Book Review “Expat Life: Slice by Slice” by Apple Gidley

Expat Life Slice by SliceExpat Life Slice by Slice

by Apple Gidley

Book Description: Apple Gidley is not only a TCK, but one that has parented and now grandparenting TCKs. She shares her life from the beginning in Africa with her pet monkey, to the various moves and boarding schools, to life as a young mother, and the challenges of elderly parents. She offers insights and tips throughout the book that all expats can use.

My Take: I received this book from Janneke, a fellow blogger-friend who writes at DrieCulturen. I was excited to read it after Janneke’s review because Apple has been an expat all her life. With a full understanding of the TCK experience, she shares her frustrations and excitement living and traveling around the world not only as a TCK, but also as a trailing spouse, or as she has renamed this group STARS (Spouses Traveling And Relocating Successfully). I enjoyed her humorous stories and related to many of her, let’s just say, interesting experiences. I liked this book because it wasn’t just a memoir of an expat life. At the end of each chapter (slice) she gives tips and thoughts that she calls the “Take Away Slice”. Although, I didn’t agree with everything that she writes, I do think it was a good book that made me think through some issues.

I must warn you now, I was inspired with a few ideas for posts while reading this book. So, you will be hearing more about this book later. So, I definitely recommend it to those who are about to venture into expat life, those who are in the midst of the adventure, or to even those who have left or about to return “home”. She has much to share.

Your Turn: Have you read this book yet? What were your thoughts? Please share in the comments below.

Expat Fathers Uninvolved?

That is the question that I have tried to tackle over at Expat Child this week. Here is a snippet of that article.

“Research has been published regarding the uninvolved father. The United States Child Welfare Department has issued findings that children whose fathers were involved in their lives have higher cognitive development, feel more emotionally stable, and are less likely to get involved in drugs or violence. It also found

that boys with involved fathers had fewer school behavior problems and that girls had stronger self-esteem. .

Are the TCKs whose fathers are absent for several weeks at a time doomed?”

If you want to read the rest, head over to Expat Child where you will find the full article.

 

Beware of Your “Friends”

Moving Books

Photo by Kaptain Kobold at flickr

We’ve just recently moved. Finally. We have spent the last three months looking for an apartment near the school. Unfortunately, we moved during the first week of school. It was definitely stressful, but I was able to make a new BFF. Though now, I’m regretting that friendship.

This BFF was convenient. She knew that teaching all day and then packing was too much for me to make meals, so she always had meals wrapped up and ready for pick-up. She also was super knowledgeable. She understood that my girls would be bored since their toys had been packed, so she graciously packed a few small toys inside the bag for them. It was such a great source of entertainment those last few stressful nights of cleaning the old place and unpacking the new place. She just knew. It was great until I got on the scale.

This BFF was that fast-food restaurant that conveniently had a drive-through. Drive-throughs are fairly rare on this island, but they were conveniently placed in our path during that transition time of the old place to the new apartment. I *gulp* fell into the “Convenient Trap” because it was so much easier than chopping, slicing, and cooking up a nutritious meal.

Fortunately, after we moved a few real friends brought over some healthy meals to help us out. That was the turning point back to healthy eating. Those meals gave me the energy to do what needed to be done in the new apartment so that I could begin cooking my own healthy meals again. My kitchen is still not in complete working order, but it is enough that I can cook simple healthy meals. For that, I’m thankful because I want to eat healthy and I’m seeing the scales looking better already. *whew*

If I could have done this move all over again I’d do a few things different, like…

1. A few months before the move make larger portions of meals and freeze them. That way, they’d be easy and quick to put into a microwave to warm up.

2. Buy bread, peanut butter/nutella, fruit and veges (cut and bagged). Something quick for lunches.

3. Buy lots of paper plates, cups, and plastic utensils. Though, not the most healthy for the environment, it makes it easier for those first few days of transition.

*Note that if I was moving to another country, I’d only do #2 and #3 once we were there. The first one is not really an option. *grins*

Your Turn: What is something you do when you are moving that helps with the transition? Share in the comments below.

 

Mamas Need Their Outlets, too!

Golfers on the Coral Gables Country Club

photo from The Commons via flickr.com

Schools are starting back up for many around the world. For some families that means getting routines set, taking one last holiday, but for many others it is setting up the new home and getting the kids excited to start a new school – or at least helping them to adjust to a new school.

Women's Curling Briar

photo from The Commons via flickr.com

What happens on that first day though, once all the kids are dropped off at school and you return to a quiet home? Do you collapse in wonderment? Do you get a fresh cup of coffee to slowly savor without distractions? Housework? Chores? Cry?

What do you do? You need an outlet, too! A place where you can laugh with friends, discuss or chat. You just need a place where you can be you, the person – not the mom. Don’t get me wrong, I love being Mom. It’s just that once in awhile it is nice to have adult conversations and to eat at my own pace my very own dessert.

What do these “places” or groups look like? Some cities have regular set dates that an expat group has organized. Other cities may not have anything set, but maybe the school has a Mother’s Tea where you can meet other moms. This group could be a Bible-study, book club, or any other small group gathering that meets for a certain purpose.

Why should you get involved in a group? Women in general support each other and talk – as Apple Gidley in her book Expat Life Slice by Slice says, “…international women groups around the world, whether a luncheon group, a tennis club or a sewing group are expatriate man’s best ally” (p40). I so agree with her on this because who understands our situations better than another expat mom? We become fast “sisters” helping and encouraging each other.

How do you find these precious gems? You have to look for them. Ask other mothers at the school what there is to do. Find out if your city has an expat magazine or website that lists activities that would interest you. If there isn’t, you could start one. I’m sure there are others out there who would love to go out for coffee, too!

I’ll leave you with this last tip from Apple in finding a group: Make sure it is international, not made up from solely one country. She says that, “Instead of celebrating the differences they {mono-culture groups} tend to moan about them, whereas international groups are more forgiving” (42).

So, go out and find a group and make some friends of your own. Already in a group? Watch for the new moms and invite them to join – be a bridge to help them settle into their new home quicker.

*Although this is geared towards the mother as the trailing spouse, there are groups out there for dads/guys as well, but I find that guys don’t tend to “need” this close bonding friendship like women do.

**Thanks to Janneke at DrieCulturen for giving away the book Expat Life Slice by Slice by Apple Gidley.

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An Expat’s Letter to Santa

Dear Santa,A&P, COFFEE, SANTA CLAUS

I’m sure you are one busy man this time of year. I can’t imagine, as I only have three kids, not millions to check on. I don’t want to take up too much of your precious time, as I know you have quite a few of these letters to read. So, here it goes:

This year I’d like…

 

1. Language – the ability to communicate clearly with the locals around me. I know I could study more, but if you could just give me the language, then I would be able to understand the man on the phone telling me that a package has arrived for us and I need to get it soon. I’d also like to be able to read in this new language. It would be so helpful with the public notices in our elevator, especially today when the water went off during my shower. That would have been very helpful.

2. Lifetime of free airline ticketsOkay this maybe steep, but hey I’ve been REALLY good this year. I love to travel, but it just costs so much money to go places, especially with a family of five. So, maybe you could put at least a few years worth of free tickets in my stocking?

3. Cooking classes – A personal tutor to teach me how to make all the wonderful food that I have eaten in the various places that I have called home. It is difficult to find the exact same food after we move on to the next destination. I’d even settle for a recipe book, but they have to be authentic recipes. Please don’t send me the recipes that are westernized.

4. Home – Yes, this maybe the most difficult as we are not really sure where home is. To spend the holidays with the entire extended family each year would be just a dream come true. For us it’s difficult because my family and my in-laws live on different continents. You are creative, so I’m sure you will come up with a grand way for us to be able to celebrate with both families this year. (If it doesn’t workout, then I’ll settle for a GREAT connection on Skype.)

Thank you so much in advance. And in case you didn’t know, we no longer live where we did last year. In fact, we don’t even live in the same country. So, be sure to pay attention to the return address. Don’t worry though, I smuggled in my suitcase the special ingredients so I can make your favorite cookies.

Your Biggest and Most-Well Behaved Fan,

The Expat

Your Turn: I had fun thinking about what an expat might ask for. Now if you could ask Santa for anything, what would you ask for? Share in the comments below.

Be sure to subscribe if you’d like to read more about raising TCKs. You can also like the Facebook page. Both can be found on the right. Thanks!

*Photo Credit: Flickr, The Commons

 

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Vacations and Special Needs – it can happen!

Vacationing with children is SO different then the days before children. Before children Uwe and I would just pick a destination and plan around job schedules. Packing could be done the night before. Living abroad, travel was almost as easy as breathing.

Then child number one came and travel changed just a bit. Packing was focused more on what he needed and therefore took more planning. We still hiked up mountains and other non-child friendly activities. Our thoughts when choosing a destination was – If we can carry him in the backpack carrier, then we’ll do it. Once child number two came along traveling wasn’t nearly as easy as breathing. Then Jie Jie was diagnosed…and what seemed easy required much energy and planning. She required so much – feeding tubes, food to feed her, stroller, diapers, extra clothes, etc.

By the time child number three came along, we weren’t sure about traveling at all.

Those early years, when we had three under four-years of age, I learned something – keep my expectations low. Kids get sick on vacations. Kids get tired and grumpy on vacations. Kids might not like the vacation places you chose. And a whole lot of other things can go wrong, like the weather, the food, the room…you get the picture.

No as our kids are older, we involve them more with the vacation planning. We ask them their opinion. We look up the place on the internet or on Google Maps and let them see where we are going. We ask them what they would like to do while we are there.This has helped with Ge Ge and Mei Mei, but Jie Jie is different. With her we need a different approach.

We still involve her in the planning.

We show her the pictures of the parks, the playgrounds, the beaches, and any animals we might see. We tell her how we are going, whether it is by train, plane, boat, and or car. This gives her an idea of what we will be doing and gets her involved as well.

Flexibility

This is probably true for raising kids while living abroad, but for vacationing with special needs kids it’s very important. They don’t always respond the way you think they might and they may do better than what you thought. For instance, Jie Jie loves the beach and the sand. She likes fish and turtles, so I thought she might like snorkeling – well, a modified version of snorkeling. Geared up in her blue life-vest and mask, we walked her across the shallow reef to the edge. The plan was to let her look into the water, but after one short glance she was done. I’m not sure if it was the water that seeped into her mask, a darting bright blue fish, or just all the new experiences at once that caused her to freak out, but she was done. We didn’t force her to look anymore. We told her she did a great job and walked her back. She was perfectly content playing in the shallow water. Having flexibility allowed us to change plans – like I stayed with her on the beach while Uwe took the other two out snorkeling.

Try new things, but still keeping expectations low.

We do this not because we are negative thinking people, but because we try to be realistic.  For instance, we just took a vacation to Xiao Liu Qiu, a small island off of Taiwan. This island is very small and doesn’t have many cars. Our original plan was to bike with the kids, but once we got there and saw the hills we knew that biking wasn’t going to work. We decided to try the scooters for a day and see how it went, not thinking Jie Jie would sit still and behave. She surprised us. She did just fine. We scootered around the whole time we were there.

Slow it down.

Don’t expect to do everything. As a family choose a few things and do those. Allow for breaks and even rest times in the room. We allow the kids to each choose one activity they would really like to do or see – then we do those things first. Sometimes Jie Jie can’t participate in the chosen activity – that’s when either I or Uwe take her to do something else.

Not every child is the same. This goes for special needs children as well. Just because your child may have some issues that are harder to deal with doesn’t mean that you can’t have a fun family vacation. With a bit of creativity and flexibility, you can even take more exotic trips with your whole family.

Your Turn: Have you traveled with your special needs child? What are some vacationing tips that you have when you go? Please share in the comments below.

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Nontraditional Holiday? Why not?

For the ‘American’ part of our family, the big holiday is coming up quickly. You know, Thanksgiving. Turkey, stuffing, sweet potato souffle, pumpkin pie, and all the rest of the good stuff. In the past we’ve celebrated with fellow expats (aka adopted family) gathered around our own table or their table – or even larger gatherings where we rented space at the international school to feast.

This year is different.

This year we did not buy a turkey. I did not make stuffing. I didn’t even make a pumpkin pie. In fact, we are not even going to be home for Thanksgiving. We are leaving and taking a much needed mini vacation.

How do I feel about this? Actually, relieved. I’m not stressed about putting food together . I’m not worried about how Jie Jie is going to act/react at the gathering. I’m excited. We haven’t vacationed as a family in quite a while – like two years. We’ve gone to the US and visited family, but we didn’t go anywhere to shut off completely as a family. We’ve had stay-cations  but we tend to work anyway. We need to go away with books and games. I can’t wait -(actually, by the time you read this we will already be gone).

Why be nontraditional when this is the time I should be teaching my children about “their home” culture?

1. The thought of being away from family is too much this year. This is what one of my friends told me as she related their plans for the Thanksgiving break. They were planning to not have a huge feast at their home as they have in years past, but instead go to a different city and help at an orphanage with a group of other expats. I thought this was a brilliant way to fight the holiday blues. Go and serve others. And with that they are teaching their kids empathy for others.

2. The thought of doing anymore work is going to kill me. This is me, I raise my hand waving my white flag. I’m tired and the thought of cooking and prepping makes me swoon. And we have an “I Am a Hero Game” that we will travel six hours for the day before, so we decided to add time away and explore a small island off the main island.

I totally agree that holidays are a great way to teach kids about your own home culture. It helps them relate and understand where they came from. I understand that and agree. I get the full blown celebrations with all the fun crafts, food, and pre-recorded football games. I have done this – except the football game. We are European football fans, not so much the American football. So, my kids are not going to get a turkey this year. Will they survive? YES.

We really went wild this year – we put up our tree before Thanksgiving! We usually do this the weekend following Thanksgiving, but I wanted to come back to a decorated apartment. 

So, Happy Thanksgiving to you all! If you are eating turkey and pumpkin pie I wish you well as I sit at the beach reading a book and watching the kids play in the ocean. I’m thankful for time with my family.

Your Turn: How do you celebrate holidays? Do you go all out with every tradition? Do you ever do a nontraditional type of holiday? Please share in the comments below.

*If you’d like to read more about raising TCKs, please subscribe at the top right. You can also join us on Facebook.

Language and TCKs

“Which language should we speak at home with our children?”

“Which school should we send our children to? Language is important, but I’m afraid my child will forget or not master our ‘mother tongue’.”

As an expat parent, I’ve asked those same questions. As an international elementary teacher, I’ve heard those questions from parents about their own children.

They are legit questions, ones that should be addressed from the get-go when deciding to live abroad with your family. When I was pregnant with our first child my husband, being German, and I decided that I would speak English and he would speak German. Let me just say this, in theory it was a great plan, but for our family it didn’t happen. My husband rarely spoke German anywhere. His working world was in English and Chinese. His world at home with me was in English. He didn’t think about speaking German unless he was talking with his parents, but even that was a mixture of English, German, and a bit of Chinese. Please know that I do know of families that spoke dual languages and it worked wonderfully for them. It just wasn’t for our family. If you have a mixed family, this is definitely something you need to discuss as a family – which language(s) will we speak at home with our kids?

Schooling affects language as well…

Yes, which school do we send our child to? Local? International? Home-school?  These are questions that you definitely need to discuss with your spouse. Something to think about though, is what language do you see your child using as an adult? Is it your mother-tongue? your husband’s? English – if that isn’t your mother-tongue? As an educator, I can’t say this strong enough – Whatever language(s) you decide your child will be educated in make sure your child masters a language – and what I mean is they have mastered both speaking and writing. If your child cannot fully function in one language, they may never be able to fully express their feelings.

Once GeGe was almost pre-school age, Uwe and I discussed what language we wanted him to be educated in. We wanted him to be able to speak Chinese well. We had planned for him to attend local school until Grade 2, with me home-schooling him in English to keep up his writing. We chose this grade level because we knew that he would most likely go to an English speaking university. The English writing begins to expand quickly to paragraphs in grade 3. We didn’t want him to fall too far behind and not master English. Well, this plan didn’t workout for us. He attended only Kindergarten at the local school, then in grade 1 we switched over to the international school, but requested that he be in the same Chinese level as the native speakers in his homeroom. This worked out well for him. Our decision to pull him into the international school was due to the fact that Jie Jie needed to start school and her school was not at the same school. They were not really even close to each other and there was no way for me to get them both to school. GeGe could go in early with my husband, and I could take JieJie.

We speak English in the home, so these questions were not so difficult to answer, but for those expat parents whose language at home is not English this decision must be weighed out carefully. And many times a sacrifice of the mother-tongue happens. The language spoken by the parents is learned, but not fully mastered.

When raising kids abroad, the question about language is huge. It’s one that every expat parent must think through and discuss with their spouse. It is a question that my in-laws had to make over thirty years ago when they decided to send their very young children to the American school versus the German boarding school that was located in a different country. And it will be the question that probably my children will have to make should they choose to live abroad with families of their own.

Your Turn: What language do you speak at home? How did you make the language decision about education? What school do you send your kids to or did your parents send you to? Please share your thoughts in the comments below. I’m really interested.

This post was inspired by a blogpost I recently read about raising kids overseas. She is a TCK herself and understands the advantages and the disadvantages of living abroad. She listed questions one should ask when they begin to think about raising TCKs. The one suggestion that she gives to expat parents is to READ. Read books, articles, and blog posts about and authored by adult TCKs. If you are not currently following DrieCulturen, you should. Great resource!

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Making Change

Change

photo by spcbrass via flickr

I was standing in the check-out lane and opened my wallet to see that I had about two handfuls of change. I am headed back overseas in a few weeks, so I want start getting rid of the excess change. As the cashier began to ring up my items I noticed that the there were a few people standing in line behind me waiting patiently.

My heartbeat picked up.

My hands started sweating.

My eyes darted into the wallet trying to make out what kind of change I had, so I could quickly pull out what I would need.

A few seconds later, the cashier told me how much I needed. What? I didn’t hear him. I frantically looked at the register to get a read and asked again for the price. He told me.

I handed the bills and began to dig for the coins I needed. My fingers were not working. The coins kept slipping from them. Finally, what seemed like five minutes, I got the exact change and handed it to him. I know I heard a sigh from the person behind me.

The cashier handed me the receipt. I apologized and quickly made my exit.

I’m in the country I grew up in, yet counting change causes me to stress. What in the world? Here is what I think it is…

1. The money is foreign. As expats, we live outside the country for at least 11 months or longer ~for me it’s been 2.5 years. The money has become foreign. We are used to our RMB, Yen, Euro, or Pounds and have forgotten what “home” country money feels like. If you’re a TCK, it may all feel foreign and familiar at the same time…

2. Identity problems. I’ve lived in Asia for over a decade and there is so much grace when I don’t get it right because I don’t look Asian. As for going to Germany, I look the same, but as soon as I open my mouth the people there understand and have shown me grace. Being in the US, I look and sound “American”, so they are so confused that I can’t count change, don’t understand the debit card scan, or whatever the “new-to-me” procedure is in public places. If you’re a TCK, is this how you feel all the time?

So, how to beat this? I guess I could “play” with the money before I get back to just get a feel for it. Instead, I just keep shopping and using cash OR I skip the cash part and use the debit card. As for the identity problem, I’ve thought about putting on an accent at the checkout, but mine is terrible and I’d probably start laughing at myself and blow it. So, instead I just take a deep breath and remember that it’s okay and normal ~ my friends all have the same problem and we will sit with our tea/coffee at the end of the summer laughing about the “trauma at the grocery stores” and how we “survived the cereal aisle”. 

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Keeping the Culture: US Independence Day

"Uncle Sam's Birthday. 1776- July 4th 1918. 142 Years Young and Going Strong."

Have you ever worried that your TCKs are going to forget or not know your home culture? Are you afraid that they are missing out on all the cultural festivities and knowledge about where you are from? That they are just not going to understand their heritage?

My kids are third culture kids(TCKs). Most of you have read my bio so I won’t bore you with details. In case you haven’t had the chance here is a shortened summary. I’m from the States, my husband is a German MK, and our kids are growing up in Asia.

Sometimes I wonder about the above questions. I know they are getting a great education. I know they are learning so much about the world by living overseas and going to school with children from all over the world. I’ve read books and have attended conferences to learn more about these resilient kids. I’m following blogs of top experts on the subject and even blogs by adult TCKs to gain more understanding. I do all of this and still I wonder.

I’m sure you do too, or you wouldn’t be reading this post.

So, what can you do to pass down your heritage to your kids?

Celebrate the holidays. Yep, this is one way I am doing it. Independence Day for the US is in a few days. I’ve had the opportunity to read part of this book to my girls. I’ve planned crafts and activities to do with them as well.
Since we are in the US, we will get with family and grill and celebrate together. We might even be able to shoot some fireworks off ~ I say might because it is so dry it might not be safe.
The years we have been out of the US for the 4th of July, I have had to be more intentional in celebrating. Sometimes, we’ve been able to attend parties hosted by the embassy. Other years we celebrated with just a few friends around the grill. And there has been a few years where it was just our family. But, no matter what, we brought out the red, white, and blue.
If you are a US citizen and wondering about some free simple activities that you can do with your kids, here are some ideas that I did this year with the girls.
1. Printed out simple readers that they colored and made into books. Click here for site.
2. Printed out some worksheets of the flag and the eagle. Click here for site. Note this site has some things for older kids as well.
3. Free coloring sheets here.
4. Glitter glue fireworks.                                                
Click here for the website.                                5. Blow-Paint fireworks here.
Super Easy, little messy. 

Your Turn: Do you celebrate your home country’s holidays with your children? If you’re a TCK, did your parents teach you about specific holidays from their home country? Was it helpful, why or why not? Please comment below. I would LOVE to hear your ideas, thoughts or if you have other activities to share, please do!

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