24 Dec 2018

Homesickness? Last minute top tips for those away from home at Christmas Season

Tomorrow is Christmas day  in New Zealand. I am looking forward to it.

Until my mid-twenties Christmas was feasting on turkey and Christmas pudding with a large family, walking off the feast at dusk, (rarely in snow), and then snacking on Quality Street, cold turkey, satsumas and nuts as we slouched around the fire.

Then I did the traveling thing.

Christmas was full of differences. Long summer days, (not necessarily sunny), ham, salads and trifle and no family around. There was phone calls, but the longer the phone call was, the more you missed the people you talked to. We were apart.

Having spent over three decades, with a different Christmas, I have learnt to accept it for what it is. This year Christmas is different again, not because my two oldest are absent again, but because this time we have two lovely travelers with us, my nephew and his girlfriend. So migrants and travelers out there here are some tips for Christmas away from loved ones. I hope some of them help.

  • Every Christmas is different in some way. Christmas changes throughout your life. Acknowledge and delight in the differences of your unique Christmas this year.
  • If the Christmas you are spending is very different, look at it through, 'this is bizarre' eyes, and smile.
  • When connecting with distant loved ones on the day through phone/social media note:
    • The festivity is disjointed. You are in different time zones. For example, if you are in the same time zone as NZ, you do Christmas before anyone else. You are 'over Christmas' by 10pm whereas UK is just getting started at 9am. The atmosphere from either ends of the phone will be different which can add to the feelings of distance.
    • Keep the conversations short. The reception is likely to be weak and the phone call/Skype etc. is likely to be intermittent. Don't spend too long on the phone, just enough time to say I love you,  I miss you, (if you do), I hope you have a great day. Plan to have a chat soon to let them know how it went.
  • It is likely that you will feel sad at some stage in the day. That is okay. If you are much more sad than glad, make a list of what would make it better for you for next year.
  • For a variety of reasons you are not with some of your loved ones.  Remember you still can have a good day. Be positive about your presence.
  • If the people around you do not ask, offer as a conversation piece, the highlights of your Christmas day, and how it is different, but avoid whose Christmas is better. Christmas is not a competition. Every Christmas is different in some way.

I would like to wish you a meaningful unique Christmas, and a season where the peace, hope and love lasts much longer than the leftovers.

2 Nov 2018

Goodbyes. Can they be fun?

My pattern of goodbyes has been described in my book; there is even a chapter on goodbyes. I expected a similar pattern for the departure of my adult children after their two-and-a-half week stay, but it was not the same. There was actually a sense of fun about the goodbye. What made it different? Why was it more fun than sad? Maybe these points helped:
  • My children, M and C, were leaving together. 
  • They were off on another flight adventure.
  • I decided take the day off and watch them get ready, and be useful when I could.
  • A, another daughter who also had a day off advised them, "Torn top - no. Home-made chilli sauce, yes. Six jackets are excessive, take four at the most."
  • The packing and preparation felt like a finale following the great times of the last two weeks.
  • There was the sense of an event in the air. 
  • M sitting on her suitcase
  • Nervous energy released our children's child-like characteristics and behaviour. C, nicknamed Bugle, bounced from room to room looking for last possessions, discarding and repossessing jackets and clothes as the suitcases were weighed and reweighed. Bugle called out a few times, "I'm ready now" as he scanned M's takeover of the lounge. Eventually the piles of clothes that had covered the carpet were magically reduced in volume to almost fit into her suitcase. Nothing extra pressure couldn't fix.

Driving to the airport, singalong music played, but we didn't sing along much. They checked-in, then it was coffee time, conversation lulled, twitching started, and the travellers patted their carry on. It was time. With long hugs, and brave smiles, we held back tears and had a last wave.

Home from the airport I drifted into their bedrooms. The beds had been stripped, but their aura was still around.  There was no good reason to make up the beds yet. 

What made this goodbye different? Was it the fact that we had a blast as a family together? Was it that our adult children wanted to continue the fun theme we had had for the last two weeks? It could be that the C and M are in a great stage of life where they only have to be responsible for themselves. At the moment they seem to be enjoying their lives, which is always a bonus and a relief as a parent. It may have been that the pain of departing was felt just as equally by my husband and our two other children. When other UK visitors had left, I felt it was me who experienced the loss the most because it was my mother, my sibling, or my friend who left. Maybe with the two travelling together I thought they wouldn't feel so isolated.  

There is the minor factor that we had such an active time with each other the routine of normality had an attraction to it.  Did I really admit to that?  Maybe after thirty years of goodbyes I have become more accepting of goodbyes, and so more relaxed. 

I think what eased the goodbye mostly was that we are due to see them again in May 2019 for my sister's wedding, so it was more of a - 'see you later' than a goodbye. 
The combination of the above reasons made this goodbye more fun. Admittedly, two days later, about the same time my children had landed on the other side of the world, I was grumpy. That was probably the time the goodbye became a reality for me. Their beds remain unmade.

Goodbyes are hard. The departing will hit you at different times. There are ways to make the leaving easier. I am glad that having spent thirty years saying goodbyes I have discovered another variation - a fun one.

I have written more blogs on goodbyes. Search for 'goodbyes' on my blog or click on Ten Ways to make Goodbyes easier.

Let us know of your experiences and thoughts on goodbyes in the comments below.

5 Oct 2018

Furtive Fun and a Family United

My husband became sixty in August.  A year before our son, C living twelve thousand miles away in London had announced that he would be with us in New Zealand for the signicicant birthday. Our daughter M, also in London was noncommittal. A few months before the event I realised that it had been nearly five years since our family unit had been together for a happy occasion. Like a mother hen checking on her chicks I had a need to have our family unit united.

I was reluctant to influence M's decision to be here with us. I have been in a similar situation to M where events the other side of the world beckon, but you are not sure whether you should or can be there. When in contact with M I held back from asking, "Have you thought anymore about coming for a trip?" The effort to hold back grew from a gentle mental simmer to near boiling as my desire to have us all together increased. Do I stay silent or let M know how much it would mean to me to have all the family together?

M and I had an arranged private phone call one evening "to talk about Dad's birthday present." When she rang I was tucked up in bed, but when I heard her announcement that she was coming after all I was the woman dancing in the street, well dancing around the bed anyway.  M's sister was in another bedroom so my air punching and jigging to my mirror had to continued silently as I absorbed the arrangements of M's arrival. The next two months felt like I was the only one who knew Christmas was coming.

Cut out M with her buddy, Panda
Amongst the birthday party arrangements there were suggestions from all family members for activities for C's stay. Going to an All Black game (one  extra ticket furtively included,) a trip away to Queenstown (one extra plane ticket, accommodation and a car for six, not five secretly booked), all four bedrooms tidied and made up 'ready for extra guests at the party.' The furtiveness was fun. When family members and friends asked what about M? "Oh well, it seems she can't take the time off work." When asked,  "Do you think she is going to come and surprise us?" I replied, "With M  you never know. Perhaps not."  How delighted I was to be in the know. When other siblings were concerned that M would feel left out as the rest of us were holidaying I suggested having a cardboard cut out of her. We would take it with us to the Rugby and to Queenstown so that she would be in all the photos.

What I noticed most about knowing the family was to be together was how my motivation changed. I was happy to prepare for the party, and our son arriving, but I was like an non-stop train when preparing for the getting together of our family.  Family is what I am good at. I have been managing this family is for 26 years. This is my skill set. This was a chance for us to make great memories. Nothing is going to stop me.

As migrants know, any visitor inspires a tidy up. The closer the visitor the more is done. The arrival date becomes the deadline. The challenge is to pack in as many necessary and unnecessary tasks before hand to ensure you can have the best time possible: a house spring clean, digitising all the VHS films, gardening, car washing, meal precooking, getting ahead with work. D and A were shocked with my tasking ticking off including cleaning fly poo off ceilings till my neck was put out for a week; maybe an overkill, but I had a smile on my face as I cleaned.

When we picked up our son from the airport, I ran out to greet him. D and A waited to see if C was alone. Of course I knew he was. We had three lovely days to relish our son on his own. Then the day came where he and I were going out for an 'early lunch.' D asked where we were going, "It's a surprise" I said. The next two days I delighted in witnessing the surprise reaction of people when they first saw M.  M walked into A's pharmacy. A squealed and laughed and hugged and smiled. I watched as the whole pharmacy craned their necks and smiled at each other with teary eyes. When D caught sight of M in the garden he started laughing and didn't stop until his daughter was in his arms, their cheeks blending tears of joy. The youngest, I, who had been expecting boring old Mum to pick her up from the airport went from head down to wide eyed to tears and an embrace. For those in my age group the surprise was like a double banger firework. Delight in seeing M, and then second delight in realising that our family was complete.

The next two weeks I fell in love with my family unit again. We had a holiday together that we all wanted to be at. The teenage sullenness had passed. I treasured this holiday and made the most of it. There is something lovely about knowing all your children are in one place, and accessible. For those of you who have this as normality, feel lucky and love it. For those whose family is scattered, the internet is a great way to keep in touch, and when you do get together, make the most of it. Enjoy touching them, being with them and making enough memories with them that will sustain you until the next time.

For the record, what do I feel about surprise visits? I think I like knowing about the surprise. What about you?

13 Jun 2018

Changing Perceptions of Migrants

“Jenny had it the hardest,” said Jenny's father Glen. “She was having a baby in the UK and we weren't there. They kick you out after a day over there.”

My feet shuffled. My lips pursed. Three times I had had babies without my parents around. I disagreed with Glen’s negative description of having babies in UK.  During a deep breath I noted that what rattled me most was the change in Glen's perception of his daughter's time in UK.

While Glen's daughter was in UK Glen described everything to be okay over there; having babies, working, childcare, even the delights of a winter Christmas. It was all okay because it needed to be for Glen. Now Jenny is back in her homeland, her time in UK in hindsight is open to criticism. Glen's perception of Jenny's time in UK has changed.

Lady or Granny?
Musician or Face?
Our perception changes to suit us. We may be aware of the change.
Looking at the pictures, you can either see the two images easily or you have to work at it. Our perception can change subconsciously or consciously. Sometimes the perception adjustment can take a great deal of effort.

Both migrants and their loved ones have changes in perception of the migrant’s host country and homeland.

 Changing perceptions of a migrant. 

 🥛 Glass half full or half empty
Perception Homeland
Perception Host Country

On leaving
Half empty
Half full
Excited about leaving. An adventure ahead
Culture  shock
Half empty
Half empty
Adjustment needed
Enjoying host country
Half empty
Half full

Half full
Half empty

Acceptance of differences
Half empty
Half full
Half empty
Half full
As long as there is enough

Migrants’ loved ones changing perception. Mila leaves her homeland.

 🥛 Glass half full or half empty
Perception Homeland
Perception Host Country

On leaving
Half full
Half empty
Can’t understand why she has to go.
Our place is good enough for us, why not for Mila?
Getting used to Mila being away
Half full
Half empty

Hearing Mila enjoying the host country
Half full
Half full
Mental adjustment. Being open-minded to Mila’s host country.
Visiting and having a good time in Mila’s new country

Half full
Half full
Making good memories in host country
If Mila returns to homeland permanently
Half full
Half empty

No need to adjust anymore

Migrant's perception changes for both the migrant's survival and for the migrant to get the most out of the country they have chosen to live in.

For the migrants' loved ones. 

When migrant's loved ones adjust their perception to embrace the host country the conversations can flow more easily which helps the to maintain a connection between the migrant and those they love.
The 'us' and 'them' feeling and language lessens.

If  migrant Mila returns to her homeland for good, the open and positive perception from her loved ones is less necessary. A conscious and or an unconscious bias against Mila's previous host country returns. Glen's language of using 'they' and 'them' and 'over there' revealed his  unconscious bias against UK.

Good to know:

  1. People's perception changes. Be aware of your changing perception or the people around you.
  2. The perception is often influenced by the fact that many people like to feel they are living in the 'best place.'
  3. The unconscious bias against a country or people can be changed. Reflective listening and gentle education helps to show people another perspective.  


"We don't see things as they are. We see them as we are." Anais Nin

Do you have expereinces of changed perception? Let me know in the comments.

5 May 2018

What is wrong with fitting in?

When I had been in New Zealand for about five years I was compared to another English migrant who “didn’t fit in as well as you do.” This got me thinking. I had worked hard at fitting in. I had listened more than talked with my husbands' friends and family, I had stopped telling jokes that had shocked, but still  laughed at jokes I didn't understand, I could even name most of the beloved All Blacks rugby team. I had tried to fit in as much as possible. I had  completed all the requirements possible to be an acceptable New Zealander. And yet I wasn’t. I felt like an observer, the polite guest who could only share my opinions in a guarded manner.  I had been trying too hard to fit in. I feared being a perpetual outsider.

A few years later I decided I am not nor will ever be a New Zealander. I am an English person who is enjoying living in New Zealand. I was different. I was an outsider, but that was okay. 

Brené Brown, one of the world’s greatest influencers in the realms of leadership and change, studies courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. Her TED talk is one of the five most-watched TED talks in the world. In an article Brown wrote for Oprah.com, Brown explains the difference between fitting in and belonging:

"In fact, fitting in is the greatest barrier to belonging. Fitting in, I've discovered during the past decade of research, is assessing situations and groups of people, then twisting yourself into a human pretzel in order to get them to let you hang out with them. Belonging is something else entirely—it's showing up and letting yourself be seen and known as you really are—love of gourd painting, intense fear of public speaking and all.
Many of us suffer from this split between who we are and who we present to the world in order to be accepted, (Take it from me: I'm an expert fitter-inner!) But we're not letting ourselves be known, and this kind of incongruent living is soul-sucking."
Many communities have a quirky member. In You don't need to fit in to belong Jenny Lind Schmitt describes a member of a Swiss village that is different to the rest of the community, but adds a colour and vibrancy to the community. Madame Cardozo doesn't fit in, but does belong. It was suggested by Schmitt that it was time that made Madame Cardozo belong.

It took time for me to feel a sense of belonging. The belonging came through work, the contributions I made to my community, reaching out for a support network where help was able to be given and received, being a parent of children growing up in New Zealand, volunteering in my children's schools, sharing life events with friends and my husband's family, being part of a church. Anywhere where my contribution or potential contribution was valued, that was where I felt a sense of belonging.

As a migrant, you will be different. It is likely that you will try to fit in, especially in the early years. This may be for survival mentally or physically. What is wrong with fitting in? There are levels of fitting in that are unhealthy. You need to be aware of the uncomfortable feeling that you are over-compromising yourself, 'twisting yourself into a human pretzel' just for the sake of fitting in. Will you feel a sense of belonging if you haven't been revealing your true self? Brene Brown thinks not.
Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.-Brene Brown

There will be a time when you will be accepted into your community. It will be the time when you, and your differences are recognised as providing a positive aspect to the community; the food you bring, the volunteering, the fresh insights, the comparative opinions, the acknowledgement that there is another way of being or doing that is not wrong, your artistic talents. (See a previous blog 12 Reasons why migrants make good artists.) At this time you will feel and enjoy the sense of belonging in your host country. Enjoy that feeling and be glad that you didn't sell yourself out too much when trying to fit in.

5 Apr 2018

Why is belonging so important?

Does a migrant need to have a sense of belonging? Yes. Here is why.

'Belongingness' is the human emotional need to be an accepted member of a group.
Maslow's hierarchy of needs rates it  after food, water and safety. We are a sociable animal.

A feeling of belonging helps you to:

  1. Have a healthy self esteem. Being wanted and loved makes you feel valued.
  2. Have somewhere to go for help through your support network e.g. How do I find a doctor?
  3. Help others. Being needed  helps our self esteem. In fact the motivation to help is so strong that even slaves set up a group help-fund to help each other. Every volunteer is satisfying the need to help others. "For it is in giving that we receive" St Francis of Assisi
  4. Feel a sense of identity. You are part of a group.
  5. Be more at ease about migrating. You are more rooted to the place around you.
  6. Make sense of the world around you. You have a group of people to share and compare your thoughts, opinions and concerns.
  7. Be more productive with a healthy self esteem and peace of mind.

When you do not feel you belong, you:

  1. Have isolation and mental health issues. 
  2. Are less motivated (Stanford University Associate Professor of Psychology, Greg Walton's  studies demonstrated that a sense of social belonging can affect motivation and continued persistence, even on impossible tasks. That is, if you don't feel like you belong, you are both less motivated and less likely to overcome obstacles.)
  3. Being less likely overcome obstacles, you may question your reason for migrating, you may consider returning to your country of origin when times get tough.
  4. Will feel lonely. 

Humans have an emotional need to be part of something that is greater than themselves. Migrants, who have left so much of their sense of belonging behind, have this same desire to want to be part of something.

In a migrant's initial years they will be clutching at ways to replace the sense of belonging they have left behind. Often the first group they may feel a sense of belonging with is other migrants with their experiences of migration. If these migrants are also from their country of origin, there may be a greater sense of belonging. Joining migrant cluster groups are best if the migrant doesn't rely on them solely. An interviewee from India in my book, said in her adopted country she and her husband, 'latched onto' an Indian community.
"I felt I had swapped one India for another." Not having any sense of belonging with her adopted country, she and her husband considered returning to India. A job offer in a different city came up and they decided to try again."We decided we wouldn't seek out Indian people, but would integrate with the society there. That was the winning thing, we actually got to know other people." At a later stage Nina's mother in law came to live with them. Her mother-in-law needed a slower pace to integrate, so Nina and her husband became involved in the Indian community too. "This way we now have two groups of friends and it works well."
Other interviewees have recommended, going to the library, joining more than one group in case the group you have chosen folds.

What else can a migrant do to help their sense of belonging?

  1. Be ready to give. A sense of belonging is about reaching out for friendship, and about being able to give back. If you are part of a group or community, you have talents that will be needed some day. When the opportunity comes, give! Volunteering is an excellent way to start.  John O’Brien once said, “It is dispiriting to always be the needy one.” Our souls are deprived of the chance to make a difference to others.
  2. Try and identify what has made you feel you belong in the past? How can you make that happen again? David Pitonyak, The Importance of Belonging includes an exercise on creating more inclusive environments by examining what it feels like to be excluded, what it feels like to be included and identifying what can be done to help people feel more included and increase their sense of belonging.
  3. If making friends seems a problem, Susan Kurliak and Johanna Johnson have 101 suggestions in their book 101 Ways to Make Friends. Here are some samples.
#37 Have one good joke you can tell. Practice it so you’re ready when there’s a gap in the conversation — be known as the one who made everyone feel comfortable.
#75 Collect something, and talk to others who share your passion...coins, hats, ceramic elephants, Elvis memorabilia…
#82 Give yourself permission to miss the mark. Nothing is going to be perfect the first time — to make one friend we need to meet a whole lot of people who won’t be our friends. Just keep trying.

What can people, organisations, and countries do to increase sense of belonging?

  • Maori, the New Zealand indigenous people have an expression, Manaakitanga. This is the Maori style of hospitality. Manaakitanga greeted early settlers to New Zealand. In an event to celebrate Chinese New Year, Chinese migrants who had been in New Zealand for over two decades were re-welcomed in a Powhiri (Maori welcome) in the spirit of Manaakitanga. The Chinese migrants said through this event they felt more of a sense of belonging to New Zealand than through two decades of being a migrant in New Zealand. The reasons for this extra sense of belonging could be put down to some spiritual similarities between Chinese and Maori, and or that the holistic and ceremonial welcoming supported the migrants'emotional need to belong more than a stamp in their passport.

  • Be proactive in welcoming migrants. Many countries have a welcoming communities operation running. By typing in welcoming and the country you are in you are likely to find web sites for your host country.Here are some examples.

Welcoming Communities NZ 
Newcomers Network NZ

  • There is more help on support networks in my book, The Emotional Challenges of Immigration Chapter 4 - Support Networks. Read it for free here.

Other useful links


7 Mar 2018

Give Nothing to Racism

Taka Waititi, a New Zealand film director, actor, comedian has put his name to a wonderful new campaign, Give Nothing to Racism. I hope you enjoy it.

12 Feb 2018

Three Painful Questions for Migrants

Where are you from?  Do you like it here?  Do you like it there?
These questions said with the best intentions, often as a conversation opener, repeated often enough can eat away at migrants and make them feel isolated.

Where are you from?

Accent, appearance, language, make it obvious a migrant is different to the native born. The question 'Where are your from?' although may be said with the best intentions, is a reminder to the migrant that they are not from here. In Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari, Harari suggests Homo sapiens  default to an 'Us and them' social structure. You are with us or not. He points out that in many cultures the word used to describe any one not born in the area or country to being similar to a description of non-people. 'Where are you from?' can be taken as you don't belong as much as me. Other perils of the question where are you from is discussed more in an earlier blog. Read more here.

Do you like it here? 

When this question is asked the migrant is doomed. By the fact the migrant has lived in two countries, they have a comparative point of view. Transport networks, climate, housing. they have experienced both and can see the advantages and disadvantages of each.

If the migrant is honest, and some cultures are more honest than others, he/she may say something like, I love the climate, culture and people, but I think the transport system or lack of it is frustrating. The criticism sticks out. Even such a cushioned honest reply from the migrant may cause the native born to think or say, 'Why don't you go back home then? '

Why is criticism not taken well? Because the migrant can be likened to a guest, and guests don't insult their hosts. Imagine you are invited to dinner, your host asks you whether you enjoyed the meal. If you reply that it was lovely except the main course was a little underdone, there will be unease.  A guest has expected behaviour. Often migrants have to accentuate the positive. And until they find someone who can receive the migrant's honest observations or criticism, they may have to bottle up any negative feelings about the country they have chosen to live in. A migrant, you are a guest in your host country.

Do you like it there?

When a migrant visits their homeland, they may yearn to be honest with their loved ones. Again they have a comparative opinion, and they have chosen to 'give up' their homeland. One of my sisters once said to me, "Where you are living better be a great place, because you have given up so much to be there."

The question 'Do you like it there?' should be treated with caution. Every positive of your host country is a negative score for your homeland. If you point out all the host country negatives that you can't share with native born of your host country, your loved one may wonder why you are still there. It can be safer to accentuate the positives of the things you miss in your homeland, and even be prepared to be told it is not like that any more. As a migrant, you may have to behave as a guest in your homeland.

These questions are a constant reminder that you are don't belong, and although you have a comparative opinion, it is not always welcome.You are a guest in two homes.

What can you do?

  1. Talk to other migrants, as they are unlikely to take offense when you are making comparisons. 
  2. Accept that like a permanent traveller, you will always be reporting on the positives.
  3. If you are never able to speak your mind, seek someone who you can offload to. I have come across two women who bottled up their grievances for over twenty years, so much so that they became sick.
  4. Journal your observations.
  5. Research on line for other migrants. There are often country specific blogs that you can post your feelings on and feel you are heard.
  6. Reviews and comments about my book have focused on the relief a migrant has felt in knowing other migrants felt the same way.