The Leaving Series Part 6: Leaving and Staying

I’ve so enjoyed this little series on leaving and want to thank again all those who have sent in stories to share. Today’s guest post comes from an ATCK who writes books for and about TCKS. You can find my interview with Valérie about her book, B at Home: Emma Moves Again here. Please welcome, Valérie and what she as to say about being left behind.

At most international schools, June is marked as the ‘leaving month’. Last year, I wrote a piece here specifically about leaving and saying goodbye. It was prompted by people leaving, people close to us dying, and a lot of grief. “Partir, c’est mourir un peu” (translation: Leaving is to die a little), but I have come to realize that staying is as well. This school year, my focus is shifting towards ‘staying’.

Clearly, being left behind by loved ones who pass is an entire different kind of loss. The abruptness of death’s goodbye can be heartbreaking and so few words of comfort can do justice. However, in terms of the global mobile lifestyle, we are often granted the luxury of anticipating goodbyes. Staying au lieu of leaving confronts us with just as much loss. Perhaps even more, because when others leave, we are left with a certain emptiness. And as the emptiness is not filled with all the new input that comes along with starting again somewhere else, the emptiness can sometimes be more overwhelming than we imagine. After all, when we stay, we are not confronted with intense changes to our lives on almost every front. Yet, our lives do change forever.

Last year, I had to say good bye to one of my closest friends and her family. When they left, my daughters and I had to part with certain small rituals and traditions that we had built up together with my friend and her daughters. At the ages of three and one, my girls didn’t understand why we didn’t have regular play-dates any more. Even after traveling on many trans-atlantic flights to visit grandparents, distance is not an easy concept for a young child. Months after our friends left, my three-year-old would still ask if we would meet up with her friend when we drive to the local playground or in the general direction of their old house.

When we are the leaver, or the mover, nothing can ever replace what or who we leave behind, but eventually the transition curve catches up and excitement about what is new catches on. When we are left behind, eventually things do fill up the empty space that other leave, but we all know that filling up never replaces. And then the seasons pass, and the people who fill up our lives become the very ones who we grow another attachment to and who we will need to say goodbye to at another point. The cycle of mobility doesn’t stop, and most of us wouldn’t even want it to.

As an ATCK, teacher and mother, and passionate about the subject of children and mobility, I do believe we can help our children become strong leavers and stayers. With the luxury of anticipation, and the research-based evidence of the effects of unresolved grief and mobility on a child’s life, we owe it to our children and students to provide them with the tools and language to say goodbye properly. To be able to leave well and to be able to be left behind well, is the beginning of intentionally jumping into a new journey.

As many TCKs feel that their idea of ‘home’ is associated with a sense of belonging, this attachment to ‘home’ changes when people around them leave. It is important to ensure that they are supported in their transitions as well. Just as there is an art to leaving well, there is most certainly an art to staying (as) well. For the first time in my adult life, I am moving into my sixth year in the same house, in the same town, holding the same job. For the first time I am starting to feel like a stayer, without losing sight of the probability of leaving again one day, and it is putting so much in perspective.

Thanks Valérie for taking time to write for us today. 

VBesanceney booksOriginally Dutch, Valérie Besanceney grew up changing schools and countries five times as a child. She is a quintessential Third Culture Kid (TCK) turned adult, with a passion for traveling while cultivating a strong sense of home. Currently, home is in Switzerland, together with her American husband and their two daughters. Apart from writing, Valérie loves teaching Year 3 at an international school.

Valérie’s first book, B at Home: Emma Moves Again (Summertime Publishing), is a fictional “memoir” about the experiences of a ten-year-old girl and her teddy bear who have to move, yet again. During the different stages of their relocation, Emma’s search for home takes root. As the chapters alternate between Emma’s and her bear’s point of view, Emma is emotionally torn whereas B serves as the wiser and more experienced voice of reason.With this book, Valérie hopes to give younger TCKs a story that they can identify with while they experience their own challenging move.

Her second book, My Moving Booklet (Summertime Publishing), is designed to help children through the initial stages of an upcoming move. Moving can be exciting and terrifying at the same time. It can be very sad to say goodbye, but it can also be incredibly fun to experience new things and meet new people. Everybody experiences a move differently, but it is very important to say goodbye properly. This booklet allows children to truly welcome the new challenges and adventures that lie ahead of them, together with their parents and teachers. In many parts of the booklet, they will have the opportunity to either write about it, to draw a picture, or to glue on a photograph. This is their own unique story that one day will serve as a keepsake of a life-changing event.

Although both books are targeted at a younger TCK audience, Valérie also hopes to reach out to parents and educators of TCKs. You can find more information on her website: www.valeriebesanceney.com and Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/besanceneyvalerie.

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The Leaving Series Part 5: Leaving in a Hurry Doesn’t Mean Grieving in a Hurry

Today’s guest writer comes all the way from DjiboutiMany of you, I’m sure, are familiar with her writing. You may even be familiar with her story, but today she has so graciously opened up and shared even more of that evacuation from Somaliland and what she learned from that traumatic experience. Please welcome, Rachel Pieh Jones.

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In 2003 my family evacuated from Somaliland. I have written about it here (The Big Round Table) and here (Brain Child) but the short story is that we had thirty minutes to pack a small bag and leave and I didn’t go back for over ten years.

We first flew to Ethiopia, where we stayed for three days. Then we flew to Kenya where we stayed for three months. Then we resettled in Djibouti and have now stayed here for eleven years.

In the flurry between that final phone call and when we started the drive to the airport, my husband and I had to close down our house, remember to grab the essentials, keep our toddler twins from becoming frightened, and hold our own broiling emotions and thoughts in check.

There were a few flashes of fear, a few brief tears, even some laughter as I helped the kids wave goodbye to friends they couldn’t see and toys they had left behind. But there was no time to fully feel the impact of what was happening. We had to function, keep moving, don’t think, don’t feel. Just get out.

The emotions struck like an earthquake two days later.

I had to walk away from our family meal at a cafeteria. I climbed rickety stairs in the hotel in Ethiopia, up to our tiny room. I lay down on the bed and cried.

Once the ‘just get out’ had been accomplished and everyone was safe, once we had informed our families and read some newspaper headlines, once we had time to sit down and breathe and no work to rush off to since we were in limbo-land, I started to see flashes of the faces of the people we had left. I started to think about what had happened to cause our flight, the gunshots and dead bodies. The what-ifs.

I kept crying off and on for a few days. When the kids asked about whether or not they would see their friends again, when the kids asked after a book we hadn’t brought along, when my husband asked where we should go and we tried to talk about work prospects.

We flew to Kenya where we received some post-trauma counseling. We made plans to move to Djibouti, on the invitation of a Somali friend who wanted my husband to work with him, teaching. We moved on.

But the aftershocks of grief followed us and occasionally shook the ground, unexpected. I was surprised by this. We hadn’t lived there long, no one I loved had been killed. Just a home, possessions, work, and an idea of what the future would look like. But it was still loss and so I learned to let myself feel it. I was also surprised by the resurgence of it now and again into the following months.

I still thought about people, still wondered what had happened after we left. Who was now taking care of the chickens in our yard? Who would keep the dirt watered so the neighbor’s goats could come and munch weeds? Who would hire our guard so he could continue to provide for his family? And I thought about all that we hadn’t finished – my husband hadn’t finished the semester at the University. What about his students?

Eventually the sadness faded, as we stepped into the new place and new life, and after a long time, as I began to feel at home in Djibouti, I came to think of our village in Somaliland with nostalgia. Sadness had somehow transformed into a tender affection. Gratitude even, for the privilege we had been given of a few short months living there. I don’t think that is what happens with all forms of grief, not even close. This is one of the biggest things I have learned about loss. It comes in all shapes, sizes, and time frames and so does the grief that follows. Leaving in a hurry doesn’t mean grieving in a hurry. And so enters grace. Grace on ourselves and on others to allow each other to uniquely grieve.

Thanks Rachel for sharing with us today. I really appreciate your willingness to share your grief with us. I love your last few sentences, which is why I bolded them. Such wisdom.

If you still would like to share your leaving story with us, you can contact me at mdmaurer135{at}gmail{dot}com. I will be closing the series in a few weeks unless I hear from more writers. I’ve truly enjoyed reading and gleaning insights from you all.

Here are links to the other stories if you didn’t get a chance to read them: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4

djiboutijonesRachel Pieh Jones lives in Djibouti with her husband and three children. She has written for the New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, FamilyFun, Babble, the Big Roundtable, and Running Times. Visit her at: Djibouti Jones, her Facebook page or on Twitter @rachelpiehjones

The Leaving Series Part 4: Leaving the African “Nest”

bloemkleinprofielToday’s Leaving Story comes from a fellow blogger I started following years ago. I was drawn to Janneke’s blog, DrieCulturen, because I felt a connection with her writing. She was one of the few European writers sharing their TCK stories – it helped me understand my husband a bit more. Today, Janneke’s shares her story along with some insightful tips to help your university-bound TCK. 

May 1989. For most people it was a normal day in mundane life. This was not so for everyone. In the suburbs of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, Africa there a 19 year old young girl was frantically trying to fit the last things into her bags. Between the last-minute packing were the last minute goodbyes. Very soon the car was leaving for the airport so there was little time to spare. Her viola would be part of her hand luggage; her tennis racket was strapped with broad tape onto the viola so that it would accompany her, too. Her parents, brothers and sister would all see her off at the airport. Of course there was a last family photo in front of the map of Zimbabwe. This was a historical moment.

Zimbabwe vertrek 1989

The 19 year old was leaving home. She was leaving “the nest”, spreading her wings and flying out into the unknown! She was the firstborn so she was the one to pave the way for her siblings. So with her head up, and gathering all her earthly belongings, she was going to board the aeroplane. Walking on the pavement heading to the plane the strap of her bag broke, obviously her bag was not designed for the amounts of luggage she had piled into it. Was this how the rest of her journey would go? In front of all the farewell sayers she was once again grabbing her belongings together and trying to make it to the plane in time. One last quick wave and she was out of sight. Finding her seat was easy, she was a routine traveller. The engines started, and then it was time for take-off. One last glimpse of the ones she loved, of the country she loved, of everything that was so well known to her. Before she could stop it there were tears streaming over her face. Not just a few tears, it seemed like a dam wall had broken and there were floods of tears. Something like the Victoria waterfalls in the rainy season. The tears were uncontrollable.

The past week had been busy and filled with goodbyes. There had even been a goodbye party, with school friends and friends from the church youth group. They had had a lot of fun, there had been lots of laughter but there had also been the painful goodbyes.

This was the country where her family had lived the past 6 years. Here she had cycled to school daily, she passed her driving test, she had received her first kiss, her first dance, her first date, she had turned eighteen, been a school prefect and she had written her “O” and “A” level GCSE school exams. This was the continent where she was born. Here she had learnt to walk, run, play, and laugh.

 In Africa she knew she wasn’t African and she thought it was because she was Dutch. Now, in Holland she found out that she is not really like the Dutch people either. Where was home? She remembered that her younger sister had asked that questions years ago. Her sister decided that “home” was where her bed was!

Of course I am the person in this story. I am the one that was born abroad. I am the one who was called “the foreigner” at secondary school. I am the one that did not quite fit in. I am the “hidden immigrant”.

Looking so Dutch but not knowing how to weigh the fruit and vegetables in the supermarket. I remember observing the people around me, watching to see how others did it. How do you use the buses and the trains? Were the supermarkets open on public holidays or not? Some times I asked questions, but people would look at me and you could hear them thinking “how can she be so ignorant?” Which brand margarine should I buy? There were just too many choices to make. Even more difficult was: what clothes do you wear and what must you buy? I had been used to wearing school uniforms all my life. As a young child my mother always tailored the dresses, she even did the hairdressing.

Looking back, I think I was not fully prepared for this flight out of the nest. It turned out that I made a crash landing but somehow I survived. I still miss the warmth of the African sun. My heart yearns. My heart longs. I miss the continent of my first kiss.

Tips:

  1. Prepare your kids for their transition to university.
  2. Talk lots about the emotions, expectations and practical things.
  3. Read the book “A Global Nomad’s guide to university transition” by Tina Quick and give your young adult a copy.
  4. If possible transition with your child or make sure there are family and friends near their university, where they can easily visit.
  5. Make sure they have heard the term “third culture kid”, something I did not know.
  6. Choose a college or university that is internationally minded, where there are more TCKs or international students, chances are your TCK will feel more at home in this environment.

Thanks, Janneke for sharing your story with us! If you’d like to read other stories about leaving please click on the links: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

Remember, if you’d like to share your own story, there is still time to get them in. Click here for details.

eigen foto Janneke Muyselaar-Jellema is an adult third culture kid, M.D., and blogger @DrieCulturen “all about kids growing up in other cultures”. You can also find out more about her story as a guest writer for Rachel Pieh Jones here.

 

 

 

The Leaving Series Part 3: You Can Take it with You

Welcome to Part 3 of The Leaving Series. If you are just reading for the first time, you may want to go back and catch Part 1 and Part 2.

Today’s post if from another friend, who I have had the opportunity to work with on team. Christa, may look short when standing next to her husband, but she is full of life and energy. I think you’ll sense that today as you read what she would have liked to have taken with her when she left…
Valley Of the Giants Western Australia

If you read the title and got upset then give me just one second because I am not talking about passing away, I am talking about moving. Of course it all depends on what the “it” is that you want to take with you. Our family lived in Shenyang, China for 12 years: both of our boys were born there and my husband and I were married there.

Before we left China there was quite a bit of debate about what everyone would be taking with us. When we decided to move, my children wanted to bring their best friends and every toy they had ever owned. My husband wanted to bring every book on the six bookcases in our home. I was much more unreasonable; I wanted to pack the Shenyang Imperial Palace, my best friends, my entire apartment, Starbucks, our school, every book in our home and every toy the boys had ever owned. We could negotiate on some of these items, but I did eventually have to admit that the Imperial Palace wouldn’t fit in my suitcase and I had to accept that skyping friends would be enough.

Our negotiation and moving process took an entire year. I started whittling down items as we used them. As I used items, I thought about whether I would give them to someone, sell them at the garage sale we would host, or pack them to take home. I would also figure out when would be the last time I would use that item then pack it in a box. Yes, in case you are wondering, I am a type A personality. Most stuff got left behind with beloved friends. When I visit now, I get to see my things being used by other people and I have to say it is one of the nicest feelings in the world.

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We worked out that we couldn’t take things with us but we could take experiences with us. We could take parts of the culture and language with us. We also got to take a lot of love and care with us because people did so much for our family to make sure we each knew we were cared for as we said goodbye.

We did quite a few things to make moving easier for the boys. We knew they would miss China, so we made sure to take a long trip around the country to see important places before we left. We talked with the boys and asked them what their favorite places were in Shenyang. We visited those places one last time to say goodbye. We made sure to talk through it with them when we were going to a certain place for the last time. We also made sure to take photos of them in those places. We let them help with packing their own things, so that their things didn’t just disappear one day. We also encouraged them to think through which items they would give to friends and which they could give to children in need. This made leaving things behind more acceptable to them because it was an act of generosity.

We looked to the future in Australia by talking about living close to a part of our family, going to the beach and having a house with a yard. We talked to them about what they were looking forward to and then made sure to mention those positive things with enthusiasm when we could.

The boys wanted a dog in Australia and my husband and I both thought that was reasonable request and something that could help them get through the transition. They looked forward to having Bolt, (our dog), for months and he has helped through emotionally difficult times. He has helped me, too when I think about it.

20.5The experiences, the culture and the language have stayed with us. We have made great Chinese friends here in Australia. I now write for a Chinese magazine here and we speak at a Chinese church in Perth. The boys talk about China often and have kept some of the language as well. The office Darren and I work at is a 5-minute walk from Chinatown in Perth and it is a wonderful way for us to stay connected to a place we all consider home or at least one of our homes. We celebrate the Chinese holidays and enjoy eating Chinese food as often as we can go to a restaurant or cook it. We also keep China in our home by having photos of friends from China, hanging scrolls and keeping things we brought with us from China displayed in the house.

Making sure to keep China a part of our lives, talking about it and participating in Chinese cultural events here in Perth has helped us to feel complete. There is no hole in our heart where China was because it has remained an integral part of what makes up our family. It is our children’s birthplace, and the place where Darren and I were married. Saying goodbye and moving to a new place cannot diminish how important China was and is to us.

Head Shot (1)Christa and her husband lived in China for 12 years. She met her husband, Darren, in China and they married there. Both of their two boys were born in China andlived there until 4 years ago. They moved to Australia, her husband’s home country, in 2010. She has been working with TCKs and other expats since moving to Australia. She is also the China promotions manager for Stacey College and Director of Student Services for Sheridan College. As part of her work she assists students in coming to Australia to study. You can visit her blog at staceycollege.com.

 

Thanks Christa for sharing today! So, readers, what do you want to take with you as you are preparing to leave? For those of you who have transitioned, what are other things that you were surprised about that may have followed you to the next destination? Share in the comments below!

The Leaving Series – Part 1: Taking Time to Process

Today I start off the series with my own leaving story. If you’d like to share your story email me an original story with some pictures at mdmaurer135{at}gmail{dot}com.

Though I have moved quite a bit this one was the hardest for me…

It is said that the process of moving starts six months before you actually take your mountain of luggage to the airport to leave behind family or friends that have become extended family. For me, those six months were full of anticipation, grief, craziness, and mixed with a sprinkling of peace. I’ve been in a place now for a few years where I can share the story without tears.

It was a move that I did NOT want to make.

It was a place with some major history for me  – engagement, marriage, and children.

It was a move of LOST dreams and dear friends that had become family.

It was our move from mainland China to Taiwan*.

In those last six months we got our match for the adoption and a 13-month old beautiful girl joined our family – four months BEFORE we left.20150416_110521

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“I’m a US citizen now!”

During this time of building RAFTs, saying good-byes, and deciding what to ship to Taiwan we took important trips to Guanzhou and Hawaii for Mei Mei’s US citizenship, neither trip restful. It was a crazy roller coaster ride in my life. I was jerked left, then right, and spinning upside down in speeds that I could not control. I wanted it to slow down. I wanted to relish every last minute in the place I had come to love dearly. I needed it to slow down – to process what was going on.

 

 

 

My wise husband planned a time for our family…

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After we said our teary good-byes to two very special ladies we boarded a plane to Hong Kong for a one week vacation on Cheung Chau Island which was exactly what my broken heart needed – a place to slow down and let my heart start to catch up with my mind. No more packing, no more good-byes, just rest.

From there we traveled to Taiwan to drop off some bags and to begin the process of our resident visas, then on to the US to visit family. During our time in the US, we were sent to a pre-field orientation by our new school. I know it sounds ridiculous that we’d been on the field for about ten years and going to a pre-field orientation, but I’m so glad we did. It was another time of processing for me. While my children were being cared for in the children’s program and my husband was attending meetings to help him with work related issues, I attended sessions for the trailing spouse. I cried some ugly tears during those sessions. My heart was allowed time to grieve.

I can’t say that there were no more tears after we arrived and settled in our new home. There were more, but what I can say is that the time we spent away reflecting and grieving were important, nay vital, for me.

If you are in the process of packing to move, can I suggest that after you leave and before you get to the new home that you plan a retreat to reflect on all that you have just gone through. To let your heart catch a breath, to rest, to grieve, to begin to dream of the next place. It’s not just good for you, but would be good for your kids as well.

Take time to say good-bye well.

Take time to remember those you left.

Take time to reflect on those last few whirlwind days.

Take time to grieve – it’s part of the process. Don’t fight it, just go along with it knowing it will get better with time. (I know, so cliche to say, but it’s true!)

And if possible, take time to go away to do the above. It is good for the mind to have a bit of a break BEFORE entering the new.

*Please note, that I’m not saying Taiwan is or is not its own country – that is too political and complicated. What I am saying is that I moved from a place governed by Communism to a place that is not. Also, each place is culturally different due to their history. 

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Arrived in Taiwan with a double stroller – HA!

 

Good-bye book

As parents we want to help our children adjust to changes as best we can. Living the nomadic lifestyle of an expat leads to a childhood where the ebb and flow of transitions becomes a normal feeling for our kids. People come and go in and out of their life just like waves lap with the tides – in and out, in and out.

It is consistent in that it constantly is moving, but just like waves transitions are not always graceful and easy. Sometimes they are stormy and just plain hard.

How can we help our kids through these times, especially if they are really young? Help them build a RAFT. This could look different for you, but for me it was making a Good-bye Book. Basically, I took pictures of people and places that were their favorite and made a book for them. After our move, we’d pull out the books and look at the photos and talk about the places that we left. It was good for all of us.

I’m a writer, so I crafted them after story books themes that I thought might work with each city. The kids were really young, so I used ideas that would appeal to that age, so we could go back and look at them after we moved. Now that the kids are older, I think I’ll still do something like this but use an online photo book to be printed out and get their input as well – cause I’m sure GeGe and Mei Mei will NOT want a toddler type book this time around.

Below are some pictures of different books that I did. They still like to go through and look at the pictures. They don’t remember the places, but it allows us to retell stories from those places to connect them to their own past. It helps them to develop their own story beginning…

Ge Ge was almost two when we left Shenyang, so I used an ABC style for his.

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When we left Wuhan, I made Mei Mei an Acrostic Book to remember her first home with us as a Maurer.
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For Ge Ge’s Wuhan Book, I did a theme on colors instead of the ABC’s. You can see that I did do an ABC book of Wuhan, but it was for Jie Jie.
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And speaking of stories, remember that I am still taking stories for The Leaving Series. There is NO deadline, just email me your story and some pictures if you have any. I will publish one story each Thursday. I’ll start the first of the series this Thursday – so if you don’t want to miss these stories make sure you are subscribed to receive notifications in your inbox. You can also like the Facebook page and get information about other places on the web that reports about raising kids overseas.

Saying Good-bye…The Leaving Series

When I look back at my history of blogging, I noticed that I have written a lot about leaving, or saying good-bye. I’ve written about the importance of saying ithelping our kids through it; and how it just plain stinks. I’ve also written about the importance of sharing our past with our kids and taking them back to the places where we once said good-bye. And although, these posts may be helpful – possibly even inspiring – I have found something to be even more powerful. Story.

Stories are powerful tools that can speak from the heart of the writer to the heart of the reader. We connect in the story as we see that our own story is sometimes quite similar, yet different. We feel the pain of saying good-bye; or the relief of the hard-to-deal-with drama; or the difficult times of trying to balance our own emotions while trying to comfort our children in their time of uncertainty. We learn from the hardships of moving valuable lessons about life and living in this nomadic life, called expatriating.

And being that time of year, when so many of you are probably looking at your homes and trying figure out what to save, sale, or throw away, I thought maybe you’d like to read about others who have gone before you. Real people who have packed up all their belongings and moved away from dear and precious friends – and possibly first friendships of your children.

Or maybe you need to share your own story….

So, I’m asking you to share your leaving stories. It can really be anything – from the hardest move to the easiest move. It could be about your most memorable move or a tip on how you helped your kids move. It can be moving for the first time to repatriating back to your passport country. It could be from a parent’s perspective or from your childhood (TCKs welcome, so much to learn from you all as well!). I’m hoping to get my husband to write out a guest post here for this as well.

You write it and I’ll post it! I’ll be posting them every Thursday for as long as I get submissions. I’ll start the first story next Thursday, April 16th. So here are the details.

  1. Email me your story at mdmaurer135(at)gmail(dot)com (please use a doc formatting)
  2. At the bottom of your story include a brief bio. Here is where you can share your blog site, books you’ve written, etc.
  3. Please also email me 2-3 pictures to go along with the story; one being a headshot to go with your brief bio.

Okay, so there you have it. So now write those stories. I really want to hear from you all.

Please also consider sharing this with your other friends you have that would be interested in writing a guest post. ~Thanks!