J Simens.com

A Simple Formula for Expat Families

A simple FormulaPlease take “Foreign” out of your child’s vocabulary

When we use it to describe a policy or use it as ‘foreign polices’, this is acceptable. When your child (or you) uses it referring to a person, it is not acceptable. Calling a person a ‘foreigner’ is offensive to most people in the world. If your child has this mindset it automatically sets them aside the other person as an outsider. It makes it seems as if that someone doesn’t belong. You wouldn’t want your child to be referred in such a negative way. Most kids just want to fit in regardless of where they are living. Help them out by not letting them use the word foreign.

Please take out ” Overseas” as a common word in your global nomads life

Remember they don’t cross-oceans each time they travel to a new country. Many people prefer the term ‘abroad’. Now days, more and more people use worldwide or abroad in lieu of saying ‘overseas’.

Please rethink “America”

If you are coming from the USA, do you kids a favor and don’t let them use “America” as a common word. When we refer to “America” as a country some people around the world can get very confused. Are you meaning, North America, Central America, or South America?

It is wrong for your child to think they are from THE America, it seems so negative. It seems acceptable for citizens of the United States of America to refer to their country as America, but when your child is abroad, it is seen as ethnocentric and in poor taste. Teach your child to say “United States”.

Please introduce “Yet” into your family

Kids love to announce that they’re not good at something. They usually do it just after they try something new and challenging, and they say it with finality, as if issuing a verdict. “I’m not good at math! I’m not good at volleyball.”
At that moment, your mom instinct is to fix the situation. You say, “Oh yes you are!”
HINT  – This never works, because it puts the kid in the position of actively defending his or her ineptitude. It’s a lose-lose. As a parent, ignore the instinct to fix things. Instead, simply add the word “yet.”
Add the “yet” in a matter-of-fact tone – “I’m not good at math becomes You’re not good at math yet.”
“I’m not good at volleyball” becomes “You’re not good at volleyball yet.”
The message is: Of course you’re not good  because you haven’t worked at it. But when you do, you will be good. “Yet” tells a clear story about the value of effort and struggle, and that story is aligned with the way the brain grows.

Additional Resources for Global Families

I am often very lucky to go PTAs, schools, or governments to share my passion about our global nomads.You can view a Prezi that I covered here.  Use your right arrow key to advance through the presentation.  You can read some of the transcript of the presentation below this Prezi.

This is one of my favorite quotes -it is off the blog Third Culture Kid life by James Mitchener.  On his blog he said, “Third Culture isn’t so much the experiences you had, but the way you adapted to each experience at the time you had it. We aren’t TCKs because of where we have been. We’re TCKs because of the way we absorbed the cultures of the places we have grown. Even now that I have left Hong Kong, I still relate to it closer than any other place I’ve lived. I don’t know if I’ll ever go back, an idea that can easily make me sink into quite a severe depression, but I do know that I will carry the culture of the city and time that I lived there for the rest of my life.
Of course, that would make sense to a Self Aware Third Culture Kid. While I have been a TCK since I turned 4, I didn’t know it until I was 15 or 16 years old. And even then, I didn’t understand it until I was 17 or 18. Why? Because I have known no other life.”

My World

Having worked with over 8,000 families as they move around the world. I am aware of many of the concerns parents have as well as the issues the come up with our cross cultural kids. I used to always talk about third culture kids but as I see more and more children the term I am more comfortable with is cross cultural kids or global nomads.

I raised two children in the following countries, Australia, Indonesia, Nigeria, Switzerland, Thailand and a small part of the time in the USA. They are not like anyone in their extended family…they are not even very much alike as siblings because they didn’t share several years of their high school with each other.

Filtering – Connecting and Choosing

The topic that I want to share with you and cause you to think about is will our children have trouble with filtering – connecting and choosing in their lifetime.  I believe that they will.

Identity Development

To understand the international school child we need to see how they form their identity. There are five steps of global nomads identity development.

  1. Pre-encounter just living life as you all know it (wonderful holidays-excellent learning experiences) My children’s education took them to trips to Greece, France, Buthan, Russia and even a week with the elephants. This was their normal every day life.
  2. Encounter – can be at anytime, but if often when kids are off on their own living their own life without mom and dad around for support.
  3. Exploration -This is the time to try new thing – explore. Change friendships back and forth.
  4. Integration – Embrace parts of their cultural identity form the place they have had exposure to.
  5. Recycling – most global nomads talk about this happening in college but that is because this is often the first time they are totally on their own and this is also a high time for self-reflection.

Wen’s excellent project on identity development

Here was a great project made by Jessica Wen at Maryland Institute College of Art. She worked with other TCK or CCKs on the topic self identity. Each person’s story was made in to his or her own mini accordion book.The covers were all marked TCK – the idea is that each child, on the surface looks just like an ordinary person with an ordinary background,  however once the reader opens the book you start to see the unique international perspective this person has.

Why “corporate” needs to get involved

I knew that working with parents would help a lot of families but I wanted to see how we could help more and more families, so I had to go corporate. This year I have taken a year off from being a counselor and have been busier than any “retired” person should be. I was lucky enough to be invited to speak at an event in Hollywood during the summer. It was a blast. The outcome of that talk was a book called Ready, Aim, Soar.  The editor said “life in the 21st century is volatile and unpredictable. Unprecedented advancements in technology are transforming the global business environment as well as every day life, making many traditional practices and techniques that guaranteed success in past decades no longer viable today.”

I hope more and more corporations understand that their global children are as important as their employee. Understanding the needs of our children in this world is very very important.

Understanding your filtering

The filtering processes are key and often very hard to do. It takes a real knack to be able to zero in on what’s most important. I ask families to focus on the stuff that success is made of: emotions, confidence, interaction skills, thinking. I even like families to think about, attacking and defending arguments, also problem solving and cultural knowledge. I feel we all will have a real challenge deciding on what to focus on for real growth in their family. Filtering will be paramount. For example, a family might come in with the over lying concern about their child’s lack of friends. But the family is missing the larger picture of their own connection time with each other. A family must connect while the kids are young because it gets harder and harder to make authentic connections as children get older. Yes, they do have a concern about the child’s friends but they need to filter out things that are surface level concerns and not the real issues.

Unsure of how to connect

Social media for sharing is a continuous process in so many people’s lives, but it does not have the same effect as a close one to one contact. Our kids are so connected (600 + facebook friends) but are these real close connections? Then we have another concern…Many kids might use face book or tweeter to talk about personal feelings or situations that would have been disclosed privately in the past and only to people in their physical social circles. Now it is world wide news. Online disclosures can make a person feel raw. Kids have to know where and how to move forward. What is also key is how you are going to connect with your child. Start habits that are going to build in lifelong skills. Don’t fight technology – connect!

Issues of choice

Trying to instill your own values at times runs up against the values of the people your kids hang around with. It happens with adults too. As families absorb more and more cultural norms of other people they might move away from their core beliefs. The option of choices of values will clash if people are not careful.

How does your family handle these words?

How does your family handle these words?

I love Michael Josephson from the Institute of Ethics, he says, “The longer you wait to adjust the trajectory of a rocket that is going off course, the more sever the adjustment will have to be.”

This is so true for our children.


  • April 25, 2014 at 9:14 am

    Actually Julia, for once I don’t agree with you. I think too much emphasis is put on being the same as everyone else, even for children. Granted we want to be accepted, but I think it important for children, and adults, to be accepted for who they are, not who they think everyone wants them to be.
    There is absolutely nothing wrong with being “foreign” or “different”, whether foreign or different cover race, religion, disability or sexual orientation. How can we possibly expect not to be foreign when in a guest in someone’s else country?
    I have been foreign all my life – even in my passport country, and rather than trying to be someone I wasn’t, I learnt to adapt without losing the essence of ‘me’, without losing my foreignness.
    Assimilation is not always a good thing, homogeny does not always work. I believe it is important to teach, and show, our children that being different, whether them or someone else, is something to be proud of and that curiosity, compassion and acceptance are what will ultimately make them good global citizens.

    • April 26, 2014 at 12:11 am

      Good point Apple. I was thinking it more from the point of families passing on “they are foreign” point of view and not the “I am the foreign one”. I feel when we approach it as we are different and we are indeed very different when we are in the host country is the norm and very appropriate attitude. Having worked with a lot of families sometimes they are quick to remind their kids that the host country nationals are foreign when the view should be we are foreigners in their country as you noted.

      Curiosity, compassion and acceptance is all we can hope to give our children as we move around the world.

  • Amanda
    April 25, 2014 at 11:01 am

    I appreciate that you are sharing your opinions but using the word “please” does not negate the condescending, critical tone of this article

    • April 26, 2014 at 12:15 am

      Thanks Amanda, I didn’t mean to sound condescending or critical. This was a recap of a global presentation in Los Angeles, I hope it came across supportive when it was actually given. Sometimes our written words are so different than the words conveyed in person. I was also addressing a room that was 85% men and that is different than the normal presentations I give which run usually 75% female. I took the words for this blog off the tape of my presentation. Who knows, I might vary my words and tone as I work with a different clientele. Thanks for pointing that out.