A year ago, when our daughter was nearly 8 years old, we found out that she has profound hearing loss in her left ear. We had been concerned about her hearing since she was in preschool. Her class teacher assuaged our worries and subsequent teachers never raised any issues. But still, we wondered.
We couldn’t get concrete answers
A few years later we arranged for an audiology test at our health clinic in Jakarta and were told that her hearing was fine, in fact, her left ear was “better” than her right ear. Although I should have been happy when the doctor delivered the test result, I felt skeptical and couldn’t shake the feeling that something wasn’t right.
We had to wait another year until our next US visit to schedule a more thorough assessment. This time it was immediately clear that there was a problem. The audiologist grew increasingly alarmed as he ran through the evaluation process, but my daughter remained relaxed. I explained that the tests showed us that her left ear wasn’t working. “Yeah, I know that already”, she said calmly, “I’ve been telling you that I can’t hear.”
“I know, sweetie. I know.” My heart broke a little.
There were many emotions that day.
Relief….at having our concerns confirmed and finally knowing what was wrong
Guilt…because it took so long to diagnose her hearing loss
Frustration…that it hadn’t been picked up at school or in the previous test
Amazement…when considering how well she had coped until now
Worry…about the challenges she will face and the unknown path ahead
Pride…in knowing that if anyone can manage this, she can.
The next day we met with an ENT specialist who suggested that we consider a cochlear implant (not typically recommended for single-sided hearing loss). It was a lot to take in and we wanted more time to consider the full range of options. We returned to Jakarta shortly after and followed up some months later in Singapore, where the doctor there told us that if it were his daughter, he wouldn’t do anything.
Between the two doctors, we had more questions than answers and it felt daunting and confusing to be navigating this brand new path with such divergent advice, without any kind of network or supportive community, thousands of miles from our home health care system.
Getting some Clarity
One year on, we are much clearer about things. We sought a third ENT opinion on our last US visit, which confirmed our desire to pursue a hearing aid option that we hope to get soon.
Unfortunately, such devices are more expensive in this part of the world and even with insurance the out of pocket cost is significant. When I found out about this, I immediately started calling around to compare prices – ringing hearing clinics in Thailand, Singapore and even Australia. It seemed absurd in a way – I would never fly to another US state to buy anything – but with limited options here, this type of “medical tourism” is common.
We have also worked with our daughter’s school and teachers to develop and implement classroom accommodations and communication strategies to support her learning and self-advocacy. Catering for this type of individual need is somewhat new for the school, so it has been a learning process for all involved.
Getting by with no support system
Fortunately I now know a few other school families who have children with hearing issues, which is a big help, but I still feel like I’m ambling along in the dark a lot of the time. It is this feeling of isolation which has been the hardest for me.
Sometimes I think that things would be so much more straightforward if we were based in the US and could easily connect with other families, access resources and services, and follow a more predictable path. The logistics of being an expatriate family meant that our daughter’s hearing loss went undiagnosed for longer than it might have otherwise. I still feel bad about this, but I also feel good knowing that our gut instincts were correct and we’re now on the right track.
We don’t know why our daughter lost her hearing. She was a premature twin with low birth weight, which could be a contributing factor – but really, we’ll never know.
The main thing for us now is to protect and maximize the hearing she does have and provide as much support as we can in the journey ahead. She has already selected the color of her new hearing aids (“champagne”) and can’t wait to show us how responsible she is.
If anyone can do it, she can.
As an expat mom do you feel that there are health issues with your kids that might have been avoided or that you could have dealt with better back home?
This is an original post by World Mom Shaula Bellour in Jakarta, Indonesia
The image used in this post is credited to Jaya Ramchandani. It holds a Flickr: Creative Commons attribution license.
In 2000, I packed my life into checked baggage and travelled from Johannesburg to Toronto. I left behind my family and friends, my cat, most of my belongings, and everything that I was familiar with. All I had was two suitcases, a job offer, and a street map of a city I knew very little about.
Sixteen years later, Toronto is my home. I am a Canadian citizen with a Canadian husband and Canadian children.
I have made friends, paid taxes and acquired some belongings. I have worked for Canadian employers and started my own business. When I travel, it is with a passport that says “Canada” on the front.
And yet there is a part of me that is still firmly rooted in South Africa. I follow news stories from South Africa and celebrate the victories of its people. I take immense pride in the fact that I was born in the same country as people like Nelson Mandela and Caster Semenya.
You see, even though I made the choice to leave South Africa, and even though I now identify as a Canadian, South Africa will always be the land of my birth and a part of who I am. Although my children have never left the continent of North America, African blood runs through their veins.
When the world looks at South Africa, it sees a deeply troubled country with corrupt politics and a high crime rate. But South Africa is made up of more than its problems. It is unlikely to ever be an economic or political powerhouse on the world stage, but it is great in its own way.
I try to keep these things alive in my children’s lives through stories, pictures and videos. Thanks to the Internet, I can bring parts of South Africa right into my living room in Canada. It is my hope that someday they will get to experience these things in person, just as I did during a visit last year.
Here is my top five list of things that I feel make South Africa a unique and wonderful country.
- The people. When you see news coverage of South Africans trashing city streets and destroying schools, you are seeing the minority. Most South Africans are very nice people. Their friendliness has a spontaneous quality that is not seen in a lot of other places. They don’t hold back on their smiles, and when they say “Have a nice day” they genuinely mean it. South African people are incredibly generous with their good cheer.
- The natural beauty. South Africa is one of the most stunningly beautiful places on earth. Pictures do not do justice to the wildness of the oceans, the harsh beauty of the Karoo desert, the brilliance of Cape Town sunsets, and the majesty of the mountains.
- The weather. OK, Cape Town weather is a little iffy, but you can’t really expect anything else from a city that has mountains on one side and ocean on the other. The weather in Johannesburg, however, is as close to perfect as you can get. Hot dry temperatures in the summer, and mild temperatures in the winter. The summers also include magnificent thunderstorms. I’m not talking about the odd bolt of lightning or rumble of thunder. I’m talking about nature’s own sound and light shows.
- Unity. At times, South Africa is sharply divided along racial lines, with the different ethnic groups all blaming each other for the problems in the country. But during some pivotal moments in South Africa’s history – the release of Nelson Mandela from prison, South Africa’s first democratic election, the rugby World Cup victory and more – the people have come together under the single banner of humanity. It is the kind of unity that is not only seen in pictures, it is felt in the heart. It is during those moments that the country is at its strongest.
- Dance and music. I absolutely love traditional African dance and music. It does not merely entertain, it tells a story. It is powerful and creative, and it beats to the rhythm of your heart. I can’t copy the dance moves or sing along to the music, but I can bask in the emotion and humanity of it.
What are the things you love most about your country? If you are an ex-pat, what do you miss most from home?
This is an original post to World Moms Network by Kirsten Doyle of Toronto, Canada.
In case you hadn’t heard, Portugal won the European Football Cup last week (or soccer for those of you reading this across the Atlantic). It’s a big deal because Portugal’s national team has never (ever ever) won a major competition. I was in a park watching the match on the big screen with family and friends but even someone hidden away in their closet all night would have heard the shouting, honking, banging and clashing celebrations going on all over Portugal once the referee blew the final whistle.
I’ve never really been into football, partly because my parents used to groan every time their precious news programme was postponed due to extra time but also because I found it difficult to decide where my allegiance lay. It seemed like true fans were so fervent about their club or their country. I had no idea who to support: I was born in Germany to an English mother. It was abundantly clear to me that being English was no better than being German – it was just different, so why would I want the England team to win over the German one? For a long time I avoided the question of “Who’s side are you on?” by saying I just wasn’t into football.
Then I married a Brazilian. Brazilians are really into football. I mean REALLY. It was easy to support my husband’s club because it represented the Brazilian state I first moved to and, well, he is my husband. During the World Cup 2010 we resolved any possible conflict by rooting for Uruguay, a better fit for my southern-born husband who identifies much more with Argentinian and Uruguayan Gaúcho culture than the carneval and samba of Rio de Janeiro. Plus, I always love supporting the underdog. In this manner, two World Cups went by without a glitch (well…unless your Brazilian!). And then we moved to Portugal.
Now the main event was suddenly the European Cup and once again my allegiances felt split. Should I support Germany? I hadn’t lived there in a decade and didn’t identify much with the team’s powerhouse approach. England? As a foreign-born British national it always felt odd to support “England” rather than “Great Britain” but supporting Scotland or Wales would have been even odder. What about Portugal? Once again it didn’t feel quite right. We live in Portugal but none of our family is Portuguese, I don’t know any of the players except for Ronaldo. So, once again, I sat on the fence and simply ignored the football events around me.
And then Portugal won the quarter finals. Then the semi-finals. Something was in the air. Splashes of red and green, the colours of Portugal’s flag, began appearing all over town, in windows, on cars, on people’s clothing. I commented on a stranger’s lovely vibrant red top and she told me it was “in honour of Portugal”. The day of the finals I was walking along the beach with my son. Everything was red and green: vendors were selling Portuguese scarves, all the bars had a flag in the window and I even saw a whole family of four decked out in Portuguese team shirts.
Something inside me shifted. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s easy to ignore the fact that I’m living in Portugal. I’m surrounded by expats, my family and few Portuguese friends. Expat life ALWAYS comes with it’s fair share of annoyances and it’s so easy to imagine that “home” (wherever that may be) would be better, faster, cleaner, easier. But that day on the beach I realised how many good things Portugal had brought me and my family. It had become a home, a place full of laughter and friends, sunshine, walking in the hills, jumping in the surf, drinking wine under the setting sun.
It deserved my support.
I wish I could say I went to watch the final game that night decked out in red and green. I didn’t or rather couldn’t. But although my wardrobe is decidedly monochrome my heart was beating for Portugal. And when the crowds stood up to cheer, my little Brazilian-Anglo-German family was cheering right there with them.
Have you ever supported a national or local team while living abroad? What about your kids?
This is an original post written for World Moms Network by Julie Dutra in Portugal.
When we moved to Abu Dhabi from Manhattan five years ago, we intended to stay in “the Dhabs” for a year. Our kids had scored the Manhattan Grail: spots in a “gifted and talented” public school, which meant we wouldn’t have to sell everything we owned to pay for private school, and if we stayed away from the city for more than a year, we would lose the seats.
“But you have two spots at the school,” people said to me when I told them we were leaving. To ease their doubts, I kept talking about the benefits of an international education and experiencing different cultures–but to tell the truth, I think I was trying to convince myself. After all, if you’re a student in a Manhattan public school, you’re going to be connect with kids from around the world; it’s unavoidable. Did we really need to move halfway around the world to get a “global experience?” I wondered.
Three-quarters through our first year, we decided to take the leap and sign on for another year (or four) of expat life. A year just didn’t feel like enough time: we would have been packing up to move back just as we were starting to settle in. I felt as if all the energy (and exhaustion and not a few tears) that went into adjusting would have been wasted if we returned to New York after just a year.
The boys are studying Arabic in school, and in our travels through the region, they’ve picked a few phrases here and there — mostly “hello” and “thank you” and “chocolate” — in Sinhalese, Punjabi, Italian, Swahili, Korean. The trips we’ve been able to take from Abu Dhabi would have been impossible from Manhattan, especially on the salaries of two literature professors, and so in that regard, our expat life has delivered the sort of global awareness we were hoping for.
Or at least that’s what I think on my optimistic days. On other days, I wonder: does the simple fact of being able to say “hello” in eight different languages really make you globally aware? I suppose my wavering back and forth is just the expat version of questions most parents ask themselves–“is this school the right school,” “are we doing the best we can for our kids”–and we all have good days and bad days in terms of those answers. How do we raise global citizens? That question, in the light of “Brexit” and the demagoguery of Trump, seems increasingly important, even as the answers get more complicated.
I had to confront those questions just the other day in an emotional conversation with my younger son (now almost twelve). We were sitting on his bed in a hotel room in Bangkok, where we’d come for the Global Round of the World Scholar’s Cup, an academic competition that draws kids from, yes, around the world (but mostly Asia). I’d asked C. if he were nervous about the upcoming three days of competition in writing, debate, and current events quizzing, and his eyes welled up. He admitted that he wanted to do as well as his brother had, two years ago, in the same competition, but also, he said, “I don’t want you to feel like it was a waste for you to bring me here.”
Argh! A blow straight to the heart! How had he gotten the idea that my husband and I would resent the money we spent on airline tickets if he didn’t do well? Suddenly I was the one almost in tears.
I assured him that we didn’t think it was a waste at all and that we were ridiculously proud of him already, just for doing the work to get this far. “Being able to do things like this are why we moved to Abu Dhabi,” I said. “We couldn’t afford flying to Bangkok if we still lived in New York.” My son nodded, vaguely reassured (although still nervous and still in the grips of sibling rivalry).
Truth be told, he probably doesn’t believe me when I say that we’re proud of him already. In the mind of an almost twelve-year old boy, “winning” is pretty much the only thing that matters. Given that there are about 2,000 kids competing in his division, I’d say winning anything is a long shot. (Though if there were a category called “Minecraft knowledge,” he’d probably outscore the entire world.)
What I realized after our conversation, is that yes, this experience is part of why we moved to Abu Dhabi, even though at the time we’d never heard of the World Scholar’s Cup. Even with the international flavor of New York, this sort of intense week-long bonding experience with kids from around the world would not have been possible. This experience, of negotiating differences and finding connections across cultures, will go a long way (I hope) in establishing the foundations of a global citizenry.
C. will remember this week in Bangkok long after he’s forgotten how to say “hello” in Sinhalese. For this week, at least, I’m pretty sure that becoming an expat family was the right thing for us to do.
What about you? How do you raise your global citizens?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Deborah Quinn, Mannahattamamma of the UAE. Photo credit to the author.
A few months ago we celebrated our “Asia-versary”, marking six years since we packed up our life in Portland, Oregon and moved to Dili, East Timor with our twin toddlers.
In some ways, it feels like yesterday. I can easily recall the very vivid sense of taking a giant leap into the world, equally nervous and excited. But it also feels like a lifetime ago.
After spending nearly two years in East Timor, followed by four years in Indonesia, we now feel like reasonably experienced riders of the expat rollercoaster. When new arrivals ask how long we’ve lived in Jakarta (and that we will likely be here for another four), they react with wide eyes…“Oh, wow!” This long-term status is unusual but I don’t really mind.
Our diaper-clad toddlers are now full-blown big kids who do not remember our pre-Asia life. Recently my daughter said, “I think we’ve lived in Jakarta for long enough now. Can we please move to Africa?” “Well, no. Not right now, anyway,” I replied – amused that such a move seemed entirely plausible to her, but also a little concerned by the normalcy of transience.
Though I sometimes miss the shiny novelty of being a new expat, I also appreciate our settled life in Jakarta.
Here are six things I have learned about making the most of this unique experience.
Choose the positive
Jakarta is not an easy city to love. The daily challenges of mega-city living – traffic, flooding, pollution and lack of green space – can really wear you down. Though we all have our bad days, choosing to have a positive attitude makes a world of difference. Unexpected traffic jam? Extra time to listen to my favorite podcast. There really is a lot to love here. It is a vibrant, friendly and generally safe city where just about anything is possible (and everything can be delivered). When I focus on the good things, more good things come.
Accept the chaos
In Jakarta, things often do not go to plan and the concept of jam karet (“rubber time”) takes some getting used to. However, learning to let go of being in control of everything and practicing a less-hurried approach to life can be valuable lessons. We love visiting Singapore because it feels like a breath of fresh air. Everything works, everyone follows the rules, you can walk everywhere! But after a few days I am always happy to return home. It turns out I like things a little messier and less predictable. It keeps life interesting.
Living in a different country requires you to step out of your comfort zone on a regular basis. It provides countless opportunities to “say yes” to new experiences that may not have been available before. I have seen friends learn to play an instrument, take up a new sport, climb mountains, get dive certified, learn new languages, undertake distance learning and start small businesses. Last year I ran my first 5K and 10K races and performed with a dance group in front of 600 people. These are things I never would have done in my previous life. I am so glad I said yes.
One of the best parts of expat life is the community of friends. We all rely on each other and the bonds often feel familial. Close friends fill in for far away aunties, uncles and cousins. The downside is that most families will eventually leave and the annual exodus can be particularly tough for those left behind. But as sad as it is to say goodbye, it is also wonderful to know people in so many different places. We have been lucky to re-connect with some of our Dili and Jakarta friends during our summer travels, making the world feel both smaller and bigger. I love that paths do cross again.
I sometimes worry that our kids are missing out on a lot by not growing up in our home countries. The fact that they don’t remember our life before we moved to East Timor makes it even more important to stay connected to “home”, which is sometimes an abstract concept for them. Although home is where we live, home is also the US and UK – where we are from and where our families live. Fortunately we are able to visit every summer and have grandparents that can travel to see us in Jakarta. Prioritizing these special relationships helps us to feel rooted and connected.
After living in the same place for a while, it is easy to get caught up in the daily routine and forget to notice the little things that make the experience unique.
The magic might fade but it is still important to keep learning and exploring. For me this can simply mean looking out the car window (instead of at my phone) or walking the nearby alleyways on my lunch break to appreciate glimpses of local life. I try to keep learning and using Bahasa Indonesia. I also keep lists of new things to do and places to go. Though we have plenty of time to tackle these activities, I am also aware that expat life can be precarious and is never guaranteed. I don’t want to take it for granted for a second.
This is an original post by World Mom Shaula Bellour in Indonesia
If you’re a parent, or a child, or anyone, you may have heard the phrase. “It takes a village” (to raise a child). After reading a post written by a fellow contributor, KC, I remained in thought about this village that’s needed to raise our children.
KC is currently a stay-home-mum to a precious toddler, so you know she has one of the most rewarding and challenging positions in the universe; one weighted with a lot of responsibility, as well. Thankfully she takes the time to write about some of what’s going on in her world as a mum, a woman, and as a person, because out of her writing I found something I want to discuss, too. Check her out at http://www.mummyintransit.com. She is a really good writer, and she’s funny too.
In reading KC’s post I thought about my own experience as a child in Italy, a teenager in Tanzania, and an adult and parent in the United States. What was my village like? Who did my mum include in forming my personality and my worldview?