In my 40th year I left Seattle Washington for Santiago Chile with my husband and two, at that moment, very surly adolescents. Why would I leave my nest, and my satisfying job as a child and family therapist for the unknowns of South America? Truth be told, my husband had a dream and in a weak moment I bought in to it. I had wanderlust too although my vision never included moving where I could do little more than order lunch and ask the location of the bathroom. Like most expats and immigrants, I had no idea what I was getting into.
Many people think living internationally is a life of glamorous adventure. The usual upbeat resources won’t tell you that your first year of bouncing around culture shock is actually the easy part. It’s the long aching haul of grieving homeland touchstones and raising children across cultures which make the first years in a new country require real grit.
Children move easily into a new culture, adopting the language and values surrounding them. On the other hand women, mothers, keepers of family traditions, (and their husbands or partners) have waves of grief and culture loss that replay as they watch children’s loyalty shift away from the mother tongue and culture in stages. Some women accept this emotional conflict with stoicism, some fight angrily, some become depressed, but they all have immense courage.
After a few years in Chile watching my children smoothly become bicultural while I struggled with my dual identity, I returned to the US with a passion to help expatriate and immigrant women feel validated, have a voice, and own their courage. I’m still at it, working as a multicultural therapist, writing and teaching for going on twenty years now.
My most recent project has been co-authoring Mixed Blessings: a Guide to Multicultural and Multiethnic Relationships with my colleague and friend, Rhoda Berlin, LMFT, herself a daughter of immigrants. Through the stories of twelve couples, Mixed Blessings shows ways couples can resolve cultural conflict and have deep, meaningful relationships. Mixed Blessings is available on Amazon.com and can be ordered through indie bookstores. Rhoda and I are currently working on a second book on multicultural and multiethnic family stories.
Please visit our website www.mixed-blessings.com to read the introductory chapter of Mixed Blessings. You can contact Rhoda and I at firstname.lastname@example.org or email me directly at email@example.com.