Fyodor Dostoyevsky put his finger on it when he said: “Much unhappiness has come into the world because of bewilderment and things left unsaid.” Most of us are aware of the importance of open and honest communication – with our partners for sure, as well as with our parents, children, friends and co-workers. A move abroad can easily put a wrench in relationships or a wedge between people who care deeply for each other. Communication gets disrupted and frames of references get shifted — all of a sudden it’s as if you no longer speak the same language.
Communication can go wrong early in the relocation process if you are not proactive and mindful. Being on the same page in terms of understanding how a decision to relocate abroad has come about is important. For a couple this may mean taking a closer look at how it actually happened and then start a conversation from there. Was it a true consensus decision, or more of an “ok, I’ll do it” on one partner’s end? The way the decision was made likely impacts the communication needed in order to ensure a successful relocation.
Another example would be the kind of expectations grandparents have in keeping in touch with their relocated grandchildren. Has there been a discussion regarding what’s going to happen? Are they going to call once a week for a quick chat, will they be using Skype to read bedtime stories several times a week? Once expectations have been communicated and a plan agreed upon, it’s easier to focus on the important part: the actual communication.
I recently heard an interview with the artist Joanna Newsom in which she explained her song writing process. She said that when her goal is to convey a particular message, she breaks it down into the smallest part necessary in order to convey her meaning, and then she builds upon that. I feel like the same is true in relationships – sometimes you just have to start with the most basic of thoughts and then move it forward step by step. But, that can be easier said than done and sometimes you need help to know where to start.
So, what do you do if you feel stuck and don’t know how to establish good communication? There is a lot of information on the Internet, from personal blogs, expat websites and social forums to newspaper articles and podcasts on a wide variety of related subjects. A couple of websites to take a look at are Expat Therapist and Expat Child. A podcast to explore is The Bittersweet Life. Some news sources, such as The Wall Street Journal and BBC for example, have dedicated expat sections with personal blogs as well as reporting. All of these sources can be useful in finding insights, seeking advice or preparing for an international relocation.
For those who want more hands-on help there are therapists who specialize in expat issues, and relocation and cultural adaptation coaches who can give guidance. There are also many books on the topic, a few that might be worth checking out are:
- Expat Teens Talk, by Dr. Lisa Pittman & Diana Smit
- Subtle Differences, Big Faux Pas, by Elizabeth Vennekens-Kelly
- How To Be a Global Grandparent: Living with the Separation, by Peter Gosling and Anne Huscroft
- The Good Shufu: Finding Love, Life and Home on the Far Side of the World, by Tracy Slater
- Unrooted Childhoods: Memoirs of Growing Up Global, by Faith Eidse and Nina Sichel
Journaling is recommended by many professionals as a way to sort through expectations and desires for personal growth and understanding, and it can serve as a source for starting a dialog with other people. Considering how we communicate is also important. There is so much great technology available that it is easy to forget that sometimes a real face-to-face conversation is needed, not just a quick text message to say ‘hi’ or a poke on Facebook. Good news is that today’s technology allows for just that.
By: Felicia Shermis