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Friday, 27 September 2013

A Very Special Friday with Farrah of The Three Under

I found Farrah's blog through a blogging competition and it is funny and entertaining. Farrah is a fellow expat in the Netherlands and also a mom of three children. In this wonderful post, she basically does me a great favour and writes about a topic that is dear to all parents, and especially to expat parents- choosing the right school for your child. In Farrah's case, she chose a traditional Dutch school even though she never would have considered that option. Enjoy! 

Choosing A School When You're an Expat

When you're getting ready to move abroad there are so many factors to consider. I realized this while my husband and I were planning our 'jump' over the pond over a year ago- and decided that if we focused on one aspect we might not become overwhelmed. Since life centers around our boys (twins almost 3 and oldest 4) it wasn't too difficult to turn that focus onto their school and road of education.

We learned that there's such a thing as an 'international school' as well as a traditional school and several other types in between. Initially, I was firm in my belief system- an international school must be the way that we should go. We didn't want to rock the boat too much for our boys with this move, so putting them in an English-speaking school was the very least we could do. It was safe.

We had appointments with international schools and a few traditional schools thrown in for good measure. I assured out relocation agent that I wasn't open towards a traditional Dutch school (the very idea!) because it would have been too foreign. I just wanted to keep things as normal as possible for them. My own guilt poked through at tearing them from the only home they had ever known, so I had to do whatever I could to make it easier for them.

Then it dawned on me- easier for whom? Them? Or me?

After visiting a few international schools I realized, technically they were all the same. English-speaking, children from diverse parts of the world, and children were not necessarily from the school's neighborhood. Chances were: my children would be limited to these students as their friends. I wasn't going to have any real involvement in my community and we most certainly weren't going to get any kind of authentic Dutch experience. There wasn't a thing wrong with the international schools- but my gut kept telling me that this wasn't the right choice. This was sort of taking the safe way out and not letting the guys see what their real potential could be.

The idea of a traditional Dutch school started to grow on me. I liked their sizes and their neighborhood familiarity. Basically, where we chose a home was going to be based on the school since we wanted to be close enough to walk or bike. Our lives were going to center around it- so this was not something to take lightly, and we didn't.

Eventually we narrowed it down to three. One international school, one traditional Dutch school, and another traditional Dutch Catholic school. Seems pretty easy to eliminate the religion based school since we really aren't a religious family (nor Catholic), right? Not so. The neighborhood around the Catholic school was fantastic. The 'grade' school that my oldest would attend was connected to a Peuterspeelzaal (play group/school) for the twins. As far as I could see- there was NO emphasis put on religion in the structure of the school itself, nor the curriculum.

We ended up choosing the traditional Dutch Catholic school if you can believe it. Of all things we chose not only a Catholic school- but one that is strictly Dutch speaking at that. A far cry from keeping everything as 'the same' as possible!

This has been one of the best decisions we have ever made- and one that I am most proud of. We took a chance that our kids would benefit from being immersed in a culture that we knew nothing about and they're flourishing. My oldest is now speaking about 70% He translates for me. He has friends and playdates with neighbors and classmates. He tells me stories about his classroom and is excited on the mornings when I tell him 'Today is a long day!' (meaning two days a week he has half days). Every parent wants their child to be excited about their school.

But you know what? It's all fine. In fact it's better than fine because he loves his school and so do his brothers. We took a leap into going with something we originally thought would never work, was never an option- and here it was the best choice overall. The right choice. I hope if you're someone who is considering a move abroad- you give the other options a chance when it comes to the school for your child. What you might immediately think of an obvious answer might not be so right after all.

Farrah is a US expat living in the Netherlands with her husband, three year old twins and their four year old brother. They just spent their first year adapting to the Dutch culture and loving it! She blogs at The Three Under but you can find her most often on Twitter and Instagram @Momofthreeunder. 

And please vote for me in the Circle of Moms competition! Thank you!

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Wednesday, 25 September 2013

7 hot drinks that will help you beat the cold

Autumn has not even properly started, and already we're coughing and sneezing and have runny noses. My husband even took some days off work because he was coughing so much.

Now I am a firm believer in modern medicine. But with a stupid virus infection like that, nothing will work. However, you can make some delicious warm drinks that could help you feel better, will keep you hydrated- and are delicious, too!

1) Ginger tea
Take ginger (maybe thumb-size), peel and cut into little cubes. Add honey, add hot water. Let it steep for a while and drink.

2) Chai tea
I haven't tried making real chai yet, but I sometimes use a packet of chai tea, add water and then some milk and sugar or honey. Will have to try making real chai soon! And besides, there is nothing better than chai tea on a rainy day!

3) Olga's tea: 
Make a cup of good quality black tea. Add raspberry syrup, cloves, and maybe some  honey- I know it will be super sweet, but it really helps! I also add dried raspberries to my tea!

4)  This creamy turmeric tea
I haven't expected anything from this tea, but it is indeed: "creamy Mug of Warming Deliciousness", as the author puts it. And it clears the throat in no time!

5) Hot chocolate
I know that eating sweets is not a good thing when you're sick, but hear me out. First, you need to make the hot chocolate. You can of course use powder, but I would encourage you to use chocolate chips- add milk and wait until melted. Add cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and a pinch of chili. Oh yes!

6) Lemon tea- the Gemans call this "Heisse Zitrone", hot lemon. Take hot water, juice of half a lemon (or more if you like), add honey or sugar. Drink.

6) Herbal teas
Camomille, lemon balm, mint, thyme or linden blossoms. Especially the latter is great if you have a cold- combine these with honey, raspberry syrup, sugar, or anything you like!

7)  Fruit teas
Raspberry, rosebuds, or hibiscus are commonly used to make delicious teas- again, feel free to add honey, or just drink it plain.

If you're healthy, I sincerely hope you'll stay that way, you can still enjoy these teas. If you're sick, I hope you'll get better real soon- and maybe these teas will help. 

What do you do to beat a cold?

And again, don't forget to vote for me in the Circle of Moms competition! 

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Monday, 23 September 2013

Being a Third Culture Kid’s Kid

There is so much information about TCKs right now. There are blogs, books, and books devoted to what TCKs are, how they feel, how they feel at home everywhere and nowhere at the same time. But have you ever wondered what happens when a TCK meets another TCK, and they fall in love and get married and have children? Have you ever wondered what the children will be like? If so, I can answer this question. I know. I know because I am a Third Culture Kids’ Kid, born in Poland to two TCKs.

My father grew up in France, and then he moved back to Poland where he went to school. His parents, however, stayed in France. My mother had lived in the Netherlands, the very country I am living in right now, and has also moved back to Poland with her family. Their experiences of living in another country were one of the things that brought my parents together.

But our TCK tradition doesn’t end there. My paternal grandmother was Ukrainian who had married a Polish man and lived with him in many countries, including Egypt, Venezuela, and France. My maternal grandfather was born in Lviv, which is now Ukraine, but used to be Poland, and to make matters even more complicated, was, at that time occupied by the Austria.

During the First World War, my grid-grandmother fled with my grandfather to Vienna. So, in a way, my grandfather was a TCK, too. So if all that counts, I am, the 4th generation of TCK’s. I like to joke that being an expat, or a TCK is family tradition for us.

I have always wondered why I never had problems with having multiple homes, friends from all over the world, or identity issues. The first time I actually had an identity crisis, it was when I had my first child, and wasn’t at all related to my being a TCK. First I thought that it was because I didn’t move so much like other TCK’s.

But I like to think that it is also because for me it is perfectly normal to live in another country. After all, we have a long-term tradition of being a TCK! I was actually shocked that other people lived in one place their whole lives. That they didn’t speak multiple languages, or ate only one type of food. To me, that was weird and boring.

Also, my parents never spoke about any cultural identity issues. While they are both perfectly bilingual, they do sometimes have preferences for the other languages or culture. My father loves everything French, from language to wine. My mother prefers to translate into English, not Polish. But they also love living in Warsaw and living in Poland.

Now, I have children myself. And, true to my family’s tradition, they are also TCKs. They speak multiple languages. They eat many different types of food. They travel a lot. My big girl once said that she has many homes in many countries, and one of them is a hotel. This is very normal to them.

I hope you will find my story encouraging. Maybe you will struggle with identity issues, but your child doesn’t have to. And, rest assured that it is absolutely possible to have a tradition of being a TCK.

Are there other children of TCKs out there? Is there a name for us? TCKK (Third Culture Kids’ Kids)? ATCKK (Adult Third Culture Kid’s Kid?) What do you think?

And don't forget to vote for me in the Circle of Moms competition-just click on this button, and then "vote!"
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Friday, 20 September 2013

A Very Special Friday with Helene of Won't Draw You a Sheep

I met Helene through another Facebook group and I loved her drawing. A person who usually works with words, I am always impressed by people who can express their thoughts and ideas through drawings. Helene is also an expat, a French woman living in Cyprus with her Cypriot husband. Helene draws pictures about her expat life there but also makes posters and illustrations. When I saw her great works, I asked her to draw something for me- and she did! This is a great, funny example of her work. Here she talks about the nostalgia French people feel for their food- and I think many of us can relate to this!

Expat life: The French in Cyprus

The French community in Cyprus does have the inquisitiveness to visit the whole island, understand more about the culture, customs, etc. and, true too, french people here globally eat a lot the (delicious and plain, made with fresh products grown here usually) local food. 

Globally I would say that here in Cyprus, most of the French people I know show a lot of respect to the local community. Some though always misbehave, have disdain for everything about Cyprus, complain all the time about the country, the food....but those people are not to hang around with because their level of negativity is awful and somehow to me, very disrespectful.

But even the most positive and respectful French people also remain obsessed with their own food that they miss so much. It is like a national obsession LOL!

So the French try to: 
- identify all the shops in town selling French food, in particular bread, cheese, wine...(drawing 1)
- to convince the local butchers they have no idea on how to cut the meat : and this sometimes leads to hilarious fights in the supermarkets. The butchers see us come from far away and fear us!!! 

So, this is I think a very strong French feature about expat life. The nostalgia the french have for their food and the need they have to find it and cook it.
Helene is French, but grew up abroad (in Africa) which she thinks was very helpful to make her see things from "the other point of view". 
Helene is French and grew up in Africa. She was used from young age to blend into a very different culture and hopefully she never lost it. 
Helene then lived (studied and worked) 12 years in Geneva Switzerland, where she has kept most of her (amazing and wonderful) friends. 

Then she moved very fast to the lovely island of Cyprus (searching for her Greek roots) and needing a big change of life. This where she has been living for 7 years and where she got married, to a Greek Cypriot American wonderful man, who himself is a mix of culture/education/vision of the world, between East and West. So our kid will be the same: a mix! :-)

From working in the private sector in Geneva and a couple of years in the UN, Helene started teaching French, working at a radio station and as a translator in Cyprus, before the crisis hit us hard and it all fell flat.

Nicolas was born in October 2012. Helene says she is lucky enough to have time at home to raise him and also to illustrate and write. She draws her expat life on  her blog- once in French, and once in English

Don't forget to vote for my in this Circle of Moms competition: just click on this button:
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Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Rye Sourdough Bread Recipe

So I mentioned in one of my previous posts that I make my own bread. Somebody mentioned that they'll be interested in knowing what kind of bread I like. So, in Germany, I go for the heavy dark bread packed with grains and nuts. In Poland, we eat what bread my parents have. In the Netherlands, it's the bread I make myself.

I am sitting here, eating a sandwich made with homemade sourdough bread and it's delicious. I think it is my very favourite. It is relatively easy to make, but does take some time. Like, around a week- but you don't have to do much. And the only ingredients? Rye flour (but you can mix it with wheat), water, salt.. do you see there is no yeast in this recipe?

First, you need to make the sourdough. You need:

500g rye flour
500ml water

Take 100g flour and 100ml water and mix it in a big jar- it should have a closing lid. Put it into a warm spot. The mixture will be rather dull looking and grey, but please give it a chance.

The next day, add 100g flour and 100ml water. Repeat this for 3 more days. This is what I call "feeding" the sourdough.

Around day two, a miracle should happen: bubbles will appear. This means that your sourdough is working! Now I said there is no yeast in this recipe. This is not entirely true. There is no baker's yeast, no instant yeast, but also no fresh yeast that you can buy in the shops. However, the yeast you need is in the air. I think this picture shows my sourdough around day 3. 

Don't be affraid of the sourdough. It may look uninteresting...

For me, yeast is something magical: you add it to dough and the dough gets bigger! Sourdough is even more awesome, especially with children- instead of buying the magical mixture, you can make it yourself! I often joke that sourdough is like a home pet, you need to feed it.

Once you have the 5-day old sourdough, you're ready to make your first bread. You will need:

500g sourdough (but remember to put 2-3 spoonfulls aside for the next bread!)
500g rye flour (you can also use 250g wheat and 250g rye flour)
200-250ml warm water
1 tablespoon salt
Some carraway seeds (optional, not everybody likes them but I think they go perfectly with rye bread)

First, measure out the sourdough. Add flour (or flours), then the water, and the salt. Mix. Kneading will be difficult since the dough is rather sticky, but just do your best. Allow dough to rest. I then put it into a form and let it rise. 

Sourdough needs more time to rise than bread made with yeast. What I do is I make the dough in the morning, then let it rise during the day, and if that isn't enough, I put it in the fridge and bake the bread the next morning. The dough should grow twice the size.

When the dough has risen enough, put it into a pre-heated oven, 230 centigrees. After 15 minutes, change the temperature to 200 centigrees and bake for another 30 minutes. 

My bread wasn't perfect. It was a little too chewy, a little too humid. But the taste was perfect. This recipe may look complicated, but it is easier than you think!

...but will help make this!

And can I please have your votes in this Circle of Moms competition? Just click on this button! Thank you! 

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Monday, 16 September 2013

A poem about a Locomotive and Circle of Moms Competition

In her latest post for the Multicultural Kids Blog, Varya talks about translating children's rhymes and poems into other languages. I do it sometimes. Varya's post has inspired me to write my post- and it is extremely timely, too!

Julian Tuwim is one of the most famous Polish author of children's poems. I mention him for several reasons. One is because he was Jewish in a rather antisemitic Polish society. Like many expats and TCK's, he was ostracized by Polish (for being too Jewish) and by Jews (for being too Polish). 

Nowadays, he became one of the most influential poets, writing poems for both adulst and children. On Friday 13th this year, he would have been 119 years old, and this occasion was celebrated greatly in Poland. His sister Irena was a translator, and is responsible for rendering "Winnie the Pooh" into Polish.
You can read about Julian Tuwim here.

The second reason is that the poem I have in mind for you is just brilliant- not only because of its rhythm, but the translation is a masterwork. It really is.

"The Locomotive", or as it is known in Polish: "Lokomotywa", was written in 1938 but parents still read it to their children. I know it by heart and say it whenever we take the train to go somewhere. Little children will surely enjoy the rhythm. For older children, it si a great explanation of how a locomotive actually works (although modern trains are quite different).

The great thing is that "Lokomotywa" has been translated into multiple languages: English, German, French, Russian, Italian, Dutch and even Yiddish!

I found a great translation into English- please take a moment to read it here! I even wanted to paste the whole translation here, but I'd rather not for fear of copy right infridgement.

And here it is in English- it's not perfect, but I hope you'll get the idea of how the poem works.

And, here's Portuguese!

And finally, I have a request! I am participating in this Circle of Moms contest: 25 Top European Blogs! You can vote once a day till October 4th- I would appreciate your votes! It is very simple, just click on this button and click vote! Thank you so much!

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Friday, 13 September 2013

A Very Special Friday with Doula Sophie

I am very excited to share this great post by my wonderful doula. We met when I was preparing for my son's birth and Sophie made all the difference in the world during the birth and before. And while I wrote about this topic many times before, it is great to have a guest psot from somebody who actually works with pregnant women. And since doulas are not very well known everywhere, I wanted to share how important they can be- especially for expat women. 

Cross Cultural Birth

Having a baby in a country and culture other than your own, has its own set of challenges. When I got pregnant with my first son, 20 years ago, I had been living in The Netherlands for 3 years. I barely spoke the language and the internet was not yet a part of every day life. There was no Google to educate myself on birth related subjects of choice and no Amazon to browse through for interesting ‘English’ books to order and phone calls to my Mum in the UK for advice were outrageously expensive, no free facetime or skype!! My resources where quite limited.

Now we have information at our finger tips about any subject we could possibly think of and that goes for birth too. If a procedure or test is mentioned we just google it and find pages of information and images on it. Technology has changed the way we do life and the way we gather information and prepare for birth.

Fortunately this means  that women having babies now can educate themselves about birth if they wish and go into labour more empowered because they have knowledge and are informed about birth. BUT it can also influence women negatively as the internet is also full of negative birth stories from women who have had traumatic birthing experiences and graphic details about any medical procedures, illness and possible complications are easily accessable. This cultivates anxiety and fear about pregnancy and giving birth, (not to mention the fact that much information on the Internet is unreliable-Olga)

Helping women have a positive and memorable birthing experience
is what drives me as a doula. I walk alongside a couple as they prepare in the time leading up to the birth of their baby and continue supporting them throughout the birth until the baby is born, both at home or/and in the hospital.

Supporting expats and international families is extra rewarding for me because I understand the emotional complexities of becoming a parent in a country other than your own and what it means to become a cross cultural family. Some of the questions these couples face are: which languages are we going to speak in our family? How often are we going to go “back home?” How long are the in-laws going to stay after the birth? How am I going to cope without family around? These are very real worries and can consume, especially the woman, during pregnancy.

One of the first things that hits you when becoming pregnant in another country is how different the norm can be than what you are used to. Perspectives on pain relief and testing, midwives and gynacologists, home birth and hospital birth, vary, depending on what country you are in. It can really shake you to the core to find out that the way you always thought you would give birth is not an option purely because you live in another country. Understanding why the norms are so different and knowing what to expect can make a huge difference to your birthing experience abroad. I enjoy seeing couples become more confident about giving birth the more they understand about what they can expect and what their choices are. 

Not being able to speak the language and facing care providers who stubbornly feel you should, can really affect your feeling of safety in the medical system. It does not build confidence in your care provider if you have the feeling you are missing important pieces of information because of a language barrier. It is important to feel safe and understand what is going on. English only is totally fitting in the labour and delivery room, often that is not your mother tongue anyway!!

I love to support couples through the process of finding out what is best for them. What is the physiological process of birth? What are the differences in this culture? Home or hospital? What can you expect? How do you normally deal with pain? What are the pain relief options? These are just some of the topics we cover when we meet in preparation for the birth. I am not there to push a natural birth agenda but rather to provide as much information as possible so the couple can make informed decisions regarding the birth of their baby.

The role of the Doula is never to take the place of the husband or partner in labour but to compliment and enhance their experience. Not all men love the birthing process, it is usually an intense and overwhelming experience for him too. With a Doula as part of the birth team, a father can do whatever he feels comfortable with at each moment. I love watching the partner relax into the experience at his own pace because he doesn’t feel the total responsibility for his wife’s experience resting on his shoulders.

My passion is in supporting families during pregnancy and birth and for the first few weeks after the birth. If this amazing life experience of giving birth is a positive one, then it has a positive influence over how a woman feels about being a mother. The first weeks are emotionally so much easier if you are not occupied processing a traumatic experience.

Being a Brit married to a Dutchman, having lived longer out of my country than in it, and having given birth both in The Netherlands and America, I consider myself an international doula in every sense of the word. I have a special place in my heart for cross cultural couples, third culture families and world citizens! I absolutely love working in a cross cultural context. 

There is a richness that comes with mixing cultures yet also a vulnerability in the figuring out what to hold on to and what to let go of. There is a beauty that emerges in making the best of both worlds and creating a new family culture as you start your own family. There is already a start made in that process when you get together with a partner from a different culture but it enters a deeper level with the birth of your first baby. I am honoured to journey with couples and families in this process and it continues to amaze me what a profound difference a positive birth experience can make to a woman, to a couple, whatever the culture.

summer vac, 2012Sophie is British but has lived in Holland for over 20 years.She is married to A Dutch man and together they have three boys.
They have lived all over the place, including 3 years in America, but for the last 8 years they have called Capelle aan den IJssel their home. Sophie's background is in hospitality and catering and enjoying being a Mum in a crazy home of wild and sporty boys! She trained and has been working as a doula now for 3 years supporting women before, during and after birth. You can find Sophie here. She is also a part of the Birth in Holland project, that combines all information available to expat women in the Netherlands. Sophie also provides childbirth classes and is a great birth photographer.
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Thursday, 12 September 2013

Multicultural Kids Carnival: Handwriting around the world

It is September's Multicultural Kids Blog Carnival and the topic is schools around the world. It is hosted by The Educator's Spin On It. Because I've been thinking about handwriting for a while, so I think this post would fit nicely, if it's not entirely on-topic. 

They say that handwriting is more personal than typing because every person writes in their own way. There are also apparently many advantages to teaching children handwriting- although I have my doubts on that. But have you noticed that as in every country handwriting is tought differently, handwriting can sometimes give away your culture? 

When I studied in Germany and showed somebody my notes, she said: "You have a typically Polish handwriting". I was surprised and the correlation between culture and handwriting has always been on my mind ever since.

So I reached out to my very favourite blogger group and asked them to send me pictures of books, their own handwriting for this post. And I received lots of great pictures to illustrate the differences. 

Of course, there are most visible when the alphabets are different. 

For example here you have Chinese handwriting and books.

Miss Panda Chinese kindly explained to me how this works: 

"The first one is a Chinese character practice sheet.  You can see 4 characters on top and below each character you see the stroke orders.  The bottom is the characters that my kids copy and practice.

The 2nd pic is a close-up shot for the characters and stroke orders.The third one is my handwriting in Chinese and in English.  The first line (read top down)on the right is the stroke by stroke easy to read style.  But you don't really see that a lot from adults.  The second line on the left is regular writing with the running style touch. Chinese characters have stroke orders which means that kids learn how to write one stroke at a time. The general rules are from top then down, from left to the right. Teachers are strict about the strokes. Children write a new character about 10 times as homework. So you would easily write 100 characters for 10 new characters that you have learned at school."

I especially love the handwritten characters, they seem so clean and organized- not like me at all!

Then, we have Arabic handwriting. To me, it is fascinating because it looks like a decoration, it's beautiful!  This one is courtesy of MarocMama

Amanda says: "My sons are learning to write Arabic. Here's a note from their lesson. This is on learning the letter b and different forms of it when a vowel follows."

Varya was kind enough to send me a sample of her handwriting in Russian and English. I've always felt a connection to other Slavic countries (myself being 1/4 Ukrainian), but the Cyrylic alphabet is especially appealing, because you can have similar languages (Polish and Russian are both Slavic languages and are relatively close to each other), written with different alphabets. To me, Russian is beautiful. I was named Olga after a heroine in a Russian opera! I wanted to learn it in school, but unfortunately the classes were cancelled. So, here's a bilingual English and Russian sample!

Notice how Varya's handwriting in Russian is more connected to each other while when she writes in English, the letter stand apart from each other. Varya says: "In Russia we first learn prints and along we trace various curves (I will look for our Azbuka book and try to take some pics for you) - to prepare for cursive. Then we learn cursive writings and I remember teachers being quite strict about it in school.

But even countries using the Latin alphabet vary when it comes to their approach to handwriting. French and Italian schools are among the ones that are very strict when it comes to what is considered good handwriting. 

Multilingual Mama send me pictures of books children use to learn to write.

Cordelia explains: "There will be one from a book which teaches movement and shapes in preparation for French script. Then there are a couple of pictures of story books that I lucked out in inheriting that was printed in French script. Finally I found a piece of old homework from when I was a kid."

Expatsincebirth also send me pictures of her Italian handwriting:

Ute mentions that she learned to write in German, Italian and French: "In my case it was so, as our French teacher insisted on the French handwriting, whilst our German teacher on the German and the Italian teacher on the Italian one. They were not too strict about it, but anyway, we used books written in cursive-handwriting and it was somehow natural to switch from one to the other. And I did mix them all up. So I write the Italian "r" and the german "r", depending if it's at the beginning or the centre of the word." She also says that she combines all the different styles into one that is very personal.

And, last, here are some pictures of mine. I used to have many children's books in German that would show German style handwriting, but right now I only have Polish ones- here there are. 

 The book you see hereis called "Elementarz"- a learning book, and is one that is easily recognizable by many Polish people. I think I used it to learn handwriting. The book is great because it introduces letter in a way that makes you learn them easily- for example, using just two, three letters, you can write simple words. Notice how different the capital "A" is- the book is from the 70ties, so I think children nowadays don't spell "A" that way anymore. The second picture shows both typed and handwritten characters while the third one shows the whole alphabet, both typed and written. Some letters are totally different, and of course there are the special Polish characters that don't exist in other languages.

And here's my own handwriting, in English and Polish. I had to re-write it several times and even now it's not perfect- can you read it?

Where did you learn handwriting? Did you like it? Were the teachers strict about handwriting? Do you still use it as an adult? Tell me in the comments!
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Monday, 9 September 2013

Do expats need special products and services?

I often buy my food at the Polish store close to my house. I have hired an English-speaking doula for my son’s birth. If I can’t buy something at my local Albert Heijn, I order it online. And I am no exception.

A lot of my expat friends (especially if they’re Italian or French) complain about the quality of food in the Netherlands. Even I, excited to try out new things, was very disappointed with the bread (yes, even the one considered "wholegrain") you can buy here and started making my own, or buying my bread at Polish or Turkish stores. 

But why can’t we just adapt? Why can’t we just be happy with the products we have in the Netherlands? I think there are many reasons for that and it’s not easy to explain. For example missing food is never about food. It is about homesickness, and missing something that you considered a given until you left. When you can’t find the product you were so used to, it can be quite frustrating.

Missing food is not always about quality or taste: I am sure Dutch expats (Dutch cuisine isn’t very special, although it does have some dishes that I learned to enjoy) miss their food even if they’re in a country with a very renowned cuisine, such as France or Italy.

Second, there are cultural differences in how and what we eat. We all have to eat, but for many cultures food is also a shared experience. In some countries it is important to prepare, cook and serve food in a certain way, and only use very special ingredients. In the Netherlands, much of the produce comes from greenhouses, causing concern about quality among expats, and causing them to go out of their way to buy food they consider good quality.

Then, there are special businesses and services targeted towards the expat community: real estate agents, lawyers, shops, doctors, translators, intercultural communication trainers, couches and much more. And oh yes, bloggers. Many expats themselves set up their businesses to help other expats. But do we really need these services?

Not knowing local customs and not speaking the language can put us in a very vulnerable position. This is why good quality services can be such a big help. However, we have to be careful because some companies can take advantage of this and overcharge.

While expats don’t need products from their country in order to survive, it’s not always about survival. It’s about quality of life. And if products and services tailored specifically towards expats improve that, why wouldn’t we use them? Why wouldn’t we wish for a little taste of home to give us comfort, or for some help to navigate a system we don’t know? I say: “go for it”.

Otherwise, try to get creative and see if you can make a new dish using local ingredients and a variation of your traditional recipes. I once made pierogi with ricotta cheese because I couldn’t buy Polish curd cheese!If there was a dish you used to eat in restaurants or buy ready-made, try making it from scratch! Or see if you can try out a new recipe from your new home country. Who knows, maybe you’ll find yourself a new favourite dish! If you’re feeling brave, do something the local way- you will also learn something new!

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Friday, 6 September 2013

A Very Special Friday with Elżbieta of Dwujęzyczność

I met Elżbieta through a Polish Facebook group on bilingualism. Besides, Elżbieta is the POlish version of Elisabeth, in case you're wondering. When I read all the books about how different cultures raise their children, I begun to wonder how Polish parents raise their children. I knew that I was being raised a little bit differently (I was allowed things my friends weren't and forbidden things my friends were allowed to do).

I also never raised my children in Poland- all three of them were born abroad. So, I turned that that Polish Facebook group and asked around. I would say that in Poland, the parents main concern is that the children are healthy (zdrowe) and well-behaved (grzeczne). But, as Elżbieta says, this is changing. Please read her post. It reads like a manifesto.

Raising Happy Children in Poland

It seems that in Poland, parenting methods are changing. But how do Polish parents really raise their children ?
I often see new thoughts and behaviours meant to break old structures. Young parents try hard to raise their children in happiness. But they're also fighting stereotypes of the older generation (grandparents, neighbours, strangers on the streets and in the park, "well-meaning people" in trams). 

The children listen.. .and they are confused. Something isn't right. Their parents say one thing, their grandparents something else. I think we are the generation that feels that a bond with their child means something else than scaring, bribing, embarrasing, comparing: "Eat! If you don't eat, you won't grow! Put ony your hat or you'll be sick! Wash your face or the worms will eat you! You don't want to hug me? You don't love me?If you're nice, we'll go eat some ice cream. You're such a sissy. Look, your sister ate everything and she will grow to be big and you will be small and weak and other children will make fun of you. Stop crying, you're a man! Don't talk too loud or else... You'll fall, slip, be run over by a car, you'll break your leg, you'll die! These are real things actually said to my son.

Polish children may be better behaved, have better grades in school, but are less creative, they are shy, embarassed, not very active. They care a lot about what other people think of them, and their self-esteem is not very high. Adults are the same.

But there is a problem. I think that our generation does not have positive examples of parenting without fear. We don't know how. We're still looking. We are learning. We are learning how to raise happy children, and not only children who are clean, well-behaved, quiet, and who follow orders.

We begin to understand that a happy, accomplished person can be a better part of society than somebody who is well-behaved, and follows orders-such people are good workers but are they good citizens?

We now begin to introduce an atmosphere of tolerance, love and admiration for our children.

Only now do we begin to understand that the emotions, needs, passions, feelings of the child are just as important as desired behaviour.

Only now do we begin to learn that we have to work on ourselves. We are learning that if a child shows undesirable behaviour, he is showing that something bad is going on- he is a mirror, a barometer, he has an emotional need, he is not "acting out". 

We are just now beginning to learn that as parents, we have the wisdom of acting through love, and not to be motivated by social stereotypes. We only now begin to learn that we can shape our characters and that of our children. That we can implement certain values and not just raise well-behaved children.

Only now, we, the next generation of parents, learn to love ourselves and our children. It is hard because we're missing positive examples. But we will make it because it is the most important thing in life.

Moje zdjęcieElżbieta is a Polish expat in Austria, a speech therapist, and has a PhD in linguistics. She is also the co-author of educational materials to help children learn. She is interested in bilingualism and creating meaningful conversations with children. She blogs at Dwujęzyczność (which means bilingualism in Polish).
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