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 expatriates and cross cultural individuals and their families. Contributions are a privilege for Small Business and Corporate membership levels only and you can submit up to 3 posts per year. Please use our online form below to submit a blog for consideration or contact blogeditor@figt.org.

  • 28 Jan 2015 9:42 PM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    This is the first in a series of excerpts from the soon to be published first FIGT Yearbook

    Insights and Interviews from the 2014 Families in Global Transition (FIGT) Conference

    The Global Family Redefined


    IGNITE SESSION Led by Julia Simens

    By Terry Anne Wilson

    “My home is a plane that drops me into new places.” This statement by Julia Simens resonated with the audience as she discussed the nannies, cooks, drivers and security staff that become part of those overseas homes. Understandably, these ‘beloved strangers’ become part of our family yet are left behind as we transition, often having a lasting impact on them and our children. Julia is a family therapist and educator who has helped countless families transition globally. She draws on personal experience as well as poignant perspectives from families, especially children. The term Beloved Stranger was coined by FIGT two-time attendee, Eva László-Herbert, who had suggested a session on this important subject. Unfortunately, she was unable to attend the conference and the idea was deemed so important that Julia took over the task of conducting the session. She was the perfect choice, her heartfelt message brought tears to many in the audience.

    Two important issues were raised.

    Impact on Children and Staff

    “We need to look beyond dinner parties, pressed t-shirts and daily cleaned floors,” Julia reminds us. She elaborates that the relationship we have with these ‘beloved strangers’ who help facilitate a certain lifestyle, can be powerful and passionate. Children can have a close relationship with these caregivers, in fact they’re often more interested in them than are the adults themselves. Kids can rattle off their names, for example, while parents may only know the man they entrust the safety of their children with as ‘driver’. In her counseling, Julia has often noticed that kids will draw family pictures with their hired help included, yet that is a term children are often reluctant to use.

    When her son was young for example, he had the wisdom to realize that these ‘beloved strangers’ are not defined by a job title, but by the individual people they are. He refused to use the word ‘servant’ Proof that in the eyes of a young child they can become family members, especially since extended

    family isn’t nearby. In fact, Grant Simens, aged about 4, drew a picture of his family, coloring his blood family in bright colors, but the domestic helpers in pencil. A sharp intake of breath filled the room when this was shown.

    Considering the time spent together and commitment shown by many staff, close bonds are understandable. That bond can reveal itself in different ways such as a child late at night wanting to speak the language he had learned from his nanny, as was occasionally the case with Julia’s son, Grant. What a wonderful gift to have received from a loving caregiver, that of language. Undoubtedly fond memories are evoked to this day when that language is heard. My youngest son for example, was fiercely protective of certain things only Gina, our nanny, could do for him. One of them being having his ears cleaned. Only his beloved Gina, was allowed anywhere near him with a Q-tip; the mention of it still brings a smile after all these years. He was only six months old when we welcomed her into our home in Doha, Qatar. Having left behind a one-year-old in the Philippines, one of her four children, we can only imagine how wrenching this would be and the sacrifice it is to leave your own young family behind, to care for another. All the more reason to treat staff with care and “consider them part of our team,” Julia stresses.

    Recognition and Appreciation

    Treat staff with respect and appreciate their service, we are reminded. Ju- lia points out that just as they ‘visit our world’, we must offer them the same consideration and some appreciation of their background. This can be celebrations of their culture and food, such as a recipe. Many families depart with favorites their nanny or cook spoiled their children with, only to find we’ll never prepare it quite as well as they did. My butter chicken is a sorry substitute for the delicious rendition our houseboy in Oman would spoil us with!

    Appreciation can be shown in more substantial ways of course, such as providing additional flights home or a course to better their career options. I know a family who continued to provide for the education of their staff’s children, long after employment had ended. All these are fine examples of acknowledgement and being in a position to act upon it.

    If a family has developed a close relationship with staff, it’s important to retain that once you relocate or to rekindle those relationships if contact has been lost. Julia recommends ensuring they have a photo of themselves with the children and with today’s social media, it’s easier to stay in touch and reconnect. We recently did just that with our beloved Gina, and my three sons are still hers, she happily reminds us on Facebook, and it is special to have her in our lives again. As Julia rightfully says, “the hardest part of living is that nothing lasts forever.” True indeed, but we can do our best to ensure these ‘beloved strangers’ are appreciated for the role they’ve played in our families’ lives.

  • 25 Jan 2015 7:00 PM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    Claire (not her real name) had been in Lagos for about 5months. She was invited to a dinner outside the apartment complex for the first time with newfound expat friends and got back sometime after 23:00. They rolled up to the gate and waited. Nothing happened: the guards didn’t open. She got out of the car and knocked on the window to the gatehouse. She could see the two guards inside, fast asleep. She was incensed. How were the guards going to do any guarding if they were asleep? She had a good go at them and the next morning reported them to the estate manager. But Claire has seen guards asleep since that first incident and is now convinced that Nigerians (guards and estate manager) are incompetent.

    This is a typical example of an event we would call ‘culture shock’. Claire experiences a behaviour that she considers unacceptable, spends a lot of time being irritated and all her worst expectations about the locals are confirmed. Not only that, but her best efforts to change things go to naught.

    Interculturalist Joseph Shawles[1] uses neuroscience to describe why we get irritated by behaviours when we live in a new country. Basically, our conscious mind recognises a difference between the way things are done in the new place and where we come from. As we try to make sense of what we observe, our unconscious mind automatically uses the reference we know to come up with an explanation. We use our own cultural norms and values.

    You can think of this subconscious reaction like the process of baking a cake: The recipe Claire borrowed from an American friend says 3 cups of flower but she uses the European weight system so she uses a coffee cup; the recipe calls for 1/3 cup of milk so she uses 1/3 litre of milk. Her cake comes out like a cement brick – and she blames the recipe.

    There is a leap in logic that Claire is not aware of:

        Guards are asleep = sleeping is a wilful disregard for the rules or gross incompetence;

        The estate manager knows of this behaviour but does nothing = he is also incompetent.

    These two statements would be true in Claire’s home country. But in Lagos they don’t take into account the fact that the guards are paid very little money for their jobs. In fact, I think it is a miracle they do any guarding at all. Also, it happens often that their measly salary is paid days late. When that happens the guards struggle to find money to get to work and then are not able to buy food for dinner or coffee to keep themselves awake at night. They know they shouldn’t sleep – they have the same value for a job well-done - but they succumb to fatigue despite their best efforts.

    Their behaviour (the sleeping) does not reflect a culture of wilful negligence. Rather, it reflects the system of borderline poverty that they live in.

    As for the estate manager, he subcontracts a company who supplies the guards and pays their salaries. He has switched security companies before when it became clear that the company was keeping the bulk of the fee and paying their guards such a pittance that they could not realistically expect any service from these men. If he complains to the security company, they fire all the guards and hire new ones from the gigantic pool of jobless men desperate to find a way to feed their families. They tell these new ones not to complain about their salary and for God’s sake, stay awake.

    I am not excusing the sleeping guards – night guards must be awake at night or they are not doing their job. But yelling at them and the estate manager will probably make matters worse: Claire will continue to be irritated, the guards and manager will recognise her as a problem and so a cycle of mistrust and dislike grows. And nothing changes.

    Is there a solution? Yes.

    When you see a behaviour that shocks you:

    1. Realise that subconsciously you are judging the situation based on your own expectations, cultural norms and values.

    2. Ask around to find out what the context of that behaviour is – why is this happening  and why does no one else seem to think it is a big deal?

    3. Always begin by assuming that people are acting according to THEIR rules that govern good behaviour or at least doing their best to live by those rules – innocent until you can prove them guilty of wilful evil.

    4. Realise that you have can choose how you react: you can simply allow yourself to get irritated; you can try and understand the situation; upon understanding it you can accept it, try to change it or figure out how to live with it…

    5. If you really want to change the situation, realise that you will have to understand the context in order to identify workable solutions.

    Notice that all of these things are to be done by the expat – the onus is on us to adapt to the local culture, not the other way around.

    Is it easy?


    But what’s the alternative? Stay frustrated, hibernate, leave?

    In the case of the guards where Claire and I live, perhaps a solution would be for us residents to get together and buy the guards a bag of rice per month so that they are assured of having something to eat. Or perhaps we can share in the cost of providing them with coffee through the night.

    Or not.

    Perhaps we could ask the guards what they think a solution would be. Showing our interest would be nice – I bet they would be more determined to risk their lives guarding us if they knew we cared about their ability to do their job.

    Contributed by Diane Lemieux, a Canadian/Dutch writer who has lived in 11 countries and speaks 4 languages. Her latest book is The Mobile LIfe: a new approach to moving anywhere. Find her blog at http://diane-lemieux.com/mobilelife/

  • 11 Jan 2015 7:24 PM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    Leading Across Cultures - video from Elizabeth kelly on Vimeo.

    Contributed by Elizabeth Vennekens-Kelly, an intercultural trainer, consultant and author. Elizabeth helps individuals to be prepared for their expat assignments and she encourages assignees to exam all aspects of expat life so they have realistic expectations. Elizabeth combines her familiarity of expat living and intercultural knowledge to help people to develop the knowledge and skills to be successful in multicultural situations. She is a member of various organizations: VOKA, VIW, FAWCO, SIETAR and FIGT.

  • 28 Dec 2014 6:13 PM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    I am a firm believer that the more we understand about ourselves, the better we communicate to others and the more fulfilled we tend to be. Working with the global population has always given me many concrete examples of how they try to process their global upbringing.

    Recently, I was working with 7 -10th graders at a school. We went over all the different parts of our culture to help us understand our own unique identity.  I asked the students to think about 10 areas that pay a key role in “who we are”.

    These are:

    1. Family (Meaning who is living currently under your roof, including any staff or host country people who share the same living environment)
    2. Extended family (those we see often or just yearly but are a part of our lives through social media when we are not physically together)
    3. Rules of behavior (Many families have multicultural rules and norms – so it is important to understand as a young kid “What rules of behavior do I internally have?” and to be able to put these rules down in written form.)
    4. Languages that we have mastered. (To be able to read, speak and understand at least 300 words in another language)
    5. Traditions – which ones do you see in your current home or which ones do you really like.
    6. Religion – which ones are in your home or in your neighborhood that you are aware of.
    7. Art – which type of art are you drawn to.
    8. Music – which type of music are you drawn to.
    9. Food – what are your favorite types or your favorite food
    10. Interest groups- what do you identify yourself as a passion or what you do in your free time.

    Moving in a country allows regional cultures to become part of our mix.

    Global Nomads have many different cultures in their lives.

    We are often good at realizing the cultural differences between countries but as we work with these global souls, we also need to be mindful of the geography differences due to regional cultures.

    This student felt his base language was Bahasa Indonesia but was speaking and writing above grade level expectations in English. He also could communicate in Makassarese which is used in South Sulawesi island, Toraja-Sa’dan a Malayo-Polynesian language spoken in Western Sulawesi, and Manado Malay which is spoken in Manado.  Imagine mastering five languages prior to becoming a teenager. He also was confident that his language skills would continue to develop since he communicated often with these extended family members and they did not fall back into English because they were aware of the need to keep their base languages strong.

    He also had an extended family that were Christian, Buddhist and Muslim. He had the ability to understand all of these core beliefs and see similarities and differences. He said, “As a family we celebrate a lot of religious events, we understand the need to honor every ones belief.”

    Sometimes the students write powerful personal glimpse of what it means to be a global nomad.

    Story # 1  My view is not the same.

    I grew up in a small village in Indonesia but half way through my elementary school years my family moved to Balikpapan. My Dad does not carry an Indonesian passport but he gets a work visa to stay with my Mom, who is Indonesian. They decided to move me to an international school once we moved to Balikpapan.

    My English quickly got a whole lot better. I still so most of the same things that I did before coming to Balikpapan.

    When we worked on our culture or identity and you walked us through all the things that makes up a person’s culture, I go it. I could finally understand why I don’t always see eye to eye with my mom or my dad.  My dad sees things that he knows or through his culture.  My mom sees things or knows things through her culture. I am unique, I see things through my culture which is both cultures.

    Story #2 Why can’t I have both?

    Why can’t I have both – why can’t I pick what I want?

    It seems like I live in two worlds all the time but find neither one of them perfect. When I am in Indonesia, I dream and want to be in Australia. When I am in Australia I dream of being back in Indonesia. I have mastered both languages, can tolerate both kinds of music from our countries and actually love both Australia and Indonesian food.

    Why can’t I have both – why can’t I pick what I want? I have good friends at school in Indonesia but always feel like I am missing out on things going on in Australia. I have great friends and family in Australia. But I also have great friends and family in Indonesia. Why can’t I have both?

    Why can’t I have both – why can’t I pick what I want? In my dream, Australia will be perfect.  But it is not in real life.  In my dream, Indonesia is perfect but it is not in real life. Why can’t I have both – why can’t I pick what I want?

    Here is the classroom presentation:

    It can be also viewed at: http://prezi.com/vohav6owhsyb/international-school-balikpapan-grades-78-and-910/#

    Contributed by Julia Simens, an American writer who has lived on five continents and raised two TCKs. Her book "Emotional Resilience and the Expat Child: practical storytelling techniques that will strengthen the global family" is commonly found in many international schools and embassies where she gives talks to parents, teachers and families living a global lifestyle. Find her blog aat http://www.jsimens.com


  • 14 Dec 2014 8:46 PM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    Especially if you are moving for your spouse’s job, you may have the feeling that you cannot make decisions about your own life. But psychologist Paula Vexlir reminds us that — despite the uncertainties of expat life — each one of us has the ability to determine our own life directions and values.

    By Paula Vexlir

    An edited version of this article was originally published in Expatriates Magazine. See below for English language version.

    La incertidumbre y la vida como expatriado generalmente van juntos. Ya sea que tengas dudas sobre cuestiones culturales, sobre cómo se espera que se relacionen las personas (qué se puede decir, cómo se espera que reacciones, etc.), sobre tu nuevo lugar de residencia o sobre cómo lograr hacer las cosas allí. En algunas ocasiones tampoco está claro cuánto tiempo uno se quedará allí con lo cual se suma más incertidumbre a la cotidianeidad.

    Si bien es cierto que no todos los cónyuges acompañantes (¡Qué feo que suena esta denominación!; Si a alguien se le ocurre una mejor, ¡bienvenida sea!); es muy común observar que les resulta difícil recuperar el control de la propia vida. Es que quienes acompañan a la persona expatriada terminan sintiendo que hay un montón de decisiones que dependen del trabajo del cónyuge, de su jefe o incluso de las políticas de la empresa para la que trabaja. Es claro que esto le puede suceder a personas que viven toda su vida en el mismo lugar (¿Quién no ha escuchado comentarios en ese sentido en cualquier pareja?). Pero en el caso de los expatriados el impacto de todo lo que se ha dejado atrás por "acompañar" un proyecto termina afectando la manera en que se maneja la situación. En general escucho que uno de los problemas que se presentan es el no poder tomar decisiones acerca de la propia vida.

    Esto puede sonar extraño pero si alejamos el foco de nuestra vida en particular, si agrandamos el área de visión, podremos ver que vivimos con la incertidumbre de manera diaria, cotidiana, o, cómo se suele decir en otros lugares, -24 por 7. Cuando cruzamos la calle no pensamos que quizás haya una persona que esté manejando distraída y pase la luz roja; cuando vamos por la vereda (o acera, como prefieran) no pensamos que podría caerse una planta desde algún balcón. La mente está "entrenada" para evadir ese tipo de pensamientos (sí, ya sé, algunos los tienen todo el tiempo pero eso es otra cuestión). La única certeza real es que no podemos predecir lo que va a suceder. Aun así, cuando algo sale diferente a cómo lo planeamos, decimos que fue un imprevisto, un accidente. Pero si miramos nuestra vida y la de los demás en perspectiva veremos que hay un montón de accidentes o imprevistos; algunos fueron buenísimos (lo mejor que nos podría haber pasado) y otros..., -quizás no tan positivos.

    Volviendo entonces al tema del "cónyuge acompañante" tendemos a olvidar que ante todo hubo una decisión propia. Mas allá de que nos guste o estemos arrepentidos [1] es importante recordar que hubo motivos, razones que nos llevaron a decidir que queríamos apoyar esa oportunidad laboral de nuestra pareja (y aquí entra una lista que es distinta para cada quién, desde mejoras económicas para la familia hasta apoyar a la pareja pasando por todas las ideas que cada uno tuvo que poner en la balanza). El tema es que sentir que no podemos tomar decisiones acerca de nuestra propia vida nos lleva a acumular resentimiento, fastidio, molestia hacia nuestro cónyuge, su trabajo, su jefe y la empresa. Esos sentimientos terminan por hacernos sentir peor, los padecemos y nos producen un gran sufrimiento. Van creciendo en nuestro interior y van envenenando nuestras relaciones, nuestros vínculos (y en algunos casos nuestra cotidianeidad). 

    Entonces quizás podamos pensar en cambiar la mirada, el enfoque, e intentar uno que esté relacionado con la resiliencia y la flexibilidad (lo cual sería una ganancia real, una que nadie ni nada podrá quitarnos porque es absolutamente personal). Ojo, se me impone una aclaración importante: sé perfectamente que no es nada fácil cambiar nuestra perspectiva y en algunos casos necesitamos ayuda con eso. Mantener una actitud positiva puede ser sumamente complicado y difícil y eso es simplemente normal: nada es peor que sentirse mal y aumentar el malestar por no poder estar con una mentalidad positiva y tampoco es bueno forzarse a sentir algo que uno no siente. La propuesta es más bien recordar que la vida puede traernos un cambio grande e imprevisto en cualquier momento. Entonces la próxima vez que estés dudando acerca de empezar un proyecto, anotarte en unas clases o pensando qué es lo que quieres hacer con tu vida undefinedespecialmente si estás sintiendo que no puedes planificar nada porque no sabes cuando te irás de ese lugarundefined te propongo que recuerdes que, si bien hay incertidumbre, la dirección que le des a tu vida y tus valores siguen siendo una decisión 100% tuya.

    [1] Arrepentirse no tiene nada de malo, también puede pasar; lo único que falta es que si uno lo esta pasando mal también se achaque el haberse arrepentido de la decisión.

    Ever Felt Lost in Uncertainty?

    By Paula Vexlir

    Uncertainty and expat life usually go together. Sometimes you might feel insecure regarding culture, relationships or how to get things done in your new location. Also, it might be quite unclear how long you are going to stay and that brings even more uncertainty to the equation.

    What is certain: Uncertainty

    Even though not all expat spouses have left a job/career behind, a common trend is to find it quite difficult to regain control of your own life. It is easy to feel that there are lots of decisions that depend on your spouse's job, boss or company policy.

    Of course, this could happen to people living in the same location all their lives. But all the things left behind have a huge impact when dealing with the situation. Overall, you may have the feeling that you cannot make decisions about your own life.

    It might sound weird but if we enlarge our vision, if we widen our look, we will see that we live 24x7 with uncertainty. When we are crossing the street we don´t think that the driver could get distracted and pass the red light; while walking on the sidewalk we don't consider that a plant might fall from a balcony onto our head. Our minds are “trained” to avoid those thoughts.

    The only thing we know for certain is that we cannot predict what will happen. We usually call the events that change our plans “accidents”. But if you look at your and other people's lives, you will most likely find lots of “accidents” or unexpected situations. Some led to great results and others… maybe not so much.

    Remember there was a decision

    So going back to the accompanying partner situation, we tend to forget that there was a decision in the first place. Whether we like it or regret it, there were reasons that made us decide to follow our spouse's job opportunity.

    Feeling unable to make decisions on our life just leads to resentment towards our spouse, his/her job, boss and company. Those feelings make us feel bad, constrain us and cause us to suffer. They grow inside us and can poison our relationships.

    Know that you have choices

    A different approach would be helpful: one that involves resilience and flexibility (which, by the way, will be a real gain, no one will ever be able to take that away from us).

    Don't get me wrong: I know that it's not easy to change our perspective and sometimes we might need help to get there. Maintaining a positive attitude can be quite hard and that it´s just normal.

    But knowing that life can give us huge and unexpected changes any minute might be a good reminder.

    So next time you are feeling doubtful about starting a project or signing up for a class, think about what you want out of life. Especially if you are feeling that you cannot plan anything because you are not sure when you are heading back, remind yourself that things are uncertain but your life directions or life values are your own ultimate choices.

    Paula Vexlir is a clinical psychologist specializing in working with the Spanish-speaking expat community. Since 2002 she has been providing counseling for migrants and expats. By offering an online service she can support Spanish-speaking expats worldwide. She blogs at ExpatPsi.

  • 07 Dec 2014 3:15 PM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    For many young American adults returning to the USA to attend college or university after being expats or global nomads since they have been following their parents careers overseas, “Sophomore Slump” starts after about 6 weeks in the new university.  This is when it dawns on them that their lifestyle of travel is now over.  No more vacations in foreign countries on long weekends. No more traveling to and from exotic places at Christmas. No more team sports that causes you to carry a passport.

    Some global nomads find the start of college so hard but can usually settle down into the new system soon. This is when it is key to have some sort of support system on campus. Or near by. Teens are often good at masking what is going on for them by text or even skype. They seldom want to admit to their parents that things are not going as well as they wanted.

    Changing Universities

    Sophomore slump hits repatriated teens often and they show how upsetting this is by changing universities.

    If you look closely at the retention rate in a university from freshman to sophomore at some schools it is alarming. What is causing all these teens to try one university for just a year and move on? Most of the time it is not because of grades but because they are finding a ‘slump’ or the excitement of the university does not match up to their expectations.

    As the author of Emotional Resilience and the Expat Child, I am greatly concerned about these children as they return to the USA to attend university in their home country. I often feel we have not prepared the child enough for this transition without their family.

    Two children = Two Locations

    Since our two children decided to look at two very different locations for college, it has complicated our travel plans. Colorado is a state that receives many teen repatriating because it is such a lovely state. Toronto is also known for it’s high rate of international students. Many expat children do not have a ‘home’ so they pick a geography site that they love.  Then the match of a university to this location to the child’s long term goals is applied.  This is hard for many families.

    We are slowly approaching our second year in this location, Balikpapan. In our short time here, we have already seen a large amount of turnover in the Expat population. The things that have bothered me the most during this expatriate move without children are:

        My easy lifestyle of booking four tickets to one place is no longer possible. We now have to book three different travel plans to get to one place.

        I no longer want to go on long weekends out of the country since I am saving up my days to be with my kids.

        My kids have done the exotic places for Christmas and now wish to do something more relaxing and mainstream.

        My passport does not get used as much as it did since I am not traveling to see my kids in all those high school events that international schools are so good at setting up.

    Contributed by Julia Simens, an American writer who has lived on five continents and raised two TCKs. Her book "Emotional Resilience and the Expat Child: practical storytelling techniques that will strengthen the global family" is commonly found in many international schools and embassies where she gives talks to parents, teachers and families living a global lifestyle. Find her blog at http://www.jsimens.com


  • 30 Nov 2014 8:46 PM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    The bright, wonderful, hot burning sun,

    The scent of the suncream we used,

    Mixed with the spices of the ocean


    The sound of people, waves


    The hot sand, too fierce for my soft little feet,

    A ride on a strong shoulder to the shore, with love,

    To the coolness of the waters


    There used to be a school of fish,

    Always there waiting for me

    We played 'Catch' , really, bet you can't believe.


    The hotdog stand, I wish it's still there,

    Nothing special in it, but one of a kind.


    I was small,


    I looked above to see all those tanned women and men in their bikinis and shorts.

    They were different from me, my parents' faces told.

    But somehow they slipped into my 'future to be',

    Now a 'past that never was'.


    I thought I was American,

    My heart told me I was native Hawaiian.


    Only to be my parents' little girl,

    Pure Asians with their strange English tongue.


    A part of me buried,

    For years and years.


    No wonder the beat of my heart's so weak,

    I left so much behind.


    I dream of a day,

    A day back on the beach,

    To get back, nicely brown with a lei on my neck.


    A dream I dare,

    A place I long so dearly for.


    I know I can never get back,

    The past should be laid down.


    The years are gone,

    And I'm no longer six.


    I'm no longer the Hawaiian girl,

    Who danced the Hula with grace.


    Home, sweet Waikiki


    I call your lovely name.


    I know you've changed,

    As I too, have.


    But one day, if I get a chance to meet you,

    Can you send me some fish?

    Who knows how to play 'tag you're it'


    So maybe I can be six again.


    Cerine NJ 21

    Hawaii, Poland and South Korea

    Moithetique - Wagamama - Daydreamer

    This is one in a series of excerpts from the recently published The Worlds Within TCK Anthology, now available for purchase on Amazon.com.  A portion of the book’s profits will be donated to the FIGT David C Pollock Scholarship Fund. 

    Cerine NJ 21

    Hawaii, Poland and South Korea

    Moithetique - Wagamama - Daydreamer

    his is one in a series of excerpts from the soon-to-be published The Worlds Within TCK Anthology.  A portion of the book’s profits will be donated to the FIGT David C Pollock Scholarship Fund.

    Cerine NJ 21

    Hawaii, Poland and South Korea

    Moithetique - Wagamama - Daydreamer

    his is one in a series of excerpts from the soon-to-be published The Worlds Within TCK Anthology.  A portion of the book’s profits will be donated to the FIGT David C Pollock Scholarship Fund.
  • 23 Nov 2014 5:42 PM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    When working with colleagues, what does an expat need to keep in mind?

    Keith (Singapore)Almost half of the workforce in Singapore is comprised of foreigners and permanent residents.  Local Singaporeans are also a diverse group comprising of Chinese, Malays, Indians and Eurasians.  Because of this, the expat needs to understand the motivation, communication styles, leadership preferences and cultural differences of each group.

    Jeff (Vietnam): In Vietnam, expats need to keep in mind the contradiction between Eastern and Western values and appreciate the deep historical, ancestral, Confucian and Buddhist roots of the Vietnamese –which translates into strong family orientation, strict hierarchies, top-down decision making, respect for authority as well as seniority and age, and the need for balance and harmony.   In business, transactions are usually affected by politics, procedures, infrastructure, and personal relationship.  While Vietnam is a fast-changing country that is learning the ways of international business, modern Vietnamese are often conflicted between family and career, communism and capitalism.  Workers are accustomed to following instructions undefined so if you want feedback, suggestions, self-reliance, collaboration, or innovation, say it, write it and show you mean it.

    Rose (Philippines):   In the Philippines, personal relations are very important. Business is done on the basis of trust and being comfortable with the person they are doing business with.  Although Filipinos speak English and communicating is easy, there are many things communicated through facial expression, tone of voice and behavior.  Politeness is key and colleagues will be turned off by aggressive orders or reactions so be mindful of your voice volume.  When looking for assistance it must be requested and not ordered.  When making requests, keep in mind that a Filipino associate will always be polite and say “yes”; however, many times the answer may really mean “no”.  It’s always a good idea to clarify understanding.

    Let’s discuss daily living.  

    Kristen (Singapore): Over one million expats reside in Singapore. This makes for great living as you will quickly have friends that have come from all over the world. Much like other metropolitan cities, housing is smaller and closer together. There is a fantastic public transport system (called MRT) and since the duty on cars is over 100%, you will make great use of it.  There are great entertainment options year round undefined the Formula 1 night race is a city wide party, many good concerts with head line performers, art and film festivals, excellent museums, and the list of good restaurants keeps growing. While shopping could be considering a national pastime here in Singapore, prices are quite a bit more than those in the US.

    Claudia (Singapore): For Singaporeans and expats alike, living in Singapore is not only clean, safe and organized but also very comfortable and practical. Distances to work are usually no more than one hour by public transport to and from most locations. If necessary, services such as electricians and other contractors are available within a day. However, work life balance is not as good as it is in Europe and the US. Work comes first here and everyone works longer hours, even on holidays.  There is lots of traffic.

    Jeff (Vietnam): Daily living in Vietnam’s major cities (Saigon and Hanoi) can be a challenge undefined dealing with traffic jams, pollution, and property crimes.  But both cities have good options for modern and affordable apartments, comfortable international expat communities, good restaurants and an assortment of sports/entertainment, plus reliable and inexpensive domestic help.  Corporate executives and other expats most likely will want to hire a cook as well as car-and-driver.  Keep in mind that Vietnam is one of the world’s largest two-wheel cultures, so an expat might want to join the masses and have a motorbike if he wants to get around efficiently; if you’re going to ride in a vehicle with four wheels, you’ll want a driver undefined and a lot of patience.

    Rose (Philippines): Manila is the Philippines most modern city and the majority of expats live there. Expect the normal issues that come along with city life – namely, pollution (the air quality may affect those who are sensitive) and traffic (always allot additional travel time).  Most expats will employ a local driver who is familiar with the roads. Keep in mind that Filipino drivers are terrible on the roads; they will tailgate and occupy every space they see. For example, a 3-lane road can easily become 4 or 5 lanes.  Many areas in Manila are very modern with shopping malls, condominiums and subdivisions with secured areas.  Some expats hire household help and you have a choice of live-in or live-out.  This usually depends on how big the house is and whether there are young children.  The shops offer local and imported goods and there is a store similar to COSTCO called Sand R.  We recommend staying away from the wholesale markets as they can be a bit dangerous if you are not vigilant and aware.

    What’s the latest on the housing supply and international schools?

    Kristen (Singapore): Housing, especially apartment living, is plentiful but expensive. Be prepared to move into a smaller home with limited outdoor space. Condo living can be wonderful as you have an instant community and amenities such as pool, BBQ area, and fitness center. There are international schools for just about every curriculum including American, British, Australian, German, Swiss, Japanese, Indian, etc. Several schools have long wait lists. If you are anticipating a move, and hoping to keep your children on an American curriculum, expect a six month wait list.

    Keith (Singapore) In Singapore, various housing options are available from condominiums, landed properties (houses) and public housing (called HDB which stands for Housing Development Board).  If you want to live downtown or close to schools, be prepared to pay more.  If you are keen to embrace the local cultures and want to live like most locals, then you can rent a HDB.  The HDBs are located near MRT stations or public transport and have amenities like food centers, shops, cinemas and libraries close by.  A 3 bedroom 1,200 sq. ft. HDB apartment rents for S$3,000 (US$2,500) monthly and prices can go up to S$30,000 (US$25,000) or more for an 8,000 sq. ft. bungalow.  Note that Singapore is often ranked one of the most expensive cities in the world.  A 400sq ft. 1-bedroom apartment downtown can cost easily S$4,000 (US$3,300) a month, while a 1,200 sq. ft. 2-bedroom apartment downtown can be S$8,000 (US$6,600).

    Jeff (Vietnam): After a decade of modernization and construction of high-end residential properties that ended in 2009, Vietnam today is in the midst of a prolonged real estate slump and is a buyer’s market for apartment rentals.  The inventory of luxury apartments in particular is strong and relatively inexpensive.  There are several very good international schools in the big cities, especially Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), and a school of choice for expats in Hanoi tends to be the school sponsored by the United Nations, it’s one of only two in the world.  In Vietnam’s public school system and at the post-secondary level, the options are limited, although acceptable public schools that emphasize English are available for families seeking a rich cultural experience.

    Rose (Philippines): In the Philippines, the housing supply is abundant especially with new condominiums. Expats also have several international schools to choose from and most are located in the same area.  Examples include the IS (International School) and BSM (British School Manila). However, as soon as you are outside Manila, international school availability becomes scarce. Keep in mind that the system of education in the Philippines is patterned after American Education, so the local private schools are use English as a medium of instruction. The many private Catholic Schools all over the country will accept foreign students and some expats have discovered that this provides an affordable high quality education.

    Are there other things expats need to be aware of such as restrictions, security, culture, currency?

    Kristen (Singapore): Singapore is incredibly safe and a wonderful place to move, especially for young families. Singapore recognizes four main cultures, Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Western cultures and all are celebrated equally. English is the national language with most Singaporeans speaking at least one more language.  We affectionately refer to Singapore as “Asia-lite” and for most Westerners, it is an easy transition to move here. The hardest thing to get used to is the heat and humidity. Thankfully air conditioning is everywhere.

    Jeff (Vietnam): Expats need to be aware that Vietnam is just one generation removed from starvation poverty and hundreds of years of war that ultimately led the country to accept a one-party government that provides political stability and values security more than individual liberty.  For expats, some practical implications they can expect to confront are: cumbersome bureaucracy, excessive regulations/restrictions, and the expectation of under-the-table payment for public services.  On the other hand, as individuals Vietnamese are very pragmatic; so if you want to get something done, deal with the people and trust that they know how to deal with the government.

    Rose (Philippines)Filipinos have a silent/unspoken social system similar to a caste system depending on economic means, educational attainment and upbringing.  Generally, Filipinos are more passive than assertive and have a tendency to be subservient and very shy.  But those who are from higher economic status with high educational attainment will show more assertiveness and confidence in their approach to foreigners.  There are many areas in the city that are generally well secured such as near the financial district.  However, as with any city it pays to be street smart and vigilant.  Consider travelling with locals and, as a general rule, ask about the place prior to going there – especially when going out of the city.  Filipinos are Asians but can be very westernized even if he/she has not lived abroad; the influence of media and education has been very strong. It is very easy to get along with Filipinos because they are adaptable and open to other cultures.

    Contributed by Charisse Kosova, Director, Intercultural Training and Development at IOR Global Services.

  • 09 Nov 2014 8:18 PM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    ‘Where are you from?’ is my least favourite question.

    Most people rattle off their particulars with no specific thought, reciting a common answer to a supposedly common question. But as a third culture child it triggers thoughts of identity, self and lineage. The short answer is simply a synopsis, a vague indication of the normalcy of moving around every three years or so. How does one explain that they are, say, half Canadian, half Dutch, but lived in Russia, Egypt, Indonesia, Singapore and Switzerland without receiving puzzled looks and gaping mouths? Moreover, when asked to explain in more detail I have to elaborate I have never lived in either of my passport countries, or even speak their languages* so can I even rightfully claim their heritage as my own?

    This long answer however, prompts my second least favourite question;

    ‘What was your favourite place to live in?’.

    How can I answer this question when I don’t know myself exactly how the exposure to so many amazingly different cultures, religions, languages and peoples has affected me in my development, in me becoming an individual of this world?

    When repeatedly moving to a new country, city and school is the only life I’ve ever known the question is very much redundant to me, resorting with a forced smile and a polite yet evasive answer.

    The nature of these questions is not malicious, and only a natural progression for non-third culture individuals to ask, but the reason that they aggravate me is because they remind me I have no real home.

    Undeniably, I have a house, in which my family live, and yet it is not my home, merely the building in which I have lived for the most recent three years. A home is somewhat fictional to me, perhaps a bricked cottage built by grandparents before me, or a house in which in which I had lived all my life, friendly with all of the neighbours and local community- a fairytale of sorts. When I left to University this became painfully clear when surrounded by individuals whose move to Edinburgh was their first time living out of their town or city, and again I was exposed to the questioning and the imploring. Each time these questions are said out loud, internally I ask myself the same ones- “where am I truly from?” and “which country can I truly claim a home in?”- and repeatedly I remind myself that I am quite literally a citizen of the world.

    Although I feel I have no real physical home, there is an emotion, a contentedness and sense of relief I relate to as ‘home’. It is the happiness experienced when in the comfort and presence of my family; the playful comments, teasing, jokes and laughter when we are together is a sensation we can create anywhere and everywhere we go. And it is this security and ease that I miss when homesick some 10929 kilometres away from, not a building, but my feeling of ‘home’.

    I know people will continue to ask where I am from, my attempt to answer and its impact on me undoubtedly symbolizes a part of who I am as a person, but I’m not sure people realize what a burdensome question it can be, hopefully that is, until now. 

    *(Quebecois or Dutch)

    Johanna Smit


    Russia, Egypt, Indonesia, Singapore, Switzerland and Scotland

    Unite – Share - Smile

    This is one in a series of excerpts from the soon-to-be published The Worlds Within TCK Anthology. A portion of the book’s profits will be donated to the FIGT David C Pollock Scholarship Fund.  


    This is one in a series of excerpts from the soon-to-be published The Worlds Within TCK Anthology.  A portion of the book’s profits will be donated to the FIGT David C Pollock Scholarship Fund. 
    This is one in a series of excerpts from the soon-to-be published The Worlds Within TCK Anthology.  A portion of the book’s profits will be donated to the FIGT David C Pollock Scholarship Fund. 
  • 02 Nov 2014 4:30 PM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

    While many would argue that English is becoming “the” universal business language, we polyglots know that speaking a foreign language is really a secret weapon. Whether working with business associates abroad or taking care of everyday errands while on international assignment, the ability to communicate  is truly an advantage in work and at play.  We asked the IOR team what they thought were the major advantages to knowing another language.  Read on for what we consider to be the Top 10 reasons:

    1.    You become comfortable with the business side of the language – idioms, email writing style and company jargon (Maura, Marketing)

    2.    There is a greater ability to understand and solve workplace problems with different cultures (Mark, Global Talent Management)

    3.    You understand the lyrics to all those foreign songs you’ve been singing in the shower. (Nick, Intern)

    4.    Locals respond to you better/quicker when you try the local language (Suzy, Customer Service)

    5.    You are better able to take care of daily needs like buying food, reading street signs and navigating the city (Maura, Marketing)

    6.    You develop a more influential leadership style through usage of local terms and phrases (Mark, Global Talent Management)

    7.    You get better seats in planes and access to off-menu dishes at restaurants. (Kendra, President)

    8.    You reduce your risk of saying something totally embarrassing by nearly 50%. (Denise, Destination Services)

    9.    You can fund your next plane ticket with the money you save by avoiding clever, “shortcut”-taking taxi drivers (Agata, Language)

    10. You gain advantages in all aspects of your daily life, which makes for a more satisfying and successful assignment. (Rob, CEO)

    What advantages have you enjoyed by knowing another language?

    Contributed by Charisse Kosova, Director, Intercultural Training and Development at IOR Global Services.

Site Search:

Mailing address:
Families in Global Transition

C/o Campbell Rappold & Yurasits LLP
1033 S Cedar Crest Blvd
Allentown, PA 18103


+1 (703) 634-7400
Skype: figt.administrator

© Families in Global Transition, Inc.