6 Tips For Launching A High School Grad – For Expat Parents

Are you living internationally and have a son or daughter off to university, or taking a gap year? This is a normal life stage but has extra weight for the expatriate family.

PraiseHigh school grad is a cycle of mixed emotions – pride, fear, joy, dread, pride… You see your child going through similar emotions as the life they know ends. All that’s familiar is no longer, except the memories held in their hearts and the belongings stuffed in their suitcase.

One of the things that makes it harder for expat parents is hearing just how hard it is for our TCK’s as they adjust back in their passport culture. The experts use words like “excruciating, difficult, profound losses…”

Their journey is a double adjustment – the transition to living life as an independent adult AND adjusting to the ‘new culture’ of their passport country. There’s a season (often long and twisted) of grief, as they experience loss. There’s also excitement as they live new opportunities. A simple question “Where are you from?” can send them into a mind muddled panic! There’s a sense of not fitting in. Feeling like a foreigner. This is all a part of their journey.

The fear we feel as their parents grips our hearts and keeps us awake at night. It’s very real. How can we contribute to their success?

6 Tips for Making the High School to University Transition Successful

1. Set up support systems. As a parent, planning ahead and connecting them with resources they need is crucial. Begin this process early in grade 12. Get them involved – the more they take ownership, the more they’ll continue on their own. Some ideas:

– Read “The Global Nomad’s Guide to University” by Tina Quick. An excellent resource with much information. This will give you shared understanding and language to continue talking when apart.
– Plan for them to spend the summer in their passport country. Getting a job, driver’s license, set up a routine and meeting people will help adaptation prior to their leaving for university.
– Send them to a TCK re-entry camp. What could be better than spending time with other TCK’s learning and preparing for what’s ahead?

o In the US: Barnabas; Interaction International; Narramore Christian Foundation; Godspeed Resources Connection
o Canada: Reboot RebootI teach each summer at Reboot!
o Sweden: MBT
o The UK: Reconnect for Teens

– Other resources:

o Daraja in the US, offers bridge semesters to help the transition across cultures from high school through college.
o Sea Change Mentoring helps guide international teens and young adults in developing into happy and successful adults through mentoring.

2. Speak words from your heart. Parting words of love are best said before the good-byes at the airport.

– Trust your heart. Each of you will want to say different things. Don’t regret not saying them. Be intentional. Some important words are:

Speak The Words of Your Hearto “You don’t have to be strong for us”. As a TCK I felt I needed to be strong for my parents and thus didn’t deal with the grief I felt. I’ve seen this often with the TCK’s I coach.
o “This transition probably won’t be easy. We aren’t going to pretend and you don’t need to either.”
o “Do your best. You’ll make mistakes. That doesn’t mean you’re a mistake. That’s how you learn. We’ll be here no matter what.”
o “Your experiences are what make you different. There is nothing wrong with you and no, you aren’t a misfit.”

– Have a family celebration of affirmation and encouragement – one way to make meaningful memory.
– Be authentic at the airport and keep things light. This scene will be with etched in your mind until you see each other again.

3. Give ongoing support once they are at university.

– Encourage their search for other TCK’s – international students, foreign students, exchange students. They will have a sense of belonging with these who have a similar background. If there’s an “international student orientation” suggest they attend. Mukappa is a support group on US campuses for TCK’s.
– Connect them with a school counselor and if the counselor doesn’t have experience with TCK’s, give them the book “Belonging Everywhere and Nowhere” by Lois Bushong.
– Allow them to lead the relationship, including conversations. Be curious with a few questions rather than exhausting them with too many. Hear stories, not just lists of tasks. Instill laughter! Cut the conversation gently if fear begins to overwhelm you.
– Don’t take silence personally. They have much to adjust to and need to be fully present to their lives, rather than having to meet your expectations. It’s easy as parents to assume things aren’t going well when silence happens. It likely means they are making friends and trying to figure it all out. Connecting around time zones can be a challenge. Texts are a good way to communicate.

4. Redefine your relationship. The relationship will be different now that they don’t live under your roof and you don’t have shared experiences.

Mother and Daughter– Shift skills of parenting to “coach mentorship” (this is already done during the teen years). DON’T MANAGE. Wait for them to ask for your opinion. Be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to frustration or fear.
– Love well, especially during the times you feel disappointed in the choices your child makes. Use words and actions to send the message “There is nothing you can do to make me love you more, and nothing you can do to make me love you less.”
– If you sense they’re struggling, respond in love, don’t react with trying to fix things. Hear their heart. Share your own university stories to relate. Pray with them. Ask them what one thing they can do to help themselves and one resource person they can reach out to. Allow them to feel the natural consequences of their choices, however hard it is.
– Affirm and encourage. The Greek word for encourage means “instill courage”. That’s what your kid needs from you now more than ever!

5. Don’t forget the siblings. This transition is a family affair and each goes through a stage of loss and grief as the relationship becomes long distance.

Siblings– Allow siblings to connect. Prep them as to what can be asked and shared from their lives ahead of time, especially if they are younger. At times they won’t feel like connecting – best to leave it be and try again another time.
– Be attentive to feelings, listening, validating and giving space for whatever comes.
– Think of ways to keep ‘alive’ the child who has left by speaking of them, imagining what they are doing and remembering fond times together.

6. Take care of yourself

– Don’t let your junk spill into their junk! If you’re a TCK, your issues will likely come to the surface. Deeper healing for you as you attend to you.
– Choose perspectives that empower.
– Don’t build monuments to your grief or fear. Have a plan for these emotions.
– Give yourself, your kid and God credit. You’ve spent years building into your child’s life – and have taught them through your example. So much of what you taught will now be given the chance to be applied and lived out. Your young adult is capable – look for surprises along the way. Trust. Touché to all!

Keep your eye on the long term, knowing that time will produce a harvest for what you’ve sowed in the life of your global nomad! Supporting you to live from strength as a family as you make this challenging transition,

Becky Signature 2 (Matchullis-PC's conflicted copy 2014-11-13)

 

 

P.S – What do you have to add to this? Leave a comment below.

Repatriate With Resolve

FamilyRepatriation. Not a neutral word. It illicits a response. Eyebrows raised in curiosity. Bristled hairs on the back of the neck in panic. Hands over ears in avoidance.

Quotes from expatriates who have been there and done that:
“Coming home was more difficult than going abroad because you expect that you know what it’s like. I felt like an alien in my own country. I had changed. Friends weren’t interested in our experiences. Emotionally I was fragile. I felt like I had Alzheimer’s because I couldn’t remember things. I kept thinking ‘this can’t be me’.” Accompanying spouse from 3 year assignment in Malaysia to USA

“I felt a sense of loss when we returned to the UK. I miss the mixing with different nationalities. I was no longer a part of a small community where everyone looks out for each other. The kids went through a messy time and I wondered if I’d ever get my life back!” Expatriate wife and mom

“I stayed with the same company, but lost benefits. They gave me less responsibility at a lower management level and didn’t recognize or seem to appreciate the tremendous experience I had as a senior manager or the skills and expertise I had gained. I felt demoralized.” Employed partner transferring back to Canada from China

When we returned from Cambodia to Canada, I’d stare blankly at the aisles of choice in the grocery store and go home empty handed and overwhelmed. Decision making was hard. Worry consumed me – Would the kids be safe? Would they do well in school and make friends? Would I find a job? We longed to share our experiences with others, but found within minutes their eyes would glaze over. As a family we called it ‘lizard eyes’ and at the dinner table would ask, ‘how many lizard eye looks did you get today?’! Deeper than that was the tendency to judge, the emotional rollercoaster ride, and the sense of ‘misfit’ that seemed would never end. [Read more…]

4 Strategies for Resilient Parenting in Transition

It is one thing to personally navigate the chaos in transition when living abroad, but adding parenting to the mix takes resilience to a whole different level! Sometimes downhill and backwards I’ve found! That’s where resilience resides –the DOWNHILL and BACKWARDS reverses to UPHILL and FORWARDS. There’s never resilience without first hardship and pain.

Here are some journal excerpts from a few of my dark days as a parent in cross cultural relocation transition:

“I’m in survival mode.
Living in family, yet very alone.
Can’t seem to do much right these days.
Trying to hold the pieces of me together.
But they keep falling apart.
Like the parenting piece.
I’m impatient. Angry.
Controlling or uninvolved and distant.
I want my pain to disappear. Their pain to vanish.
Instead I add pain through guilt and shame.
How am I not loving and kind, patient and understanding when we all need it the most?
How have I gotten to the place where I see my children as
a ‘problem to solve’ rather than a precious person that’s struggling, too?
God help me.”

You may feel overwhelmed with what’s happening with your kids or how you’re reacting to them in their distresses right now. Maybe they’re ok, but you’re not. You’re finding it hard to be the parent you want to be. Consider these strategies: [Read more…]

8 Tips to Spring Clean Your Marriage

Are you a spring cleaner? You may be living in an area of the world that doesn’t have ‘spring’, yet find yourself going through the physical motions of cleaning closets (or wardrobes, depending on where you live), cupboards, dressers and drawers. Spring clean is synonymous with ‘deep clean’ and many of us grew up with this tradition. Whether joy or drudgery, it’s now a practise. Now that I’m almost through spring cleaning this year (I do it a little at a time), I feel energized.
Spring cleaning isn’t just for the house. As a time of renewal, growth and possibilities, it’s the perfect season to assess your marriage relationship and bring in some fresh energy. [Read more…]

Tribute to Mom

With Mother’s Day on the weekend for the majority of countries around the world, I pay tribute to my mother, who modeled for me living resilience with joy as an expat and ministry partner. She passed 7 years ago May 5th. There are times I sense she’ll just show up. Occasionally still, my chest constricts and tears come with her loss, especially when life’s hard. There’s nothing like mom when the going gets tough.

Mom’s Early Years

The 6th of 13 kids, mom was raised in a Mennonite farming family in Saskatchewan, Canada. She really did walk 5 km. to and from school! As a young girl she was feisty. When she started school, she only knew ‘yes’ and ‘no’ in English. She chose ‘no’ to answer all questions and wasn’t at all popular with the teacher. She loved learning and had a mischievous twinkle in her eye that always said she was up to something.

Mom lived as an expat missionary in 3 different countries over a span of more than 20 years. In 1949 she began her expat life in China, after a long boat trip across the Pacific. Not the cruise ships we enjoy today. Fleeing after only 6 months because of the communist insurgence, she moved to Hong Kong, continued with language study and served a city of people living on boats.

As if that wasn’t quite enough change in 5 years, she chose to work for another mission agency, which meant candidate school (so it was called then). There she met my father, an eligible bachelor. Both were assigned to Malaysia. The mission’s policy for outgoing staff was once engaged, wait 2 years for marriage. Determination and commitment followed and they were married in a little village church, far from their family. Four of her five babies were born in Malaysia.

Mom raised us through many relocations and 2 repatriations, between the countries of Malaysia, Hong Kong and Canada.  [Read more…]

Soul Retreat: Living From Your Truth

I had a stunning view of the Rocky Mountains in front of me and the river meandering along a stony bed below, sitting in a Muskoka chair high on the ridge. The sun gave the large popcorn-shaped clouds above me a bronze ruffled-edged glow. The mountains were snow peaked, rugged and immovable.

This was my reality last weekend, out with some girlfriends away from Calgary to find soul rest. We were at Kingfold Retreat Centre. Time tends to consume me with its responsibilities and demands, pressures and challenges, moving me along the river of life at a frantic and tumbling, turbulent pace. I find I’m weary and longing for rest. Spiritual and soul renewal. I have learnt to take time; to swim, often it seems, upstream, to the river’s edge. This is where the water is less frantic, cool and calm. An ebb of peace and quiet. At first it feels foreign – lots of ‘what if’s’ and some fear that I won’t come away with what I expect. In the end, it’s what I need.

The quality of our outer life is always dependent on the quality of care we give to our soul.

[Read more…]

Spring Awakening ~ Highlights From the FIGT 2014 Conference

My anticipation grew as the plane took off from Denver, headed to Washington Dulles airport. An early morning flight had brought me from Calgary, one on which I dozed off, trying desperately to keep my head from falling onto the unknown shoulder next to me.

Families in Global Transition Conference 2014 was about to begin. My 5th time attending and 4th time having the honour of presenting – excitement brewed within. Memories of FIGT’s past flashed across the billboard of my mind: unknown feelings at the 1st conference, quickly replaced with a sense of “at home” – an unusual feeling for an ATCK (Adult Third Culture Kid). As a professional, I have gained new learning and tools to add to my tool kit. Networking is always a favourite part of FIGT. Their move from Houston to Washington – an “I-fit-here” sense with each conferences I attended. A place where understanding, respect and open-mindedness were mutually shared through presentations and amongst relationships. A bond created from both the excitement as well as the pain of international living.

What would make FIGT 2014 unique? It didn’t take long to find out. I hadn’t stepped both feet into the lobby, when I heard my name, and there was a friend. Someone I had met at a previous FIGT. Others that were on-line acquaintances. Many this year were new to the FIGT community, which added vibrancy. It felt like a family reunion – the kind where you’re enveloped in hugs, accepted for who you are, and challenged through questions and thought provoking conversations. [Read more…]

Family – Connected In Crisis

I gaze outward, around the table
Six of us leaning in
Faces furrowed in concern
The most precious people in the world to me,
Minus one.

We’ve dropped all, ceased living ‘our’ lives
Come together
Shoulders sagged, hearts bleeding
In crisis with one missing from the circle
Knowing the sum of us will be stronger than any one of us.

Family In PrayerPanic presses in, dark
Fear’s tentacles attempt to squeeze hope dry
Eye contact made – volumes said… understood
For we have lived life deep together
Then words – prayers and plans

I look upward, light surrounds us
Protecting and providing
Hope anticipated, peace settled
Perfect Love mingled with family connection
Bonded and fast, sure as the air we breathe

A precious hour, in the depths of this crisis
Strength from above
Ignites and fuels strength from within
Embracing, we stand shoulder to shoulder
Choosing Grace to see this battle won!

The past 10 days has been crisis for my family. We took it an hour at a time (sometimes minutes), and were reminded that life as abundant means living the good and bad days, crisis and victory, sorrow and joy, failure and triumph. Victory isn’t known without crisis; or joy known without sorrow; triumph without failure. As a family, we limped and leaned on each other for what was needed.

Expat families, whether in transition or tragedy, possess great strength to forge forward and push past survival mode.

[Read more…]

COMPLETING 2013 and CREATING 2014 as a COUPLE, Guaranteeing a Better Expat Marriage

One sure way to make 2014 a successful year as a couple is to take time to connect around what went well last year and what you’d like to see happen this year.

3 Steps to A Better Relationship in 2014

[Read more…]

COMPLETING 2013 and CREATING 2014 New Year’s Reflections and Intention Setting for Expat Success

Open DoorWelcome to 2014! The door has opened to a whole fresh year! What do you see as you peer through your door? What thoughts come? How do you feel? Maybe anticipation or excitement. Overwhelm or fear. Perhaps there’s a sense of numbness or grief. Joy or peace. Whatever it is for you – it’s ok. I’ve felt all of these at a new year or another, depending on the season I’m experiencing. Wherever you’re at, join me in looking at the ritual of reflection and intention setting.

Why not resolutions? Honestly, I’ve never liked New Year’s resolutions! They tend to be promised plans for self-improvement – to do something “more, better or different”. I then fall flat on my face in failure by the end of January, having me feel worse about myself and the start of a new year. Not a good way to open the door to 2014!

There’s no magic formula that says the last day of December is for reflection and the first day of January is for intentions. I like to take my time, well into January, because I’ve learnt that pondering and preparing infuses passion to carry through on what I choose. I encourage you to take time for both reflection and intention these next weeks. Seems following the Christmas holidays we’re either:

a) … in an “I-ate-way-too-much-food-and-am-exhausted” state, joyful from wonderful celebrations and fun times with family and friends, or
b) … on a sugar high, feeling down with the holidays exaggerating losses and grief. A sense of emptiness as you rear view peer and perhaps dread as you look forward.

This can change, because you can choose to reflect, then move on, letting go of the past and pressing on to what lies ahead!

ReflectionHow can this play out in your personal life? [Read more…]