Last month, I traveled to Sacramento to see my 92-year-old mother for the last time. Again. Eighteen months ago my mother was lying on her deathbed gasping for an elusive breath while loved ones tearfully kept watch.
Two days later she woke up with an appetite. Chips, cake, and junk food of any kind, she’d wolf it all down. Then came the daily beer that she loves so much. For her meager nutritional needs, the doctor advised giving her anything she wants, as long as she is eating.
She was sleeping soundly when I entered the room. Upon seeing me she quickly sprung to life—as much as a feeble person can--as if she were waiting for this very moment. We chatted for about 15 minutes, in between bites of Cheese-It snacks that I brought as a treat. She asked questions about my life, eager to hear everything. I knew she was doing her best to be animated. My mother is a good actress. The show must go on.
Soon, she stared mindlessly at the TV. Even on good days, ten minutes of conversation can wipe her out. But within the next few minutes she perked up again to ask questions about my friend, Pam, whom I visited before coming to Sacramento.
In her infirm state, my mother still shows her intelligence by making small talk about life and possessing a keen interest in other people. She has a remarkable memory for dates and places that I’ve long forgotten about. When I inquire about her life, she cheerfully though wearily replies, “I’m fine as ever.” Her will to live has outlasted her physical body. In fact, she's already used up her six-month hospice care three times.
It is well documented that about 80% of elderly patients die within the first year upon entering a nursing home, many within the first six months. It’s also noted that people with strong social connections live the longest. Fortunately for my mom, she has lots of visitors due to our large, extended family.
I feel that the real reason for my mother’s longevity and general well being stems from the unconditional love shown to her by us and Maria and Bill Tintas, her caretakers, who own the board and care home where she resides. It’s a residential home where licensed caregivers live and render assistance with bathing, feeding, dressing and managing the medication of a maximum of six patients. Home healthcare, hospice and other medical assistance can be brought in from outside providers. Some of the patients in this home have been there for many years and even one patient recently turned 100-years-old.
To be sure, changing diapers on a 92-year-old patient six times a day is not an easy job, but Maria and Bill do it with kindness. They show respect to all their patients, making them feel wanted. I’ve even heard Maria tell my mother that she loves her, as my mother is an easy patient who seldom complains. The Tintas’ seem content in their business decisions, wise in their dealings with no hidden agendas.
“Maria has seen a lot of death and sadness, yet her spirit is light. That is a God given gift to a caretaker,“ said my sister, Dolores Martinez. “Maria has God’s love and spiritual protection which brings peace to the house.”
I dreaded saying goodbye on my last day. Fortunately, my sisters Jeanne and Dolores were by my side. We had a great two-hour conversation with mom, talking about our travels together and good times. Mom could remember stories with details, much to our amazement. We laughed a lot and took photos. The mood was light.
I finally did say goodbye, with a big kiss and a firm hug. I was almost ashamed of myself for not shedding tears. I’ve said goodbye so many times before why would today be any different? I walked out the door with Maria’s reassurance that mother will be there the next time I’d come to visit.
I wish I could believe that.
In two weeks, my mother will turn 93. How much longer can she go on with her body slowly but surely shutting down? As my sister Jeanne reminded me that today could be the last day we see anyone. It is in God’s hands.
In truth, we really lost her a couple of years ago when she decided not to walk anymore. Now it’s a waiting game. It is not sad, for she has lived a good, blessed life albeit one with its peaks and valleys that she ventured through being guided by a cosmic north star.
I pray that when the time comes for her passing, it is done in her sleep, peacefully. I can only hope for myself to live such a long life filled with love and with no major illnesses. In reality, it means keeping physically and spiritually healthy. There are many books written on both topics, but in the end, it is up to us individually to figure it out for ourselves. This seems to be the topic I like to write about because it is so big and important. I’ll keep you posted on my mom. In the meantime…
Over To You
What are your thoughts on death and dying? Have you ever dealt with caregivers? I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions. Please leave a comment below.
Happy New Year, albeit a bit late. I hope you all celebrated well with your loved ones and friends. As the 2017 promises to be unprecedented in many ways, it is an opportunity to review your successes and challenges of the past year. With a blank canvass, you get to color your world, deciding what changes or transformations you desire to make this year, filling in the dots or drawing outside of the lines of your life.
As I clocked in the New Year, I contemplated some new years resolutions: lose weight, improve my German, write more, and stick to a daily spiritual practice. In a long life of resolutions and half-hearted promises, I’ve been resolute with only one: I decided not to smoke cigarettes. To this day, I’m an ardent non-smoker.
According to Tony Robbins, the world’s most successful life coach, anyone who sets a goal for the New Year will have abandoned it by January 17th. I ditched mine within the first week.
Robbins also says that any goal or vision has to be compelling enough in order for it to be successful. A compelling reason might be a family’s desperate need to save money for a child’s operation, or a down payment for a house, for example. In a nutshell, it’s a determined vision that pushes you past the finish line.
How I Make Resolutions Stick?
The key to obtaining your goals, according to Terri Savelle Foy in her book Make Your Dreams Bigger Than Your Memories, is to break them down into manageable, bit-size pieces that are realistic and have timetable in order to keep you motivated and accountable.
So if the goal is to lose weight, it’s better to have a smaller objective with a specific date. For example, it is better to say, “I will lose 5 pounds by February 15, 2017 by walking 20 minutes every day and by eating five fruits and vegetables daily instead of random snacks,” than setting an arbitrary goal of loosing weight.
Why am I resisting even writing down my goals?
The truth is my goals feel like overwhelming chores, like a chockablock to-do list. I desire an improved streamlined life-style, not one with restrictions and add-ons.
I really don’t want to start a diet, but I want to improve my posture that will help eliminate my back problems. I want to quit my German book club because the reading level is above my current comprehension. I don’t want to put myself under pressure to write every day. I want my daily devotional prayers to be simple.
What does that look like?
For me, it is adding a few posture exercises to my already established 10-minute morning stretching regime. It also means taking daily walks regardless of the weather.
I’ll confess to my German reading circle that I don’t always comprehend the books we read because the subject matter is abstract or political which taxes my overloaded (aging) cognitive abilities. I’ll ask for a pass on the books that are too difficult and join in on the reading that is suited to my level.
Putting pressure on myself to write everyday makes me feel like a failure every morning. It doesn’t work. What I’m really long for is a writing style enlivened by active verbs, apt adjectives, thoughtful metaphors and similes that sparkle like stars.
Lastly, I lack the mental stamina to mediate and pray Deepak Chopa style, but 10 to 20 minutes a day of devotional readings, praying and meditation is manageable.
So far, I'm doing okay maintaining these resolutions. That means, I'm not beating myself up mentally if I skip a day or two. This year I'm giving myself permission to go easy on myself--life is just too short.
Over To You
What are you goals for 2017? Have you ever kept a resolution? I'd love to hear from you. If you are not clear on what you want to achieve this year, I am offering a clarity coaching session to you as a gift. Just fill out the contact form below and I will get back to you.
As the year winds down, I want to thank you all for supporting and interest in my blog. It’s been a journey and I’m glad you were along for the ride.
Writing this blog hasn’t come as easily as I had expected. I hate to admit it, but I did anything I could to avoid writing it, hemming and hawing about what message I wanted to convey, wasting time by finding lame excuses to avert my attention.
Scrubbing floors and doing laundry were my favorite distractions. Somehow, the stories came and the words followed.
Expect The Unexpected
This year ended with a big surprise in the US presidential election. This won’t be a political commentary; but like many people worldwide, it left me feeling less secure about the future.
One night a week after the election, my husband, Joerg, and I were sitting on the couch feeling uninspired and hopeless by day’s headlines: incriminating information about the VW gas scandal, the violence in the Middle East, and Syria’s exploding refugee problem were just a few of the news reports wearing us down.
Pray Like Children
Just then our son, Sean, came in to say his nightly prayers. In his prayers, he earnestly asked God for the grace of getting him accepted into a new school. His current school is not working out well for him so he asked if he could switch to a different one. The week before, we all went for an interview with the principal at the school our daughter, Jessica, attends to see if Sean could get admitted by next semester. The possibly seemed slim, but Sean was hopeful.
Have Hope And Faith
Joerg and I were doubtful but we prayed along with him. Lo and behold, the next day we received an email stating that Sean was admitted. He was ecstatic. His faith was heart warming, the antidote to my apathy.
The lesson for me is that hope is found right in your own home. The faith of children is such a precious gift. It brought me to a passage in the bible that says, “You must accept the kingdom of God as a little child accepts things….” (Mark 10:15). I’ve been struggling with my own faith lately, having lost trust in humanity. But there is hope. And that is what Christmas really means.
Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, I believe it is a story based on hope for what is unseen and unknown, always cleaving to the possibility of peace on earth. The key is to believe: you got to have faith.
Saint Augustine said, “Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.”
When I wish you a merry Christmas, I am hoping that you can find some kind of joy in your life, a star that shines within you. It’s an exchange of goodwill, respect, and love in a neighborly way.
Happy New Year
I wish you blessings and good health for 2017. May your year be filled with joy and challenges that help you grow into a person of character, strength, and inspiration.
Over To You
Going forward, I’m not sure which direction I will take this blog. I’m leaning towards bringing a small slice more hope and faith into the world, leading by example. I’d love to hear your input: what it is you want to read? Do you want to share your own story of hope, love, or faith?
I look forward to hearing from you.
I love fall season, especially the variegated trees of crimson, amber, and chartreuse-- as well as the smell of crisp, old leaves signaling a time of change. I know Thanksgiving is just around the corner, a holiday our family celebrates no matter where we live in the world. We have a Thanksgiving family tradition of giving ourselves space to think about what we are truly grateful for at this time and place.
This year I am grateful for the wisdom of the generations who came before me. I have the privilege to teach a wonderful group of women who are in early to late seventies and have been taking the same class for thirty years. They are a treasure trove of information filling me with golden nuggets of knowledge. Whenever I have a question about life in Germany, gardening, or geography, all I have to do is ask them and they eagerly impart their knowledge.
I realize that these women are walking encyclopedias of by-gone days. Their stories have weight, but is anyone listening? They are the industrious, hardworking, resilient generation who reformed Germany from ashes to riches. They are the backbone of Germany’s success known as the “Wirtschaftswunder,” the economic miracle.
Some of them were refugees of WWII who fled to Germany from Poland during the Russian invasion. They tell of stories of families having to live in one room or having to board with strangers who offered their homes. They are also, sadly, the generation that shoulders the guilt of WWII like a bucket of heavy tears.
One student said, “We’ve learned from our mistakes as a country and have paid for it. War is awful.”
When asked about their childhood, none whine about the hardships endured. They withstood the food shortages of their youth and mention how hard their parents, who lived through two world wars, had to work. Their parents had to remove the rubble by hand from the street to build new homes, gather firewood from the forest or steal coal to heat their houses, and use scraps of food to make meals to feed the family. The women say they were lucky to live through it and see their lives improve over the years.
A coaching client of mine told me about her mother’s experience. At age three, her mother had to sit on a bench alone in a cold apartment for two hours until her grandmother would come back with coals.
My client states, “these ladies are strong - and they never could allow themselves to grieve, it would have been to much. They have a different connection to their feelings. Sometimes they can hardly accept that you become emotional about things that all seem minor compared to the cruelty and suffer of war what makes it sometimes difficult for their children to allow themselves to express negative feelings. They have internalized to restrain themselves for the sake of others.”
In their younger days, a few of them were expats who lived in Iran, Canada, and Afghanistan with their budding families. They raised well-educated children. These ladies continue to travel to far off places like Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. It seems like the more exotic the land, the more they benefit from their travels. I marvel at their robust energy and willingness to keep learning. There is no stopping them.
Instead of driving, some ride their bikes across town to attend English class, even on chilly, winter mornings. I once asked why they do it?
One answered, “In former days we didn’t have a car so we had to ride our bikes to get anywhere. We had no choice. So we just do it.” No complaining, no moaning. They are glad that they still have the physical ability therefore why stop?
They are a determined, no-nonsense group of dames, strong as steel yet kindhearted and modest. I get the feeling that they want me to succeed, live a good life, and embrace the Germany that they help build.
When I asked them what advice would they give to today’s younger generation, they stood on their beliefs:
1) Avoid war at all cost. 2) Respect everyone. 3) Travel and learn about other cultures. 4) Be tolerant.
I urge them to write would down their stories to share with their grandchildren. I hope that one day the next generation will appreciate the primacy of their grandparent’s role in the reconstruction of Europe after the war. I realize we all have a story to tell. Let’s listen to our elders and acknowledge that if it weren’t for them, we would not be living the comfortable life we have today.
Over To You.
What are you grateful for this Thanksgiving season? How does this story inspire you? I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions. Please leave a comment below.
It’s been three years since we’d moved to Braunschweig, Germany. Slowly but surely we are doing some well-needed house projects. One thing that needs work is the landscape in our front garden. It is not very big, only a meter or so in dimension, but it has an ugly pine tree that blocks the window and a dead-looking rhododendron desperately in want of fertilizing. I’m no gardener, having only purple thumbs; therefore I needed to consult someone about how to make this area look pretty. I lack the imagination to even come up with a plan because I don’t know the names of many flowers and plants. I marched through many a garden shop trying to get an idea but I always came out feeling overwhelmed. It’s like being a ratty scarecrow walking through a fancy clothing store with no idea of what fashion looks like.
The worst part is that since I don’t know what the names are in English, I certainly have no idea of what the names are in German. I didn’t want to talk to gardening consultant in my local shop for fear of looking stupid. I was afraid I’d mumble a few words and then get lost in a complex conversation.
This is so much part of the stress of living in a country where you are not fully functional in the language.
My German writing skills are still hovering around the third grade level. In fact, I cannot write a decent sentence to save my live without a slew of mistakes. I converse just fine in German, although I do chop the language into bits and pieces putting the verbs in the wrong places. Most Germans have sympathy for anyone trying to learn this tongue twister of a language. They know the grammar is grueling, therefore they are forgiving. I cope well in everyday life but anything that requires specialized vocabulary is stressful and I avoid it.
It is these simple things that when I was living in an English-speaking country I took for granted. Even without having any botanical knowledge, I could express what I think I would want in English. This becomes a stressful task in German. That is why I decided to have a gardening consultation over Skype with a professional gardener in England.
I met Jo Dyer when I took an on-line marketing course for coaches and other small businesses. Her website is called “Really Useful Gardens” and she creates gardens that make your soul sing.
My garden makes me cringe so when I got serious about learning how to re-do my little plot, I sent Jo an email. She immediately understood my dilemma and suggested we do a Skype call. In the meanwhile, I sent over snapshots of my garden and its dimensions as well as photos of gardens in my neighborhood that I liked so she could have a visual of what I was talking about.
I felt so relieved that I could discuss this and make a plan in English. She walked me step by step through the process so I could learn to garden on my own.
We had a Skype consultation about what I would ideally want my garden to be. I was able to look up on the Internet the flowers and plants she recommended as we were Skyping. Next she made a drawing of the garden plan we discussed, including photos of various plants and flowers with all the information of how to plant and maintains them. She even covered removal of the tree and how to make the soil rich again.
Now not only do I have a vision for my front yard but the know-how to maintain it. The money was well spent. I saved hours of looking up plant and flower names in English and then having them translated into German. The stress of just thinking about how I was going to manage flowed away like water from a barren hill.
The Internet, social media and Skype are a godsend to me.
Being able to look up information and do business over the Internet makes living in a country where I am sometimes functionally illiterate tolerable. I admit to using Google translate more than I should. My German writing skills would be much better if I tried to practice writing sentences in German. But when time is of the essence and I have to get a note off to a teacher, I don’t have the patience to consult grammar books or dictionaries.
The drawback can be that my dependence on translating software programs is stopping me from learning valuable language skills that could bring me closer to my community. It’s part of the modern life dilemma being dependent on the Internet. For as long as I have the computer as a tool, I will use it. Without it, this blog is not possible.
Over To You
How has Skype changed your life? Does the Internet play a role in how you do business? I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions.
Have you ever experienced this: Someone in your family, a colleague, or a friend announces that he or she is moving far away and possibly to another country for a job promotion or perhaps returning to one’s country after an overseas stint or just moving to be closer to family.
“Great!” you say, feeling somewhat taken back yet wanting to be happy for that person.
“When’s the big move?” you ask trying to be cheerful but in your heart you feel an overwhelming wave of sadness.
Relocating for a new career opportunity or any other reason is exciting, but it comes with a price.
Sometimes that cost is unintentional grief left behind like an empty suitcase that family members and dear friends lug silently.
One of my research participants, Belinda (not her real name), said her husband, Chris, still feels angry that his sister moved from England to New Zealand a few years ago.
“There was a huge void for Chris’s sister when she and her kids departed. The family doesn’t travel, and the parents are too old to make a long flight to New Zealand. They feel hurt that they cannot see grandkids watch them grow and build a relationship with them,” she said.
There are unforeseen consequences—powerful emotions that occur when a close family member moves away.
“Chris’s parents did so much for them, taking care of the grandchild, helping them out financially, that when they moved so far away they felt taken for granted. They were bereft,” she lamented.
Sometimes there is resentment associated with the move. In Belinda’s case, the family put the blame on the son-in-law because he accepted the overseas position. This finger pointing put stress on the family relationship. As a result, he avoids communicating with the in-laws even to this day.
I have a similar story. In 2008, Volkswagen offered my husband, Joerg, a three-year contract to work at VW headquarters in Herndon, VA. We were thrilled to have an opportunity to live and work in the US. The children would attend the German School of Washington D.C. to keep up their German language skills. For us, it was a win-win situation.
I was disappointed to learn that not everyone shared in our happiness, especially my in-laws. I thought it shouldn’t have come as a surprise because we’d moved already four times in seven years. I found out I was wrong.
When we talked about the move it was met with tight mouths and disappointed faces. I was hurt that they didn’t see the benefit in the move for us as a bilingual, bicultural family. The grieving process had started before we even departed.
Even my own mother in California stated her concern. “Are you sure you’re doing the right thing by leaving Germany and moving to crime-ridden America? What about the kids?” she said with a hint of doubt in her voice.
What about my kids, I wanted to scream. They finally get to live in my country, learn English properly, build a bond with my family, and to understand my cultural influences.
For the life of me, I couldn’t understand why anyone would question our motives.
The move was so important to us. Joerg was excited about his new job. It was a dream-come-true for me to be living on an expatriate contract in my own country, which meant VW would be picking up the bill for the school and housing. I knew the move would be hard on our then 9-year-old daughter, Jessica, but that’s a topic for another blog. The future benefits would by far outweigh any regret.
Eventually, my in-laws came to terms with our relocation. They even graciously helped me pack. We promised to call and Skype, but I realized there are some things that Skype cannot fix: Our physical presence would be missed dearly.
There is no compensation insurance for the pain and suffering of loved ones who mourn your absence. In today’s world, we have social media to help us stay connected to those far away. Yet it doesn’t replace the intimacy or the real closeness of being in the same room or sitting together face to face.
The only advice I have is to accept that it is hard on both parties and try to be supportive and sensitive to each other’s emotions. Staying angry or sad doesn’t help the situation: it only makes it more painful.
Over To You
Have you ever had to move and felt guilty about it? Or have you ever felt left behind when a loved-one moved away? I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions so please leave a comment.
Also, if you have ever been in this situation I offer a 30-minute Skype coaching session to listen to your story. Please fill out a contact form and submit it.
Our summer school holidays came fleetingly this year, feeling more like a long weekend rather than a six-week break. I felt cheated of lazy, hot summer days with nothing to do. It could have been due to the dreary weather that stole away the anticipation of summer or our busy schedule with visitors, but I believe it was partly due to hearing news of terrorism happening here in Europe, like an air of gloom hanging over me in a dark, eerie night.
This year we went to the beautiful beach areas of Normandy and Brittany, France. On France’s national Bastille Day, July 14, we first went to visit the US war cemetery in Omaha Beach, Normandy. This memorial is remarkable and a must-see for anyone living in a free democratic society. We were moved by the history and valor of the allied forces who bravely fought for our freedom. Words cannot describe my feelings of gratitude.
In the evening we went to the charming seaside town of Port-en-Bessin-Huppain to watch the fireworks. I was feeling touched by the fact that we got to learn about the liberation of Europe from the Nazis and celebrate France’s independence on the same day. Little did we know that a horrific terrorist attack was taking place in Nice in the south of France. I only found out the next morning when concerned family and friends texted me to check if we were okay.
A few days later, a 17-year-old refugee wielding an axe rampaged through a train in Germany seriously injuring people. A week later, another 17-year-old boy in Munich opened fire on kids at a McDonald’s killing nine people, then another bombing, and the murder of a priest during a church service in Normandy, France.
This is not the story nor is this the topic I want to write about, but I feel compelled to do so.
Although these events happened far from where we were, they hit me at home right where my heart is. I kept thinking it could have been us. I can hear my mother’s words, “there but for the grace of God go I.” I mourn for the victims’ families as if they were my own.
What is really happening globally? Why do I feel like there are bad vibrations spreading like wildfire?
I see strife in political arenas around the world. First, there is the unprecedented Brexit based on the immigration issues in England. Then a failed coup in Turkey with unresolved issues still pending. The Middle East is a never- ending disaster. And to stir the pot, the US presidential race is getting nastier every day. It is hard to stomach grown, supposedly intelligent people who want to be world leaders and decision makers say mean, ugly things about each other. The hate is palpable: it’s very scary and despicable.
As an American expatriate I feel affected by political strife and terrorism happening on both sides of the pond.
As I mourn for all the victim’s families, I wonder how this can be stopped? How do I react and what can I do?
This might sound trite, but I think prayer is part of the answer. But is it effective? To be honest, I don’t really know. Sometimes I wonder if my prayers are in vain because nothing seems to change. I don’t even know what to say in my prayers because I feel numb with the magnitude of senseless killings, but I pray anyway.
I am seeking not revenge but understanding. I don’t want to build walls. I live in a country where there was once a wall. I don’t want bitterness to erode my heart. I don’t want to be angry with a particular group of people. I don’t want to live in fear, as some politicians would like me to believe that I should.
I am asking for acceptance of differences in all aspects of culture, lifestyle, and religious belief.
But how would a family recover or move on if they were affected by a terrorist attack? Nidhi Chaphekar, an air stewardess from India, is a survivor of the Brussels airport bombing that killed 35 people and injured more than 300. I saw a photo of her taken during the aftermath of the bombing where she is sitting on a bench looking dazed and confused. On August 5, 2016 she gave an interview to BBC news reporter Divya Arya in Mumbai.
Chaphekar said, “We have to live. We have to go on. Life has to move. Go for good. If you can do something better for someone, I think you gain something…..I think, we have to do.”
It is the same sentiment I’ve heard from other survivors of terrorist attacks. They never talk about hating the perpetrators of crime but focus on love in general. Love for the family, love for your neighbor, love to make the world go round.
It’s strange, but the people who are not directly involved in attacks are the ones who scream for vengeance, but seldom do the victims themselves want to avenge any wrongdoing. They seem so shocked by the atrocity that they want to put their energy on the opposite of hate, which is love and tolerance.
As a life coach, I want to focus more on what ties us together as humans than disparity that divides.
So maybe we should heed their advice and move on and put more effort into doing good deeds for others. So it seems that in order to get over a tragedy, the best way is to put attention on helping others, finding love and compassion for yourself, your family, and for others in your community.
Over To You
What are your thoughts about this topic? I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions. Please leave a comment below.
Last weekend I was invited to a neighborhood BBQ. It was a beautiful, warm Saturday evening, which is not always the case in this north German clime. With cold beers in hand, we chatted about the usual end-of-school-year topic: summer holiday destinations.
During this conversation I was surprised to learn that most of the other fellow parents at the BBQ 17-year-olds have chosen not to vacation with them anymore. Party jaunts to Spain with other teens are far more appealing than week-long trips with the parents.
This is the beginning of the end of family excursions. Most of the parents took this as a welcome relief. I didn’t.
Just the thought of planning a vacation without my kids leaves me empty, something akin to going on a road trip and forgetting to pack the bags.
My husband, Joerg, and I still cherish the time we have to travel as a family. I’ve enjoyed learning along side my children and viewing the world from their perspective. We value the opportunities to expose our children to the world of well-known art museums, famous landmarks, musical theater, craggy mountaintops, influential world capitals, and other places where history was made and were wars won and lost.
We’ve taught our children that vacationing isn’t all about Disneyland and amusement parks, although we definitely try to mix the fun into the adventure. For us, traveling is about discovering other cultures and history.
A few years ago we did a city tour of Detroit, MI. As part of the learning experience, decided to show them the run-down, abandoned factories that once made Detroit the richest city in America.
We walked down once wealthy and middle class neighborhoods that now are like ghost towns, decrepit and crime-ridden. The point demonstrated that when industry fails, so does a whole society. This was once America at its best, now at its worse. How can a city recover? Where do the people go?
The lesson conveyed is that we cannot take our lifestyle, as we know it today, for granted.
We have to be aware that every action has an outcome. We are responsible for our environment and even making a decision to buy a foreign or domestically produced car has an effect on many people.
We are raising global children. I feel obliged to educate them in ways textbooks cannot. My children will be the future decision makers of this world. I want to teach them well.
Don’t misread me. Last year we soaked up the sun at a beach resort in Greece for two weeks. Our kids, however, are accustomed to our desire to delve deeper into the cultural treasures that lie beyond the eye of the tourist.
On a scorching hot day on the island of Crete, while most of the Scandinavian tourists baked on the beach, we ventured out to a local winery and olive oil factory. Not surprisingly we were the only visitors. (Who else would stuff their kids in an oven-hot rental car to tour around the island?)
On our tour, we learned that here is at least one olive tree still living that has been around since the days of Jesus Christ. That fact alone was worth roasting in the heat.
Although our kids don’t ask many questions, they’ve learned to act interested.
Do our children get bored and whiney? Yes, it is part of the package. I know that they will appreciate it and we are making life-long memories. I don’t want these days to end any time soon.
I have to be realistic. Next year when our daughter turns 18, she’ll most likely want to do her own thing. I’ll have to accept it, let her expand her wings, and fly the coop.
My intention is to instill a good mix of curiosity, adventure, and education into our family vacations, providing, as it were, a front row seat to the real world. My hope is that it will influence future generations to come.
Have a great summer.
Over To You
Do you have a favorite family holiday memory? Please share it. I’d love to hear your story.
In this blog I am sharing an interview with intercultural specialist Christina Röttgers about her first experience of living in a foreign country.
Christina, a native German, is an associate partner with Itim International, a company that solves intercultural and organizational challenges for businesses. She is a specialist for the development of cultural competence in organizations, teams, and on individual level. She’s been a professional facilitator and consultant in Europe and Asia since 1997. She speaks German, English, French, and Russian.
P: How old were you when you first went abroad and what were you doing at that time?
C: I was 23 years old at the time and studying philosophy, Slavic languages, and east European law. I initially went to Volgograd, Russia to learn to speak Russian fluently. I stayed there for six months and then a few weeks in Moscow.
P: What was your cultural shock?
C: I cannot say that I had a big cultural shock but I didn’t expect it to be very different from Germany yet it was in many ways. I expected the economic difference such as difficulties in buying food and scarcity of products, but I was surprised at the small things that were funny or uncomfortable and very different from home.
P: Can you give an example?
C: The administration was very challenging. I applied for a visa extension and I had no way for getting any information on the status. I didn’t know if I could stay or not. I was told only at the last minute that it got approved.
At a certain point of time, one needed special stamps for simple business procedures such as exchanging money and if the person was not there to issue the stamp or the office was closed, you were out of luck.
At a formal level they didn’t seem to care: they were indifferent.
Also, the ideas about feminism at the time where not progressing at the same level as in Europe. Some of the female students were already married and taking on the role of the housewife. They seemed to have no time or energy to fight for women’s rights.
P: What else surprised you?
C: The public transportation system was not as well organized as in Germany. There were no timetables for the bus. The busses came and went without an official schedule, which made it difficult to make connections.
P: How did these small but significant differences effect you?
C: In a way it made me more relaxed because there was no pressure to hurry. The Russians were good at taking things as they came. They’d say, “Vse budet chorosho” which means everything is going to be okay. It made me wonder how it would all work out but somehow it did.
P: What did you like about the culture?
C: The warmth of the people. Once I was on a bus and I was trying to zip up my bag when an elderly woman warned me to be careful of robbers and bend down helped me with my bag. They are caring and kind people.
Also, the Russians learn many common songs by heart that they can sing anytime, anywhere as a group when joining other friends or at a joint occasion. It’s heart warming. We as Germans don’t have such songs we can sing as a group together.
P: What did you learn about yourself?
C: It taught me about my own values and foreign perspectives and it helped me to understand myself better. The better you know yourself, the better you are at making decisions. This experience added a piece to my identity.
P: It did change your perspective on your own country?
C: It made me appreciate Western society and life more. We have rule of law that we can depend on. I am grateful not to have to struggle for everyday items.
P: What would you change if you had to do it over?
C: Nothing. It was a valuable experience. Based on what I know today, I would be trying to connect even more to many different people.
P: What advice would you give to someone going to live in a foreign country today?
C: It’s important some intercultural training to prepare in a way for managing cultural expectations. Expats often feel alone so I advise to take measures to develop new relationships with friends and colleagues. And I would get a coach.
P: Thank you for your time, Christina. It’s been great talking to you.
If you’d like to contact Christina directly to learn more about Itim contact her at Christina@itim.org.
Over To You
What was your first cultural experience like? I'd love to hear your thoughts and opinions.
Have you ever heard that the best way to learn your own language is to teach it to someone else? Well, I can concur. After a seven-year hiatus from teaching, I am back in the classroom.
I have two great classes that I’d like to tell you about. My first class is an intermediate group of nine women about the average age of 70. They’ve been taking the same language class with the same teacher for thirty years.
The second is a beginner class of mixed nationalities with little English proficiency that during the first two lessons, I taught them the ABC song! They have, however, progressed quickly.
I was a bit nervous about making lesson plans and wondering how I was going to keep the classes interesting.
Since becoming a professionally CTI-trained life coach, I have become a more teaching introspective. I like to go past the grammar rules and into the hearts and souls of the students. Some of the conversation topics are geared at finding out what fulfills the students.
It’s more challenging with my beginners due to lack of basic sentence structure and vocabulary. I like to inquire about their lives and cultural backgrounds to bond us as a group.
In regard to the ladies who’ve had the same teacher for 30 years, I was warned that they were relunctant to continue with a new one. On the first day, they eyed me suspiciously, voicing clear dismay of having to change teachers.
Fair enough. I asked only if they would stay for one lesson and then make a final decision.
After general introductions, I asked them to tell me about their dream for their lives. They slightly tilted their heads to the ceiling in deep thought, while ponding what is next for them in the years they have left.
Not surprisingly, the main goal for all of them was to remain healthy enough to continue traveling and spending quality time with their families. We talked about their interests and goals for learning English.
To be sure, my goal was to understand how I could best serve them.
What I discovered thus far is that I am there to facilitate their learning, bringing it to a new dimension. I can challenge them to think beyond the general conversation and into the realm of what makes life interesting and worth living.
I am not the head of the classroom but a part of the group, supporting their language needs.
Today we talked briefly about near death experiences, a subject I’ve read a great deal about. I was able to share stories I’ve read from various authors on the topic and even recommend a few books. Since this group is in their senior years, this conversation had substance and meaning for them.
I challenged my students with the task of writing a gratitude journal for one week.
Not everyone was willing to talk openly about the deeper meaning of life. Yet, after experiencing the process of writing down the simple things in life that bring joy, they’ve come to appreciate the positive effect it has on their daily outlook.
In order for these types of conversations to have an impact, there needs to be trust between the teacher and the students. Trust is built on knowing that the teacher gives input to facilitate the learning, supports their efforts, and acknowledges that mistakes are part of the process.
Our semester is coming to an end in a few weeks. In both classes all the students have registered for the next semester. Some have recruited friends to join us.
It might sound corny, but the it's the best compliment I could’ve received.
Over To You
What do you feel about the student-teacher relationship? I'd love to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment.