J Simens.com

Anthropologist worst or best event ever: Expat Family Collection of Life at the Dinner Table


The “Ring of Fire” is a fantastic zone!  It has over 452 volcanoes and is home to over 75% of the world’s active and dormant volcanoes. Living in Indonesia, I often wondered what would happen if there was a cataclysmic event in my own expat home. What would my ‘collection’ say about the people living in this space and time?

 Anthropology is the study of humankind, past and present.

What makes me wonder about my expat anthropologist nightmare is how disconnected it might have seen to Pompeii. When we went through the city of Pompeii in Italy, it was interesting. The town was laid out under the 4 to 6 meters of ash and pumice in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79AD. It had a complex water system, an amphitheater, and even a gymnasium. It was fascinating to see how this collection of ‘life’ happened. I was very impressed with their daily family life.

When I first got married in 1987 (31 years ago), I wanted to create a wedding registry that would give me the perfect table setting for my entertainment pleasure. Not really, but I was told that I needed to do this! My husband didn’t have a strong opinion of what we needed. I asked the bridal registry assistant for help.  I remember her wise words.

First, think about how all these different types would fit – not just into your current décor, but the look of your dream home.

How would I know that this meant either a two small bedroom home in Pleasant Hill, California or the 7,500 square feet home in Jakarta, Indonesia?  Or was my dream home in Balikpapan where the whole back section of my house opens up into a tropical garden. Or was it my beachfront home on Roatan where I just watch the movement and behavior of the sea life out my front door? What is my dream home?

 Second, plan for the future.

I am sure this wedding planner had never dealt with an expat! How would you possibly know how you’d entertain 20 years from your wedding?  Should I include chopsticks because we are going to be living in Asia?  Should I ask for more spoons since they are the primary utensils used in Southeast Asia? Or should I ask for caviar spoons? A lovely set of spoons made out of mother of pearl, gold or wood but not silver since it would affect the taste of the caviar. Or did I want/need sporks, sporfs, or spifves? These are different combinations of a spoon with a fork or knife.

 Then she asked me to analyze my skills.

She asks me to think about the dishes I would love to make. Would I want fishplates?  Huge pasta bowls? A turkey platter for Thanksgiving dinner?  She forgot to ask me about ethnic food! Would I be serving tapas?  What about sushi? What about a bowl that is fit for the feasting of water buffalo entrails? Maybe I would need a large enough tray to put several baleadas on it in Roatan. Or the perfect bowl for Goong Ten in Thailand.

Goong Ten is a beautiful Thai dish that means, “dancing shrimp.”  Yes, they are alive! Goong Ten are small transparent little shrimp that are mixed in a metal bowl with a special sauce.  They make a very active salad!   I like the saltiness and the pleasant ‘crunch’ of this salad.

Finally, she asked me to imagine a dinner party.

I am sure she never had this combination in mind!

  • Appetizers and pre-drinks – miniature glass beer mugs from Australia to hold shots of whiskey
  • Soup course- Lovely bowls from Lombok Indonesia – the Sasak pottery
  • Soup tureen – Beautiful work of art from the Hof Pottery in Australia
  • Round platters that work well for meat – from the Lekki markets of Lagos, Nigeria
  • Oval platters that can hold anything from bread and cheese from the heart of the Chatuchak Market in Bangkok, Thailand
  • Dessert plates – from Royal Heritage line in Indonesia
  • Tiered serving tray – from the truck stop in Colby, Kansas
  • Dessert sterling silverware with ‘Spider Orchids’ from the John Harris collect in Western Australia

 

Dorothy and the Scarecrow sit under the Balinese Dancer by the Royal Hertiage Flatware - Kansas Day Party 2014

Dorothy and the Scarecrow sit under the Balinese Dancer by the Royal Heritage Flatware – Kansas Day Party 2014 in Balikpapan, Indonesia

 

Expat's collections on the dinning room table our hard to explain.

An Expat’s collections on the dining room table are hard to explain to some people.

 

Sunflowers, Pie and Friends - what more does an expat need?

Sunflowers, Pie, and Friends – What more does an expat need?

Being a serial expat leaves a lot to the imagination and even more for an anthropologist to sift through.

One of the best exports from the state of Kansas is its talented youth.  William Allen White wrote “A song for Kansas Day.”

Wandering children of Kansas away,

By mountain, by desert, or sea,

Feasting or fasting, at prayer or at play,

Whatever your fortunes may be,

Open the doors of your hearts to the breeze.

Prairie winds never are still,

Hark the surf in the cottonwood trees,

the breakers that boom on the hill.

Open your soul’s windows – let in the sun –

The prairies sun gay with delight.

Where’er your wondering pathways have run,

Come home tonight.

Land Locked or Water? Torn between two loves.


Roatan sunset“Be careful what you water your dreams with. Water them with worry and fear and you will produce weeds that choke the life from your dream. Water them with optimism and solutions and you will cultivate success. Always be on the lookout for ways to turn a problem into an opportunity for success. Always be on the lookout for ways to nurture your dream.” – Lao Tzu

 

As 2018 starts, I recall several conversations that I have had with family and friends. These conversations are as varied as the locations that they have taken place in.

As we left the two lane county road that was paved to enter a dirt driveway, I knew I was almost home. Or the place I’d call home for 18 years. Our rental car pulled into the driveway, the dust rolled over the top of the car and settled on our windshield and top of the car doors.  This was to remind us that we were land locked in Kansas. As we slowly opened the car doors the fine light dust settled on our hair, arms and even lips.  I was home. As we sat in the car, I tried to answer the questions of “Was it fun here?” and “Why didn’t you ever come back to live?”, the list of questions my children had was long. It is amazing how many questions can be asked when the earbuds are out and the entertainment off.   I answered each question with as much truth as I could.

Later that year, we find ourselves in the middle of the Caribbean sea with little land insight. The sea water stings our newly acquired bug bites as the sun starts a slow burn our cheeks. The mild wind blows our salty coated hair again and again into our eyes. Once again, unplugged, the questions started coming.  “Why did you pick a global lifestyle?” and “Was it hard living alone in your twenty’s?” Once again I tried to answer each question with as much truth as I could.

The hardest thing that an Expat has to deal with is the constant reminder that the life we have chosen becomes… by default… the life of our children.

In a family, we are not all the same and we do not all have the same feelings, dreams or wishes. Also throw into that equation that a child never has any say in what their ‘plans’ are. As an expat mom or dad we are just hoping we made the best choices we could at that time in our lives  and that through connection and communication our family thrives.

Three things to help with an global life and family

  1. Invest in experiences, not things.
  2. Invest in time with family. Appreciate the members in your family by learning their stories. Ask them questions and find our more of their history.
  3. Be grateful. A ritual of gratitude is a great lesson to pass on to your children. Gratitude rewires your brain for happiness.

I hope 2018 is wonderful for all the global nomads out there.

Crayons - around the world

Happy New Year 2014

 

Celebrating the Universal Spirit of Christmas: What I Learned From My Global Life


An Expat's tale of 12 Outstanding Christmas Memories

An Expat’s Tale of 12 Outstanding Christmas Memories

Celebrating Christmas abroad

can be a

once-in-a-lifetime treat!

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 sheepherders 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 sheepherders 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.”

Mary at the Simens Home, Photo by Grant Simens

Mary at the Simens Home, Photo by Grant Simens

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 an enjoyable 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 fantastic food and fun. I did like the gold-colored 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 familyany location. Special memories made and shared. Christmas is indeed the time to connect. We often celebrate with rituals that involve food and fun memories.

Home can be anywhere for a Global Nomad

Home can be anywhere for a Global Nomad – Booklet by Jennifer Schnoebelen

 

 

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!

Notes:

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.

 

 

Is Christmas a Mandatory Holiday at Your Home?


Santa hat on Globe

jsimens- helping families worldwide

The older people are, the more likely they are to celebrate Christmas as a mandatory holiday.

I used not to have to ‘think’ about how we would spend Christmas. I’d have a quick chat with the family, and we’d discuss several options, I’d book flights and off we would go.  Then years turned into where we had to coordinate two college schedules; a VISA or Kitas card extension (legal document to stay in a foreign country plus online VISAs for our travels) and an aging dog.

One year the Airlines must have loved me! One ticket had to be changed two times before December!  When I went on-line to recheck everything I would start to panic.  What had I forgotten? Entry Permit for Indonesia for both children – check upon arrival, Australia VISAs online and approved for our trip – check.  Multiple hotels and transits – check. Wine tours, Sydney Tour, New Year’s Eve plans – check. It was a great holiday taking the kids back to their birth country and well worth all the planning necessary.

This year will be much simpler. All of us are living in the USA, and everyone is planning on coming to Lake Tahoe to visit our home.  No extensive travels or international hassles until 2018.

Being an expat increases the likelihood that somewhere along the rental car line you will have a ‘concern.’

When we returned to Western Australia, I booked a nice van for my family to travel in. I was somewhat worried they won’t like my Indonesian License or Kevin’s Thai License, but at least we did have one child with a USA valid license, so I assumed this would not be a ‘concern.’

It is always so confusing for the rental car agent to deal with us.  We are living here, a credit card from there, insurance from a different place and licenses from other countries. In hindsight, this is when it might have been a good idea to have a “loyal” program so that the database would show you as being a consistent person.

Today I drive with a USA license, and it scares me that my photo will remain the same for another eight years.  I am sure I will not have aged at all in these upcoming eight years.

Being a parent increases the likelihood someone will put up a Christmas tree.

 Every year we try to have a Christmas tree put up where we are at Christmas. When we are home, it is easy. When we are in a hotel, it is not so easy. When we are on a beautiful tropical island, not easy at all. By now, my family is one that thinks outside the box.

Christmas in the Caribbean Sea

Here is a photo of our tree – one year on a tropical island. Grant made it.  Yes, sixteen red solo cups made our lovely little tree. It was just perfect on Christmas morning when we had our stockings casually draped on the floor waiting for the anticipation for the kids to get up and open their Santa stockings. We did this in the wee hours of the morning, but as the kids got older, we are just hoping it to happen before noon. Amazing how tired young adults can be after finals and a long semester.

As we all get older and the kids get older, the clutter of wrapping paper and the massive display of gift giving is getting smaller and smaller. We are not giving up consumerism totally, but we are all on the same page. We have a lot of beautiful things already in our life, so we just give the most precious gift of “time.” It is an excellent feeling.

We value time together, excellent food and exceptional sunsets.

My family has been lucky enough to spend Christmas in a variety of locations due to our jobs working abroad. Because we are a global family, traditions are necessary to keep. One tradition we have is the kids Christmas stockings being placed under our Christmas tree each Christmas Eve hoping Santa arrives. The stockings have a special meaning to our family since they were cross stitched and made by their Aunt Jennifer and  Aunt Jackie.

What is more important is the place where the kids hang the stockings – it must be under their Christmas tree. This is hard to do if you are not spending Christmas in your own home. Now that my kids are both adults, Santa has arrived in Australia, Borneo, The Cook Islands, Canary Islands, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Thailand, Honduras, as well as multiple locations in the USA.

A look back at a special times

The one Christmas tree that makes us all still smile is the one my son made in the Cook Islands. He had been in the hotel lobby watching the hotel staff get all of their decorations set up for the holiday event. They showed him how to weave flowers into strips of leaves and drape them over the vast tree in the lobby. He then went out into their gardens and collected enough natural supplies to decorate the Christmas tree in our hotel room. There was only one small problem. We didn’t have a tree!

He took every pillow and cushion in our hotel suite and fashioned a pyramid in the corner of the room. He draped all the leaves and flowers over this pile of cushions and proudly announced that it was our “Christmas Tree!” He then went and got the stockings and put them at the base of the cushion tree. We all remember how it was the rest of that day and night waiting for Santa!

We had to watch TV as we were sitting on a brick hard couch without cushions. We tried to sit on the balcony to watch the ocean but found the rattan chairs without any cushions unbearable. The hardest thing was trying to get his older sister to go to bed without a pillow. My husband and I were able to pull our pillows off the “tree” for our bed after the kids went to sleep and before put them back before Santa arrived.

One year our creativity was not hard to do. We were staying at a beautiful B&B in Scarborough, Western Australia for Christmas Eve. I was hoping they would have a lovely tree up.  If not, we planned to find a small tree and tape it to our picnic basket as we head out to the beach.

This year, we have our Christmas tree permit in the Lake Tahoe Basin on our table, strings of lights on the floor and ornaments in various boxes. Now, all we need is a boy from Honolulu and a girl from Los Angeles to show up so they can go cut down the tree and drag it home.

We love our holiday rituals at Christmas.

Family reunions are important because they allow the family to create rituals that connect the generations. 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.

Rituals are emotionally enriching. It is never too late to start a ritual. Some children may resist being involved in such rituals. But if rituals are presented in a non-controlling manner, and you manage your expectations, all family members will ‘get on board’ much more readily than you thought.

I have worked with many families that want to start building closer family time, and one fundamental way to do this is to have family reunions. Christmas is a great time to do this! We will be spending another tri-generational event this year.

 

 

Comments off

Does Family Time during the Holidays turn into Drama?


Drama with Pancakes

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 begin with just one person, but if that person feels it is essential 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 collective 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.

christmas stocking
Used from 1991-2017 Yearly

These precious Christmas stockings often find their ‘privileged’ position in my carry-ons as we go from one assignment to the next assignment. Somethings just can’t be put in 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.

Comments off

Guineafowl is to Turkey as Family Traditions is to Resilience


Thanksgiving sprouts

What is your favorite Thanksgiving memory? Why are these memories important? Are celebrations like Thanksgiving good for us?

I am often asked, “How can we identify risk factors for our children so that potential problems are minimized?”

My Top Three:

  1. Family is the key!
  2. Knowing your ’emotions’ is essential.
  3. Family memories and family traditions build strong kids.

Do emotions help us make more ethical decisions?

I believe they do. If the child cannot understand their own emotions or tune into the feelings of others in their family or with peers, this is a considerable risk. If the child is unable to make ethical decisions, they are a risk to themselves and a risk to society.

If the child does not have a sense of “family,”  this is a huge risk. The impact of a strong family identity and the connectedness factor is often long-lasting, giving messages to the child that they are loved and accepted and belong to a broader network of people who matter.

It is my perception that no child is immune from pressure in our current, fast-paced, stressed filled environment so families have to be aware that at any time in their life a child might need help and support. They need to cope better with everyday challenges and be able to bounce back from disappointments. The concept of resilience is straightforward if you think about kids needing to thrive emotionally, behaviorally, academically and interpersonally. Families need to use Thanksgiving as a time to connect.

This is one of our favorite Thanksgiving memories

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

It is Thanksgiving.

And we invited the guests.

And it was early in the evening.

But remember – First, you move me 1,500 miles away from where I call home.

Second, you invite a whole table full of your co-workers.

Third, this sets up the magic to make this a Thanksgiving that is memorable.

At first, when my husband suggested that we invite his co-workers 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.

Sunflowers, Pie, and Friends – what more does an expat need?

I was up early; the house smelled fantastic 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 ‘absolutely must have’ pumpkin pie. Of course, through in an berry pie to make eveyone happy. I stirred, stuffed and muffed around the kitchen all day.

At 5:00 pm our guests were expected to arrive. At 4:45 pm everyone came right on cue but early! 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 started to relax. We exchanged names and polite 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 look” told me he was apprehensive of my reaction, wanted to wait, 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 putdown.

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.

Once a teacher always a teacher

I talked about the importance of corn bread, from the American natives “Indians” such as the Cherokee or the Chickasaw and 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 or (7 ft) long. The fruit is a berry that is larger than the leaves of the plant; it is initially white but turns a deep 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.

Then the ‘Second in Command’ felt my husband just didn’t get the compliment, so 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 on my leg and patted my thigh. He was stroking my leg. 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? Was he checking to see where the huge carving knife was?

I was only able 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 also wondered if there would be any burping. 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 huge Christmas Ham?

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.

Please share one Thanksgiving Memory!

Notes: The Guineafowl made its way to Europe from Africa via Turkey. Therefore they called it ‘turkey.’

 

Psychological Challenges When Relocating


What are the psychological challenges one faces when relocating to another country?

imgres
Hong Kong

The most significant challenges always seem to be to give up the stereotypes that you already have about the new location and to be able to genuinely understand that culture and geographic location.

Media always puts in your mind what this location will be like, but it is often the best of the best (ideal vacation spots) of the worst of the worst (crime/property). There is seldom any reality check on what is the norm for that area.

When you land you already have full knowledge of what happens in your new location, but you do not have the complete picture. You do not have a balanced understanding of that city or the lifestyle you will be having.

I was recently interviewed by a company in Hong Kong that deals with parenting issues. Hong Kong is a perfect example of needing to let go of stereotypes since a person seldom experiences what you see on TV while living in Hong Kong. Just now if I google Hong Kong, I get investments and tall buildings. Hong Kong is more than securities and futures and skyscrapers.

Hong Kong for kids, at first, seems hard with it’s packed streets and heat, but soon the only thing you’ll find yourself short of is time because there are so many events and attractions.

One of my first exposures to schools outside of the USA was a stop in Hong Kong with the Semester at Sea floating educational system. It was eye opening for me since I had always made the assumption that kids got recess and recess meant in a playing field or grass area.

Semester at Sea

One critical psychological issue for all expats 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, community, a unit, a race of people, tribe, a great school, a good job or something. If we feel connected, we are happy and fulfilled.

Parents can ensure social and emotional stability in their changing environment by blending past and present. You have to connect to both the new location and your previous locations or homes. The importance of attachment and those vital close connections is what makes a person happy.

If you understand how relationships develop, then you have more success as a global nomad.

Relationships develop in this order:  Proximity – Sameness – Belonging – Loyalty and Significance as levels in a healthy connection.

Let me give you an example of this: In Hong Kong – Often work is a place to ensure social and emotional stability because of the connections you can make in this environment. At the school, you have many different people you come in contact with (proximity).

You may be from different nationalities but have children the same age (sameness).

We are all very different, but we have the similarity of belonging to the same school that brings us closer together. When you spend the day to day situations in the same environment, a person should feel like they belong. It is only people who choose to work, take breaks, eat lunch in isolation that misses out on the critical ingredient of belonging. Many people have loyalty to the job they are working in, or they would just quit.

The significance is key for global people. You need to feel like you got something beneficial out of your time in your host country and you need to think that you gave back something to it.

In Thailand, we saw lots of expats helping out with the floods. Students from area international schools are bagging up survival food and making care packages. When the earthquake hit Nepal, these same expats sent supplies and money to help.

The way you leave a location sets you up for your new place.

If you continue to feel liked you missed out of something because you didn’t live in your home country or you felt put out because you assignment was “too hard” or you thought that you wanted to quickly leave the country and say good riddance…then your next job will also seem shallow and non-important. 

Maslow Theory

Things to think about . . . 

Notes:

Comments off

Our Your Predictions Off?


 

thinking child

What can you do when your brain doesn’t match your hand?

With two kids through a four-year college degree, I thought I had most of this ‘child-rearing’ figured out.  I do not.  I realize that half of what I have been telling my kids is possible wrong.  Or at least outdated. The world is constantly changing and nothing is for certain forever.

Are you OK with the notion that what your kids are learning in school may contradict what you learned in school? For some reason, that notion worries me!

Then I read this book – Yikes!

Samuel Arbesman’s “The Half-Life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date” is very interesting and makes you think.  Most medical schools tell their students half of what they’ve been taught will be wrong within five years – the teachers just don’t know which half.

I think this also related to parenting. Some of the foundation of wanting your child to be ethical, kind and engaged will never change. But so many other things will have to change because things are changing rapidly.

Are you comfortable with scientific knowledge?

Are you comfortable with changes in scientific knowledge?  How did you handle the status of Pluto changing?  What about the age at which women should get mammograms? Facts change all the time.  For decades, we were convinced that the brontosaurus was a real dinosaur.  For some people, they just don’t like this type of change.

Arbesman, a Harvard University-affiliated practitioner of scientometrics likes to look at how we know what we know.  He feels facts change in a regular, predictable manner and obeys mathematical rules.  Whenever I am faced with a mathematical rule I don’t understand I ask my children. One has a Master’s in Applied Mathematics and is very helpful!

They get this so much better than I do and they can break it down into bite size pieces so I really understand the rule.  Sometimes I watch the TV show, “Numbers” and then ask my children the hypothetical situation that was shown in the TV series.  Sometimes TV is spot on and sometimes the storyline doesn’t hold true to real mathematical rules.

Working with parents and change

I work with global parents, and there is always a lot of change in their lives.  Sometimes things so smooth and sometimes things just don’t go smooth. At times, there seems to not be any ‘rule’ to why things are done the way they are done.

When these families realize that there is nothing they can do about the changes then they decide they need to embrace it.  They are ready to move on to the next change they will have to cope with.

Arbesman states, “Once we recognize  facts change in a regular, predictable manner and they do obey these mathematical rules, we’ll be ready to live in the rapidly changing world around us.”

 

 

Notes:

This book is on Amazon – Here.

Original Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lemaipictures/41766940/

What would Halloween be without friends?


 

Sometimes Halloween abroad is not a treat!

Sometimes Halloween abroad is not a treat!

Then it got me thinking about all the issues friends can bring up around Halloween when you are an expat child (or any child).

“Should we dress alike?”

“Should we let ‘so and so’ go trick or treating with us?”

“Do we have to share with them?”

What should be a time of family fun and fun with friends can often end in an evening full of tears. There are of course some expected heighten emotions when you add too much sugar and a later bedtime, but parents can do a few simple things to help the evening go smoothly.

1. Remember if you are celebrating this holiday abroad, the expectations might not be what the parents or the kids want. The local candy might just be ‘awful’ so remind your child that there will be lots of local kids that would love to have the candy so focus on the ‘giving’ instead of the ‘taking.’

2. Remember that it can be an evening where fitting in is more important than the outfit.  Let your child pick what they want to be or dress like and forget the parent’s wants on this when you are abroad.  Nothing ruins a holiday more than an unhappy child.

3. Remember if your child decides to exclude ‘friends’ to remind them what the core values of your family are with words. “Our family values  politeness.” Or “Our family values courtesy.”  Or “Our family values civility.” Try not to say, “You should invite her.”

Halloween is for friends! Trick-or-treating is a customary celebration for children on Halloween. Let your kids celebrate. Love your child unconditionally, but hold him/her accountable for decisions or behavior that go against the family’s values.

Sunflower Bob - "Do I have to wear this?"

Sunflower Bob – “Do I have to wear this?”

In “Emotional Resilience and the Expat Child, I wrote short stories that take place in a variety of locations. The emotions are described in these short stories. Then it covers why the area is so unique. Some of these stories were from Jackie’s experiences around the world, and some were from Grant’s. To make it more predictable for young children to read or understand, I have made each story be about a boy called Jack.

If you are reading to a two or three-year-old, sit with them in your lap or lie down next to each other. Let them hear your voice acting out Jack’s words and his mother’s words with two different voices. Let him see the pattern in the stories.

If you are reading to a four or five-year-old, you can ask them if they know what is coming next. You can take turns being Jack and repeat his words after they are read. You can also do as suggested above.

If you are reading with an older child, ask him what he would like to do. How would he want the story to be read?

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

Joy During Halloween – Jack’s Story

Oxford English Dictionary

  1. A vivid emotion of pleasure arising from a sense of well- being or satisfaction; the feeling or state of being highly pleased or delighted; exultation of spirit; gladness, delight.
  2. The expression of glad feeling; outward rejoicing; mirth; jubilant festivity.
  3. A source or object of joy; that which causes joy, or in which delight is taken; a delight.

For a young child: Your face is really, really happy. You feel wonderful. You might even want to dance. This is the joy.

Geography

Neighborhoods around the world where families are involved in Halloween. You can experience joy while going through your trick or treat bag after a late night of running around the neighborhood. As you pile the candy into two very different piles; Candy that is well worth keeping and Candy that needs to be given away as soon as possible. As you take your fifth piece of candy and slowly unwrap it, so the wrapping does not make any noise, you smile with joy.  It has been a fun evening for you and your friends. You wish it could have lasted longer.

Jack’s Story – Joy

The evening ritual begins. The moon starts to shine, and Jack rubs his eyes. As Jack and his mom start the short walk across the neighborhood to their home, she asks him, “What was your evening like?”

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

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

“Mommy, I had a good night at “trick and treating.” What should I dream about tonight?”

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

“Mommy, I am thinking about all the joy I felt tonight. I am going to dream about the parade we all took part in. I am going to remember the smiles on everyone’s faces as they walked around the neighborhood. I will remember their joy when they realized that they received some Halloween candy that they love. I am going to remember my joy when I saw you dressed up in your pumpkin hat. I am going to remember how much joy I had when I got to lug my huge trick or treat bag back home. Mommy, that is what I am going to dream about.”

“Do you know how much I love you?”

“You love me a lot.”

“More than you will ever know,” she says as she smiles and kisses him good night.

He just smiles and snuggles down in bed pulling the covers up towards his chin.

“Mommy, I love all the things we do on Halloween. I loved being a werewolf this year.  It was fun to go all over the neighborhood shedding my hair! Good night Mom.”

“Good night, Jack.”

Leaving Hair all over the Neighborhood!

 

Imagine my surprise when this video was sent to me from a friend!

 

 

Comments off