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!!
At school if I’d self-assessed and averaged out my grades I am pretty sure I’d have been a stock standard Grade ‘B’ student. I’d maybe reach an ‘A’ for the odd English piece; in French and Geography I was more ‘C’, but overall ‘B’ would be my forte. Better than fine or satisfactory – we all know what they mean – but not reaching the excellence of an ‘A’. Nothing has really changed, a 2.1 in my first degree at Essex, (though I’m sure firsts were scarcer in those days), and good solid merits in my later Masters’ degrees at the University of East Anglia and Nottingham and librarian diploma.
I think I know exactly why this is the case. Once I am sure that something is ‘good’ i.e a ‘B’, I can’t be bothered to do anymore work on it. I am a settler at good enough. In my life there hasn’t been any writing twice the word count allowed, enabling pruning and editing until the assignment is perfect. For me, once I’ve got enough words and it makes something like sense then that will do!
Transferring School Grades to Life
I’ve realised I apply the same attitude and approach to many parts of my life, especially things I have to do. Take housework, for example. In England I do keep things tidy and reasonably dust free, but I definitely wouldn’t achieve an ‘A’ grade for anything household related. With all house-y, and D.I.Y stuff I know what an ‘A’ looks like (my mum’s house) and an A* (my brother’s house!) but I just can’t be bothered to achieve such excellence myself. To be honest I’d only get a ‘B’ if the examiner was feeling generous! I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I have sunk so low that I have been known to use socks to dust the skirting boards. You might think that’s not so bad but I’ve been wearing them at the time!
Now I’ve started thinking about it there are loads of examples of my Grade ‘B’ approach to life. In fact it feels like I can’t escape it. This blog, is full of glitches, broken links and the like, preventing Google from even hardly recognising it, yet I just can’t seem to muster up enough umph to get it fixed up. We are back on the road to Scotland, this time heading to Fort William, (the first stop on our North Coast 500’ road trip in Lazarus the Landrover), though my holiday preparation has only reached ‘B-‘ grade. I bought the snacks, cooled the freezer cube thingies, but couldn’t be bothered to actually make sandwiches for the journey ahead of time. I decided we could make them en route whilst driving – which, to my detriment, I’m learning is actually easier said than done.
Even my beloved swimming – my way of maintaining a good enough level of fitness fits a grade ‘B’ rubric. I’ve made the effort to progress beyond, what I call, chinny swimmer, and I’m told I’m not too bad at all at freestyle now, but I can’t put the effort in to really master a decent breaststroke kick. Must do better!
When I was in the library I put ‘A’ effort into making it a fun environment and encouraging kids to love books. I was an ‘A-’ in creating a great collection for the whole school and parent community, (I like to think I know my books reasonably well), but I was only a C- in really embracing digital technology - and as for truly getting to grips with Dewey… I just couldn’t be bothered. I hope I was ‘A’ in developing a strong team, but in learning how to catalogue and classify books I was ‘D-’. So overall I guess at work I came out a ‘B’. No surprise eh!
Video courtesy of Bangkok Patana School Library. a great display we put together in January 2018 around an 'Under the Sea' theme, when promoting the enviornmental books of visiting author Gail Clarke.
It is interesting to see what I have invested an ‘A grade’ level of effort into. My family of course is top of the list, but I’m not sure I am mentally prepared enough to start grading my input into developing these complex relationships One thing I do know is they would probably give me an ‘A’ for worrying and nagging, but I’m not sure that is such a good thing!
The reality is that it seems that outside the personal stuff of family and friends there really isn’t much else that I seem to think is worth accomplishing beyond a ‘B’ in. Perhaps if I view my Grade ‘B’ achievement sympathetically I can justify it with the claim that I know what really matters or that I’m impatient to fit in as an infinite amount of stuff into a finite amount of time so don’t have time to be a perfectionist. I think, though, on both counts that’s probably me just letting myself off the hook!
One thing that I think I am quite good at is inspiring others to aim to achieve higher and being better than I am myself. I kind of expect it and it brings me pleasure that it is often the case. My kids have a better work ethic than me and are both kinder and more forgiving than me. When I was in the library, members of my team were phenomenally good at what they did, always striving for excellence. Perhaps I sewed some of the seeds but they followed through and paid attention to detail in getting things done properly. My housekeeper in Bangkok might smile ruefully at my self-analysis, at recognising excellence and desiring it in others. I certainly exact high standards from her in cleaning, washing and cooking-she doesn’t let me down!
I guess it’s good that at least I’ve recognised a lifelong Grade ‘B’ accomplishment pattern. It’s too late to change what’s been so I will have to be content to have been ‘good’ enough. Perhaps what I have been grade ‘A’ in is at cajoling, persuading and motivating others. The issue is though, that these days, the only person l have to cajole, persuade and motivate is myself. It would be great though to have a passion to be a grade ‘A’ in something and really go for it. Just right now, I’m just not quite sure what that something might be. I can't spend my whole life touring Scotland in the landrover - any other ideas?
So the results are in. Our drive to Edinburgh (on results day) for a weekend break was tinged with nerves and trepidation. We are lucky. Betsy did well so will be heading off to York University in September! I say lucky, but I don’t want to detract from how blooming hard she worked. Well done Bets!
(Just before I go on - if your child hasn’t received the grades they hoped for, take a look at my earlier blog post for helpful hints about what to do. I know it is easily said, but it really isn’t the end of the world so keep positive. I say that from some experience - I didn’t do marvellously well in my A Levels and ended up at Essex University rather than my first choice of Reading. Looking back I wouldn’t change that for a second. During my time at Essex I made great friendships, did lots of travelling and fine-tuned a life-long passion for reading. In addition, I met my future husband. Don’t get the vomit bucket out as I’m not going to gush about meeting the love of my life. Rather, I’ll draw attention to the fact that without him working in the recruitment department of British Telecommunications in Colchester I’d have never got an excellent temping job in the Pensions' Department of B.T. Consequently I wouldn’t have saved enough money to complete two round the world back-packing trips, giving me a thirst for life overseas!)
Betsy spent the final part of the journey to Edinburgh on the phone to her friends sharing exam news. I was impressed with how gracious the kids were to each other in their discussion of results. Once that was done her next self-assigned task was to share her news with her teachers and Math’s tutor. I think that her eagnerness to do this is testament to what a great educational experience she’s had. Thanks Bangkok Patana School and Mr T.
Annie's made a video of her trip. It took her all of 5 minutes! You'll easily spot the bits I'd edit out, but it's nice to have as a keepsake.
My first reaction to Betsy having acquired what she needed for university was relief rather than jubilation. Mick did better than me at feeling unadulterated joy and pride, whereas my emotions were more mixed - kind of nostalgia, pride and a sense of loss all mixed up together. I had the craziest of dreams on Wednesday night. It was something to with stars being turned off and me rushing to turn them back on. (That was along with a load of other stuff, but ‘they’ say that other people’s dreams are boring so I won’t bother sharing.) I dream a lot but they are never very subtle. You don’t have to be Einstein to figure out that this dream was all stuff tied up with anxiety that my baby girl is leaving home! I can imagine Saint Mick eye-rolling now – at least enjoy the results for a couple of days before fretting about next steps!
I suppose if I think about it I’m being a bit (a lot) selfish. Never mind about worrying whether Betsy will be homesick and enjoy her course, let’s make it all about me! Did I really sit in a restaurant with the family last night and insist that they help me plan out what I might do to starve off the sense of loss and make a new life for myself next year sans kids, sans job sans all… ? Yes I did.
Empty Nest Syndrome
I didn’t really come up with any answers but here are a few ideas to starve off ‘Empty Nest Syndrome’.
Travel. If you are lucky enough to afford to do this then take weekends away with your spouse and reconnect. Don’t feel guilty about this but enjoy the ‘couple time’.
More Travel. Again, if you are lucky enough to afford to do this then take weekends away with your mates. Set the world to rights, share your news and moan about your spouses to your hearts content. (I don’t mean that last bit - not really!)
Treats. To be honest I haven’t let having kids at home prevent me from lots of treats, but if you haven’t found time for massages, shopping trips, walks in the parks and curling up with a good book, now is the time.
Write down your Goals. When I was working I always wrote down my days ‘must do’ tasks and after quitting work and feeling a bit list for a while I started it again. Once both girls have left home I think to keep my sense of equilibrium this is going to be even more necessary.
Keep Perspective. The kids are going to Uni not the moon. You can text, phone, face-time, send postcards and letters (when Annie left I sent her a postcard twice a week for the first year.) During the second year I didn’t send any. Is it very bad to admit I couldn’t quite be bothered!
Hobbies. Personally I find this a little bit wishy-washy and twee. It’s going to take more than Betsy leaving home for me to hone my knitting skills sufficiently to make myself an arran jumper (you can tell I’ve just been in Edinburgh), but I think a hobby, along with a personal goal can be effective. For me I’m going to not let my swimming slip and I’m even thinking of doing that zero to five km running challenge. I need to research it more first – haha!)
Read. Best escapism in the world. Use goodreads to set a ‘reading challenge target.
Last Times. When Annie left home I thought it would be the last time we did lots of things together – last summer holiday together, last road trip, last time she ‘still belonged to me’, last picking up after her, last … Not so. Talk about blooming melodramatic! My mum said to me “Let her go and she’ll come back.” Did I tell you that my mum is a very wise lady!
Diary Writing. Even though I still had Betsy at home I really was gutted when Annie left. Specifically, my anxiety about her safety was through the roof. One way I managed these negative emotions was keeping a diary devoted specifically to exploring them. I call it my ‘Annie book’. I didn’t really come up with strategies there and then for handling the feelings, but found that writing them down helped counter the worry and enabled me to focus on what a bloody brilliant independent young woman she is. I think this time round I am more aware that it is ok to be sad.
In a similar vein, I’m feeling a little more together now I’ve thought through this. I might even give the kids and Mick a bit of attention instead of solely focusing on me! The drive home from Edinburgh is saturated in anticipation and pride at what they’ve all achieved and what is yet to come. OK, I’m exaggerating a bit, but I think I’ve, at least, made a step in that direction.