"You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.” Maya Angelou
Photo by Laurie Ray
As you move through countries you might notice that your identity shifts and changes. Maybe gently, maybe drastically and you might find yourself comparing your tastes, values and way of living to those of the country you’re in.
While you do so, you might move through some, or all, of these common stages of culture adaptation: curiosity, surprise, shock, rejection and acceptance.
One of the most important things when relocating abroad is to be able to maintain a certain level of flexibility, as things often don’t go as planned.
When I first introduced the idea of Positive Realism to one of my clients Saskia, I didn’t manage to finish the phrase that she begged me “please don’t tell me to just think positive thoughts – I’ve heard that piece of well-intended advice enough times already”. As a worrier, Saskia, quite rightly, had simply had enough of people expecting her to just ‘not think about bad things.'.
The thing is, we all do. We all have negative thinking tendencies. We have over 50,000 thoughts each day, and it's estimated that 70-80% of those thoughts are negative.
We don’t have to choose between either following our worrying thoughts or initiating happy rainbow thought
We can choose a third way and intentionally switch between being realistic & optimistic so that we can harvest the best of the two worlds. We can generate thoughts based on a realistic evaluation of a situation while also being guided by our best ideal scenario.
Needless to say that Saskia found relief in the fact that she could be true to herself and keep planning for potential problems to arise. We focused on how to address the issues by listing them and how to overcome them. By focusing on what you can control supports you in ‘thinking powerful thoughts’ rather than just ‘happy thoughts' so that you can take action and do something about it.
HOW TO PRACTICE POSITIVE REALISM
With their feet solidly on the ground and their eyes looking up at the stars, positive realists have the powers to make good things happen in their lives, even in adversity.
PAUSE & REFLECT: Bring a challenge you are working on at the moment to the front of your mind. Then answer the questions below one by one.
1. What is it that you want to accomplish?
2. How will you know when you got there? What success would look like? Imagine yourself achieving it. You nailed it. You did the dang thing - just like you knew you could.
3. Snap back to reality: What challenges will be on the way? List max three realistic challenges
4. Build on your realism with another sprint of optimism and break down the steps you’d take to overcome each challenge. See yourself trusting your power to get through them.
5. Make some moves & get closer to your dream. Start by:
To discover other ways to stay flexible in your mind AND body download my guide: How to Feel at Home Anywhere in the World
When visiting a place do you take a moment to reflect on its personality or do you focus on the experience the place will give you - pleasing/comforting /exciting?
It was only after moving away from my motherland that I realised that the natural environment, not just the social one, has its own personality, traits and characteristics AND that these influence and shape me to the point that they modify my personality.
In the same way that living, dreaming and working in another language shapes the way we form my thoughts, communicate and interact with others; so does the landscape.
The climate of the UK has changed my inner qualities as well as my body much more profoundly than I would have ever imagined.
Am I surprised? No, not really.
In Awe? Yes.
The book: “My body, My Home” has a couple of pages on the similarities we have with Earth.
It is with nature that we have the most symbiotic relationship: our bodies mirror nature in such a precise way. Everything we feel and create, the Earth reflects.
Picture in your mind: a raindrop on the window, it’s just the same as a tear down your cheek. Take your fingerprint, it looks like a galaxy or a tree ring. And the list of mirroring images is infinite.
We are one with nature and with our environment and so it is no surprise that our bodies might change depending on where we live.
Since I moved to this island, my body has changed to better adapt to its climate. My hair has turned wavy and curly – due to the humidity in the air; my cheeks have widened – the battering winds of the North, as well as motherhood admittedly; my olive skin has faded – doesn’t need to produce as much melatonin anymore.
My body has changed in response to the new climate I live in – these changes are somehow visible and therefore easier to recognise.
What about my inner qualities, my personality?
I have embraced new ways of being because I spend so much time walking, camping and getting lost in the Dales, Scotland and Wales rather than because I have become a British Citizen.
Of course, the socio-political environment has a profound and clear impact on us. The cultural adaption we all negotiate with the host country can also have a significant impact on us.
For instance, the language we use shapes the way we communicate with others around us.
I organise my thoughts differently in Italian or in English for instance. In Italian I am not required the same level of repetitive structure: consistently spelling out the subject, verb and object. (These might be included in in the verb or articles or are simply not required), leading to a more poetic, fluid and open to interpretation language.
The language you speak modifies first the way you organise your thoughts, then the way you communicate and subsequently the way you behave..
Similarly, culture has a very strong impact on us. And what is considered to be acceptable in one country might not be in another country. To give one simple and yet fundamental example, I had to learn to recognise the invisible queues forming everywhere in the UK. Similarly I I had to learn to apologise for inadvertently 'invading' someone’s personal space when picking up a can of tomatoes from a shelf at a supermarket. At first I crossed personal space and jumped queues all the time, not because I was disrespectful I was simply used to physical proximity and disorganised queues.
We have been trained and educated in recognising the difference that a language and a culture have on us personality: being more structured in the way you speak or more respectful of invisible personal space are just two easy example.
While we have been trained in recognising that the social environment can impact us, we have not been shown how the natural environment may shape or alter our bodies as well as our personalities.
Each place has its own traits and characteristics.
Some hills can give you a sense of peace and calm while others are so barren and wild that they evoke a sense of desolation and bleakness. If you walk on moors or through woods at the end of the day different feelings will have been teased out of you.
In the same way that a river can erode a rock so the landscape can modify your personality. Think about the potency of a river that month after month, and year after year slowly and consistently mould and reshape a rock. Similarly the natural environments imprint their own traits onto your personality – which is much softer and receptive than a rock.
What does the park near you looks like?
Are there any dense woods where to shelter if it rains? Or do you have a steep hill near you home where you can climb up and scan the surrounding area? Depending on what the natural enviroment near you looks like you’ll have the opportunity to develop new skills and new personality traits. If you have woods you might go mushroom foraging in Autumn andor if you have a steep hill you might learn to recognise how fast a storm takes to reach you as well as you’ll be used to be visible, and exposed.
The landscape near you will encourage you to bring out some traits of your personality more than others and by doing this will mould you in the same way a river erodes a rock.
Places sometimes carry underlying emotions and feelings– that are very palpable for some and are completely obscure to others.
The landscapes of the North of England affect me as I am in them or on them, and as they offer me the primary sensations of touch and sight. But, what about the landscapes of my motherland? Those are landscapes I bear in myself in absentia, those are places that live on in my memory, long after my last visit.
Do you feel alienated or distant from the natural environment that you live in?
Know that this is something that can happen often when relocating and that you are not alone in this! When relocating to another country, it can be challenging to enter an intimate and satisfying relationship with the new territory and the longing for the motherland can persist for far longer than any other aspect.
Yet if you invest a little time and energy in getting to know your surroundings you will meet not only the innate human desire of being in nature but you will also be rewarded with an infinite expansion of your sensory vocabulary.
Practical ideas to become an apprentice of your landscape
BE LIKE A CAT
The first suggestion I give to clients who have recently moved to a new country is to adopt the exploring style of cats who have just been relocated to a new home. Give yourself the time to properly land and just enjoy being indoors or in the built up areas as much as you need to,, consolidating your roots. Then explore your natural surrounding in concentric circles. Get familiar with circle number one then come back home. Then explore circle number two then come back home. Slowly and gradually explore the hills, the rivers and the woods. Identify new natural landmarks and trace the paths in your memory until you have memorised them in your bones.
MAPS MAPS MAP
Having an OS map or one of those fancy 3D maps on the wall can also help with remembering where things are
To discover other ways to become an an apprentice of your landscape download my guide: How to Fell at Home Anywhere in the World
Thank you to Laurie Ray for these beautiful photos from our walks.
I stepped out of Leeds Civic Hall and into the glorious sunshine, holding the citizenship certificate firmly in my left hand and I felt a rush of joy running through my body.
I raised my sunglasses to the blue sky, inhaled the present moment and felt the accumulated worries and uncertainties slipping off my body and disappearing into the ground - like mud dissolving in a warm shower.
It. Is. Done.
Done. Done. Done echoed into my ears for what it felt forever.
I have matched my daughter’s dual citizenship: we both have the same rights in the UK, in Italy and in the EU – what a relief.
I ask another brand new fellow British Citizen to take a photo of me and I saw my happiness reflected in her eyes.
The ceremony in itself was entirely underwhelming, only lasting a handful of minutes: I walked in, read an oath to a picture of the Queen in front of a man who didn’t even bother introducing himself and walked out alone, as I came. Solitary life in the times of Covid.
Sitting on a bench waiting for my friend, a storm erupted out of the clear blue sky: anger and loss quickly took over the joy and relief.
How is it possible? I’ll soon have two passports not one, how can I be feeling loss?
My legs wobbled like jelly as I crossed the road to meet my friend. I hang off his arm and grasped for words.
I was losing my identity both as Italian and as a “Foreigner”.
Almost as if I had turned my back on my beautiful and delicious home country. Almost as if I had betrayed my family and friends by choosing to commit to this country.
A friend half-jokingly told me I had ‘sold my soul’ and another that I “didn’t need to say I do this or that because I’m Italian”. My jar dropped open both times and a chilling shiver ran up my spine, externalizing the feeling of loss of my “Italianess”.
I also lost the contested & non PC status of ‘foreigner’. Again, my legs wobbled, the ground had been lifted under my feet.
Who wants to be described as a foreigner in the country they live in? No one. A discolored sticker on my front door in Milan made it clear to all the by passers: “Nella mia citta’ nessuno e’ straniero/ No one is a foreigner in my city” so, what am I missing? Being discriminated against, on the basis of my origins?
An example of ethnic micro-aggression was fresh in my mind, just a handful of hours before during the Citizenship Ceremony. The lady handing out the Citizen Certificates said with a sugar coated smile to the young black man preceding me: “Try to read the oath in proper English if you can. I’ve heard all sorts but please do try, will you?”
I felt a punch in the stomach, nausea rose quickly. The weight of my own privilege slammed on my face: White. European. Well dressed. I will not receive that treatment.
I strangled a scream in my throat, pressed my nails into the palm of my hands and resisted the desire to ridicule her. Aiko Bethea’s interview playing loud in my head on what it means to be an ally to black people versus a protagonist. Don't get angry on his behalf... I pulverised the woman and found the young man afterwards, I asked him how did it find it, held space. All I could do. He left in a rush needing to return to work, just like me.
My head felt light and words like ‘foreigner’ and ‘aggressions’ started swirling in circles, faster and faster. Then I caught it: in ceasing being a foreigner, I had lost the privilege of being detached from internal politics, national procedures and costumes. The Us and Them divide was broken down. I could still ignore the small and big Politics, of course, and yet by joining the majority, I had lost my critical and detached perspective. I am involved now or at least I can be.
I can vote now. I. Can. Vote.
After 15 years of not being able to, now I can.
Everything and nothing had changed. Like marrying your life long partner.
In your day-to-day life though nothing changes: you still live in the same house, wear the same clothes, eat the same breakfast.
Everything changes and nothing changes, like marrying your life long partner and yet the motivation behind this change is drastically different. My motivation to formalise my relationship with this country was born out of fear not love. And this will forever sadden me.
Fear of what life in the UK without a British passport would be like since this country was invited to express its opinion on its relationship with Europe. The Brexit campaign offered the opportunity to express anxieties around financial powers but also immigration and multi-culturalism. Brexit has lacerated the country by way of an apparently binary choice between identifying as a Leaver or a Remainer.
Since the Brexit referendum I have watched the increasing proliferation of lies told and the slow erosion of European Citizens’ rights*, for instance, with European Citizens deliberately not being resourced with any paper documentation proving our indefinite right to remain, live and work in the UK.**. Is not by accident, is the expression of an hostile environment which needs naming and challenging.
Find below the practical steps you can do to support EU Citizens in the UK.
I have decided to become a British Citizen out of fear, rather than out of love and yet I have so much love, gratitude and pure joy for the life I have built for myself in the UK. Would like to thank all my closest friends who have listened to the unraveling of my thoughts WITHOUT shutting down the conversation by either offering me a cup of tea or apologising for theirs or others’ referendum vote. I know how hard it can be to listen to someone else's trouble that you share so deeply.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart!
I am slowly expanding and relaxing into my new identity, my new new dual citizenship. The only question is how can I share with you my privilege of dual citizenship?
PRACTICAL STEPS TO SUPPORT EU CITIZENS IN UK
Learn why Settled Status is discriminatory
Settled Status is the immigration status specifically designed for European Citizens staying in the UK after Brexit. Differently from any other Permanent Residency card or Green card or is not a paper document but a code matched with your passport or National Identity card that requires entering in a database every time you want to make any sort of move.
This creates a new and unnecessary barrier to everyday life tasks. Imagine the anxiety of applying for a job, trying to open a bank account, renting a house or re-entering the country after a family visit and not being able to show a document, a card or a passport-like everyone else, but instead having to provide a code for officials to input online -all while hoping that Home Office website hasn’t once again, crashed or not updated the information yet.
SUPPORT THE WORK OF THE 3MILLIONS GRASS ROOT ORGANISATION
Read the extensive and up to date website of the 3millions and sign up their campaign to ask the Home Office to provide a physical document (rather than a code stored in a fallible database) to the European Citizens granted the right to remain, live and work in the UK
See their website here.
Follow their FaceBook page here.
Women Beyond Borders booklet is a summary of a two year project by Jill Mann and Fra Panella, born out of the desire to listen to the voices of EU women who had no right to vote in the Brexit referendum.
We discussed the emotional, practical and logistical impacts of this change in our personal lives
Download this booklet and find many ideas and suggestions to deepen your understanding ranging from tools on managing the uncertainty, to 10 top tips on how to be an ally to EU Citizens and much more.
Please share this link with anyone who you think might benefit from seeing their personal stories reflected in others' dilemmas.
How much time for yourself have you taken out of your week?
“How much time for yourself have you taken out of your week?” I asked a group of women sitting on the floor.
The sun was shining over the entrance of the tent and a gentle breeze was dancing at the back creating a pleasant contrast. I looked into the eyes of these strangers and basked in the deliciousness of in-person facilitation and the sweetness of a women’s circle embracing self-love and assertiveness.
The woman on my right answered, then the next, and the next, and so on. Each of them sharing a pearl of wisdom on how to make themselves a priority and also, each and every one disclosing some degree of discomfort or newness in creating me-time.
Women are instinctively designed to tend to others’ needs before their own. We are taught to look after the children, the elderly and the ill in the family. We are expected to prioritise the tasks our managers have no time for. No wonder that looking after our own needs, wants or desires can feel like something we have to do secretly or in our spare time - if there is any left at the end of the week.
One hour a week.
Many years ago I told my friend Tania, that I had started scheduling one hour a week in my calendar as a way to protect the restoring practice of self-care. I still remember the look on her face. Tania, a strong independent woman, looked at me with surprise, jaw dropped, eyes wide open and said: “that’s incredible that with a job and a one year old you can take a whole hour a week to look after yourself”.
One. Hour. A. Week.
One hour a week of self-care seemed incredible to her, as well as to many of my clients. Even more so if they are working mothers of young children. It’s almost as if becoming a mother equates to having your needs swept under the carpet, rather than increased. It isn’t just biological mothers who fall into this idea that your needs are less important than those in your family, community or team.
But every time we take some time for ourselves, there is a voice in our head that tells us we have been selfish and that is bad and we shouldn’t be doing it.
And especially in an individualistic society like ours, where there is so much attention on our own personal journey, our achievements and self-development, ‘being selfish’ can be seen as an act of walking all over others.
There is selfishness and selfishnes
Taking some time to focus on yourself and refill your reservoir, to tend to your needs and desires means that you can come back to the people in your life recharged and able to properly engage with them.
It is never about ignoring others or doing it at their expense. It is about looking after yourself so you can give others your best.
By strengthening the relationship we have with ourselves, by practicing saying YES to us and NO to others, we can make more space, bring more attention and care to those we love, live and work with.
Refilling our emotional reservoir
I like to think of self-care as a practice that refills my emotional reservoir and ensures I don’t go into deficit.
Imagine a reservoir above a little village. You are the village. The reservoir it’s your physical and emotional energy to support you. When the reservoir is full to the top, you have spare energy to make extra plans, to sort out the garage, to take an old friend who is struggling out to the cinema.
When the reservoir is half full, you have just enough energy to function, to look after your close circle of people and go to work.
When the reservoir goes below half-way, you are into depletion. The longer you stay down here, the harder it will be to refill your reservoir.
Take care of your reservoir so you can not just function but you can look after those you love!
Sometimes one hour a week is all I need to fully function and to fully tend to my daughter, my job, my community. Sometimes life throws me challenges and I need to go to sleep earlier, sit on my own more often, or invest in a massage.
How to refill our emotional reservoir
This simple exercise will help you identify, prioritise and make time for the things that matter most to you: the things that will refill your emotional reservoir.
Me and myself – on paper
You’ll need pen, paper & five minutes for this one. Are you ready?
Set a timer on your phone. Draw a small heart shape in the middle of the page and then jot down all the things that matter in your life - the people or activities that bring you joy - around it.
Write what’s most important close to your heart and the rest all around it in concentric circles.
Once the alarm has gone off, set it for another two minutes. During these two minutes read what you have written out loud. Have the courage to speak it out, not just in your head.
The women at the workshop took great pleasure in speaking it out loud to one another, their eyes were shining, their voices softened and I bet their hearts were swelling with pleasure too.
Connecting with what’s important to you will enable you to make space for it in your life, feeling less guilty about it.
Me and myself – in the calendar
Now that you have your picture with all that matters in your life, make time for it in your calendar.Not just metaphorically but practically: put some time in your calendar to do the things that make your heart sing and make sure you take at least one hour a week to do one of these things ALONE.
Sure, we had plenty of alone time during the pandemic and what most of us crave is connection with others, and I agree: connection is an essential aspect of feeling supported and loved. But taking an hour out of your week to be with yourself doing something that enriches your soul will create a gentle and yet significant shift in the way you approach not just yourself but also the important people in your life.
Reclaim your selfishness, shine bright and bring love to your dear ones.
As we emerge from a long period of social restrictions, at least in the UK, many questions are thrown at us:
Will I remember how to socialise with people in real life?
Why is it taking so long to get ready in the morning before leaving the house of work?
Can I still check my phone while in work meetings?
Little questions like these feel small on their own but can be daunting when you have many questions to figure it out all at once.
If you are swinging between feeling excited and overwhelmed by it all: know that you are not alone.
Prioritising self-care as we return to a 3D life might feel counterintuitive - as we feel pulled to meet with friends and family again - and yet it will be vital to ensure that you can make the most of Spring as well as Summer.
Self-care is often presented to us as a luxury or a treat, when in fact it is a crucial part of feeling well and is what supports us to shift from surviving to thriving. During challenging times, it may seem as though we don’t have enough time to practice self-care and it can slide down our priorities list.
I have been guilty of that myself too. Trying to spin many plates at the same time until my digestion system is falling apart and one of my oldest friends gave me a pep talk and got me to reintroduce micro moments of self care in to my daily life; mindfully eating my breakfast once or twice a week, adding some gentle realising movements to my exercise routine and making sure I had down-time to attend to my priorities such as my accounts!
Not time consuming nor luxurious and yet it can have such a deep impact on your body/mind balance.
My commitments came from knowing all too well that I needed to refill my cup in order to be able to support others in my family, my community and in my work.
Use the Language of Consent to negotiate social distancing with others
As you meet with friends, family and colleagues just be aware that not everyone will be on the same page when it comes to social distancing.
Some of us might feel very anxious after a long period of isolation, others might be more accustomed to sharing indoors space with people outside their 'bubble' due to work commitments for instance.
Consent is a Yes and No choice
Consent is something that is generally understood in relation to any sexual experience however, it can be used also in relation to touch in general.
I like to think of Consent as a way to set clear boundaries & healthy relationships in any context not only sexual relationships. It's about agreeing what is safe and what is not safe, appropriate, and respectful – both emotionally and physically.
For instance, I've been teaching my kid for a while now that it’s OK to say NO when someone asks for a hug or a kiss.
Since the beginning of this pandemic I began to think that we can use the language of consent to also negotiate social distancing with both people you know well and those who you know less well.
Some good questions to ask:
- "Can I sit here?"
- "Am I at an OK distance from you?"
- "Where are you with hugs? I'd like to hug you and can do this from a distance too"
- “Are you OK if we go here for these plans?”
How to handle NO as an answer
- Accept NO as an answer and move on
- Do not pressure them to change their answer
- It’s OK to feel disappointed with a NO answer but always remember that respecting boundaries is the right thing to do
- The person who told you NO isn’t responsible for helping you process that disappointment.
Negotiating space and closeness in social distancing time isn't always easy - and can make us feel uncomfortable - potentially because it seems a new thing to do.
The language of consent seems to be more common in Anglo-Saxon countries and it might feel a little awkward to use in other parts of the world. For instance in Southern Europe personal physical space is a less strong concept, and people just touch, hug and kiss many times in every given day by greeting one another with two or three kisses on the cheeks.
Nonetheless, social norms are changing everywhere in the world and I do believe that using this approach can make interaction more respectful, pleasant and ultimately more inclusive.
I personally choose to use this approach because despite the pandemic, I'm not giving up on closeness all together. I'm too Mediterranean to accept a life with no physical touch and yet I would never want to upset anyone or ‘invade their space’ -
So I choose to use the language of consent to help me navigate social interactions and negotiate space at work as well as with friends.
Also, yes, I do know all the practical ways to safely hug one another - both adult & adult as well as adult & child. Because there is no way I'll give up hugging and yet I would never want to offend you or be a risk for you.
I'd be interested to know how this suggestion lands on you?
I moved to the UK over 13 years ago and I’ve started my life from scratch many times, changed country, career, family and I know how hard it can be to start again. I learnt that having a strong network of support, friends and family around you can make a big difference to your life.
Since 2018 I’ve been working with women to help them stay connected no matter where they are in the world. Women who, like me, have moved to another country or have a nomadic lifestyle and want to feel a sense of belonging.
When the pandemic hit I noticed how the challenge of keeping connections alive was not unique to migrants anymore but was shared across the globe. We have been told to keep away from one another as much as possible and not to travel so, living in a different part of town might as well be a different country.