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Perception: Spot On or Off this Holiday Season?

I am always amazed when I realize “my perception” is off.  As a counselor, you are often able to see things others do not see.  You might notice small changes.

As a Mom, you are always able to see or feel when something just does not seem right.

Here is your chance!  Watch this and let your brain comprehend if you were ‘spot on’ or why you were so “shaking my head off.’


Family functions at the holidays can make some people leave while SMH and some even SMDH or /O\. Why is this?

These events can seem like a room full of people with the psychological phenomenon called change blindness. This blindness is when a change in a visual stimulus goes unnoticed by the observer.  Many families are not very observant especially when they only see your expat family once or twice a year.

How many of your family members actually know you or know your kids?

Research on change blindness developed from investigations of other phenomena such as short-term and working memory. Although individuals have an excellent memory as to whether or not they have seen an image, they are extremely impaired at recalling the smaller details in that image.When we are visually stimulated with a complex picture, it is more likely that individuals only get a gist of a picture and not the image in its entirety.

Change Blindness seems to me to be very similar to an ‘Expat Extended Family Gathering’. Although your relatives have an excellent memory as to whether or not they have seen your children, they are extremely impaired at recalling the smaller details of what makes your child tick. They only get a gist of your child and do not understand them in their entirety. – Julia Simens

This was well said by James R. Mitchener on his blog “Third Culture Kid Life.” He said, “I am a TCK, and so no matter where I go, I am always a minority. My culture is not shared by anyone because it was built out of the fragments of so many different pieces of so many different cultural puzzles.”

This is why it is important for parents to talk to their TCK’s before a visit “home.”

  1. First, remember it is not their home. It might be your’s or your partner’s home.
  2. Second, relatives will have selected memory about your children and their habits, dreams and real life events.
  3. Third, your children will need to realize that no-one has the same different cultural pieces that they do so miscommunication might occur.

For some adults sharing a tale from their own ‘strange’ Christmas past that ended in humor will make your children feel more comfortable if things start to feel weird for them.

Here is an exchange we had in our household many years ago

“Remember how sometimes you feel pressed to say the right thing or do the right thing?”

“Yes, I hate that feeling.”

“One Christmas, each of the nieces and nephews all got fun games and things to do when we were visiting our old aunt.  Except, for me.  I got a pair of forest green stockings. Not socks but panty-hose, pull up type leggings. I was ten!”

“What did you do?’

“At the time I was greatly disappointed, but I said thanks and looked at my Mom. She quickly looked away from me so that made it even harder to understand why my aunt could be so ‘wrong’ about a gift for me. But now I realized my Mom just wanted that part of the day to be over so no one’s feelings would be hurt. Now I can laugh about it.”


“Well, my aunt was off target in so many ways.  I was only ten and never wore any type of stockings yet.  I never wore green – ever. I mostly wore jeans and seldom a dress. They were so hideous I couldn’t even change them with any of my cousin’s gifts.  I couldn’t even get my older sister or Mom to take them after Christmas.  I don’t think I threw them away until I was moving off to college, eight years later.”

“So you kept a bad gift for eight years!”

“Yes, but every time I had to move them I would think fondly of my aunt because at least she didn’t ‘forget’ me, she just forgot what I would like.”

Please spend time with your kids explaining situations that might happen at the extended family gatherings so everyone can come away with memories that are worth keeping a whole lifetime.  Families are precious and even more so for our global nomad families.

What was the best thing you told your kids before a large family gathering?

logo jsimens christmas
So often family gatherings can be a much-wanted event, but as adults, we are often unprepared for it.  Tom Gagliano has an excellent book out “The Problem was Me: How to End Negative Self-Talk and Take Your Life to a New Level.”  This might be a wonderful Christmas gift for yourself or one of your loved ones. Listen to  “How to Reduce Holiday Stress” with Tom Gagliano.


SMH – Shaking My Head
SMDH – Shaking My Damn Head
/O\ – Frustrated, hands on head

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“Cultural Confusion” in your own home?


I can handle the first insult (according to my culture) but the second one puts me over my comfort zone.

fat turkey
What has been your favorite Thanksgiving story?

And it is Thanksgiving. And we invited the guests.  And it was early in the evening.  Thanksgivings as a new wife can be stressful.

Then my husband moved me 1,500 miles away from where I call home.

Then he invited a whole table full of his co-workers. You might think this is a Thanksgiving that is memorable. At first, when my husband suggested that we ask his colleagues from China who have never had a traditional American Thanksgiving to our home, I was eager. I had visions of everyone sitting around smiling and enjoying the feast I had carefully constructed. I was up early; the house smelled wonderful with the mixture of butter, onions and sage and a host of other things ready to be stuffed in the turkey. Then I tackled the homemade pies.

Growing up in Kansas and spending hour after hour in my grandma’s kitchen, I can make a “mean” apple pie,  and the must have pumpkin pies. I stirred, stuffed and muffed around the kitchen all day. At 5:00 pm our guests were to arrive. At 4:45 pm everyone came right on cue. Eight of the nine visitors had a camera around their neck. This should have been my first hint that this might not be a typical Thanksgiving dinner.

For you see my new husband was the boss!

Yes, I had forgotten to factor in that perhaps our guests that I thought were so eager to come to Thanksgiving was, in fact, doing a “work obligation” on their day off. At the start of the event, everyone just mingled around, and I began to relax. We exchanged names and proper words while my husband was eagerly getting everyone a drink.

["Then our first cultural mishap occurred.."]

The Chinese spokesman cleared his throat and said, “Mr. Simens, Thank you so much for having all of us here to celebrate with you and your fat wife.”

My husband looked awkwardly at me, but his “deer in the headlight looks” told me he wanted to see my reaction and intervene if he needed to. As you know, I am well aware of cultural nuances, so I tipped my head and smiled. Pardon the pun, but I knew I was a big enough person to take this comment as a praise in China – a compliment and not an American put down. As we all settled down to the large dining room table, they asked me to explain each dish and tell them a little about them. This was more like the event I had in my mind, as a teacher sharing the joys and education of  Thanksgiving.

Teaching always gives me joy

I talked about the importance of corn bread, from the American natives “Indians” such as the Cherokee or the Chickasaw the original recipes they had for these corn dishes. I explained how cranberries are a group of evergreen dwarf shrubs that produce vines up to  2 meters (7 ft) long  The fruit is a berry that is larger than the leaves of the plant; it is initially white but turns a dark red when fully ripe. Then I explained why we have both sweet potatoes and mashed potatoes. I saved the best for last – the huge turkey. Then the observation that made the first “fat” remark seem tame happened.

“Mr. Simens, Wow, your turkey is as fat as your wife.”

“Let’s eat”, my husband said, trying to avoid any more discomfort.

The second in command of our Chinese friends felt my husband just didn’t get the compliment. He said, “Mr. Simens, We mean you are a very lucky man, you have a really big turkey and a really big wife.” ”

Bon Appetite!” my husband tried again as he laid his hand carefully across my leg and patted my thigh. He was stroking it. Was he trying to comfort me or was he just getting into position to restrain me if I decided to lunge across the table at the company representative?

Later, I was about to relax and start to enjoy the meal when I noticed everyone was eating. I hoped no one would talk with their mouth full of food (another American issue).   I then gave an inaudible thanksgiving prayer “Please don’t let anyone mention the word fat again this holiday season.” Then I silently wondered what this group of people might be doing for Christmas. What might they say about a twenty pound Christmas Brined Fresh Ham?

Thanksgiving sprouts

I hope you are building “Family Traditions” this holiday!

          I hope you and your family are creating Thanksgiving memories and better yet . . . Telling stories of Thanksgiving past so you can build up your child’s family emotion stories. Notes: The Guineafowl made its way to Europe from Africa via Turkey. Therefore they called it ‘turkey.’

(First printed in 1990 – by Julia Simens)

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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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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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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