Tag Archives: Jo Parfitt

Finding Your Passion…a pecha-kucha

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These past few months found me preparing for the Families in Global Transition Conference. I was to deliver a short speech – set to twenty slides that shift every twenty seconds. It’s been described as, “Say it in six minutes and forty seconds with exquisitely matched words and images, then sit the heck down!”

This concept is a complete departure for someone like me who, as a former tour guide, is given to elaborating, meandering and drawing out a story like a languorously painted mural. Challenged not only by brevity but by the need to memorize my impactful six minutes and forty seconds, I was in new territory.

Two Tokyo based architects are credited with this mode of communication which endeavours to convey a message not just succinctly, but also poignantly. Their innovation, dubbed pecha-kucha ペチャクチャ, means ‘chatter’ or ‘chit-chat’ in Japanese. However this translation is rather misleading. Chit chat usually implies an unrehearsed and natural exchange, but as I’ve recently discovered, pecha-kucha is anything but this.

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I was one of six delegates at the recent FIGT Conference tasked with delivering this precise format. Before traveling to The Hague from our various parts of the world, we each embarked upon days of preparation – writing the narrative, selecting slides, rehearsing tone, rhythm, injecting meaning and emotion, honing and memorizing. I hadn’t appreciated that something so brief could have demanded such commitment.

I recall sitting in a coffee shop in my hometown of Kimberley, the ski hill my backdrop, the deadline looming. My thoughts were crystal clear as the idea had percolated for months, yet I had no idea how to combine eloquence with economy to finesse everything into just under seven minutes.

IMG_2964For me, opportunities such as the FIGT Conference are a cause for pause and for celebration. The four day gathering is a meeting of people discussing, disseminating, listening, learning and sharing – then taking these ideas back to our global community.

Those of us who move from county to country settling our families with seeming ease and confidence, in reality face myriad complex issues. The conference is a yearly gathering, our forum to revisit and resolve those challenges in the embrace of friends – old and new.

We discuss essential matters such as Third Culture Kids (children raised in cultures different from their parents) and their transitions, identity and professional challenges. We talk of dealing with family issues from afar, educational challenges and a host of other topics. Yet along with these weighty matters, I wanted to celebrate the joy and abundance this life on distant shores offers.

And so the stage was set in The Hague. We had rehearsed, cued our slides – even selected our preferred microphone – the time had come to translate hours of preparation into an impactful six minutes and forty seconds. We had become our own little tribe of support and encouragement. “The audience is great, you’ll be fine once you’re on the stage”, each speaker rallied as they came ‘backstage’ to the sound of applause, a look of pride and elation etched on relieved faces.

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The Ignite Speakers after rehearsal with Lisa, our mentor

Maryam Afnan Ahmad enlightened and inspired on the experiences and the ‘why and how of Muslim
expatriates’. Lisa Travella-Murawsky spoke to ‘the power of team sports to create a diverse tribe’. The audience heard of how a vibrant TCK English teacher, Megan Norton, ‘created a globally local network in a Hungarian village’. Maria Lombart’s poignant ‘perspective of childhood losses, TCK’s and identity development’ was a reminder of the strength and resilience it takes to transition from an upbringing in a distant land. Janneke Muyselaar-Jellema spoke of her heartfelt journey from a life in Africa to home in the Netherlands; ‘how to find your voice, your tribe and other voices through blogging’.

For myself? I shared my journey from self-doubt and longing for meaning, to this abundant and fulfilled time in my life. And I was humbled by the reactions. My presentation seemed to trigger thoughts of creativity, provide catharsis and forgiveness for times in one’s life which might have been more productive. To my great joy, I’m told that it inspired.

FIGT has that impact on people; it elicits conversations and narratives, inspires and questions, heals and reassures. It fosters connections and communities, forges friendships and kindredness. I hope you’ll think of joining us at next year’s conference – you’ll be welcomed into the warmth and wisdom of this global community.

But for now, may I offer just a bit of ‘chit chat’…

Finding Joy and Abundance as an Expat – Planning your Fulfilled Life Abroad and Building Your Tribe. 

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It is just one story…of self doubt and longing, of joy and passion, of fulfilment and possibilities. It is my journey.

How I dreaded hearing it, “find your passion” you have all the time in the world. Find something that will bring you joy. And except for raising three busy sons…I had time.

A stamp in my passport while living in the U.S. for 6 years reminded me…not allowed to work. I volunteered, I took some courses, I even worked ‘under the table’ in interior design.

I did what we expats know how to do. I settled my family in yet another country and got on with it. Yet by year 5, I questioned my identity, my purpose, and yearned for fulfillment.

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I had taught English in Japan, Qatar and Oman. I had made a difference in people’s lives.

I now had an overwhelming sense of under achievement and felt that time was slipping away. And then I heard…our next posting is Norway. I was overjoyed.

But before I could move forward, I had to forgive myself for lost time, for what I hadn’t done. And I vowed to treat the next country as an opportunity for growth, a place perhaps to find that elusive passion.
IMG_3086As the endless rain and the autumn winds welcomed us to Norway, our lively
household dwindled from five to three. And for months, I surrendered to the adjustment and the heartache, of two children an ocean away.

The sad reality was, only I could rescue myself. It was time for resolve, time to move forward. Time to embrace new opportunities and weave a different path which is often easier in a new country. Time to re-set, to re-create, to move out of my comfort zone.

I took stock of my strengths and my shortcomings…hopeless with numbers and technology. Yet intensely curious about cultures, research and passionate about history.

IMG_0606As important as it had been to me, I declined to teach as I had in other countries. I believed there would be a new opportunity and if I reverted to what I knew, I would not be in a position for this new country to infuse and inspire with its beauty and uniqueness.

And it did! I studied and became a tour guide and admittedly a bit of a crazed Viking expert. Weaving historical narratives that entertained and enlightened, I met and worked with from people from around the world; I simply loved it.

Yet the narratives were ephemeral and sailed away with passengers that had heard them. But now without a doubt, I knew history and culture were my passion.

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Travel diaries lined my shelves and hinted at the future. A borrowed book led me to a writer’s retreat, in Tuscany, led by Jo Parfitt.

Serendipity is not luck, it is the art of placing oneself in new situations which might just bear fruit, revealing something new about yourself. For me that was Tuscany.

Was it frightening and challenging…yes

Instructive and inspiring…yes again

Life Changing…absolutely

I had taken a chance, found my voice and the belief that just perhaps, I could share my passions through my writing.

But the path wouldn’t be quite that easy.
IMG_2943We departed my beloved Norway and soon called the soviet-style streets of Kazakhstan home. And we became empty-nesters.

Without a school network to ground you and with a yearning for your children to completely unsettle you, you must learn to live with the new reality.

And I believe to be what is truly important….it is essential to ready yourself for daily life without your children. Embrace your uniqueness, your talents and  thrive.

And I did…I became a writer! My passions now conveyed in my blog, endeavouring to inform, entertain, inspire and make the world a smaller place.
In Kazakhstan we found ourselves living in a hotel suite, the Caspian my backdrop, a world of time before me.

My writing flourished, I travelled more, I jaunted off to another writer’s retreat, FIGT was now marked on my calendar. Take advantage of what more time allows…

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As a fellow empty nester recently mused at a cafe in Singapore, “What is there not to like? I have a beautifully structured day with endless possibilities. And I can have a gin tonic at 5:00 o’clock with impunity!”

She is in my ‘tribe’, we were writers at FIGT 3 years ago. A reminder that your tribe will grow effortlessly and beautifully, as you journey on a path with like-minded people.

I now live in India, country number nine. A place easy to succumb to the travails of expat life….the pollution, the chaos of the roads, the distance from family in Canada.

IMG_2258Yet on most days I choose to be joyful; to embrace the colour, the culture, the mysteries of India.

These are the joys: of discovery, of evolving, of fulfillment in whatever that may be for you. Happily for me, it is having collaborated on a book this past year…it seems I’m an author.

I recall something my husband said, on one of those despairing days in Houston. “Imagine how great it will be when you’re part of a group who shares the same interests and dreams..”

He didn’t use the word tribe…but that is indeed what has transpired.
Perhaps my most read blog… a ‘trailing spouse’ sums it up best.

Checking in at the airport to return to Kazakhstan, an agent said, ”That’s a fine set of luggage Ms. Wilson.”

I chuckled a thank you, what was I really thinking? There’s more in there than you’ll ever know. My resilience, my wanderlust, my talents, my joy.

Photos of my precious family and my partner that I’m more than willing to accompany anywhere in this beautiful world.

My tribe, I’ll find them scattered here and there.
IMG_2406So there is never truly ‘wasted time’ if we grow from it.

I would not change those six years in Houston, I realize now it was a crucial part of my path. And the abundance in my life now is that much more meaningful.

A lesson perhaps, it is not just the destination that should bring us joy…it is indeed the entire journey.

 

  • Now you know how it’s done. I challenge educators to encourage their students to explore this format. They’ll walk away having delivered a message in a structured, engaging method and I believe they’ll feel as I now do…of enrichment, growth and immense satisfaction from the experience.

So You Want To Be A Writer…

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I have to admit, being announced as a writer at the recent #FIGT conference was a proud moment. It had long been a dream of mine and my eventual epiphany was inspired by a borrowed book. That book would eventually lead me to a writing retreat in Tuscany, led by Jo Parfitt. At the risk of sounding over-dramatic, it changed my life.

Becoming a writer…in Tuscany

Becoming a writer…in Tuscany

I’ve always been envious of people who are diligently committed to their writing, as opposed to simply proclaiming their wish to be a writer, as I had done for years.  Having lived and travelled for twenty-three years in countries strung across the globe, I have nevertheless written every step of the way. Though up until now, those experiences have languished in my journals, begging to be released. They attest to adventures such as safari by camel in Rajasthan, truffle hunting in the Arabian desert, and trekking in Nepal.  To be fair, a few of those diary pages made it to published articles;  Fleeing Tiananmen Square was one and thankfully, on a happier note, Shopping in the Silver Souks of Oman.  The latter is definitely a lighter read!

Yet there’s still no book to speak of despite pleas from my ever patient husband and even a grandmother’s admonishment to, “Please write that book dear so I’ll know what you been up to all these years”.  Sadly, she’s no longer with us, which reminds me that time is knocking at the door.  It seems there hasn’t been that all consuming desire to lock myself away and write, that persistent need to tell my story. I could blame it on raising sons on different continents and working part time which kept me more than busy.  No excuse, countless writers produce a manuscript with far less ‘crippling’ situations than mine.  I now appreciate that perhaps we need to grow into things, to arrive at that place more experienced, more poised, and to forgive ourselves for ‘lost’ time.

While living in Norway these previous four years, I finally heeded my husband’s protestations  and “find something I was passionate about if I wasn’t going to write that darn book”.  I did cultivate my passion for history and became a tour guide.  And I did write, so to speak, with verbal narratives.  I can tell you everything you want to know about the Vikings, shipping fleets and herring exports, or why most of the wooden houses in Norway are painted white. In fact, I would tell stories for three hours at a time, weaving history and local culture into rich tapestries, but alas they’re not on paper. My stories were informative and entertaining, but ephemeral nonetheless.

And so it was through a book lent to me, written by Maggie Myklebust, that I finally became committed to writing.  Maggie had an inspiring story to tell and she was brave enough to do so in her book Fly Away Home.  It touched me on many levels, but mostly Maggie’s determination to become an author, something she could not have envisioned.  Her publisher was Jo Parfitt of Summertime Publishing, who would that autumn lead a writing retreat in Tuscany. After years of dabbling as a writer, I dug up the courage to put my proclamations to the test. And if it all failed miserably, at least I would have had a week in beguiling Tuscany.

The Tuscan Writers

The Tuscan Writers

Eleven strangers had chosen to be thrown together. Eleven strangers who shared a love of words, poetry and story telling, but could we write?   We all had doubts as to why we had taken this plunge; frightened, yet excited with the possibilities of what the week would bring.

Writing at the Vine Terrace

Writing at the Vine Terrace

The group was mostly British including eighty- four year olds, Pamela Mary and Peeta.  These lovely ladies arrived together, their sun hats set firmly atop their silvery coiffures. They had  been raised by nannies and servants in Her Majesty’s far flung colonies while their fathers served the British Empire.   Both were eager to record their stories from a bygone era for family and posterity. They only wrote with pen and paper, no lap tops, and their penmanship was beautiful, of course.  We were inspired that they had the courage to begin the journey of writing their memoir, confirmation that it is never too late to fulfill a dream.

The Watermill at Posara was the ideal setting for a writing retreat. The Tuscan sunshine, superb hospitality and gorgeous surroundings welcomed us with open arms.  With the back drop of a cobblestoned courtyard and terracotta pots stuffed with bouganvilla, we embarked on six days of lessons and inspired writing. Most of our work took place under the Vine Terrace. Shaded by a mass of grape vines, their plump grapes poking through the trellises, the terrace welcomed us into its safety.  It is here our writing would evoke emotions of sorrow, joy, disappointment and laughter, along with tears.

Our mandate was to learn and observe, to write, to polish, to present by 5 p.m. This did not vary. Every day, bar one, we knew at this time we must present a piece of work to be read aloud for all to hear, to ponder and to comment upon. As the sunflowers nodded in the late afternoon sun and the nearby bells of Posara chimed, we ruminated with our words and reached into our souls.

Frightening and challenging yes…

Instructive and inspiring, yes again..

Life Changing, absolutely.

At precisely 6:30 each evening, we were reminded that it was Apertivo time as the tiled table was promptly set with a fruit laden decanter of Aperol and carafes of Chianti.  It was a welcome reward for our writing toil, and balm for our souls that we had bared to each other.  After a delicious meal, our day would conclude in the comfort of the drawing room. Sinking into deep sofas, we engaged in lively conversation while sipping on chilled, locally made Limoncello.

The only male in our group was a famous British screenwriter (who shall remain anonymous) and we wondered why he was there, though pleased that he was.  He would read from his poignant memoir, recently begun but already captivating.  He would also regale us with stories of his Hollywood exploits, just as intriguing, I can assure you!  We all contributed with tales of jungle treks, of living on a houseboat, of lovers, of simpler times, of loss.  Each evening, was more entertaining than the previous. Each evening, eleven ‘strangers’ with different pasts became closer, breaking down barriers that would enable us to bare our souls just a little more in our writing the next day.  With the window sashes thrown open allowing the moonlight to peek into our lively gatherings, we would comment that another day had indeed been well lived at The Watermill!

The most integral member of that group and the reason we were all there, was Jo Parfitt.  We blossomed under her nurturing guidance, her magnanimous manner and her colourful scarves that greeted us each day. Because of her, we became writers… we became a writing family.

The nodding sunflowers

The nodding sunflowers

I had arrived in Tuscany with my sandals, sundresses and my favoured Uni-ball pens firmly packed.  I left……a writer.

 

P.S.  I’m finally writing that darn book!