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.
A couple of years ago, I went on a weekend jaunt to London with three girlfriends and my daughter, Jessica. Jessica was a ripe, sassy 14 year old who didn’t care to listen to her mother’s directives (read: nothing’s changed). With her iPhone glued to her hand, she didn’t know heads from tails where we were going nor did she seem to care. I was worried that if we got lost in a crowd, she wouldn’t know where to find me.
Lost And Found
We were switching trains at Paddington Station when four of us were quickly rushed out of the train. We looked back and realized Jessica was not with us. Right then the warning bell rang and the doors slammed shut. Jessica stood there looking startled. My friend, Traudel, screamed out Jessica’s name but it was too late. The train started to move on. I frantically waved my arms to get her attention and yelled for her to transfer back at the next station. Shaking her head in confusion, Jessica looked back mouthing the words “What?”
We all stood in silence for a few seconds before deciding what to do. Traudel fretted that Jessica wouldn’t find her way back. The others were confident Jessica could manage the situation.
Somehow I was glad it had happened. It forced Jessica to be in a situation where she had to pay attention and follow directions. She had to employ skills such as asking questions, listening intently, and map reading. All things she is capable of doing but refused to do when I was around.
She eventually made her way back after missing the next stop and diverging farther along the Tube. The only thing we lost was time. Two of my companions were also mothers who perfectly understood the lesson learned: kids sometimes need to be thrown into situations where they have to figure out plan A, and if that doesn’t work, they even need to make a plan B.
Jessica actually came back a bit shaken yet excited to tell her tale. She was proud of herself; she managed to find the station manager and ask for directions because she had missed the next stop and diverged along the Tube. We all breathed a sigh of relief and continued on our journey. My intuition told me that Jessica just grew an inch taller and became a bit wiser.
The Moral Of The Story
The point is that we need to let our kids make mistakes, get lost, and find their own way home. I remember gripping my children’s hands so tightly when we explored a big city or traveled through a country where we couldn’t speak the language.
It is a parent’s worst nightmare to loose a child in a foreign country. I had to let go and trust that Jessica is truly able to find her way in this world because one day she will leave the nest forever.
What Happened Next
Since then we let her and a girlfriend spend their 16th birthday weekend alone in Berlin, something I would have never done in America. She checked in with me a few times a day to calm my nerves. I didn’t sleep too well that night as I had one eye on the phone in case of an emergency.
Again she returned more experienced and independent: I felt a little sad that I am not in control of her movements anymore. I have to concede that here in Europe she is considered an independent adult, something contrary to my adolescent in California where the legal age is 18.
What I Learned
Jessica’s getting lost on the London underground was a test of her ability to look after herself. Cutting the proverbial umbilical cord with your child and let her find her own way in this world is not easy whether you live abroad or not.
Sometimes we are thrown into the situation by circumstance, but the day will come where you have to accept that your child is big enough to handle the world.
Over To You
Have you ever been lost in a foreign city or had an experience like this? I’d love to hear your story. Please leave a comment below.
If you know someone who might enjoy reading this story, please pass it on. You can always find my blog on my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/destinationlifecoach
Living abroad you are bound to make some type of cultural blunder. Some are minor errors and others are major embarrassments. I find it humbling on many levels.
In the beginning, you are trying to figure out the cultural behaviors and norms of your host country. If you are learning the language you will make grammar errors before becoming fluent in the language. Mistakes are bound to happen and communication breakdowns are part of the learning curve.
Having lived abroad for 22 years, I have gained a repertoire of fumbles. Some of my cultural mishaps remain etched in my memory. Here’s one episode from my sojourn in Tokyo that I’d like to share with you.
In Japan, it is customary to take off your shoes at the door entrance at many Japanese establishments. The floors are made out of tatami mats and are kept very clean. In some cases there are slippers provided for the guest to wear. Otherwise, you wear your socks or go bare foot.
In Japanese pubs, known as Izakayas, there are special slippers a person wears to use the toilette. You slip on the slippers before entering the bathroom and remove them immediately after exiting the bathroom.
Years ago, I was at an Izakaya and had to use the ladies room. I walked to the bathroom, slipped on the toilette slippers, utilized the ladies room, and then promptly walked back to the table without removing the toilette slippers. It wasn’t until a few minutes later did I realize my mistake. I quickly went back to return the slippers.
I could see by the waiters' faces they were appalled. The Japanese are generally polite and don’t make public displays of outrage. I immediately acknowledged my slip-up.
I lowered my head in shame, returned the slippers to the restroom, took deep bows to show sincerity, and cowered back to the table. I’m sure my gaffe didn’t endure us foreigners to the pub owners. I tried my best to save face.
Advice For Recovery
Here is want I know: When you make a cultural error whether it’s on a seismic scale or just a misstep, you need to acknowledge it, apologize, and make amends if necessary.
A good example of making amends is a story I can share about a German expat family living in America. One day the German kids ran amok in the neighbor’s garden. The father of the children brought over a bouquet of flowers and apologized to the neighbors.
It turned out the neighbors were also expats from England and lived far away from their children. The kind gesture initiated a dear friendship. The older English couple became surrogate grandparents to the German family’s children. They spent birthdays and special occasions together.
What I Learned
I have leaned that part of the journey of being an expat is cultural faux pas come with the territory and are part of the experience. Through this all, I have become more tolerate and understanding of intercultural differences.
The next time you are in a foreign land and make a cultural boo-boo, don’t be afraid to admit your fault. Most people are forgiving. Your honesty and integrity are at stake.
Over to You
Have you ever made a cultural blooper? How did you recover? Please share your story in with a comment below.
St. Valentine’s Day made its way across the pond. In my youth, I felt the pressure to have some form of validation whether it was bouquet of flowers or a box of chocolates to show the world I was loved.
I’m glad I grew up.
Is Love All You Need?
This Valentines Day I did not receive a card, roses, or a dinner invitation. What I received was witnessing my husband, Jörg, extend a loving hand to feed others. His actions warmed my heart.
What Does Valentine's Day In A Refugee Camp Look Like?
Jörg spent this Valentines Day serving lunch to about 100 refugees who are temporarily residing in a school gymnasium. They live in partitioned sections with hardly any privacy. There is no TV, Internet or any type of entertainment. It is quiet dreary. Not exactly the place to be if you want to feel amorous on St. Valentine’s Day.
Is The Word Love The Same In All Cultures?
Is there more to love than just romance? Real love can take on different forms of expression depending on its cultural value.
When it came to describing love, the Greeks had six words to express different variations of love: There is romantic, sexual love; love of a deep friendship; love for playfulness such as bantering with your buddies; love between a long standing relationship; love of humanity; and self love.
How Can One Person Make A Difference?
Jörg expressed his love of mankind by giving dignity to these refugees. Most of the inhabitants were Syrian women and children. He dished out food and helped clean the kitchen in order that these people meet the basic requirements of Maslow’s hierarchy of survival: physiological and safety.
What Do All People Need To Survive?
The physiological needs are food, clothing, air and water. The safety needs are a society free of war, natural disasters, or human abuse. Without these essential needs, a person falls prey to depression, anxiety and even death.
It was a small effort in a sea of a humanitarian crisis.
What Would A Refugee Want For Valentine's Day?
I bet these people would’ve loved spending Valentine’s Day with their families back in Syria. But their home is a war torn wasteland.
I am sure they just wanted someone to give them flowers and tell them the world is a good, safe place.
Do We All Have The Same Basic Feelings?
Humans have an instinctive desire to feel loved, wanted and needed in a community.
Having lived in five different countries, I know what it is like being a foreigner. These people desperately need not only compassion but also acceptance into society.
Taking care of these refugees is an overwhelming task for the volunteers, government, and private organizations that manage the camps. There doesn’t seem to be a real solution at hand on how to integrate them into German society.
What Is The Greatest Gift of All?
Joerg’s spending the day caring for people less fortunate than we are demonstrated a selfless type of love which builds the most important type of love: self-love.
Valentine’s Day is marketed around the world selling us on the ideals of courtly love. In the past, I enjoyed receiving flowers and cards from my family on Valentine’s Day. Today, I am willing to give up my own egotistical needs in order that some one else can have a proper meal and warm bed.
What Is Love?
Love is giving back to the world and making it a safe place.
Over To You
How do you express your love to others? How did you spend your Valentine’s Day? I’d like to hear your what you think. Please leave a comment below.
Recently on a skiing trip in Austria, I was relaxing in the hotel spa cozily wrapped in a bathrobe with book in hand, when a man walked in, disrobed completely, and treaded through the icy cold wading pond. Then, in his full nakedness, he made his way to the cold pool to take a dip.
Next, a middle-aged couple came in and did the same thing. I pretended not to notice them from behind my book, but I was curious about their confidence to fully strip in front of strangers.
Back in the USA people do not bathe naked together publicly. There are separate changing areas and bathrooms for both genders. Most spas require a bathing suit for sanitary reasons. This seems to be the standard attitude towards nudity in the US.
Why are Europeans more relaxed about nudity?
Europeans are far more open and relaxed about nudity and sexuality in general compared to Americans. It is normal to have mixed gender-changing areas in public pools and nude beaches are commonplace around Europe. I think the main problem is that Americans associate nudity with sex, whereas Europeans don’t.
The acceptance of nudity depends on the norms of each society and family. I think it is a common mistake to equate nudism with sex.
What if I am embarrassed?
But what do I do if I’m not 100% comfortable hanging out in the buff with strangers let alone friends and colleagues in the hotel sauna? Do I turn back and check in at the local Holiday Inn? Or do I close my eyes and pretend not to see anyone?
It’s an awkward feeling to be sure. I consider myself open-minded to many lifestyles, yet I don’t fully embrace letting myself all hang out with strangers in a spa. But I am getting used to it.
How would I handle the indiscretion?
For Christmas, I treated my husband to a couple’s aromatherapy bath and massage at a public pool. There is a wonderful array of Jacuzzis and hot and wet saunas where swimsuits are not allowed. We donned bathrobes to cover up and keep warm. Many people were comfortable walking around in the buff. My husband, without abashment, striped off his robe and stepped into the whirlpool.
He said that sometimes he runs into acquaintances and co-workers there. I was not too thrilled to run into anyone I know sporting nothing but my birthday suit. The thought made me blush. I decided to go with the flow and open myself up to the experience. I felt safe being with my husband in any case.
What is holding me back?
Am I too modest? Do I fear that people will notice that I am still struggling to lose the extra weight I gained last year? Or that they will see that the cellulite removal cream I’ve been using for years doesn’t work? Can it be an inhibition from my upbringing which mixed cultural with religious principles? I suspect it is all of the above.
Does anyone really care if I am nude?
No. What I’ve realized is that most people are more concerned with their own relaxation to even bother looking at me.
Why do customs differ regarding nudity?
I don’t come from a culture where it is shameful or forbidden for a woman to wear a bikini in public. Nor would I lose my honor by going bare into the hot tub. The acceptance of public nudity depends on the morals and principles of each society.
Attitudes could even differ from geographical locations within a culture. In East Germany, for example, there are historically plenty of designated nude family camping areas that are freely accepted while predominately Catholic Bavaria is more conservative in nature.
Our norms and mores are taught to us, so if you grew up without a stigma around nudity, then nudity is the norm. It is no different than how a more modest culture, the Middle East for example, might perceive Americans at the beach. They would doubtless question why would we westerners expose so much skin.
What do I want for my children?
Being raised in Europe, my kids are getting a lesson that our bodies are not to be hidden or viewed as sex objects. It is an attitude that I want them to embrace and carry over to the next generation.
Over to you. What is your opinion on this topic? Please leave a comment below. I’d like to hear your thoughts.
Teenage drinking is often a real concern for parents. Living in a foreign country with relaxed drinking age limits, you have to confront the reality that your teenager might be consuming alcohol at a much younger age than in your home country.
A number of factors may underlie a country’s rules on teenager drinking: social acceptance, cultural mores, and the role of public transportation, to name a few. You have to examine your own cultural and moral attitudes on how to deal with this potential conflict.
Answering Your Child’s Call for Help
A few months ago, my daughter, Jessica, and her boyfriend, Tobi, called me in the middle of the night to help a drunk and disgraced Sarah (not her real name) get home safely. They didn’t want to take the bus for fear that Sarah would get sick and have them thrown off and onto the street.
On my drive across town, I pondered how I would handle the problem if I were a teenager again. Back in my day, I would not have called my parents for sure. In America where the drinking age is 21, my parents would have blamed the dumb teenagers for their foolishness and let them suffer the consequences.
Germans parents are far more lenient. In Germany, where I live, the drinking age is 16. Teenage drinking is prevalent. Some parents see this as perfectly normal, a right of passage so to speak.
Acknowledging Your Child’s Maturity
Pride and relief washed over me when I realized that Jessica took responsibility to call an adult in a situation that she felt was getting out of control. She overcame shame, exhibiting true maturity.
What really impressed me was the concern that Jessica and Tobi showed Sarah as they carefully guided her into the back seat of my car all the while caressing her back, assuring her that she’ll arrive home safely. Jessica put Sarah’s hair in a ponytail in case she got sick.
Witnessing Your Child’s Strengths and Skills
As if on queue, she did. Tobi and Jessica jumped into action like two well-trained first-aid workers.
Astutely, Jessica procured Sarah’s house keys. Quick thinking, she strategically arranged to have a girlfriend to meet us at Sarah’s house. They made a tactical plan to slip Sarah inside without disturbing her parents.
I pulled up to Sarah’s house at the same time her parents arrived on the scene. Learning that his daughter was intoxicated, Sarah's father affectionately put his arms around her demonstrating such compassion, love and understanding. Her mother thanked me kindly for delivering her daughter home safely.
Questioning Your Cultural Norms
I had to ask myself what I would have done in that situation? Would I have been so loving and understanding? Thinking of my own cultural perspective on teenage drunkenness, I might have been more stern, annoyed and disappointed in my child’s inebriation.
Opening Up to the Learning
The lesson I learned from Sarah’s parents was about loving your child under all circumstances. They know she is a good, loving daughter and normally a responsible young adult. She tried alcohol but her lightweight body couldn’t cope. In her parents eyes she did no wrong and ventured into the realm of teenager partying and experimenting.
Letting Go and Trusting
More importantly, I leaned to trust my daughter. She is intelligent, well organized and intuitive as she wades through life. I think that all the international moves and travelling have taught her to be flexible and take control of her circumstances.
Like many foreign parents living here, I have to adjust my cultural point of view on many issues. I have to surrender and accept situations that I cannot change. I have to let go and trust.
Understanding the Differences
This is not an easy concept for some foreigners abroad. For some nationalities and cultures, drinking is forbidden. Some countries consider wine an epicurean delight while others ban it altogether
I am not a fan of teenage drinking. I dread the thought of having to deal with my own kids coming home intoxicated. I can only hope that I’d act calmly and not be so harsh as my parents would’ve been.
Taking Sage Advice
When it comes to untying the apron strings of my own cultural confines, I am taking the sage advice from my Canadian friend and expat Shelley Wilson:
“It's scary, but you just got to trust her and all that you have ingrained in her over the years that she will make wise decisions for herself.”
Over To You
What is your experience or opinion on this topic? Please drop me a line in the comment box below. I’d love to hear from you.
It is 3 a.m. and I am at the Hannover, Germany airport. I am waiting in line to check in for our family holiday to Greece. Then suddenly I hear my cell phone ring. Who could be calling me at this ungodly hour? My gut instinct told me this was not good. The caller would deliver bad news. I know from past experiences that when the phone rings in the wee hours it is not for a random chitchat.
The Dreaded Phone Call
I was right: It was my sister-in-law calling from California telling me that my mother is dying and pleading with me to say good-bye to mom right then before it is too late. Having one hand with the phone to my ear, I fumbled the passports over to the airline representative. To be honest, I didn’t know how to handle this situation. Should I hang up and call back? It was an awkward moment.
I was trying to be polite answering the airline representative’s questions while at the same time stuttering on the phone to inquire about this sudden emergency. I was in shock. I tried hard to be stoic in front of the other passengers who were hoping I’d hang up and move on. Fortunately, my husband took over so I could make some sense of this all.
Expect the Unexpected
Earlier in the day my 91-year-old mother got a lung infection that spiraled into pneumonia. She was not reacting to the antibiotics and her health was deteriorating fast. The doctors feared the worst and all the relatives were called in to be at her bedside.
As soon as I passed through passport control and got to the gate, I phoned my mother. With tears rolling down my face, I yelled loudly in to the phone “I love you, mom,” speaking what I thought to be my final words to her. My husband, kids, and all the other passengers at the gate were listening intently with curiosity and concern. It was definitely an odd, inopportune moment. Five minutes later I was on the flight headed to Crete bewildered and confused.
Comforting Your Child's Fears
Recently my 10 year-old son, Sean, had expressed fears about flying. Being raised as an expat child, Sean has had much exposure to airports and global traveling; they were part and parcel of his childhood. He is, however, at the age where children are often aware of death from various accidents. Recently, a few high profile airplane crashes tweaked his anxiety. Timing couldn’t be worse. As we walked down the gangway of the plane, he sobbed as if he were headed for doom.
I prayed with him, held his hand, and told him all will be right. I promised him we wouldn’t go belly up in a ball of fire. God would protect us. He sat in the window seat with his head turned away from me so I couldn’t see him weeping. I assured him he is a good, brave boy. I felt oddly serene that our fate was secure. I hope I passed that confidence on to him.
Trust Your Intuition
When the plane leveled out, Sean swallowed a breath of relief. He had curious, unanswerable questions about his beloved Bonbon, a term of endearment for his grandmother. I felt numb yet I knew deep in my soul that no matter what my mother’s fate would be, we would continue our holiday with a sense of peace. It was like a cosmic blanket of knowledge that wrapped around my soul.
The legacy I inherited from my parents was the love of travel. They encouraged us to expand our horizons and to be open to new cultures savoring the adventure. I didn’t hesitate to get on the plane. I knew it would be what my mother wanted.
Making The Hard Decision
During our vacation, I agonized about what to do next. Should I immediately fly to California when I get home or wait until funeral arrangements are made? Booking a last minute flight across the world in the height of summer costs in a minor fortune, not including car rental and other expenses. Since we couldn’t afford for the whole family to fly, which child should I take with me? How do I tell one child that she/he couldn’t go see Bonbon for the last time? I prayed and asked God for guidance.
When Wisdom Speaks, You Listen
The wisdom that came to my heart told me it is better to see her alive than dead. I needed to say, “I love you and all is well” in person, assuring her that it was okay to let go and move on to another sphere.
Money comes and goes. Once the money is spent I would no longer think about it. In my heart I knew that if I did not see mom one last time, the regret would haunt me like the ghost of Christmas past. My daughter graciously volunteered not to come, sensing that her brother needed some special bonding time with me and my family to ease his angst.
Do What Is Necessary
We flew to California two days after we returned to Germany. My mother is an amazing, strong woman with a beautiful spirit. She survived the hospital stay and went back home to live out the rest of her days. She looked so well that it was hard to believe that a few weeks ago she was dying. But my mother is a good actress. She put on her happy face and acted like all was well. As soon as we left, her health went into decline.
Making Peace with the Unknown
At this point she is still with us, but barely. The moral of this story is to take the opportunity to see your loved ones no matter how far away they are or how much it costs. I will always remember how my mother’s eyes lit up and how she smiled so brightly when I walked into the room. It is the last living memory of her that I will take with me. I have no regrets because I don’t know what tomorrow brings.
Have You Ever Had This Experience?
Have your ever had this type of experience? Please drop me a line in the comment box and share your experience. I’d love to hear from you.