Saturday was fun. I was interviewed for a you tube video for ExpaTView (www.theexpatview.com goes live February 11), a new venture formed by two women, Marie Brice and Renee Lederman, who are exploring the issues and interests of expatriate women. The segment I was involved in was shared time with the current President of International Connections of Houston, Joanne Hughes, www.internationalconnectionshouston.org and we were discussing the support available for expatriates, both through women’s groups and for families in general.
My particular focus was Families in Global Transition, www.figt.org an organisation unique in the expatriate world in that it brings together, at an annual conference, all the sectors – diplomatic, corporate, missions, military, NGOs and academic – involved in relocating employees and their families around the world. The developmental impact of global transition is discussed at length as new research is presented. The exchange of ideas whizzing around break-out rooms, across the floor at panel discussions, and at the meal tables is invigorating and challenging. It is empowering and comforting to leave the conference knowing there is a serious entity intent on assisting the many transitions families go through whenever they relocate. Looking at the line up of speakers for this year’s conference in Washington DC in March, it promises to be another thought provoking few days.
But back in Houston as the lighting meters were checked and cameras readied, it was suggested “a check the flies” moment be taken. You know the kind of thing – lipstick on the teeth, gaping fly, peeking bra strap. The run through went well naturally, but I managed to fluff my lines on the real thing and a rerun was called for as an expletive burst forth. We had so much say and it was inordinately difficult to get the message across in four minutes – all the attention we can apparently harness on a you tube clip.
The gist however was there. The importance of support for expatriates and accompanying spouses, whether through women’s groups in countries around the world or through more formal channels such as FIGT, is indisputable.
I am often asked if I, an inveterate global nomad, still need support. I do. After twenty-six moves through twelve countries it can take me up to six months to feel I fit. That is not because I am uncomfortable, or slow to adapt, but it takes time to build a sense of belonging, to begin to understand the local culture – something that cannot be gained from reading a book or a country precis from wikipedia. And it takes time to find that person, the one you can call on to join you for a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, either in commiseration or celebration. For those little signs of kindness that show you are becoming accepted by those around you – a bloom snapped off a stem and presented with a smile by the street vendor as you walk past; a complimentary coffee delivered by the barista as you unload your computer and set up for a couple of hours undisturbed writing; your cleaner sharing the neighbourhood gossip or the sudden jolt as you realise you can actually understand some of what is being said around you. Those are the moments that mean you are settling. And that is the time you can start to support those who’ve newly arrived.
And so to the woman I met recently who proudly proclaimed I’ve been an expat for ten years and I don’t need support, I say good for you, but actually I don’t believe it!
There is no shame in needing or wanting support, so if you’re new to this expatriating game, take that first and sometimes hard step out the door and join a group. And if after a while you want to give back, help that club sustain others. That is what led me to Families in Global Transition and little clip on ExpaTView!