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A Memorable TCK Quote…

At the beginning of December a friend left Cambodia and, as is customary here, a bunch of us headed to the airport to say farewell and wish him the best as he left. I posted something in regards to this on my status, about a good semester and a trip to the airport. It was a bit cryptic, but anyone here who knew us would have clearly understood the reference.

A couple weeks later, my sister mentioned that friends in the US were asking her if I was home for Christmas, because they “saw something on facebook about a trip to the airport”. An understandable mistake, especially since I was home last year for Christmas.

So today, in the middle of chatting via skype with two of my youth now back in the states, I mentioned this brief misunderstanding, and like me, they were both amused. One replied:

“Where we’re from, going to the airport means many things, sometimes its to say goodbye, sometimes to say hello, sometimes it just means you just want Dairy Queen. . . And occasionally it means you get to go somewhere!”

Her simple comment was very memorable in that it spoke of something at the very heart of international culture in general, and life in Phnom Penh in particular. The airport is indeed an intricate part of my Phnom Penh experience. Many hellos and goodbyes have been said there. The Dairy Queen provides the back drop for this, and provides some sugary relief when it gets particularly hard; it also give a distraction for the real reason we are there.

Her comment, poetic style, and light hearted understanding of international culture spoke to my heart and soemthing that has been so essencial to my Phnon Penh experience.

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Posted by on February 16, 2011 in Expat Life, TCKs

 

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Helping kids cope with goodbyes

Following on from Christina’s post about processing goodbyes, the Beijing Kids magazine website posted a lovely article last month about coping with goodbyes – a constant part of life in expat communities, and part of the fabric of a TCK‘s life. I’m having difficulty pulling out a few “best bits” to share with you – it’s definitely worth reading in its entirety.

It’s always a struggle, especially when you have children, accepting that people move and others come to take their space – but not their place – in our lives. During this change, we all feel a sense of abandonment or disappointment or lack of control, just maybe not in the same way.

The thing I most appreciate is that Charlotte, the author, is writing from a dual perspective – as an expat losing friends, and as a mother helping her children to process the loss of their own friends.

One of my daughters has more “I want to go home” meltdowns as these times of year approach. It’s then that she learns who is leaving and when. It’s then that she claims someone as her “best friend ever” and is devastated to lose her. While in the midst of helping her understand that she can keep in touch with her friends, and that other new kids arriving will need lots of friendship support so that they can fit in, inside I cry for her loss.

I love that she has picked out a particular struggle expressed a certain way in one child particularly. All kids (all people) deal with loss in different ways. Expat transitions push different buttons in different people, and they express their emotions differently. It’s important for youth workers to learn to recognise different expressions of grief.
I think one of the biggest challenges for me as a youth worker is to effectively come alongside kids who have very different personalities and temperaments to me. Asking questions, paying attention to the responses others have, helps me be more attentive to what’s bubbling beneath the surface.

I’m an adult, so I should be able to handle these moves a bit more easily…Some cycles hit home more than others. And some you just refuse to accept. I share these feelings with my daughters. It’s important that they see me go through the same emotions that they do when someone dear to them moves on. It’s almost a grieving process of sorts, and support needs to be provided to those of us left behind, even if that means just being able to share your sadness with one other person. One day it will be us moving. It’ll be a different kind of difficulty for us then, but we’ll be leaving others behind who will miss us dearly.

I love that Charlotte says this. It can be easy for kids, especially teens, to feel as though their situation is something no one else can understand, or that they are “weak” for being so affected by the losses they experience. Sharing the grieving process with kids/teens helps them acknowledge their feelings and process the grief, while knowing that things will change.

I’ll leave you with Charlotte’s beautiful ending:

If friends are leaving, we say zaijian and truly wish to keep in touch as much as we say we will. If we are the ones going, we shed a tear and embark on a new adventure. Life goes on.

 
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Posted by on February 2, 2011 in Expat Life, TCKs

 

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Helping youth deal with the loss of leaving

“Most TCKs go through more grief experiences by the time they are 20 than monocultural individuals do in a lifetime.” David Pollock

Anyone who has lived in an expat community knows that transition, change, and leaving are constants – sometimes the only constants. Whether you are the one leaving, or the one left, it can be painful.

Two guest speakers came to the youth groups in Phnom Penh in early December last year. They spoke about the changes and transitions faced by both the “leavers” and the “stayers.” They spoke on the RAFT model and how that process is an important one to think and act through whether you are a leaver, or a stayed who needs to farewell someone leaving.

They did an excellent job at leading the youth through some guided reflection, but it stirred up in me another thought – mostly that you can say good bye well – but then you are still left to live with the loss.

I think part of what becomes so wearisome is that these changes are constant – a constant stream of hellos to new people and a constant stream of goodbyes to old friends. And as blessed as we to have facebook and skype, nothing can take the place of a hug, a cup of coffee, a late night talk, a shared glance that speaks an entire conversation, the little everyday exchanges that are so important.

I LOVE the movie UP; it shows this so well. The characters are living with loss and grief. The old man has lost his wife and throughout the movie we see him missing her, the sense that “she was supposed to be here.” Russell has also lost his Dad and he mourns the loss of the little everyday things – “I might sound boring, but I miss the boring stuff the most.”

Russell’s new friend learns to see past his own hurt, his own sense of direction, and is willing to have a new adventure with Russell. And at the very end of the movie when he returns home, he joins Russel in watching the cars go by.

When Kris Rocke spoke on pain and loss, he said that it is only by facing our own pain that we are free to enter the pain of others. So I suspect my role as a spiritual caregiver is twofold, (and not only as a spiritual caregiver, but also as a child of God).

  1. Help youth acknowledge their own loss – not only the loss of a friend, but the loss of that friend’s house as a safe place to go, the loss of a group of friends. Sometimes this loss is cumulative; even familiar places can become hard to visit, as it brings with it the reminder of times when others were around. Grief is a process – one that takes time and energy. Unfortunately, at the end of the school year when so many people are leaving,  both time and energy seem to be in short supply. In the midst of exams and end of the year celebrations and goodbye parties, TCKs need to somehow find time to grieve in their own way. As adults, we can model this and be open about our own grief processes.
  2. Help youth move into a place of entering others’ pain – becoming compassionate, caring individuals and remembering that others’ losses are significant. We, and they, can learn to come along side others and give of ourselves. Like the old man in UP how we can move from focusing on our own situation into helping another person in need.
 
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Posted by on January 24, 2011 in Leading Youth, TCKs

 

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