I am usually not the one in this house who goes on business trips. Because they are just not really a thing when you work part-time at a small nonprofit with a small nonprofit budget. While Tony’s business trips do occasionally include some perks for me, usually I’m the one at home single parenting while he’s gone. Which is OK. It’s part of the life I’ve chosen, and I don’t mind too much being home alone with my (increasingly independent) children when Tony travels.
But this week I went on my very own first business trip! At least we’ll call it a business trip. It was in The Hague, which is where I normally commute an hour by train to work, but it was a conference that included early meetings and late dinners, so I stayed at the conference hotel in World Trade Centre The Hague. And it was great fun, as well as a fantastic networking opportunity that allowed me to make all sorts of interesting connections to people with whom I will hopefully collaborate during the coming months.
The event in question was the annual Families in Global Transition (FIGT) conference. The conference brings together service providers for expat families and the researchers who study them, as well as various other niches of people interested in expats and Third Culture Kids.
What that meant in practice was that I was able to attend thought-provoking presentations about cutting edge research on such topics as “How you are messing up your kids for life by dragging them around the world,” “You thought giving your kids the gift of bilingualism was great, but actually it is fracturing their identity,” and “If you do ever go back, they will never be able to readjust to life in their ‘home’ country, and will wander the earth forever as lonely nomads unable to form attachments to anyone or anything.”
Just kidding. Well, partially. When I first attended this conference last year in Amsterdam having recently moved here and put my kids in a bilingual school, that was pretty much how my paranoid worrier mother brain interpreted the data. A year later, with all of us flourishing, I was able to be a bit more positive. There is some really great research being done in the field, and it has the potential to improve the lives of expats, TCKs, and other globally mobile people. Especially since the goal of the conference is to bring the researchers together with consumers of research so that the findings have a chance of being applied in the real world. Researchers also get to interact with people working with their target populations, giving them a chance to formulate research questions arising out of practical needs.
What results is kind of a melting pot of academic researchers, teachers and administrators from international schools, therapists and psychologists, international and relocation companies, attorneys and other specialists, and others with an interest in the expat community, virtually all of whom also live or have lived internationally themselves.
Some of my favourite highlights from the conference:
Naomi Hattaway, founder of the online community I am a Triangle, on the importance of finding or making community wherever you are.
Ann Cottrell, with whom I have the great pleasure of collaborating on the FIGT Research Network newsletter, giving a helpful retrospective of research done on 150 years of expatriation and TCKs.
Maryam Afnan Ahmad, author of a cute book for TCKs that I bought last year during my expat mom panic attack, speaking about expat Muslims.
Erin Sinogba, on expanding the TCK narrative to include the voices of more non-Western TCKs, and her own research on transnational Filipino children.
Amel Derragui, who runs a podcast and consulting service dedicated to helping expat accompanying spouses with their careers, on tribe-building around a cause or brand.
Sara Saunders, who led a great kitchen table conversation on getting books into the hands of refugee kids.
Sebastien Bellin, a survivor of the 2016 Brussels Zaventem attack, who gave an incredibly inspiring keynote on giving up fear and creating more quality in our lives.
I am not nearly as exhausted as I ought to be after 3.5 days of nonstop absorbing, networking, and (re)connecting with wonderful people from around the world. I think it’s because I feel so energized about everything I learned, the potential collaborations, and all the great things my fellow conference goers are doing to brighten their little corners of the world. Some days it is easier than others to have faith in humanity. I really hope my work sees fit to send me to the conference again next year, a little farther afield to an as-yet unchosen location in Southeast Asia. Until then, I’m going to spend at least the next few weeks digesting and following up on all the great stuff from this year’s FIGT Conference.