You notice it in our home immediately, the different styles fit well together. Our Swahili furniture stands perfectly alongside the Vietnamese red lacquer cabinet, a painting by Damiano Msagula hangs perfectly alongside the artwork of Do Tuan Anh, etc.
Also, each object comes with a fabulous story (at least that is what we think), that is somewhat different than the Ikea furniture in many homes in Flanders. Not only our house breathes that rich multi-culture, you can notice it in everything we do or say. By combining different cultures as it were, we have created a third culture or a shared culture and this is our new normal.
Our twin boys are real TCK, Third Culture Kids. After the conception they spent the first months in their mothers’ womb in Zanzibar. Seven months after they were born we exchanged Belgium for Kenya. Four years later we moved to Vietnam and after that we lived for 3 years in Zambia.
Since July 2012 our TCK are back in Flanders. They are getting to know their own culture, oops, I mean, they are getting to know a new culture. They are adjusting to the Flemish culture like fish to water. We, the parents, need a bit more time to adjust to the culture, previously know as our own. In fact, expats and repats tell us that it takes the time you spent abroad, to adjust to your own country again. In a decade we will let you know if this is true.
On return from such a rich experience, people often fall into a 'dark hole'; it’s like you loose your mirrors and no one yet understands you from your own culture. Think about the sperm whale that stranded in Koksijde in 1989 and was buried in the clay. When they wanted to dig up the animal 24 years later, they found the animal remained intact, the clay completely conserved it.
Friends and family might think that we have not changed after all these years living and working abroad, they act as if we are exactly the same people as when we left. They continued living the life in Flanders, they built up a valuable network they can turn to for a quick chat or some support.
We are having difficulties getting access to such a network, we feel we cannot (yet) get deep into the social fabric in Flanders. We find it difficult to understand what some people are talking about, for example when they make references to world famous Flemish TV programs we have never seen, or world famous Flemish people we have never heard of.
We also find it difficult to understand the irritations or the stress some people have here, for example when the bus or the train is late again. It was freezing cold and snowing, so you should be happy there is a train in the first place! Living and working in third world countries made that we have a different outlook at little things like that. There you plan your day ahead but you know that a lot of your plans will not materialise. Hakuna Matata, you can always try again the following day.
Moving from one place to another has allowed us to taste different cultures and more than that, being a global nomad allowed us to grow personally. Negotiating with yourself and society at large on what parts and aspects of culture you integrate or not is a process that can be a key factor for personal growth.
In a newspaper article about whales I read that they have lost the ability to taste sour, sweet, bitter, savory and kept only the taste for salt. Scientist can only guess why whales have evolved this way. Maybe if you stick too long to one habitat you loose the full taste of things? "The great gift that the members of the human race have for each other is not exotic experiences but an opportunity to achieve awareness of the structure of their own system, which can be accomplished only by interacting with others who do not share that system"(1).
Written by Bart Cornille & Sarah Neirinckx
(1) Hall T.E., 1989, p. 44
My twin boys just turned 14 years. We are in the midst of puberty oeps I mean they are. A confusing period for them and also for the parents. It is a threshold for them, they are on their way of becoming man. It is a transition phase for all of us. My kids have travelled the world with us.
They have lived, since they were born, in 4 countries, that means 3 to 4 years in one country and then moving to the next. We are now 3 years back in Belgium, for them a new country to explore. For us, the parents, a country filled with our own childhood memories.
As a family we were very used to a mobile life style and we were getting pretty good at it. This 3 to 4 year rhythm of change is still somehow in me. I feel the urge again for a big move, however we are staying. Now we have a new challenge and that is learning how to stay!
Learning how to stay
What I learned from living abroad and living amongst other cultures is to look at the other not so much with an open mind but rather with an empty mind. An open mind still may be influenced by that outside world and look at the other while comparing it to the self. While an empty mind is open to new and other ideas. We need to be careful that when marching into the world of the other, that we do not only look for those arguments that will help to hold our own position in life and proofs us right, like we are just collecting evidence to bolster our truth.
But if we really want to embrace the other, may it be the masculine, the feminine inside each of us, or your next-door neighbour, another culture, another country it is important that we do this with an empty mind so we truly give the other space to co-exist, so a real encounter can take place rather than a comparison between the two, either this or either that.
The willingness to meet the other with an empty mind can create a new beginning.
When two people meet, it is like two different worlds meet, even if people are from the same country still this person has its' own landscape with its' own capital, its' own mountains and valleys, seas and rivers.
By interacting with the other with an empty mind you are opening possibilities and new perspectives, by seeing the difference and sameness of the other rather than looking for proof for your position. By doing so, you embrace also the other in each one of us, that part of you we do not like to show, that part of us we like to hide, or when we see it in our offspring we say this behavior I truly do not recognize in myself. But is that so? Being open to the other is an important step to be open to that part in yourself that has been neglected or hidden away. Hiding parts from ourself is never good, we can never become whole.
I do believe that our outer world is a reflection of our inner world and vice versa. In our inner and outer journey make sure you also dare to look at these places we rather project on the others. Just remember that light and shadow co-exist, the one can not exist without the other, they are one.
text: Sarah Neirinckx
image: Tomasz Alen Kopera
inspiration: Phd. Brian Riedel
When talking to fellow repats and TCK’s I often hear the complaint about how they are not able to adjust to the seasons in Europe while being used to more tropical climates. And off course the outside world has an influence on us.
The connection with your environment is of vital importance in your feeling of belonging. We do have a connection with people but also with nature, the sun, the moon, they all have an influence on us and vice versa.
The changes we see around us affect us, that is for sure. We are dealing with change every single day. Every day is different. This is my second spring back in Europe and still I am getting used to the seasonal changes. After a soft winter we enter spring. I have been used to different seasons. This rhythm of the seasons influences our daily life, in winter people stay indoors more, wear different clothing, and wear socks and closed shoes, but also people tend to look more inwards in wintertime, as if it is a good time to let go of some old stuff that we do no longer want to carry. I was used to different seasons where the rain would wash away the dust from the dry season and water the gardens so things would grow again and again.
I remember when my kids experienced autumn in Europe for the first time, we saw the falling leaves, and then in winter trees completely leaf free. The next thing they asked me: “mum are the trees also going to lose their branches?” Although they did learn about the 4 different seasons in their international school, they had never really experienced it. And that is the difference, we can learn and read a lot about how it is but if we did not experience it we do not really understand it.
And of course there are also seasons in tropical countries, yet they are different from the seasons in Europe. Sounds simple enough, doesn't it? But not always so easy. The demands, distractions and needs of the external world we share are not always aligned with inner desires and knowing. And both are always changing so what worked in wonderful harmony in one place will require inner shifts and outer changes in another. It is the great dance of the human life, to integrate our inner and outer worlds so we can live in integrity, receiving what we need, offering what we bring. Like many things in life they follow a cycle, a never ending cycle of change.
"The best thing about memories is making them"
Rather than making new year’s resolutions this year, we tried something different. We, as a family have made a first start to filling our jar of memories.
Since we like to make an effort to adjust again to our new life style in Belgium, I decided to start to collect nice memories of our ‘new’ home country experience. Because I noticed that after the first excitement of returning “home” was over, I started to refer to the nice memories of our life abroad.
Every day we are collecting new memories for a later day . So while enjoying the ‘present’ moment I also am aware that I am collecting memories for later because precious memories are like an open fire that warms you during the cold winter.
I try to be much more aware of the beautiful and precious present moment while being aware that this moments will be treasured later in life. The jar of memories will help me to remind me that life is what you make of it and we are living in the present while collecting memories to enjoy in the future.
On new year’s eve we all wrote down the nicest, most treasured moments of 2013. These papers were folded and put in our memory jar. At the end of 2014 we will read what we have written and add new memories of 2014.
I will start 2014 as a memory collector!
All the best for 2014!
What should I do about the wild and the tame?
The wild heart that wants to be free,
and the tame heart that wants to come home.
I want to be held.
I don't want you to come too close.
I want you to scoop me up and bring me home at night.
I don't want to tell you where I am.
I want to keep a place among the rocks where no one can find me.
I want to be with you.
-Jeanette Winterson -
Painting by Beatriz Martin Vidal (www.beavidal.com)
Most of my friends, colleagues and clients who have had expats experiences when asked to describe the feelings that pops up when thinking back on how it was “the expat life”, say: “it has double feelings”. And that is exactly so, a lot of mixed feelings are involved when living abroad and also upon returning home.
I often refer to that part of me that longed for home when I lived abroad as “the tame” and that part of me that longed to go abroad and to be free as “the wild”.
Having mixed feelings on how you are living your life can cause internal conflicts. It is good to take time to look at internal conflicts, untangle these conflicting parts, name them and ask about their intentions. Allow both parts to be here and give them the attention, love and nutrition they need so they can co-operate with each other rather than fight each other. Feeding both parts will help to solve internal conflicts and so can help you to live a happier life.
Being able to hold two opposite ideas at the same time in my mind reminds me that I am so much more than these two opposites.
We all have parts in us that need attention and need to be fed. Do not neglect these parts of you that help you to become the person you truly inspire to be. Do not be freighted by paradoxes but find the strength to hold both in your mind and heart so both parts can enrich and feed you to become the whole person you inspire to be.
"Wherever life plants you, bloom with grace"
Many of us have seen changes and have gone through transition periods in their lives. These are periods that leave a bitter-sweet taste with us. These are the phases in our lives where we suddenly progress and literary move on. They are hard but gosh, so rewarding. These are the times we feel like giving up a thousand times but find the courage to keep on walking. These are the times we feel alive.
When we move from one continent to another, this transition period is filled with practical issues which can overwhelm us. And apart from that, there are the emotional aspects to moving places. Saying goodbye and saying hello. A new life style, a new place, for the kids a new school, new customs and new perspectives on life. And sometimes old beliefs and values do no longer suit with this new way of life. These can cause inner conflicts and stress. When going through a transition it is good to look at the beliefs you have and also look at those beliefs that are holding us back to live the life we truly want to live.
Look at this period as a great opportunity to take a beautiful journey inside and look at yourself. Maybe it is time to throw away some of the emotional baggage that no longer serves you. To make the most out of a transition you can take time to get to know yourself better and feed that part of you that wants to bloom.
Take a look at the opportunities and picture the life you want to live, a life where you can be the person you truly inspire to be and live a life that nurtures you so you can bloom.
Take a deep breath and dare to take action towards your goals, so you can start to create the life you want to live. Be open to new opportunities.
The nomadic life of expats brings with it a never ending cycle of
expectations and also disappointments. As you move from one place to another you always have expectations about that place.
I always liked this part most of my expat life: a new country with new hopes, new aspirations and expectations. Dreaming about how it will be and having expectations of a place or a person is not a bad thing it makes you fall in love a bit with the place or person but dealing with the disappointment when expectations are not met is a much greater challenge and maybe the real challenge in life. I quite like having expectation about my own life, and I am very much trying to deal with disappointment when these are not met.
I try to have realistic expectations but as life goes they are not always met. I don’t think I will want to give up having expectation on life in general and more particular on the expectation I have set for myself. Why would I? For me there is a link between motivation and having expectations… If I cannot have any expectation towards my life why would I even bother to do anything to live up to these expectations? They define the life I want to live and what I want to achieve. To prevent disappointment or fear , we may deny anything we secretly hope for. We presume if we don’t have any expectations, we can’t be disappointed. The truth is we all have expectations, some too high some too low.
The key question is: how do you deal with disappointment?
Are expectations not just your beliefs projected in the future?
If your expectations are not met you probably needed that reality check. And this is where
the shoe fits. When returning back to your ‘home country’ the people around you and you upon returning expect ‘a sameness’. When returning to our ‘home country’ the people around us expect us to behave, think and share the same ideas. And that is when the stress comes in, we cannot live up to that expectation. We have lived a totally different lifestyle in comparison to most of the people in our ‘home country’.
Our international experience has made us who we are. For all those years abroad expats were
excused to be ‘different’. When I was living our international life nobody was surprised to see differences because I was not from that place. Now back home we expect to feel sameness with the people around us while reality tells us, you have changed and the people in your home country have changed.
source: Matt Wisniewski
Being a returning expat, an ex-expat, a returnee or how you want to call it, has many challenges. It is like a big wave. You can overcome a lot of difficulties by understanding what is happening. Compared to the literature on moving abroad, the literature on returning home is quite confined. Here’s a brief description of reverse culture shock and some tips.
The weather is nice, at last the summer has started in Europe. It is like people come alive again. Holiday has started, my house is a busy buzz with the kids around. Being used to nice weather all
There are many different reasons why people experience returning to their home country as difficult. Apart from every person his/her own personal issues there are lots of similarities as well.
Resettling in your home country is not an easy task. What made me come back is not always so clear.
A recent discussion on Bloom facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/Bloomcocreation, is still triggering my mind. I decided to sit down and write something about this. It concerns the cultural factor. How do we experience our own culture and how do we experience other cultures?
Currently I am living in a very multi diverse European society and I sometimes wonder how all these different cultures interact and deal with often contradicting beliefs systems. And how did I deal with this when I lived abroad?
Is culture a chain around your ankles holdings you back from personal growth? Or is it an opportunity to look at yourself? What parts of your own culture suits your inner self? Can you choose which parts of culture you integrate as if you were picking out clothes that suits you well?
Do you see culture as an opportunity or rather as an obstacle for personal growth?
I believe that culture can be as liberating as it can be restraining, it all comes down to being aware of your cultural self and making conscious decisions. For me it comes down to being aware of how you perceive culture and how you deal with that part of you that is related and structured around cultural beliefs. Negotiating with yourself and society at large on what parts and aspects of culture you integrate or not is a process that can be a key factor for personal growth.
It is this negotiation you have with yourself on who you really want to be that can create personal growth or not. It is your choice.
What parts are holding you back to be the person you really inspire to be?
Third Culture Coach
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