Expat Life

Impressions from the Families in Global Transition Conference (FIGT 2019)

As you may know, I attended the Families in Global Transition Conference (FIGT 2019) last weekend in Bangkok. It was the first time I attended this conference, but it was actually its 21st edition. This was the first time the conference was organised in Asia. As I wrote last week, I facilitated a kitchen table session about self-leadership for expat partners, but what else happened at the conference?

Here’s some impressions from the key note speeches:

1. Moving can break us- and bring us closer together

FIGT Keynote Speaker Jo Parfitt, expat for many years and well known author and publisher, said it succinctly:

“Moving can break us.”

She spoke about how moving can throw us off balance, how we can feel so torn between people and places, and how Mums try to support the family while trying to stay upright in the storm.

We all have a jar full of our life stories, and gluing it back together after breaking with golden glue (Japanese Kintsugi), the jar will become more valuable. 

It resonated with me as I thought back to my own challenges when moving to Brunei with a small baby and a toddler and feeling torn between my family in Brunei and my family back in The Netherlands especially in hard times.

At the same time, moving can also bring us closer together.

We all know that it may take time to find friends abroad, but once you have bonded, bonds are strong. We bond over shared joys and hardships, becoming a kind of family-by-proxy. Connecting people is also one of the main aims of the conference. Having a newcomer’s breakfast on day 1 for example, was especially aimed at that. There people who had not been to the conference before got information and met other newcomers. Attendees and speakers were friendly and approachable.

2. Third Culture Kids and how their world turns upside down when moving

Ruth van Reeken, one of the pioneers in the field of Third Culture Kids and FIGT co-founder , and Daniela Tomer, expat psychologist, gave a joint talk about their experiences as Third Culture Kids and Third Culture Adults, and how moves affect everyone in different ways.

Apart from their personal stories, the model by Barbara H. Knuckles they showed, got my attention. It shows that a child (or people in general) has 3 anchors- to family, place and community. When the child moves, the place and community they are part of completely changes. When so many bonds are broken, no wonder they -and  we- feel in turmoil. (unfortunately, I cant find a publicly accessible picture of the model).

3. Leading with a Global Soul – Stay Open Minded

Anita Kapoor spoke about leading with a global soul, connecting it to her experience as a Third Culture Kid in Singapore. She shared many things, but what will stay with me is to stay open-minded in a globalising world.

“While I was terrible at maths, I was a straight A student in curiosity, courage and heart.”- Anita Kapoor

Or in the words of Bill Nye- “Everyone you meet will know something you don’t.”

4. Don’t Be Afraid of Failure when you want to change the World

Caleb Meakins, a British-Ethiopian impressed with his speech on changing the world. After University, he made a project of overcoming his fear of failure. From asking strangers in the street for 100 pounds and lying on the floor in a busy station, he is now building social enterprises in Ethiopia.

His tips for overcoming your fear of failure?

  • Psych yourself up for 3 seconds of insane courage
  • Ask: what’s the worst that could happen?
  • Visualise success
  • Pray your socks of
  • Make those a habit

What would you do if you could not fail? Was his poignant question to the audience.

The main lesson I wrote down and that I think many expat partners can benefit from was:

Don’t be held back by the idea that it can’t be done and discover it can be done. And as Caleb says, everyone can muster 3 seconds of insane courage.


Looking over my notes from the 3 days, there are many more inspiring speakers, books and lessons that I want to share with you. I will write about them in more blog posts in the time to come. The FIGT conference is a definitely a great place to be inspired (my goal for this year), make new friends and reconnect with old friends- thanks Rubina Anis for coming all the way from Houston- it was great sharing this experience with you!


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