resilience

Trailing: A Memoir

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There has been much discussion lately about the term “trailing spouse” and whether it is appropriate or even polite. It projects a sense of “other” rather than something that makes up a whole. I usually conger up a vision of a dog’s tail. Other terms being used are “accompanying partner”, “expat wife”, “support partner”. Expat Lingo says she had been called a ‘stakeholder at home’. I have used the term ‘world juggler’ before.

But in the end, whatever you call it, the trailing spouse is usually the support system, the glue that holds it all together. Sometimes the glue falls apart and life can be rough.

In Trailing: A Memoir by Kristin Louise Duncombe, things fall apart.  Kristin grew up all over the world so when she met her Argentine husband, the thought of moving overseas didn’t seem so strange. Although she did have her reservations about putting her career on hold, she didn’t have a passion about what she did and had not clearly defined what she wanted to do. Her husband, a doctor with Doctors Without Borders was passionate about what he did and had no questions about what he was going to do. She was in love. She married him and went to Kenya.

Being a TCK (Third Culture Kid) myself, I also thought following my husband overseas would be no problem. Even though you have lived in many places around the world, the child TCK and the Adult TCK have different experiences and challenges. I had no support system behind me as we just up and moved. Kristin had a small “family” of doctors but it did not help much since most of them were single and always on the road. Her husband was gone much of the time.

On the other hand, I think she showed remarkable resilience. She found herself some work at a Nairobi hospital helping teens and eventually found a position with USAID at the US Embassy. Unfortunately the Embassy was bombed and she lost her job but by that time her husband had taken a position in Uganda. After having a baby, she finds a job in a small village outside Kampala. She never sees her husband and the marriage starts to unravel.

I found myself identifying with this book on several levels. I had a difficult adjustment when I moved to Russia. My husband was a freelancer. There were no benefits or perks. As soon as I landed I was expected to find a job and help with financial support. If found jobs mainly doing clerical administrative work but I also fell into a writing position for the American Women’s Club and was able to improve my writing skills and help other expat women at the same time. I edited and produced a newsletter that helped to build a community.

Everybody has a different experience when they live overseas. I knew couples who were both professionals in their own right. I knew women who moved around the globe on their own and met their husband along the way. One woman was a very successful diplomat and her husband did his own thing in another country but was able to work remotely. Some people take the time to write books. There is always something to do. I found my way and started writing and wrote a memoir.

The current challenge for international organizations is to find the balance and provide options for accompanying partners. With today’s technology, there are much more possibilities available.

Kristin’s happy ending was her husband accepted a position in Paris and she managed to set up a successful counseling practice working with expat families who are trying to cope with life overseas. After having gone through the worst of it, she now had all the tools necessary to help others in similar situations.Trailing: A Memoir is well written and engaging. It makes me want to know more about her. It is available on Amazon.com.

 

 

The Emotionally Resilient Expat

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I have been following Linda Janssen’s blog for a while now and I was happy to meet her at the Families in Global Transition conference this last spring. She has been supportive of my book and my writing and is an engaged interested interesting expat. She has just published “The Emotionally Resilient Expat: Engage, Adapt and Thrive Across Cultures”.

The blurb on Amazon says:

Living abroad offers enriching experiences of growth, broadened perspective, enhanced cultural understanding. Yet its transition-rich, change-driven, cross-cultural nature can place considerable demands, leaving us stressed, disconnected, our identity in flux. Building on existing literature and benefitting from recent developments in psychology and brain-body connections, The Emotionally Resilient Expat: Engage, Adapt and Thrive Across Cultures shows the key to successful transitions and beyond lies in emotional resilience to adapt, adjust or simply accept. Linda A. Janssen combines candid personal stories from experienced expats and cross-culturals, with a wealth of practical tools, techniques and best practices from emotional, social and cultural intelligence, positive psychology, mindfulness, stress management, self-care and related areas. 

“Using personal story and solid theory in her groundbreaking book on emotional resilience, Linda A. Janssen guides those facing the challenges of cross-cultural living to dig under the initial rocky surfaces of overseas life to discover – and use – the rich gold of their own experience. A great resource for expats of all backgrounds.” Ruth E. Van Reken, Author, Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds.

I was honored last year when she asked me to write some personal anecdotes that illustrated resilience in my own expat life.  My stories show up under the chapter “Connecting Externally: Find Your Tribe or Build Your Own; Make an Effort”.  Before Linda approached me I had always thought of myself as a survivor.  I had been through some tough experiences and had some trouble adjusting but I had always been able to come out okay in the end.  I worked to find a way to fit in, to find my niche, to entertain myself, to make friends, to learn.  I had never used the word resilient before. When she started talking about resilience, some things started to fall into place for me. It made me think of bouncing, bouncy. Like I was floating along and sometimes I would go under but was always able to come up for air. Because of Linda resilience has now become part of my story.

I immediately went out and bought this book. It looks like it will make a good companion to Ruth’s book Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds and I will be reading it again and again.

Thanks Linda.

TCK Resilience

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Resilience is defined as the ability to bounce back quickly, to cope with stress and adversity.  According to some people Third Culture Kids are very resilient.  I never thought of myself that way.  I just dealt with things as they came up and moved on.  It was like being on auto pilot.

When I landed in a country I had never been to before and there was nobody to meet me at the airport, I didn’t hesitate at all.  I changed money and went looking for some kind of transportation.  I wasn’t going to sit around worrying about it.  Although, had I sat around for a while, I might have seen my father come looking for me instead of missing him as we crossed paths.

When I went to boarding school at 13 and people thought I was weird I did whine about it a little.  But I moved on.  I slowly figured out that I needed to adapt and try to fit in.  I was young for my age and had lived overseas all my life.  I landed in the USA in the middle of a cultural revolution I knew very little about.   I absorbed all the information I could and not only did I adapt to it all but I embraced it.

When we moved to Africa a few years later and I went off to boarding school in Switzerland, I was prepared to live away from home and up on world topics.  I was ahead of the curve.

Once again it all broke down when I went to college in the USA.  I was too international now.  I had to rein it in and become more local.  I had to adapt to another culture.  I was so used to discussing travel, European art, and world politics with my peers that I didn’t think before I opened my mouth and blabbed about my high school experiences.  My new peers could not relate and thought I was bragging.

My new persona emerged and I was quiet inside my shell for a long time.  No more story telling here.  But I managed to eventually adapt to that as well.  I made friends and existed on a different level.  I became one of them.

So who was I?  How could I find myself and figure out what I should be doing?  All I wanted to do was get out of town.  To move on.  That’s what I had always done, wasn’t it?  Just dealt with the immediate problem and moved on.  I didn’t know why.  I never really thought about it that much.  I just knew I was not comfortable.  I was searching for something but didn’t know what it was.  I was living between cultures.  I didn’t feel American but I didn’t feel Mexican or Colombian or Nigerian, or Swiss.  I was unique, I was different.

Years later I learned I was a Third Culture Kid  – somebody who grew up in a culture not their own.  I discovered  I was not the only one who felt this way. Norma McCaig of Global Nomads wrote:

The benefits of this upbringing need to be underscored:  In an era when global vision is an imperative, when skills in intercultural communication, linguistic ability, mediation, diplomacy, and the management of diversity are critical, global nomads are better equipped in these areas by the age of eighteen than are many adults… These intercultural and linguistic skills  are the markings of the cultural chameleon — the young participant-observer who takes note of verbal and nonverbal cues and readjusts accordingly, taking enough of the coloration of the social surroundings to gain acceptance while maintaining some vestige of identity as a different animal, an “other.”

I wish I had read that when I was eighteen!  🙂

Does knowing all of this solve my restlessness, make me more comfortable?  No, it doesn’t solve it but it helps me understand it.  I know what it is and why I am the way I am.  It isn’t a bad thing.  But as I grow older, I think I have become less tolerant of ignorant people.  If somebody doesn’t know where France is or hates Muslims, or thinks Berlusconi is a type of pasta, I just don’t really bother to put any effort out.  I let it go.  When I was younger, I would try to educate or sometimes I would just brush it aside and try to make myself acceptable to them.  I don’t do that anymore.  I move on.

I recently published a book about all my trials and tribulations, joys and challenges and adventures growing up all over the world.  But it was not easy.  I spent a lot of time writing with tears streaming down my face.  I suppose I need deep psycho therapy to figure that out.  But when it was all done.  I felt better.  Something had been resolved.  I had accomplished what I set out to do and I felt positive.  I still do.  Although I am now facing another hurdle.  Being single for the first time in many years.  Not sure if that is a good thing or a bad one.    Oh, well.  I guess I will just have to deal with it and move on….

I’m feeling resilient.