J Simens.com

Top Tips on Instilling Confidence in your Child this Summer

Moving somewhere new is never easy, and for a child it can be downright daunting. Starting a new school and having to make new friends is a big task. You can help greatly with this process by instilling a sense of confidence and self-worth into your child even before you make the big move.

Why don’t you use some of your free time this summer working on this!

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Summer… ahh

Attachment parenting is one key way to make confidence-building in your children.

Babies are very resilient and it is never too late to start building up your child’s self-image. Getting to know your child and seeing things from his/her point of view will help him or her learn to trust in themselves. Having close connections help us feel like we matter.

There are psychological challenges involved in all moves. One key psychological issue in all expat or people who move around is the need to belong or have loyalty to their tribe. After we cover Maslow’s hierarchy of food, water, shelter, safety and security – after all our basic needs are met we need to belong. We need to connect. We need to belong to a family, a community, a unit, a race of people, a tribe, a great school, a good job or something. If we feel connected, we are happy and fulfilled.

There are also lots of tips to help parents understand this part of their child’s life.  As an expert on Family Transitions, I have seen thousands of families move around the world. I have also been doing this global nomad style with my own two kids for a long time. Try these suggestions on ways to cope with any transition:

1. Take an honest look at yourself. What are your strengths, weaknesses, skills? How did those influence “positively or negatively” your transition? What is each child’s strengths?  How can they use these strengths to make the new situation better?

2. Step up your self-care. Major changes are physically and emotionally taxing. You need self-care now more than ever. Children need more sleep and good food.  Forget the junk food and the late nights, try to get into a routine as close as their old routine so they feel comfortable.

3. Focus on what you want, and less on what you don’t want. Keep your eye on the prize. This is every important because it helps form the words out of our mouths. If you keep talking about what you don’t want your children will just focus on that. (Remember your kids only hear about half of what you actually say so why are you saying negative things?) Focus on what you want.

4. Work on your thoughts. Calm your fears and reinforce your sense of hope and happiness. Be honest about your feelings and fears because children hate it when their parents lie to them.  So be honest but focus on the reason you choose this type of lifestyle..

5. Create your own rite of passage. Ceremony and ritual help with all transitions. The more family rituals you have the stronger your family bonds will be and the stronger your children will be with coping skills that will help them lifelong.

We really do need to put family first in any move. I often think as parents we need to rethink things as our children get older, but we also need to revisit things.  Many of the things that work and were good parent advice for your toddler works well for your child as he or she heads off to college.  You want them to trust in themselves.

As with most parenting concerns, if we start with ourselves we can help our children better. Try to improve your own self-confidence. In caring for your child, you can often heal yourself. Look closely at your own life.

Notes: Some family therapists ask clients to do this activity.  It is called “passing on the best, and discarding the rest”

List the specific things your parents did to build your self-image.

List the specific things your parents did to weaken your self-image.

Now resolve to emulate the good things your parents did and avoid the rest.

If you find it difficult to follow through with this exercise on your own, get help from a professional. Both you and your child will benefit.

I wish you the best – where ever this summer finds you on your path to a new adventure.

Emotional Resilience and the Expat Child

Five C’s of Singapore… oops make that six

The streets of Singapore can be entertaining for an expat in Asia sooner or later you run into someone you know.  The initial  “you look familiar stare” turns into the “Oh, where did I meet him”, to finally recognition, “Carl?”  It is hard to place someone from your past into a new situation quickly.

Then you have the quick 2-minute talk on the street about where are you living now? How is your family? What are your upcoming plans? Goodbyes and tell your family hello chat. Amazing how quickly you can get into a reconnection if you are both used to doing them.

Singapore is a hub 

Singapore 1989 - Has it changed?

Singapore 1989 – Has it changed?

Singapore has been a base for us since our first international assignment as a family.  It is amazing 28 years later we still do to the same dentist and doctors establishment we used back there. Often when you go to other assignments in this area, you will fly in and out of Singapore to do medical treatments.  I am going to miss Singapore.

We lived in Singapore before we had children and we were a two income family. We thought is was an expensive assignment but we loved it.  We had everything we needed to have fun there.

  1. A pile of cash
  2. credit cards
  3. a car
  4. a condominium
  5. and a club membership

Expats and Dogs make a good combination

We even brought my dog Manaia. He was a black lab.  I got Manaia when I returned back to the USA after teaching on the island of Samoa.

Expats and Dogs Make a Good Combination

Expats and Dogs Make a Good Combination

Each village in Samoa is autonomous and led by a council of matai referred to as the ‘village fono.’ The daughter of a high chief in a village is known as a “taupou” or “sa’o’aualuma” when they perform public ceremonial roles; the male equivalent is known as the “manaia”, or “sa’o’aumaga.” I called my dog Manaia  because he was a “Prince” to me.

Singapore was a fun time for us. Vacations to all areas around Asia and tons of visitors.  It was the first time I learned how to shop during a three week summer holiday to get all that I would need for a whole year. Singapore is a shopping treat for many, but some things were hard to find for my size.

We did all the traditional things like “must have Singapore Slings at the Raffles Hotel.”  The Singapore Sling is a South East Asian cocktail. This long drink was developed sometime before 1915 by Ngiam Tong Boon, a Hainanese bartender working at the Long Bar in Raffles Hotel, Singapore.

We had family and friends all eager to visit us since Singapore is such a step off  point to go to other Asia locations.

Great Friends, Great Locations - Great Memories

Great Friends, Great Locations – Great Memories

Are your global nomads going to be hidden immigrants?

Asia has become a very important part of our family’s background. Our kids might be more drawn to these cultures than they are to the American cultures they never lived in. I believe their identity, their likes and disliked, their beliefs about who they are, are firmly built on their global experiences. When they finally went back to the USA for college they fell into the group called hidden immigrants. They looked like Americans but didn’t know much about being American.

Chopsticks Attempt #1

Chopsticks Attempt #1

My children were exposed to Asia food when they were very young in our own home and where we went out to eat. I believe Jackie had mastered chopsticks by the time she was three years old. Sushi is still one of her favorite meals to eat. One visit to Kansas, my mother, asked what we wanted for dinner. “Lobster and rice”, said Grant. This was our common experience when we’d hit a beach BBQ in Asia. He over heard that grandma might BBQ tonight. So when asked, he went for his ‘go to’ favorite meal.  It did not happen in Northwest Kansas that night.

Being a Farmer means something very different to my son than it does to me

Being a Farmer means something very different to my son than it does to me

I grew up in that area of Kansas and did not move until I was 18 years old.  My version of being a farmer meant growing wheat or  sorghum and corn for grain. It meant being involved in growing hay for the cattle. Grant growing up in Asia had a different viewpoint of what it means to be a farmer.

Grant loved harvesting the fruit we had around our Asian homes. He would get bananas, rambutans, papayas and coconuts out of our yards. He would rattle off the facts about these crops. “Botanically, the coconut fruit is a drupe, not a true nut. It has three layers, the exocarp, mesocarp and the endocarp. (sound familiar). The exocarp and mesocarp make up the “husk” of the coconut. Often coconuts sold in the USA have had the exocarp (outermost layer) removed. The mesocarp is composed of the fiber or hush. Remember it is not a true nut.”

So when you say “farmer”, it does not mean the same thing in our household.

A coconut can float extremely long distances across oceans. I am sure the 2000 American film ‘Cast Away’ seems different to someone who has played a lot with coconuts on beaches than to someone who has not.

Play it forward

I hope when global nomads head out across the world they attack each assignment as one that they might revisit again and again so they make the most out of the situation. Imagine what things would be like if you assumed you might be building connections that would last over 28 years vs. thinking this is a one-off assignment. If I had know that Singapore would have been in my life off and on for this long of time, I would have added a 6th “C” on my Singapore list.

  1. A pile of cash
  2. credit cards
  3. a car
  4. a condominium
  5. and a club membership
  6. Connections and communications



Child Identity – here is a nice write up about identity that includes some information about TCKs.

The Singapore sling has been documented as early as 1930 as a recipe in the Savoy Cocktail Book; Ingredients ¼ lemon juice, ¼ Dry Gin, ½ Cherry Brandy: “Shake well and strain into medium size glass, and fill with soda water. Add 1 lump of ice”.

Kansas Top Ten Cash Crops:

Wheat, Sorghum, Corn, Soybeans, Hay, Marijuana, Sunflowers, Oats, Beans, Cotton.

Fruits: drupe (or stone fruit) typical drupes include olives, peaches, plums, and cherries. Bramble fruits (such as the blackberry and the  raspberry) are aggregates of drupelets. 

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Lost in the Lingo, but loving the knowledge

Lost in the lingo

Lost in the lingo

I was recently asked if I still saw the BRIC countries as my key focus group.

I am honest enough to say “What?” and hope the conversation gets back to one I can understand. I am talking to a global relocation agent. He went on to explain that the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia,India and China) were among the top emerging destinations for international assignments. China is often a top emerging country, but there were concerns about their slowing economy.  Brazil’s vast natural resources and its strategic location cause many international assignments.  India is known for its large strong workforce. Russia seems to be on a decline now due to continued difficulty in making significant inroads or long term investments.

Challenging locations

China, Brazil and India are often seen as the countries with the most challenges for international assignees.  Brazil is known for it’s overwhelmingly immigration complexities and timing as posing challenges.

China and India cultural and family adaptation and quality of life issues were more predominant.

The USA also shows up on this list of challenging locations.

  • immigration regulations
  • taxtation
  • difficulty in obtaining transportation without a credit record

BRIC countries assignment failure

BRIC countries top four of the five locations for assignment failure. China seems to be the highest, then India in second place for failures of assignments. Russia and the United States tied in third and fourth place, followed by Russia in fifth place. The two top reasons for failure were:

  1. Inability to adapt to the culture, family and spouse/partner issues
  2. Quality of life concerns

I can honestly say this was a very long coffee break and for once I did very little talking until he got to the ‘failure’ of the families.

Successes of Families

I was able to counter balance his failures with story after story of successful family transitions.  I shared with him about a friend I knew that went from England to Nigeria, Malaysia, Singapore, and Australia,. Also, Papua New Guinea, Netherlands, Trinidad, Tobago, Thailand, USA, Equatorial Guinea were on her “home” list. These locations not in a straight line but much like when I am going around the fruit market looking at all the options in a Bangkok wet market.   She often ended back in ‘repeat locations’.

I shared with him the family that had started out as a newly married couple leaving the USA. They went to UK, Australia, and China where they added three children.  Then they went back to the USA. They found themselves in Nigeria with two children going to high school there and one off in boarding school in London. Then off to Viet Nam they went and the kids headed off to university. A short hop to Indonesia and then they found themselves with an elder parent that moved into their family as they relocated to Bangkok. They went from 2 people, to three in their family, to four, to five, to four, to two, to three.  A very fluid rotation of family members.

I shared with him a family that had one child and adopted a child abroad. Then the family split but they remained in the same location abroad so the children had two households.  Both parents remarried so now the kids had four parents. This family went for two to three to four to six people!

What causes a family to flourish abroad

If you are raising a global nomad the need for communication is even more important for success.  Global families need to have both instrumental and affective communication.  Instrumental communication is the exchange of factual information. “I will pick you up at 2:00 in front of the library.” Affective communication deals with how you share your emotions.

isolation abroadOften global families travel around  in a small cocoon there they rely heavily on each other.  If these global families have indirect or vague communication this contributes to a lack of intimacy and emotional bonding between the family members.  This leads to the feeling of isolation while abroad.

As we finished up our cup of coffee, I realized that families abroad will only be as successful as the people in the family want to be successful. A family can fail when they don’t move around or they can flourish in move after move.

Here is a short video of some of the things I have been able to do while trailing around the world.









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Support your kids when the unthinkable happens: Death Abroad

Working with a global population, I always try to give multi cultural stories as well as stories that deal with the issues that happen when a death occurs in a family.

Death notice

Here are my top four books today:

Fly High – the story of Bessie Colemen” (Borden 2001) determined to ‘be someone’ received her international pilot license in 1921 – a story about her and her death

“My Man Blue” (grimes 2002) death of a father and how a child learns to accept a new friends of his mother.

“Mama does the Mambo” (Leiner 2001) Death of a dad but Mom and daughter still have a passion for music and dance.

“Papa’s Latkes” (Edwards 2004) death of a mom then dad and girls build new traditions.

When I think about all the little global nomads we have running around the world – I think that Sagan’s words resonate more than ever, and will continue with each generation until the human species “wakes up”.

Related blog postings: Death – as an expat (abroad) and emotions during worry or death

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Connections – My best buddy just left :(

It’s March and my child’s best friend just moved!  

jsimens Friends
What does a good friend mean to your child?

This was the panic call I received yesterday.  It is a very valid concern for many parents, even more so in International Schools where the population is so transit.

As an international counsellor, I have had many of our parents insist that their child be with their best friend in the next school year. Due to the movement in International Schools this means at some point in the near future, this child will seem friendless and so sad when their ‘best friend moves on.

Each and every child needs to feel connected and involved with other children. This is often through a common interest, gymnastics, after school activities, sleep overs and etc. This does not mean that during the school day that they need to be only connected to their best friend.


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Connections – My best buddy just left :(

It’s March and my child’s best friend just moved!  

jsimens Friends
What does a good friend mean to your child?

This was the panic call I received yesterday.  It is a very valid concern for many parents, even more so in International Schools where the population is so transit.

As an international counsellor, I have had many of our parents insist that their child be with their best friend in the next school year. Due to the movement in International Schools this means at some point in the near future, this child will seem friendless and so sad when their ‘best friend moves on.

Each and every child needs to feel connected and involved with other children. This is often through a common interest, gymnastics, after school activities, sleep overs and etc. This does not mean that during the school day that they need to be only connected to their best friend.


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Home is Where Ever There is Love

What I love about life…..
Without my family and extended family my life would be small, perhaps even shallow. But having Kevin, Jackie and Grant as my foundation, I am able to move around the world adding to that foundation – friends who support me, comfort me, expand me and enrich my life.

My favorite song for a long time has been Seasons of Love, from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack “Rent”. As you know I often measure my life in cups of coffee. Being an educator, I have always measured life in a year at a time.
Let’s celebrate and remember – measure your life in love!


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Global Shipping: The Art of Letting Go with Treasure or Junk

Am I the only one that gets stressed with change?

As we fill up another twenty- foot container leaving Bangkok to go to our new home in Borneo my husband and I don’t see eye to eye. If you have not moved a lot this 20 foot container is an “in exact unit of cargo capacity – often in a metal box” that can easily be transferred between different modes of transportation. If our stuff would be going from Borneo to our home in Lake Tahoe, this container would work in the ship, the train and the truck.

I know all of my global friends will relate to this part of the move…your spouse picks up an item and casually says, “This is trash.” He doesn’t even look to see if you agree. He misses the panic in your eyes and the catch of your breath. This happened to us over a box of “Lego pieces”.

Picture 17
Simens_ Lego Land – Creative Moments and a Lifetime of Memories

I see them as treasured memories of a lifetime of fun. He sees them as things we have “outgrown”.

I am always open to change and willing to learn and even willing to let go. But Lego pieces? Come On!

What happens if our child becomes one of a handful of artists in the world who have been certified by Lego to create contemporary sculpture with its bricks?

I am amazed at Sean Kenney’s design shop. He works in Queens in a bright study with about 2 million Lego pieces. Sean quit his Park Avenue six-figure salary as a software designer to take up a new career. He calls his current career “a professional kid.” He is indeed an artist.

One thing Sean and I have in common is the concern of “shipping” our items. He is often worried that his sculpture might not make the international shipping well and the prospect of breakage can cause him anxiety. I always worry about items breaking in our moves. But I worry on two points.  I worry that my stuff will not survive the shipment and I WORRY that at some time all my stuff will show up at the same time in the same location.  I have been doing this for so many years, so many shipments with items going back into storage…if they all showed up at one time this would be a nightmare.

Back to Sean, he made a life-size polar bear for the Philadelphia Zoo; it has 95,000 bricks in it. Imagine that!

I think of it as I move our box of legos with 5,000 pieces in it.

Sean has also worked with Google, Marriott Hotels, JPMorgan Chase and the New York Yankees as well as private collections. In my mind he is an artist.

Perhaps my son or daughter are “artists” that just have not yet found their medium. Or someday I might have a grandchild that is a budding Lego Artist!


ps_ the Legos went into our shipment.

ps_I am about to cause a cultural miss – step.

I just got the call that said ” Raja made his flight to Jakarta.”  I said, “Well I am glad, I was concerned that he might be doing duty free shopping running up my visa bill or hanging out at the bar prior to boarding and he might have missed his flight.”  All I got was a quiet silence moment before ‘thank you’ and the dial tone. Was this not funny? Perhaps I am much more funny to myself when I am stressed with moving than I am actually funny!  But I thought…I paid you…you took my dog, I would expect him to be on the flight as we had planned. If he didn’t make the flight…what did you do wrong?


Momma brought me up to think I could do anything

Well she was wrong!

As I grow older and I become more aware of all the things people do in the world, I have to admit my mother was wrong.  There are a number of things I could never do.  I am OK with this. But I do wonder if we are not being honest with our own children.

As I watched the London Paralympics it became clear I would have never been able to do a job like Josh Karanja or James Boit .  Josh and James are guides for the visually impaired 1,500 meter run.  James helped runner Samwel Kimani of Kenya win the gold in a world-record time of 3:35:37. Josh helped the runner Jason Dunkerley win bronze for running the 1,500-metre race in a time of 4 minutes 7.56 seconds.

When a parent says “Honey, you can do anything you set your mind to” they need to add “With enough perseverance you could master the skills you need to be successful.”  Are we being to easy on this generation?  As a parent, do you let your child quit when things get a little hard?

Think about homework – Do you step in and help your child?  

Are you teaching helplessness or perseverance?

janae baby
Here is another great photo added to the simens project – Building emotional awareness around the world
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