La rentrée, the French equivalent of back-to-school, is on the minds of so many expat parents in September.
We get nostalgic about how fast time is passing. For those of us still recovering from the monumental task of entertaining our kids all summer break, we´re also looking forward to getting back to our routine.
Whether it´s your first year abroad or your fifth, this is an opportunity to make a fresh start.
I want you to make the most of this year abroad and I believe that the magic formula is already at the tip of your lips. Let me explain.
Here is what I´ve told my own child – a second grader this year – since he started school:
- You are here to learn.
- Do your best.
- Try new things.
- Get enough rest.
- Brush your teeth.
I´m fairly certain some of this sounds familiar to you. Wise aren´t we?
We know how important these things are for our children. We love our kids so much, and we simply want the best for them. We´re willing to create structures and even hire others to make sure they do all of the above. We check in with our kids to see if they´re doing these things consistently and help them get back on track when they´re not.
But here is the catch. All too often we fail to show up in our own lives the way we expect our children to.
Take a closer look at this list, check in on whether you are following your own advice, and try out one of my challenges.
1. You are here to learn.
Think back to when you started your most recent expat adventure.
What were you excited to learn?
When do you typically stop learning about the local practices, cultural values or language? What is your “that´s good enough”?
What is on the other side of that? What are you missing?
When do you feel stressed? Overwhelmed? Irritated? Frustrated?
What can you learn from this? What could you gain?
What if you walked into your own life the way your child walks into school, with the reminder, “You are here to learn.” What would you do differently?
Apply this learning mindset by spending five minutes answering the questions above and decide on one area where you´d like to rekindle your curiosity.
2. Do your best.
Like a child who loves to read but ignores his math assignments, what aspect of your life is getting too little attention?
Are you showing up equally in your job, your marriage, as a parent, and most importantly for your own health and happiness?
Then what would you tell your child that spends too much time on one subject, while the others are being neglected? Do that.
Likely your advice involves stepping back and looking at the big picture, prioritizing, careful planning, taking breaks, asking for help, and keeping a positive attitude.
Let me be clear. When I say, “Do your best,” I mean “Do your best.”
You tell your child, “It doesn´t matter if Stefan is better at spelling than you.” Am I right?
Then stop beating yourself up that your French (or German, or Bäärndüütsch, or Korean) isn´t as good as the expat mom´s down the street.
Do what you can do. Do what feels like progress in your life.
Get clear on which aspect of your life needs attention right now. What would feel like progress to you? Do that.
We instinctively know how important it is for our kids to play. We also notice the negative impacts when they don´t get enough of it.
What about you?
How much time do you spend during a normal week playing?
For you playing might mean listening to music, tickling your children, dancing in the kitchen, throwing a ball around, or even reading a great book.
Based on the research from Dr. Stuart Brown – author of the book Play – we know that play helps adults with their creativity, adaptability, problem solving and even relationships.[1. The Importance of Play for Adults.]
Sounds like some serious benefits to me.
Get serious about incorporating more play into your life.
Without spending any extra time, pick one thing from your everyday life and make it more playful. Here are a few ideas to get started:
- Play music from your teens during your morning commute.
- Do a mundane task while watching silly YouTube videos.
- Play charades with your family instead of reading a bedtime story.
4. Try new things.
You might be thinking, “Done. I moved abroad.”
True, but just living abroad does not mean you are actively trying new things.
After the initial culture shock wears off and you are reaping the benefits of adjusting to your new environment, we can all get complacent.
I´m purposeful in my choice of words, because complacent means:
“Pleased, especially with oneself or one’s merits, advantages, situation, etc., often without awareness of some potential danger or defect”[2. Definition of complacent.]
Complacency creates a context in which we are unaware of what we are missing. We fail to see the depth of what could be understood in our unfamiliar context, and there is a danger that we see our surroundings from this limited view. We simply miss out on valuable experiences. There´s a danger that we think we have “seen it all” or that we “know” the region or the culture.
When our adaptation plateaus, we actually limit ourselves in terms of skills and possibilities. I don´t know about you, but I don´t like these kinds of limits.
Reignite your sense of adventure by trying new things. This could be anything from learning a new word of the local language each week, experimenting with your communication style at work, to going to local music festivals. It is up to you.
To emphasize just how important this is, allow me to bring in a little chaos theory. The butterfly effect[3. The butterfly effect.] reminds us how small changes now can have a huge impact later. You simply cannot predict how volunteering at a local organization at the start of an assignment abroad can impact your life, but it just might have a strong influence on your social network, your sense of happiness, the speed of language learning and more.
A renewed commitment to learning, a willingness to experiment with new approaches, and the ability to continually adapt to what life abroad hands you is a commitment to your growth. It is the opposite of complacency. It is the practice of building your intercultural resilience.[4. An academic perspective on intercultural resilience: Turning Strain into Strength.]
This resilience can be built not only on your own, but in your partnership and within your family. And that, my friend, will come in handy when times get tough.
Commit to try one new thing this week. Pay attention to how it feels. Tap into that sense of adventure.
5. Get enough rest.
Research[5. Ten Things to Hate about Sleep Loss.] says that a lack of sleep can slow down your thinking, cause serious health problems, and destroy your sex drive. Enough said.
It is time to get serious about getting enough rest. Guidelines from the National Sleep Association recommend that adults aim for an average of seven to nine hours of sleep a night. If you don´t know whether you’re getting the rest you need, you can use this printable diary, or pick out an app.
Track your sleep for a week. Use this information to take an honest look at what adjustments you need to make so your body, mind and spirit get the rest it so deserves.
6. Brush your teeth.
Yes! This is our one freebie. Celebrate – you´ve nailed this one.
If you are human, there are likely a few things on this list that you can work on this year to make the most of your expat life. Pick one and go for it, I´ve got your back.
p.s. I think doing more of Nr. 4 is exactly what I need at the moment. In the comments section below, share which one you think will help you make the most of this year.