Thursday, 18 September 2014

From expat child into adult hood

I read a lot on the internet about Third Culture Kids, TCK from both the TCK and the parents. I read a lot on the internet from adults about their TCK experiences, but what I don’t read about is the tranisition period and what actually happens when you arrive in a new country as a child and the tranisition into adult hood back to your country of birth.

As expats who moved to South Africa in January 2011 with 2 children then aged 11 & 15 we never gave any consideration to what would actually happen to the children when they became adults and had to return to the UK.

The move was a stressful period in all our lives, no company support or help, despite the promises, but that only became evident on our actual arrival.

Rather foolishily, in hindsight, we trusted HR to have done their job, done research and to have consulted with the professionals prior to our arrival.

We had to have student visas in place for the children prior to their arrival and after supplying the relevant documents in regards to the youngests SENs and the new school requesting he sat an entrance test and information supplied to us that they would be attending an English school, visas were issued and 2 days after our arrival the children were in their new schools.

It became clear that towards the end of the first year that the youngest child was struggling in school, but as he was due a move into the senior school and after meetings with the staff it appeared to be ok, towards the end of the second year, I discovered that although they accepted he was dyslexic and provided additional support in the form of a reader and a scribe for tests and end of year exams they were not providing learning support during lessons. Then to our alarm they showed us a document from the company to say we would only be in the country for 2 years and therefore they hadn’t really been doing anything to support the youngest, despite us seeing the Ed Psych for a South African assessment who also diagnosed Dysgraphia, as well as being Dyslexic and we also obtained new Irlen glasses for him.

A very quick decision was made for him to return to the UK to boarding school so he could get the right level of support and follow the British Curriculum.

In the mean time the 15 yo was coming on in leaps and bounds. We left the UK 5 months prior to him sitting his GCSEs. We did consider delaying the move to accommodate him, but to be honest and this is something he admits he was aware of at the time, was that he was unlikely to get the grades he needed for further education. His behaviour improved and his attitude to study did also. He still ran with the in crowd, he was very popular and made 1st team cricket and rugby and played football with TUKS for the first 18 months.

Socially, the expat experience has made the biggest impact on the eldest and he has taken so much away with him from South Africa which he can use in his future, but it has left him at the age of approaching 20, without any formal qualifications in the UK.

With the school year starting in January, our son was 4 weeks short of his 19th birthday in December 2013 when he matriculated and due to his student visa expiring in January 2014 it was decided he would return to the UK to join the British Army. We couldn’t guarantee we would stay in South Africa for the next 4 years for him to complete Varsity and with the new changes to the laws in regards to foreign workers, it was the right decision as we are moving to Dubai within the next 3 months.

When our son aged 19 returned to the UK, he was an adult, no longer a child, he returned to live with family members while he submitted his application, but we didn’t anticipate the hassles he’d have with returning as an adult, he had no NI number which took 8 weeks to apply for, I had to locate a child benefit number, which we’d stopped claiming when we left the UK. He had no bank account, no previous UK address, no utility bills, no evidence of him having lived in the UK as an adult. He was able to surrender his South African driving license for a fee and exchange it for a UK one, which gave him proof of address.

His interviews for the British Army didn’t start until April 2014, it was suggested he applied to Sandhurst to train as an Officer, and he returned to South Africa for a month before the interviews in August.

My son made a hard decision this week and that is to join the British Army through the normal recruitment process and not take up the Officer training for 2 reasons.

Having done some research his matric is equivalent to A/S levels, it doesn’t translate into GCSEs without having it converted which will take another month or so, he would then have to obtain 3 A levels, which would take him another 2 years and would have to start now, meaning he would be nearly 22 before he could start a degree and he feels that he’s wasted this year already and just wants to get on with life.

In hindsight he should’ve completed his GCSE’s in the UK then followed the British Curriculum here for his last 2 years at school and sat A levels, then he could’ve returned to the UK at the same time, ready to make his application and would be starting University now.

My husbands company moved us a family to South Africa and left us to our own devices, as a teacher in the UK, I had knowledge how the education system and everything else works over there, I had no knowledge of how it worked here. We made mistakes because we didn’t know what questions we needed to ask, the youngest child is now sorted, his education won’t suffer from his experiences as an expat, TCK, child, but the eldest has.

The only thing that South Africa has shown the eldest child is that if you want to succeed it is all down to you.

I would like to advise all other expats with teenage children to carefully consider the implications of what happens to their child when they become an adult, especially in countries where obtaining work is almost impossible for a foreigner, what can happen to their child when they become an adult and have to return to their home country and the difficulties of doing so with foreign qualifications.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

International travel and relocation, goodbyes and identity.

It’s been a tough and long few weeks, too many decisions to make about our future and saying goodbyes.

Our last child of 5 children left home in January this year and I thought my heart would break. The youngest left home last August aged 14 to return to school in the UK, he came out to visit for Christmas and I returned to the UK in April and we travelled around together visiting family and friends, visiting his siblings and saying our hellos and goodbyes. Child 4 of 5 then returned to SA in May for 4 weeks and spent most of his time catching up with his school friends and we spent some quality, adult, time together. The youngest came to visit for August and child 3 of 5 is currently out here with his girlfriend.

I love and hate going to the airport to collect the kids, but as I’m stood there waiting for them in the arrival hall, I start to think about the return trip to the airport to say goodbye. I can’t help it, as excited as I am to see them, it means it won’t be long before I have to say goodbye again, unsure as to when the next visit either way will be.

We will be on the move again soon, no further details at this moment in time other than we are going to Dubai, sometime over the next few months. This will be the last visit to South Africa for the children, unless they decide to come here independently, which I’m sure child 4 of 5 will probably do at some point in his life.

It also means more goodbyes to my lovely and amazing friends, another change in my identity which over the past 4 years has gone from a working mother and student to a SAHM, to a SAH. My volunteer work will cease and I will have to find other ways to occupy my time, maybe a job, maybe return to my studies, but I know I’ll carry on raising awareness and funds for the charities I’m involved with in South Africa. There will be visits back out here, that will involve more goodbyes and the children will be able to visit us in Dubai more often and there will be more trips for me to the UK to see them, but again, more goodbyes.

At some point in time we will return to the UK, but by that time our last child will be an adult, hubby will be approaching retirement and maybe we’ll be grandparents.

All I know is that these goodbyes and changes in identity are crippling me at the moment. I need to view these changes with positivity and excitements, new opportunities and experiences and I’m sure in time it will all be ok and not have any lasting effects on our relationships with the children and ourselves.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Loom Bands

Late to the party as ever, but we got there.
To be honest I had thought that this was a craze/fad that had passed us by. The youngest child is 15 and male and it hadn't occurred to me that he would be interested in this craze.

My niece sent a 'care' package over after seeing a post of mine on face book saying I was thankful I didn't have girls and within no time we purchased a loom 'machine' and more bands.

Friday, 12 September 2014

What's good about life?

'Oh Suzanne, you appear to be blowing your own trumpet here, loud and clear'

Well, yes i am.

This is a positive blog post, no references to anyone putting me down, to feeling that I don't fit in anywhere or have a purpose in life. no moaning about how other people make me feel, just about how I feel.

I'd love you all to join in with a positive post, I don't know how to do linky's, so please write your positive post, add the link in the comments or tweet, face book me with the link and I'll give you a shout out.

What am I grateful for?

My wonderful husband, we've been together 14 years and had some amazing experiences.

My handsome boys, eldest financially independent, living in his own flat with a good job and career prospects in the hotel trade.

My middle son for having done so much better at school than we could have possibly imagined and his future career in the armed forces.

My youngest son, again for doing so well at school and talented with computers and in photography.

I'm grateful for the opportunities we've had as a family, the travel, both holidays and living abroad with the 2 youngest. I'm grateful we've been able to afford boarding school for the youngest who battles with dyslexia and dysgraphia.

So what do I feel positive about?

The future, the opportunities yet to come, the chance to return to finish my 2nd degree in Criminology and Psychology. the chance to move to another country and experience life in another culture before returning to the UK and buying a cottage in the country to have chickens and for Bob to have open fields to run free in and for Pushkins, just to be a cat.
I feel positive about no longer being a full time mum, the ability to be able to travel and explore new places, to have time for hobbies, to soak in the bath, to have long lie ins. I'm ageing well, reasonably fit and of average weight for my height. I'm happy being me.

What am I good at?

Making friends, trying new experiences, charity work, honest blogging (no award winners here) networking, raising funds and awareness, sourcing donations, teaching, educating, keeping a clean and tidy house. Driving long distances, planning trips and activities, organising events. I've raised my children to be well balanced individuals who jump at the chance to experience new things, are capable of travelling round the world on their own.

So over to positive.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Leaving South Africa Part 3

As a mother to 5 children who had a full time job, was studying and with a husband who worked away our family ran like a military operation. 3 different secondary schools, various activities, football, sea and army cadets, part time jobs that involved 6am starts at the newsagents and late shifts in fast food restaurants.
I had routine, I cooked once a week to stock up the freezer, I studied while one of the children was at football training and matches 2 nights a week and Sunday afternoons. I washed daily, school uniforms, football kit, work uniforms, the ironing would be done as and when needed and housework would be done on the odd morning I had at home and everyone was out. Eventually employing a cleaner for 3 hours a week in the final year prior to becoming an expat.

As a concequence what I’ve never been able to do is make plans, book in advance. I’m a spur of the moment person and when we lived in the UK, I had no problem getting in the car or catching a train to go off and watch a football match in Birmingham or at Wembley. We’d find ourselves unexpectedly child free on a weekend where the other paretns plans happened to coordinate, or when left with only one child who’s granny said ‘yes she’d love to have them for the weekend’ with only an hours notice and ususally we’d be on route with said child at the time of the phone call.

I was fortunate that my work was as and when needed and I could do a lot of work from home, phone calls etc. With the youngest in boarding school, I was able to work evenings and as long as I left some form of dinner, either food or money for the chip shop, the other 3 children would usually be in and out during the evening so I could leave them on their own if hubby was away. Neighbours, friends and parents would be available in an emergency, as would we for them.

Since becoming an expat I’ve not worked or studied, in the last year of the kids living in South Africa the eldest was driving so he did the school runs. I tried to establish a routine and failed, it’s taken me nearly 4 years to accept I don’t have and don’t need a routine any more, there are still some things that are ingrained that I feel the need to keep doing which is bulk cooking once a week for the freezer, wash as and when needed, I paid someone to do the ironing prior to the kids leaving home. I tried to have set days for my voluntary, charity and fundraising work, but then everytime I got into a routine a visitor would arrive or my car would be off the road and with no public transport, I’d be stranded.

I have plans, ideas, things I’d like to do, places I’d like to see. I book our holidays pretty much last minute and if where we want to go isn’t available then we just go somewhere else. I want to go to the Western Cape in September/October to see the flowers in bloom. We have visitors until the 16th of September and at some point over the next 2 weeks I will know my dates for a visit to Dubai, so until then I can’t plan the Western Cape trip.

In November, December or January we will be leaving South Africa, it still isn’t finalized as to where we will be going. Being a mother to 5 children, having had a career, been a mature student, dealt with a move abroad (that didn’t go well) emergency trips back to the UK with no notice when my Dad had a heart attack 2 years ago, 3 months notice to organize the youngest child to return to the UK to attend boarding school, dealing with tenants from hell and the last child leaving home and going through empty nest syndrome, dealing with depression and chronic pain., means I’m equppied to deal with most things that life has to throw at me.

But what I can’t cope with and don’t deal with very well, is everyone elses need to know what I’m doing, when I’m doing it and where.

Without a firm date and knowledge of where we are actually going I’m unable to answer any of your questions other than the ones about how I feel about it all, which to be honest, I’m at the stage where if I’m forced to think about how I feel, I’ll probably snap your head off, so it’s probably best not to ask. All I can do is research a move to Dubai, to the UK, removal firms, obtain quotes, find out the regualtions for moving the cat and dog to either country, llok for employment, but not apply, save website pages for agencies for both countries ready to register with them, the same with housing in either countryupdate my CV, have a clear out, start sorting through paperwork, clothes, kids toys they’ve left behind and start my goodbyes, because that’s the only thing for sure I know I’ll be doing and that is leaving this beautiful country that I’ve had the pleasure of calling home for nearly 4 years and out of all the above, that is going to be th hardest thing I think I’ve ever had to do.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Leaving South Africa Part 2

What will I miss about South Africa?

In no particular order

Way of life
Empty open roads
Cost of living
Volunteer work
Meals out and always being able to get a table and not being rushed out the retaurant
The Gym
Medical Aid

What I won’t miss about South Africa

In no particular order

Internet speed
Power cuts
Fear of crime
When people say Now or now, now and just now and you have NO idea of what they mean

When people walk away from you when you ask a question (Government departments)

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Leaving South Africa Part 1

When we moved to South Africa in January 2011 we had no idea how long we'd be staying for, other than we had a 2 year visa and we were hoping for a minimum 3 year stay to ensure the eldest child with us, completed his education.

Within the 1st 6 weeks we nearly moved back on more than a few occasions, but this was due to lack of support and help.

We knew before we moved here, that it wouldn't be our 'forever' home, but I never realised how much it would become 'home' for me.

We don't own property here, all the children and families are back in the UK, I don't have a job, but I have my voluntary work, friends, community, a sense of belonging and there will come a time when we have to say goodbye to that and move somewhere new and start again.

We have no idea when we'll be leaving or even where we'll go. Will we remain expats? Will we return to the UK? Whatever happens, when we leave South Africa, we'll leave a little bit of us behind.

When we left the UK, we knew we'd return, for visits and one day to live back there again, but when we leave South Africa there will be no going back. Yes we'll visit and have holidays, but it won't be the same. For starters we won't have visas, so our maximum stay will be 90 days and with that no bank accounts and no proof of residency a lot of the things we've benefited from such as annual membership with SAN Parks at a very good rate will no longer apply, gym membership, medical aid, etc. We will never live there again, we will only ever visit.

That makes me very sad to know that a country we embraced, called home for nearly 4 years, will no longer be home to us.