This month on Everyday Expats we’re talking about Traditions, Rituals and Celebrations. Over our many years living overseas we’ve found great comfort, community and a sense of home through the traditions, rituals and celebrations we’ve made a part of our life around the world. I love it that our friends around in all corners of the globe get a glimpse into our favorite moments and habits and that we have the gift of learning about and sharing in their’s as well.
That’s why in this month’s interview, I am so honored and excited to sit down with Stacy Perry. Stacy is a mom to three kids, wife of an American diplomat and teacher. Stacy’s commitment to traditions, rituals and celebrations is one of the (many) things I admire about her the most. Even when the goin’ gets tough – she exudes a spirit of celebration. Her family is blessed to have her wisdom about why this commitment is so important for expats (and honestly, for everyone). And you, my friends, are so lucky to get to hear her talk about that all right here!
Read Stacy’s responses to my Everyday Expats Questionnaire below and watch her Everyday Expats interview for our conversation along with her top 3 reminders for how to bring traditions, rituals and celebrations into your expat life.
Everyday Expats Questionnaire
Tell us a bit about yourself? Where did you grow up? Where have you lived? What currently occupies your time, mind and heart?
I grew up on the shore in New Jersey, moved to South Carolina for college (Go Tigers!). I met my husband there and decided to stay and start our family. Beautiful Charleston, SC is our heart home. We have been posted in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic and Krakow, Poland. My husband is currently serving an unaccompanied assignment and I’m in the US with our three kids.
I am a teacher who is currently taking a “sabbatical” in the corporate world. So, I guess I’m a bit backwards compared to other expat spouses as I find that my career as a teacher has been better served me when we’re outside of the US. I adore international teaching and will get back to my craft once we’re back out as a family.
When do you first remember realizing that you’d live an international life?
Well, I realized on the plane on the way to Santo Domingo that it was really, actually happening – before then I actually didn’t give it much thought.
My father passed away suddenly – at least what felt like suddenly – from cancer at the age of 62. One of the last conversations I had with him was sitting on the side of his hospital bed waiting for transport to bring him home on hospice. He said (in the most quintessential salty old Irish guy way):
“Listen, don’t sit around feeling bad about this. You have three kids at home who don’t need a mother who’s going to be sitting around crying and feeling bad for herself. I’ve lived a great life. Would I have liked to have visited the Grand Canyon? Sure, but things didn’t go my way, and that’s ok. I’ve lived a full life.”
My dad lived in Las Vegas. He never went to the Grand Canyon. I remember coming home and sitting at the fire pit late one night retelling that story to my husband. It just resonated with the both of us; we wanted to show our kids the world. We wanted to make meaningful memories together as a family while we still could. I also remember him calling me from work the following day to tell me about the Foreign Service…how he could take this test, and only 2% of the people who sign up actually make it, but if he did…we could take the kids to see the world. That conversation was about 4 months before “flag day” where we found out we were headed for Santo Domingo. Then, the next thing I knew, I was on a plane.
What is your absolute favorite part of living a globally mobile life?
Change. I crave it when we’ve been in one place for longer than a couple of years. I love the idea of having a fresh start, the adventure of learning the “lay of the land” and meeting new people. A very close second to my absolute favorite part are all of the people I have collected from all over the world. It is an absolute gift to meet so many different people. They have been my favorite souvenirs from everywhere we’ve been.
What’s your least favorite part?
“So, here you are too foreign for home; too foreign for here. Never enough for both.”
The feeling of never quite fitting in; it’s hard as an adult, but it’s excruciating to watch your kids go through it. We’ve come to expect it when we’re living overseas, but we didn’t quite expect the intensity of these feelings coming “home” back to the states. Repatriating has been the hardest for the kids. They are all in the tween-teen years – the years that everyone just wants to blend in as much as possible – the years where different is sniffed out immediately. All in all, my kids are rockstars when it comes to acclimating, but repatriating and fitting in to a small-ish community where everyone has been in school together since kindergarten is still a work in progress.
What have you most learned about yourself because of this lifestyle?
I have had so many things come together for me during our time in this lifestyle so it’s hard to say that it’s because of the life we’ve chosen to live or because I’m settling into my 40s, or it’s because death affected us so deeply, but during this time in my life I have done the most growing as a person. I have learned I am enough; I have learned to trust myself; my abilities and my gut. Our experience is so unique in this lifestyle that I’ve learned to stop asking for advice – to force myself to stare down some hard choices and to figure it out on my own. I have learned that my intuition is always spot on and I should trust the whispers from the universe; to recognize opportunities when they are presented and to come from a place of yes. I have learned that I need connection in my life. Learning where to find or how to ask for deli meat in any particular language is not as important as making connections to the people around me.
What do you consider to be your “everyday expat” super powers?
This question has been so hard for me. I have been struggling with what’s so super about me – this question inspired some really amazing answers from my family when I told them I was stumped. My husband said “well that’s exactly it…you have this amazing ability to make the ordinary extraordinary. You have constantly created this bubble of normal, constant normal for us wherever we are. Once we close those doors all of us know that inside of our home everything stays the same. The address changes, but our home does not. Our routines change a bit, but our traditions stay; we eat an early Sunday supper every week, we have movie night or game night every week, we have family dinner every night, the kids look forward to taking turns in the kitchen with you. Christmas looks exactly the same every year – we all know you’re setting us up with matching pjs – every year. We can wake up anywhere in the world and our normal life remains normal because you work hard to make sure that it does.”
I like to think about how the seemingly “everyday” choices we make in our expat lives are actually huge boosts for our mental health, physical wellbeing, ability to connect with others and sense of self in the world. The goal of this series is to bring these reminders to life. For this month’s theme, what 3 tips, suggestions or insights would you like to offer the World Tree Coaching community?
Seek connection. It’s immeasurably hard to make relationships that you know have an “expiration date,” but do it, and do it as soon as possible. Once you have your first “You too?! I thought I was the only one” moment, HOME starts to build up around you. What’s nice about having traditions you really love is that you can use those to connect with and build your community. Those traditions are a piece of who you are that you share with others.
Stay connected to your tribe. For me, I’ve found that “temperature” taking of my kids involves activity together more than a firing squad of questions every night, so I make a point of scheduling some sort of one-on-one time with each child as much as possible. This ranges from going grocery shopping together to our to eat together – but it’s the time where I’m 100% focused on what they’re saying. These rituals – even the simplest thing like a dinner out – show my family members that some things never change and that’s really important to helping our family stay strong when we move from place to place.
Let the little stuff go. This lifestyle is HARD, but life is also very short. Let the little (and sometimes medium sized things) GO. Once I learned to accept that I cannot control the world, I can only control how I react to it; I became instantly “boosted!” This means you might have some things you really love or always do or “have to do,” but it’s also important to note when certain rituals or traditions need to change. It’s hard to keep everything, so it’s important to focus on the ones that most matter.