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.

Interview at Expat Child

Today, I’m over at Expat Child being interviewed. If you want to find out more about me and my thoughts about living overseas, then click here.

**I’ve been moving these past few weeks, so I’ve been quiet here. I’ve had a couple of you check in on me this week. Thanks for caring enough to ask. We are all doing well, just adjusting to new apartment and new school location.  *sigh* back to unpacking and lesson plans.

If you haven’t checked out Expat Child, you should. Great resource for those who are raising kids overseas.

Debunking the Excuse Rail – Part 2

For the first part of this series click here to read.IMG_2608

Living overseas can be adventurous and exciting. It can also be lonely and hard – even if you have a family. I’ve had my seasons of it all – or at least I think I should have by now, but I’m sure as seasons come and go they will each return at various times in my life.

One season that seems to return quite frequently is the Season of Feout (pronounced fe-out, combo of fear and doubt). This one pops up when I mention things or people from the US and my kids look at me with a blank stare. It also pops up in the fall when many Facebook friends start posting pics of their children at the pumpkin farms, hayrides they’ve taken, or tree leaves in their brilliant autumn colors. These I mentally add to my “list” of all the things I’m failing at with my kids because I have them here and not there. Here where there are no pumpkin patches, where the leaves don’t change colors, and hayrides? HA, we live in a mega-city. Here where they can’t get to know their grandparents, nor their cousins. Here where they constantly have to say good-bye to great friends who move. Here where “here” may be a new location in a year.

Do you relate to these “feout” questions I have sometimes? My mind can really get out of control with all the emotions swirling around.

I sometimes struggle – not always, just sometimes. It is during those times though that I want to “make-it-up” to my kids. I want to make up for all the losses they have because of the decision I made years ago – way before Uwe came into the picture – to live overseas. When we go to the US (or Germany) I want to take them to all the “fun” places – so they don’t miss out. I want to take them to baseball games, to amusement parks, to zoos, to farms/ranches, to fairs – whatever I can find. I sometimes want to make sure they “experience” the culture, not just hear about it through stories of my past.

Maybe you’ve not had these feelings above, but maybe you felt your children “deserved” something for all the loss in their lives. You know that the transitions are difficult, so you buy all the kids a smartphone so that they can “keep in touch” with their friends better. Or you think everyone deserves an iPad mini because let’s face it, it sure would make travel easier on the plane if everyone had their own. Or maybe you feel just the opposite. You feel as if you can’t give your children anything too nice because you work for a relief organization or are a missionary – and it just wouldn’t look good to those who support your work.

Either way, it’s all an excuse.

An excuse to do, buy, or not to buy for our kids (and let’s face for ourselves, too). Fact is that transitions are hard. Fact is my kids are going to miss out on some of my cultural activities. Fact is our kids are going to be fine. Yes, they will be fine if I take them to every fun thing I can find, or if we just play in the grandparents’ backyards. They will be fine if I buy them all an iPad mini or (more likely) not buy any. Point is, they will be fine. I shouldn’t, and neither should you, fall into that trap that we should “make-it-up” to our kids for living overseas. If you want to buy them an iWhatever, then do it. If you don’t have the money, don’t feel guilty. If you want to “experience” a cultural event like a baseball game with your child, then go. I really believe that our kids will remember the time we spent with them more than the actual event or gadget we buy them.

How do I know that our kids are going to be fine? I’m married to a TCK, have TCKs for friends, and have watched countless TCKs grow up. They all survived the experience – and most would say they are glad they grew up the way they did. That’s how I know my kids are going to be fine. This is how I get through those Seasons of Feout – I remind myself of other TCKs that were taken on this path. I don’t have to go far to be reminded – I just have look across the dinner table.

Your Turn: Have you ever had a “Season of Feout”? If so, how did you get through it? Please share in the comments below.

*Note: As far as I know “Feout” is my made up word from “fear” and “doubt”, but if it should be a word in another language please forgive me.

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An Expat’s Letter to Santa


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.

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*Photo Credit: Flickr, The Commons


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“Rise of the Guardians” and my TCK


My son just watched “Rise of the Guardians” a few nights ago with some friends. He came home and told my husband that it was a funny movie, but he had one question.

Who is the Sandman?

This could seem like a funny question, maybe even a dumb question to many parents. I mean, in today’s age kids have the opportunity to watch cable TV, Movie on Demand, Netflix, etc. One would think that they would be up-to-date on all the stories and fairy tales from their “home” country, right?

This is not always the case – and we need to remember that as parents. We can’t assume that they know everything about our home country. And with that assumption, we can’t assume that our kids will figure it out or transition well if/when they move there.

How can we help them?

I think the best way is to inform them that although they may look like everyone else, they will be different. Actually, they probably have already figured that out if they are in elementary school and have made the return trip to visit family. Although they may know this, do they know how to cope with it? Can we teach them how? Can we encourage them?

I think we can.

1. Clueless does not equal stupid. I believe this is an idea that many TCKs may battle with as they enter the “home” country and not know what everyone else round them seems to know. It could be TV shows, it could be an expression/idiom, or even a name of a candy. They will feel stupid, but they need to remember that they are not. We can help them by reminding them that they are going to experience it and that this situation is normal. They are definitely not stupid.

2. Laugh – Laughing brings healing and can soothe the heart. Learning to laugh at ourselves is not always easy, but it can be done. Kids need to see that everyone messes up and are not perfect. Maybe you can share with them a time you messed up culturally when you were home – because let’s get real, even we forget what “home” is like. Just this summer, I had trouble counting money in my home country – It’s moments like this that I want to use as a model for “marking it up” as a living-overseas moment for me. For them, a TCK moment. Nothing more.

3. Bridge-people – You may have heard this term when you first moved overseas – you know the person that can help you understand the new culture better, be the bridge for you. I think this is needed for older children who transition into their parent’s home country. They need someone around their age who can help them navigate the teenage/university cultural differences. Someone who has been there and can relate to them, possibly another TCK or mentor who understands the issues of TCKs.

Whoever thought that the one to bring sleep and good dreams would turn out to be the one that stumped a TCK. Thanks Sandman for helping me remember that though my kids live in a world of technology, they still will not get all of my home country’s culture.

Your Turn: What have you seen from your children in regards to “missing out” on the home culture and helping your children cope with this transition issue. Please share in the comments below.

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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.


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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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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Adoption Awareness Month: Our story

Why did you adoptasked an elderly Chinese lady at the playground.

Why not? I asked her back.

She shrugged and said it was not Chinese culture to do such things. I nodded in understanding, but saddened that it wasn’t. This mini-conversation took place a little over five years ago in mainland China. The lady wasn’t mean or snide. She truly wanted to know why I would choose to adopt a child whose ancestors we know nothing about.

Why did you adopt? asked a young mother holding her crippled boy.

You know that I’m a Christian, and well it was God. I really honestly can’t explain it any other way. I answered back not sure how she would react to my response. We had just discussed therapy exercises that Jie Jie was doing. (In case you are new, Jie Jie is my daughter with Cri-du-Chat; Mei Mei is my adopted Chinese daughter). I knew that she was thinking we were crazy for adopting after knowing we had a special needs daughter.

The above, I’m sure, is what most people think when they first meet our family. It may even have been your thought when you read our “About Me” page. I know that would be my first thought reading such a thing about another family. Are they crazy?

Honestly, I can only say it was a God-thing. Before Jie Jie was born, we fostered a newborn orphan for ten months. I was not able to adopt at that time due to my age, and we moved to a new city and couldn’t take her with us. She was almost a year old when we left her with a kind Chinese lady who we trusted. It was so difficult, but peaceful.

It was God’s plan.

After Jie Jie was born, we looked into the adoption process, but a few weeks later Jie Jie was very ill, which led to the mountain of tests and onto the summit of the result: Cri-du-Chat with silent aspiration. Our dreams of adopting were zapped. We really believed that  with her physical needs – and not to leave out the medical bills – there would be no way that we could even think about adopting at that point.

Two months later, back in our city in mainland China, we received the news that the little Chinese girl that we had fostered was taken back to the orphanage. We were mortified and sick. We prayed about it. Uwe asked me what was holding me back with adopting – was it Jie Jie’s needs or money. Jie Jie’s needs were not that “difficult”, we were able to feed her very easily and I was doing therapy with her at home. It was money. He felt the same. We decided right there that IF God was wanting us to adopt, then He’d provide the finances to pay off the medical bills and for the adoptions.

Long story short, God provided for all of those things to happen within two months. The surprise was that this little girl that we had fostered was not the girl God had in mind for us to adopt. In a matter of a few weeks, after we had our home study completed (which was a miracle to get an appointment so quickly), we found out that the fostered girl had been adopted.

Grief, sadness, mixed with anger swept my husband and I. Though, as we searched our hearts and God, we realized that His plan was this: To just use this foster girl as a catalyst to get Mei Mei into our family. (I believe He used it to cause the family who was fostering her to adopt her as well. She was back in their home in about two months time.) **By the way,we had asked this family if they were adopting or not and they had told us “No” in words, but in Chinese culture were telling us “Yes”. A lesson learned in culture clashing – in a later post, maybe.

We never would have seriously considered adopting had the foster child not been taken back. God used that tough situation to move us forward.

So see, I really can’t answer that question any other way. It really was God who brought Mei Mei into our family and I will be forever grateful that He did. I love that bundle of energy and passionate little girl.

The month of November is apparently Adoption Awareness Month. I really hadn’t heard of it until just last week, but what a great idea. There are so many children around the world in need of a home. Don’t worry, I’m not going to pressure you to make a commitment to adopt, but I would like you to at least give it a thought.

If you know you can’t adopt or even foster, what can you do to help these kids out? Ask the local social worker, schools, or orphanages how you can help them. At the very least, you could pray for these children to find forever families of their own.

Your Turn: If you have adopted share your story. It doesn’t have to be an overseas adoption. If you are thinking about it and have any questions, please ask. I will try to answer if I can. Please comment below.

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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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The Importance of Good-bye

The last ride last night.

My guys left for the airport a few hours ago. They both needed to get back home. I am staying in the US for another month with the girls.

Each time we leave a place we make sure that we and the kids get the opportunity to say Good-bye, especially with family. Yesterday was that day for them. Most of my siblings came over for supper. One even brought their horses and dog so Ge Ge could have one last ride. After 10pm, hugs were given and some tears were shed. It was hard to watch.

More Good-byes this morning. More tears. This time harder for me to watch. Last night the tears were going out the door with them, but this morning as they pulled away in my sister-in-law’s blue Durango I witnessed the heartache of my family left behind. A behind-the-scenes moment if you want to call it that. Watching my mother and nephew was gut wrenching.

I’d like to skip this process and just sneak out when the time comes in a month. Bypass the tears. Skip the downcast faces. Miss the awkward silences of trying to come up with another topic to talk about to avoid the final good-bye. It sounds like a good plan, but my family would be furious and I know that the process of “grief” is needed for both sides.

Closure is needed. I’ve known this and my husband has made it a high priority to make sure good-byes are said properly.

 Properly = Eye contact, hug/handshake, and the words “Good-bye, Thank-you, Love you” spoken when appropriate.

The winter of 2009 my father passed away and I saw the huge importance of saying Good-bye. The previous summer we had the opportunity to be in the US with them. We had no idea it would be our last with him.

Yesterday we went to the cemetery with the kids. Mei Mei broke down crying because she wanted to hug him, to tell him Good-bye. I was able to remind her that we did that when we saw him last. We prayed and asked God to give him a hug for us and to let him know that we loved him. My heart was heavy, but so thankful that we were intentional about saying “Good-bye” that final summer.

We can’t know for sure when life here on earth is over. People die in car wrecks, plane crashes, and illnesses everyday. For this reason, each time we return “home” I have made it a point to make sure that I and the kids let the people in our lives know they are loved and special.

Your Turn: Do you do anything special with family when you leave them to return “home”? Please share in the comments below.

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