Socially Distanced…Together

If you were curious, a virtual Families in Global Transition Conference is really no less exhausting than an in-person one!

I am worn out – in all the wonderful ways I always am after the FIGT Conference! I think being a board member likely made this weekend more intense. Regardless, I always leave feeling inspired, energized, a little overwhelmed and always so, so tired.

The day-after the Families in Global Transition Conference is traditionally the day that I take time to look back over my notes. I love this process of taking time to reflect on the experience. I’ve done it three times now. In 2015, 2018 and 2019. The FIGT Conference is one of my most favorite events of our global life. I love taking the time to let it all sink in.

The Highlights

It’s always so difficult to pick one reflection or one highlight. There are so many of these moments. I see them sprawl out in the notes, quickly scribbled in my journal, piling one on top of the other, spilling into the margins, up and down and around the pages.

This year, because of the global Covid-19 pandemic, I think we all needed the Families in Global Transition Conference more than ever before. I was frequently reminded during the conference how much I missed hugging people, maskless and with no concern for the distance between us.

And, I was also constantly reminded of how very, very close and connected I have become to everyone on the other side of the screen.

Yes, I wanted the perfection of seeing everyone in person, but wishing for something to be other than it is never turns out well. This weekend I allowed myself to sink deeply into the moments of connection that were happening online. I practiced feeling the emotions of that experience while giving the little longings for closer contact, travel and shared meals the space to pop up and float away.

That will definitely be a highlight – that I wanted to be close to people, couldn’t actually be near them, but found ways to make the physical distance between us matter less.

Take Aways from FIGT 2021

I didn’t quite take as many notes this year as I usually do. I imagine that is at least partially due to being pulled outside the experience of participant and into the experience of helping manage the conference. There is, however, always something. There is always a moment, or several, at an FIGT Conference where you pause and really let what’s being said sink in.

This year, I was thinking a lot about the choices we have as expats. Many of our presenters spoke about choices – the choice we have to understand others, the choice to make a difference in the world, the choice we have to connect, to cultivate empathy, to expand our understanding of what it means to be part of a community. The choice we have to open our community to others, to redefine what it means to be global, to expand our definitions to be more inclusive.

It’s interesting to think about the idea of choice within the context of our international lives. Many of us may feel we get lots of choice and then, sometimes, none at all.

This question of choice is one of the most common questions people ask about our Foreign Service life. Behind, “What’s your favorite place you’ve ever lived?” is “Do you get a say in where you go?”

I always find this difficult to answer. My response most likely ends up leaving people even more confused. It is often a mix of yesnot reallykind ofyesummm…no? To be honest, our lives are both completely different and not actually any different than those of people who don’t live between worlds.

Regardless, being globally mobile sets us up with a unique set of choices. Many of the presenters talked about that this year. Few people have the privilege to live between cultures, languages, nationalities and traditions. That is a gift. Like keynote speaker Ragil Ratnam said, “The idea of being an outsider as a negative thing is the view of insiders.”

The Choice of a Global Life

So, as is often the case, as I reflect on the Conference, where I land is back in the place I often land as I make my way back home from the Conference. How do we take this crazy life we’ve been given, and choose to make it count? How do we get better at leaving more goodness in our wake? What kind of choices do we make out of the opportunities we’ve been given?

It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that our actions have to be big or amazing to count; that we can only really make a difference if we fall down exhausted at the end of each day. In my own life, I keep learning again and again, that it’s often the small things, that make the biggest difference. Coronavirus, with all its limitations and unexpected surprises, has made that even more true.

Taking it Into the Day

Everything I learn at a Families in Global Transition Conference, makes its way into my every day life. For me, right now, an awareness of choices means many things. It is a call to both step back and step towards. It means paying deep attention to what feels right and also becoming aware of what isn’t quite working. It is about being kinder to myself and to those I love. It is a reminder to respond compassionately more often. It means setting some boundaries and breaking down others.

There are so many treasures that the Families in Global Transition Conference offers the globally mobile community. For me, this reminder of the gift present in our particular set of choices is one of the most important.

As always, I’ll keep riding the high of the Conference for days or even weeks to come. I’ll come back to this question of choice again and again. Like keynote speaker Ezinne Okoro said, “What are you going to say when you have a seat at that table?” FIGT helps us find our seat, it’s up to us to figure out what to say when we get there.

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