Family Fun Adventures by Dulce Zamora
Not going to lie. The post-pandemic world has not been “fun” for my family. The recent social and travel restrictions magnified vulnerabilities already inherent with expat life. Even though we’re experienced nomads, the subsequent mass exodus hit much harder. Maybe the prolonged separation from our communities -- both in Singapore and abroad – compromised our usual ability to roll with the punches.
Yet, we are not pity-party people. We believe in practicing resilience. The practice part is important, because, as with many veteran migrants, unexpected issues always come up. We have dealt with challenges using different strategies. Below are three ways we have approached strife. These tried-and-true methods have served as the backbone of our family adventures. After all, venturing outside of our comfort zone involves vulnerability and risk. When things don’t go well, we need a foundation to keep us grounded. These strategies, while by no means exhaustive, allow us to maintain perspective and to keep us from flailing into uncertainty.
Strategy #1: We find our tribe and serve them.
My family and I have participated in various groups related to our interests. Noel, my husband, has joined running, cycling, and swimming clubs. He also likes to volunteer. A few weeks ago, he was able to combine two passions in the event Run for Inclusion. He and some friends helped people with special needs participate in a race.
I’ve also done my share of volunteer work, but mostly at our daughters’ schools. Over the years, I’ve served as a room parent, art docent, author speaker, reader, mentor, and library helper. When I help at school, I get to know the kids and teachers. I become part of a community that fosters a safe and enjoyable educational environment for our children.
Noel and I have history with service-oriented groups. In 2002, we met while volunteering for the AIDSRide, a long-distance charity bike event. Since then, we’ve done what we can to serve our communities. We haven’t done it to forget problems or to make ourselves feel good, though those benefits can be byproducts of service. We’ve done it because, in a world where a lot goes wrong, we can contribute something positive.
Strategy #2: We ask for help.
This is a tough one as we are largely independent people. Asking for help can be scary, but we practice doing it anyway. A month ago, Noel hurt his back around the time of our daughter Sienna’s 16th birthday. We had planned a party with her friends at our condo’s function room. We needed help with decorating, setting up food, and transporting materials. We asked some friends to help. They gladly stepped up. Their support made us feel more connected to our community, and I think our friends felt the same way, too. Many of us like to feel helpful.
It really does take a village to raise children, and since we’re far away from our original communities, we’ve had to rely on others. Many times, I’ve asked new acquaintances to be emergency contacts for my girls. If I waited for someone more familiar to fill a role left vacant by good friends who’ve left, the space on the form would largely remain empty.
The good news is that most people I’ve asked have graciously agreed to act as emergency contacts for my daughters, and I’ve done the same for them. Eventually, acquaintances can possibly become good friends. So, requesting assistance can sometimes reap rewards. We have had people reject us before, and that can hurt. Yet, we also realize that other factors such as fear can keep people from helping others. The rejection is not necessarily about us.
Strategy #3: We preserve connections.
The saying “Keep in touch”’ may seem cliché, but it is key to maintaining connections. Expats generally have great experience in this arena. Many of us have long maintained ties to our homeland by calling or texting family and friends, or by connecting with them on social media. We have also spent many holiday breaks enduring long flights, jetlag, and jam-packed schedules so we and our children can bond with the people and places we love.
When everyone started connecting online with one other during lockdown, they used resources already familiar to us nomads. My loved ones back home held baby showers for Noel and me via Facetime before the births of our now 16- and 14-year-old girls. For years, we’ve also attended family reunions, birthdays, and anniversaries using online platforms such as Whatsapp, Skype, and Messenger. Since 2000, I have submitted articles through various apps to editors who work in different regions or countries. I’ve also communicated with colleagues in different parts of the world through webinars, Zoom, and Google Meet. Likewise, my husband has long conducted business with his international colleagues using tools such as Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Webex. He has traveled a lot for business and has worked remotely from other countries and from his home office.
The Ability to Bounce Back
What does this all have to do with practicing resilience? Ties to the community strengthen us. They give us purpose and a reason to get up and go out. The people in our lives affirm where we came from, who we are, and who we want to be.
Some of us may feel like we don’t belong anywhere. We no longer fit in with the people that we left, and we don’t quite jive with the newer folks around us. Sometimes, we don’t know how much a friendship has meant to us until that person is gone. As an expat, this has happened to me so many times.
A few years ago, there was an ex-teacher who worked as a nanny for an expat family. The nanny and I saw each other often because one of her charges and my daughter were good friends. While we watched the kids, we often had small talk. It wasn’t until she returned to the States because of cancer that I realized how much her presence meant to me. Even though we were not the best of friends, it was still nice to encounter a familiar face, to sit with them, and to talk about daily stuff. When she passed away during chemo, I realized that even though we were only acquaintances, the relationship was enough to make me feel like part of a community. That sense of belonging was a steppingstone to fun. That year, the nanny and I took the kids on a few adventures, including a trip to the zoo.
Perhaps connection isn’t necessarily like it is on TV or in movies, where we have a supportive ladies group that meets all the time, or we have that one best friend who does everything with us. If we find a community, serve them, ask for help when needed, and keep in touch, we may just rediscover the fun and adventure we seek in life.
Dulce is an award-winning journalist, blogger, and speaker. She has written three children’s books and hundreds of news stories. She currently shares perspectives on her blog (www.windsweptwildflower.com), and on Instagram and Facebook as Dulce Zamora.life. She lives in Singapore with her husband and two daughters.