Judy, can you tell us a bit about who you are and your background as an expat?
I guess you could call me a professional trailing spouse. I was born and raised in the UK and unwittingly married a Third Culture Kid. Soon after, we immigrated to Canada where I built a successful career in real estate. When my son was 9 years old my husband’s job took us to Azerbaijan just after its independence from the Soviet Union, which was a huge culture shock, but also a life-changing experience (in a good way!)Since then we’ve lived in Egypt and the UAE and two years ago we repatriated to Canada. That, I think, has been the most difficult adjustment of all. For me, in particular, re-launching my career has been a challenge, but I’ve finally found my niche, working in real estate again, just a different role.
Tell us more about your experiences in Azerbaijan, Egypt and the UAE. What were the most challenging aspects of this time abroad? What did you enjoy most?
Learning how others view the world was the most interesting thing about living overseas. For example, the countries we lived in were all Muslim and yet very different from each other both in culture and their practice of the religion. That’s something I find many people in the West don’t appreciate. Challenging? I think living with daily water and power cuts in Azerbaijan would top my list. I’m certainly thankful now for reliable, safe drinking water every time I turn on the tap. Enjoyable? Definitely the friends I made, both locals and other expatriates. Expat friendships seem to be on “fast forward,” you achieve a much deeper connection quicker than with relationships at home.
These days you divide your time between working in real estate and acting as the Director of Social Media for Families in Global Transition, tell us more about both of those roles.
When we repatriated in 2009 I became very active on social media. Jo Parfitt tweeted that Families in Global Transition was looking for a social media volunteer and it seemed a perfect opportunity to hone my social media skills while giving back to the expat community. I’m now a regular attendee at their conferences and currently a board member. I’m a big believer in volunteer work, not only because it’s fun but also because it’s a great opportunity to learn and meet new people. I generally seem to get more than I give. My first job after repatriation, working in destination services, came as a result of a referral I was given at my first FIGT conference, and I was selected for my present position in real estate partly because of the social media experience I’ve gained working for FIGT.
Can you give us more details about Families in Global Transition? What is this organisation's history and what are its goals? Where can readers go to learn more about it?
Families in Global Transition came about in the late ‘90s around the kitchen table of Ruth Van Reken, co-author of Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds. She was brainstorming with some members of her local Association of International Women about the best ways to help families deal with the adjustment issues of international relocations. From this was born a unique annual conference bringing together representatives of a wide variety of sectors that send families overseas (corporate, diplomatic, academic, arts, military, missionary). The conferences are an opportunity to recognize the universal challenges of relocation, share cross-cultural coping strategies and discuss new methods and research. There is also a growing number of small local chapters both within the US and overseas, which meet on a regular basis. If you’d like more information, check out their website at www.figt.org. We’d love to see you at the next annual conference in March 2012 in Washington DC.
If you had to give one piece of advice to our members to help them with the challenges of relocation, what would it be?
“Never say never,” which I guess means, always have an open mind and be willing to try new things. I don’t think you can survive expat life without the right attitude and a sense of humour.