J Simens.com

Are Izzat’s a dying breed?

MemoriesTo children who successfully navigate a lifetime of change, the world is a garden of exotic gifts, a house of treasure to explore and take in. Transferred from place to place, young and porous, global nomad children collect and absorb experiences. Their personalities become amalgams of those cultures they internalize and claim as their own. Perched for a while in a new environment, they experience each move as an occasion for growth, a chance to blossom in new ways.

From – Unrooted Childhoods -“ Memories of Growing Up Global

Not Wanting to be at the International School

It all started 16 months ago.  Izzat walked into my international school. He did not want to be here. He had moved to a strange country. He did not speak English, and he wanted to be safe at home with his Mommy.  He was five years old.  This was his first school experience, and he was 5,000 miles away from what he had called home.

Izzat’s parents were eager to fit into their new location, and they wanted their son to fit into school. Izzat was scared he didn’t want to be here.

We spent the first ten days of the school year joined at the hip.  Or I should say, as long as Izzat could hold my hand or my leg as we walked around the campus trying to do my counseling job. Many of the other students asked if he was my son.

I could get Izzat to go to recess because he liked to play with the balls.  I could get him to go to lunch because he was hungry. As far as going to class, he had not bought into the fact that school meant ‘learning.’ He didn’t understand that school meant doing what the teacher wanted and being with a whole bunch of other kids his age.

Finally, he decided to like the smaller English as a Second Language class, and I was able to have periods of time in my office without Izzat. His parents were wonderful, but they did not know how to help him. His teachers were excellent, but they could not get him to stop coming to my office whenever he got stressed or confused. They were wonderful, but he just was not comfortable in their environment. His peers wanted to support him and help him, but he often would run away from them and seek me out.

It was a very long time to get Izzat comfortable enough to stay with his peers. whWe gradually went from mastering the comfortable zone of one activity towards another one.  We were blessed that the Physical Education teacher asked Izzat to stay longer and help with the other classes where there were other five years olds. This free time allowed me actually to see some of the other kids I was serving. Slowly the need to be by my side was replaced to be near the other adults in his school day. Slowly his ability to communicate in English became stronger.

When it was time for Izzat to start school his next September at our school, he acted like a real pro.  He only stopped by once in a while to chat.

But That First Week of December was a Sad Time for Me. 

Izzat ran across the playground, yelling in English for his friend to stop. Izzat said, “Wait for me!”

He grabbed my hand and gave it a squeeze and then it quickly it became a full body hug. It was quick but intense.

He said, “Ms. Julia, I am moving to a new school.”

I replied, “I will miss you, when will you leave?”

Izzat proudly stated, “Before Christmas.”

Then he ran away to play with his friend.  As I turned to go into my office. He ran back.  “I will really miss you.”

This is a child that has mastered making friends, learning a new language, being a risk taker and being bold. At our school, he had many houses of treasure to explore and take in.  As he moved to his new school, I hope he took the lessons he had learned here. He had successfully navigated a lifetime of change in just 16 short months.

Christmas is always an interesting to time to reconnect with family and friends.  Sometimes, when I least expect it, I get a note from parents I have worked with or from their children. Today as I was searching for a unique Christmas decoration, I ran into the note I got from Izzat when he was going to get ready for his last semester in High School. I remember his small hand tightly clutching mine, and I wonder how big and strong his hands are today.

Sometimes Christmas memories make me cry.

world heart

Perception: Spot On or Off this Holiday Season?

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, I hate that feeling.”

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

“What did you do?’

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Are Celebrations Like THANKSGIVING Good For Us?

What is your favorite Thanksgiving memory? Why are these memories important?

Postcard of memories past

I am often asked, “How can we identify risk factors for our children, so 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 make more ethical decisions?

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

Cross- cultural impact of this holiday

I often tell parents that their perspective on an event is not the same as their child’s.  Sometimes the smallest things can be misunderstood.  Every year, as a family, we try to do the traditional turkey and stuffing as we celebrate this event.  Imagine my confusion when one of my children wrote in a school journal!

“My favrit Thanksgivn dinr is turkey stufed with tacos”  or translated into adult-speak…

“My favorite Thanksgiving dinner is turkey stuffed with tacos.”

What I commonly called my “Thanksgiving stuffing” was full of great things. Besides the usual bread and chopped onions simmered in butter, it had celery, sage, and sausage.  Living in a Muslim country for most of their young lives, ground pork or sausage was not very often served in our home.  We did have our fair share of tacos with ground beef. It made complete sense to my child that we had tacos inside that big old bird!

I often decorate things to make the special event even more ‘unique.’  I have been known to put candy fall leaves on my sugar cubes. I have made little stocks of wheat out of vegetables and sunflower seeds. I have even written names on brussel sprouts just for the fun of it.  I wonder what my kids wrote about those traditions? Or if the teacher even believed that was what happened at our home on Thanksgiving.

I love to celebrate!

Happy Thanksgiving Jsimens

Kitchen Tables: FIGT17NL vs My Grandma’s Table

What did you learn at your grandma's kitchen table?

What did you learn at your grandma’s kitchen table?

These past few months (or longer) and this week’s election have highlighted the uncomfortable truth that much divides the USA.  One place where we’ve always been able to find common ground is around the kitchen table. The ritual of sharing a meal is a vital way to share and connect.

Attending a Families in Global Transition conference can allow you to grow and make those vital connections. Our Kitchen Tables find common ground and share and connects as our global population connect around the world.

What did you learn at your Grandma’s Kitchen Table?  What lessons? What feelings come up when you remember what it was like sitting at your grandma’s kitchen table?

My Childhood Kitchen Table

At my Grandma Wright’s kitchen table outside of Russell Springs, Kansas, I learned about family and love. Grandma spread the love by teaching us all to make pies! It almost seemed like a ritual. Family rituals are to make connections and show love. That is what she did. We’d head out to Grandma’s house, then pick some fruit or rhubarb out of her garden. Maybe go to the root cellar to get a jar of preserves for the pie. These types of rituals can be critical for all families but vital for global nomads.

I am an expert at making pies, mostly because I made a ton of pies in 4-H when I was young.  I am a firm believer in the mastery of something when you are young, and you still think it is fun.

In 4-H, I did a lot of different activities. I raised sheep, JC and Casey were my pets until I sold them. This money went towards college, and I was only ten years old when I raised them for almost a year. I did public speaking. I did knitting (I still can’t cast off).  I made clothes; I cooked more food than you can imagine and I even did leather work. Adults in the community spent time teaching us how to do things. We had pride in our finished products. We won ribbons, and if our project was excellent, we could take it to state and compete with lots of other children.  My exposure to 4-H helped me get one of my scholarships to college.

I was the Betty Crocker award winner, meaning I had to take a written test about cooking and prove that I understood the concepts behind ‘cooking.’ When you are trying to put yourself through college, all scholarships are huge, and you are so appreciative to get them. I am glad I learned how to cook when I was young, I am pleased I was able to apply that knowledge to math, science and other aspects of higher education. But I am most proud of is being able to teach my children how to make a pie! It all started around a kitchen table.

My Adult Kitchen Table = FIGT’s Kitchen Tables

When FIGT was first starting out, they would meet around a kitchen table. Ruth Van Reken shared that when they were planning the third FIGT conference, John Aoun, Betty Mullin and Joyce Blake would come to her home every Monday night to work and plan that conference. They were all volunteers, and they found the value of the “kitchen table.”  We are lucky that FIGT kept that concept as it grew.

At  FIGT17NL, you will be able to interact with experts who will share their topics around a kitchen table!  If you attend FIGT17NL, you might be able to hear some of these excellent items.

  • Practical Support for Highly Mobile Military Children
  • Military Third Cultural Kids            
  • Tribes: How and Where to Find Them When You Live Abroad?
  • Become A Global Entrepreneur 
  • Do U.S.-based Study Abroad Programs Give Authentic Cultural Experiences?
  • Understanding TCKs’ Representations of Eldercare
  • Helping TCKs Develop a True-Self
  • How to Build Powerful Strategic Alliance Partnerships on the Move
  • Positively Curious
  • Children and Mobility
  • To Find Your Tribe you Must Find Yourself First
  • The Mindful TCK
  • Lasting Love on the Move
  • Expanding Our Tribe
  • Risk and Resilience in Expatriate, Third Culture Kids
  • Our Histories Matter: Expanding Our Understanding of Who TCKs are Through the Lens of History, Heritage, and Nationality
  • Using Competencies of Emotional Intelligence to Teach, Model and Encourage Empathy, Resilience and collaboration
  • The Power of Books for TCKs and Resources for Creating and Spreading Them to Where They Don’t Yet Reach

The good news is at FIGT17NL  you can learn and share around the kitchen tables!  Please note, no pie will be served at these kitchen table talks. The FIGT rituals of Kitchen Table discussions are to make connections, grow and show compassion.

So many options - So little time!

So many options – So little time!


If you are a fan of rhubarb pie – you might like John’s song!

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“Cultural Confusion” in your own home?


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

fat turkey
What has been your favorite Thanksgiving story?

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

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

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

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

For you see my new husband was the boss!

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

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

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

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

Teaching always gives me joy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanksgiving sprouts

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

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

(First printed in 1990 – by Julia Simens)

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.

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