Week 13 : Friendship and kindness

Moving is stressful whether it’s just down the road or across oceans, whether it’s to a familiar place or to somewhere new and totally different.  When my brother and I were growing up my Dad’s job meant we moved house seven times, changing schools and moving from Manchester to London to Preston and to a village in Derbyshire.  My Mum was told on numerous occasions that it must be easy for her to move because she’d done it so many times. Some assumptions are just wrong! Sure, she knew to start saving newspapers three months before each move to wrap our kitchen plates in and I think we were the only family to have tea chests stacked up in our garage ready for the next packing day but the physical upheaval and emotional farewells never got any easier. There are more people to say goodbye to and then the business of starting again, making friends, finding the local shops and getting to know the bus routes all take it out of you. No Facebook or Google to help us on our way in the 1960s-1980s!

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When my husband’s job took our family to Hong Kong we had all these things to deal with. Luckily we were moved into company accommodation with its ready furnished apartment and facilities so didn’t have to take the time to go flat hunting. We were only going to be there for two years and wanted to get out and explore Asia’s World City (hahaha, twelve years later). What I didn’t expect was the warm welcome we got from other company employees’ trailing spouses. I expected to be a stranger and only meet people perhaps via our children or at the bus stop and the usual places. I expected it to be much harder to make friends because we aren’t Chinese and don’t speak Cantonese (yep, naive old me). I hadn’t been properly prepared for the expat community. On day two, the doorbell rang and a lovely American lady was there with a plate of home-made cookies. She told me about the Wendy Wives (nothing like the Stepford Wives you’ll be glad to know), a group of trailing spouses some new like me and others who had seen the world. All of them knew how hard it is to settle in a new country. Two of these ladies took me under their wing. For both of them it was their last six months in Hong Kong and their “pay it forward” philosophy meant I found the best supermarket, the local doctors’ surgery, where to buy Marmite, how to speak taxi Cantonese, where to shop for clothes that fit western women and so much more. The only thanks they would take was that I carry on and “pay it forward” to the next batch of trailing spouses which I did until the day I left.

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Coming back to the UK and the quiet country village where we had lived prior to our move, I knew I would meet up with some old friends but also knew their lives were much more stable and less transient. The last thing I wanted to do was to barge back in and expect to pick up where I left off. However, once again I have been welcomed with open arms. I’ve been to lunch with three previously close friends (hoping we are still close!), another friend comes weekly armed with gardening tools or cleaning equipment to help me settle in, another friend comes and gently sits and has coffee and takes time to ask about me and many many more friends around the UK are in touch, ready to reacquaint themselves with me when I’m in their neck of the woods, I’m so touched. As for my family, I’m simply overwhelmed by the love they show me and my family, I knew I was missed but not how much. I guess I left a footprint.

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Kindness isn’t a word you hear much these days but I have been surrounded by it. The kindness of strangers in Hong Kong when we first arrived and the kindness long term friends have shown on our return. The wonderful friends I left behind in Hong Kong still show it daily via Facebook and emails (was a bit down yesterday and one friend immediately sent me lots of funnies which really cheered me up). Village friends show it by simply connecting to me and wanting to share their time with me. Friends flung across the UK are in touch and so supportive, excited to see me back. I’m not very good at taking compliments or feeling much self worth, why would you want to be friends with me when there are so many amazing people out there. But wonderfully, people do and I am overwhelmed. It made it very hard to leave but it’s what it grounding me here in the UK and I am honoured.

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Week nine : Empty nest or blank canvas?

I’ve sat and stared at this blank page all day.

Empty nest = blank canvas

Yesterday my son (16) joined my daughter (17) at boarding school for the first time. Before moving to Hong Kong, the only people I knew who sent their kids to boarding school were the royal family! I thought it was a completely separate world from me and mine. Both hubby’s family and my family are working class people made good (love meritocracy) and my Dad had even gone to university. Boarding school was what I read about in Enid Blyton books. Not that I had anything against them, they just weren’t for us, why would or should they be? Then we moved to Hong Kong. Before long, I was mixing with career expats who moved countries every two or so years and had to deal with the impact that had on their children’s education especially as they got older and exams began to loom. A whole new world opened up to me and I began to think in a very different way.

Our daughter asked us (aged 14) if she could go. She liked her school in Hong Kong and is definitely a home bird but felt that she wasn’t getting the opportunities both academically and for her interest in sports that one particular school in the UK could offer. We found ourselves being led by her on this journey and she started in Year 10 (fourth form, UK system) and hasn’t looked back since. She starts her last year today and I can honestly say it has been the best thing for her. The hardest part was only seeing her three times a year, Christmas, Easter and summer. Because of strict rules in the UK about internet in bedrooms we were not able to Skype or Face Time but we could text and phone and did most days.

So now we are back in the UK, why did my son go to boarding school? The simple answer is that we felt it was the easiest way to transition him back to the UK. It’s hard for Third Culture Kids to go back “home” where they look and sound the same but are actually very different. They don’t know the current slang, they aren’t aware of the latest trends or TV shows and it’s not their home. So he’s gone to a school where there are plenty of overseas students including expat kids. Funnily enough one of his very best friends started in the same year as him yesterday and we met up with four other Hong Kong families that we knew which made both he and I feel right at home.

There are so many articles and blogs on Third Culture Kids so if you’re interested, take a look at these to get you started

http://expatchild.com/third-culture-kids/

http://whenyoureathirdculturekid.tumblr.com

http://tckid.com

http://www.internations.org/magazine/the-difficulty-of-life-as-a-third-culture-kid-15288

And this great video

http://vimeo.com/41264088

When we left the UK almost twelve years ago, one of the first books I bought was “Daughters of Britannia” by Katie Hickman, daughter of a British diplomat. She “describes the unusual and often difficult lives of Foreign Service spouses. Tracking these feisty transplants from the 17th century to the present, she shows how these very significant others coped with everything from tropical epidemics to kidnappings to small household budgets.” These women didn’t have the benefit of air travel, electronic communications and often sent their children away never to see them again. What we have nowadays is far less harrowing yet parting from a child is never easy no matter how well prepared both parties are. I miss them terribly, especially today being the first day they are away but I know they are both happy and in a place that will help them flourish and grow, not because it’s boarding school but because it is where they fit in and feel comfortable and I wish them both every happiness. My job as a parent is to make sure they are equipped with the skills they need to face the outside world and I know I’ve done that to the best of my ability. My love and prayers go with them both, always and to every other family going through the same thing. And of course, before too long they will be back for the half-term break, eating me out of house and home and I wouldn’t have it any other way 🙂

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/883230.Daughters_of_Britannia