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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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Strengthen the Global Family – Emotions and Storytelling Techniques

 Sameness – Fosters a Strong Connection

When you and your child have something in common, whether it is a fondness for food, a sports team, or working on this memory book, you’re strengthening your attachment through ‘sameness’.

Emotional Resilience and the EXPAT CHILDSeveral of the families I work with have recently seen the movie, “Inside Out” and it has made them want to re-create some of the emotion stories they had written.  I encourage families to build emotion stories based on their lives and have written Emotional Resilience and the Expat Child: practical storytelling techniques that will strengthen the global family. When I watched the movie, I loved how Phyllis Smith (Office) portraited “sadness”. According to director Pete Docter, each emotion is based on a shape: Joy is based on a star, Sadness is a teardrop, Anger is a fire brick, Fear is a raw nerve, and Disgust is broccoli. He noted that he likes broccoli very much, however. The writers considered up to 27 different emotions but settled on five (Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Fear and Anger) to make it less complicated. Some of the major emotions that ended up being cut included Surprise, Pride, and Trust.

Working with emotions and understanding them

Throughout my workbook,  I include a dictionary definition of the emotion about which you are reading. This will ensure that both you and your child are clear about the meaning of that emotion and share the same understanding of it.

Most people believe they know what emotions are. They think of emotions as special kinds of feeling that they label with such words as happy, sad, angry, or mad. We all recognize that emotions are a part of our daily lives, and they are constantly being expressed indirect or subtle ways in our relationships to children, parents, friends, co- workers, and lovers. We assume the listener understands these terms because of similar experiences and through their resulting empathy with us. What should you do, though, if the listener does not know what a word such as anticipation or disgust means? It is up to you, as a parent, to help build your child’s emotional vocabulary through their experiences.

 Some people can hide their emotions while others are like an open book. Although no one teaches us the meaning of the emotional expression on the face, most of us believe we can read emotions from people’s faces. Parents will attest to the fact that they are the experts when it comes to reading their own children’s faces!


Humans interpret and use a repertoire of about one hundred emotions in their routine interactions.


Steven Gordon (1990), in Social Structural Effects on Emotions, asserts that the origin of emotions is not in biology but culture. Children who straddle several cultures as they move around the world, and children who live daily in multicultural homes, need to have the firm foundation of understanding emotions.

In the movie, did you notice, that the size of the console expands and grows more complex as Riley gets older.

There are a number of reasons why the study of emotions is difficult. Among them is the fact that the language of emotions is complex and often ambiguous. People are aware that they, and probably others, disguise or hide their feelings for various social reasons. We often do what our culture informs us is normal or expected. The expectation of air travel is often that children belong in the back of the plane. If they are allowed in the business section, they should remain quiet, and others should not notice them. As Expat families, we know this is not true. If the company gives you a business class seat when you relocate from one assignment to another assignment – Enjoy!

Painting  on a plane! Perth, Australia to Denver, Colorado

Painting on a plane! Perth, Australia to Denver, Colorado

Concept of opposites

When I start to work with children on building an emotional vocabulary, I like to begin with the concept of opposites. Children love to talk about opposites and many children’s picture books cover topics such as short/tall, big/small, and hot/cold. I usually start my consultations with the emotions happy/sad, but to build up your child’s vocabulary we will use the word joy.


Joy (Happy)/ Sadness (Sad)

Acceptance (Like)/ Disgust (Not Like)

Fear (Scared)/ Anger (Mad)

Surprise / Anticipation

In the movie, aside from the five standard colors of the memory orbs based on their corresponding emotion, there are also grey memory orbs, which contain general, non-emotional based information such as phone numbers, names of U.S. Presidents, and piano lessons. When a memory is old and faded, it darkens to a sepia-black color and the “video” of the memory in the orb becomes faded and blurry and with muffled sound.

It is hard to work with any emotion in isolation. Your child will usually pair up emotions because he/she likes to understand extremes. Some parents go directly to the emotion that they feel their child needs to work on; other parents will go smoothly from one emotion to the next. If emotions seem to be hard for your child to express or understand then, you need to start at the emotion that is the easiest for them to connect with. I encourage you to do what feels right for your family.

Travel and the TCK – global family


The expatriate lifestyle usually allows families to live or travel to unique locations. Talking to your child about his experiences will help expand his emotional vocabulary.

In Emotional Resilience and the Expat Child, the initial eight stories take place around the world. We go to Australia, the Cook Islands, and Egypt, where you will experience joy, surprise, and anticipation. Then you are off to South Africa, Thailand, and Indonesia to experience fear, anger and disgust. Since many of our emotion stories revolve around the stories of children in international schools, please note that international schools can be in any location in the world. You will experience sadness at one international school. The expatriate lifestyle usually allows families to go to live in unique locations, and it builds on geographical skills due to the ability to travel on relocation and during vacation time.


Primary emotion stories

Our family’s 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 my daughter, Jackie’s, experiences around the world and some were from my son’s, Grant’s experiences. 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? Would he like you to read the dictionary and location page and he could read the story page?

See if your child can take some of their own experiences and place them into our emotion stories. Most children can relate to other children. Ask your child, “When did you feel like Jack?”

boy with animal

Nature and Joy go hand in hand




Oxford English Dictionary

  1. 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.
  2. The expression of glad feeling; outward rejoicing; mirth; jubilant festivity.
  3. 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 joy.


You can experience joy while swimming with the dolphins at Monkey Mia. Monkey Mia is a remote spot geographically; it lies on a long, thin peninsula within Shark Bay in Western Australia. The water is warm and absolutely beautiful. As you stand in knee- deep water, wild dolphins come right up to the white shell beach and swim around you. Wild dolphins have been coming to Monkey Mia for over 50 years. It is the only place where dolphins visit daily, not seasonally, and it is free. It is a World Heritage landmark. If you are lucky you might get to swim with a mother dolphin and her calf.


A child’s version of the story of Joy

The evening ritual begins. The sun starts to set and Jack rubs his eyes. As Jack and his mom start the short walk across the beach to their beachfront villa, she asks him, “What was your day like?”

“Let me think about it,” Jack grabs her hand, looks up with a smile and continues the walk.

“How was your day?” she leans over and asks again as he snuggles into his bed.

“Mommy, I had a good day today. What should I dream about tonight?”

“Dream about what you experienced today,” she softly says as she leans closer and smoothes his pillow.

“Mommy, I am thinking about all the joy I saw today. I am going to dream about that baby dolphin and how he stayed so close to his mother. I am going to remember the smiles on everyone’s faces as the mommy dolphin swam right up so close to you. I will remember their joy when they realized that the dolphin picked you to swim with because both of you were having a baby. I am going to remember my joy when I saw you with the mommy dolphin and how you laughed and played with her. I am going to remember how much joy I had when I got to touch a baby dolphin. 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 mommy and baby dolphins. Good night, Mom.”

“Good night, Jack.”

Joyful - happy




Oxford English Dictionary

1. The condition or quality of being sad (in various senses).
2. Gravity of mind or demeanor; seriousness, soberness, staidness. 3. Gloomy appearance; dark or somber hue.

For young children: Your face is almost crying. You want to hang your head. You keep your eyes down towards your feet. You sigh really loudly while you take a deep breath.


You can experience sadness when your friends leave your international school. Sadness is an emotion characterized by feelings of disadvantage, loss and helplessness. Third Culture Kids (TCKs) often have unresolved grief due to the amount of loss they experience as they move around the world.

Often children may be thinking, “I was just getting to know my friends, oh great – more goodbyes and I was just starting to feel good.” The frequent breaking-off of relationships due to relocations may often cause sadness in children.

A child’s version of the story of Sadness


Time goes on. The evening ritual continues.

The sun starts to set and Jack rubs his eyes. As Jack and his mom start the short walk up the stairs to his bedroom, she asks him, “What was your day like?”

“Let me think about it,” Jack grabs her hand, looks up with a smile and continues the walk.

“How was your day?” she leans over and asks again as he snuggles into his bed. He is no longer smiling.

“Mom, I had a very sad day today. My friends are leaving my school. I’m sad. What should I dream about tonight?”

“Dream about what you experienced today,” she softly says as she leans closer and smoothes his pillow.

“Mom, I am thinking about how sad I was today. I am going to dream about my entire list of friends who will be leaving this year from my school. Did you know someone from my cross- country team is leaving? My best friend who arrived here the same time I did is also leaving, and two kids that I always go to the movies with will be going. Mom, that is what I am going to dream about tonight. What will I do without my friends?”

“I know you will miss your friends. How are you feeling?” “Sad, very sad.”
“Do you want to dream about being sad?”

“Yes, because I will miss my friends, but I also want to dream about new friends. Well, maybe I won’t dream of being sad. I am already looking forward to new people arriving at my school. Since I am on student council, I will be involved in the new student orientation. Maybe I will get a new friend when I help all the new students settle into our school.”

“Do you know how much I love you?”

“You love me a lot.”

“More than you will ever know. Maybe you can keep in touch with your friends. Perhaps you will get to know some of the new kids coming to your school.” She smiles and kisses him good night.

He does not smile but just shrugs his shoulders and snuggles down in bed pulling the covers up towards his chin.

“Good night, Mom.” “Good night, Jack.”


Min-A is sad

Notes: Pete Docter‘s inspiration for this film came from watching his own daughter go through this turbulent part of growing up.

Phyllis Smith (who plays Sadness), Mindy Kaling (who plays Disgust), Bill Hader (who plays Fear), and Rashida Jones (who plays Cool Girl’s Emotions) have previously starred together in The Office (2005). While Smith, Kaling, and Jones have recurring roles in The Office (2005), Hader had a cameo appearance in one episode.

For those of us that have lived in the San Francisco area – When Riley is on the bus back to Minnesota the bus is leaving San Francisco. The bus approaches the on-ramp to the Bay Bridge and a sign says something about a toll ahead. There is no toll going east bound on the Bay Bridge.

Avantika is sad
Shir is sad   Keenan is happy

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Changing Worlds: Transitions of an Expat Family

Sometimes you just have to start at the beginning!  Do you know all of these terms?

  • Expat – one who is living outside their country.
  • Global Nomads – someone who has lived abroad as a child as a consequence of a parent’s job.
  • TCK – Third Culture Kid – a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture.
  • ATCK – an adult TCK, a TCK’s who has reached adulthood.
  • CCK – Cross Cultural Kid – a person who is living or has lived in, or has a meaningfully interacted with, two or more cultural environments for a significant period of time during childhood.
  • ACCK – an adult CCK, a CCK, who has reached adulthood.

Here is a parent presentation, we gave at Pasir Ridge International School, Balikpapan Indonesia. The prezi has several videos in it, so please just hit the little play button on the video if you are interested in what we showed the parents. Please let me know if you’d like some of the workshop information passed on to you.

Why businesses benefit from employing third culture kids

In today’s world, it is easy to take globalization for granted. Many companies today have employees who have grown up everywhere, are based on global offices, have international clients, and have regular teleconferences. Every working day is a cross-cultural encounter.

One product of this global professional lifestyle is the children who are born and raised amidst these mixed cultural contacts and settings. While removed from the rigors of international interactions in the workplace, they face unique cultural challenges of their own through the schools they attend and the friends they make. Often, these encounters differ significantly from the cultural settings at home with their parents. As a result, these children maintain a lifestyle where they constantly migrate between diverse cultural environments at home, at school, and at social contacts.

This is further complicated when their parents’ career faces change, and they must inevitably be uprooted and transplanted to new and unfamiliar places.  Then they must learn to interact in new cultural settings while simultaneously reconciling their identity with the values and experiences internalized in places previously inhabited.

As parents, we all want our kids to be ‘out on their own.’

Pollock and Van Reken describe TCKs as resilient, adaptive and possessing an extraordinary perspective on the world, as a result of their genuinely cross-cultural and highly mobile lifestyle during their formative years. These characteristics translate to valuable skills and assets for future professionals. TCKs are four times more likely than non-TCKs to earn a bachelor’s degree, and forty percent go ahead to earn an advanced degree. Many TCKs pursue work in education, medicine, and other professional positions and are also likely to be self-employed as freelancers or consultants. Multi-lingual TCKs naturally slip into international assignments, skilled jobs in government and the military and are familiar with the process of moving and adjusting to different places. The unique world-view and experiences that many TCKs possess present a definite advantage to many globally minded companies and organizations.

Goals – what are important for your family?

A key thing to remember when living with TCK’s is to remember that their lives are often about both/and realities, not either/or.


Many TCKs have an expanded view of the world because they have seen much of it firsthand, but they may not be well versed in the cultural expectations and nuances of their home or passport country.

Many TCKs have a 3-dimensional view of the world. They have seen places and cultural events in person that many others only see in National Geographic magazines.

This mobility also creates chronic cycles of separation and lost. They and their friends are frequently moving. Dealing with the grief that each farewell brings can become a major issue for global families.


Most TCKs have friends all over the world. We have even heard of “global families sorting their friends by continents”. Today’s world of social media has helped enormously. A new challenge facing some is to make “in person” friends in the new place rather than spend all of their time on Facebook with friends from a previous location.

You can find one of the best videos on loneliness here: http://www.upworthy.com/loneliness-illustrated-so-beautifully-you-will-need-to-tell-someone?c=upw1

alone but connected

Are you giving up something important?

Many TCKs also face challenges that, unfortunately, manifest themselves professionally. Many TCKs are schooled in educational systems that do not translate to their passport countries. A Korean student, who received her education in English while living in Malawi and Kenya, may not perform well at a university in Korea, where she needs to write papers and give oral presentations in Korean.

As a result, her professional opportunities in Korea will not be as extensive as those for another Korean student who had been raised in the Korean educational system. This challenge is especially pronounced for TCKs, who wish to pursue skilled professions such as medicine and law in their passport countries. Because of their highly specialized terminology, education and proficiency in the language of the passport country is essential for success. Unless TCKs receive supplemental education in these languages, they may miss out on opportunities in these areas.

As globalization becomes more and more a fact of life, TCKs are a model for tomorrow’s professionals.

If you work with the global nomad population, please get Lois Bushong’s book, “Belonging Everywhere and Nowhere: Insights into Counseling the Globally Mobile”. You can get it on Amazon.com either in printed form or electronic form. It is also an excellent tool for families who want to help their children grow as they move around the world.

Importance of family rituals

Rituals are valuable because they are a way to develop a sense of shared joys and positive memories. The most important thing a family ritual can provide is space and time for emotional healing if the family relationships need that time. Good memories help eclipse the upsetting ones. Rituals provide a sense of security and can be soothing.

As a global family what has been your biggest transition? Please share so we can all continue to learn.



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Top Tips on Instilling Confidence in your Child this Summer

Moving somewhere new is never easy, and for a child it can be downright daunting. Starting a new school and having to make new friends is a big task. You can help greatly with this process by instilling a sense of confidence and self-worth into your child even before you make the big move.

Why don’t you use some of your free time this summer working on this!

imgres 3
Summer… ahh

Attachment parenting is one key way to make confidence-building in your children.

Babies are very resilient and it is never too late to start building up your child’s self-image. Getting to know your child and seeing things from his/her point of view will help him or her learn to trust in themselves. Having close connections help us feel like we matter.

There are psychological challenges involved in all moves. One key psychological issue in all expat or people who move around is the need to belong or have loyalty to their tribe. After we cover Maslow’s hierarchy of food, water, shelter, safety and security – after all our basic needs are met we need to belong. We need to connect. We need to belong to a family, a community, a unit, a race of people, a tribe, a great school, a good job or something. If we feel connected, we are happy and fulfilled.

There are also lots of tips to help parents understand this part of their child’s life.  As an expert on Family Transitions, I have seen thousands of families move around the world. I have also been doing this global nomad style with my own two kids for a long time. Try these suggestions on ways to cope with any transition:

1. Take an honest look at yourself. What are your strengths, weaknesses, skills? How did those influence “positively or negatively” your transition? What is each child’s strengths?  How can they use these strengths to make the new situation better?

2. Step up your self-care. Major changes are physically and emotionally taxing. You need self-care now more than ever. Children need more sleep and good food.  Forget the junk food and the late nights, try to get into a routine as close as their old routine so they feel comfortable.

3. Focus on what you want, and less on what you don’t want. Keep your eye on the prize. This is every important because it helps form the words out of our mouths. If you keep talking about what you don’t want your children will just focus on that. (Remember your kids only hear about half of what you actually say so why are you saying negative things?) Focus on what you want.

4. Work on your thoughts. Calm your fears and reinforce your sense of hope and happiness. Be honest about your feelings and fears because children hate it when their parents lie to them.  So be honest but focus on the reason you choose this type of lifestyle..

5. Create your own rite of passage. Ceremony and ritual help with all transitions. The more family rituals you have the stronger your family bonds will be and the stronger your children will be with coping skills that will help them lifelong.

We really do need to put family first in any move. I often think as parents we need to rethink things as our children get older, but we also need to revisit things.  Many of the things that work and were good parent advice for your toddler works well for your child as he or she heads off to college.  You want them to trust in themselves.

As with most parenting concerns, if we start with ourselves we can help our children better. Try to improve your own self-confidence. In caring for your child, you can often heal yourself. Look closely at your own life.

Notes: Some family therapists ask clients to do this activity.  It is called “passing on the best, and discarding the rest”

List the specific things your parents did to build your self-image.

List the specific things your parents did to weaken your self-image.

Now resolve to emulate the good things your parents did and avoid the rest.

If you find it difficult to follow through with this exercise on your own, get help from a professional. Both you and your child will benefit.

I wish you the best – where ever this summer finds you on your path to a new adventure.

Emotional Resilience and the Expat Child

What Do Cultures See?

three things we need to doWhere is the research for our Cross-Cultural Kids?

When will we be able to share information on how they ‘see’ the world. I know about the work from FIGT and the Interchange Institute, but there must be more information out there since we all becoming so much more global?

From: Ian Bullock – Is your Brain East or West?

With a few modern updates, Western culture has been re-creating the same story over and over again since Homer collected The Odyssey more than two and a half thousand years ago. Since the Greeks, the idea of the unique and strong individual has become so prevalent in Western culture that we have stopped to realize that it is even part of our culture. Often we mistake our perceptions of the world for how the world really is.

When I work with young kids, I try to see if the predictions from psychologists are accurate.

  • Do North Americans children overestimate their own distinctiveness?
  • Do Americans and Canadians talk about their individual personality and personal outlook more than others do?
  • Do North Americans tend to settle arguments regarding right and wrong?
  • Do East Asians tend to seek compromises?

My problem is I can find so few of these kids.

All most everyone I work with can’t be labeled as North American, East Asian, etc. because they have lived a significant part of their life in another country. They are cross-cultural kids.

Perhaps as an adult, you are more aware and comfortable with one dominate culture. New research shows that culture even affects our cognition.

Great Research - We need more for our CCKs

Excellent Research – We need more for our CCKs

A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology claims that Americans and Japanese intuit the emotions of others differently based on cultural training. North Americans try to identify the single important thing that is key to making a decision, explains Dr. Takahiko Masuda, the study’s author. He asked questions like these:

Did you look at the picture above?

What did you focus on?

Did you see the main basketball boy or did you see the team in the background?

Masuda studied the eye movement of Americans and Japanese when analyzing a picture of a group of cartoon people. When asked to interpret the emotion of the person in the center, the Japanese looked at the person for about one second before moving on to the people in the background. They needed to know how the group was feeling before understanding the emotion of the individual.

The Americans (and Canadians in subsequent studies) focused 95% of their attention on the person in the center. Only 5% of their attention was focused on the background, and this, Dr. Masuda points out, didn’t influence their interpretation of the central figure’s emotion.

Dr. Masuda is quick to point out that Americans and Japanese are physiologically the same. The difference in eye movement is tied to the roots of our respective cultures.

Masuda stresses that no way of perceiving the world is better than another and refuses to interpret his studies too broadly. He has yet to conduct his tests in Africa or South America.

But the message for me is loud and clear.

Masuda’s study is important

Some see the world this way

It reminds us that there is more than one way of seeing the world. Who can say what we see when we look at the same thing?

Only by communication can we see the same.

Only by sharing our views can we see the same thing.

Only by caring enough to ask someone what they see can we see the same thing.

Please search out where some significant cross-cultural studies are being documented and let me know.

What should we want to know about our CCK’s?



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Explaining Loss: When the Empty Nest just got More Empty

Unconditional hugs around the world

Unconditional hugs around the world

Our Global Family includes Pets

Every location we have lived, many people loved Raja. “Your dog is so beautiful. How old is he?” They would often ask. Soon, they were amazed when they heard his age.

He’s 10.  He’s 11.  He’s 12. He’s 13.  He is 13 1/2. Raja is a yellow Lab, and they usually live to be 11 years old. We had Raja a long time – 13.5 years.

When Raja walked his hips were stiff and his gait was off. At times, his eyes seemed like clouds were forming, we wondered about cataracts. But emotionally he often appeared to be an adolescence, he still loved to play and had a happy routine.

We were quick to notice the small changes. He was no longer able to crawl into his favorite chair. It had been years since we’d come home and find him on the couch sitting in our human’s chairs. He would find his old green chair that was low to the ground and flake out on it. It gave him lots of comfort. When we moved to Balikpapan, his favorite chair didn’t make the move. It was gross and falling apart, too old and worn to relocate to our new home. We quickly replaced Raja’s favorite place in our new living room with a lovely tan chair. He used it several times a day in the two years we have been here. Then it sat – alone. It became too hard to even crawl up into his low chair.

We are now empty nesters, but we have the kid’s dog. Somehow I always thought I’d have the kids longer in our home than I have Raja.

Canine Longevity Consortium

Did you know that there really is a Canine Longevity Consortium? They got a grant from the National Institute of Aging, so they are currently working on a longitudinal study on aging in dogs. This is important because, “Unlike most animal models used in the studies of aging, dogs are not in a lab – they share the same environment we do” said Promislow.

Raja grew frail.  He became forgetful.  But he was our host of wellness! His life benefitted ours. He helped with anxiety as we moved around the world. He gave us love and friendship daily. Feeding, walks, and snuggles were a huge part of our life with Raja.  Raja always made us feel ‘things will be okay”. Raja had a very special bond with our son.  It didn’t matter how many times my son would come home, each and every time Raja would meet him at the door with his tail wagging.  Even when he went off to college and would return after six months being away, Raja wouldn’t miss a beat. Meeting him and loving him the minute he got to the door. No matter how long he would be away from home, Raja was always eager to see him.

As Raja’s hearing and smelling started to go, he would place himself right at the front door so he would not miss us arriving home. This made him our fifty-pound door stop.  It was never easy getting in because even when you opened the door, Raja would just lay there. He was happy to see you home and would thump his tail, but it seldom caused him to jump up with joy to greet you.


Expat Pets: Tasting Trails around a Multi-cultural Gastronomic Trip with their Humans

Raja was a notorious food enthusiast. He was always eager to try new food. He loved Mu Ping the grilled pork on skewers in Thailand. He loved Suya from Nigeria. This meat has a unique blend of kuli-kuli (groundnut/peanut butter deep fried till crunchy), ground ginger, pepper flakes, stock cubes and salt.  He liked Indonesian beef or goat cooked in rich spices and coconut milk. It was called rendang.

When he was young he was known to even take food off the coffee table if you are not careful. Once he took a piece of toast from one child’s plate and of course it was blamed on the other sibling – not the dog. When we had a Kansas Day Party, Raja was so excited to see our visitors that he ran into the living room. As he rounded the corner, he took out the cardtable that was holding all the appetizers. Kevin and I managed to gap a few plates of food before they hit the floor. Not all but some. Raja had a feast of food to eat off the floor.Then he grew to not really like most food. As he got older, when he was hungry, he decided he only liked to eat soft boiled eggs and he still loved rice. He would turn his nose up at most of the food that he used to love.

Elizabeth Head, University of Kentucky studies the minds of aging dogs. She says as dogs age they become resistant to change. It takes longer to learn new things, and they start lagging in memory tests. Some dogs show signs of microscopic beta-amyloid plaques that are hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease. It seems like we can help our dogs if we give them memory drills and new skills training before they reach the cognitive point of no return.

Physical Decline in the Elder

The physical decline was easy to see in Raja. His jumping up on furniture was first to go. The ball throwing and catching went from ‘never-ending’ to ‘three throws are enough’ today. Then it went to ‘oops missed it and finally to ‘no need to do any’ today.

Walks went from pulling your arm out of your socket as he pulled you around the neighborhood, to epic walks, to short hikes, to strolls around the block, to a walk just far enough outside the door to pee on a tree. Sometimes, he’d stop mid-walk and I wondered if I’d have to carry him home. This week he decided that going outside was just not important and he would only head out in the backyard. He’d take about three steps out  into the grass.  This worried me but what was more alarming to me was my own knowledge of aging, now. One by one, would the things I love to do become too difficult. Would these things slowly slip out of my life.

Still Raja

His indoor behavior was hard to deal with – I wondered if he had insomniac. He would bark at ‘ghosts’ in the middle of the night as well as in the bright daylight. He would quickly forget where humans were in the house. He would bark to see if he was alone.  We might be sitting in the same room, but he was not aware of us. His life made me think about the recent movie, Still Alice with Julianne Moore.  It is about early onset Alzheimers. Raja had Alzheimers, I am sure. We saw a decline in his recognition of faces. We saw confusion when it came to doing his tricks.

Christmas 2014, Our son got to spend time with Raja. I’d see them laying next to each other on the floor. I wondered what Raja thought. Did he think, he had gone to heaven because he was back with the one person who loved him 100% unconditionally?  Research has shown, grief over a pet can equal or exceed that of a human family member. It is often talked about as disenfranchised grief”. It’s a loss some people can’t relate to.

Three countries, five moves,  13 1/2  years. Such a wealth of memories. Raja afraid to jump off the patio step in Duri. It was just one small standard step from the living room to the patio.  Raja walking around the camp in Lagos with our cat Bailey. Our slow, very slow steps in Balikpapan. Raja was admired and petted by strangers his whole life. Some of our locations included Muslims which consider dogs unclean, but we were able to find host country nationals who loved Raja.

Raja was a great mover but not the best traveler. Airports made his nervous. Security agents caused him to whimper. Baggage handlers would make him bark. But fellow travelers and young kids would cause him to thump his tail and lick their hands as their tiny fingers reached into his crate. His three international flights and four domestic flights about 20,000 air miles would have earned him elite traveler status.

Are TCKs compelled to set up housekeeping with pets? 

Is this mutual domesticatRaja Simens -ion beneficial to both parties?  What are your views on TCK’s and pets?






Notes:  Our globe-trotting, ball-fetching super athlete, Raja died tonight (April 17th, 2015)

April 15, 2015, research on humans – http://www.cbsnews.com/news/new-clue-what-causes-alzheimers-disease/

University of Kentucky -In parallel with work in animal model systems, they are also following learning and memory changes with aging in adults with Down syndrome http://www.uky.edu/DSAging/).

A Blessing but Harder than I Ever Thought Possible: FIGT15

FIGT15 meant a lot to many people – I am not going to sit here and tell you about the large number of proposals I got to read.  I am not going to share how hard it was to decline some of these proposals from FIGT board members or from personal friends. It was hard.

Knowing that I would have to miss my mother’s 83rd birthday since FIGT15 falls on the same weekend. That was hard. But with a promise to make it to her place as soon as my obligations were over made me feel better. I am not sure that it was what my mother really wanted or felt was OK but it seemed right – but hard.

Telling (asking) Michele Bar – Pereg to come all the way from the Netherlands to speak for five minutes and 30 seconds doing an ignite was hard.  I kept telling her it would be worth it. Finding space to let her and Naomi Hattaway run a concurrent session was hard. Asking Ginny Sampson to cut her lovely postcard presentation to only 20 slides instead of the whole wonderful program she had already produced. That was hard. Getting twelve concurrent sessions from various sectors and asking the presenters to pay for their travel and registration, that was hard.  Asking other presenters to cut their 90-minute talks into a 25-minute kitchen table talks, that was hard.

Do not plan too far in advance – you never know what might come up.

Getting a text message in the middle of FIGT15, from my sister that they had just taken my Mom into ICU. That was hard.

When Doug Ota asked us to embrace our goodbyes. To think about the kinds of goodbyes we would be having soon and to really think of one. Pick one and work on that one.  I knew that the “goodbye” to my Mom was too real and too close that I didn’t want to share that in our public forum.  I might have shared this if my initial “northness” had met up with someone I was close with from FIGT or someone on the FIGT Board that I knew well.  I might have shared this looming goodbye.  I was tagged by a new person to FIGT and it seemed much more appropriate to share the upcoming goodbye I will be having with my friends and connections from Balikpapan since I will be leaving there May 21st, 2015.
Screen Shot 2015-03-16 at 10.27.58 PM As with most interactions at FIGT15 – your connections are quick and your connections are deep. Being able to share the goodbye issue was very meaningful to me.  I also really enjoyed hearing how she was planning on saying her goodbye. This is the main take aways I got from our 4-minute conversation.



Do not try to fix the unfixable.

Your friend’s loss cannot be fixed or repaired or solved. The pain itself cannot be made better. It was great to have a new friend who did not try to take the pain away. She just listened.

Doug Ota's Closing EventThroughout the conference, I had several wonderful moments with Doug’s mother. It was also a very special for me to see Doug Ota with his son since my own son, Grant Simens was attending FIGT15. This brings me to my second take away from FIGT15 closing keynote.

Anticipate, don’t ask.

Grant, my son, was great with this one. He didn’t say, “Call me if you need anything,” because, like most people, I would not call. Not because I did not need, but because identifying a need, figuring out who might fill that need, and then making a call to ask would have been way beyond my energy levels or capacity. Instead, he made concrete offers: “I will be here after the kitchen table talks and bring you a Coke”. Besides being able to talk to Grant about my mother’s health, he was reliable and supportive in small, ordinary ways — these things are tangible evidence of love.

He ran interference.
To a busy program chairperson, the influx of people who want to show their support can be seriously overwhelming. What is an intensely personal and private time can begin to feel very stressful! Grant was my shield by setting himself up as the designated point person –he was my Gatekeeper as I did what I needed to do at FIGT15.

Our family has now the harsh fact of seeing our mother, grandmother and great grandmother not as the person we all know but as a strong woman that is 100% under the watchful arms of the nursing staff. We all know – the decline. But this is hard.

Being able to share the wisdom that I received from Ota’s closing at FIGT15 will be passed on to my family as we say our goodbyes. For now, my Mom is comfortably back in the nursing home where we are getting to spend time with her void of noisy machines and busy nursing staff. Each day is a special day.


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Expat Writer’s Forum: FIGT15 a Real Bonus

There’s one thing I’m sure about – An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say: Listen, Come in here. You want to know more about this.

Stephen King’s words in an interview with the Atlantic.

FIGT 2015 Writer’s Forum Why do we write? To be fully alive.

SO where are ya from? Why do you write?This is something we could talk all weekend about many FIGT members are writers. I have put together a prezi that is full of interesting things for FIGT members who know they have story inside of them, some key information for other members who have been sitting on their story for a few years and even a few interesting videos for seasoned FIGT writers. I hope that sometime in the near future you will be able to take some time and view this power-packed presentation. But not today, today we are going to do things face to face.

I love Storytellers and I love being a global nomad.

When we lived in Nigeria, we were told about the Yoruba tribes and how their culture was based in oral traditions. I loved how some of their most basic form of communication used simple devices. A Yoruba man in Nigeria might sent six shells to the woman he is attracted to. The Yoruba word EFA – means both ‘six’ and it means ‘attracted”.   So the guy would present the girl six shells, if she liked him she would reply with eight shells because Ejo means both “eight” and I agree.

When you hear a story, and you are retelling it, you can make subtle changes because our different experiences and interpretations influence the meaning of the story. And therefore, how we choose to pass the story on. But writing is an act of recording. The words written becomes fixed. We can still interpret a piece of writing in different ways, but the text itself does not change. Writers I love them.

Here is the presentation that we had for the participants that wanted to come early to FIGT15 and benefit from a free writer’s forum:

Last year the writer’s forum had information from Jo Parfitt. She talked about having “spice” in your writing.

• Specifics
• Place
• Incident
• Character
• Emotion

At FIGT15 we always want to hear from various sectors in the global arena. I found that the pictures, words and feeling from Richard Lane very powerful. His story added “Spice” to my global life.

Tigers in the Grass

Then they took them to the airport
and they packed them on a plane
and they flew to dark new countries

The Worlds Within published in November 2014. It was produced wholly by volunteers and 15% of the profit goes to the David Pollock Scholarship Fund at Families in Global Transition (www.figt.org). They asked young people who grew up global to submit words and artwork with meaning. It was so nice to see that my son had several articles that went into this book.

Please take the time to work your way through this prezi. You will get to see the beginning of “The Road Home” An Academy Award Shortlisted Film. If you are not aware of Rahul Gandotra’s work – please check out his latest post about this movie’s beginning – here.

I have asked everyone to Up Your Dopamine for two minutes every day.Take two minutes every day and do one of these things:

  • Write down three new things that you’re grateful for.
  • Journal about one positive experience you’ve had in the last 24 hours.
  • Use the first email you write every day to praise or thank someone you know. Spread the happy.
Note: FIGT15 Writer’s Forum: https://prezi.com/p9m1iuyzbld6/figt15-writers-forum/
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Ignites FIGT15 – Volunteers, Experts and Fun…what more could you ask for?

Experts who ignite your mind and heart.

Experts who ignite your mind and heart.

On March 7th – I will be glued to my seat listening to six 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 complete talk.

FIGT15 Ignites are organized by volunteers – 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 FIGT15, we will get to hear

The Future of Relocation-Designed by You! by – Michele Bar-Pereg

Michele’s ignite session explores what today’s expatriate spouses want from their daily lives, in their new “ home”.  Global changes, current technology, and the self- service trend provide new opportunities to support successful relocation – putting expatriate spouses in the driving seat for the very first time.

I Am a Triangle, and Other Thoughts on Thriving in the Midst of Repatriation and Relocation – Naomi Hattaway

Moving from one culture to another forms a new “shape” that is often unrecognizable but is now part of our being and must be embraced. If you are not familiar with Naomi’s work, check it out on her facebook page – I Am A Triangle.

Use Your Difference To Make A Difference- Tayo Rockson

Traveling and growing up among different cultures innately allows global nomads and third culture kids to help educate the world and solve some of the world’s problems. Tayo has a great podcast that is ongoing and lively at http://tayorockson.com/podcast/

Home Is An Emotional Connection- Find it Through Connections   –Tashi Nibber

What is home? It is the whiff of your favorite cinnamon bun, the face time call with your mom, a jiffy peanut butter sandwich- things that comfort and transport you back home. It’s the emotional connection to home. This Ignite will focus on how to keep those connections alive for family to make sure they feel that connection to home.

HOME: Carry it on your back like a turtle – Norman Viss

“The ache for home lives in all of us”, said Maya Angelou.  That can be poignantly true for global citizens who change location and social circles on a regular basis. Theologian Frederick Buechner speaks of the lifelong search of each of us for a home, which includes being at home with ourselves. What would it look like to be at home with ourselves?  http://expateverydaysupportcenter.com/

A Postcard Correspondence: Combined Visual and Written Communications in a Global Context – Ginny Sampson

Ginny’s presentation of ‘A Postcard Correspondence’ shares examples from a visual communication between Ginny and her friend. Over the course of their ten-year correspondence, they sent each other over a thousand postcards; reflecting monthly and weekly themes and stories. This exchange helped them remain a part of each others shifting interests and experiences.

Please join me at FIGT15 to hear these wonderful presentations!

Mosaic of FIGT15 Ignites


The first Ignite was held in 2006 in Seattle, Washington, United States (US), and was the brainchild of Brady Forrest  and Bre Pettis.








“The Worlds Within” Released In Time To Bring Home For The Holidays

Screen Shot 2014-11-29 at 4.19.06 PMOur local reporter wrote an article about my son. I am unsure of when it will go live but wanted to share it.

Author Grant Leif Simens Examines Life Between Cultures

Incline Village, NV, NOV 21, 2014 – “My Grandma’s house is warm like a hug.” So begins ‘Visit to Grandma’s House’, a work he wrote at the tender and imaginative age of five.  It would take nine more years before he blessed the world with the ‘Spirit of Saint Valentines: An expat tale of love’.  Other stories, written by emerging author Grant Leif Simens, are now part of a newly released book ‘The Worlds Within:  An anthology of TCK art and writing: young, global and between cultures’. This book is available now on Amazon in both paperback and for the Kindle eBook reader.

Now quite grown up and in college in Canada, Simens is working on a variety of projects in various art forms including film and creative writing.  All projects drawing from the well of experiences of his factual life abroad as a Third Cultural Kid.

Third Cultural Kids (TCK) are children born to parents of different cultures who end up living in a country that is not their passport or country of citizenship.  For instance, a child born to a Chinese mother and Armenian father and they live in a country other than their nativity because their parents are diplomats required to travel and live globally.  Or as an International educator/ missionary/ professional person who is raising a family abroad. Life becomes a question of home.  What is home?  Where is home?  That is what is explored through words and art in The Worlds Within: An anthology of TCK art and writing: young, global and between cultures. This book is from the perspectives of the kids who live and grow up that way, kids like Grant Leif Simens.

[Tweet “Young, Global and between cultures – TCKs ‘Home is Here’- Grant Simens”]

Simens, who has literally traveled the globe, has lived in Australia, USA, Indonesia, Nigeria, Thailand, and Canada and uses all of these places intricately within the fabric of the family life he has lived over time. He now shares with readers, a window to his intricate and vulnerable world from a child’s point of view.

This book highlights Simens’ three word “story” weaving the theme of “Home is Here”, a great visionary gift and reminder coming at this time of year when home and family dominate thoughts and conversations.

[Tweet “Home and Family dominate thoughts and conversations for TCKs.”]

It is always hard to know or even guess where your child might end up.  Or what they might choose to do if you raised them as global nomads. The world is a possibility for them since they are not concerned about moving or change. Some will want to continue this nomadic lifestyle other will want to make roots. As parents, we all worry about the type of person our child will grow up to be.

“Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.” Anne Frank

I am often asked what can a parent do to help build ‘character’ in their child. To me, it boils down to emotions.

Do emotions help us make more ethical decisions? I believe they do. If the child cannot understand their own 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 risk to society.

The future leaders of the world may well be our own global nomads. We need to make sure they have the ability to understand “emotions”.  Many people know the 7 basic emotions: Anger, Contempt, Fear, Disgust, Happiness, Sadness and Surprise. By the time a person is holding political offices or CEO’s have they forgotten what they learned as toddlers?

The toddler years are an important first step in emotional regulation (the process of learning how emotions make you feel inside and healthy ways to show these emotions to others).

When a child learns to regulate or control their emotions, they learn how to:

  • recognize what they are feeling
  • show those feelings in ways that don’t hurt them or others
  • cope with their emotions
  • This process starts when your child is a toddler and takes many years.

Two reasons we must help our expat children:

  • Many expat children are quite adept at all stages and thrive in their cross-cultural awareness, but I do see that it is hard for some to ‘belong’. It is hard to be loyal to someplace if you feel you are just passing through. Since all children spend so much time in school or connected to school activities, it is important that parents foster this loyalty to the new school and new community. Expats need to know what they are feeling.
  • Through socialization, children learn how to express what they feel about the environment they are in and the people they are around. If they cannot do this, their social and emotional foundation is at risk. The chance of being misunderstood is greater. They might not have strong, healthy communicative relationships and therefore they may be isolated. Expats seldom thrive in isolation.

Education at home and in school must contain more than good behaviour, basic facts and skills. Each child must feel they are important and worthwhile; they need to know they matter. Emotional resilience is good for people and for society. To have a rich life we need to laugh and be connected. To have a balanced life, we have to have highs and lows.  We need to give children a variety of experiences. If a family says, “We matter to each other.” then I know that their family is strong.  If they matter to each other they know their own emotions and the emotions of others in the family.

In the global family, we need to give our children the ability to draw, write, talk about what it is like living between cultures. We need to support they own uniqueness and TCKness – The book ‘The Worlds Within:  An anthology of TCK art and writing: young, global and between cultures’ would be great to share with them this upcoming holiday.


Additional blog about character building and emotions – Here Making ethical decisions



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