixture of flour and honey.  We both declined.

Yummy BBQ

Yummy BBQ

Then the server suggested that we might want their summer dessert special. He offered Smores! A traditional treat consisting of a fire-roasted marshmallow and a layer of chocolate sandwiched between two pieces of graham cracker.

How could we say no to this American Treat we celebrated with every summer? See Learning from Failure with Marshmallows at Home and School – here or read the Significance of Food and the Expat Child here.

Screen Shot 2016-08-03 at 12.17.28 PM

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First Impressions vs. Fixing the Bad

How something appears is always a matter of perspective

How something appears is always a matter of perspective

As the author of “Emotional Resilience and the Expat Child“, I have worked with over 8000+ families as they relocate around the world.

The child’s image (social or self) is critical on how successful they will be in the school setting.  It seems like summer holidays just started, but International teachers and students are already heading back to get ready for another school year. What happens if your child starts off the school year in a negative way?


Bad raps happen

Getting a bad rap is as easy as one lousy comment made at the wrong time, or not reaching out to the right kids on campus. Sometimes it can be for liking the ‘bad’ teacher. It can be for wearing a weird t-shirt or even not wearing your hair in a style they are used to seeing. Amazing how quickly a community will judge others. Even more amazing how this happens in schools!

Parents can be vital in helping their child learn to negotiate in this important social climate. Not all parents help! Sometimes, parents can do more harm for their child because they are the ones creating the negative feelings, so it goes from the mother or father being pushy to the child being obnoxious in the minds of others in the community. When in fact, the child has not done anything. Don’t set your child up for failure because as a parent you are overstepping your boundaries. As parents, we all want to connect with our child’s teacher, but she doesn’t need a new BFF. Other parents see your interactions, and it might create some negative feelings from other parents as well as the teacher.


What parents can do


Change the perception

Using simple language and being truthful. “In the past, my daughter was rude to others, but now she is older she understands how important it is to work together on those joint projects.”  These type of words given to other parents while working on the PTA, or attending school events will help shift the thoughts about your child. But a parent can never take the responsibility of their child’s behavior and fix it.  If your child needs to make an apology, it has to come from your child, not you.


Tips for kids

#1 – Search out a child that is well liked and try to see why you are so different. Are you standoffish and he is warm and welcoming – seek to master one skill this ‘expert’ has that you do not.

#2 – Compare yourself to the peer group you would want to be involved with. Do they all wear school colors and you just wear black? Don’t copy them. Most kids want to connect and be part of a group, so acquire some of their articles. If everyone carries a backpack and you still have a roller case for your books and supplies – change. If everyone eats the school lunch, try to give up your homemade brown paper sandwiches.

#3 – Understand the importance of good impressions and see each new situation in a school as new and give it your best shot. Sometimes a change in one class will leak over into other situations you are involved in. With any change, kids and teachers will start seeing you in a new light. You don’t have to be the quiet Freshman you were, or the awkward Sophomore you were – hone your intuitive style and make a new start this year.


Tips for Parents

#1 – Do not say to  your child’s teacher, “Must be nice to have had the summer off!” Instead, say something like “I hope you’re refreshed and ready for ten months of go, go, go!” Remember that a lof of teachers spend their summers upgrading their credentials or planning coursework. Keep your passive-aggressive comments to yourself.

#2 – Don’t try to discuss major issues during the drop-off time, instead set up a meeting with the teacher. Major issues need to be brought to the teacher’s attention ASAP such as a death in the family, a divorce or a recent move, but these can be done by email, so the teacher knows the needed information. Let the dust settle at the start of the new school year and then set up an appointment for the minor things you feel the teacher should know about your child. Remember when you are dropping off or picking up your child, the teacher still had 20+ kids that he or she is taking care of so this is not the time to talk.

#3 – Don’t freak out over class placement! Not everbody gets the teacher they “think” they want. Another teacher might bring something unexpected to the table. A child not being with their best friend might open up a whole new world of socialization and skills.

Good thoughts

Photo – http://awakentoyourdeeperself.com/healing-limiting-core-beliefs-shifting-perspectives/
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The Significance of Food and the Expat Child

speg ohs

Obviously, this depends on your circumstances, but in most cases, you have made the choice to move your family to another country, and even if you didn’t, you are likely to see the move as being a positive experience in your child’s life.

It’s enriching to let them experience the native culture, but what about keeping them aware of their roots too?

Food is a powerful tool in this area, take a look at the significance it can have on your child’s life at home, school, and at friend’s houses, Don’t forget the importance of food at parties and holidays.

With the July 4th holiday coming up, I have had the joy of food shopping in the USA! To many people,  I am sure this is not a fun event but for someone living on Borneo, it is an emotional event.  I pour over the “Triscuit” isle.  Should I get the Original box or the Rosemary & Olive Oil: Inspired by Italy, shaped like Colorado since we just drove in from Colorado?  Or wait – should I try the new Triscuits-  Brown Rice baked with Sweet Potato and Roasted Sweet Onion? And this is only one of many purchases I must make today to fill up our pantry and refrigerator for the upcoming holiday. Imagine what happens when I hit the beer and wine department!

Food and Family Rituals

Baby fireworks and marshmallows

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”.  Many rituals will be based around food.

We make S’mores on the July 4th holiday.  They are a favorite campsite treat for young and old. They are sticky and gooey and loaded with sugar and carbohydrates.


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Best Friends vs. Summer Friends – What Works Best for the Expat Child

hello goodbyeExpats . . . We hit the airport. We travel long distances to get back to “home” and we continually think about our kid’s friends. Do they need more? Do they need different ones?

Some expats pack up and move during the summer so they can get ready for a new location, a new school, and a new life. That summer means new friends. Due to the movement in International Schools, this means at some point; this child will seem friendless or so sad when their ‘best friend’ moves on. It might be your child that is left behind. Summer time can be hard on kids in transition. They might already be worrying about what is going to happen when they go back to school, and their best friend is gone.


School Friends

Each child needs to feel connected and involved with other children. This is often through a common interest, gymnastics, after school activities, sleepovers, etc. This does not mean that during the school day that they need to be only connected to their best friend. In fact, parents and teachers will ask them to find other friends or to branch out their social connections.

It is important for a child to have a connection or a best buddy to help them through transition times. It is nice to see a familiar face when you have the first day of school. Or it is nice to be with a few friends when you move from elementary school to middle school. There are times that a connection is a critical part of a child’s life. These connections are often missing in the expat child’s life due to frequently moves.

But We Can Have Problems with Friends

The biggest pitfall is when your child’s  friend limits your child from making new friends.  Or does not let him/her make friends that might open their choices or focus on new things to do. It is hard for a child to form an interest in a new sport or new musical instrument if they never hear or see a peer involved in the activity. Kids learn by seeing others do it. If you have a reluctant reader do you just want them to be with other kids who love to play outside all the time or do you want them also to have a friend that loves to read and will get them into trying new books.

Understanding Relationships

I feel it is important for children to have close connections to their family as well as friends. To shape these vital close relationships, you need to understand the way healthy relationships develop. I have a master’s in clinical psychology and work with a focus on family therapy with our international population. I often educate parents on ‘Neufeld Six Stages of Attachment ‘.

1. The most primitive and primary stage of attachment is PROXIMITY. Through touch, contact, and closeness, the infant begins attaching to his or her parents.

2. Secondly, toddlers seek SAMENESS with their parents, mimicking their mannerisms or dress, and looking for ways to be the same as their parents.

3. The third stage is BELONGING or LOYALTY. Often three-year-olds will be very possessive and say “my mommy or my daddy.”

4. Four-year-olds seek reassurance of the strength of their attachment to parents by wanting evidence of their SIGNIFICANCE. This is the fourth stage.

5. The fifth stage develops around the age of five when we see the beginnings of genuine LOVE as attachment goes deeper and deeper.

6. And finally, the sixth stage. From age six onward, if the attachment roots have gone deeply enough, we have a child who allows him or herself to venture out into BEING KNOWN.

This 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.

But Sadly – 

Parents often put more of a focus on their child’s friends than they do on their own parent/child connection. They take it for granted that because they are the parent this parent/child connection will be strong and secure.

goodbyeI feel that a child to child friendship is vital, but they are also very ‘natural.’ If children are given some freedom with the day, they will find friends and enjoy doing things together.

If a child has too much structure and no free time, finding and keeping friends becomes the job of the parents, and it tends not to be natural and therefore not a very strong connection for the children.

Summer Friends

This is the time that kids can foster fun friendships and learn how a relationship webs and flows. It is important that parents allow down time, free time and fun time for their kids during the summer. Let them seek out older friends or younger friends. Let them play. Let them make a great connection. Even if you know, it is just a summer thing. Each and every friendship we make and let go of helps us as global people to grow.



Photo – #1 Quotes About New Love Interest Quotes – Quotes Likewww.quoteslike.com500 × 692

#2 Chameleon Kids


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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.



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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
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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 carefully lay 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)
  • The 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 your 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

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. Other family members can start to enjoy the routine.

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 artificial 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 was at Easter. 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 continues to be a family ritual.

Families who move together – grow together.

Firm Foundation Allows You to Say Goodbye with Ease

coffee cup with creamy milk

Thinking About Family – Christmas 2015

Christmas Morning 2015

There is no noise. The frothy white milk mirrors the mounds of snow on the balcony. The dark black coffee reminds me of my mom. It triggers my sense of smell with a kind of sweet red berry-ness with a hint of malty pastry-like aroma. It puts me in my mom’s kitchen where I often found her drinking coffee in the early morning.

I recall sharing my passion for a floral Ethiopian coffee with mom when we returned from Africa.  I remember sharing my favorite dark and smoky Sumatran beans with mom when I visited her while we lived on that interesting island of Indonesia. Mom was always willing to try any coffee I would brew. Her only requirement was it had to be hot coffee and it had to be black coffee –no additions.

Snow is swirling outside as I sit in front of the fireplace having my early morning coffee; everyone else in the household is sound asleep. I think over the past year and how my life has changed.

2015 – I quit living the lifestyle I  loved for the past 26 years. I withdrew from international teaching and am no longer taking more clients with my expat counseling profession. I am currently volunteering with Crisis Intervention with an emphasis on domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse. I am still volunteering for Families in Global Transition as the program chair for FIGT16NL. At times, I am too busy.

“There is no pleasure in having nothing to do; the fun is having lots to do and not doing it.”  – by Mary Wilson Little

So far, my work ethics is still active, and I am not okay with the “not doing” part of volunteering. At times, it seems I work more than when I had a full-time paying job.

I have enjoyed connecting with Naomi Hattaway on her FB page “I am a Triangle”. I have also enjoyed reading about reentry at the FB page, “Re-entry / Repatriation stories” run by Helen Watts.

I moved back to the USA. I am finding that the values of being a global citizen might not be high on the list of many people I come into contact with here. Life here in the USA is mostly about the USA. I understand that, and I get that. It seems the media tends only to care about the USA; the school curriculum looks very firmly based mainly on USA items and even travel seems to be mainly around the USA. I am enjoying my time here. But my life in other countries was about the world.

I eventually realizing that there just isn’t enough space on our walls to fit all of the art works, photos and maps that I want to put up from our time abroad — and that is why I have two piles in the garage.  One for each child, once they get their own more permanent places.

Mom and Dad - Memories

Mom and Dad – Memories


2015 -My mom, Janet Elizabeth Avery Wright joined Gearold Ward Wright in heaven. We now have to confront the sorrows of life; we have to know how to laugh and cry at the same time. I know every pain is matched with love, and every hurt is paired with healing. I loved Momma and will miss her. Her foundation allowed me to be a traveling fool with no regrets.

Life is about changing nothing ever stays the same.

Just as I settle back into the USA, I am sure my children “might not” choose to live here. A recent poll at TransferWise stated that millennials – 55% of these America­ns between the ages of 18-34 say they’d consider moving abroad. In the Transferwise Survey, “more affordable health care abroad” was the top reason the USA is not appealing. Then the work/life balance is out of whack in the USA. I can understand why my kids might choose other locations they have experienced.  They know that  they were better off  living there.

I am going to have to factor in airplane tickets into my budget on a semi-regular basis, for pretty much the rest of my life, because I’m either going to be there and visiting their home or at my home and having them visiting here.

I will have to learn to say goodbye – again.  It will be okay to cry as they leave.



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