Is Making Friends with Colleagues a Recipe for Disaster
Living overseas and being thousands of miles from family and friends back at home, I have found that the expat friends I have made are extremely important to me. Friends made whilst living living abroad know first hand what it is like to be away from home living in an alien environment with a foreign language to navigate (or not). They understand the issues surrounding your children being third culture kids; they empathise with your homesickness, not just for family but for seasons, and sports fixtures; supermarkets and being called ‘love’ in the high street shops. The friends you make share worry and concern about family back home and laugh with you at the frustrations that come with living in particular cities (why can’t Thai people do roundabouts?). They share your lust for adventure and new experiences. Expat friends are transient not stationary. They come and go and understand the stresses of relocating somewhere new; the reliance on social media to keep in touch is a given.
Expat friendships are a big deal. Trust is essential as communities are tight knit and gossip can be rife. I think that I’d go as far as to say that these special friendships can almost take on the status of being equivalent to a ‘second’ family. This isn't necessarily positive - haha - friends really do get to know each other inside out – ‘warts ‘n’ all’!
So that’s all well and good, but what is problematic is that these deep and meaningful all giving and consuming expat friendships, are probably made at work, in my case, at school and this definitely has cons as well as pros.
Cons of being Friends with a Colleague
That is a long list of negatives which seems ironic when all my close expat friends did actually start out as colleagues. (It was a treat for me when I became a cross-campus member of staff as I then went on to make some lovely new Primary teacher friends too.) I do know some teachers who avoid making friendships with colleagues from school because of the potential problems as listed above. Not so me! I think with a bit of humour and the occasional eating of humble pie, colleagues can become the best friends you are likely to find. Lets face it a friend who is a colleague, especially one who is a teacher, is someone with whom you are likely to share a lot in common. If you are passionate about teaching and learning then there is always something to talk about. If a friend is a real friend they will even be forgiving if occasionally you act like a petulant teenager and fail to maintain an absolute professional decorum at work (At least I hope that’s the case!) Sorry Jackie!
I feel certain that the friends I’ve made at Patana (some of whom, like me, have now left school) will be friends for life! They know too much about me to not be! (That was a joke – kind of!) My own kids often refer to the Houghton gang ‘Billy, Rosie, Jamie; and later Sophie and Tom with whom they’ve grown up in Bangkok as like having extra cousins. Over the years they’ve not only met grannies, grandpas, uncles and aunties but have been on holidays with them and spent key celebrations together. Friendship really has merged into family time. During the years we’ve not been with our own folks, friends have been happy to lend their family out and Christmas days have been spent with a variety of grandparents, aunts and uncles all mucking in and enjoying time together. I think this is a pretty special status to reach, so despite the potential cons I declare that good expat friends are about the best friends a person can have..
I blogged yesterday about what it was like being married to the Secondary Principal. After writing my post the girls said to me that if I thought it was bad being the Principal’s wife then I should try being the Principal’s kids! I retorted if they think that was bad then they should try being the Principal’s kids’ mum! (By the way I’ve got no idea if the apostrophes are correct in the last sentence.)
Our comments were largely tongue in cheek as the kids have had an amazing education for which they and I are truly grateful. I’d even go as far as to say that they’ve even enjoyed being teachers’ kids, especially Betsy. She cites the following advantages and disadvantages:
Advantages of Being a Teacher’s Kid
Disadvantages of Being a Teacher’s Kid
The girls say that as being a teacher’s kid is a fairly common phenomenon in international schools it isn't really a big deal. I do agree but, like being the Principal's wife, it has its moments ...
The plight of teacher's kids: "Why can't you persuade your dad to let us have pizza in the canteen every day?"
Remember the time when:
It breaks your heart to see your kid sad at school, which can happen when you are also there all day every day. I've found that sometimes I've just have to speak up for my kids and risk the wrath of colleagues who might feel betrayed. Often though, being part of a system I've found it prudent to bite my tongue (and vent in an odd third person blog style way later!). It really isn’t the done thing to be ‘one of those’ mums!
Ultimately, I've found being a teacher’s kid’s mum has meant I've been able to see on a daily basis all of the truly fantastic educational opportunities the kids have had. I've had the knowledge to tap into everything on offer and been in the position of understanding most of it. Being part of a school that lives its mission, has a great teaching staff and a wonderful pastoral system intent on improving the well-being of all the kids has been as reassuring as it gets. All in all being the teacher''s kids' mum has been a privilege.
Times have changed. All four of us used to head to school and then there were three, two, and now just Mick :( Photos courtesy of a sad Saint Mick of Thana.
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I guess that was a bit of a clickbait title as I’m not quite married to the boss, but I have been part of an expat teaching couple for many years. I am married to the Secondary Principal of a school I used to work in. This came with advantages and disadvantages that I think that lots of teaching couples, close friends or married people working together in any profession can relate to. It’s not always plain sailing.
Remember the moment when:
When you do work with a spouse there is a shared understanding that is just there and doesn’t need talking about. In international schools it is such a common phenomenon that most people do ‘get’ the potential awkwardness of the situation so that it really isn’t a problem. I did though sometimes used to be secretly pleased when people at school only knew me as a teacher or Head of Libraries and didn’t make the connection that I was married to a colleague. Perhaps I did have an identity in my own right!
Advantages of Working with a Spouse
Whilst I could go on with the grumbles, overall I think the pluses of working with a spouse have far outweighed the negatives (it’s just not as much fun to share them!) A True coffee appears on your desk unexpectedly; a colleague understands your awkwardness and makes things easy for you; you burst with pride at your spouse’s educational vision even if it is delivered in a gruff, no-nonsense way; you receive affirmation that your husband is a proper good guy; and you catch a glimpse of a handsome vision, in one of numerous identical M & S white shirts, passing by several times a day which cheers you up (oh you think I’m still talking about my husband – don’t be daft!)
Now I’m not working I am still married to a Secondary Principal but not the Secondary Principal. I'm posting this with some trepidation as I have a sneaky feeling that plain old Saint Mick of Thana won't altogether approve. With this in mind I better end by buttering him up and add that I wouldn’t swap being married to him for the world! Yep I know ... pass the bucket!!
Lately, for one reason or another there have been a few triggers that have got me thinking about friendship. They are all pretty random:
For me, nothing beats a chat with a good friend you can really trust and when I am not in Bangkok it is something I miss a lot. Being an expat, having worked in a school, I really understand how ‘third culture’ kids need to use their phones to connect with friends who have relocated and aren’t physically present in each others’ lives. Connections are all important; thank goodness for all the electronic ways that exist for keeping in touch.
Lots of people say that a real friend is someone you may not see for years and years with whom you can just pick up where you left off. I guess this can be true, but it does seem a shame to not be in touch with friends for extensive periods of time. I’d probably say that this definition of a friend applies more to, what I’d call, a ‘mate’ whose company is comfortable to be in.
I know how busy life can be for everyone, so since I’ve been living between two countries, I’ve been really touched by friends who have kept in touch. It is heart-warming to be sufficiently in a chum’s thoughts for them to send a quick text or email and has reminded me of the importance of nurturing friendships. I think sometimes I can be prone to take good friendships for granted. Friendship isn't only about being cared for, but also remembering to do the caring, listening and supporting. So with that in mind, to my friends, without wishing to be too gushing, (British stiff upper lip and all that!) I just want to let you know that you’re the best! Thank you.
Simple Ways to show a Friend you Care
Send a text or email to a friend you haven’t seen for a while to say hello.
Send a small, unexpected gift through Amazon.
Leave a fun voicemail message.
Invite them for coffee; have a laugh..
Text a joke you know they’d appreciate.
Write them a nice positive and affirming card telling them something nice about themselves.
Give them a ring and be a good listener. Don’t just talk about yourself (I’m guilty as charged!)
Make them a favourite dessert and pop it round to them at home.
Invite them for a treat that they like, such as a massage or swim.
Offer to babysit/dogsit (as applicable).
Travelling with a Grown up Family
There are lots of tips for handling holidays with tiny-tots or teenagers, but far less information around for managing harmonious travel with grown up, or almost grown up children. These are my top tips for ensuring a harmonious time, rather than a holiday from hell
Time Out Don't feel you have to do everything together all of the time. Your kids are used to being independent so let them have some space. If they don't want to do everything with you and just want to 'chill' at home don't sweat it, it doesn't really matter if they don't tick off everything on your 'sight-seeing' agenda.
Treat your Family Like Friends Although I'm a firm believer that parents should be 'parents' to their off-spring and not their 'friends', I relax this rule a bit on holidays. After all in the same way you choose which friends to travel with you are choosing to take your grown up kids away with you. It makes sense to therefore afford them the same level of respect that you would your actual friends. If that sounds too 'goody-goody' to be true, it really isn't - all I mean is wait untli they are not there to have a moan and gossip about them!
Timings Know yours (and more likely your kids) tolerance levels of how much time they can spend together as a farmily unit before everyone starts driving each other mad. It is quality not quantity that is important! So if after a week or two your grown-up children want to dump you and go back to their uni friends for a few days don't take it as a personal snub. Guilt tripping them is not a good plan. #Just saying!
Phones Do not comment on screen time usage. They are grown ups and can use their phones as much as they like. I was going to say don't feel obliged to foot the bill for extra 4G data when travelling in remote areas, but who am I kidding, just pay the bill!
Reminisce Presumably if you are travelling with grown up kids it is because holiday experiences have been fun in the past. Take a trip down memory lane and reminisce about the good times you've had together.
Play Games In my opinion you're never too old to play cards after dinner..
Assign Roles Keep the whole family engaged in the trip by involving everyone in the planning of the days and the assigning of organisational roles such as navigator or restuarant chooser. If someone doesn't like their role agree to swap the next day.
Keep Busy Have plenty of things to do, Just like when the kids were little ensure there is reading material on hand, cards, games, and plenty of activities to participate in. Be active and keep the endorphines pumping with plenty of brisk walks!
Join in the Fun Joke, be daft, relax, have fun. Be prepared to be the butt of the kids jokes (to a point!)
Be Vulnerable The kids are grown up and it is ok to share with them what it means to you to spend time with them. This will make them feel valued.
Be your Best Self (Well at least for some of the time!) If you are like me half of the conversations that you have with your 'grown up' kids, will be about practicalities and organisational things. Use this time to really connect at a deeper level. Chat with the kids about their lives and even perhaps share stuff about yourself. Ask questions (without being too nosey!) seek their views, and remember and respect what they have to say. In essence, be your best self.
And if all that sounds too much like hard work remember that they are grown up and don't have to come. With that in mind (shock, horror!) my final tip is:
Take a Break from the Family! I've had the time of my life with Mick and our girls on our recent NorthCoast500 Land Rover adventure. Without an ounce of sarcasm, my gratitude book overfloweth. I've loved it. Also, since returning I've enjoyed spending time with my own parents. (I wonder if they are giving advice to their own friends about managing time with a middle-aged interfering daughter?! Maybe, maybe not!) I do though have a quick mini-break planned for next weekend too, and there won't be a family member in sight.!
What was that about being my best self?! It seems it's harder than it looks, but never mind! Watch this space for my next post on the value of nurturing friendship!