Friday, March 29, 2013

What I've Been Up To

If you follow me over on Facebook you know that I have exciting news about the forthcoming eBook, "Moving to Myanmar."

  • The cover art is done and was completed by the lovely and talented ECHOPHYU, a local Myanmar artist. I'd love to show it to you, but I think that will have to wait just a wee bit longer!
  • My editor completed his work (I'm sure I kept him busy) and got the manuscript back to me, all nicely polished. Thank you, Douglas. You're super awesome.
  •  The book has now gone into the capable hands of Kristal Norton, artist mama and eBook formatter extraordinaire. She's having to deal with some of my own formatting inconsistencies and thankfully, she's been patient with me. 

We're on schedule for the April 2013 launch of "Moving to Myanmar."

It's my sincerest hope that it will help make the move to Yangon a bit easier for some of you out there.

If you haven't had a chance yet, you can check-out my eBook special tab and if you want to be part of the mailing list for insider info about the eBook, sign-up here.

Aside from the eBook work, I've sent a few pieces for submission to an anthology of writing from expat women living in East Asia. Fingers crossed, the pieces will be accepted.

Meanwhile, I'm looking forward to starting up my Inspiration Interview series again. I have some amazing people lined up.

Thanks for all of your support, especially as I've been less visible online and in real life, too.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

How To Get Through Super Stress: Blog Circle

We all have times we experience super-stress. Not just regular stress, but super-strength-super-stress that flies into our lives, its brilliant cape trailing behind, wrapping us up into a whirlwind of chaos. I know, it sounds dramatic; but it happens.

How do we get through that superhero-level stress? I think it’s different for everyone and I’m not necessarily an expert on how to get through it in a healthy way; yet, I’ve had my fair share of this nasty kryptonite kind of pressure. I’ve managed to muddle through. And I think I’m half-way normal. (OK, maybe not half-way…)

This is what has worked for me:

  • Reach out. Talk to someone you trust. Someone who will listen to you have a good ‘ol rant and rave, if that’s what you need. Someone who will let you cry. Whatever it is you need, find someone who can offer that to you. Just be sure it’s an appropriate person for the situation and someone you truly trust.

  • Reach out again.  This time, after you get all the surface level, first-response icky-yucky emotions off your chest, reach out to someone who will listen, but also help anchor you in perspective.  While we do need people who will listen to us rant and rave and be fiercely loyal to us, we also need those calm individuals who love us and know us, those who can ground us after all those intense emotions fly around. It’s the deep-breath time. The re-focus time.

  • Come up with a mantra to get you through the rough patch. I just recently watched this video by Danielle LaPorte and it resonated with me. She said our mantra should be, “I’ll figure it out” not “I don’t know what I’m going to do!” In step one, we can cry and wail and say life isn’t fair (it’s often not). During that time, it’s OK to worry about what we’re going to do, how we’re going to get through. It’s normal to be overwhelmed and scared. At some point, though, we have to grip our own shoulders, look our frightened selves in the eyes, grit our teeth, and say, “I WILL FIGURE THIS OUT.” Why? Because you will. You will figure it out.

  • Next step? Start figuring it out. Take some time to be quiet. Ask yourself what you really, really want and how you can get it. Maybe you don’t have the answer, but most likely you know someone who does. If you do, reach out to that person. If you don’t think you know someone who has an answer, you certainly know someone who knows someone who does have an answer. I promise. So reach out to someone you think might know someone who knows. Ha! Are you still with me? 

This is the time to get strategic.  I like to think of it as getting creative.  You start to decide and create what you want things to look like in the future. I also have come to believe that not only is it vital to do this step, but it's also vital to actually allow yourself to feel it's a bit fun.  Even in the depths of despair, there is light.  You can find something to look forward to that would bring you joy in the future. It's not macabre or insensitive to do this. It will help you through the process. 

In the depths of super-stress, things aren't the way you want them to be; but how things are right this very moment will not stay the same.  It will be different in a few hours or a few days. Nothing stays the same. 

Knowing that frees you to let go (a little bit) of the need to hold on to current pain or disappointment caused by that super-sleuthy stress. In knowing that the immense challenge you’re currently experiencing will not last forever, you can let yourself feel it, accept it’s part of the experience, and trust it will not stay this intense always and forever. You will survive it in your own way.  You will.

Often times, our super-stress events can be wake-up calls. We might need to do something different.  Make a change.  Perhaps you actually really know that somewhere in your heart. Be honest with yourself - and others, if necessary - about it: even if it’s scary.

Be open to possible opportunities, even if they seem out-of-the-box or nontraditional. Sometimes, a bit of creative thinking/problem solving makes it all possible.  But you often have to talk to people to help you even see those possibilities. Well, that’s the case for me, anyway.

  • Take time for yourself. Let go of any responsibilities or obligations that aren’t absolutely necessary. Sleep-in if you have to. Do something nice for yourself. Every day. And try your best not to feel guilty about it. 

  • Laugh. Pinterest is great and so are Youtube videos. I know it sounds cheesy, but when I feel shitty, watching a funny video can really lift me out of a rut. At least for five minutes.  Want to know what I think is funny?  You can look at my pinterest board. When you laugh, you reconnect to that part of you who believes you're strong enough and believes you can get through. Believes you will figure it out
 The point here is to think of the little things that bring happiness to you - even if for a fleeting moment. Looking at anything you find inspirational will help, too. Sometimes people read a particular book they find uplifting. I find myself going to others and going to poetry. I write myself out of my hole and process it that way. We all have our own ways. Whatever it is for you, do it.

  • Devise a plan. Work on it. And as you work on your plan, when things feel shitty again, because sometimes they will, then know that’s OK. Let yourself feel that sadness, especially if there’s a loss of some sort involved. When we lose something (a job, a loved one, an opportunity, or we move), it’s normal to feel some grief.  Often we grieve the what-could’ve-been, the possibilities. It’s OK. Do that. And then tell yourself after you have a good cry, “I’ll figure it out.”

You’ll figure it out.  You really will. 

How do you deal with the super-stress superpowers?

Please join in with our blog circle and travel over to the amazing New York-based photographer, Gail Haile to read her "HOW TO" post. I invite you to get a nice cup of tea or coffee, sit down, and read through the other beautiful blog posts about "how to..."

Other blog circle participants this month:









Monday, March 18, 2013

Hello/Good-bye: The Transcience of Expat Life

Saying good-bye is something you have to at least try getting used to as an expat. When you live life overseas, especially if you're committed to that lifestyle, then you will always be arriving and leaving. Others in your life, in your expat circle, will always be arriving and leaving, too.

The benefits of transience is exposure to other cultures and being well traveled. Children who are third culture kids usually start traveling early in their lives and become comfortable with it. Some have even said they feel most at home in airports.They're usually adaptable, self-sufficient, and have a great understanding and empathy towards global issues.

Most likely this is because of the connection(s) they've built in different countries and because of the connections they've made with people who have then moved to other countries (that they then feel some connectedness to); for example, I watched a movie - I'm so sorry I can't recall the name - about third culture kids. One of the kids said that when the tsunami hit Thailand, they felt a deep sense of grief. They had recently been to Thailand or had friends that had lived there or perhaps they used to live there themselves. That connectedness breeds empathy for the greater good. This is a gift.

The cons, though, are that some third culture kids don't know where they belong or where they come from. Some adults aren't sure, either.  The transience, the coming and going, the attaching and detaching, can make certain children and adults find it difficult to create deep relationships with others. Research has shown that expats are generally more adept at maintaining a level of detachment (especially from relationships).

Third culture kids are always losing friends to moves. They're also always gaining new ones. So are the grown-ups.

Sometimes, there's a lot of stress in expat families. The family usually values hard work and academics which can provide a lot of benefits to children; but it also means - usually - that at least one of the parents works extremely hard and may travel a lot.

When stress accumulates in an expat family, it's difficult to resolve issues when you don't have a strong support network that you can lean on. As I discussed here, sometimes it can feel a bit isolating being an expat. Sometimes it's hard to find people you can really share what's going on with.  The expat world is usually a pretty small one.

This goes for adults and for kids.

Transience is on my mind because some friends will be moving away when school gets out this year. Another friend who moved away in the fall is moving back this week. It's an influx of constant change.  I find that when I live overseas, I get a bit more guarded. When I arrive, I try not to get to close to people who are nearing the end of their contracts. It always feels safer to invest time and energy in relationships with people who haven't been in the country very long; but even then, you never know when an unexpected change might bop you over your head and then: boom! Your new close friend is gone.

Some people seem to be naturally wired for a transient lifestyle. They may even crave it, need it, in order to function at their best. They may be comfortable with the level of detachment that comes from that; and for whatever reason, perhaps that best suits their personalities. These individuals - whether children or adults - will probably thrive as expats.

Others won't. Some people - adults and children - are hard wired to have roots and a home. A physical place, not just the planet, to call their own. A place to have an attachment to, and place they know they belong, surrounded by family and friends that have known them for many years.

It's been said that the longer you live life abroad, the harder it is to re-adjust and repatriate (or settle down...somewhere).  I'm not sure if there's a point-of-no-return, or some kind of tipping-point, but it does seem like there is. I don't have research to back that up, just my observation. 

So, I think it's important that as we journey down this road, we're mindful of who we really are and what our needs are. We communicate with our children. You figure out what kind of expat you want to be. Temporary. Permanent. Long-term, but eventually repatriate. Lots of options.

Be clear from the outset.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Celebrating One Year with a Newsletter and eBook Info!


A few days ago marked the one year anniversary that our family had moved from the United States.

It's a kind of crazy to think about all of the things that have happened in just one year. I never thought I'd write an eBook during this time.  I didn't even think about writing a blog. Yet, here we are.  And I'm grateful.

As the blog has grown, it seemed that creating a newsletter to keep you informed of things going on would be a good idea. 

Newsletter  and Expat Manifestos

I'm happy to announce that the newsletter has now launched and you can sign-up either by clicking the tab on the right sidebar, or - to make it easy - you can click right here.

When you sign-up, you get some cool goodies from me: beautiful Expat Manifestos!  A huge thanks goes out to the talented graphic designer, Jane Bell Lassiter who created the manifestos with me and lots of expats. 

The coolest thing about the Expat Manifestos besides them probably being the only ones that exist? Oh, and besides them being gorgeous and free and printable? There are Expat Manifestos FOR KIDS. 

The Kids' Expat Manifestos were written by expat kids all over the world, including ones living right here in Myanmar. 

Love them!

eBook News

Oh! And if you want to keep up-to-date on all the happenings with the eBook, "Moving to Myanmar," then you can sign-up here. 

You can also check-out my brand spankin' new tab on the blog dedicated to the book.

Thanks for all of your help and support. :) 

Saturday, March 9, 2013

When Stereotypes Get Blown Out of the Water

 Solomon was our regular taxi driver (for a year) in Ethiopia. He became my good friend.  My first friend in Ethiopia, actually.  He gave me a sense of being OK and normal at a time when nothing felt normal to me.  By the end of the year, we could spend an hour chatting, flipping between Amharic + English.  He educated me on a country, on language, on culture.

When you're an expat living in a developing country, it's normal to have household help. Well, not only is it normal for expats to have help around the house, it's normal for many locals to hire staff, too.

As I was finishing up a chapter in the eBook I'm writing called "Moving to Myanmar," my friend, L, pointed out that expats shouldn't make assumptions that the staff they hire are uneducated.  He mentioned that their driver has a degree in geology.  L's story reminded me of a Yangon taxi driver I met a few months ago who had his degree in physics.

In fact, if you take a taxi in any big city within the US - and probably many other countries - it's likely your driver will be an immigrant. And it's not too uncommon to find out the taxi drivers were professors or police chiefs or teachers back home. Learning this information has sometimes left me thinking, "Well, there went your dreams of moving to America and thriving!" But maybe that isn't an accurate judgment...

My friend, KP, who is Myanmar, wishes expats/foreigners didn't think that locals were uneducated.  And he's right. According to UNICEF, the literacy rate in Myanmar is 92%.  (According to this article, 14% of US adults are illiterate.)  Our housekeeper has lived abroad and studied nursing.  She also speaks two languages fluently and can communicate easily in another two or three.  I know of a nanny in town who used to hold down a corporate job, but she wanted more flexible hours and realized she preferred working with children. She figured out she could actually earn more money as a nanny for an expat than in her corporate job.

In Myanmar, it seems that even if you have a professional degree, it can be difficult making the kind of income that people holding the same degree in the west would make.  I have a lovely friend here who's an architect/engineer, but certainly doesn't make the sort of money she could in North America/Europe/Australia.  I recently mentioned that to her. Her reply was that she couldn't dream of leaving Myanmar because of her husband.  (And why should she?)

This week, the husband's company driver assigned to us told me he has a law degree.  I was shocked. Firstly, I thought he was about 20, not 27. Secondly, he wears skinny jeans and has funky side-over colored punky-like hair (not exactly the normal lawyer attire).  Lastly, it was hard for me to fathom why he'd drive a car for an NGO instead of practice law.  He explained that his father died recently and he's the oldest son. He needs to take care of his family and makes more money driving than he would as a lawyer (or perhaps a young lawyer starting out). He also shared he happened to enjoy driving, that he finds it calming and relaxing (miraculous in the Yangon traffic!).

I've been humbled by these conversations and reminders this week.  Probably like lots of people, I hold assumptions (incorrect assumptions), that if you have a certain type of job, it may be because of lack of opportunity to access a certain level of education.  How snobby of me. (And I don't think of myself as a snob.)  Not only is it snobby, really, but also unfair. Because, though sometimes that judgment may be correct, it also can be completely wrong.

The fact is, there are glaring inequities in our world. How fair is it that a highly educated professor from - oh, say Pakistan - cannot obtain a professorship in the UK.  How fair is it that a physicist in Yangon can't get his foot in the door in any national companies, let alone international companies operating in Myanmar. And how fair is it that a young lawyer earns more money driving around a little expat family in Yangon than practicing law.

And...who's to say there's anything less important about being a driver than a professor.  Or a lawyer.  Or a physicist. 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

When Your Kid Gets Love Bombed

copyright: Becky in Burma. Daughter at Shwedagon, 2012

As I'm finishing writing my forthcoming eBook about moving to Myanmar, expat parenting has been on my mind a lot. Specifically expat parenting in Myanmar.

One of the things that has come up for us is the amount of attention our six year old gets while living here. I'm biased, but I think she's pretty darn cute. She has dark blonde hair, fair skin, steely blue eyes, and a cute little button nose holding 25 freckles. (I count them.)

It seems a lot of people in Thailand and Myanmar think she's pretty cute, too, because it's not uncommon for her to receive quite a bit of affection and attention from strangers. Well meaning, friendly, smiling men and women approach her earnestly, greeting her, asking her name and how she is.  Commonly, someone will reach out and pinch her cheeks, rub her arm, or sneak a kiss on her cheek.

The first time we went to Thailand about a year ago, she received this attention often. I noticed it especially happened when she carried her American Girl Doll. (American Girl Dolls are very realistic looking.) Smiling brightly, random people quickly snapped photographs of her. My daughter didn't smile though. She'd hide behind me and scowl.

On our visit to the beautiful Shwedagon Pagoda, F was inundated with attention. We noticed that if we stopped at all while making our circular rounds, within moments, crowds of people would gather around. Though people showed us their lovely smiles, it was incredibly uncomfortable and strange to have complete strangers – despite how friendly there were – crowd around. I didn't know what to do or how to respond; so I'd gently smile and move on, but it felt odd and a bit unnerving.

I happen to hate having attention drawn to me and I tried with all my might to act like having 20 people surrounding us, staring, was completely normal. (It felt kind of paparazzi-ish and I suddenly had a great deal of sympathy for celebrities.) I didn't want F to pick-up on my vibes and get perhaps more affected by the situation as a result, so I tried staying calm.

Later, I realized I had accidentally pressed "record" on my iPod while we were walking around the pagoda. The recording captured a conversation my daughter and I had at the Shwedagon; she asked me why people kept touching her and following us everywhere we went. My voice was pitched a bit higher than usual as I tried to explain, "Oooh! People are just being friendly! They think you're cute!  I know you're not used to it...but it's OK."

Thing is: it wasn't OK. It wasn't OK with her. And it has continued to NOT be OK with her. At all. 

I’ll admit: I've struggled knowing how to handle the attention.  It has been a year since we left the United States, and my six year old is still struggling with handling it, too.  I think we're getting much better at it now, but it’s been a steeeep - and slow - learning curve.

When we'd go to Coffee Circles and she'd immediately hide under the tables because staff wanted to love bomb her (all the touching/smiles/affection), I knew there was a problem. It would take a long time to coax her out from under the table where she’d scrunch her face up at the staff who just laughed nervously at her. I’d laugh nervously, too. I also wished she’d just get up off the floor and smile back at the kind staff. It wasn't gonna happen.

It got to the point where my daughter flat-out refused to go to Coffee Circles and would throw massive tantrums if I said we were going.  I also noticed she started wearing not-so-cute clothes. I'd ask her to wear different clothes and she’d refuse. Finally, she explained, "I don't want to look cute! People will touch me!"

F also began ignoring people when they warmly greeted her. She’d sulk and scowl, lower her head, then hide.  Each time, expected she'd start hissing at people.  (Thankfully, that didn't happen.)  Recently, she told me she was sure if she said hello back, strangers would try to touch her.

I knew I had to step-up and protect her need for personal space. After all, she's my kid.  It's my job.  And I could completely relate. I need my personal space, too. It wasn’t my best parenting moment when I realized I needed to grow a backbone and help my kid out a bit!  I felt guilty I hadn’t already been doing that enough; I was too worried about offending people and being polite and adapting to a new culture.

My daughter certainly isn’t special in the attention she receives. It’s normal for foreign children get love bombed.  In many ways, it’s lovely. I’m sure there are some kids that don’t mind, and probably quite like it. My kid just happens not to be one of them.

So, here are a few things that we’re now doing that seems to be working. Perhaps this will help some of you, too, if your kid(s) are getting love bombed:

  • F is expected to acknowledge the person greeting her. If she feels she cannot speak and say hello, that's OK; but she must at least smile and wave. She can’t just ignore them.

  • When someone approaches her, like they’re going to touch her, I say nicely, “Please don’t touch my daughter. She doesn’t like strangers touching her.” This seems to work just fine.

  • If F is worried someone will pinch her cheeks or touch her, even if they haven’t made a move yet, she shows me a hand signal; the hand signal is my cue to intervene and tell that person my daughter doesn’t like strangers touching her. (Sometimes she feels too uncomfortable to say "no" to another person and I think she might feel embarrassed to say aloud how she's feeling. That's why we came up with the hand signal; she still gets some control, but she doesn't have to speak.)  This is working for us, too.
  • When a stranger asks if they can take her picture, we tell them to ask F. She always says no. The response is usually laughter. Sometimes I say, “Sorry! She said no.” But, my daughter has – rightly – asked me why I say “sorry.” I shouldn’t apologize that she doesn’t want her picture taken by a complete stranger, nor should I apologize when she doesn’t want a complete stranger her pinch her cheeks. 
I have to say it’s rare that someone asks if they can take her picture. Usually the camera comes out and like a flash, BOOM: the lens is out. This happened in Bangkok the other week. Our friends happened to be nearby and the man trying to take F’s photo wasn’t taking no for an answer. My sweet friend ended up waving his long arms at the person exclaiming, “No!” The person then raised his camera to my friend…

By the same token, foreigners should ask locals if they want their pictures taken, too. It’s just the respectful thing to do. It goes both ways.

Just to be clear, our family is completely aware that people are being friendly and the love bombs are just that: friendly love and curiosity.  No harm is meant at all.  That doesn’t change the fact that it makes my kid uncomfortable, though.

As her parent, it’s my job to make sure I help her feel some control over her personal space.  And I think that especially since she's a girl, it's vitally important she (and those around her) respect her boundaries about touch so that as she grows older and finds herself in other situations that are not-so-innocent, she will have instilled within her a strong sense of self and an ability to stand-up for herself and say NO. It all starts this early on in her life.

If you live here, what have your experiences with the love bombs been?  How do you handle them?