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Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Helping a friend a thousand miles away


You have all probably noticed that I love, love, love being an expat in the Netherlands. I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world. I love the challenges, the opportunities, and the new friendships that come with living in another country.

Yet there are some things that ultimately suck. One of them is old friends and family not being there for you when you need them. What’s even worse, however, is not being there for friends and family when they need you.

After all, you live a thousand miles apart (or more), and often are separated by time zones, oceans and cultural differences. But imagine your best friends are going through some very tough time and you don’t know how to help them?  I have thought about this and came up with some tips that may be useful.

1)   Travel - before I had children, I used to do this to be present for my friends’ weddings, and other important events in their lives. Unfortunately, this option is not really available to me at this point of pregnancy no airline would take me on board. But maybe it is an option for you? Take a small vacation and go with the whole family. Leave the children with your husband and go all by yourself! It may be a difficult choice, but it is well worth considering.

2)     Have your friends travel to see you! - This would be not only a perfect opportunity for you to see each other and spend some quality time together, but this way you can also provide the distraction your friends may crave at the moment. Also, in some cases, it may give your friends ideas for figuring out their lives again.

3)   Use technology to stay connected - even though you can’t travel, we have never had so many great ways to stay in touch with each other: Skype, Facebook and email are just the obvious, but there are more. I love sharing pictures with my family and friends. Have you ever thought of sending a video of yourself to a friend? You can tell them words of encouragement, or tell them you’ll there for them even though you’re so far away. Or just make a very silly video to make them laugh.

4)    Use the distance to your advantage. While being directly involved is great, distance also has its merits. For example, you may offer a unique perspective that could be just what your friend needs. After all, you have lived in another country, and know that other cultures deal with problems differently. Also, being further away gives you the opportunity to consider all pros and cons of an action without getting too emotionally involved.

5)    Show them you care- this may be a no-brainer, but we sometimes get so caught up with our expat lives, making new friends, trying to find new jobs, caring for children in a strange country that we forget that in our home country, there are friends who may need us. Maybe a little gift is in order? Maybe something from your new country? Maybe something you’d know she loves? Also, while you are sometimes separated by time zones, sometimes staying up late to talk to a friend is the right thing to do. Sometimes a phone call, a text message, a simple “how are you?” is all it takes. Take the time to listen.

6)  Talk about yourself- while your friends may go through troubles, they will also be interested in how you’re doing. Tell them the good things and the bad things, but be brief- this is not about you. However, it will create the feeling of being together despite the distance.

7)    Don’t feel guilty about not being there with your friends. - Sometimes we really want to travel to see our friends, but it is not possible. Sometimes we wish we could be more involved, but we can’t. Don’t beat yourself up. Remember that there are so many things you can do to help.

8)    Remember about your own emotional well-being- It is bad enough for your friends when they’re going through hard times, but it is also hard on you. So, talk to people, go out, do whatever helps you to relax. With a clear mind, you’ll be able to find a good solution for your friend. If that is not possible, it will at least allow you to be a better listener. As an expat, you also have a great network of friends and experts- chances are you know just the right person to help your friend!

9)   Make sure your friend has help and support - when you can’t be there, make sure that others can. Most probably, other friends will already have taken care of this situation, but it is always good to make sure that this is really the case. Also, even though you are far away, you still have contacts to specialists in your own country- ask them to help, or tell your friend to get in touch with them.

10) Just ask- Through time, distance and different experiences, people change. This means that you don’t always know how to help anymore. What worked for your friend 5 years ago, may not work now. The solution? Ask. Ask how you can help. Ask what you can do. Tell your friend what you can do and ask them whether it’s a good idea. Then do it.

      These are just a few tips, and there is more. By writing this, I have also realized that I could have done much more. I guess I have to remember to take my own advice and start doing more for my friends at home, especially in bad times.

What are you doing when your friends at home need you? Please share in the comments. 
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Monday, 28 January 2013

How I went Dutch and why I still regret it


I had such a great day last Wednesday. I just had a lunch with a friend in Delft (Hi, Lynn!), when my husband called me and said that he wanted to go ice-skating. My husband sometimes spontaneously decides that he wants to go somewhere or do something, and now, as the weather was nice and cold an crisp, ice-skating seemed like a perfect activity.

Me on the ice... shortly before I fell... I know I look slighthly panicky, but I really had it all under control!

I mean, ice-skating in the Netherlands? Where on Earth could I find an activity that would give me the chance to stay fit during pregnancy, follow a popular Dutch tradition, AND spend some quality time with my husband, WITHOUT the children?

As fast as I could, I caught the next tram and headed back to Rijswijk, where we went ice-skating on a little lake close to our house. It was… wonderful… right to the moment when a little girl asked me whether I could ice skate. And then… I fell a little bit. Not badly, luckily.

But it was already bad enough that my husband, instead of immediately helping me to get up, broke out his mobile phone, and took a picture of me falling. And then he said that he’s going to put it on Facebook, even though he never puts anything on Facebook. When I pointed this out, he smiled and said that there’s always a first time. And it doesn’t even end here.

We went back home, and I even cooked a nice dinner for the four of us. And then, in the middle of the night, I was woken up by a terrible cramp. No, luckily it wasn’t my uterus hurting (today’s midwife appointment shows that the baby is fine), instead it was a cramp in my left calf that made me cry and wake up my husband, if only to tell him that I am about to die and they’d have to amputate my leg. He wasn’t impressed and told me it will stop. However, when he went to buy some magnesium for my cramps, he basically made me  forgive him. Almost.

Anyway, the cramps got slightly better the next day, but walking was very hard for a while. Even now, 5 days later, I prefer to lie down on the couch than to walk. We took the girls sleighing on Saturday and my husband put on his ice-skates, but I decided not to.  I have learned my lesson.

The Germans have a saying: “Sport ist Mord”, and I think I’ll remember it next time when I want to do any kind of sports. After all, isn’t carrying a baby enough?
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Saturday, 26 January 2013

My guest post at Bilingual Babes!

Yesterday, I shared Tallulah's guest post on how to get children excited about speaking the minority language. She gave us some great tips and I am so happy to have hosted her post here!. Today, I am excited to share with you that my post is over at Tallulah's blog, Bilingual Babes! 

Here, I am just giving you a little taste of the post: 

As an expat mother, the identity (or should I say, identities) my children may end up having, are always on my mind. With our combination of languages and cultures, the possibilities are endless. They may decide that they are Polish. They may decide to be German, or possibly Dutch. Or maybe each of the children will make a different decision? Will they feel a citizen of the world?

To read the rest of my post, go to Tallulah's blog

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Friday, 25 January 2013

How to get your child excited about their minority language- a GUEST POST!

So, I promised you something exciting, and here it is- my first guest post! I am very happy to welcome Tallulah of Bilingual Babes! Tallulah raises two multilingual children (the languages spoken in her family include: English, French, Mandarin and  Twi!). In this post, Tallulah writes on how to get your child excited about the minority language- I love and appreciate her tips, and I know you will, too! Thank you, Tallulah!


When all around are talking the majority language, how do you get your child excited about talking a minority one? This was a huge issue for me when Pan-Pan was around age 3. He was Mr English from the start, grumbled about talking French, never wanted to chat in anything but English, and evidently thought learning French a pointless waste of time! After all, I seemed to be the only other person in his world who spoke the language, and I understood English, so why bother? Such seemed to be his logic, while I quietly pulled my hair out! I started dreaming up ways to make French seem useful and exciting, and it did eventually seem to sink in that French is fun! Here are some of the things we tried:

Festivals
French culture is full of fun things to get my kids excited about the language. The best thing is La Fête des Rois or the Festival of Kings, when the Galette des Rois is served, a special cake that has a fève or token in it. Whoever wins the fève is King or Queen for the day! Last time my son celebrated this festival at school, he came home absolutely flying, telling me he had been crowned King and got to choose one of the girls as his Queen. Then he confessed he'd 'cheated', by eating slice after slice of the Galette until he found the precious fève

Travel
I know it's not always possible, but you really can't beat a trip to wherever your minority language is spoken! The last time we managed to get to France, I made sure we booked a few ateliers, which are workshops for children. My kids took a cooking class and an art class, both taught in French, alongside other French-speaking children. Peer pressure is so powerful, I'm sure that one of these ateliers is worth a hundred second language classes back home!

Screen time
I've mentioned this in other posts, but I feel so strongly about it it's worth another mention: try to keep all screen time in the minority language only. The best thing about this rule is that kids are so motivated to watch telly or go on the computer that they're unlikely to fight you much on it. Also, as they usually get so little out of screen time it's nice to feel they're learning something during those zombie couch potato moments! I've instilled this rule since before my kids were old enough to remember, but due to the motivation factor it should be perfectly possible to bring this rule in for older children too. While minority language screen time won't teach your kids a second language in isolation, when combined with opportunities to speak that language it can be quite powerful. My kids have both learned new words from favourite French films, and it's no doubt helped with their accent too. Because they get excited about watching movies, they make a fun association with French too.

Storytapes
If you want to go one better than screen time, play storytapes in the minority language. These give no clues to what's going on except for the spoken words, so your child really has to listen hard to understand. Of course your child requires some fluency before these will make sense (I haven't got to the stage where I can play Mandarin storytapes yet!) but if your child already has a basic understanding of the language, then storytapes are wonderful for improving their listening comprehension and accent. We always play French stories in the car and my kids LOVE them! We have a whole pile of them that we rotate and they each have their favourites.

Games
There are so many games you can play in the minority language. With board games, go for ones that encourage speaking or writing, such as Taboo and Scrabble. There are many simple games you can play with no props at all, of course, such as 'I Spy', or 'Beep when I say something in the wrong (ie majority!) language'.

All in all, these were the tricks that really got our kids excited about their minority language. As regular readers know, Pan-Pan now adores French and trips happily between his two mother tongues.

How do you get your children excited about their minority languages? And don't forget to check out Tallulah's blog here, like her Facebook page, and/or follow her on Twitter

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Thursday, 24 January 2013

Always speak your mother tongue with your child?


All specialists on multilingualism stress the importance of speaking your own language with your child. And they are right. It is the most natural thing a parent can do. The words flow easily, communication is better, more emotional and more direct. Especially in the case where a parent was told by a doctor or specialist to stop using their language with the child in the presence of language delays or other problems, it is important for the parent to use their own language to prevent identity confusion, and to keep the parent-child bond strong.

I was, however asking myself, whether there are situations in which parents can use a different language with their children? There are. You know from Ute’s story that she was forced to use another language with her children to improve communication between the family members. However, her situation I think is a rather special one. Are there others?

As a child, I used to live in Germany. I went to a German kindergarten and my parent insisted on speaking German on the streets and Polish at home. We continued doing that back in Poland, even though my parents are not native speakers in that language. However, they wanted me to continue to speak German. Also, being multilingual themselves, they perfectly understood the importance of speaking many languages.

I think that in case of bilingual parents, bilingualism IS their language, which means that such parent would like their children to understand both of his languages. I could totally imagine speaking to my children in German. Since I’m living in the Netherlands, this “job” is already occupied by my husband. If I were in Poland, however, I would speak German to them, because I would know that Polish would be provided by the environment- daycares, schools and friends, while I would have to take care of the minority language (German).

In the Facebook for Polish parents raising bilingual children I belong to, one of the main issues was that the parents didn’t want to introduce the second language by speaking another language with their children, out of fear of destroying the parent- child bond, or in order not to confuse the child.

First of all, even though language is an important part of culture and communication in general, it is not the only one. Also, the bond between parent and child does not rely on language only and also involves touch and other means of non-verbal communication. If the parent is not a native speaker, accent and mistakes is another main concern. In fact, if the parent will take care of other sources of the language, the child will recognise who is a native speaker in that language and who isn’t.

As you see, there are other situations, where the parents can speak a foreign language with their children. It does, however depend on the circumstances and whether other sources of that language are easily available. For some parents, speaking that language comes more easily than for others. I think that everybody should stick to their language when living in a country where this is the minority language- with very few exceptions. However, if you’re living in a monolingual country, you could consider introducing another language if you want. The method, intensity and quantity of that language exposure depend on you. 
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Monday, 21 January 2013

Being a shy expat


I’ve always been a rather shy person. Shy to the point where I would avoid some shops because I was afraid they would laugh at me. I’ve read articles and books on shyness (including Zimbardo’s famous work). He mentions that shy people have fewer friends, are socially awkward, or just don’t like themselves. He seems to be treating shyness like an illness to be cured. The stereotypes about shy people are pretty the same, and while often people feel that their shyness stands in the way of realizing their dreams and passions, for many of us, these stereotypes are neither true nor fair.

I found that being shy can have many positive sides. First, it is a very normal thing. In fact, almost everybody felt shy at some point in life. And I kept asking myself: is it the shyness itself that causes the problem, or maybe societal pressures to behave a certain way and not being at ease with shyness? Also, shy people take more time to think about their decisions and are more likely to have deep meaningful relationships. 

So maybe you are shy, too. And with all the up- and downsides of being shy, you are moving abroad. You are getting out of your comfort zone and into a unknown, strange world. What are you to do?

-      You may find to your surprise that you will thrive in the new environment. This has definitely happened to me. When I came here, I made new friends, started a blog, and never have I felt so creative and full of ideas. I think it was partially the fact that I had to do it in order to survive, but also moving abroad gave me the opportunity of a fresh start.

-       Remember that even though you have to reach out a lot and meet new people, you will not turn into a party animal. I go to a lot of events and parties, but mostly prefer one-on-one meetings. That is fine for me. It works, and it doesn’t exhaust me in a way public events do. So I don’t go to all events and prefer to be picky. Expats have a lot of events happening, and I can’t make it to all of them. But also remember not to get too isolated.

-       The way you deal with shyness could be a cultural thing. For example, I have just read this article where Finns see themselves as socially shy because they weren’t making small talk with other people. Guess what? They weren’t shy. They just didn’t talk so much. Instead, they observed the conversations around them and listened rather than talked. Also, some cultures tend to be shyer than others, with kibbutz-raised Jews being generally not shy and Asians being on the other part of the spectrum.

-          Don’t be afraid to ask for help! This may mean telling friends: “I am shy, can you help me with this?”, or it could mean asking for professional help if you feel that your shyness is really getting in the way of normal life.

-      Find the time for activities that are fun. After all, in your country you had hobbies and interests and passions, and you also had things you liked doing to relax and take your mind of off being shy. With luck, you can do them in your new country! Do whatever works for you - read, relax, or have a coffee…whatever makes you happy! Have fun! Who said shy people can’t have fun? In some cases, you’ll have so much fun that you’ll forget all about your shyness…

This has been my experience. How about yours? If you’re shy, how did moving abroad affect your shyness?
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Friday, 18 January 2013

Nomad Parents Webinar “Raising Bilingual Children. 6 steps to success”- A Review

If you’re looking for exert advice, you will find it in books, seminars, articles and blogs. But imagine you could attend a seminar without having to leave your house? It is possible. The answer is: webinars.


Nomad Parents have started a series of webinars on many different topics, including social media for expats, work-life balance, raising confident children. The experts include: Renee Veldman-Tentori (of Zestee Concepts), Molly Quell, Manuela Damant, and others.

 You can find the preview of all webinars in this video:


I was lucky to watch one of them. The topic was raising bilingual children by Eowyn Crisfield. In it, Eowyn presented 6 steps of successfully raising a bilingual child. These were backed up by her own research, years of experience, and her work with bilingual families. 

Please have a look at the sneak preview:
 


In 20 minutes you can find out a lot about how to raise bilingual children. Eowyn stresses the importance of knowing the theory of bilingualism, of talking and explaining why you’re doing the right thing and choosing a method and sticking to it, and much more.

I found this webinar very helpful. It was a concise, to-the-point presentation containing all the useful information about raising bilingual children. The 6 steps programme is very straightforward, and even though not all the steps are easy, knowing how to do it is extremely important.

What I liked about this presentation is that it gave you all cues to memorize and remember the points because it alternated between Eowyn’s voice and a Power Point presentation. This made me feel as if I was there and could listen to the workshop. Besides, a gifted speaker, Eowyn never bores and the presentation only helps to underline her points.

Actually, watching this video made me find out more, so I went to see Eowyn live and wasn’t disappointed. I believe that the webinar format is extremely helpful. 

You don’t have to leave the house, and you can watch it at your own pace and in your own time. You can pause, make notes, and repeat what you didn’t understand. You will get all the necessary information, and if you would like to find out more, you can always go to the experts’ seminars and workshop for an extended version of the webinar.

If you're interested, don't hesitate to check out all the newest topics and experts here! There is a small prize to pay (5 euro for a 5 days rental) but it's definitely worth it!
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Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Say “no” to the naysayers and “yes” to your child


I’ve been reading about finding ways to say “yes” to your child. Yes, you can swing for 2 hours. Yes, you can help me cook. Yes, you can paint on the floor. Yes, yes, yes. If I’m not too tired, I try to find ways to say “yes”, even though it sometimes means more work for me. Now, of course, as I’m getting more and more pregnant, saying “yes” can be difficult, but I’m doing my best.

There is another way of saying “yes” to your children, especially if they’re bilingual. I have recently joined a Facebook group for Polish parents raising multilingual children. In it, I shared my story and complained how Polish is not a priority language in the Netherlands and how difficult it is to raise children with Polish because of all the silly comments and stereotypes.

One member gave me invaluable advice: “Then, turn your back on these naysayers, and face your child”. Meaning: “ignore them and do whatever you find best for your child”. I think this applies to all parents, who have to take all kind of well-meant advice from strangers. Parents of multilingual children often hear that they’re confusing their children, and that their children’s level of the majority language is just not enough.

But we know that we are doing the right thing by speaking our mother tongues with our children. We are doing the right thing by prioritizing our languages. This is also a way of saying “yes” to your child. “Yes, I want you to speak my language”. “Yes, I want you to communicate with your grandparents in their language”.

Saying “yes” to your children also means doing what’s right and beneficial for them. And, in case of multilingualism, we know that it’s good for our children. Studies prove it. Successful stories of multilingualism prove it. In short, multilingualism is good for the brain, for the child’s future, for the parent-child relationship- if you decide to pursue it, and have the resources to do it.

It also means saying “no” to the doctor who says that your child doesn’t speak enough of the majority language. It means saying “no” to the family members who are unsupportive and worry that your child won’t speak any language well. It means saying “no” to “kind” strangers who comment that you shouldn’t speak your language with your child.

It means saying: “yes” to doing your thing- raising multilingual children. 
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Monday, 14 January 2013

The miracle of communication


So, this is my second instalment of the workshop I gave for Delft INA. In the first part, I covered what culture is. In this one, I’ll write about communication. We are used to two things, and both of them are wrong. First, we think that only humans can communicate. Second, we narrow communication down to speaking and writing.

The fact is that animals can communicate. Second, while we tend to think that communication is talking and writing, it is actually a lot more.

In fact, the vast majority of what we communicate, we don’t communicate through our speech. Instead, we use gestures, facial expressions, clothing, tone of voice, eye contact, touch- all called non-verbal communication. It is also the non-verbal part that we tend to believe. For example, if somebody tells you that he’s fine in a grave, sad voice, you wouldn’t believe them, because the tone of voice would give them away.

We forget that communication can go beyond just two people talking, or communicating verbally. Communication can also happen via pictures (visual communication) and text (textual communication). And, we usually concentrate on the speaker- the source of communication, while there are other aspects to consider: the message itself (also called content), the medium by which it is carried (speech, telephone, TV, computer/Internet, etc.), and last-but not least-the audience.

Paul Watzlawick once said: “One cannot NOT communicate”. Everything about us talks, and screams and whispers. From our choice of words to our choice of clothing, everything communicates.

For me, it is somehow a wonder that we even manage to communicate so effectively- so much could go wrong! For example, we may not hear what was being said, or fail to get our message across by choosing the wrong words or gestures. Our partner in conversation may misread our intentions. And this is only for face-to-face communication. Things only get more complicated if we add media like the telephone, or the Internet (think of email or Skype)- then we miss the non-verbal cues, like facial expressions and tone of voice. This is exactly why I called this text: “the miracle of communication.”

Because while our way of communicating is not perfect, it seems pretty effective to me, and the reason is that we WANT to communicate. We really do. Now, sometimes one of the sides is not that interested in communication- and this is why it is important to notice that communication is a two-way street. Both sides have to be willing.

Anything you may want to add?
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Friday, 11 January 2013

So many words, just one language



Mama dookoła świata - Grzelińska Ofelia


During Christmas, I was not only able to get some rest, but I also came across some very cool books. One of them was a poetry anthology for children. One of the poems described different moms in different countries, putting the children to bed and telling them “goodnight” in their own languages. 

The other book was a compilation of stories by expat mothers in Poland, where they shared their experiences with prenatal care, giving birth, and raising children, and drew comparisons between their own countries and Poland.

It seems that the practices and philosophies of pregnancy, birth and raising children were very different. Some women felt privileged to be cared for by Polish care providers, and have help from their Polish family whom they considered very open-minded and easy-going, as opposed to their own families. Others didn’t felt that the comparison between their countries and Poland was so favourable for the latter. Of course, this mostly depended on the country of origin- if a woman came from a country with less favourable conditions, she’d feel grateful to be in Poland.

But I didn’t feel the book was judgmental, leaving telling the stories to the moms. The author only interrupted to ask more questions. In the last chapter, she told her own story of giving birth in New Zealand.

I was excited to read about all the tradition and customs connected to raising children from the different cultures presented in the book (among others: Japan, India, Armenia, the Philippines, Lithuania, China, and some others). Some of them sounded weird to me (like the Armenian custom of putting a knife under the baby’s pillow), others seemed similar to what I knew or even seemed like a good idea.

Both the poem and the book ended with a common statement. It doesn’t matter what language the mom uses to wish her child a good night. The ways a mom shows her love for her child differ, and so do the ways to ensure that the child has a happy life. Mothers all around the world love their children.

There are thousands of ways to say: “I love you” to your child, and you can do it in a thousand languages, in thousands of places all around the world. Just one love, so many ways to express it! 

What are the customs and traditions from your country concerning pregnancy, birth and raising children? If you're an expat, what are the traditions from your new home country that you find weird or how do they compare to your own country?
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Wednesday, 9 January 2013

The greatest gift


I’ve read the post on Spanglish Baby where one mother has made it her New Year’s resolution to learn German, one of her husband’s languages. It reminded me of something that has happened within our family.

For a while, on some days, my husband would come home late. Sometimes it would be Mondays, or Wednesdays or Thursdays. I fed the children, got them to bed, and spent the rest of my evening staring at my computer screen in total exhaustion, or just lying on the couch, doing nothing. And then, around 11pm, my husband would come home.

Now, I didn’t complain that I just spend a whole day with the children and felt utterly exhausted. I didn’t complain that he came home so late that we didn’t even eat dinner together. I didn’t complain because my husband was in The Hague, learning Polish.

When he told me, he wanted to learn Polish, I was surprised. After all, I spoke perfect German and felt proud that my husband never had to learn Polish. But he wanted to, and I was happy to help.

I found a Polish teacher, and in short time, we decided on duration (8 classes per 2 hours), cost and material. Then, the classes started, and I was amazed. While my husband understood some of the basic things I said to our children, he quickly caught up on the more complicated stuff.

In many aspects, Polish is different from all the languages my husband speaks (German, English and French). But, his knowledge of other language is definitely a benefit since I could draw comparisons wherever I saw them. He only took 8 lessons, but the experience has been invaluable.

First, I loved doing homework together. We all cuddled on the couch, and my husband would work on his assignments, ask questions, and tell me what he has learned. There were funny moments when Klara would provide him with the correct answer, or even correct him.

Even though his classes are over, my husband still asks me whether he understood something correctly. He wants to translate sentences into Polish, he asks me how to say something in Polish. He shows a lot of interest and commitment.

Finally, his decision to learn Polish has had a huge effect on the children. Klara prefers to speak German, and claims that she doesn’t speak any Polish (even though she says that in perfect Polish), and my husband is her favourite parent. When she hears him asking questions about Polish, she may think that it is somehow a cool language because her beloved dad is learning it. He encourages her to speak Polish with me, and explains why it is important. He helps her to differentiate between the many languages that we speak.

I couldn’t have been happier and prouder of my husband. Learning a new language took a great deal of commitment, motivation and time- and he already works long hours on top of that. I can’t be thankful enough for what he did. With just one decision, he learned a new language, made Polish look way cooler in our childrens’ eyes, and made my work of raising multilingual children much easier. Thank you.

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Monday, 7 January 2013

And I can sparkle!

Lynn of Nomad Mom Diary is so going to kill me for what I did this weekend. Or maybe she won’t if I tell you to go to her blog, read it and then, after you had recovered from laughing follow it on Twitter or like it on Facebook. Preferably both. Or if I tell you that I didn’t do what I did in public.

So what did I do? I celebrated the approaching 30 week of my pregnancy by… putting on my wedding dress. Does it make sense to you? Most of the brides don’t fit into their wedding dresses after they had children. My wedding dress only fits around 30 weeks of pregnancy. That’s how far along I was with Klara when I got married.

Now, many women say that pregnancy has been the best time of their lives. That they felt special and beautiful while pregnant. When other women complain about their pregnancies, they are told to suck it up because they’re growing a baby and isn’t that beautiful. Me? I am grateful that the pregnancy is going so well. Baby Y is growing and seems to be healthy. Overall this pregnancy has been pretty kind to me so far. But there are moments when I am too tired to think, too tired to act, too tired to do anything. When I am sleep deprived which is killing me. When I am naturally clumsy and my big belly doesn’t help with my balance. When I get reflux so bad that I can’t even think about food.

And it’s going to be a lot worse. My already huge belly will become even bigger. These kicks will soon start hitting some organ or another, and it will be painful. I may get sciatic pain again, and that hurts. A lot. I will become clumsier, more tired, more sleep deprived. If I happen to go overdue with this pregnancy (and I pray I won’t), I will hate every minute of the wait, big and clumsy and in pain.

You think I am overreacting? I assure you that I am not, because for many women this is how pregnancy looks like. For some, it is even so much worse than this. I am lucky in this regard. But it is not easy. Now I’ve always been a jeans-and-t-shirt kind of person. I love comfy clothes. I don’t wear high heels (unless I am getting married), I hardly ever wear skirts or dresses. No make-up, ever.

But, this one time, I wanted to put on my beautiful simple wedding dress. I wanted to feel its smooth silky texture against my skin. I wanted to put on the veil and my white high heel shoes. I didn't put on make-up (I don’t even have any at home), and I didn't put on any additional jewellery, but still, I wanted to sparkle and I wanted to glow.

I hope to remember that glow when my pregnancy will get harder. Here are some pictures. Maybe they’re nothing special, but they helped.    
This is from my actual wedding day, in 2009. I was 30 weeks pregnant with Klara.
Celebrating being 30 weeks pregnant with Julia, 2011.
Almost 30 weeks pregnant with Baby Y.


Not sure whether I really sparkled, but I know that my children sparkled the most of all. 
Julia, demonstrating her new-found standing skills.
Klara, playing around with mama's veil.

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Friday, 4 January 2013

What would you do? What would you say?


I have already mentioned that Polish people- and their language do not enjoy a high status in the Netherlands (or elsewhere, for that matter). And while it is often based on misunderstandings and unfair stereotypes,  I think that sometimes we are to blame as well.

When we were flying back from Warsaw, I could overhear a discussion between two Polish people, a man and a woman. Not that I actually wanted to overhear this discussion, but they didn’t use their inside voices and I could hear every word.

They discussed technology and life in the Netherlands, but at some point they started to talk about Germans, and this is where the alarm in my head went off. Polish people don’t like Germans and that feeling is pretty much mutual, even though the relationships between these two countries are definitely improving.

Still, said couple in the airplane were talking about Germans, and how they differ from Poles, and not in a good way. The woman shortly mentioned the former Eastern Germany, and that the people from there are more like Polish people (a good thing in their opinion). The man answered: “Never say that! The only thing they have in common with us is the communist past, but other than that we are totally different”. It’s like he felt offended by Germans having something in common with him.

The woman then said that whenever she hears “these Hitler voices”- and that is a direct quote- she cringes. Again, a little explanation is needed, I think. You would hear from many Poles that German sounds hard and it is a good language for issuing commands. Whenever somebody speaks German, Poles automatically think of Hitler (who by the way was Austrian so his accent was totally different!). 

And to me, German doesn't sound hard at all, and in fact it may even sound softer than Polish with its rolled “R” and all these “sh”-sounds. Also, in Germany, regional differences in accents are huge, so the impression you may get of the language may depend on where your speaker comes from. And to me, German is the language of affection, the language my children hear from their father, the language I am also very proud of speaking.

But that woman wasn’t interested in knowing all that. She just wanted to convey her hate of Germans. When a German asks her for direction, she sends him elsewhere, and not because she doesn’t know the way. She does in on purpose.

I translated this discussion for my husband to understand. I then went on to ask him what I should do. He answered that he doesn't want me to do anything. I was surprised at first, as these people clearly offended his country and language. But maybe he was right. First, he didn’t want me to get all worked up or to have an argument with them. And then, they practically offended themselves.

So instead, I didn't say anything, but it stayed in my head, and now I wanted to describe this situation in a blog post, for the whole Internet world to see. Let’s make these words speak for themselves.

But did you have a similar experience? Did you say anything? Please share- I am very interested in ways to deal with situations like that and then I would write a post about it!
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Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Cultural Appreciation- Striving for balance


This is my first Blog Carnival, and this month it is kindly hosted by Melissa of Vibrant Wanderings. The topic is cultural appreciation. I am always thinking of ways of making my children understand other cultures, and I am very happy to have the chance to cover this topic here! Here are my thoughts.

So much has been said about the importance of learning about new cultures for children. Their parents are advised to explore the customs of the country they’re living in, and to speak the language as well in order to feel more at home.

For us, with three cultures and three languages to maintain, this goal is not that easy to achieve. Our focus is on keeping our own languages alive. Raising multilingual children is hard work and requires a great deal of commitment from the parents. I only speak Polish with my children, my husband only speaks German. The children go to a Dutch daycare where they learn Dutch. Our fear is that Dutch, as the majority language, will dominate and we see it as our job to maintain our own languages. We want to keep as much balance between the languages and cultures as possible.

However, appreciation of different cultures and customs is important to our family- also because we think that if the children learn to accept other cultures, they will accept ours as well. And as much as we want the children to be rooted in our cultures, we also want them to feel at ease in an intercultural environment. So, how do we teach them appreciation for cultures outside of our family?

First of all, as expat parents we have many friends from different cultural backgrounds. Some of them have children who are also multilingual, and we can always explain that they speak different languages or come from different countries. The great thing about this approach is that Klara and Julia may think that if their friends can speak many languages, so can they- that way, multilingualism seems like such a cool thing rather than something to be ashamed of. We also talk about the fact that while we have chosen certain languages to use with the children, we can also communicate with people from other cultural backgrounds, which gives us many benefits.

Then, we can use all opportunities we get to teach our children about the world. We travel a lot, both to see family and for vacation. This means that we can use travel magazines in airplanes to show the children where the different countries are, or we can present and explain the different customs and traditions from the country we’re going to.

At home, I try to cook dishes from different cultures. One of my goals is to keep food interesting, and to introduce a variety of tastes, smells and preparations techniques. Another thing is that I want my children to explore the different cultures through cooking. Maybe their favourite dish turns out to be Chinese or Indian or French, thus motivating them to learn where this great food comes from?

Even though I sometimes struggle to keep all these languages and cultures in balance, we want our children to feel at home wherever life will take them. And I think that learning to appreciate other cultures is a big step in this direction. And even though we focus on our own languages and cultures, there are always ways to incorporate appreciation of other cultures into our daily lives. Luckily, practically every moment can be used to achieve this goal.
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