Category Archives: Reviews

In this section I publish reviews of books that are related to the topics: Third Culture Kids, Adult Third Culture Kids, Global Nomads and Expats.

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Reverse Culture Shock (Hélène Rybol)

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In her latest book Reverse Culture Shock, Hélène Rybol explains the complexity of feelings we experience when going back to our home country or a country we lived before, after having spent a considerable time living in other cultures.

Hélène describes her repatriation to Europe after living four years in The US.

“I spent four years becoming aware of my “Europeanness” to come back to a Europe that felt alien to me and where people kept and still keep pointing out my “Americanness”.“

This book is a collection of adapted posts from Hélène’s blog where she gives valuable suggestions on how to cope with all the contradictory feelings expats have while going through the different phases of expat life. While feeling “familiar and completely different at the same time”, experiences can be very challenging and alienating. When trying desperately to fit in doesn’t work the way we expect, the whole process feels more “like an implosion”, and it “requires constant adjustment”.

Starting with her own reverse culture shock experience (p.15-22), Hélène lists up the “symptoms and lessons” (p.23-26), and talks about “cultural mirrors” (p.27-30). Feeling out of context can put us out of balance and we need to “nurture our cultural layers” from time to time in order to live in the present and fully embrace the moment.

In the chapter “culture shock and friendships” (p.31-36) she uses the term of “compartimentalizing” to explain how we all have a core identity to which we add layers of other cultural identities during our international life, which makes it so difficult for our friends (and family!) to understand us.

When she explains what “Home” (p.37-41) means to someone who grew up in several cultures and that not “having an un-traditional sense of home” is not at all sad, she speaks the mind of all those who live in many cultures.

The positive way to experience reverse culture shock is nicely described in the chapters “gumption” (p.42-44) – a new word to discover and remember! – and the “effects and challenges of living abroad” (p.46-48).

She dedicates some chapters to the languages we acquire or learn along the way (p.49-69) by explaining what a multilingual bain is (p.58-60), what code-switching is and why it is so common among multilinguals and by answering some of the most common questions multilinguals get asked (p.62-64).

When we move back to a country we lived before we tend to strike a balance of which trip changed us the most (p.75-79), we try to understand how our international journey changed us and make sense of the different phases (cfr. “contextualizing experiences” (p.80-84)). – She ends this “guide for reentry” with giving us “food for thoughts” (p.85-91): a list of questions we can ask ourselves to assess our international journey and to become aware of what this experience brought us.

– This book is a must read for those who repatriate because it helps to focus on how life abroad changes people. I would also warmly recommend this book to friends and families of those who repartiate because moving back is often be more challenging than entering a new country.

 

 

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

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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!

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H.E.Rybol (Spain)

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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 (www.herybol.com) 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!

H.E.Rybol

H.E.Rybol

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

B at home: Emma moves again by Valérie Besanceney

If you are raising or teaching Third Culture Kids and are looking for a book to read to them – or for them to read by themselves! – about leading a mobile life and especially relocating this is the right book for you.

The author, Valérie Besanceney, is a Third Culture Kid herself. In this fictional “memoir” she tells about what a ten year old girl, Emma, and her teddy bear feel when they need to move again and how they perceive the changes. She translates what “adults know about the TCK experience into language and concepts that children who grow up globally can relate to”. (p.XVI)

If you are not a TCK yourself, this book will help you understand what TCK children are facing and find a way to help their adjustment.

This book will give you an insight into what children go through from the leaving stage until the entering stage of the transition phase. Changes can be adventurous, but also scary. Saying goodbye to friends, adjusting to a new school, a new language, a new country is a challenge TCKs face at every move or change in their life. Emma tells about the issues she has to B, her bear, who is her constant companion and the reassuring voice throughout the book.

Emma has already moved twice and when her parents tell her that they will relocate again. She is furious, sad, nervous – excited? Not really: “taking of for a vacation to an exotic island is exciting. Getting a present you’ve been wanting for a long time is exciting. Having a little brother or sister finally join the family would be exciting. Moving is not exciting at all!” (p.2).

Children usually appear to be resilient during transition and parents often don’t get to know what’s going on with them, unless they complain about tummy aches or show unusual behaviour. Valérie Besanceney knows all this first hand: “I know I silently struggled as a child, and there were only a handful of educators along the way who showed empathy for my situation” (p.XXII).

Emma finds a way to “tackle the conflicting emotions by turning to B, her faithful teddy bear”. All Emma wants is to “be at home”. During her journey, “home” acquires a new meaning for her and she finally comes to terms with the challenges of this move.

The very useful discussion questions added at the end of the book, help teachers and parents to discuss the different issues of a TCK with the children.

What others said about this book:

“In this book, parents, educators, teachers etc. will find suggestions for ways to translate TCK theory into practices to help children navigate the “chronic cycles of separation inherent in a TCKs childhood” (Ruth van Reken, Co-author, Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds and Co-founder of Families in Global Transition)

“Beautifully written, B at Home: Emma Move Again is a must ofr parents, teachers and organizations that support global nomads. Adults who work with famlies in global transition will find it added to their “go to shelf”. Tidbits such as ‘…home will never ever be one place. It will be constantly moving. Like the waves, ike the beads in the kaleidoscope’ has made this one of my favorite books!” (Julia Simens, Emotional Resilience and the Expat Child: practical storytelling techniques that will strengthen the global family, Summertime Publishing, 2012)

“This is a book that will help children and their parents (and stuffed animals!) with any transition or move” (Dr. Lisa Pittman, Co-author, Expat Teens Talk: Peers, Parents and Professionals Offer Support, Advice and Solutions in Response to Expat Life Challenges as Shared by Expat Teens, Summertime Publishing, 2012)

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B at Home: Emma Moves Again, by Valérie Besanceney, Summertime Publishing, 2014.

“Global Mom” by Melissa Dalton-Bradford: much more than a Memoir!

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In “Global Mom: Eight Countries, Sixteen Addresses, Five Languages, One Family“, Melissa Dalton-Bradford takes us on a gripping journey through the global life of her family. Written in a compelling and eloquent style, this book is about the twenty year long adventure of Melissa Dalton-Bradford’s family in Oslo, Versailles, New Jersey, Paris, Munich, Singapore and Geneva.

Starting from her Parisian apartment, the author introduces the massive Norwegian farm table which is not only the constant companion during their movings, but serves as anchor of the family and their friends. It is the pivot around which their lives revolve vertiginously: “our table is the heart of our home” (p.12).

Melissa Dalton-Bradford invites us “to sit and look out my back window, the Jura mountains of France on this side of the house, the Swiss Alps out the other, and I’ll take you as far as my words can manage: to a few special spots far beyond these mountains, to places and people my family and I know well and love much” (p.15).

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(© by Luc William Bradford)

She takes us back to the years the Dalton-Bradford family spent in Norway (chapters 2 to 8) to continue the narrative about France in the chapters 9 to 18. Chapter 19 represents the turning point in this Memoir before the life takes the family to Munich (chapters 20-21), Singapore (chapters 22-23) and Geneva (chapters 24-25), concluding with chapter 26, called In medias res (i.e. “into the middle of things”) where everything coalesces.

Melissa Dalton-Bradford eloquently describes how she experienced, adopted and absorbed the different cultures at first hand and how she managed over and over again to “nose-dive” indefatigably into her many different cultural homes.

She emphasises several aspects of the different languages she managed to all speak perfectly (!) and shares with us some little faux pas and glitches with refreshing honesty and humility. I particularly liked the one about BCG and BCBG (the former being a vaccine and the latter the abbreviation for bon chic bon genre, see chapter 13 La langue, p.142-143) and her talk with her youngest son Luc : “Then I told my youngest boy, the one born in France, the one whose name is French, this last child I raise on the road with all its bumps and potholes and language barriers, I told him story after story after painful and mortifying story of my own history of language panic” (p.286).

She shares her initial reluctance towards the Norwegian daycare barnepark and illustrates terms like Janteloven and Julestemning. She also gives insight into the Norwegian law about name-giving (chapter 7 Vi er Norske). We assist Melissa Dalton-Bradford succeeding and “fully awakening” (p.89) professionally in Norway and finding her way back on stage (like she used to do in New York before!). She became artistic director, choreographer etc. before packing again and move to France…

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(© Global Mom: A Memoir’s photo: Blakstad barnepark)

The reader feels with her when she leaves “her” Norway to move to Versailles, the vieille France. A move that felt to her like going from “Eden to the world” (p. 96; in the video here below 1:10 ssg “it’s like Birkenstock sandals to the tightest high heels you have ever worn”). She openheartedly describes her experience with the French school system, the cuisine, the langue and generally with the French way of life; how she learned about being bien chaussée and that the attention to beauty and aesthetics are the values that drive French culture. She also compares the medical systems in Norway and France and points out the difference about giving birth in those two countries, admitting that, for her, “Norway had set the standard for giving birth” (p.151).

After the events on 9/11, her family has to return to the US (chapter 15 Encore!), to the “bucolic, historic swath of Americana with two-hundred-year-old farmhouses and snaking stone walls surrounding horse farms and apple orchards, a place known (…) for its Blue Ribbon schools and Blue Ribbon beer” (p.159). The author vividly depicts the reverse culture shock her family experienced – “We felt strangely alien, unable to share a great part of ourselves with others. (…) Feeling alien in what’s supposed to be your home country? I knew less about being a soccer mom than I did about buying fresh produce from loud vendors in an open market, less about American sports teams than about Norwegian arctic explorers, less about my native country than I did about ones that, in the end, no one seemed to want to hear much about.” (S. 162) – speaking to the heart of every Third Culture Kid, Global nomad or expat experiencing repatriation.

But the repatriation to the US is transient. The Dalton-Bradford family returns to Paris (cfr. chapter 15) and re-dives for the second time into the French life, picking up the strings from the introducory chapter. – This time, the adjustment seems smoother. – But the author faces difficult moments and describes her need to recover. With the description of those weak moments, Melissa Dalton-Bradford unveils that a global life is not a bed of roses, it is demanding and can be very excruciating.

The turning point

The deepest turning point in the life of the Dalton-Bradford family is marked by the tragic death of the firstborn, Parker. From chapter 19 onwards, we assist the author on her incredibly painful path towards the “life after”, or like she describes it: “leaving behind the before and entering the after“. We participate in her traumatic experience and comprehend her emotions in this “strange and barren continent of grief”, like she perceives the world after the loss of her son.

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(© 2010 by Rob Inderrieden: Parker’s bench and © Parker by Luc William Bradford)

But nomad life goes on…

The time in Munich is depicted a bit less colourful than the life before and the reader senses that the traumatic loss has profoundly changed the whole family. Going on with life after becomes incredibly painful and alienates from everything. And this mourning family needs a very special place where they can grieve in peace:

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(© 2010 by Rob Inderrieden; Parker’s bench next to a tributary of the Isar river in Munich)

After Munich, we follow the family to Singapore and eventually Geneva. It is fascinating how the author describes her observations and experiences with uncanny accuracy and empathy. The difference of life in Singapore intrigues her and she observes every detail: how people behave in public transport or whilst buying things etc.: “In Europe I learned to be circumspect. Here, I learned to be microscopic” (p.245).

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“Global Mom”  is much more than a story about a “globe-trotting lady with kids”, it’s about “falling in love with many cultures”, it is the multi-colored part of it. But it is also a Memoir and a his-story, a way to commemorate Parkers’ life: “The little boy from Blakstad barnepark, the one from the Versailles Club du Basket, the drummer from the Pont des Arts, the same one all his French buddies called “Par Coeur” or “by heart” – he continues. His nature, like his story, is eternal and can do nothing but continue” (p.293).

“Of all the borders I’ve crossed, of all the addresses I’ve inhabited and of all the lands I’ve been priviledged to call my home, there’s but one terrain that’s defined me more than any other: that is the land of loss” (p.292).

But this book is more than a Memoir. It is a also a guidebook with precious and detailed insights about life and culture, for all those who already lead or are considering to start a global life or are simply fascinated by it.

“Those who move, dig in deeply, move again, and take a healthy layer of the last soil with them, (…) need some assistance in adjusting (…) planting in new soil…” (S. 132).

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(© by Luc William Bradford)

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(by Michelle Lehnhardt)

Melissa Dalton-Bradford’s website:

http://melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com/

“Global Mom” is also available as audible audio edition

Interviews with Melissa Dalton-Bradford:

http://www.mormonwomen.com/2013/09/17/global-mom/