I’ve moved location 7 times and house 12 times in the last 17 years. I know this is not a winner in terms of number and frequency of moves amongst the international community, but it does mean that change has been a pretty big constant in my families lives. In fact, having now been back in the UK for nearly three years I do find myself gazing interestingly at international removal lorries and wondering, with a modicum of jealousy about their upcoming transitions. There is something addictive about new beginnings….
International relocation is a massive undertaking, one that is not always recognised as such at the outset – you can’t know what you don’t know. In this podcast this week, Evelyn and I talk about how our experiences lead us to write our book THRIVING ABROAD, which is launched today.
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I (Louise) remember our first move to Madrid as an exciting but challenging time. My early euphoria at not having to get up for work, soon morphed into a sense of aimlessness. There are only so many times you can go to the gym in any one week, and with a husband who was working looooong hours I was initially home alone far too much. Spanish lessons were a distraction -but I soon found verb conjugation on my shady balcony was no substitute for real conversation.
Relocating to live in Lisbon several years later, admittedly not a huge distance away, was enough to unsettle and mean starting all over again. We battled with bureaucracy and unpleasant neighbours (a very long story) – suffice to say it was not the best start. We were responsible for the entire move, no company support at all… yep it was a stressful time.
What I realise now looking back is that over time we developed a process and way of coping with the change. Each move is bitter sweet, saying goodbye is sad, not easy way around that, but fortunately it is balanced with the excitement of new beginnings and opportunities. While the emotions are never easy, over time the template for relocation grows and each move becomes more automatic and hopefully organised.
Our greatest relocation moment was when we managed to organize a move out from one house in 24 hours, from phoning the removal company, to packing up furniture, possessions and kids – all gone overnight – we were seriously impressed with ourselves. And no, we were not running from the law, well not directly. Our landlord was about to have all possessions repossessed by the bailiffs and ours were not differentiated from hers. My husband managed to sweet talk the bailiff into returning just a few days later – giving us time to make a very quick exit.
But I digress, back to international relocation:
There is a flow to the whole process. A rhythm and sequence of practical and emotional ups and downs. No two moves are ever the same; culture, location, jobs and life stages account for that – but there are similarities and we can learn certain things from one move that can be applied to others.
THRIVING ABROAD the book was born from this experience of change and the lessons learned along the way. It is the book I would have loved to have all those years ago in Madrid. The Framework for Thriving Abroad reminds us to put ourselves at the centre of the relocation process. To gain clarity about what makes it a valuable experience for us from a professional, personal and family perspective. Professional clarity would have certainly helped me in those early years, I drifted for more years than I care to remember.
It also emphasises the importance of setting realistic expectations. Ensuring that the decision is founded on an understanding of both the opportunities and challenges of such a massive life change.
Written with input from expat experts, experienced expats and global mobility professionals, THRIVING ABROAD offers a guide to thriving professionally and personally through the experience of international mobility.
It is relevant to anyone who is:
- considering embarking on an international relocation with their organisation as an international assignee.
- considering embarking on an international relocation with their partner.
- preparing to relocate abroad.
- living abroad already but wondering where the experience will take them next, professionally and personally.
Also, available to all owners of the book is the accompanying workbook – a helpful tool to support you through the relocation process.
You can learn more about THRIVING ABROAD: The definitive guide to professional and personal relocation success HERE
What people are saying:
‘I wish this book had been written sixteen years ago when we first relocated; it could have saved us learning a lot of lessons the hard way! This book will prove invaluable for anyone considering an overseas move and will help them organize their thoughts in what can be an entirely overwhelming process.’
Suzanna Standring, Chartered Accountant, USA.
‘It’s an indispensable read for the assignees and their partners, a book to keep handy in the messiest moment of a family’s life. With its check lists and adaptation strategies, it’s a great tool for coping with rationality and order to change and transition.’ Marta Guarneri, expat with 20 years of experience both as assignee and partner
You can listen to the authors: Louise Wiles and Evelyn Simpson talk about the book HERE on iTunes
Go straight to AMAZON to buy the book online.
Supporting Elderly Relatives from Abroad.
One of the more challenging aspects of relocating internationally is the need to leave loved ones behind. Sometimes this involves leaving children at boarding school or at university. Often it means leaving our parents and relatives, and as they age the challenges involved in caring for them from afar can become increasingly complex and stressful. Of course, we want the best for them, but it can be difficult to know how best to support them when we are not available to visit regularly.
Of course, we cannot future proof our lives and the lives of those we love from all adversity but we can put in place contingencies that will support us and our loved ones in difficult times.
On the Podcast today, I talk to Alison Hesketh from Time Finders. Time Finders exists to provide:
‘Practical and emotional support for older people and their families in changing circumstances.’
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Twelve years ago, Alison’s mother found herself no longer able to manage the house she had lived in for many years. Alison helped her to sort through a lifetime’s possessions and settle into her new home in a new community. This experience lead to the realisation that there was a pressing need for a service to help others in a similar position and so Time Finders was born.
This conversation is pertinent for you if you:
- Have parents or elderly relatives and don’t want your sense of responsibility for their care to prevent you from relocating or continuing to live abroad.
- Want to better understand the issues and challenges that may be encountered as your relatives age.
- Want to be prepared for a crisis with a well thought through, and most importantly agreed contingency plan.
- Are a silver surfer yourself, over 50, yep that would be me too, and want to think about how you can prepare for your more senior years responsibly.
As Alison says during our conversation:
‘If you have a contingency plan it can reduce immeasurably the level of anxiety you face when somebody becomes ill or an emergency happens….. A contingency plan is not just about your parents or relatives it is about helping you to avoid the blind panic that comes at the point an emergency arises.
You can learn more about Time Finders HERE, where they are happy to offer a complimentary consultation and you can sign up to receive their regular newsletter.
For us, nothing pulls more at our heart strings than seeing our children worried and unhappy.
In our experience, international relocation is the one sure fire way of upsetting our children and leading to some guilt riddled moments as parents.
Conversely and happily, it has also been the catalyst for fantastic experiences, very smiley faces and some fabulous proud parent moments.
A mixed bag of highs and lows.
And a never ending circuit round these two questions:
- Am I handling this right?
- What more could I be doing?
This week we are delighted to welcome to the Thriving Abroad Podcast, Kate Berger. Our conversation gives insights, suggestions and we felt validation to at least some of our parenting efforts.
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Kate is a child and adolescent psychologist, consultant and the founder of the Expat Kids Club which, since its inception has provided counsel to hundreds of youngsters and their families, as well as major corporations from the UK, Germany, Singapore and the USA.
In this podcast we talk about:
- The benefits to children of a peripatetic life.
- The challenges that children face as they react to the impact of life changing decisions that are usually totally beyond their control.
- Why it is important to recognise that the process is stressful; ‘we cannot put our heads in the sand not acknowledge that stress is a real thing, that it is there.’ Kate
- The wide range of support that we as parents can offer.
- The importance of understanding yourself and your reactions as a first step in supporting your child.
- When to call in the professionals.
- The power of mindfulness in managing the impact of change and transition.
We really enjoyed and benefited from this interview and we hope you will too. Please feel free to pass this on to parents in your network who may find the interview helpful.
If you would like to learn more about Kate you can find her at:
During the interview we mention the organisation, Families in Global Transition, which supports families and professionals working in the field of international mobility. Visit their website to learn more.
You might have noticed that it’s been a little quiet on the blog this summer. That’s because Louise and I have both been busy with international relocation, in fact both of us have been repatriating. Louise has moved from Lisbon in Portugal back to her home in the South of England and, after 26 years of living overseas, I’ve moved from Brussels, Belgium back to Edinburgh.
We’ve both undertaken many international relocations and of course we talk to and work with people who have moved every day so most aspects of the experience are not new to us. However, living the experience brings it all into stark relief and is a great reminder of some of the aspects of moving that fade in our memories between moves or that we are often inclined to underestimate. And, in no particular order that’s what we’re going to talk about in this post.
Saying goodbye is always hard.
It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve moved, where you’re going or where you’re leaving, it’s always hard to say goodbye to the place and especially to the people that we’re leaving behind. If you’re going somewhere where you know no-one, it can be even more daunting to say goodbye.
International relocation takes more time and energy than you think it will
Does it ever? I feel like I’ve spent the last 6 months principally engaged in the details of my international relocation. Whether it’s finding a place to live, finding schools if you have children or just getting sorted out, moving is incredibly time consuming. Working with a relocation consultant helps but there’s still a lot of stuff that you can’t avoid doing yourself. I moved in early July. My house is functioning, the kids are in school and life is hitting it’s normal stride but I am still dealing with paperwork, unpacking and organising and will be for a while yet.
International relocation is stressful
Whether it’s your first international relocation or your tenth, moving is stressful. Be kind to yourself and remind yourself and your family members to be patient with each other. The stresses of moving play out in different ways for each family member (more about that later) so don’t assume that, because it’s not evident, it’s not there. After so many moves, I get through the busiest parts of it almost on autopilot but when things calm down, then it shows….
No matter how much you clear out, you’ve never done enough
Every time I move I have a great purge of the detritus that has accumulated in my home since the last move. I love it and find it liberating, though other members of my family don’t see it the same way (See “moving is stressful” above). But the reality is that I always end up doing more clearing out when I arrive in my new home. That’s partly because getting rid of stuff; selling, giving it away or disposing of it, takes time and I simply run out of time and partly because, sometimes I hold onto something thinking it will work in my new home and it doesn’t. It’s of course a bigger issue if you’re moving all of your household goods but, even if you’re going with luggage or an air shipment, you’ll find that you’ve brought stuff that’s surplus to requirements.
Suspending judgement is important
In your new country, even if it’s “home”, things get done differently from the way you are used to. It’s easy to be judgemental about the way “they” do things. I try to remind myself that it’s not wrong, it’s just different, though sometimes that can be harder than others.
There will always be something that drives you mad
Talking of things that are done differently, there will always be something in your new home country that will drive you crazy. ALWAYS! In reality though, the only people who are affected by overt displays of frustration are you and those around you. I try to remind myself of that as I reacquaint myself with British Telecom’s legendary (in a bad way) customer service. (Takes deep breath – it’s not wrong, it’s just different.)
Every time you relocate it’s different
Each international relocation is a different experience. You are at a different stage in life, your children are older than they were last time, you’re moving from a different country and to a different country among other things. This means that, although some things hold true for every relocation, you will experience different challenges every time.
Everyone’s experience is different
We all deal with change in different ways and it’s important to keep this in mind as each member of your family will have his or her own experience throughout the relocation. Each person will be challenged or excited by different things and at different times. I’m having to be particularly focused on this thought during this move as, in moving to the UK, I am a repatriate but the rest of my family are expats here – as my daughter reminds me, “It’s not MY home Mum!”
It’s important to have a plan for you
As an expat partner, it’s really easy to get caught up in the details of moving, in making sure that your physical environment is properly set up and, if you have children, getting them settled. But don’t forget to think about yourself too. Make sure that you have at least a rough outline of a plan for what you will do once you’ve moved. This applies to your social life and your professional life or self development. Because Louise and I work from our respective homes, we’ve realised that it’s important to find activities in our local areas that give us a way to engage with people with common interests and to ensure that we’re not very dull girls – all work and no fun.
If been through an international relocation recently (or not so recently) tell us in the comments below or on Facebook what surprised you about the moving process.
Time is racing by now and I can hardly believe that in two weeks we’ll lock the door and leave our home in Belgium. As it has been with every place we’ve left, the hardest part about leaving will be saying our expat goodbyes to the people who have been part of our circle for the last five years. Belgium will be particularly difficult to leave. In part, that’s because it’s the longest we’ve lived anywhere as a family but mostly, its because we’ve been privileged to be part of a tight circle of very close friends. Saying our expat goodbyes will be sad but it more au revoir, auf wiedersehen – these are friends who will undoubtedly stay part of our lives. Still, implicit is an acknowledgement that our relationship will shift as we’ll no longer be part of the daily fabric of the group.
Strangely unsettling are the expat goodbyes to people who have been part of our lives in a less significant but nonetheless important way. With most of these people, our goodbyes truly are goodbyes, it’s unlikely that we’ll keep in touch for long if at all; possible, perhaps even probable, that we may never see each other again and yet they’ve been part of our lives over the years. I experienced this kind of unsettling goodbye just the other day as I left a dental appointment. Our dentist is a lovely woman who has been our dentist for 5 years and knows every member of our family. She’s been kind, caring and we’ve got to know her a little bit, so saying goodbye – wishing each other well in a “have a nice life” kind of way felt awkwardly sad and emotional. I’ve found that often these kinds of goodbye, usually when a child is saying goodbye to a beloved teacher, are the ones that make me crack. I manage to hold myself together for my own goodbyes but watching my children say goodbye to someone they adore but may never see again is my undoing.
Then there are the bittersweet expat goodbyes with people we feel we are just getting to know. People we are certain would have been close friends if only we had got to know each other better, sooner.
On the other side are the hellos. The longer we’ve travelled, the more we find we cross paths with people we’ve known in a previous location. In Shanghai, we ran into a couple who were in our ante-natal class in Hong Kong. In Belgium we found a family who were neighbours in Shanghai and a family whose child was in our daughter’s reception class in Shanghai. After we move, we hope to spend more time with friends who were in Shanghai with us and who are now living in Scotland and with friends we made through my coaching studies at Coach U. The circle of expat friendship, the foundation of our friendship group in our new life.
It really is a very small world. When we say goodbye, maybe it is actually au revoir – we never know….
Do you have a story about surprisingly difficult expat goodbyes or about someone who has been in your life in more than one location? Tell us about it in the comments or on our Facebook Page.
I’m preparing for an international move and I’m overwhelmed! There’s no other way to put it. Here’s what I’ve been working on this week:
- Getting our house in Belgium on the rental market
- Purchasing a new house in Edinburgh
- Getting quotes from movers
- Squeezing in dental appointments etc. so we give ourselves some breathing space on the other end
- Planning my husband’s birthday party (one of those big birthdays with a -0 on the end)
- Getting organised to host approximately 70 people for my son’s end-of-the-rugby-season barbeque
- Starting to sort out the house for the movers who will be here in less than 6 weeks.
That’s on top of a normal workweek at Thriving Abroad, all of the normal family logistics and an attempt to spend as much time as possible with friends here before we leave. Just thinking about it makes my heart pound! But that’s what happens when you are preparing for an international move. The process of getting organised for the move has to be crammed into an already busy schedule, made busier with goodbyes and trying to frantically squeeze in those last few things you want to do or see before you leave your host country.
My inclination when faced with all of this is to abandon my organisation toolkit and go into fire-fighting mode. My to-do list becomes overwhelming and my strongest instinct is to abandon it and deal with only the things the things that have the most imminent deadlines. The problem is that I forget about things, I can’t relax because I have so many things going on in my brain as I constantly think about all the things I need to do and overall, I feel more overwhelmed.
So here’s what I’m trying to do at the moment:
1. Fight every instinct I have to go into crisis management mode and keep track of all the things I have to do in a place that is not my head. Louise and I use Asana to keep track of our projects at Thriving Abroad and I’ve started a personal account too because I like it so much.
2. Consciously prioritise what I am going to do each day and communicate my priorities to other people who are affected by my decisions.
3. Avoid getting railroaded by other people’s priorities. It’s easy when there is so much going on to allow other people’s priorities to overtake your own
4. Do one thing a day that is just for me, whether it’s exercise, taking an hour to have coffee with a friend, or reading a book for half an hour. I know the value or having that restorative time but when there’s so much to do, it can be tempting to do nothing besides work
5. Get enough sleep. I’m a night owl by nature so it’s really easy for me to stay up late and continue to work but I still have to get up early in the morning, so I just end up tired, grumpy and un-productive.
If I’ve learned one thing from the previous times I’ve been preparing for an international move, it’s that, once the big stuff is done; the job, housing and schools (if you’re moving with kids); the remaining tasks will fill the time left. That is you can always find more and more to do, but in reality the marginal benefit to some of them is small and it really doesn’t matter if they get done now or when we get there. I also know that making sure I have time to focus on my family, my friends and myself before we leave is something that really does matter.
If you’re preparing for an international move this summer and you’d like some support on the countdown to leaving, we’re running two FREE webinars on preparing to move on June 3rd and June 10th. You can sign up here if you’d like to join us.
Linked to My Global Life Link-Up at Small Planet Studio.com
“Linked to the My Global Life Link-Up at SmallPlanetStudio.com” – See more at: http://www.smallplanetstudio.com/2014/05/30/may-mygloballife-link-up/#sthash.3BveHinu.dpuf