Every May for the last few years there has been a challenge on Instagram for expats & specialists in this area.
#MayontheMove challenges those of us in the expat space to reflect on and share our experiences. I found this year’s prompts incredibly interesting and insightful and took the time to go all in with my posts. I thought it would be worth sharing my reflections, as well as some of the comments I got on the posts.
We start with the #Backstory.
Stories are continuous so we have to choose where to start telling them.
I’ll start here: April 1978, my 4th birthday at a restaurant in Oregon that had a carousel inside the building!
We celebrated with my sister and extended family, including my namesake Aunt Anna (pictured).
Four months later we were on a plane to start our adventure in Germany and our lives as Third Culture Kids.
Anna was one of many visitors that helped maintain a family connection throughout our childhood.
Expats – especially children – often feel rootless but that isn’t actually true. We all have roots & heritage.
Pictured here are some McKenzies – my Dad and his father, Dr. Fred F. McKenzie. Heritage is Scottish -> Canadian -> USA.
Swipe to see my grandmother – a Kauffman of German + Swiss = USA heritage (with her youngest grandchildren, soon be become TCKs). She was of a generation where she was addressed as Mrs Fred F. McKenzie – I remember seeing letter addressed to her like this and being surprised and fascinated.
More important than their ethnic backgrounds is what they did though. When I call myself a third generation global nomad it’s because of these people.
My grandparents (and dad) were expats at a time when travel was much harder than today. When you packed trunks and took ships, or wore your best clothes & a hat to fly and good-byes were for years with only the occasional airmail letter (or a dreaded telegram) to stay in touch.
They spent years in countries like Turkey, Peru, Indonesia, and Australia, to name a few, and I grew up hearing the stories and admiring the treasures around their house.
These are my roots.
““We all have roots and heritage.” Absolutely. Once we loosen up on the images of what we think that’s supposed to look like, if we haven’t already.
I love picturing packing trunks and wearing your best clothes and a hat for travel . . . I can imagine how exciting it was to hear your dad and grandparents tell their stories 💕. And I agree with you – so much of who we are in essence is what we do. Loved this. ❤️”
“I’ve just been thinking…maybe TCK’s are somewhat more aware of their roots and heritage and might treasure them more . Maybe the non TCK’s take roots and closeness and family for granted and tend to neglect them, so being a TCK “observer” for some years, I always admired the knowledge of heritage and the creative ways of bonding with family that I never saw before or experienced in my own family…”
Mentors & Mates
Today’s prompt: Mentors & Mates
This prompt is easy. These ladies are part of #ExpatCoachCoalition, lead by @sundaebean, and what has kept me somewhat sane over the last 18 months.
Together we launched a group coaching program, despite never having met in person. We have supported each other, shared, laughed and cried and learned a lot together about expat life, ourselves and starting a business.
I’m looking forward to our next launch of #adaptsucceedtogether after the summer and whatever lies beyond that (follow @adapt.succeed.together for more info).
Thank you to my mates @janeordaz @resilientexpats @Andrea.puck @renata_p_andrade
BTW – come see what makes them so cool and join us live every Wednesday “Live for 5” where we unpack a myth or just chat about all things expat – find us on Facebook.
I always feel a bit embarrassed when it comes to languages… thanks to my parents I’m fluent in English (learned at home) and German (learned at school).
Beyond that I aborted every language adventure pretty quickly. I have snippets and phrases of Croatian, French, Latin, Italian, isiXhosa, and Mandarin but never got very far with any of them.
And this despite knowing that you learn so much more about a culture and country when you understand the spoken language (or at least one of them).
I think it’s partly due to speaking English and being able to muddle through.
English + translating apps + a big smile = success of sorts
I’ve never failed to find a solution so the pain has never been great enough: I’m resourceful and even managed to find a way to navigate a Chinese tow truck driver to me in the middle of the IKEA parking lot in Beijing… and it wasn’t thanks to my Chinese skills.
But even that incident didn’t improve my motivation to learn Mandarin…
“Anna, I am encouraged by your honesty and your resourcefulness too! I knew an expat couple in Indonesia whose bahasa (language) was mediocre at best despite many lessons, but they sure mastered the language of loving others!”
“I sometimes felt that speaking English was kind of a disadvantage, as it makes you loose focus and interest in learning other languages.”
This photo is from our last family move. Beijing to Germany, 2019. At the time we were pretty sure it would be our last move for a while. Little did we know just how right we were. Covid hit and we haven’t seen the suitcases since we unpacked them…
Just for fun, I counted my international moves and came up with the following numbers:
– 14 moves between countries in total
– 3 as a child
– 6 on my own
– 1 as a couple
– 4 with children.
Maybe a little rest isn’t such a bad thing…
Three generations doing something we all love: playing games together 🃏. We share a few other loves. First and foremost: a love of reading 📖 . My grandmother – pictured on the right – was an avid reader and she passed her love of books on to her children (her daughters pictured here – my Mom and Aunt Anna) and grandchildren (some of them in the foreground – my sister & me).
Our children are avid readers & every Saturday night is dedicated to playing together – sometimes across time zones and around the world with three generations competing or cooperating on Zoom.
Because staying connected is also something we’ve done for generations.
Want to know more about how we do it? Check out this FB Live on the Global Mobility Trainer page where I interviewed an expert in distance grandparenting and staying in touch: my mom, who learned a lot about it from her mom.
Connecting across generations.
I love traditions!
We often associate traditions with spiritual or national holidays (e.g. Christmas) but growing up we had another tradition: home leave.
Every two years we would return to Oregon for the summer. There we would reconnect with our grandparents and a growing number of cousins on my mom’s side. The madness even has a name: Mueller Mania.
The first image is from 1980 and shows my sister and me with our grandparents (our grandma is 50 in this photo, just a tad older than I am, now 😳) and our two newest cousins. Both born during our absence.
The second photo was taken two years later, in 1982, with another new addition. The cousins came in a flurry after this, until we numbered 10.
Skip ahead to 2008. The next generation had started to grow and I flew to Oregon with my firstborn on my own because I certainly wasn’t missing Mueller Mania. Some traditions must be upheld.
Sadly my grandma passed away a few years ago. She would’ve been 91 this week. My grandpa, however, is still going strong.
As a young engineer I moved from Germany to my dream job in Switzerland (read more about that adventure, here). It was the perfect place and time for me to thrive in my work. To learn & grow and to make strides towards a future as one of the first women in the company’s management.
Then one day I got a text message from my fiancé: “Want to move to South Africa?”
My answer was immediate and with it everything changed. I never hesitated but with that decision I lost my financial independence, my lifestyle, my career.
I can’t say I haven’t wondered what life would’ve been like had we stayed. Lot’s of “what ifs?” and “what would’ve beens?” But would I change it? Not for the world.
Sometimes the universe knows better and we just need to trust that.
How do you build connections and create a sense of community when you move country during a pandemic?
Many families have faced this challenge in the last year. One thing we did was bake cookies and deliver them to our new neighbours – with a note & phone number.
They were delighted and it broke the ice in a socially-distanced, safe way.
How have you built and maintained community this past year?
Cauchy’s mathematical definition of Continuity: A function is continuous, if for every s>0 there is a d>0. In other words, if there is always a correlating “you” for every moment of “me”.
My husband and I have been a continuous function for a curve length of 29 years. Across countries, cultures and communities, we have been been continuous.
Like any curve we’ve had our ups and downs but life would be boring as a straight, wouldn’t it?
I thought long and hard about this prompt. No really, I did.
I have many resources, accounts, books, links, groups, websites, and courses I could recommend. What to choose?
I finally decided to recommend something completely different.
I’m not into fashion. Most of my clothes have traveled more than the average person and are older than them, too. I cut my hair a lot less often than most people (even during a pandemic). My skin care routine consists of drinking lots of water, sunscreen, hats, and Nivea and manicures are an occasional splurge (like every other year).
But I never even have coffee in the morning without make up. Not a “full face” but eyebrows & mascara are non-negotiable, even when I run. This small step makes me feel put together & focussed. It is my way of showing up for myself. My power suit. Call me silly but I won’t judge you.
If I feel insecure about stepping into a new situation I’ll spend more time on “my face”. It’s a routine, a ritual and I would feel naked without it. It’s not for everyone but it works for me.
So. My recommendation is to know what makes you feel powerful and get it. What do you need to bolster your courage to step out into the world and get $h!t done, wherever you are, whatever the challenge? Knowledge? Language? Or just a bit of mascara?
Interestingly this post struck a nerve more than any other. Some of the comments were:
“I love this! For me, it’s a short but consistent morning routine these days that really helps, and doing something with my hair. I love makeup but I’m good with a bare face as long as I did my skin care that morning. But the hair. If I don’t do something with it, even if a neat ponytail or scrunching the waves nicely, it really affects me. If I throw it up in a messy bun (not the “pretty” type, I mean the hot mess type), it feels like I haven’t earnestly decided to participate in my day.”
“Oh, thank God it’s not just me 🙂 when I read about your clothes having travelled more than most people, that’s my wardrobe too. and yes the eyebrows and mascara I’m making those a negotiable too + 💄 of course. Thank you for sharing 😊”
“Embarrassingly simple things… like taking a shower and getting dressed in real clothes. 😆 And then less simple things, like getting back into language learning so that I can feel more confident in communicating as the world starts to reopen here again. Mascara and lipstick help me too 😋”
My saudade (see definition, below) can also be described as the “loss of something that could have been”. It’s a question, a mindgame, an unsolvable puzzle that I’ve played all my life.
What if we hadn’t left Oregon?
What if I’d grown up raising goats and riding bareback?
What if I’d gone to a local school and never traveled as a child?
Who would I be?
What would my belief system be?
Where would I be today?
I can spend hours on this. I’ll share a few scenarios that I’ve played with over the years:
a) barefoot and pregnant by 21 😉 I don’t believe this one. I would still have had the same parents, with their values and experience and sensible guidance. I would still have the mind and some of the personality I have (nature vs. nurture…) I really think this one is unlikely.
b) ever curious, went on student exchange to South America as a High Schooler and returned there after college (kind of like in a recent Adventure Calls podcast by @jessicavdrucker where Katherine made Costa Rica her home)
c) geeky girl in the band, shy and quiet, never gained confidence – ended up living in books as professor at some obscure faculty at OSU. This doesn’t sound so bad, actually…
d) My Dad takes a job teaching in Germany. I grow up there, straddling life in a German village and as a military dependent, never sure when we will move again but putting down roots anyway. And raising goats. Because you can take the girl out of Oregon but you can’t take Oregon out of the girl – or something like that. Yes. This happened.
Saudade: a deep emotional state of nostalgic or profound melancholic longing for something or someone. It often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing might never be had again (source: wikipedia).
(wikipedia, German): Das Wort steht für das nostalgische Gefühl, etwas Geliebtes verloren zu haben, und drückt oft das Unglück und das unterdrückte Wissen aus, die Sehnsucht nach dem Verlorenen niemals stillen zu können, da es wohl nicht wiederkehren wird. Eine Form Weltschmerz.
Painting of a barn in Oregon by a young Peggy Mueller – my mom.
As a 17 year old I was allowed to drive in Germany – a year ahead of my German counterparts. My Dad bought me a yellow VW beetle and expected me to drive myself and my sister to school and rehearsals. I drove a lot more than that.
I loved that car and the freedom (and popularity) it gave me.
When I was at OSU I drove my grandfathers old Ford LTD, nicknamed Merle. What a tank! But it meant I could head to the #OregonCoast on the weekends, or up to #Parkdale and my beloved #MtHood to visit my grandparents.
Everywhere I’ve lived, I’ve been independently mobile. As a single expat in Georgia, USA I would go on long drives on the weekends. Windows down, music up, finding remote towns and junk stores.
I couldn’t wait to get my drivers license in #China so I could explore #Beijing (without my driver). I remember driving in ever larger circles out from our home as my confidence grew. Thank goodness for Apple maps!
I’ve had 5 different drivers licenses (all based off of the original Oregon license I got the summer of ’90).
Next week I will return my current car: my smart. I’ve had it since November 2020 and it has less than 100km on it. I have nowhere to go during the pandemic so we can’t justify a second car. This kind of hurts and I feel like my wings are being clipped.
I’ll have to find another source of pleasure.
Take care of your mental health the same way you take care of your dental health. Daily care, check-ups and some longer sessions (ever had a root canal?). If there is pain don’t wait until it becomes debilitating.
Seems so obvious, doesn’t it?
No-one feels stigma about going to the dentist. Let’s do the same for mental health and normalise this essential element of self-care.
Easier said than done but if we don’t lead the way, who will?
My daily mental health care routine now includes this fur ball (@skye.delights) that loves us unconditionally and has been wonderful for the entire family’s mental state. I consider myself very fortunate to have her in my life.
As a child and young adult I was inspired by the stories of my grandparents’ expat adventures and their house filled with exotic things (we slept next to a kangaroo skin!).
But honestly, I’m most inspired by the children we take along on our journeys around the world. The children that are transplanted from a familiar place that quickly learn to thrive in a new location – attend lessons in a different language, develop a taste for formerly foreign foods and grow into amazing, powerful, compassionate and insightful global citizens along the way.
As parents and caregivers it is our biggest responsibility and should be our highest priority to care for these children. They can only develop their awesome potential to unite and lead the world in their unique way if we provide them with a solid foundation of love, care and understanding – even if the location we do this in changes often. If we don’t, they will eventually pay the price for the adventures we took them on.
My favorite reply to this one: ” Love this. In essence, inspired by the future. ❤️”