Photo Credit: Sandra Bissell

You know when you meet someone in person when you’ve only connected online that there is a moment of I-already-know-you-but-I-don’t-really-know-you awkwardness? Yeah, that doesn’t happen at the Families in Global Transition Conference. 

You know you’ve “come home” when the first hug you’re given when you walk into the hotel lobby rivals one of the strongest hugs you’ve ever gotten from one of your family members. (Looking at you, Sundae…)

I think strangers who were checking into the hotel were shocked at the public displays of affection these apparent strangers were giving one another after an introduction.

Attending an FIGT (say each letter in the acronym individually) conference, even for the first time, is one of the warmest feelings a group of strangers can ever provide.

Others, not just me, have also described this rare phenomenon of instant warmth.

Gina Dunn describes, “Never have I felt so welcomed at a conference before. EVERYONE was warm and easy to strike up conversations with. Having attended some pretty big conferences in the past, like the Lisbon Web Summit, the FIGT is the perfect size to meet new people and make real connections.” 

The Families in Global Transition Conference is often referred to as a “reunion of strangers” but it has become a reunion of friends and soon-to-be-friends over the years.

The FIGT Planning Committee

FIGT is an organization run by volunteers, which means that there are plenty of opportunities to get involved. Given my background in conference planning, I serve on a small program committee and get to read through all of the submitted abstracts in hopes of creating a dynamic, engaging, and enjoyable conference experience.

What FIGT Program Chair, Daniela Tomer, wanted for FIGT was to attract people with more accents, more colors, and more experiences to participate in FIGT. She was unrelenting in her vision of a more diverse conference and I believe, she convinced others of the value in bringing diverse voices to the main stage.

For the first time in FIGT’s 20-year history, members will have access to video recordings of the keynote presentations and the lightning presentations on the main stage. 

Anyone who has attended a conference knows how quickly those nuggets of gold are delivered from presenters’ mouths and how we wish we could relive certain moments from those three jam-packed days.

Well, now you can. (FYI—You can join FIGT for only $65/year or $29/year if you’re a student and access the conference recordings from 2018 and past conferences’ presentations.) #worthit

Knowing that video is the way for FIGT to spread its undying message of tolerance, diversity, and empathy, we believe that we can grow FIGT as an organization and reach more people in this way. So, thank you, Deborah Valentine, for making this dream a reality.

Wearing another volunteer hat, I served as the mentor for the brilliant Lightning Presentations that are six-minute presentations that offer a roller coaster of emotions for the audience. I saw tears streaming down everyone’s faces as they listened to Dr. Laura Anderson describe how her gender bending child struggled with identity in international schools.

I couldn’t hold back my tears as she explained the torment that her child experienced when bullied for screaming like a girl, “Together we cried as he begged me to teach him how to scream like a boy.”

Debbie Reber taught us what it means to be the parent of a differently wired child and how global mobility affects families who need additional support for their special needs children.

The Value of Hallway Conversations

Pictured with Nicole Blyth and Karen Wilmot

Some of the best aspects of the conference were the ones in which I found myself randomly assigned. As a member of the program committee, I zoomed around from session to session and often sat in the one that looked the least populated with attendees. This led to fascinating discussions because people with different experiences and viewpoints surrounded me.

At any conference, it is more comfortable to stay within your topic track than it is to venture away into unfamiliar topics but I think it’s more valuable to do so.

I learned all about how complicated financial planning can become when we straddle multiple countries, languages, and currencies.

Also, how many expat partners (most often the women in the relationships), are often blindsided by divorce filings in countries in which they are severely disadvantaged due to their citizenship or language.

Side note: nobody expects to get divorced, but expat families often face years of stress and strain due to international relocations that results in failure, split assignments, or divorce. It’s always better to be prepared than left with nothing because we buried our heads in the sand, right?

With so much value in the actual presentations, it is easy to forget the gold found in the hallway conversations and at the lunch tables. During lunch times, I tried to find a table where I didn’t know anyone and introduce myself. In doing this, I discovered two women who live in Stockholm (funny how we met in The Hague instead of our own shared city), and US-based educators working on getting kids outdoors (one of my passions). It’s a fantastic feeling when you find so much in common with random strangers at a conference. FIGT is truly an inclusive space.

Mothers Abroad

Naturally, I connected with women studying the impacts of motherhood abroad. Shweta Ganesh Kumar is helping Indian expat women—a diverse community with multiple languages and cultures in itself—understand the value both inside and outside their communities. How can a mother pass on her cultural heritage to her children outside of their home country? She collects these women’s stories on Times of Amma.

Angela Fusaro of Every Mother Knows worked with attendees on quantifying the values and leadership opportunities mothers bring to the workforce and asked us how we can support one another through the transition of full-time mom to back-to-work mom. There were many non-mothers at the table who had really interesting views of motherhood. Many of which I hadn’t realized myself and was left thinking, “Wow, you’re right. I never thought of it in that way.”

 

Write Beyond Your Niche

“Forget niche. Think beat,” Olga Mecking coached attendees through thinking about how to take your experiences as someone living outside of their home country and leverage it into something interesting. With concrete ideas, she makes writing for The Guardian seem obtainable or at least it might be with more of her coaching (email her for her coaching rates).

The FIGT conference bookstore was humming with activity as authors mixed with readers and everyone convened there during breaks to peruse the materials. The bookstore is one area of FIGT that I think will continue to grow exponentially as members bring in more materials they develop that can help globally mobile families via online webinars, courses, and non-literary materials.

I’ll be reviewing the books I purchased in the FIGT bookstore so watch this space!

 

A New Space for Entrepreneurs

FIGT has always had entrepreneurs in the audience and a few presenters throughout the conference, but the 2018 conference was the first time an entire Early Bird Forum was dedicated to the topic. 

It was an honor to share a panel with four very talented women and discuss the ins and outs of entrepreneurship. (Honestly, I felt a bit intimidated up there speaking as an “expert” but everyone reassured me that yes, I was qualified.)

The panel was entirely focused on answering questions from the audience with the intent of providing a 1.5 hour coaching session for entrepreneurs. 

The minds of Amel Derragui from Tandem Nomads, Stephanie Ward from Firefly Coaching, and Gina Dunn from iGina, along with mine, were moderated by the amazing Amanda Bates from The Black Expat.

Together, we answered questions about how to monetize and scale your portable business, what works and what doesn’t work on social media, and how to connect with your audience.

 

Feel-Good Takeaways

FIGT founder and pioneer, Ruth Van Reken, said it best during her speech, “FIGT is more than just me. It’s in all of you and the richness you bring to each other. In a world that is fractionating on differences, it is so wonderful to come to this community of togetherness.”

She urged us to continue to be vulnerable, open, and honest with one another saying, “The part I was trying to hide was what people related to the most.”

Here are a few quotes I managed to take down in my notebook during the whirlwind three-day conference:

“Culture shock is not fatal.” and “Never leave home without a sense of humor.” – Robin Pascoe

“Yes, examine your experience but then use that experience to move on to help others. Someone else has it a lot worse. Move outside your comfort zone and go beyond your own tent. Figure out who you are and then go out and change the world.” – Robin Pascoe

“Some of us think that we aren’t smart enough, ready enough, or experienced enough to act on our ideas.” – Naomi Hattaway

“The knowing isn’t important; it’s the knowing why.” – Emmy McCarthy

“Teachers, find out the stories of your kids and help them normalize their experiences.” – Ruth Van Reken

“A story is not complete until it is told; until it is heard; and until it is understood. So don’t listen just to respond – listen to understand.” Megan Norton

“The media would love for you to think that the world is becoming more extreme. That people are on polar opposites of one another. But I’m here to remind us all that most of us are living in the middle and don’t have extreme viewpoints at all.” – (I can’t remember who said this, maybe, Sean Ghazi?)

“Your gift to the world is hope. It’s seeing hatred and racism all around you and knowing that that is not all there is.” – Chris O’Shaughnessy


 

But don’t take my word for it…

As I’m not able to be in all places at once, it is wonderful to read other people’s experiences at the conference. They all took down helpful notes about their personal takeaways and captured what impacted them the most.

Be sure to read Marilyn Gardner’s thoughts, “We talked for hours and heard fun stories, frustrating stories, and difficult stories of belonging and living where you don’t feel you belong.” 

“The conference was everything I expected and more. Much more. I am an introvert. Networking does not come easily to me. I have attended countless academic conferences in the past and never felt at ease. Always intimidated.

FIGT was different. I feel like I have found my tribe. Parents, coaches, researchers, passionate expats and displaced people from many walks of life sharing and supporting each other. We cried (look up Alien Citizen), laughed so hard (thank you Robin Pascoe) and even sang (with Sean Ghazi).” —Annabelle Humanes

“It can be so easy in this life to feel that you’re alone, that once again you’re having to start over, that no one can really feel what you’re experiencing. But, as many presenters reminded us, as a community, the globally-mobile counted altogether would make up the 5th largest country in the world! The world is becoming more like us. We no longer float along on our individual islands…or at least we don’t have to.” – Jodi Harris

“At the age of 7, my son was talking about coup d’étas and revolutions and this is big stuff. At his age, I was watching Nickelodeon and watching Alanis Morissette being slimed with green goop. We had very different childhood experiences. So I’m telling myself that I can do what I can to help my children process their experiences, but that my work won’t be done when they turn 18. I need to be there for them when they are older as someone to listen as they process their journey.” – Sundae Schneider Bean

Do you want video access to the keynote presentations and lightning presentations from FIGT18?

Click here to learn more about joining FIGT and get all of the privileges of membership.

 

I am proud to say that I am a small business member, and devoted volunteer of the organization that has changed so much about my understanding about my own life and I love attending an event that consistently brings about positive change in our community. 

My thoughts on these books are coming soon!

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Get a head start on me and check out Monday Morning Emails, One Chance in a Thousand, and Worlds Apart

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