Friday, 30 September 2011

Learning how to be 'you'

Even if you are not a Lady Gaga fan, you have to admit that she has a style that is all her own! Nobody can pull off the looks that she does, and those who try may be labeled with terms that are not very flattering. But there are other people who could fall into similar categories. Nobody can moonwalk like Michael Jackson did. Nobody can master several sports like Bo Jackson did. Nobody can make a mess of reality TV like…well, you get the picture. While the examples that were given are very specific and very unique, thus, setting these individuals above others who are arguably less unique in that way, that does not mean that the rest of us are not unique in our own way. Don’t start rolling your eyes yet. Hear me out. I’m sure you’ve had that pep talk from a parent, coach, teacher, or busybody who told you that you should strive to be the best that you can be. This speech may have also been littered with “find something that makes you shine” and “just be sure that you do you.” All of those encouragements are absolutely true and I would not disparage them for one minute.
But if you look at your life, as an Expat Teen, are you able to be a unique person? Let me re-phrase that: Are you able to be a genuinely unique person? Anyone can talk differently, walk differently, and dress differently. But as a person who has had life experiences that most of your Monocultural friends may not even be able to dream about, are you able to take those experiences and mold them into the best “you” that you can be? Or do you use those experiences to boast to those around you or make yourself seem better than the next person? Can you be unique without being a fake? If so, are you pleased with your efforts? If you aren’t able to be unique without being a fake, why not?
No matter how you answered those questions, it may help you to know that there are other Expat Teens around the world who are experiencing difficulty with being themselves. When you are constantly on the move, it is easy to change certain aspects about yourself. Adolescence is a time when that naturally happens anyway (much to the dismay of many parents!); however, when you add the natural hormonal changes to the transient lifestyle that you are living, it makes “uniqueness” take on a whole new meaning.
In Expat Teens Talk, your fellow Expat Peers expressed some of their difficulties with fitting in, being unique, and finding out who they are as individuals. Stay tuned to this blogspot for more information about how you can get a copy of the book. In the meantime, TALK to us and let us know what’s on your mind…

Monday, 26 September 2011

Identifying and relating to new 'norms'

Have you ever taken those email surveys where they ask you a bunch of questions, one of which is usually “what is your favorite smell?” How do you answer that question? Why do you think you answer it that way? Studies have shown that we associate things we like with positive experiences, and the opposite is arguably the case as well. I always answer that question with “freshly cut grass”, because it reminds me of my childhood. I also answer that question with “the smell of the air right before or after it rains” for the same reason. These are smells that I can distinctly pick out, regardless of where I am in the world (except for Singapore, where the significant humidity [almost 100% every day!] made it utterly impossible for me to tell when it was about to rain!), and they help to inform me about what is going on around me.
As an Expat Teen, you are constantly exposed to smells, scenery, people, and other “things” that remind you of certain experiences that you have had. Regardless of your “Expat History”, there are phrases that you may hear in one part of the world that you may not ever hear in any other part of the world. Or, if you hear those same words put together that way in another part of the world, the “new audience” may not understand the meaning behind what you’ve said. The same goes for certain gestures, which can be offensive in one culture, yet perfectly acceptable in other cultures. But you know all of this. What you may not know is that, the same “script” that you may know how to adjust from one culture to another when it comes to phrases and gestures is the same one that may “fail you” when it comes to figuring out how to handle a problem. In one culture, you may know that it is “okay” to go to a school counselor to get some assistance, while in another culture, you may not realize that your “new peers” do not see it as “cool” or “acceptable” to talk to a school counselor about anything that is not related to academics. The same goes for how to handle yourself in public in a place that has armed soldiers on every corner when you’ve moved from a place where you rarely, if ever, saw anyone in that type of authority role. So, what do you do when the “script” is “flipped”? Who do you talk to? What resources do you have? As we’ve previously mentioned, there are a growing number of websites, blogs, and other resources online that can help you be part of the Expat community. However, we are also planning to add to that list. Our book, Expat Teens Talk, is written BY Expat Teens FOR Expat Teens. It addresses some of the issues that we’ve brought up in these blog entries, and provides advice, support, and solutions for you by your Expat Teen peers, as well as Expat Parents and Expat Professionals. Stay tuned to this blog for more information about Expat Teens Talk. In the meantime, TALK to us and let us know what’s on your mind…

Friday, 23 September 2011

Defining "home"

Home is where the heart is.” “There’s no place like home!” “Home is where you lay your head.” These mantras have been heard time and again in various contexts. However, as most of you can relate to, the concept of “home” is not quite that simple. All of you who fall under the “title” of “Expat Teen” have different experiences and, thus, have a different perspective when it comes to defining what “home” is. If you’ve always lived in different countries outside of your passport country and/or that of your parents, your answer may be more “complicated” than those who may have only lived in one other country aside from their passport country/country of birth. Even within those distinctions are variations that would be inadvisable to elaborate on here. Regardless of what your experience is, one could argue that there are various smells, thoughts, scenery, and/or people that you associate with “home.” Take a moment to think about that. Regardless of how many places you have lived in the world, chances are that there are certain foods, smells, languages, and other “minutiae” that remind you of places that you’ve lived, places that you may have once referred to as “home.”
So, if your definition of “home” changes, then what do you do when something happens when you feel like you don’t want to make anymore changes with regard to where “home” is? If your family moves around a lot (which is the case for many of you), how do you adjust to going back to what one or both of your parents call “home” when it’s never really been a permanent home for you? And as you get older, how do you reconcile for yourself what type of “home” you will make for yourself? Will you continue to move around? Will you get “antsy” every 2, 3, or 5 years, ready to make a move? Maybe you will. Maybe you won’t. Regardless, what do you do with those feelings? Who do you talk to?
Several Expat Teens contributed their own concerns related to “home” in our, soon to be available, book, Expat Teens Talk. If you are struggling with similar issues, we encourage you to continue to watch this spot for more information about when you can get your own copy of our book. In the meantime, TALK to us and let us know what’s on your mind…

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Trying to adapt

Every day, you see various news stories about individuals who are part of what is called the limelight: actors, models, athletes, and musicians. Some of them are there because of genuine talent. Others are there “by accident.” But no matter what, most of them embrace their popularity the best way they can, though struggle to maintain their privacy and sense of who they are. As an Expat Teen, you may not be in the middle of “pop culture,” but you may feel the need to live a dichotomous life like those celebrities. In some circles or environments, you may have to act a certain way, talk a certain way, and “be” different than you would be in a different environment. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you are two-faced or a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde character. It just means that you have to learn to adapt. But what happens when you encounter something that you don’t think you can manage? What if something happens and you don’t know who you can go to about it, or you don’t know how you can solve the problem or address the situation? It’s assumed that you don’t have “agents” or an “entourage” who can put just the right “spin” on it to make it appear to be different from what it actually is. So what do you do? Who do you go to?
There are a growing number of blogs and websites out there for other Teens just like you. As we’ve mentioned in previous entries, being an Expat Teen can be really great! However, every once in a while, something may come up for either you or someone you know that can literally rock your world. While it’s nice to know that there are blogs and websites that you can go to, it may also be helpful to know that there is a physical resource that you can access to help you get through those trying times. That’s where our book comes in. Expat Teens Talk is a resource that contains true stories from other Expat Teens, like yourself, who are struggling with various aspects of being a Teenager in an Expat World. Watch this space for more details. In the meantime, TALK to us and let us know what’s on your mind…

Friday, 16 September 2011

Finding answers and support....Expat Teens Talk

Facebook. Twitter. Blogs. Whether we partake of it or not, we are living in the age of technology. There are a multitude of opinions out there about the pros and cons of the ‘Computer Generation.’ I don’t know about you, but sometimes, I  find myself overwhelmed with information -- I Google a question, hoping to find a simple, straightforward answer, and instead, I am  confronted by page 1 of 2,000,000 answers. How am I supposed to know what the right answer or solution is to the question that I have asked or problem that I am aiming to solve?? In most cases, there is not one perfect answer, solution, resource to suit our needs. This is exactly what inspired Dr. Lisa Pittman and myself, Diana Smit, to write ‘Expat Teens Talk’. We found ourselves (in our personal and professional roles) looking for that ‘perfect resource’ to give to the Expat Teens with whom we interact, something that would  help them deal with some of the things they found challenging. And in our search, we sadly determined that there was no such resource that was directly targeted to or ‘spoke’ to Expat Teens that would help and/or support them with the issues that they felt challenged by as a result of being an Expat Teen. So what did we do about that? We did our research, spoke to Expat Teens, Parents and Professionals, and concluded we could do this! We could fill this missing gap and create a much-needed resource. Expat Teens Talk is that resource. It is a book, soon to be released, that offers solutions, support and advice through the voices of Expat Peers, Expat Parents and Expat Professionals for real experiences that Expat Teens worldwide have shared with us. Stay tuned to this blogspot for more information about our book.
In the meantime, TALK to us and let us know what’s on your mind!

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Do I know what I need to know????

As a parent of three Expat Teenagers, I like to think that I have my finger on the pulse of what is going on with my kids. So when I start to ask myself questions, such as, ‘Why is it that we seem to cope so well with our many international moves?’, I soon realize that it is necessary to also ask myself, ‘Am I missing something? Is there anything going on with any of the members of our family of five that I am missing??’ I like to think that we are all happy -- we seem to communicate well, openly express ourselves, and focus on being solutions-driven, both when things go well, as well as when things do not go so well. But, then I find myself wondering again, ‘Is everyone and everything as OK as I think they are?’ I suppose I will never really know. I cannot realistically expect our teenagers to come to my husband and me wanting to confide in us about all the details in their lives. I am sure we do not hear about the ‘mini’ conflicts they have with their friends, peers, teachers and other individuals they come in contact with. That’s the reality of raising teenagers…
So, what is that like in your household? When you, as an Expat Teenager, hear/read that a parent expresses similar opinions to what is indicated above, do you find that it is similar to your own experience with your parents? If so, then you may be in the minority, as Dr. Lisa and I have found that, at times, the questions that I ask myself are not questions that other Expat Parents ask themselves, even though they should. Many times, parents just are not aware of how important those questions are.
For you Expat Parents who are reading this blog, ask yourself this question: How do you prepare and support your children in becoming independent, confident, and empathetic individuals when the life you present them with is so full of change and uncertainty, and with the reality that every place that you live in is temporary? It isn’t always easy and we do not have all the answers. All we can do is try to be there when our children need us. This includes checking in proactively, and asking if everything in ‘their world’ outside of the home environment is okay. We can also provide them with resources and tools, books, and access to other people who can support their well-being needs., They may also benefit from mentorship and guidance from you, as parents. Dr. Lisa and I acknowledge that it’s not always easy to find those resources… and that’s where Expat Teens Talk comes into play. Watch this space for more information about our upcoming book…
In the meantime, TALK to us and let us know what’s on your mind!

Friday, 9 September 2011

Celebrating diversity.....EXPAT TEENS TALK

According to GOOGLE, almost 2 billion Muslims have recently celebrated  Eid-ul-Fitr, a holiday that is recognized and often celebrated in International Schools around the world. Expat Children and Teens grow up in a cultural melting pot, surrounded by a plethora of students  from all over the world who speak a multitude of languages, follow different religions, and engage in different cultural and religious celebrations. What an opportunity you all have, growing up in environments where you learn about each other by recognizing and celebrating important events! Moving from country to country and school to school is a life enriching experience for many Expat Students, exposing them to the richness of people, cultures, foods, languages, religions, histories, politics, and more. These are life experiences that are often not as impactful when taught through a textbook. Feeling, seeing, smelling, hearing, and tasting what is different in one country from the next is what you all experience as a result of your transitional, international lives. So it is up to us, as parents, to determine how we can best support your needs and ensure you are not only coping, but thriving, in the environments we expose you to.
 As parents, we most often try our best to ensure that our children are happy and healthy. However, we do not always have all of the answers, nor should we expect that we have to have all of the answers. Expat Teens Talk, a resource that will soon be available, is a collection of submissions shared by real Expat Teens worldwide. Expat Teens share their stories, their experiences and their challenges of the impacts of moving from one place to the next, and dealing with all of the change that comes with an International move. Expat Teens Talk responds to these submissions from the voices of three impactful and influential groups: Peers, Parents and Professionals. Their collated responses to each individual submission are full of advice, solutions and support. Keep watching this Blogspot for more information on this upcoming Teen resource…in the meantime, TALK to us and let us know what’s on your mind!

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Back to school....change and newness

August and September are the months of the year when most of the Northern Hemisphere is busy with ‘Back to School’ preparations and events. It is an exciting time of change and newness. Students are busy meeting new teachers, learning new routines, making new friends and being exposed to new learning. In Expat communities, worldwide, this is often a time of even more change. Many Expat families, if they have the luxury of planning their move to accommodate the school calendar, spend their summer moving from one assignment to the next.. Many new Expat students go through the experience, again, of being the new student at school, in addition to trying to learn and adapt to the new environment, culture, language, food, etc. of their new host country. When we move as Expats, our list of things we need to do and learn is very, very long. Many of us (as parents) feel like life is often easier for the children in our families because they enter a structured environment that is full of routine and systems to accommodate new students. We think that you (as Teens) will be fine because you are surrounded and supported by caring and helpful teachers and students. We tend to focus our attention, therefore, on sorting out housing, learning where to shop for daily goods, learning how to navigate ourselves around our new environment, and somehow keep very busy with all the newness and learning in our new host country. But in reality, how do Expat Children, in particular you -- Expat Teens -- deal with all the change that you are confronted by each time your families move you from one country to the next? What do you find challenging to deal with?? Who can and do you go to discuss your challenges, especially when you feel that Mom and Dad are busy with so many other things during the initial phases of transition?
Because this time of year is one of transition, which often brings with it a need for new resources, we are happy to announce that we are planning to provide a resource that provides some answers to the questions asked above. It will include solutions, support and advice for dealing with issues related to the challenges of having a transitional Expat life. ‘Expat Teens Talk’ is a book that is in the final stages of being published, and will soon be available to help and support Expat Teens, worldwide, with common challenges that arise as a result of living and moving around the world.
Watch this space for more news and details. In the meantime, TALK to us and let us know what’s on your mind!

Thursday, 1 September 2011

“It takes a village…” Expat Teens Talk

It takes a village…”  
There is an African saying: ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. Semantically, it means being open to the influence and support of the village we surround ourselves with, whether that be at the International or Local Schools we send our children to, or the people we bring into our homes who we develop friendships with on ‘assignments’. Having access to and accepting the support of ‘our village’ helps our children grow and develop into the adults they are meant to be. Some would say that this rings true for most Expats. I can definitely say that it rings true for me and my family.
My name is Diana Smit and I am an Expat and a parent of three Expat Teenagers who only know Expat Life. In our lives, there is always the expectation that a change will happen within a certain number of years.
“Honey, we have to talk”. These are the words my husband often starts with when announcing an upcoming potential move. In our case, my husband’s career has been the engine behind our Expat Life. The companies he has worked for have taken us to Switzerland, Germany, Russia, Egypt, Indonesia, Singapore, again to Switzerland and then back to Singapore….what a life! Psychologists say that moving is one of the biggest stresses in life, right up there with divorce, illness and even death. So, I often ask myself: How will this impact our Teenagers? And then I go one step further to think about the impact of similar changes on Expat Teenagers around the world, including in the school settings in which I work as an Educational Therapist. And this brings me to the purpose of this Blog.
For the past three years, I have worked closely with my colleague, Dr. Lisa Pittman, who is an Expat Professional, and has worked as a psychologist in both Monocultural and Expat environments. In our respective roles, we have consistently come into contact with Expat Teenagers who are dealing with the general stresses of adolescence, and have these stresses further impacted by their transient lifestyles. As a result, they often do not have the resources to address some of their stresses that their peers  who are rooted to one culture (i.e., a Monoculture). Dr. Lisa and I decided to do something about this  -- to provide a resource for Expat Teens, like you!
We have a book coming out within the next few months that will serve as a resource for Expat Teens. In preparation for our book release, we plan to use this Blog to provide some preliminary information and support to let you know that we have heard your pleas and we are here to help. We invite you to share your experiences and provide support for those who may feel compelled to share theirs.
Stay tuned to this Blogspot for more information about  our upcoming book: Expat Teens Talk.