A showcase of FIGT Members' written work, focusing on the issues we study, the best practices we share and the strategies we provide to support the entire expatriate family. Contributions are welcome from current members, please contact admin@figt.org for more details.
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  • 01 Mar 2013 8:42 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    I remember the first time I heard about it, three or four years ago. I had no idea what they were talking about.

    ‘It was soooo amazing!’

    ‘It was so…so…words just can’t express how fantastic it was!’

    ‘I couldn’t believe how comfortable I felt!’

    All these comments left me scratching my head. I wondered whether they’d been to some trendy new exotic restaurant, stumbled on a secret skin care regimen or learned a new sexual yoga position.

    ‘Incredible. Simply incredible.’

    ‘It’s so great, it leaves you wanting more!’

    ‘It is unbelievable how quickly you’re pulled into the experience…’

    Could it be a bestselling book or a blockbuster movie? Had they found the lost city of Atlantis? Discovered the fountain of youth? Was it a scientific breaththrough removing calories from chocolate?

    ‘So-and-so just got back and can’t stop raving about it!’

    ‘I felt so ‘at home,’ so loved.’

    ‘Truly inspiring, I can’t wait!’

    ‘The emotions that wash over you are overwhelming…’

    Clearly they were all experiencing something far more exhilarating than anything I could imagine. I just had to know what they were going on and on about. I gathered up the nerve to ask, and when I did, let’s just say the floodgates were opened.

    I heard all about it in exquisite detail. I have to admit, it felt good to know that it was out there, that it existed, that it was a possibility.

    Last year the comments shifted from statements to encouragements:

    ‘You’re going, right? How can you not go? It’s terrific!’

    ‘I can totally see you loving it. I save up all year to go, it’s that good!’

    ‘You would have such a wonderful time. Really, you should go.’

    ‘I go every year, wouldn’t miss it for the world. Come with me.’

    And so the seed was planted.

    During the springtime it was germinated and its little roots began to take hold. Summer brought tender shoots of greenery poking through the rich, loamy soil. By autumn it had taken shape, ripe with possibilities. Over the winter it grew and grew until finally, a couple months ago, it burst forth into its fully blossomed, glorious beauty.

    I am going to the annual Families in Global Transition conference, affectionately referred to as FIGT 2013.

    All this excitement and hype for a conference?! For sitting in hotel banquet rooms listening to presentation after presentation, speaker after speaker, research finding after research finding?

    Yes. All that and more. Much more.

    You see, as an organization FIGT focuses on being ‘the global leader in cross cultural education and training to support the entire expat family’, with one of the most effective ways they do this being their annual conference. Simply put, FIGT empowers expat families and the people who serve them in global transitions to make the most of the international experience.

    This year’s theme is ‘Cultural Integration and the Illusion of Closeness.’

    Here’s a two minute video by FIGT founder Ruth Van Reken about the organization and its impact:

    So yes, I’m going this year.

    I’ll be presenting both a Kitchen Table Conversation and an Ignite Session entitled ‘Engage, Adapt and Thrive Across Cultures with Emotional Resilience’ as well as participating on a Concurrent Session III panel ‘Blog Your Way to Expat Success’ with several fellow bloggers. I’m sure there will be opportunities to promote my new book coming out next month The Emotionally Resilient Expat: Engage, Adapt and Thrive Across Cultures.

    But those aren’t the reasons I’m going. Or at least not among the top three reasons why I will attend.

    And what would those be?

    1. Spend two glorious days among my tribe – people who have lived or are currently living across cultures – listening to, discussing and synergizing the latest and greatest on the issues that move us, motivate us, matter to us;
    2. Give a big hug in person to the dozen or so ‘cyber friends’ I’ve come to know and care for over the past three years as an expat blogger online; and
    3. Meet as many of the several hundred attendees as humanly possible, hear their stories, share their feelings, become energized by their experiences.

    All so I can come back and share the excitement with other expats and cross-culturals living outside their home/birth/passport countries and/or cultures.

    Pssst, have you heard about FIGT…?

    Contributed by Linda A. Janssen, a writer and American expat living in the Netherlands with her husband and two teens. She is the author of The Emotionally Resilient Expat: Engage, Adapt and Thrive Across Cultures (Summertime Publishing, March 2013) and blogs at Adventures in Expatland

  • 15 Feb 2013 6:09 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    Rip Van Winkle was an amiable, somewhat lazy man. His neighbors – especially the children – loved him. He loved to wander through the woods with his dog and his rifle. A favorite expression of his was, “Today is nice”.

    He disliked and avoided gainful labor, for which his wife nagged him incessantly, and not without reason, for his neglect left the family finances, the farm and their lives in disarray.

    One day Rip took a walk in the woods, spent some time drinking with a group of men he did not know, and fell into a deep sleep that lasted twenty years.

    When he woke up, he found that his beard was a foot long, his gun was rusted away and his dog was missing. Back at the village, he recognizes no one, learns that his wife has died and other friends have either died or moved away.

    Rip’s world is really rocked when he proclaims himself as a loyal subject of King George III, which outrages his neighbors. The American Revolutionary War had taken place while he had been asleep, changing the cultural landscape forever.
    Rip settles rather quickly back into his normal, amiable and idle daily life, spending his last years in front of Mr. Doolittle’s Hotel,  learning about what he had missed during his sleep, and telling stories about his experience. Rumor has it that he preferred to spend his time with the younger generation.

    I thought of this story while watching the American National League Football playoffs last weekend. When I left the United States many years ago, I knew the names of the star players, which teams were good and why, which teams would continue their dismal losing streak and why.

    Today, after my ‘sleep’ of about three decades, much (if not everything) about tv presentations of American Football has changed:

    * many teams have different names
     * stadiums have exchanged their romantic names for names of financial institutions – I have no idea where Fed-Ex Field is, or Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Candlestick Park (San Francisco) and Lambeau Field (Green Bay, Wisconsin) have withstood the temptation and trend to change names (so far).
    * the quarterbacks, running backs, tight ends are unknown to me, as are the coaches.
    * the players I used to know are now sitting behind the commentator’s desk – grayer, (much) heavier, not funny at all, despite their attempts.
    * tv images show yellow and blue lines on the field, as well as downs and yards to go.
    * not to mention female reporters in the locker room

    Rip Van Winkle is back, and the village has changed – and not just football either! Imagine a crowd listening to presidential candidates debate jumping to its feet in a standing ovation!

    Short-story analysis is always a dicey proposition. And yet:

    The final irony of Washington Irving’s story could be that, in Rip Van Winkle’s village, twenty years and a revolution later, not much had really changed after all!

    And isn’t that the experience of the repatriate?
    Everything has changed.
    Nothing has changed.

    What was the name of that quarterback again?

    Contributed by Norman Viss, an expatriate coach who has many years of broad international experience working with people from a wide variety of cultures, including a 10 year span of living in Nigeria, West Africa, and 22 years in the Netherlands. Currently he lives in the Philadelphia, USA and blogs at the Everyday Expat Support Center
  • 01 Feb 2013 7:57 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    I came to a horrible realization the other day that I was beholden to my husband. It sounds incredibly old-fashioned; even using the word ‘partner’ in that sentence would be wrong, because it implies an equality that I had let slip away.

    The dictionary describes the term beholden as ’owing something to somebody because of something that they have done for you’, so if you view being shuffled from pillar to international post as a favour, the word pretty much covers it. I realized that although I live in California, where community property and a 50/50 division applies, I did not have the independent means to pay for legal advice. And when he leaves all his dirty breakfast dishes on the counter above the dishwasher for the 5 millionth time, there is a big emotional difference between don’t want to divorce my Other Half, and CAN’T..

    As with the vast majority of dual career couples, when I agreed to the OH’s first relocation, I was aware that from now on my own career would take a back seat. Global mobility research discusses the change (usually reduction) in income when couple relocate, but discussion centres around household income, rather than individual earning power.

    Which is exactly what I have lost. I have never worked in professions known for lavish salaries (nursing or teaching, anyone??), but I was able to earn significant personal income with opportunities for promotion. Now, however, my sole income in drawn from the ‘household’, and as such, is vulnerable. And I’m not alone.

    It’s not just those of us who relocate that are in this position. It’s anyone who has chosen to reduce or give up work to manage family commitments, whether you are in constant global motion, or have never set foot outside your home town. If you have no independent source of income, whoever earns the salary holds the keys to your supposed household income.  And while you are legally entitled to a portion of those, it requires court approval to gain access to them, whatever the circumstances. Which also requires legal counsel, who (funnily enough) will want to be paid.

    Take credit cards. Over the last 20 years, we have become used to being approved for credit, regardless of our personal income; the household income has always been taken into account. Sure, the credit limit may be small, but it’s quickly increased once our payment history shows our ability to make payments and manage the account well. However change is afoot, certainly in
the US, where credit card issuers are changing their rules, and making it far more difficult for the accompanying partner to gain credit (and a good credit history), unless they are employed outside of home.

    Last year, the Fed ruled that credit card applications should ask about a consumer’s individual income or salary rather than his or her “household income.” This isn’t just for students under 21, but for everyone. That means that a stay-at-home parent is considered as unworthy of credit as an unemployed college kid–and seven out of eight stay-at-home parents are mothers. No one without a pay stub, no matter the value of her contribution to her household, can get a line of credit unless her spouse cosigns the account. (Anisha Sekar,  July 7, 2011)

    Now, in light of the recent economic meltdown, placing more focus on individual income and ability to repay debts is no bad thing, but it does have ramifications for those of us who suddenly lose the ability to get even the most basic forms of credit like a cell phone contract or credit card. It also means that unless you are named on the account, you lose the ability to make financial decisions, access accounts and resolve disputes, which if, like mine, your partner spends a great deal of time out of the country and on air flights, can make financial management impossible.

    The Other Half is also the primary name on the host country bank account, and I don’t have automatic access to his account. Typically, he goes ahead to take up his new post, while I remain behind with the children to finish up the school year and pack the house for the move. It works well for us, but does mean that he has sole responsibility for setting up basic financial services in the new location, so it is his name on the salary transfer and tax details, and therefore his name on the account, at least until we get around to updating it.

    We choose to manage this by having me sign all the checks (if he signed one himself, it would probably be dismissed as a forgery), I have the ATM card and PIN number, and I’ve set up the internet banking with my passwords. And while this unusual state of affairs makes for amusing dinner party conversation, it gives me absolutely no legal right to the household funds in that account, nor access to them should he suddenly develop amnesia / get run down by a London bus / decide to trade me in for a younger, blonder model..

    The mention of Tax ID and salary above should alert you to the fact that opening you own bank account is not necessarily as easy as it first appears. Requirements vary from country to country, but most require evidence of who you are, your legal right to be in the country, how you will pay tax on any interest, and how you intend to fund the account. So when you turn up with your passport and cash, you may be disappointed.. However, it is something that is worth doing if you value your sanity, because things can and do go wrong, and I am willing to bet that it is you who will be left holding the can when it does. If the money is in your sole name, you have control over it; if it’s not, you don’t. Simple as that.

    And finally, let me mention the dying thing. I have known a few situations where a spouse has died at young age, and not once did I ever hear the words “well now, let’s get on and sort out the money”. What I saw were people who had their lives knocked out from under them, who were trying to cope with immense loss, overwhelming grief, and devastated children. Imagine how much worse it gets when you are overseas, your right to be in the country expired with the demise of your spouse, and all your assets (and therefore your ability to get home, to make funeral arrangements, to pay medical bills and to pay for normal household expenses) are now severely compromised. I have seen it happen, and it was horrific.

    So, if you do nothing else today, do these things for me, wherever you are. Get started on your own personal credit history, even if you have to take out a secured credit card to do it. Promise to keep track of your credit score, every month. Get an independent bank account in your host country, and commit to funding it, every month. And finally, make a joint will, keep it simple and safe, and make sure it is legal in the country that you live in.

    Oprah would be proud. I feel more secure already..

    Contributed by Rachel Yates, a so-called “Trailing Spouse”, who gave up her own career as a lecturer to relocate her life, her family and her dog on her partner’s first international assignment to Kenya, supposedly for a year. Ten years and three continents later, she is now in San Francisco, re-establishing her identity.  She is currently serving as an FIGT Board member and is founder of The Expat LifeLine, where she helps expat women create a secure life.

  • 25 Jan 2013 9:22 AM | Deleted user
    The FIGT Blog will be coming soon...
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