Category Archives: Raising TCK’s

Some songs to remember

into the wild

The end of the schoolyear is the toughest time for expats or internationally living families. To the usual change of class the change due to friends moving abroad is the one that affects us the most. We begin early to build a R.A.F.T. and say goodbye over and over again… This is a very sad time of the year.

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“Culture Shock: A Practical Guide” by Helene Rybol (a review and an interview)


We all experience culture shock to some extent and at some point of our lives. No matter if we spend only some weeks in a foreign place or if we stay for longer. Even when we repatriate after living some years abroad, we will get through this phase.

Helene Rybol compares culture shock, which once was described as “anxiety produced when a person moves to a completely new environment”, to a roller coaster. In fact, culture shock is part of the transition process and it usually comes after the so called honeymoon phase. We experience culture shock when we realize the differences, when we compare habits, languages, tastes, smells to what we experienced before. Culture shock will eventually lead to adjustment and adaptation if we deal with it in a healthy way.

The name culture shock suggests negative thoughts and feelings. Helene Rybol specifies that experiencing it is actually a chance to learn to broaden our horizons, to become more compassionate and open-minded. It is a chance to put our life into perspective.

“When it feels like we suddenly don’t control anything, everything around us simply happens and we’re not quite sure how to manage, it’s important to realize what we can control: our own behavior and attitude”

Since the first pages, Helene Rybol captures the readers’ attention by focussing on the person and by pointing out the positive effects this phase can have on our lives if we deal with it in a positive way.

In a very friendly and sensitive way, the author explains the symptoms of culture shock in terms of the feelings travelers experience while going through this phase (in the first chapter “A matter of perception”). These feeling are “only the surface” of the “emotional roller coaster” and one needs to find ways to digest them in order to adapt (p.15).

Helene Rybol’s tips are a precious toolbox that helps to “tap into our core, connect, trust ourselves, handle change”. By exploring our very personal comfort zones, we’ll be able to discover the new environment and embrace the new experience: “your own behavior can be a source of comfort”. Instead of clinging to preconceived notions, she advises and guides us to examine, relax, trust ourselves and consciously observe.

Helene Rybol gently leads us through the different stages of culture shock: when we “crave for comfort”, “process new information”, “cope without autopilot”, “deal with difficult situations” or alienation.

“Experiencing culture shock is a gift that helps us find our story within a world of stories and understand how we are connected”

By using humor and kindness as an antidote to culture shock and by focussing on our inner dialogue, by being proactive, curious and not afraid to ask we’ll successfully master this stage.

This book is a very precious guide that helps everyone who is going through culture shock to regain perspective, reassess and understand this process and boast self confidence.

What sets this book apart from others on the same topic is that instead of concentrating on the differences culture shock shows us, Helen Rybol turns the focus on what we have in common with the new culture.

“Underneath all of our apparent cultural differences, there are stories we all share, regardless of country or continent.”

“Go for it! Jump right in! Enjoy the journey!”

This book is a must read for everyone considering to spend some time abroad!


H.E.Rybol (Spain)


Helene Rybol was so kind to answer a few more questions about her book:

What made you decide to write a book about culture shock?

I’ve lived abroad all my life and I’m really interested in cultural transitions. I find the process invigorating and love those moments when you feel something shift or your perspective broaden. Writing about those moments and transitions seemed like a natural next step.

Culture shock often has negative connotations. I see culture shock as a good thing and I’m hoping this book will help people realize why while providing solutions to its challenges as well. I’m hoping this book is a comforting companion to anyone dealing with cultural transitions. Hopefully it’ll be inspiring, motivating and also something to fall back on when you’re feeling a little disoriented.

Would you recommend people who consider living abroad to follow a training where the kind of skills you mention in your book are taught?

Anything that helps ease that initial stress is a great idea!

What will you write next about? 

I’m working on my new website ( where I write about those moments when something shifted and publish interviews as well. I’m also working on a fictional story that includes some elements of cultural transitions, TCK life and more.

How can dealing with culture shock help us become better persons?

Culture shock pushes us to experience a different world view and see our own culture with different eyes. We expand our thinking and behavior. It helps us become kinder and more compassionate.

Thank you very much, Helene!



Please visit Helene Rybol’s website: Her book Culture Shock: A Practical Guide is available on her website and here.

Bilingualism and homework (part 1)

I recently discussed this topic with linguists and parents who are raising their children bilingually and I noticed that people generally tend to jump onto general conclusions way too quickly.

Parents who send their children to an international school where lessons are held in another language often struggle when it comes to doing homeworks.

The question I often hear from parents and that induces me to write this post is: “Do I need to do homework with my child in his/her mothertongue or is it enough if she/he does the homework in the school language?”

There is not an overall answer, because there are differenct appraisal factors to consider.

First of all, if using the mother language helps to understand the topic of the homework, it would surely be important to switch to it.

Especially with literacy homework it is very helpful to discuss the topic of a text or book in the first language so that the child really gets the meaning of the text in the school language.

Parents often assume that their children fully understand a text because they are able to “perfectly” read it phonetically. We can’t be ” perfectly bilingual” after 2 weeks or a few months at school.

Fact is that children first of all learn the phonetics. They simply repeat the soundchains. So, for example, they would be able to say “Good morning”, “Thank you”, “May I have… please” very quickly. But only when they use a broader spectrum of sentences with similar words they will be able to understand that for example, “good” can be combined with “morning” , “evening”, “job”, “girl”, “boy” etc. Very slowly they will divide those sound chains into actual words and morphemes.

It takes children from 5 to 9/10 years to catch up on monolingual peers language-wise.

Therefore, when we send our children to a school where they’ll be immersed into another language the whole day, we’ll need to support them process what they’ve learned at home by using our family languages.

When our children come home with a book to read aloud, our task is to question them about the text. Asking them to paraphrase the text is a great way to understand whether they understand the plot or not.

We can ask them to find other words, synonyms for words that may be more difficult. – Obviously, in order to do this we should have a great proficiency in the school language too! – But what if this is not the case?

Many parents struggle with this and I know that some take extra language lessons in order to be able to help their children at school.

But if one doesn’t have the time to do so, or finds it really hard to catch up with the language, my advice is to try to find other words in the family language and if the child asks for more synonyms in the school language, don’t hesitate to use the dictionary. I know many parents who improved their languages by learning alongside their children.

What seems very logical and relatively easy for literacy, becomes more complex for other disciplines. (see part 2 soon)


International Mother Language Day #IMLD campaign


Since the General Conference of UNESCO proclaimed it officially on 19th November 1999, the International Mother Language Day is celebrated every year on the 21st of February since 2000. The aim is to develop awareness of linguistic and cultural traditions all over the world by promoting linguistic diversity and multilingual education.

The 21st of February represents the remembrence day in 1952, “when students demonstrating for recognition of their language, Bengali, as one of the two national languages of the then Pakistan, were shot and killed by police in Dhaka”, the capital of what is now Bangladesh.

On the 16th of May 2007, the United Nations General Assembly called upon Member States “to promote the preservation and protection of all languages used by peoples of the world”.

Speaking one’s motherlanguage (or fatherlanguage!) is still not something we all can take for granted, especially in places where local mother tongues are threatened by more dominant languages.


Language is not only a means of communication but it is the most powerful instrument of preserving and developing our tangible and intangible heritage.

Please join us in celebrating all our languages with a month of events, posts, promotions etc. leading up to the International Mother Language Day on 21st  February 2015!

On facebook we’ve started an #IMLD campaign that aims to raise awareness that mother (and father!) languages are precious, valuable heritages in our global lifes. Our goal is to see the day celebrated widely all over the world by families, schools, communities on national and global level.

This year’s theme for the day is “Inclusion in and through education: Language counts”. This and other topics related to the values the day represents will be highlighted in the campaign which starts today, 22 January, runs for 30 days and culminates on Saturday the 21st of February when we can all celebrate together.

Join us in the campaign by visiting and liking the International Mother Language Day Celebration Facebook page and by sharing the daily posts through social media in the run-up to the day. The Facebook page will be a treasure throve of quotes, pictures, links to posts, articles, and activities to do with mother tongue, language, multilingualism, education, multiculturalism and diversity. Use the #IMLD hashtag to find others’ messages on social media and share them.