Is it worth it? Thoughts from #FIGT14 & An Update from 2017

Below are my thoughts after attending my first FIGT conference in 2014 and after my 4th conference in 2017.

2014

Is it worth it?IsItWorthIt-Circle

The crowd fell silent after the speaker posed this question.

Is living a global life worth it in the end?

This is something I’ve asked myself many times over the years…when I’ve missed family holidays or weddings or my own high school graduation because I was abroad. When important relationships fizzled when I returned “home.” When I’ve felt restless and frustrated that I’m not currently living abroad…and then feel guilty that I’m not appreciating the years I did live abroad and the wonderful life I currently have. When I wonder if I’ll ever feel like I belong anywhere (except the middle of the ocean in-between the US and Europe – ha!).

Last week I attended the Families in Global Transition conference just outside Washington DC. It was my first time, and I loved it! If you’re a global family, or work with global families, I highly recommend attending this conference.

If I had to sum up FIGT in one word it would be heart. Sure, we talked about research, strategies, and resources. But FIGT felt different from other conferences I’ve been to (and I’ve been to a lot of conferences).

You know that feeling when you attend a conference for the first time and you want to jump up and down because you’ve found people who get you? I wasn’t expecting that at FIGT because I’m not currently living abroad, I didn’t grow up abroad, and I’m surrounded by global people every single day. I assumed I’d have things in common with FIGT attendees, but I also assumed I’d feel a bit on the outside of their shared experiences.

I was wrong.

In fact, I felt like the FIGT crowd understood aspects of my global experiences that very few people get. I felt seen in a way I rarely feel seen.

What I felt at FIGT was an unspoken bond created from an understanding of both the excitement and the pain of living abroad. From choosing a different path than family and friends. From not regretting your choices at all but from recognizing what you’ve gained, as well as what you’ve lost, from choosing that path.

I like that FIGT acknowledges both the good and the bad of living abroad. In the international education world I’ve inhabited all these years, it often feels like we only acknowledge the positive aspects. Maybe we  don’t want to sound ungrateful. Maybe we assume we’re the only one struggling with the pain and grief that comes with taking a global path. Maybe we don’t want to scare others from going abroad. In my experience, there just aren’t avenues for productively talking about the pain part.

FIGT also helped me understand on a much deeper level just how profoundly life-altering it is to live abroad as a teenager. Intellectually I knew that, I mean…I lived it, but for some reason I’ve always downplayed the significance and the impact on the formation of my identify of spending an exchange year in Germany at 16 years old.

Even all these years later it’s still so hard to sum up how that year impacted me…living with a German family completely different from mine in the US, attending school in a new language, experiencing ways of living and viewing the world that were sometimes completely unexpected…all of that changed me. Actually, it didn’t change me…I was young enough that it created me. But it’s taken me years to articulate what that means (I’m still working on it).

Is living a global life worth it?

For me, yes, because despite the pain, I simply can’t imagine my life any other way.

I want to give a huge shout-out to FIGT’s David C. Pollack Scholarship program. I was one of four Scholars chosen for 2014 and I’m so grateful that they funded the vast majority of my conference attendance! Being a Scholar was a fantastic experience. If you’re interested in attending FIGT, consider applying next year!

2017

Another year, another FIGT conference! This year was my 4th time at FIGT (in The Hague, Netherlands this time), and the first year I didn’t cry. FIGT is the only conference that has ever made me cry! 🙂 I’m still processing this year’s conference….but here are a few initial notes:

// I almost always present at the conferences I attend but this was the first year I led a session at FIGT. Well, a Kitchen Table Conversation. I’m thinking about submitting a proposal to lead a discussion or a session at next year’s conference on a topic none of us globetrotters want to talk about but desperately need to work though: re-entry/repatriation. I’m thinking about basing the session on some activities from my re-entry relaunch workbook to show how reflecting on your global identity and life contributes to creating a more positive re-entry experience. We’ll see.

// Before this year’s conference I visited Hamburg, Germany, the city I lived in as a teenager 27 years ago. I hadn’t been there in 21 years! Truthfully, I hadn’t wanted to go back…now I realize because I’d never dealt with the pain of that amazing year. Long story short, I worked through the pain I’d been avoiding all these years and I had an absolutely wonderful visit to one of my favorite European cities. It was so much fun to revisit my old haunts and experience the city as an adult. I even got to walk around my old school a bit. If I hadn’t gone to FIGT back in 2014 (see above), I’m not sure I would have re-visited Hamburg. Thanks, FIGT. 🙂

// Because I’ve worked though the painful parts of that crazy amazing first year abroad as a teen, I’ve started writing a young adult book. (I cringe a little saying that because it sounds so cliche!) It’s fiction but heavily based on my year as an exchange student in Germany right after the fall of the Berlin Wall. I’m a huge advocate of year-long high school exchange programs and my goal with this book is to encourage more students to spend a year abroad in high school.

// FIGT has been so helpful to me in the past 4 years, and as a way to return the favor, I recently became the webinar coordinator for FIGT, so if you have a webinar idea, shoot me an email (webinars @ figt . org) ! 🙂

About the Author: Cate Brubaker

Cate Brubaker, PhD is the author of the Re-Entry Roadmap creative workbook and founder of SmallPlanetStudio.com. A former expat and current part-time nomad, Cate has worked in international education for 20 years.

8 comments
Dounia
Dounia

This is such a great post, Cate. Your comments about recognizing and accepting the pain is something so universal to those living a global lifestyle. We're often worried that by acknowledging the bad parts we're forgetting the good or being ungrateful. But the good always outweighs the bad, and the best way to appreciate the positive parts is to accept the negative parts too. I love that FIGT knows how to recognize that. I think your other comments on FIGT are so true as well. Heart is a great word to describe that community, and it is the best feeling to be surrounded by people who truly get you. It was my first time attending and it was an amazing experience. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts - I'll make sure to share the post and I look forward to reading more!

Cate Brubaker
Cate Brubaker

The good definitely outweighs the bad, doesn't it? Glad you also enjoyed FIGT! Thanks for sharing this post and I hope to connect again. :)

Justine Ickes
Justine Ickes

Great post, Cate, especially when you wrote that your international experience didn't just change you. It created you. That's exactly what I think about my time in Spain. In fact, in many ways, I think that's when my life really began. Delighted to have discovered your blog and looking forward to the monthly link-ups.

Cate Brubaker
Cate Brubaker

Thanks, Justine. I feel that way, too. Like I was biding my time until I turned 16 and went off to Germany and could finally be the person I knew I was. Do come back for the monthly link-up! Would love to have to you. :)

Dr. J
Dr. J

I totally agree with you Cate! I was fortunate enough to study abroad as a college student, but only had a semester in France. I have thought many times that I should have stayed longer even if it had meant postponing my graduation. The experience has truly created who I am today. I hope that I have the chance to attend next year's FIGT conference. Best wishes in all your endeavors.

Cate Brubaker
Cate Brubaker

Looking back, the only thing I regret about going abroad was not staying longer! You should definitely attend FIGT, Dr. J. I think you'd find many kindred spirits there.

Cate Brubaker
Cate Brubaker

It took me a long time, too, Tracie. I think people are worried the pain aspects will discourage people from going abroad but it's worse when you don't realize that the pain is perfectly normal, and when you don't learn ways to deal with it before, during, and after. I still hesitate to talk about the pain aspect, because of the reactions I got very early on - that the pain couldn't possibly be all that painful (it can!). The thing is, we can acknowledge the pain AND be grateful and happy that we had the experience. It doesn't have to be either/or!

Tracie
Tracie

Cate, Great post. You summarized my feelings as well. It took me a very long time to feel comfortable with the "Pain" aspects that living abroad added to my life. And to accept that not always having the perfect exchange experience is ok, and that it is actually the norm.

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  1. […] I said in a previous blog post, living abroad in high school didn’t change me, it created me. I’m US American but I there’s a big part of me that thinks like a European. Being able […]