As parents of global nomads, many of us wonder, somewhat anxiously, how to manage the constant changes our children experience, how to best prepare transitions between countries, how to maximize the benefits of an international life and minimize its pitfalls. Expat Expert Robin Pascoe is currently touring India, and she will be here in Hyderabad, next week. The author of five books on global living, the last of which is titled: Raising Global Nomads: Parenting Abroad in an On-Demand World, she’ll provide her view on all of these expatriate concerns and more.
Robin is a Canadian who spent 15 years moving between Asia and Canada with her diplomat husband and two children, now both grown-up. She experienced the expatriate life as a pregnant woman, as the mother of babies, toddlers, middle graders, and teenagers. And the fact that she waited until her children were both out of the nest to write this last book brings an added dimension and value to her testimony: she could look back and take stock.
The expat reading Robin Pascoe’s books is sure to experience a number of very strong feelings: exhilaration, many “eureka” moments, validation, reassurance, and last, but far from least, the bizarre notion that they know the author, and most importantly, that this author knows them! Not only does she describe our experiences by sharing hers, she does it with great wit and humor. We read, we smile or even laugh out loud, sometimes we feel like crying, but most of all, we keep thinking: “YES! I did that!” How, funny, I’ve felt that way!” “Ha, that happened to me, too!”
I first read Robin’s books – along with David Pollock (to whom Robin Pascoe dedicates this last one) and Ruth Van Reken’s “Third Culture Kids” – while living in a small bush town in Nigeria and it was such an enlightening experience. Being the consummate worrier, questions about our uprooted life and the impact it would have on our daughter had been gaining momentum in my brain, but with barely anyone to share them with, I felt terribly isolated. The discovery that others experience the same feelings, and most of all, that most of our children turn out great, provided that parents are proactive, aware of pitfalls, and available to help their offspring negotiate them, was incredibly reassuring and liberating. I was not alone. Moreover, my children were not alone. What a relief!
Raising Global Nomads addresses issues like culture shock and the ways to negotiate them, the importance of creating and keeping family rituals, how to keep the family healthy, work-life harmony, especially when the working spouse spends most of their time at work, traveling, or manipulating their Blackberry, and of course, the vast and tricky subject of international schools. She mentions, with good humor, that when she speaks at international schools, not only are these talks typically organized by the school’s parent organization, but she usually finds very few teachers in the audience. She also notes how “many international schools are almost as bad as multinational corporations when it comes to recognizing the emotional needs of children and budgeting to accommodate training programs,” a fact she deplores, as “there is more to teaching global nomads than achieving a perfect score on a math test.” The book covers all areas of expatriates’ life, including the tricky subject of repatriation. There are also contributions from other global nomad experts: Dr Barbara Schaetti and Lois Bushong.
How did you come to write so extensively on the subject of expatriation?
For me, it started with the birth of my daughter in Bangkok, Thailand. I was one of the founders of an international mother’s group (still going strong after 25 years!) called BAMBI http://www.bambiweb.org/ I started a newsletter/magazine for them and got interested in the idea that new mothers, with their own far away, should support one another. This idea kind of mushroomed over the years into expat expert and writing books, articles and publishing a website.
Why did you feel the need to write Raising Global Nomads, after your other books?
I had written a previous book about parenting overseas that was published in 1993! I knew how out of date it was, but the original publisher never let me update it to include the Internet and all the challenges of the 21st century. So, because my own children were becoming young adults, it was a very good chance for me to look back to see what worked for me, what didn’t work for me (!) and what worked for others. The big picture became clearer to me once the smaller details of day to day child-rearing were taken away.
Your daughter was born in Bangkok and your son was born in Ottawa. What are they doing, now? How would you say they feel about the life they had growing up?
As I joke in my book, our daughter Lilly is the environmentalist and global citizen….but our son Jay four years younger is the real tree hugger who should never leave home. After some international internships, Lilly is doing her masters in environmental studies in Toronto. Jay is home in Vancouver studying at the local college after what he calls ‘an unfortunate year’ at a university out of town. This is an example I use in my lectures a lot…of the so-called expat expert missing out on the obvious which was that our son probably should never have moved away to school because we moved him five times before he was 9 and just the idea of moving makes him crazy! The main thing is he’s doing as best a 20 year old boy can do and is much more settled and happy at a school at home…. Our daughter, almost 25, soars professionally, but often believes she has challenges making long term relationships. Of course, if she would stay put somewhere long enough that would help! They both know they are different from their non-moving friends but like so many third culture kids, most of their friends are also from different places.
What would you say are the main challenges that global nomads must face?
They face all the same challenges of any young adult growing up in today’s on-demand, cellular world….and then some. Parents of third culture kids often ascribe certain challenges or character traits to the TCK or mobile experience when really, some issues might have cropped up anyway! But I think the biggest one from my experience is their sense of wondering ‘where is home?’ and ‘where am I from?’ I help them answer that by framing a response: they are globalists. The world is their home in the big picture; their family and extensive network of friends are both their memory and their history.
Would you say that your global experience has changed you significantly, and how?
Absolutely. I could have lived my entire life in Toronto (my home town) and traveled to Florida or Hawaii for golfing and that would have been it. Instead, I’ve had a wonderful, privileged life of tremendous experiences and the opportunity to expose my children to the world. Now if I could just get over my fear of flying, my world would be perfect.
What was the lowest “low” in your own global experience? How about the “highest high?”
I think the lowest was at the very beginning when I had no idea whatsoever what I was getting myself into…and was pregnant on top of that…. 🙂 It is the primary reason why I started writing books, to make sure women knew what they were going to face without an identity or paycheque or absent, traveling husband. The highest experiences, ironically, have come after we left Foreign Service and moved to Vancouver. I never for a minute expected to keep writing books and traveling so it’s really been amazing to go to so many communities and feel useful. I do a lot of reassuring!
If you had only one piece of advice to give to parents of global nomads, what would that be – other than read your book 🙂 ?
I think I wrote in my introduction that every family is unique and will make choices that are right for their families. I can write about what I did, and people can relate to certain pieces of it, but at the end of the day, parents must always feel confident that they know their children the best, they know what’s right or wrong for their child, when it might be time to stay in one place and so on. In other words, I want parents to have self-confidence in their own parenting skills (recognizing that not every decision may be the right one….like mine, to suggest my son go away to college…wrong decision!) But nothing is irrevocable and besides, we all make mistakes. I believe no experience is bad experience (even if at the time you can’t believe you chose to do something). I have to re-read my own books a lot and especially look at my power pt presentations and remind myself that every success has a few failures behind it. That’s OK. The ability to tell your children you were wrong is also a bonus. As I like to say, we do what we can with love and the best of intentions. What more can we do?
If you had only one piece of advice to give directly to our global nomads, what would that be?
Doesn’t matter what advice I give to them….they know it all already 🙂 Seriously, it’s very difficult to speak to young adults because like young people everywhere, they think they know everything and as a parent saying something, they will run in the opposite direction from our advice….! But I would definitely educate them about ‘third culture kids” (or advise them to educate themselves through the books and websites now devoted to the subject) so they know they are not alone in the way they have been growing up and that there is a world community of young people just like them who does understand their uniqueness.
You raise some very interesting points regarding the role of digital communications when dealing with culture shock. You mention the need to use caution, for instance. Why?
Long story too….I think the Internet and all the technology has been both the best and worst things to happen to expats. The best because of course we can keep in touch, get info, read our local papers etc. The worst because it is often mismanaged and not used in a healthy way. Too much Internet at the beginning of an assignment, as I wrote, can delay the stages of culture shock. Too many phone calls from mom may break a spirit of independence in a child. Too much time on a Blackberry by a parent can be alienating. Facebook is great and kids are posting all sorts of stuff….not realizing it’s there forever! So I’m really recommending ‘technology management’.
You emphasize the subtle difference between “pro-active parenting” and “over parenting.” How and where does one draw the line?
I like to use the baby in a playpen analogy to explain this. Put the child in the playpen with lots of toys to play with. That’s pro-active parenting. Then leave them alone to play with their toys instead of jumping in there personally and showing them how each toy works. That’s over-parenting.
You mention the role of grief in culture shock. My experience has been that even when the expatriate experience is not a happy one (the expat cannot wait to leave the host country) they better make sure they still acknowledge all the feelings that go with leaving one place, any place, to relocate to another – whether it’s going back home, or moving on to yet another country – or they’ll be carrying unresolved feelings around like a bunch of very clunky, unwanted luggage. What would you say about that?
I agree completely! I have met and interviewed so many expats who hated a posting but then when you meet them at their next posting or after repatriation, they rhapsodize poetically about a place they supposedly hated! Every move must be brought to a proper closure(celebrate the end of a posting, take lots of pictures etc) or there will be grief over the loss of that experience even if it wasn’t great. The best transition gurus have always said: there can be no good beginning without first a good ending of the previous experience.
If you would like more information about Robin Pascoe, visit her website at www.expatexpert.com. She’s currently conducting a Relocation Survey titled: Family Matters! at www.expatexpert.com/survey. It is for family only, including high schoolers, and Robin will be publishing the results and using the information (all anonymous) when she speaks to businesses about the importance of family support for relocation.