Category: Expert

Loneliness: How to Connect and Open Up as an Expat

If you know a little about Greek mythology, you probably have heard about the 10 years of Odysseus’ (or else, Ulysses’) adventures all around the Mediterranean Sea before he eventually reached home. 

Even though he didn’t “sign up for it”, he spent 10 years (plus 10 during the Trojan War) away from his home, and every single day of these years was a lonely journey, a resistance to resignation and despair, and a painful reminder that there is nowhere like home. 

Ithaca, Odysseus’s home place, is a symbol of the roots we all leave behind us when we start a new life at a different place.

Why expat life feels lonely

The expat life is lonely. Period. It doesn’t matter whether you like the new place or not, it still feels lonely at times. 

Feeling lonely as an expat is quite a normal stage in the integration process. In fact, it starts even before you land at our next destination: you are in the middle of packing your stuff and you are already flooded by a nostalgic feeling of all the places and the faces that you will definitely miss.

And then you move to the new country: you are immersed in a completely new culture with a different set of values and way of life, you meet different people, you don’t speak the language, you miss your friends and family, but most of all, connecting with the people around you is really hard (especially in the beginning). You have no idea where to start, how to approach people, and most of all, how long it will take until you feel at home.

How to Make it Feel Like Home and Connect as an Expat

 
1. Acceptance is key. 

First of all, let’s accept two things: 1. it will never be exactly like home and 2. It’s ok to feel lonely. With these two realizations, you are actually relieving yourself from the heavy and sometimes unrealistic expectations that you have to make expat life feel good all the time. This is your life, with its ups and downs, with its ebb and flow, and you are doing your best, but you know that this feeling of no-local, or outcast, is a feeling that will take years to go away.

2. Embrace difference

Accept that we are different and that’s ok. Yes, you are different from the locals or the other cultures you meet, and that is exactly what makes you interesting to others. Instead of believing that you are the outsider, start seeing yourself as a person making the most of this diverse canvas you live in.

3. Learn the local language (verbal and non-verbal). 

Making the decision to learn the language is a very smart one. Not only because you will need it for your daily communication with the locals, but also because you will feel more alike and less different from your surroundings. You will belong. Moreover, it’s very important to observe how the locals greet, laugh, or express their feelings. It’s a useful lesson in order to communicate with them better, but also to avoid misunderstandings.

4. Aligned socializing. 

Choose social events wisely so that they match your background, values and interests. It has been proven that we feel less lonely when we join in activities with people with the same hobbies, experiences and values.

5.  Be patient. 

In those meetings, everybody is scared and everybody is protecting themselves from getting hurt. Real, authentic, meaningful relationships take time. When interacting with like-minded individuals, try to practice empathic listening and to get into their shoes. Be unapologetically authentic and honest when you are around them. But try to be curious about them too and not judgmental about their life and their experiences. Accept them as they are and provide support. And, who knows, you might end up meeting unique and wonderful people. 

6. Be kind to yourself. 

The step you took to move to a new country is a brave and yet a challenging one. Being an expat is not a walk in the park. If you are expecting yourself to be back to normal a few days after you’ve landed in a new country, that’s a high standard you’re setting for yourself. Take your time, allow yourself to observe the environment, explore, be curious, and most of all, be compassionate with yourself especially when you are struggling with this transition. 

7. Old connections, new connections.

Last but not least, maintain the connections with your friends and family back home, but don’t compare them with your new connections; that’s an unfair comparison. That will only lead you to idolize the past and keep you with one foot at the door all the time. The new friendships you are making don’t carry all the memories, the history and the emotions of the home relationships, but they bring some freshness and excitement in your life. Enjoy your new country and make the most out of this new opportunity. 

Once again: Ithaca is not an actual place, rather than a symbol of the roots we are all looking for in order to feel safe and loved. 

You are not alone. 

About Vassia Sarantopoulou

Vassia Sarantopoulou is the Founder, CEO and Head Psychologist of AntiLoneliness, a company offering mental health services in The Netherlands and also worldwideShe is also a Trainer, a Perfectionism Expert and a Mental Health Ambassador, promoting Inner Peace, Mental Strength and Healthy Relationships with others and with our Self. AntiLoneliness offers support to those struggling with anxiety, depression, trauma, grief, burnout, loneliness, relationship issues, transition/change, expat life. 

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About Peekabond

Anieke Lamers, our CEO created Peakabond at the onset of Covid-19. A mobile app to help global families bond with young children remotely. Inspiring families to create playful and engaging moments with young children.

Asynchronous video connection and inspirational science-based content suggestions. Allowing families and loved ones to share small moments and build better bonds. Every play experience is designed with care and approved by child development experts. Always age appropriate. Always private and secure, never showing ads. Our intention is to build a movement that connects families across borders and over generations. To try storytelling activities at Peekabond go here. 

How We Use Stories for Design at Peekabond

We Use Stories for Design at Peekabond by Katy Barnard

Design is a lot more than just making an app look pretty or making sure it functions properly. Actually, it is mostly about understanding people and stepping into their shoes to create something valuable for them. We use stories to help us do this.

Peekabond is used by parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, great-grandparents, sisters, brothers, close family friends… All of these people experience the app differently and have unique wants and needs. Using user-centered design strategy, we step into their worlds and look at the app from their perspective. Their worlds are the stories, which are commonly known as user personas.

What are user personas?

User personas are archetypal descriptions of users used to represent and describe a demographic. They include fictional personal details such as a photo, name, job title, age, background story, personality traits, values, belief systems and quotes. All of these details build up a persona which can help us see the world from their perspective.

How do we create personas?

Back when Peekabond was just an idea, the team set out to understand their potential users through exploratory interviews. We asked people about their current experiences with staying connected to family far away, diving into the challenges and triumphs they’ve experienced. These interviews with families all around the globe gave us insight into who our potential users were, how they acted and what they valued (in relation to remote family connection, of course). They helped us shape the stories that became our user personas. And everytime we talk to new users, we get to know that persona even better.

Why do we use personas?

User personas allow us to think from the user’s point of view. By creating a fictitious yet research-based profile, we are able to better understand what decisions they might make and infer about how they might use Peekabond. Personas give us different lenses to view the app; they push us to think outside our own biases and adopt a new perspective.

When we make design decisions at Peekabond, we consult our personas to make sure that we are meeting their wants and needs in the app. For example, one of our grandmother’s biggest worries is that her grandkids will not remember her when they see each other in person. We kept this top of mind when creating the Peekabond concept, and it informed decisions like using video as the main messaging medium so that the grandkids get to both see her face and hear her voice and can replay it again and again. Another example is when we designed our onboarding flow, we made sure to show every step to help willing but cautious users of technology like our grandmother persona feel at ease. This persona also helps us understand how to reach this user group through marketing. If we are thinking about using TikTok to promote Peekabond, we know that our grandmother persona is likely not there.

User personas help us stay on track with our users, to make sure that we are, first and foremost, making choices for them!

Why should I care?

Firstly, we wanted to give you, our users, a peek behind the scenes at what it takes to build an app. At Peekabond, we are strong believers of what’s called “building in public”. This means that we are committed to sharing our learnings with the world so that others can learn from them as well. 

Secondly, we cannot do this without you! To grow in the right direction at Peekabond, we need to listen to our user’s stories and experiences to reach what’s called Product Market Fit, meaning that our product suits what our users really want. We are passionate about reaching this through user research.

If you want to help us in our process, here are a few things you can do:

  1. Sign up for our Facebook Group called Remote Family Club to keep in the loop of our progress. We often post questions in this group to ask our users for feedback. The group also provides inspiration and support from fellow families in your same situation.2.
  2. . Join a user interview. We are constantly testing our product with users and would love to interview you. We are always looking for grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles and loved ones to give feedback on our product via a short video call. You can sign up for an interview using this link
  3. Join our ambassadors group. We have an intimate group of Peekabond superfans who get to test our newest features on an ongoing basis. If you want to be continuously involved in co-creating the app sign up here.

About Katy Barnard 

Katy is an Amsterdam-based user researcher originally from the West Coast of the US. She is passionate about creating ethical and sustainable technology and believes in the power of user research to get there. She holds a Bachelor’s in Graphic Communication and a Master’s in Digital Design. You can usually find her taking long walks in the park, cooking big batches of soup, petting all the dogs on the street or making random crafts with friends.

About Peekabond

Anieke Lamers, our CEO created Peakabond at the onset of Covid-19. A mobile app to help global families bond with young children remotely. Inspiring families to create playful and engaging moments with young children.

Asynchronous video connection and inspirational science-based content suggestions. Allowing families and loved ones to share small moments and build better bonds. Every play experience is designed with care and approved by child development experts. Always age appropriate. Always private and secure, never showing ads. Our intention is to build a movement that connects families across borders and over generations. To try storytelling activities at Peekabond go here. 

Use Relationship-Centered Storytelling to Nurture Strong Relationships with Children at a Distance

Use Relationship-Centered Storytelling to Nurture Strong Relationships with Children at a Distance by Kerry Byrne

(Repurposed with permission from The Long Distance Grandparent blog)

When my grandmother Pat was diagnosed with cancer and given months to live, she decided she was going to get her ears pierced. I was 13 at the time and my mother and I took her to the shopping center in the rural town we had recently moved back to because my mom ( a single mom to 3 kids no less) was her primary caregiver.

We shared a lot of moments in those last few months but this one stands out because my grandmother was in a wheelchair by then and she felt uncomfortable about it.

I remember her feeling this way.

But it’s also memorable because she shared some rather strong language when that gun actually pierced her 65-year-old ears!

Truth be told, our family – sometimes to a fault, relies on comic relief to cope with challenging situations.

This coping mechanism is part of me, my history, my sense of belonging – and the resulting stories are also a part of me.

The memory of taking my grandmother to have her ears pierced and how she shocked and made the person who was holding that piercing gun – and anyone in ear shot – laugh.

These stories matter.

And while our family collectively shares this story from time to time, I believe there are moments when you need to be the one capturing these moments along the way.

Why capture special moments from your perspective?

Yes, the parents might take photos of you together, but then the photos are on their phone, not yours. They might tell them stories about you together, but it will be the parent’s memory of it, not yours.

I want you to preserve your relationship with your little one at a distance. 

If you are going to work this hard to nurture a strong relationship with young children in your family, I want you to capture it for them.

If you are reading this, I’m going to assume you are a grandparent/grand-aunt/uncle (or parent) who knows that nurturing strong bonds from a distance requires extra work and effort.

In my membership for long distance grandparents and webinars, I teach grandparents how to plan, partner, prepare, play and preserve for connection. These are the 5 pillars of the framework I developed based on evidence from multiple disciplines – and through my own research interviews with long distance grandparents and parents.

And while I share a lot of ways to prepare and play, preserving for connection is just as important to nurturing meaningful relationships.

There are so many ways you can preserve stories about your relationship

How to create relationship- centered storytelling?

There are two steps to create a beautiful family centered story for your little one:

Step 1: Get in the photos: One of the easiest to start with is using photos you take of your moments together to tell a story. Instead of only taking pictures of them, be sure to get in the photos with them. Whether you take a silly face selfie with them, a photo of you reading stories together or screenshots of celebrating their 21st birthday together on Zoom. Taking photos of you together is an important way to preserve your relationship.

Step 2: Use the photos in step 1 to create a postcard or a photo book. Alongside the photo, share a short story about the moment you captured.These moments, whether in-person or on a video chat – are your relationship. This is where relationship-centered storytelling comes in. Point out the colors in the photo, a smell that was present, a noise in the background and of course, tell them how you felt in that moment.

Concluding Thoughts

Storytelling experts tell us that using lots of sensory details helps children remember.

Put your relationship at the center of stories you preserve and share these gifts with your little ones at a distance. 

I hope you will tell them lots of stories – and I’ll share more ways to do this as I learn more.

But let’s start with the stories only you can tell: The experience of those grand moments you are creating together.

Happy Connecting!

About Kerry

Kerry Byrne holds a PhD, and although she originally started out wanting to be a child psychologist, she became a research scientist in the area of aging and care. For over 20 years, she has published, presented and collaborated on numerous projects and initiatives to improve the experience of aging. She believes in the power of intergenerational relationships within families to create a more caring and less ageist society. Kerry is the Founder of The Long Distance Grandparent, a mission-driven business helping grandparents build strong bonds with their grandchildren from a distance.

Try Peekabond

Anieke Lamers, our CEO created Peakabond at the onset of Covid-19. A mobile app to help global families bond with young children remotely. Inspiring families to create playful and engaging moments with young children.

Asynchronous video connection and inspirational science-based content suggestions. Allowing families and loved ones to share small moments and build better bonds. Every play experience is designed with care and approved by child development experts. Always age appropriate. Always private and secure, never showing ads. Our intention is to build a movement that connects families across borders and over generations.  To try Peekabond go here.

The Story of Kerry from the Long Distance Grandparent Community by Anieke Lamers

Starting a grandparent club as a parent

I remember the first time I met Kerry it was April 2021 and I immediately knew she was very special and we immediately had a connection. I didn’t prepare well for the call then and somehow expected a grandmother to appear so when I saw her face I was surprised and blurted out: “wow you are so young to be a grandmother!?” 

She smiled and corrected me saying: “I’m not a grandmother but I’m a mother who wants her children to have a strong connection with their grandparents”. This hit home for me immediately being an aunt of a little girl in Australia and I felt immediately connected to her.  

We have a shared vision that children – now more than ever – need a solid foundation and family, no matter the distance 

We’ve kept in touch since and it was such a pleasure catching up with Kerry this time with my cofounder and Chief Scientist/P.h.D. Alyea Sandovar who also relates because she is an aunt of little ones in America. We have a shared vision that children need their family, now more than ever – no matter the distance between.

So how did The Long Distance Grandparent start?

As a mother living abroad with her husband in Dubai and Houston, she knows the pain of being away from family back in Canada and England. Kerry shared that her father is now 81 years old and she really wanted to help her children Finn and Charlie and their grandparents build a bond. 

November is grandparent season in Dubai and UAE

Living in Dubai she noticed how many expat families were missing their family at a distance. The total expat population in United Arab Emirates has in 2022 come to 8.84 million, which constitutes approximately 89% of the population (Source). It is next to Qatar, Kuwait, Jordan and Singapore among the top 5 countries with the highest share of expats in total population. Kerry noticed that November seemed to be the “grandparent season”. That is, the time of year when the weather is beautiful and the beaches are filled with grandparents visiting their grandchildren in Dubai. She saw an opportunity and the “Grandparent Interview Project” was born. 

Letting go of the grandparent you want to be

Kerry interviewed many grandparents and found out many of them were experiencing a lot of grief of having to let go of the “type of grandparent they thought they were going to be”. This is often paired with a lot of emotional complexity. Grandparents worry they will not be able to nurture a meaningful relationship with their grandchildren because of the distance. Being a trained scientist and caring at heart Kerry saw a role to help grandparents because she knew how possible it was to have strong relationships, no matter the distance between.  And this is how the LDG community started in 2019, which now has about 2000 members from all over the world. 

LDG & Peekabond collaboration

The LDG community receives weekly inspiration about how to connect with grandchildren at a distance through fun, practical and meaningful suggestions. For instance, she encourages grandparents to be intentional about the mail they send and to prepare for the time they spend on video chats together.  Snail mail is an especially powerful way for grandparents to connect because children love it when something arrives especially for them – and it’s unlikely that anyone else in their lives is taking the time to send mail.  Kerry also hosts webinars throughout the year for long-distance grandparents. Stay tuned because we might co-host a webinar between Peekabond and LDG at some point. Kerry started The Long Distance Grandparent Society, an online monthly membership program, as a way to help grandparents move towards more fun and meaningful connections with their grandchildren. It’s an amazing community of engaged and intentional grandparents who know that nurturing bonds really does involve going the extra mile. The paid subscription costs $20 per month or $200 for a year. In the membership and through her free weekly newsletters specifically for long-distance grandparents, she focuses on practical, but fun and meaningful ways to build bonds with your grandchildren.

Background

Kerry Byrne holds a PhD, and although she originally started out wanting to be a child psychologist, she became a research scientist in the area of aging and care. For over 20 years, she has published, presented and collaborated on numerous projects and initiatives to improve the experience of aging. She believes in the power of intergenerational relationships within families to create a more caring and less ageist society. Kerry is the Founder of The Long Distance Grandparent, a mission-driven business helping grandparents build strong bonds with their grandchildren from a distance. 

Grand plans for the future

Kerry has grand plans (pun intended) to grow her membership and help more grandparents through a series of workshops, speaking engagements and e-books.  In the US, Since 2001, the number of grandparents has grown by 24%, from 56 million to 70 million in 2019. By age 65, 96% of Americans are grandparents. Over half of American grandparents report living at a distance from at least one grandchild (Source: AARP) Four in ten grandparents work, contributing to their strength as a significant market force (Source: AARP).

8 Benefits of Storytelling for Young Children by Alyea Sandovar

Why is Storytelling Important for Young Children?

Storytelling is an important piece of child development. Used consistently throughout schooling and education, storytelling helps to engage children and open their minds to all manner of possibilities. As well as encouraging creative thoughts, storytelling can be used as a vehicle for teaching values. 

With a strong presence throughout history, there is evidence that every culture we know tells stories. They shape our identity, bond communities, teach lessons and help us remember things that should never be forgotten. Before children can read or write, they are told stories. 

Bonds are formed between storytellers and their audiences. Sitting down with your little one to read them a story can create long lasting memories for both of you. The stories grow more complex as your little one develops, expanding on their understanding of the world and human emotion.

The Benefits of Storytelling for Young Children

1. Improves communication and listening skills

Storytelling teaches children to listen. After all, in order to hear the story, you need to be quiet! Childrenabsorb language, the more words they hear, the more vocabulary they have to express themselves. Storytelling is a great way to expand on vocab.

2. Improves social skills

Hearing a story can be a sociable experience. Children often hear stories in a classroom setting, which teaches them social skills along with their peers. Characters within stories also demonstrate social behaviors which help to teach children about social ques and manners. 

3. Teaches values 

Children can learn important life values from storytelling. Many lessons are hidden within well told stories, to demonstrate right from wrong to children at an early age. 

4. Memory skills

The part of your brain used to remember things can be strengthened through storytelling. Children learn how to retain information from their favorite stories. 

5. Educational strategy

Keeping children engaged for prolonged periods of time can be a challenge, especially when you are trying to teach them something. Stories can be used to keep children focused enough to teach them complex topics.

6. Encourages creativity

Magic can happen during storytime. Storytelling can ignite the imagination of a child and allow them to create things that were previously impossible. 

7. Helps to bond with the storyteller

Telling stories can be a bonding experience for the child and storyteller. Children often remember having stories read to them by relatives. 

8. Helps to unite children within a community

A shared experience like being told a story can help to unite a group of children. At that moment they are following the same journey and learning the same things.

To Conclude

Stories are an easy way to nurture the development of your child or loved one. When reading stories you can relax in the knowledge that you are contributing to their education and their social skills as well as creating a loving, bonding experience. 

About Peekabond

Anieke Lamers, our CEO created Peakabond at the onset of Covid-19. A mobile app to help global families bond with young children remotely. Inspiring families to create playful and engaging moments with young children.

Asynchronous video connection and inspirational science-based content suggestions. Allowing families and loved ones to share small moments and build better bonds. Every play experience is designed with care and approved by child development experts. Always age appropriate. Always private and secure, never showing ads. Our intention is to build a movement that connects families across borders and over generations.  If you would like to try Peekabond here