J Simens.com

“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)

Expat Halloween and the Importance of the Pumpkin!

I  never met a pumpkin I didn’t like.

When I got ready to celebrate another international Halloween…I need to get all my ducks (or pumpkins)  in a row. This was always hard when you are living in a new country  or location and you are trying to celebrate American Halloween for the first time in that location.

When witches go riding and black cats are seen, the moon laughs and whispers.  Tis near Halloween.

I realize it is now late October but for many expats, the planning of Halloween started long before the month of October. Some people put things into their suitcases from this past summer holiday in plans for the upcoming Halloween.  Others commander the suitcase space of their traveling spouse to ensure that treats are in their new home country prior to this candy loaded holiday.
What I hadn’t realized is how this impacts places like Canada. This photo was taken on July 31st at a sale at Loblaws in Westboro, Ottawa. This means there was only 92 more shopping days left before Halloween.

Early shopping for Halloween













When many Expats move they have this vision that they can build up their lives into some sort of nicely sugar-coated layered experience. Blending their home culture into their new culture. Making layer after layer build up into a wonderful beautiful experience for the whole family. They are just like kids going trick and treating, they want all their old and favorite candies in their tick and treat bags along with some new and exotic candies. They want to cling on to some of their background, their history, and their Halloween rituals.

Halloween pumpkins

Expectations are hard to meet!

Parents need to be careful and connect with what is special about this holiday for your family. As an expat, you can easily get side tracked and forget what is most important for your family. You get worried about your child’s interactions. You worry about the exposure you child has to something different from his or her home environment. You worry that your child will miss out!

I have talked to a lot of five-year-olds and their parents from around the world. Here are a few things I have been told about Halloween. Remember my sources are five-year-olds!

Austria – We leave bread and water out at night for the dead people.

Belgium – We light candles for dead people in our family.

 Canada  – The best part is the Jack O’Lanterns!

China – ‘Teng Chieh’ we put food and water by the photos of our dead family. We have lots of lanterns.

Czechoslovakia – We put one chair by the fire for each person in our family, even the dead people.

 England – Our pumpkins or ‘punkies’ are made out of large beets. We sing a ‘Punkie Night Song’.

 France – We also see pumpkins at McDonalds near Halloween. We are all ‘scary’ not ‘fairy princesses’. We get treats in the stores not at your home.

 Germany – We have to be careful on Halloween and we can’t use knives.

 Hong Kong – ‘Yue Lan’ (Festival of the Hungry Ghosts) It is about spirits!

 Ireland – it is just like in the USA. We do costumes and go trick-or-treating. We play ‘snap-apple’, (an apple on a string and you try to bite it) and ‘knock-a dolly’ (where you ring the doorbell and run away).

 Indonesia – We don’t have Halloween but we like candy.

 Japan – We don’t have this Halloween. We have ‘Obon Festival’ with our dead family members. We clean the house and the graves. It is in July.

 Korea – We have ‘Chusok’. It is in August, we visit our dead family and take them rice or fruit.

 Spain – We have ‘El Dia de los Muertos’ (days of the dead) but it is a happy celebration. We go to the grave and have a picnic. We have parades.

 Sweden – We have ‘alla Helgons Dag’. We get to have a vacation day from school.

But this is our life and as Expats, we try to fit into the host country but most American’s want their children to get scared, over indulge in candy, wear costumes and even let the local children have this holiday.

Halloween Night Pumpkins


Family rituals are important

Children tend to love family rituals, even if they don’t admit it. Rituals provide a sense of security and can be soothing. A family ritual is anything your family does together deliberately. The routine of whatever you do is what counts. It can be anything. Just make sure you do it consistently.

Rituals are emotionally enriching. It is never too late to start a ritual. Some children may resist being involved in such rituals. But if rituals are presented in a non-controlling manner and you manage your expectations, all family members will ‘get on board’ much more readily than you thought. I have worked with many families that want to start building closer family time and sometimes the rituals start with just one person, but if that person feels it is important and keeps trying sooner or later the event can become a ritual.

Sometimes the ritual comes from having another culture in your life

We have often celebrated Halloween over the top! In Duri, Indonesia the expat engineers took over one of the houses on camp and made a truly ‘scary house’ for all of us to experience. I am not sure who had more fun the adults making the house or the kids going through it.

When you let a group of engineers take over the event, it is way over the top! I thought the eels in the stairwell with plexiglass that you walked over them was a great touch!  The pig’s head that moved in and out of the toilet – scared me, I can’t imagine what it did to my seven-year-old.  The electric engineers did a great job with the lights and sounds.  What took the engineers two full days to complete allowed all of us to be like kids again on that Halloween night.

Years later, I wonder if people are still calling that one home the haunted house?  I know the family that moved into it only a few weeks after Halloween. They had no idea what it took to get their empty house back to normal.

Some of my highlights of Halloween living overseas with our young children were carving our pumpkins – One time our pumpkin was a green coconut!  We have used Cassava Root to be a pumpkin in Indonesia. We used a Taro root as our pumpkin in Nigeria. Now that was a scary ‘pumpkin’.

Root vegetable in the market









We have made sure that our unique global situations allows us to still have Jack o’ Lanterns that are uniquely ours. It has become a family ritual.

Families who move together – grow together.

Halloween tradition



Cassava Roots – http://newsimg.bbc.co.uk/media/images/44493000/jpg/_44493567_02nigeria_afp.jpg
fancy carved pumpkins http://www.flickr.com/photos/44124412397@N01/2962675525/in/photolist-5vNudv-5vSLhh-5vSLXQ-5vSMZW-5vSNXj-5vSPpA-5vSPyb-5wFHwT-5wL3vA-5wMPqa-5x3TWv-5x3XeV-5x3Y8x-5xuiTH-5xHcG2-5xWN7c-5y57h7-5BiPJf-5BJKm9-5Cexc1-5DtTqE-5Nddv4-5NhtLq-5QQikP-6aqioL-6bYozM-6xGtDz-6xGtKt-6xGtNH-6xGtR4-6xLCqG-6xLCtw-71Zedv-75mvd7-76CAMk-77KG2c-77ZLJp-7a7Fvr-7abvfs-7aBR4a-7aFDtE-7aFDY3-7b5g3T-7bz9Gn-7cpKLw-7fENbM-7gfK2W-7gKNAh-7hiRsB-7ipDvY-7mhGSH
peanut free: http://www.flickr.com/photos/93663762@N00/4872539224/in/photolist-8qz39Y-7E6yWk-dpRtDc-dqxymx-aBjdrE-8uXDLT-8uXDQa-fYyQ2W-8NNSeK-aALxBh-8Pz1Pm-dgdv7U-aAXkYY-88fysa-aAB3oK-at1upA-dq2SLW-dq2GUp-dq2SNY-dq2GNk-dq2GQT-dq2SRh-arcK1B-dpBaRe
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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 location 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 like 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.


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!



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An Unfortunate Misunderstanding Between Expats and Not Lost in Translation

What the waiting room knows about you . . .

What the waiting room knows about you . . .

Out of the vault – I miss living abroad!

Jumping out of our car as the driver slowly made his way to the apotik or farmasi (drugstore-pharmacy), I couldn’t wait to get the thick white paste that would stop my hands from itching. While gardening in Balikpapan, I often get down in the dirt and end up with small ant bites. I don’t go to our company doctor because I know the local pharmacy or apotik will be able to sell me the cheap local paste. I have used it in the past, and it gives immediate relief. This day made me think about the Kinsey Reports for some reason. The publications were immediately controversial among the general public. The findings caused shock and outrage, both because they challenged conventional beliefs about sexuality and because they discussed subjects that had previously been taboo.

Challenging conventional beliefs 

As I made my way to the front of the line, I showed the young girl behind the counter my red scratched hands. My Bahasa Indonesian isn’t all that great, but I know the word semut means “ant.”

So I pointed to my bites and said, “Semut.”

She nodded and in perfect English replied, “Please have a seat over there and the doctor will send out the paste in a few minutes.”

I love to people watch. I slowly glanced around the crowded room and counted 35 people all waiting to be ‘fixed’ for some unknown medical reasons. For some it is easy to see what is the problem, they are the ones whom normal coffee colored skin looks pale, and they seem shaky. I choose not to sit by them.

There in one corner of the room is a large group of moms with tiny babies, and they are there for a ‘well baby’ check up. I know this because the nurse measures all parts of their babies and making notes in the Wellness Journal. I choose not to sit by them because it is rather nosy and cluttered with toys.

In the middle, the room sits a small group of people who look like they work in the doctor’s office. They might be stocking the shelves or sweeping the floor. At that moment in time, it looked like they were sharing local gossip. I choose to sit near them to see if I could pick up anything they were talking about. After a short wait, the nurse called me up to the front of the store to get my medicinal paste.

Subjects that had previously been taboo

As she handed me a small white envelope, she asked me to pay 80,000 rupiahs or about $6.50 US dollars. As I gave her the money, I felt the little bag. It didn’t feel like the typical tube I had gotten in the past. I carefully pulled the two staples out of the top of the envelope and saw two small pills.

The nurse rang up my bill; it showed two entries written in Bahasa Indonesia. I had given her the exact change, so she handed me the bill.

I said, “I did not want pills.”

The nurse replied, “Pills seem to work best.”

I responded, “I really would like the lotion, it worked well in the past.”

At that moment, a different nurse came up and handed me my usual tube of paste. Now both nurses looked confused or at least as confused as I am. As I stand there with a tube of lotion in one hand and the pills in the other hand, I try to get clarification.

“Do I use both of these?”

“Use both if you want to use them,” Nurse One replied.

“I am uncomfortable using pills I don’t know,” I replied as I handed her back the pills.

She pushed them back across the counter to me and started to walk away.

“Excuse me, I don’t want these pills,” I stated.

Nurse Two looking over my shoulder and into the busy waiting room said, “Your husband asked for these.”

My husband was at work and nowhere near the clinic so I knew she was mistaken. I started shaking my head side to side. She smiled broadly and nodded towards the only other expat in the whole office. I had not noticed him before. As she made eye contact with the gentleman, he slowly made his way around the baby toys on the floor to the front of the counter.

He nodded at me. Even though Balikpapan is a small town, I had never seen this expat gentleman before. I smiled and started out of the clinic. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him pick up the two pills.

Nurse Two replied, “Here are your Viagra pills.

I am not sure what the gentleman said, but I clearly heard what the nurse said as I exited the building.

“Your wife has already paid for your pills.”

I don’t know if I am more excited about doing a “pay it forward” for an expat in Balikpapan or if I am more surprised that you can buy just two Viagra pills in Balikpapan.

I was tempted to go back and ask how he determined he needed to buy two pills, but my driver was holding up traffic as he waited for me to climb into the car. So I got in the car, just shaking my head about this interaction that was somewhat lost in translation.


For my Balikpapan friends once, I tell you the next story you will never be able to sit at a guard gate without smiling. For those of you not living here, we have a routine all cars must go through when they enter or exit a security area.

A guard will run a mirror under the car to check for anything strange. Another guard will ask permission to check inside the vehicle. This means you roll down the windows so they can see in and he opens the truck to see what is also in that part of your car.

Security guards in IndonesiaIn Bahasa Indonesian, the word “permission” sounds like “per- miss – ey”.   When my daughter was here, one of the guards always smiled and asked her how she liked Balikpapan. They would chat while his co-worker did all the checking on how safe our vehicle was before letting us move on. One trip, he asked her if “permission” meant the same as “perty mission.” We tried to understand and just couldn’t seem to get the translation explained. On our next time through that checkpoint, he handed her a note in English.

Pretty – Miss = You are beautiful.

Now every time, I hear “permission” I just smile to myself and my mind tells me that the guard has just called me a “pretty miss”. But more importantly – it reminds me of my daughter.

The guards – They all make my day!

Not lost in translation: A very fortunate understanding between my daughter and the host country worker.






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Celebration of Personal Heroes: 9/11 is a time to celebrate strengths

Out of the vault – Proud to be a part of this book!

The Gratitude Book Project: A Celebration of Personal Heroes

Co-Author Julia Simens

It”s a time of remembrance and celebrating strength.

As across the United States and the world, we commemorate the 15th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001; it’s time to celebrate the strong. I’m proud to announce that I was a co-author of a unique project celebrating personal heroes from The Gratitude Book Project.

Even though the characteristics of a hero may be different from one person to another, the underlying theme of heroism is uniform throughout in the sense that they are all admired. Heroes define our aspirations and expand the perceived limitations we have of ourselves. They remind us of whom we want to be and how we’re going to get there.

Maybe you consider your father a hero or maybe you feel the hero within yourself. Maybe your hero is a firefighter or a teacher. Regardless of who your hero is, they are all defined by the same characteristics and celebrated in The Gratitude Book Project: A Celebration of Personal Heroes.

Narratives from the book include inspiring stories such as:

“Imagine My Surprise” by Anne Bennett, expressing gratitude for the New Yorkers on the 9-11 attacks that she witnessed.

“Job Well Done” by Sabrina Jones, describing the heroism of a single parent and the emotional and physical strength they must possess.

“You’re a Hero, Too” by Cat Traywick, inspiring us all that we can make a difference because of the hero within ourselves.

I’m one of the co-authors.

My contribution to the book centers around being overseas and living in the sandwich generation. If you are not aware of this terminology, it means being in a mid-life tug of war. The ‘Sandwich Generation’ is a generation of people who care for their aging parents while supporting their children.  My mom was getting older, and my daughter was off in college, but this throws my expat lifestyle into this mix, and things become very complicated.  Living thousands of miles away adds a new concern being in this sandwich.

My mother had to move off of our Kansas farm due to health reasons and decided to relocate near her family in Colorado. My daughter relocated to college about 60 miles away from my mother for an entirely different reason. For once, I could fly into one airport and visit two family members.

Two key things I learned:

  1. Sometimes moving closer to family members does not necessarily mean they will make time to include you into their life.
  2. Allowing a closer opportunity can indeed make some relationship richer.

My mom was able to spend about two years with her older sister eating lunch together almost daily and every day sharing a morning coffee. Her sister moved into the same apartment building as my Mom, so they had a few wonderful years reconnecting. My daughter would head out after class, grab Chinese takeout food and drive the hour up to visit my mom each week. During these lunch dates, she got to learn about our family history. Often, Aunt Jody would attend these family meals. My daughter did the small things that will make an older person’s life better. She made sure the jars in the refrigerator were not too hard to open. She checked the pills were not running out. She gave my mom something to look forward to each week. I was living 8,500 miles away from my mom – my daughter was my personal hero.

Picture 6 1

My favorite ‘sandwich’ in the world

With so many inspiring stories of gratitude to our heroes, The Gratitude Book Project: A Celebration of Personal Heroes is sure to warm your heart with love and appreciation for those whom we admire.

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

Julia Simens normal

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

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

Apple Map

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

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

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

Co-Mingling  of Cultures through Food

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

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

Yummy BBQ

Yummy BBQ

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

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

Screen Shot 2016-08-03 at 12.17.28 PM

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First Impressions vs. Fixing the Bad

How something appears is always a matter of perspective

How something appears is always a matter of perspective

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

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


Bad raps happen

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

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


What parents can do


Change the perception

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


Tips for kids

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

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

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


Tips for Parents

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

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

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

Good thoughts

Photo – http://awakentoyourdeeperself.com/healing-limiting-core-beliefs-shifting-perspectives/
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5 Simple Ways to Declutter Your Life

Not ever outfit can be worn again and again

Not every outfit can be worn again and again

As I sat on the shores of Lake Tahoe, I realized that some people would have to find storage for their two-foot tall patriotic hats, their rhinestone glitter red, white and blue vests, flag dresses and the over the top USA bikini.  The bikini might take much space.  Also, the summer is the time that many expats move on to a new location. Therefore, I am thinking about moving, boxes and clutter!

As a serial expat, I often have too many boxes as I move from place to place. I also find that sometimes I don’t need what was packed for my new location so a box might sit still all boxed up and then I move again. So one box has two (or three) packing labels containing the same items. Clutter?  Or lifetime memories?

Noah St. John has some great ideas on how we can declutter our lives.

I’ve always said that if I ever leave the personal growth industry and start another business, it would be in the self-storage business.


People are obsessed with buying stuff! And when there’s too much stuff in the house, they put the car outside and put the stuff in the garage. Then, when the garage is full, do they get rid of their stuff? No, they rent another storage unit! Some of you are laughing right now, and some of you are not, because it’s hitting too close to home. The point is, many of my clients have faced this problem; so if you’re facing this issue of overwhelming and clutter, you’re not alone.

The question is: WHY do we need to declutter in the first place?

Why don’t we just “let things be”? One of the main reasons it’s essential to declutter your life is that if you have clutter, it’s hard for something better to come in. For example, have you ever noticed that when you clear stuff out of your home or office space, you feel better?

Here are 5 simple ways to declutter your life

1. Don’t complain that you have to declutter your life. Instead, be grateful that you have something (a home, an office, a body, life) to keep clean in the first place.

2. Remember that to de-clutter your life is a continuous, not a one-time, act. One of my college professors was a practicing Buddhist monk. He would often remind us, “Half of life is cleaning.” That’s a good reminder for all of us.

3. Declutter your head trash. Think about the negative things you say to yourself regularly: “I’m too old to change… I’ve made too many mistakes… I probably can’t do it.” Remove those thoughts from your head just like you would remove the trash from your home.

4. If you’re stuck, bring in a professional. If you are stuck with decluttering your life, bring in someone to help you –for example, a professional organizer, business or life coach, even a friend who enjoys organizing things (yes, these people do exist!). There are plenty of resources to help you. Don’t feel like you have to do it alone.

5. Use Afformations. Afformations are empowering questions that help you declutter your brain. For example, you can afform -Why am I so good at organizing? or Why do I love being organized? Check out this website – www.afformationsbook.com

Does moving ever get easier? This is a common question I am asked by the global families I work with. Yes, it does. One move we made included two children under the age of four, a cat and a dog. My last international move included just my husband and my dog.  My repatriation move was just my husband and myself. Yes, moving does get easier!

Raja Simens 2014

Noah’s Note: When you clear the clutter, you make room for better things to come in. Noah St. John is famous for inventing Afformations®.  According to Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: “Noah St. John’s work is about discovering within ourselves what we should have known all along – we are truly powerful beings with unlimited potential.”

Related blogs: Got my blanket: We are moving again talks about FIGT. I sit on the board of Families in Global Transition; it is an organization that global families should know.   Changing worlds: transitions of an expat family talks about the global professional lifestyle and our children who are born and raised amidst these mixed cultural encounters and settings.


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The Significance of Food and the Expat Child

speg ohs

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

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

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

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

Food and Family Rituals

Baby fireworks and marshmallows

My family has a series of rituals that we love. Some are tied to holidays, birthdays, and special events, but some are just around because of their longevity and fun. When your children are expatriates, often parents look for things that might connect their child to their “home”.  Many rituals will be based around food.

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


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