As I gear up for my 9,682-mile flight to attend the Families in Global Transition annual conference, I decided to look back at pivotal moments that my own family “knew” being global nomads would be O.K. What better way to share that than with memories of their past.
When should we move abroad?
Every family asks, “When is the best time to go abroad with kids?” My response has always been when you feel you are ready or want to. Remember the first thing you need to do. That is to get everyone in the family frequent flier cards. We missed out on some essential flights by waiting until our oldest child was two years old before getting her the first Frequent Flyer card.
First get your kids an FF mile card – global family needs
Often traveling with children is not the best but we all power through and get to our final landing location. Here is Jackie’s first exposure to her Frequent Flyer card. We were in Perth, Australia and often traveled to Denver International Airport to see her Grandma and extended family members. She was not that impressed.
The second questions parents often ask is “How do you tell your family that they will be moving!” This is also one of those times when the sooner you do it, the better just like the FF card!
You need to set the stage!
You need to build the drama and then let them know what their new adventure will be. We were in an ideal situation, our company had moved us back to the head office, and we were lucky enough to have Grandpa and Grandma live in that city. It was fun because the kids were four-years-old and one-year -old so they got a lot of fun Grandparent time. Then we got the invitation to move to Jakarta. Now the kids were five and one-half years old and two and one-half years old so we had to make sure that the kids would be excited to move so far away and start a new adventure.
Get them excited by what interests them!
I decided to show them books about the Indonesia and the neat places we might see. But the biggest hit was the books about packing and the massive trucks!
As parents, you have the right to focus on what makes the most sense to your family at that point in time. To have long discussions about missing Grandparents didn’t make sense since time and distance were strange concepts at this age. We needed to focus on what was going on right then. That was boxes and trucks for our family!
Focus on what your family needs in the here and now – global family needs
After the initial focus of moving, the next biggest hurdle is the actual flight. For many people, this can be a 4-hour flight from one part of the country to another, but for many of us, it was often several flights and some over 13 hours long. We all call these our ultra long-haul non-stop flights. According to the airlines, these flights are commercially operated with no scheduled intermediate stop of any kind, and a route length is over 7,500 miles!
Many of us, often have several flights and some of these flights are over 13 hours long. Ultra long-haul non-stop flights can be enjoyable if your child can eat and go to bed and treat it like a regular night of sleep. If they can not – it is an awful situation for everyone. There is no place to go, no place to have a meltdown and no way to escape until you have landed.
Now the longest non-stop scheduled airline flight is from Dallas/Fort Worth, USA, to Sydney, Australia. This flight is almost 17 hours! That would have been great when our kids were small, but it still meant we would have had a flight from Denver to get to Dallas and then a flight from Sydney to get to Perth!
Recently I have been flying Toronto to Hong Kong and these 15 hours flights are no longer fun. Some people say traveling with kids is never fun, but as a mom, I have to say I liked flying with my kids. I must also admit that sometimes we might not have done the traditional things families do on planes.
Yes, that is my two-year-old with a paintbrush on a plane! These were “paint with water books.” I know that now these books are hard to find. Thank goodness there are some still on Amazon. Two-year-olds can sit for an hour or so paint these books, and the clean up is not that much. Like most things – they change. We had the one-time use ones and loved them. Now they make ones called “water WOW ones.” The WOW ones dry and then you can do them over and over and over again.
Time changes everything.
I love to see global families. I know they are building a ton of special memories for their children. If you happen to run across Grant or Jackie in some airport, please ask them what was more enjoyable traveling when they could easily curl up in the airplane seat or now as they are over 5ft 10+ tall?
If you see me looking out the window of 22A looking sad, just smile and walk on. You will not want me to share the “extended” version of how hard it is to travel alone when you are used to traveling with children. You won’t want to hear about Jackie wearing big girl panties on the plane when she was two or Grant heading off to business class alone since “Mr. Simens” got upgraded. He was seven year old – leaving Jackie and I in economy class. Sometimes the empty nest issues hits you in the strangest places.
I am flying to Washington DC from Lombok, Indonesia where I just spend a wonderful week of rest and relaxation! What a perfect way to start a long trip. As we sat on the beach, the local ice cream man arrived on his motorcycle. The song instantly transported us back to Jakarta where we raised our kids for five years. The music brings a tear to my eye as I remember Grant running to the front door of our home singing, “I’ll be good, I’ll be good as I eat the ice cream.” We still don’t know the real words to this jingle, but we are aware of our family’s version.
Many families find that they are well prepared for relocating.
They have done all the research on the moving company, and some of have even provided packing experts to help them. In the hectic months leading up to a big move, most couples spend so much time considering the outward or tangible aspects of their relocation that they don’t take care to protect their relationships.
But what happens after the move is over?
Parents need to regroup and make sure they have their priorities right. Sometimes the hanging of pictures isn’t that necessary. Taking time to reconnect with each other will help the family unit remain healthy. All moves are stressful. Remember – you are moving the center of your life from one place to another! Always consider “Family First.”
Key points to help your family thrive
Working with families and young children, these are three key points that every parent needs to do when they are moving their family:
- Reassure toddlers, and even preschoolers, that they will be coming along with the family as they move. (I know you are laughing but…) A surprising number of young children see their family’s possessions being boxed up, sold, or thrown out, and they wonder if they will suffer the same fate.
- Put off redecorating your children’s new rooms for a few months unless they ask you to decorate. Using the old bedroom pillows and bedding is like taking a security blanket. It eases the transition to the many other new things they are facing.
- Pay attention to the ways the design of your new home influences how you spend time with your children. The increased privacy of a larger house can sometimes make it harder for children to adjust. The new home may not have the same type of central family gathering place, such as a combination kitchen and dining area, as the old one. You may not realize you’re not spending as much time together as a family as you used to.
Remember, to be honest
I believe it is always important, to be honest. Be honest with yourself when the transition is starting to make you feel stressed. Honest with your partner when you need help or support with something during your move and settling in period.
Being fair to your children is vital. When the kids are young, it was very important to not make false promises. Saying, “It will get better” might be a lie. Saying, “Don’t worry, you will see them again” might be a lie. Kids need to be able to trust their parents so be careful and do not set yourself up where your children will start to doubt you.
What to look for after your transition to a new location
Change in behavior is often the first clue that a child is undergoing something that is causing his or her stress. He/she might start avoiding the things he used to love. Or he/she might start taking risks or doing things that seem out of character for your child.
If a child ever asked to see the school counselor or ask for or you to help them by setting up an appointment, parents should make that a top priority. Even if the parent feels there is not a need. This sends the message that it is okay to seek support.
The most common problem parents have in a new location is not dealing with concerns as they come up. Parents often take the “let’s see if this will change” attitude and become passive in situations. Many times the parents would have handled the situation differently in their past community, but they are hesitant to intervene in the new situation. Parents need to trust their gut feelings. If a parent is hesitant in a situation about their child, it is possible that they are letting something become the new norm in their child’s life instead of stopping it quickly by a timely intervention.
Transitions = Change
Transitions might not be from a geography change, but even the change from middle school to high school can change a family. The change of going to pre-school will be a transition. As a family unit sometimes the transition will be very smooth for many people in the family. You can’t assume that it is going the best it can be unless you are willing to ask these hard questions, “Are you as happy as you want to be?” and “Do you have everything you need to be successful?” These are two key sentences that we need to ask ourselves to ensure as parents we can deal with the demands it takes in raising your family in this new location. Then take the time and ask your partner and each of your children the same questions. Listen to them and see how as a family unit you can all move forward.
Celebrate the uniqueness!
Each family needs to have a healthy family identity. This should be full of things the family likes to do and participate in. You might be the family that reads. You might be the family that supports the local orphanage. You might be the family that loves to watch sporting events. As a family, you need to have a strong identity. You need to create family rituals that you will have year after year regardless of where you live.
Many of my friends are International school teachers and they celebrate 100 days of school. I have put two things I hold dear to my heart. Kids and Emotions. Here are my favorite 100 emotions that we can help every child know and learn! You can download an easy tool to see all 100 basic emotions here.
If you are a parent raising your child abroad, it is important that you know about emotions but you also need to know about “Transition Education”
The first researchers we had on this subject were Unseem and Langford. They said we need to provide children with the knowledge and skills to successfully manage transitions while affirming and celebrating their unique experiences and backgrounds.
Most children are affected by a transition in some way during their lives.
If they do not move, it is likely that at some point a friends, relative, or classmate will move. The children left behind will also experience adjustments. Helping a child understand the cycles of a transition and being able to label how they are feeling helps them and others in their life.
History of Transition Education
Useem said in 1976 – She found children growing up outside their home country shared unique characteristics. She was concerned that few educators were aware of this.
Mary Langford in 1998 shared the same concern and conducted research among international schools. She asked – “What is it that educators understand about global nomads and what are international schools doing to accommodate their needs?”
This was the first study in the field of transition. – Educators thought international schools have to have a role in meeting the needs of these children. It logically follows that schools everywhere have a responsibility to meet the needs of their mobile population. Debra Rader in 1998 made a model of transition education.
I travel around the world giving presentations to educators, parent organizations and school administrators explaining to them the need to support the families as they relocate around the world. Here is an example of one of my talks.
The common experience of international mobility – for kids they can lose their sense of security, feel disoriented when their routine is changed and all that is familiar is taken away. It is important to balance past experiences and focusing on helping them adjust to the new place. As educators and parents, we must “see” and “know the child” and where they have been or their history. This affirms their sense of self and gives them a sense of security that will help them settle into the new place.
Moving back – Children often have certain expectations of “Home” and are disappointed when these expectations are not met. They think they are going to feel completely comfortable and have a sense of belonging – yet things have changed. Some kids even want time to stand still while they were gone…it does not. But most important is – many children moving to their passport country are not really moving back – but in fact, it might be the first time they are going to be living there. “Home” in this case, is actually their parent’s home. Their version of “home” is where they have been growing up.
The process of transition – remember parents and children respond differently to these stages and may move through them at different rates. The attitudes of parents are often reflected in the attitudes of their children.
Problem-solving skills –children who move are adjusting to a wide range of new circumstances and well-developed life skills are a tremendous asset.
Friendships and relationships – leaving and making friends can be the greatest concern for both adults and children who move.
Personal and cultural identity – easily seen, words, behavior, food we eat, clothes, festivals we celebrate – these things make up our culture. Children are influenced by the cultures of babysitters, teachers, friends, neighbors and other people who are significant in their lives.
My favorite books that every school counselor and global parent need to read.
These would be perfect valentine day gift for your international school teacher, counselor or parent.
Don’t forget my favorite valentine day book for expats written by my son when he was 11 years old living in Lagos, Nigeria.
A friend made this for me and I am still laughing. Hope you have a wonderful celebration with those that you love.
Kansas Day commemorates the admission of the state as the 34th in the Union ( USA) on January 29, 1861. Schools have been marking the anniversary since 1877 by learning more about their state’s history.
The Simens family of four have been celebrating Kansas Day for many years – Why? I spent the first 18 years of my life in northwest Kansas. It is part of me. I wanted to keep this part of my history in my life. I have held Kansas day parties in American Samoa, Singapore, Australia, Indonesia, Nigeria, Thailand, Honduras, as well as in California, Hawaii, and Texas. BUT, I have never held a Kansas Day party in Kansas.
Words of Wisdom
Global families often wonder what holidays to celebrate. They wonder what should be important for their children to memories of or events around. Selecting holidays is never an easy decision especially in our cross-cultural families or our families that have lived in a variety of locations. Whatever you choose to celebrate – make it a ritual. Celebrate that holiday every year no matter where you are or who you are with at that time.
This year – we will be doing a take on the pioneers who lived in Kansas. Several of our friends in Roatan will be meeting us on the pier for “Pie” and “Beers.” Thanks to Heather a friend from college, who told about this type of celebration and it seemed perfect for my annual Kansas Day party on Roatan.
Here is one of my favorite stories about Kansas, God, and a pet. (Sounds like a great country western song.)
God was missing for six days. Eventually, Michael, the archangel found him, resting on the seventh day.
He inquired, “Where have you been?”
God smiled deeply and proudly pointed downwards through the clouds, “Look, Michael. Look what I’ve made.”
Archangel Michael looked puzzled, and said, “What is it?”
“It’s a planet,” replied God, and I’ve put life on it. I’m going to call it Earth, and it’s going to be a place to test Balance.”
“Balance?” inquired Michael, “I’m still confused.”
God explained, pointing to different parts of Earth. “For example, part of Europe will be a place of great opportunity and wealth, while another part of Europe is going to be poor. Over here I’ve placed a continent of white people, and over there is a continent of darker people. Balance in all things.”
God continued pointing to different countries. “This one will be scorching hot, while this one will be cold and covered in ice.”
The Archangel, impressed by God’s work, then pointed to a land area and said, “What’s that one?”
“That’s Kansas, the most glorious place on earth. There are beautiful rolling hills and prairies, rivers and streams, lakes, forests, hills, and the plains.” Then God Said, “This is Kansas, the center of America.
The people of Kansas are going to be handsome, modest, intelligent, and humorous, and they are going to travel the world. They will be extremely sociable, hardworking, high achieving, carriers of peace, and producers of good things. They will care about animals and have pets.”
Michael gasped in wonder and admiration, but then asked, “But what about balance, God? You said there would be a balance.”
God smiled, “I did have to put a few idiots in other parts of the world.”
I always wonder how strong my own child’s sense of identity or “where they are from” will be since they have spent all of their lives in chunks of four or five years on different continents. As my one child said, ” I am 4% Australian since I was born there and lived there for awhile. I am 25 % African since I have lived there a long time. I am 25% American since I spend most of my summer holidays there. I am 45% Indonesian since I lived there so long. Of course, I am 1 % Thai since this is my home now.” He had decided to map his timeline by months so it would reflect the summer months he spent in the USA.
On another note, I wonder how he will introduce himself to peers in college? Or more importantly, will he be able to find that small of group friends that have grown up like him, a citizen of the world.
But seriously, You have got to love most titles of Country Western Songs! Here are a few of my favorite:
Julia’s top 20 hits for any Kansas Day Party anywhere!
Please note these are not in any specific order, I just hit random and let the party begin!
1. Get Off the Table, Mabel (the $2 is for the Beer)
2. I Don’t Care if it Rains or Freezes, As Long as I Have My Plastic Jesus
3. I Just Can’t Get Over How You’ve Gotten Over Me
4. I Went Back to My Fourth Wife for the Third Time and Gave Her a Second Chance to Make a First Class Fool Out of Me
5. I’ve Got Tears in my Ears from Lyin’ on my Back in my Bed While I Cry Over You
6. She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy
7. You Don’t Have to Call Me Darlin’, Darlin’ – You Never Even Called Me By My Name
8. At the Gas Station of Love, I Got the Self-Service Pump
9. Get Your Tongue Outta My Mouth ‘Cause I’m Kissing You Goodbye
10. It’s Hard to Kiss the Lips at Night that Chew Your Ass Out All Day Long
11. Billy Broke My Heart at Walgreens, and I Cried All the Way to Sears
12. I Was Looking Back to See If You Were Looking Back to See If I Was Looking Back to See if You Were Looking Back at Me
13. Liked You Better Before I Knew You So Well
14. Your Negligee Has Turned To a Flannel Nightgown
15. The Last Word In Lonesome Is “Me”
16. Walk Out Backwards Slowly, So I’ll Think You’re Walking In
17. And There was Grandma, Swingin’ on the Outhouse Door, Without a Shirt On
18. How Can I Miss You When You Won’t Go Away?
19. She Got The Ring, And I Got The Finger
20. They May Put Me In Prison, But They Can’t Stop My Face From Breaking Out
Lucky you! On March 24th – I bet you will be glued to your seat listening to seven experts in this global world.
What can you say in 800 words!
At an Ignite event, each speaker has a time limit of five minutes and must use 20 slides with each slide advancing automatically after 15 seconds. This forces speakers to maintain a rapid pace. At a just-comprehensible clip of 160 words a minute, Ignite speakers can utter about 40 words per slide, making a total of 800 words for the whole talk.
Volunteers organize FIGT17NL Ignites – we ask participants to speak about their ideas and personal or professional passions. Ignites all over the world have one motto, “Enlighten us, but make it quick!”
AT FIGT17NL in The Hague, you will get to hear these great topics from these experts!
|Expat Networking in the New Age by Rita Golstein-Galperin
Business cards? Fluorescent-lit ballroom with too-warm hummus, boxed wine, and stiff suits? Over-rehearsed elevator pitch? Ditch all of those. If you are looking to truly connect with people and (re)create your tribe — it’s all about your “value funnel”. No, we will not be seeing the light at the end of it, but we will learn step-by-step strategies to truly connect with people, build lasting relationships and amplify your expat experience through people around you. It’s the new-age networking reality.
|How a TCK English Teacher in a Hungarian Village Created a Globally Local Network by Megan Norton
Megan had lived in eight countries before she decided to uproot herself again to move to a small village on the Hungarian-Austrian border to be an English teacher at a secondary school. Having moved all her life, she assumed this transition would be “seamless”, never imagining the challenges she would experience adapting to life in a post-Soviet developing country. In this Ignite session; Megan will capture the culture shock and the community she navigated in this small village. From implementing the “Flat Stanley” project with her students to integrating herself into community development initiatives, she will showcase how single, young, independent women can build their “tribe” abroad across networks.
|Finding Your Voice, Your Tribe, and Hearing Other Voices Through Blogging by Janneke Muyselaar-Jellema
Janneke uses a blog to raise awareness, to create a platform to share comments, to increase coping skills, to give parents and educators insight into the world of (adult) third culture kids. She will share her experience of blogging over the past five years and more than 200,000 page views later. Through her blog, she has found her voice, enjoyed the freedom of the Internet, and found her tribe. She will give insight on the dilemmas of choosing the language to blog in, popular topics and how we can use blogging as a tool to raise awareness
|The Power of Team Sport to Create a Diverse Tribe by Lisa Travella-Murawsky
When thinking of the word sport, what often comes to mind? Do you think of physical fitness, skill development, competitiveness, and coordination? While many of these attributes contribute to the excitement and enthusiasm for team sport, it is possible to think beyond these borders and use terms such as community, common language, welcome, and inclusivity. This Ignite introduces how the Brussels Sports Association (BSA) model enables families in global transition to find a tribe outside of the traditional work and school communities. It answers the questions: “How is the common language of sport able to break down traditional barriers, and allow the expat family to find a relaxed, non-intimidating tribe quickly? What are the crucial elements in the BSA sports model that encourage this sense of belonging and collaboration for a diverse busy expat community?
|Childhood Losses, TCKs, and Identity Development by Maria Lombart
This Ignite considers TCK childhood losses and how they influence identity development. When an adult TCK considers their identity, they may not relate it immediately to the liminal experience they had as a child, living between cultures, and to the repeated losses of identity anchors. It is vital that TCKs understand this layer of their experience and that parents of TCKs be prepared to manage the effects of loss to strengthen the positive aspect of constant moving.
|Exploring the ‘Why,’ the ‘How’ and the ‘Who’ of Muslim Expatriates by Maryam Afnan Ahmad
Is there such a thing as the Muslim Expat? Does the term expatriate even apply? Are they a single homogenous community? Are they represented, underrepresented or worse, misunderstood? What factors may be limiting their participation on forums like FIGT? How does one engage, empathize or even understand this community of Muslim expatriates? Given the current political and social world climate, Muslims all over the world are caught in the glare of renewed intensified analysis. Maryam is a Muslim ‘chronic expat’ herself and would like to use her presentation to take a look at the Muslim expatriate experience and whether it is different from other oft-documented expatriate stories. Her main focus is to find answers on whether it is possible to practically increase understanding of and engagement with Muslim expatriate communities.
|Finding Joy and Abundance as an Expat – Planning For Your Fulfilled Life Abroad by Terry Anne Wilson
The complications and emotions of transitioning can offer little time to cultivate our own personal growth, especially when ensuring children are settled. Empty-nesters also find transition challenging as school networks no longer exist. Deliberate steps can be taken to identify your skills, strengths and most importantly, your passion. Building a life in a new country provides the ideal platform to carve a new path, seize new opportunities and establish a ‘new tribe.’
Please join us at FIGT17NL to hear these fantastic presentations!
The first Ignite was held in 2006 in Seattle, Washington, United States (US), and was the brainchild of Brady Forrest and Bre Pettis.
Starting a new year is the perfect time to have your child share about their life!
Children love stories and hearing interesting stories about family members or friends help children feel more connected to those around them. Children love to hear stories about when they were younger as well as stories about when their parents were little kids.
A Look Back at This Year
Now is the perfect time to have your child reflect on what they did last year. For a child who is four — thinking about what they were like when they were three allows them to rejoice in their growth. Now is the perfect time to also work on helping your child understand his/her emotions.
If your child gets stuck working on an emotion, take that same feeling from your childhood and expand on it, so he sees the rich language and expressions of your childhood event.
Sometimes the more complex an emotion is, the more likely that you might need to share that feeling from your childhood for your child to understand. Also, this allows you to actually connect with your child. If your child can understand how you felt when you were his age, it builds on family connections.
Your child can develop better listening skills and learn to ask questions during story times. You children hear new words as they listen to stories, which can help build their vocabulary. Children who hear lots of stories learn how stories work. They learn that characters solve problems and how stories begin and end. This helps them understand other stories they will read later in their school years.
I Learned a Lot Today
I found out that one child was afraid to swim when he was younger but now he smiles when he swims in the big pool. One girl used not to be able to paint and now that she is big five-year-old she can mix colors. She said her face used to be sad, but now it is joyful. One often silent boy told me how when he was little he could not build Legos and now that he was four and 1/2 he could build great big towers.
Children love to tell stories about when they were little! Please encourage them to talk about how they have grown.
Expat Children Can also Tell Interesting Versions
Some of the international kids, that I work with added these comments:
- When I was little I didn’t speak Mandarin, but now that I am big I speak Thai.
- When I was little, I lived in Italy, and I didn’t like noodles now that I am big I eat Thai noodles.
- When I was little, I could dance the Bali frog dance, but now I can also do Korean Dances.
I have to say, you just have to love the thoughts and comments from expat children. Expat children love to tell stories about when they were little! Please encourage them to talk about how they have grown. Then let them share this knowledge with their extended family.
My Favorite Free Digital Storytelling Tools
Create multimedia experiences with videos, photos, music, blogs, and documents.
- Comic Master
Create your own graphic novel, add backgrounds, choose characters and props to appear in your scenes, add dialogue and captions.
The purpose of MapSkip is to create a weave of stories about the places in our lives. Create a free account and mark places in Google Maps with your own stories and photos.
Slidestory allows you to combine picture slideshows with voice narration. Each picture in a slideshow has an accompanying voice narrated mp3 audio file, optional tags, and text caption.
- Adobe Slate
This lets you turn your next newsletter, report, invitation, or travel adventure into a visual story. Create your Slate story and share the link anywhere.
- Sock Puppets
Sock Puppets lets you create your own lip-synched videos and share them on Facebook and YouTube. You add puppets, props, scenery, and backgrounds and start creating. Hit the record button and the puppets automatically lip-synch to your voice.
Toontastic is a storytelling and creative learning tool that enables kids to draw, animate, and share their own cartoons with friends and family around the world through simple and fun imaginative play! With over 2 million cartoons created in over 150 countries, parents and teachers rave about the app and kids can’t stop creating!
A perfect five-year-olds holiday – I hope their parent’s vacation plans matched up to their child’s expectation. (note– child’s spelling as written by them)
- playing at the beach
- going to Maine
- swim in the pool
- going to McDonalds
- going to Singapores
- go on an airplane
- going to Bali
- going to hawwloeen
- going to holland and the snow
- going shipping to put food in the hotel rfrigeratr
- going home ot see my family
- playng in the sand
I found a random sheet of these words in a file while looking for a “tax” sheet of paper. It took me right back to my teaching job in Indonesia many years ago. I wish I had put each child’s name on their personal statement to help with my memory. I do recall asking them ‘What are you looking forward to doing this vacation?”
Now is the perfect time to capture your child’s memory of their recent holiday. I’d ask them three simple questions:
- If we were able to “re-do” one thing again in the vacation, what would you like to experience again?
- Since food, smells or sights help us remember the memories, what item do you remember the most about our past vacation?
- What emotion would you put on that memory?
I am always sad when I go into a classroom and see –
“My favorite…” or “The best part of my vacation was…”
I think adults often want the kids to be happy and express emotions that they find enjoyable. So putting the label as ‘best or favorite’ only allows the child to feel it is possible to be ‘good’ or have ‘happy’ thoughts. What happens if this past vacation wasn’t that way. What happens if some other emotion is how the child feels about the events?
Remember to be a whole person we need to experience the highs and lows and learn how to deal with them at a young age.
So many parents do not talk about a vacation after it is over. They just move on to the next event coming up. Young children need to reflect on their experiences and to label and file them into their memory.
So many expats take wonderful vacations but don’t take the time to make these lasting memories for their young children. It just becomes something we have done but not a “Memory” to keep. I always encourage families to revisit the holiday so they can capture some of the key things to lock away into a memory.
Here is an example of capturing one of our vacations to the Cook Islands where we meet up with Grandparents to spend the Christmas Holidays. We were traveling from Jakarta, Indonesia and they were coming from San Francisco, CA, USA. A story as told by my four-year-old:
- If we were able to “re-do” one thing again in the vacation, what would you like to experience again? I’d like to visit Grandpa at the beach again to make those circle of flowers to wear. (circlet of flowers known as an ‘ei katu) We had fun making one for everyone to wear Christmas Day. I made your‘s the prettiest! I loved Rarotonga.
- Since food, smells or sights help us remember the memories, what item do you remember the most about our past vacation? I liked the really yellow banana chips that were hot, salty and looked neat with red ketchup on them.
- What emotion would you put on that memory? I’d put overjoyed when building flower gifts with Grandpa and tickled when eating!
Children tend to love family rituals, even if they don’t admit it. Rituals provide a sense of security and can be soothing. A family ritual is anything your family does together deliberately. The routine of whatever you do is what counts. It can be anything. Just make sure you do it consistently.
Rituals are Emotionally Enriching. It is Never too Late to Start a Ritual.
Some children may resist being involved in such rituals. But if rituals or ceremonies are presented in a non-controlling manner, and you manage your expectations, all family members will “get on board” much more readily than you thought. I have worked with many families that want to start building closer family time, and sometimes the rituals start with just one person, but if that person feels it is important and keeps trying sooner or later the event can become a routine that the whole family looks forward to attending.
Rituals are Good for Families.
- They create a climate of support and security.
- They can provide emotional healing.
- They create a sense of family togetherness.
- They create a structure of shared time.
- They can develop a sense of shared joys and positive memories.
- They can bring humor into the family.
Most children enjoy reminiscing about good times. Many family rituals are what make up our memories. Talking about the fun times that your kids had together in the past can be a great way to help them reconnect. Build these connections when they are young so everyone can stay connected through their teen years and when they go off to college. The family rituals and emotion stories of your family’s past will keep siblings connected because they are sharing a common experience.
Good Memories Help Eclipse the Upsetting Ones.
It can be a smoothing experience for both parents and children to review past experiences (pictures, video, stories), sharing your emotions to past experiences. Many families seem to have gaps in their lives. Usually, this is because everyone got too busy to ‘recall’ the fun times while they were still a memory. Maybe your ritual will be for everyone in the family to record the ‘moment’ that was the most fun this past year. Then do the ‘moment’ that causes you to laugh the loudest this past year. Finally, do the ‘moment’ that made you feel the happiest with your family this year.
Family Rituals Create Closeness.
My family has a series of rituals that we love. Some are tied to holidays, birthdays, and special events, but some are just around because of their longevity and fun. When your children are expatriates, often parents look for things that might connect their child to their ‘home.’ Also, many rituals can be based around food. We make S’mores. They are a favorite campsite treat for young and old. They are sticky and gooey and loaded with sugar and carbohydrates.
One ritual we have is making your initials with the pancake batter. I make a killer “S” actually it is a “2” but when modified just a little and when flipped over – it is a perfect “S.” Then I have to make “J” these are easy just a make a loose “L” and when it is flipped you get a perfect “J.” I got lucky and only had to master making a “G” which I discovered is a backward “9”. I am not sure if my kids thought my pancake initials were perfect but I do know that they loved the ‘drama’ in my breakfast making! So the Christmas I made snowmen pancakes, I was amazed how much easier it was. Three circles in various sizes connected just big enough that the cooking tool could still flip them. I breezed through the bowl of batter and wondered if we could now do special snowman birthday pancakes instead of the initial pancakes! My kids said “no.”
Our Christmas rituals are not what many of our extended family members think of when they think of Christmas. Often we do a trigenerational Christmas on a warm tropical beach. We have loved Ko Samet, Ko Chang, Rarotonga, the Canary Islands, Roatan, and Aitutaki plus more tropical islands at Christmas. Our ritual is often sitting on the beach and watching the sunset on Christmas Eve then an excellent seafood meal. Our kids have had to make Christmas trees in strange and far away places because we didn’t have a tree to put the packages under. One year a tree was made from the plumeria tree on the balcony. One year all of the pillows from the hotel room including the couch pillows made an awkward leaning tree by our young children. One consistent thing that we have always carried around the world for our Christmas is the handmade Christmas stocking that my sisters made for my kids.
These precious Christmas stockings often find their ‘privileged’ position in my carry-ons as we go from one assignment to the next assignment. Somethings just can’t be put into a suitcase and somethings can never go by ‘slow boat’ to our new home. I am sure the TSA people wondered why I was carrying two Christmas stockings in my carry-on bag in August when we moved from Bangkok to Borneo one year. It was to maintain one of our family rituals!
I think it will be hard for me to pass on these stockings to my children – I might want to keep them always.
Celebrating Christmas abroad
can be a
Here are my 12 favorite ways we have celebrated Christmas.
1. With my friends from Brazil – they shared the myth of the animals discussion about the birth of Christ. Then their children acted out a rooster crowing “Christ is born,” an Ox saying “Where” and the sheep answering “In Bethlehem.” These were the cutest kids ever. Our Turkey dinner turkey was served with white rice flavored with walnuts.
2. With my friends from Vietnam. As an old French colony, Vietnam is the home of one of the largest and most active Catholic populations in Asia. Our holiday celebration was several weeks after New Year’s Eve. We celebrated “Tet,” the Vietnamese holiday for the Lunar New Year. I thought the green wrapped sticky rice cakes were too pretty to unwrap but we did unwrap the Chung Cake and it was lovely. We also enjoyed the beef braised with cinnamon. They called it Thit Bo Kho Que.
3. With my friends from Italy – First Sunday of Advent where we shared a lovely dinner. Their children told us about lighting candles in their windows to guide baby Jesus who will deliver gifts. The story I loved the most was told by their six-year-old about the candy cane coffee cake. He said, ” There was a candy maker who invented this for Christ. It was hard cause Christ is the rock of ages. It is made into a “J” for Jesus but he liked to turn it upside down to remind him of the sheep herders staff or
He said, ” There was a candy maker who invented this for Christ. It was hard cause Christ is the rock of ages. It is made into a “J” for Jesus but he liked to turn it upside down to remind him of the sheep herders staff or cane” It was white for the pureness of Christ and red for the blood he shed for sins. If there is green on it, it is a reminder that Jesus is a gift from God.”
4. With my friends from Germany – they shared with us their unique items they got from the Christkindlmarkt! In Bangkok – Seems like we have many of the same Christmas traditions which did make sense since our Christmas roots are from Germany. I still have the manger scene from that party. I do believe the Lebkuchen (gingerbread) was the best I have ever had. I was impressed with the punch (Feuerzangenbowle). It was hot mulled wine, high alcohol-percentage rum and open flames. What’s not to like about that!
5. With my friends from Russia – Father Frost visited on New Year’s Day where we had a tree lighting festival and exchanged gifts. We had pickled cucumbers to “go with vodka” and the largest bowl of caviar placed on chipped ice that I have ever seen. They had made Kozulya, cookies in the shape of a deer, goat or a sheep. They are traditionally enjoyed during the first days of the Christmas season.
6. With my friends from Turkey, we celebrated December 6th the Feast of Saint Nicholas as the beginning of the Christmas season. We had Turkish coffee and Kaymakli Kuru Kayisis (cream stuffed apricots).
7. With my friends from Chile, we shared “monkey’s tail” on the island of Bali. At first, I was worried but then found out that Cola de Mono (monkey’s tail) spirits with coffee, milk, and cloves. Yummy! We also had a Chilean Sponge cake that was flavored with cloves and nuts (Pan de Pascua).
8. With my friends from Korea – Did you know Korea is one of the largest and fastest growing Christian population in Asia? We had the best night singing Christmas carols. Loud and, again and again, our favorites ones. It was the first time I saw a Santa in a blue Santa suit. He is known as known as Santa Harabujee) or Grandpa Santa.
9. Spending Christmas in Spain was a wonderful experience. With our friends from Madrid, we saw many life-sized manger scenes and the first time we celebrated the Eve of Epiphany (January 5th). The Three Wise Men placed gifts in the shoes our children left outside of the hotel door. The hotel manager asked us to join in this tradition.
10. Our son, Grant after visiting the Czech Republic told us of the festival of Saint Nicholas on December 6th and the Three Kings Day on January 6th. That sounds like a whole month long of wonderful food and fun. I did like the gold-coloured sweet Christmas bread – (vánočka or štola).
11. On Rarotonga, Cook Island we went to midnight Mass and all the children were dressed in white and looked like angels. Their singing was magical.
12. With family – any location. Special memories made and shared. Christmas is truly the time to connect. We often celebrate with rituals that involve food and fun memories.
Embrace the “global-ness” we all have and share a part of our life with your quasi-family you have collected during your time abroad.
We are now celebrating the holiday season in Lake Tahoe. I have several friends from the past and newly found friends. In fact on the timeline of life, we have only just met but who knows we might run across each other around the world as we all celebrate with our nuclear family in our chosen place to spend Christmas this year.
I have been so lucky! I have had many once-in-a-lifetime unique treats!
To do List in regards to Christmas and food:
- Brazil and try Rabanada (French toast)
- Italy and try Panettone in Milan, Pandoro in Verona, Panforte in Tuscany and Prosecco in Veneto.
- Germany and try a Christmas Stollen (Christstollen) a fruitcake with bits of candied fruits, raisins, walnuts and almonds and spices such as cardamom and cinnamon. Try a Pfefferkuchenhaus – a gingerbread house decorated with candies, sweets and sugar icing (in reference to the gingerbread house of the fairy tale Hänsel and Gretel)
- Cuba to try Crema De Vie – Cuban eggnog, made with condensed milk, rum, sugar syrup, lemon rind, cinnamon, and egg yolk.
- Denmark to try Æbleskiver – traditional Danish spherical pancakes (a type of doughnut with no hole), sprinkled with powdered sugar and served with raspberry jam. To also try Julebryg – Christmas beer.
- Jamaica to try black cake – a heavy fruit cake made with dried fruit, wine, and rum.
- Lithuania to have a Twelve-dish Christmas Eve supper – twelve dishes representing the twelve Apostles or twelve months of the year.