I meet so many cool moms! This series gives them a chance to share their stories – to inspire others and to sometimes give us all a chuckle.
Parenting is not for cowards and parenting abroad can be next level. If you want to share your story, please get it touch with me. I’d love to feature you.
Linda is an international mom & repat, as well as a fellow member of the Expat Coach Coalition. The family faced a particular challenge with her daughter’s food allergy that sparked their most recent move. Allergies are a seldom discussed challenge in the context of international moves but one that must be put on the table and not hidden, as they can range from restrictive to life threatening. In addition to her work with expat partners Linda also advocates for allergy awareness. Follow her on Instagram (see below) to stay informed.
How did you get to where you are today?
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your family.
Where we are today – Chicago – was a choice. Coming here was our 7th international move in 13 years that took us to Tokyo – St. Paul – Tokyo – Chicago – Abu Dhabi – London – Chicago. We weren’t rotational expats so most of these moves were unexpected and didn’t last as long as intended. It was a whirlwind of different cultures, languages, homes, schools, friends, and so on.
Our first move to Tokyo was just my husband and me. We both worked and took advantage of all that expat life had to offer in terms of travel, language learning, socializing, etc. Our daughter was born six weeks after we moved back to Tokyo. She gave us a very different experience the second time around. She was a big part of why we chose to return to Chicago when it was time to leave London. We lived here for 14 months when she was 3 years old and used it as a home base while living in Abu Dhabi and London, so it’s home to her. Also, she has a food allergy that was making international life and travel dangerous and we wanted to try a treatment here.
What did you want to be “when you grow up”? How is that different from today’s reality?
I wanted to be an international corporate executive for as long as I can remember. I was a big reader as a kid, so I learned about all of the things I wanted to see and experience around the world. A corporate job was going to be my ticket to travel. In retrospect, I was on a path of expectations with regard to what I should be doing and had tunnel vision with regard to my career.
I definitely surprised quite a few people, including myself, when I stepped off of my traditional career path to follow my husband’s job to Tokyo. That 3.5 year period changed the trajectory of my life as it pulled me off that path of “should” and exposed me to a more well-rounded and fulfilling lifestyle. I had a child a bit later in life and gained enough confidence to go out on my own professionally. It’s been an evolution over time, but I have designed a life that works for me.
What is something you recently learned that really surprised you?
I am proud of the life I’ve created for myself and my family. On occasion, I’ve questioned my decision to leave my corporate career behind, especially when catching up with a friend from my professional life who is now in a big, fancy job! My identity was so entwined with my career that it’s taken awhile to unravel it.
During the lockdown, I purged many of the boxes of memorabilia we had collected and stored during our time abroad. It was a walk down memory lane from my days in school to my professional life to the different countries we lived in over the years and everything in between. It gave me cause to reconnect with people from my past, acknowledge how I’ve evolved, and be grateful for the life lessons that have made me a better person and mother.
What’s the one thing you are thrilled your child will have or be by growing up as TCKs/CCKs?
In the view of my TCK tween, the world is accessible and full of opportunities to meet people, visit interesting places, and experience and learn something new. She has virtual playdates with friends in Saudi Arabia, the U.K., and so on. She learns about historical locations in school and can share what she saw and experienced when she once visited the place in person. She’s pretty adventurous with food, as long as it’s not too spicy! I’m thrilled that she’s experienced a lot at a young age and it makes her accepting, confident, adaptable, and resilient.
What’s your biggest mobile-family-related parenting challenge?
As I mentioned earlier, my daughter has a food allergy that made living and traveling abroad extremely challenging. We learned that she had a nut allergy when we were living in a country where the traditional diet was heavy in nuts, the medical system didn’t diagnose and treat food allergies with the latest information and standards, and there was little awareness of food allergy risks in the international school, as well as our international community.
It became very difficult to travel safely and confidently. The situation was stressful and very challenging socially and emotionally. Thankfully, once we repatriated, my daughter was able to go through a medically-supervised tolerance-building treatment that has restored our freedom!
What was the best parenting advice you every got?
“Your child will teach you how to care for her”
I was 40 years old when my daughter was born. We had spent much of my pregnancy planning a domestic move that turned into an international move 6 weeks before I gave birth. We were so focused on getting ourselves back to Tokyo that we didn’t have much time to focus on what would actually happen once we brought the baby home.
When we arrived home from the hospital, my husband and I basically looked at each other and said “now what?”. It’s comical in retrospect, but I was scared. I called a friend who had a baby in Tokyo the year before for reassurance and she said the words above to me. Her tone and confidence soothed me. Whenever I am struggling with a parenting issue, I remember this advice and it allows me to tune into what really matters.
What traditions or rituals from your host countries have you adopted in your family?
We don’t wear shoes in our house and always offer to take them off when we visit other homes.
That was a norm in Japan that we quickly adopted. There are many benefits, including reducing the need to clean my floors.
What was your most embarrassing or funniest expat moment?
This question makes me chuckle – I’ve had so many embarrassing moments over the years!
The most memorable one for me happened shortly after we moved to Tokyo. My husband and I had gone out to eat with a group of new friends at a small neighborhood restaurant that sat under train tracks. At one point, I excused myself to use the toilet. The room was tiny and shook every time the train passed overhead. I managed to push the wrong button and water began spraying everywhere. The room was shaking. I couldn’t figure out how to turn it off or get out of the room quickly enough to stay dry. By the time it all stopped, the bottom half of me was soaking wet. I was mortified, but once our group finished laughing and calling me a ‘rookie’ I was given a lesson in high tech toilet use and it never happened again.
What country or place is still on your destination bucket list and why?
Sri Lanka! We moved to Abu Dhabi with plans to travel the region over the five years we planned to be there. We made it to several memorable places in the year-and-a-half that we were there but didn’t have the time to give Sri Lanka the time it deserves. There is so much to see and do there from pristine beaches, to fabulous food, to interesting history and culture, to lush tea plantations and national parks full of rare animals. I WILL get there one day!
What advice would you give families setting out on their first expat adventure?
Decide what you want to get out of the experience and go for it! Learn from others and ask for help, but make the experience your own. Within reason, there’s no right or wrong way to be an expat. Once you get the lay of the land, set some goals and begin mapping out plans in a way that makes sense for your family. This will allow you to make the most of your time abroad, especially if you end up departing sooner than expected.