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tryulybalance volunteering2

by Annette Ebbinhgaus, TrulyBalance

I had the pleasure to join some women recently on what I call a “back-to-rhythm” hike. It was a group of moms that I know through various friends and it was a quick little jaunt up and down La Dôle. A morning out to signal to our mind and body that the school year had begun again and it was time for us moms to get back to more of a rhythm.

This group was of course a group of expat women, some have been here for a long time, others not so long. We managed to cover many topics, and several in depth, as one does when you live this sort of transient life. We were quick to get to the good stuff in a conversation rather than stay on the surface. In this lifestyle we are never certain how long our friends will be living in the area so we make the most of every conversation.

A topic came up that is very close to my heart and it was so great to hear about “serving” opportunities that friends had taken upon themselves. Living a life where we are not culturally the same as the native people, pushes us into living in a bubble of sorts. We manage our family relationships from a distance, the health of ailing parents from a distance. If we have children in University, they are usually in another country and often a continent away. This even happens at the age of 13 or 14 with some of our children in boarding schools of our passport country.

Being in a different country, we tend to take holidays to foreign destinations at every opportunity and our life revolves around our children`s education, running the household with an often absent traveling spouse, managing all the after school activities that are all over the region and not necessarily done at school, take language lessons, shop for groceries in several different places (that are not close by or convenient to get to or are closed half the time), keep physically fit and healthy so that we have the energy for our life, plan multiple vacations, ski season accommodation and have a Skype schedule so we can stay in touch with friends and family abroad.

For the most part, this life is similar in many ways to the life of any busy professional spouse and mother/father. The difference that I see and have experienced, is the tendency to not get involved in volunteer work. When I lived in the USA I was amazed at the energy my fellow moms had for volunteer work. Everyone volunteered, it was the norm. We had a Belgian family living across the street from us. The mother did not get too involved in the volunteering as she told me it was not customary. When my daughter set up a lemonade stand, and her daughter helped, to raise money for the Tsunami victims, she was truly amazed. She could not understand what it was my then 7 year-old daughter was doing selling cookies and lemonade on the street corner. After we explained what was happening, her three boys jumped on the bandwagon and made signs and were flagging down cars half a km away to buy from the stand. This sort of thing does not openly happen here in Europe. So how do we teach our children how to care for people outside of our own network when we live in a foreign culture?

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Some of us on the hike spent time discussing more ways to get involved here and how to teach our children about serving those in need. We came up with a few ideas that I would like to share:

It is important for our children to see us getting involved in the various communities we belong to. This will help them as future leaders of enterprises, households, communities and countries, be interested in giving back to the community and give aid to those in need. I encourage you to take the time in your September planning, to also PLAN time for giving back to the society that you live in.

Some of the women on the hike were saying that they love the lifestyle here in Switzerland, however something was missing. It was the sense of belonging and for some, the sense of purpose beyond their family. I encourage us to each get a little more involved than we were last year, to help us fill that void.