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Expat Life With A Big Family

Carlie: Hey there it’s Carlie. Tony Elliott’s job as an interest rate trader has seen him live in some of the most exciting cities in the world. Meanwhile, as a dad, he’s busy raising seven kids, in two countries. So what’s expat life like when you’ve got a big family, in different locations, and a job that means you need to move around, often at very short notice? Tony shares his story in this episode.

So, you’re living in the USA right now, but we know each other from a couple of years ago when we were both living in London and going to the same martial arts gym. And the first time I got a glimpse into your unique expat life, Tony, was when you made a post on Facebook one day, about a conversation with someone who was a bit shocked when you told them how many kids you have. So how many children do you have?

Tony: Yeah, seven. Seven at the moment, yeah.

Carlie: Seven at the moment!

Tony: Yeah, well, yeah, I should say seven! (laughs)

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Carlie: (laughs) So can you run me through their ages quickly?

Tony: My oldest is 17 this year, and then I have a 12 year old, and then I have a 10 year old, and then two 8 year olds, and then we get to the youngest, she’s 2, and a baby who’s going to be one this year.

Carlie: Tony, I’m sure that’s a lot to handle for anyone, but your family is international. Now you’ve lived in so many different countries, and we’re going to go into that, but can I ask, what you do for a living that’s seen you travel the world?

Tony: I’m an interest rate trader. What does that mean? I work for banks, usually, I’ve always worked with investment banks. Maybe sometimes you’ll hear the US central bank has raised interest rates. It’s related to what I do, it’s because the banks offer financial instruments to clients, and those instruments are based on central bank interest rates. So when the bank raise interest rates, those instruments go up or down in prices, and what I do, I price those instruments. We sell and buy those instruments with clients of the bank. It’s called short-term interest rate trading. It’s a very specific sort of job. That’s why …

Carlie: It sounds very technical.

Tony: It is very technical.

Carlie: So where you live is dictated by the job opportunities at the time?

Tony: Exactly, yeah. And it’s not just me. Many of my colleagues, they move around as well quite often. It’s mainly in big cities, like New York, London, Singapore, are the main centres for that. [unclear] Singapore, Tokyo. But tomorrow, you know, the bank will decide that, oh we don’t need people in New York any more, and you have to go to whatever.

Carlie: Can you tell me a little bit about how it came to be that you’ve been travelling the world?

Tony: It’s a little bit of a long story, but I can make a little bit of a summary of it. I have seven kids but they don’t all live with me. I have four in Australia with my ex-wife, who live in Sydney, and three with me here, with my second wife. Although I travel to Australia quite often, so that’s another layer of complication where, you know, you have to manage a schedule, and go there during school holidays, and …

Carlie: Yeah for sure, it’s not like you’re just in a neighbouring country in Europe or something.

Tony: Yeah, exactly, exactly, so yeah.

Carlie: How old were you when you first started living in different places?

Tony: Actually I was born in Cameroon, and, well, I went to France for uni, for undergrad. After France I went to Toronto for graduate school, and I finished my studies there and I started working there in Toronto. The work was interesting but I was a little bit bored. I wanted to do something more exciting. So that’s when I started moving. I moved to the US, to New York.

Well, my first child was born in Toronto. So I was a little bit bored with work, so I moved to New York with my family, and we had our second child there, our son. I stayed there for two years, but there was a little bit of complication, because my ex-wife couldn’t work there. So we thought OK, let’s, why not move to London? Let’s move again.

So we moved to London, and then we had our daughter here, our third child. And it was going quite well, but then I received a job offer that was in Sydney, Australia. And at that point at first I thought, that’s crazy, why would I go to the end of the world? I didn’t know much about Sydney.

Carlie: (laughs) It is a bit far!

Tony: I visited it once. Yeah, but I was like, what, why, why on earth would I go there? And the more I thought about it the more I was frustrated with my work, and the more they were like insistent for me to come there, I was like, hmm, why not? And then, yeah, let’s try that. And we moved there. And we moved to Sydney.

Carlie: So are we up to country number 5 now?

Tony: I guess so, yeah. Cameroon, yeah.

Carlie: So, five countries in, and three children, and that wasn’t the end? (laughs)

Tony: No, no, not yet, not yet! We had our fourth child in Sydney. And we were there for four years. And it was really good, you know, it was really good, but after four years we split up. I lived about one year when we were living, I was living on my own. But then I lost my job in Sydney, and I lost my visa, so I couldn’t stay there any more. So what I did, I went back to Canada, because I’m actually Canadian, my passport. I was looking for another job, obviously, all over the world. I was, even …

Carlie: It’s an interesting situation, then, for you, to have such a unique job, and to have four children, and a former wife now, in one country, and then you find yourself unemployed, and you need to look all over the world for your next job. So you can’t factor in staying close to your family. That must have been a really difficult position.

Tony: Oh yeah. Well, I could have said, oh, I’m gonna stay in Australia, but then I wouldn’t have had any job, right? (laughs) So I feel much ha-, well I had no choice. So no, yeah, it was very difficult.

Carlie: So you went back to Canada, and where was next?

Tony: So, well, I went back to Canada, I was looking all over. My brother was living in New York at the time, so I was often in New York to have some interviews. And I met a woman there, who, well of course now my wife. Obviously at that point I was like, OK, I might as well stay in New York. And I had a job offer in London. London, UK. You know it took me again to find something. So, I moved there.

Carlie: So back to a place you’d lived before.

Tony: Coincidentally, yeah. To be honest, I wasn’t thrilled about moving back to London. I was actually very very, very very sad about it. For some reason I didn’t like London, I didn’t have a good experience my first time there, so I was pretty bummed out about moving back, but, so, when, when was that? I guess in 2000-and…

Carlie: I was gonna say, you must need a spreadsheet to keep track of all the places you live, and we haven’t even gotten to all of your children yet, in this story! But what strikes me is, you have children who have been born in a few different countries. Can you tell me a little bit about the practicalities of that, and what comes up as issues?

Tony: The main issue is that, you know, it’s like you’re not, you’re not there, right? Personally it’s extremely difficult, because you’re not there. And also for me it’s, it’s very difficult, because I used to be there all the time. And suddenly you’re not there, with, you can’t be there any more, so that’s really really hard, you know. You know, but at the same time, what can you do, when it’s hard you tell yourself, you know, OK, what, what’s the alternative? If it makes it…

Carlie: Yeah.

Tony: Yeah, exactly. So they knew, and you just move on, yeah, yeah. And also, in a way, I’m pretty lucky that I get to travel there twice a year, and they come back here once a year as well, so I’m, actually, it could have been way worse.

Carlie: Yes of course, just the cost of flights alone, and the fact that you can do that a couple of times a year is great.

Tony: Exactly. It’s great, yeah, but that’s all thanks to because I found a new job that pays well. But it’s not a given. So I’m always telling myself, instead of complaining that I don’t see them often, I should be grateful that I get to see them as much as I see them now.

Carlie: On Facebook, when you talk about your family and your travels, you do have such a positive, grateful outlook, and that really shines through, I think, in your attitude online, obviously it’s something that means a lot to you in your life, that you do think that way.

Tony: Ah thank you, thank you. But it’s true that people always say, everyone says that I’m always very positive (laughs), that I’m a glass half full person, but yeah, but thank you, but yeah, it’s also because you know, I see it mostly as not having a choice, you know. If you have to be, force yourself to that mental attitude, otherwise it becomes too mu-, too overwhelming, otherwise you cannot, you can drown in too many things, you can drown in worries, you can drown in uncertainty, so you have to be like, think positive all the time.

Carlie: So, we’re at the point where you’re living in London. You have a new partner. When did you start adding more children to the mix?

Tony: Pretty much right away! (laughs) I moved to London in 2014. She moved to London with me, and our daughter was born in 2016. She also had a son that was living in Cameroon with her parents. So he moved with us, his French [unclear] is even more (laughs).

Carlie: OK, I can’t, I’ve completely lost count of how many nationalities your children have! Do you know how many nationalities your children have?

Tony: Well, of the seven, six of them are Canadian. Four of them are Australian. How many American? Three. No, I’ve got, no, two. [unclear] One French. I think that’s it.

Carlie: Is the one English then, or she wasn’t born in England?

Tony: No, they were, actually there were two born in England, but they have pretty straight immigration law, it’s not enough. Your parents… to be English, if you’re born in England, your parents need to have indefinite stay. And we only had work visas. So, although two were born in the UK, none of them are…

Carlie: …actually British?

Tony: Actually British, yeah.

Carlie: So what considerations do you need to make, when you have children in different countries, and you’re raising them knowing that you probably are going to be moving again?

Tony: Um, to be honest, you don’t really think that you’re probably going to be moving again. I mean, well, the only time I thought that was in Australia, because it was just too far (laughs), you know what I mean? (laughs)

Carlie: (laughs) Too far away to stay here forever!

Tony: Too far away, yeah, exactly! Well, so you, you tell yourself, yeah, I’m probably going to be moving again at some point, but it’s not something that you plan. Therefore it doesn’t really enter into your day to day considerations, you know. So you just, you know, raise your kids as if you are here. You don’t think that you’re going to leave, because there’s no date anyway. So you just behave as if you are here. But yeah. That was the only time, in Australia, that, where I thought oh, we, I think we both thought that, that, oh wow, this place is, it’s really nice but it’s so far away. At some point we will move. At the same time, people say that and they stay there forever, right?

Carlie: Well I moved, but (laughs).

Tony: Yeah (laughs).

Carlie: But so many people go the other way, and say to me why are you here, why wouldn’t you be in Australia? (laughs)

Tony: If I were Australian, yeah, for sure, I would live there. It’s such a beautiful place. The quality of life is so amazing.

Carlie: How do your children feel about moving around? Or are they a little bit young at the moment to kind of understand that they’ve lived in different countries and different cultures?

Tony: I think they’re aware that they are different culture, that they are from the world a little bit, you know what I mean? They don’t, because also we, originally we are Cameroonian, dad was born in Cameroon. My ex-wife was born in Cameroon as well, we met actually in high school. And my current wife is from Cameroon as well. So, so they’re aware that, you know, they are kind of international, and they are used to travelling, so they don’t consider themselves from just one place.

Carlie: And what do you think the benefits are of raising your children so internationally, and giving them that sort of lifestyle?

Tony: It’s hard for me to say, to be honest. Because I don’t have anything to compare it with. Yeah, so I cannot imagine, you know the other case. I feel like most places are more or less the same. Well there are cultural differences here and there, but they are kind of many more that, in most places people are more or less the same, they want the same thing. They want good education for their kids, they want good healthcare. People have the same aspirations fundamentally. So it’s hard to see the big differences, hard to see what the big advantage is of being international.

Carlie: What would be your tips and advice to people who are living an international life, and are thinking about adding to the children they have, or wanting to have a big family?

Tony: I would say, to be flexible. I think that’s the main point, is to have some flexibility. And not, it’s easy to get hung up in some certain specific points, you know, to, it’s just to have some flexibility just to relax a little bit, just to, because also, sometimes you can be afraid of the negative impact on the children, but actually, if you are relaxed the kids will be relaxed.

For example, when the kids, if the kids have to change school, if yourself you are really stressed about it, you’re gonna transfer that stress to your kids. They’re going to wonder why you are stressed about it, they’re gonna wonder if there is something to stress about. Whereas, you as a parent being relaxed, being flexible, looking at the big picture, and just tell your kids OK, you have to be, you’re changing schools, this is a new school, it’s gonna be great. It works! So my main advice will be to be flexible, and just to be relaxed, you know.

Carlie: As you said, people do get so hung up on the details, and, what happens when they transition from this school to this, what happens when they get to this age, or wanna do that? But when you take that step back, and think about, you know, how you’re reacting and how you’re influencing them, it’s so important.

Tony: I know it sounds a bit cheesy, but it’s like, it’s love basically. If you show a lot of love, you know, if you spread out that energy, the kids, they will, I mean I think that’s the main thing they need, basically. I know it’s very cheesy, but (laughs) it’s something I really believe in.

Carlie: No, you obviously do, we can just hear it in the way you describe it, it’s lovely.

Tony: Yeah.

Carlie: So can you tell me, where have been your favourite places in the world to live so far, and what’s it like living right now in America?

Tony: I think my favourite place, I think it would be Toronto in Canada. I mean we, if I consider everything. I believe the places with the good quality of lives are definitely better than, in Australia, the best quality of life. With Australia actually having the best quality of life. The commute, the activity for the kids, the time for yourself, the weather, the people, the way you live, the house you live in, you know, the cost of living, you know, everything, you know. Living here is great. It’s strange that you ask, because I’m having a little bit of a tough time moving, it’s strange because when I moved to London, I didn’t want to go to London. But I enjoy London so much (laughs). Now, I kind of miss London a lot (laughs). Although I like it here, I’m having a little bit of a tough time. Sometimes I’m like, oh, this is great but …

Carlie: So what is it about New York that you’re finding a bit tough?

Tony: I think it’s mostly work-related. It’s, I work really long hours. From 10-12 hours a day. Maybe I just miss my friends in London (laughs), maybe that’s it! (laughs)

Carlie: Maybe you had a sense of community there that you haven’t found yet in New York?

Tony: Yes, maybe. Maybe that’s it, yeah. One thing that bothers me a little bit with New York is the crowds. I like to do a few things to relax, for example I want to grab a beer at the bar after work in New York one day. In London I used to know a place, OK I can go there, have a beer for half an hour and then go back home. But in New York, you go there, there is a queue (laughs), you know what I mean, it’s always busy, it’s always a bit intense, you know, there is this intensity of the city that’s a little bit, that’s very attractive at first, but then it becomes a little bit too much. It’s too intense, in my opinion.

Carlie: So where would you like to go next?

Tony: Wow, I don’t want to move any more! (laughs) Ideally, moving back to Toronto. When I think about it, all my moves, they have never really been planned. So I guess it depends. It depends on the opportunities, you know. I say I don’t want to move, but if tomorrow you double my salary somewhere, of course I will go! I have seven kids, right? (laughs)

Carlie: That’s, that’s a lot of education to be funding!

Tony: Yeah, exactly! Anyway, I will see! (laughs) But hopefully not any time soon, I don’t want to move away, I don’t want to move any more, I just want to (laughs), you know relax here a bit!

Carlie: Well that’s it for this episode. If you want to ask Tony any questions, or share your own experiences of big family expat life, go to expatfocus.com, follow the links to our forums and Facebook groups. You’ll find more episodes at expatfocus.com/podcast, or you can listen through your favourite podcasting app. And I’ll catch you next time!

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