Tag Archives: reverse culture shock

Why expat life is not always a smooth ride: another infographic about expats

Expat Life: Not Always A Smooth Ride!

Expat Life: Not Always A Smooth Ride! – An infographic by the team at Overs

This is another infographic about expats (see the sources at the end of the infographic). I chose to post it here on my blog, right after the post about the Sea Change Mentoring symposium I attended last Saturday, because many issues listed in this infographic have a major impact on expact children, and Sea Change Mentoring is one place to contact when facing issues like these.

Expat life is not as easy and smooth as many people think. Especially the different stages of expatriate adjustment should be taken seriously. These stages affect parents and children, and often not simultaneously. This is exactly why parents and children should reach out for help.

Another point seems very important to me: that expats or people who envisage this kind of life, should consider longer stays in a new location in order to give their children the opportunity to pass from a “gradual adjustment” to the “competence stage” and, in the best case, to the “mastery” (after 5-7 years). – In the expatriate adjustment lifecycle on this infographic I miss the stage of repatriation. Repatriation is an “important yet often overlooked component of a successful assignment experience“. During repatriation, expats face exactly the same stages as those listed in this infographic and the repatriation can be as challenging and traumatic as the first relocation. Especially for children who have spent a significant amount of their lives overseas (and many have probably never lived in their passport country!), repatriation is very difficult. Many repatriating families feel “culturally, socially and professionally out of sync with their new environment”.

This is why re-establishing a social life as soon as possible is very important in the first period of a relocation. It also helps against homesickness. – Everyone goes through the phase where the life before seems much better than the one in the new location (or “back home”). Therefore it is really important that, before entering this phase, i.e. while still in the “honeymoon phase”, expats should try to find like-minded people who can help them cope with the culture shock phase – or the reverse culture shock phase for those who repatriate.

The fact that “many brits abroad” seem to miss the sense of humour, really applies to everyone, Brit or not. Finding someone who laughs at the same jokes or at the same scenes in a movie gives us all a sense of belonging.

In this infographic, 70% “of expats say that social media contacts with friends and family helps to relieve homesickness”. I think social media are a great help nowadays. But it can also deter people from getting in touch with people in their real lives. Expats need even more to get in touch with people, with locals and like-minded people in their new location, to re-establish a new social life and create a safe haven where they can find help if needed.

If you’re facing issues like those mentioned in the infographic or know someone who might need some help, here are some sites to visit and contact (in alphabetical order):













This is NOT a sponsored post and I have NOT been asked to write it.


Sea Change Mentoring: Symposium on Supporting Global Youth

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Ellen Mahoney, Sea Change Mentoring (©expatsincebirth)

Today I attended a very interesting Sea Change Mentoring Symposium on Supporting Global Youth “Addressing Assets and Challenges”, organised by Ellen Mahoney, CEO and Founder of Sea Change Mentoring and Board of Directors of Families in Global Transition (FIGT).

Sea Change Mentoring is an online mentoring program that helps Expat youth prepare for going back to their home countries, minimize reverse culture shock and maximize the benefits of having lived abroad.

Kate Berger, MSc Child Psychologist, Child Development Specialist and Expat-Kid Cultural Consultant, talked about “Identity, In Context: The influence of changing environments”. – A sense of self helps young people “to ground and is the platform from which they to step off to impact the world. How is a young person’s identity influenced by factors in his or her environment? Why does changing environments sometimes lead to difficulties in answering the question “Who am I?” and why is it important to support young people in this process of self-discovery?” In her speech she pointed out how belongingness is even more important for expat kids who have to readapt and learn constantly new norms. The more secure a child is, the less it is stressed and is able to develop awareness. Mindfulness and empathy play a major role in helping the children in changing environments.

Kilian Kröll, President of Third Culture Coach and Vice President on the board of Families in Global Transitions (FIGT). hold a speech about “Breaking the Mold: Identifying and supporting expat youth from non-traditional backgrounds”. Even if expat families are “traditionally identified (…) in the context of institutions, such as International Schools, military bases, embassy affiliation or missions organizations”, “many expat children and Third Culture Kids “hide” in non-traditional circumstances that prevent them from receiving vital resources.” Based on his own experience as expat child from divorced parents, attending local schools and identifying as gay, Kilian illustrated the needs of youth who don’t fit the expat mold and demonstrated brilliantly how powerful impact the expat communities have when they break the mold themselves. He also pointed out a very important aspect of expat families: the transitions of parents and children are very different.

Ellen Mahoney, Ceo of Sea Change Mentoring, did talk about “The Power of Mentoring for Third Culture Kids”. In fact, formal youth mentoring programs exist in the US since over 100 years and a lot of research has been done on “the effectiveness on mentoring teens in transition”. Globally mobile community has a lot to learn from this research and it can be vital for Third Culture Kids. Sea Change Mentoring does take these lessons and applies them “to help youth maximize the benefits and minimize the challenges of an international childhood”. She openly talked about her own experience as a TCK and her reverse culture shock. Her program is perfectly tailored for youth in transition and is a great intervention tool because a mentor can not grade a child (because he is not a teacher) or ground a child (because he is not the parent).

Sara McMickle, Counselor at The American School of The Hague did present “A Safe Harbour: Supportive programming in an international school setting”. In order to help “children, parents and staff cope with the challenges, and maximize the opportunities, inherent in the experience of international relocation and cross-cultural mobility”, A Safe Harbour is a “preeminent model in international schools worldwide for how to address the challenges of mobility at international schools. This programm supports Third Culture Kids and lessons learned along the way.

Katherine Fortier, Child and Educational Psychologist, talked about her experience with 363 children from 24 schools in “International Education: Great fish in little ponds”. Some globally moving parents choose an international school when posting outside their home country. Kathrine Fortier showed brilliantly the risks and challenges inherent of this kind of decision that are not immediately apparent. Especially the high expectations seem to be a major issue. Kathrine did introduce some of the key protective factors that help many students thrive as well as risk factors that lead some students to flounder. For example, she pointed out that less movings are beneficial for the accademic success of Third Culture Kids and expat children and she emphasized the need to build bridges with the parents’ help in order to support the children to perform better.

Josh Stephens, Director of International Development at ArborBridge speech “Where to Next? College Applications and the Expat Kid” was about the application process to American universities. It is the most complex application process in the world. Choosing among 4,000 different colleges doesn’t make it any easier and for many TCKs this process can be even “more challenging, as students prepare to settle in the US and choose, perhaps for the first time, where they want to live”. In his talk for professionals who work with TCK’s and expats who are not familiar with the current state of university applications, he provided a very important overview of the US application process with special attention to the unique challenges that students face when they apply from overseas.

Upcoming events of Sea Change Mentoring in The Hague area:

Monday 14th October 2013, 18:00-20:00 at The American School The Hague

Lecture: “Global Success: Preparing Expat Youth for Adulthood

“Having an international childhood has many advantages, and a few challenges here and there. In order to be successful, young people must find ways to make the most of the experiences and skill-sets picked up in this global life while learning to recognize and prepare for some of the challenges they may face as they transition to adulthood.”

Participants will:

  • Learn how to make the most of the experiences and skill sets picked up in an international childhood. Including:
    • The positive attributes of the expat youth/third culture kid profile
    • How to connect these attributes to what universities and employers are looking for
    • How to choose the right university and thrive once there
  • Learn how expat youth can manage and/or minimize the difficult aspects related to the transition into adulthood. Including:
    • The challenges of the expat youth/third culture kid profile: reverse culture shock and other issues like restlessness and difficulties in relationships
    • Key strategies that parents and teens can use to manage those challenges
  • Learn how mentors can help expat youth through this transition and how Sea Change Mentoring works
  • Network with other participants to help strengthen a supportive community around these matters
  • Connect with a number of related resources

(cfr. © from The American School of The Hague)

Thursday, 17th October 2013, 19:30 to 21:30 at Van Hogenhoucklaan 89

Workshop: Resilience for Global Teens

Ellen Mahoney will join Passionate Parenting for an evening workshop for parents and teenagers looking at the skills teens need to succeed in work and life and how to help them develop these skills.


Please note that excerpts were taken from the handout of the Symposium and are © Sea Change Mentoring.

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

Cover (3)

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:


(© 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).

∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞

“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).

MDB (Headshot #3)

(© by Luc William Bradford)

∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞

(by Michelle Lehnhardt)

Melissa Dalton-Bradford’s website:


“Global Mom” is also available as audible audio edition

Interviews with Melissa Dalton-Bradford:



How to cope with repatriation

When you are returning to your passport country after you’ve spent some time abroad you may not really feel “at home”. Expats generally learn to adapt to their host locations and in the most positive case, end up to behave and think like locals. Even if they had some troubles adapting to the host country, when they repatriate, they often experience a reverse culture shock also known as “re-entry shock” or “own culture shock”:

I wouldn’t say “any other place in the world”, maybe “any other place you’ve lived”? I definitely feel more foreign in my passport country than in the places I’ve lived in. The main reason, in my case, is that I’ve never lived in my passport country and feel more like a tourist who just happens to know the language and some people who live there (family and great friends!). I’m quite familiar with the culture and some habits of my passport country, but I don’t really feel connected to the place, the country.

Since I have children I feel more responsible to know as much as I can about my passport country, the culture, the traditions, the history. But as I described in another post, being an expat German is not that easy, at least not in the countries I’ve lived in. I’m wondering if this “feeling more foreign in the passport country” depends on our nationalities. Are there nationalities, expats or TCK’s feel more comfortable with or that makes it easier for them to (re)adjust once they repatriate? Or is it easier to repatriate from a country that is culturally closer to our passport country?

Returning to the passport country for someone who grew up abroad may depend on the moment the repatriation takes place. Personally I think that the easiest time to repatriate is before one turns 5 (!) but I don’t think that it’s easier for children in general. As soon as they attend school they usually prefer staying with their peers, especially when they hit the teens.

Everyone expects repatriates (i.e. those who come back to their passport country after some time abroad) to fit in almost immediately. They usually do know the language and have many rights that foreigners don’t have. People expect them to know everything about the culture, the life there: from finding a house, school to buying the right toothpaste…

But doesn’t all this put too much pressure on them and make repatriation even more difficult? Repatriates can easily feel misplaced: they feel like a foreigner in what is supposed to be their own country. They experience reverse culture shock, described as follows by Robin Pascoe, author of Homeward Bound:

“Re-entry shock is when you feel like you are wearing contact lenses in the wrong eyes. Everything looks almost right.”

When you’ve lived abroad and had a deep international experience, you change. Of course, your whole life changes you wherever you live, you don’t have to be living abroad for this, but the experience living abroad may change you more. “Old norms and values are viewed from a fresh perspective, and the expat and family see things in a new light; something like (…) going from black and white to Technicolor.” (cit. from Audrey Sykes article Reverse culture shock: What, when, and how to cope on Expatica.com)

Dean Foster, Founder and President of DFA Intercultural Global Solutions:

“By the time most traditional international assignments come to an end, several years may have passed, providing the international assignee a significant amount of time to learn new patterns of behavior and thought, necessary to fit into their host country.  While not aware of these changes, expats are shocked into the realization that they have in fact changed substantially usually only when they encounter their home culture upon repatriating.  Both they and the home culture have changed, and this is often the first time that expats have had the opportunity to experience any of these changes.”

Every time you go back home for visits, you can feel frustrated or confused when your close friends and family are not curious or intrigued about your experiences. – Will this change once you’re back for good?

According to Dr. Bruce La Brack from the School of International Studies at University of the Pacific, this is what expats may expect while returning home:

– Boredom
– No one wants to listen
– You can’t explain
– Reverse homesickness
– Relationships have changed
– People see “wrong” changes
– People misunderstand you
– Feelings of alienation
– Inability to apply new knowledge and skills
– Loss/compartmentalisation of experience

Audrey Sykes gives some clues how to cope with repatriation. She recommends to “share your experience with others” – but what if there is nobody to share the experience with because you did repatriate to a very monocultural and monolingual place? –  “maintain your style and stay international” – what if this style is too exotic for the people in the place you live? –  “ask for training” – but what if you can’t find any help in loco?

Dean Foster recommends a repatriation training for the entire family. He considers that “it needs to involve the HR department at least 6 months prior to the return, so that the company can insure a position for the repats that values their new skills.  Repatriation training that helps not just the repat, but the entire family, adjust to the fact that they have all changed significantly while on international assignment, to assess and value those changes, and to see the ways that their home country has changed while they were abroad. This takes training.” – But are companies giving repatriates all this time to get prepared to the repatriation? And do they provide this service for the families? Every repatriate should know that there are programs that “address the entire family’s issues, and that are combined with HR advising to insure a position that values the repat’s new global skills.  The family issues that need to be addressed include helping children adjust to a home they may not remember, returning to unfamiliar “kid” culture (children may have in fact been born abroad, may come home with accents), partners who need support to re-enter a workforce they have been out of for several years, the loss and disinterest of expected family and friends, all of this requires training to anticipate and to manage successfully.” (Dean Foster)

I would like to end with two quotes from Global mum: A Memoir by Melissa Dalton-Bradford, where she describes the reverse culture shock she and her family experienced when they had to repatriate after the events of 9/11:

“Misreading cultural cues, not knowing language signals, not knowing TV lingo or TV personages or TV jokes, feeling alien, foreign, and making up for it each in our individual way” (p.161)

“…we felt strangely alien, unable to share a great past of ourselves with others. One can expect to feel alien in a new or foreign country. But this? 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” (p.162).

I never made the experience to live in my passport country and I’m wondering if there is a moment in our lives, where repatriation is “easy” and what would be recommended in order to make it as smooth as possible.

If you are a TCK (or ATCK), a global nomad or an expat: have you ever lived in your passport country? If yes, when and for how long? Did you go back to live there only once or more often? How old were you when you did repatriate? What was your experience with repatriation? Do you think that your nationality or the historical, political or social situation of your passport country makes it easier – or more difficult – for you to (re-)adjust? Please share your experience in the comments.


Some excerpts in this article were taken from Dean Foster’s Repatriation 101: Demystifying Reverse Culture Shock .