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Lost-and-Found in the life of an expat

Updated: Oct 26, 2023

This article was first published on LinkedIn

I lost my two furry friends and companions during the first two months of my relocation to Oxford. Agatha, my 16-year-old Domestic Short Hair cat, passed away a month after our arrival. Skye, my 12-year-old Scottish Terrier, passed away another month later, a week before my household shipment was delivered to our new home.

I had Agatha and Skye since they were babies. They traveled with me from Jakarta to Tainan City three years ago. Last September they traveled once again with me from Tainan City to Oxford, England. They were great explorers. They were both sick, which I did not realize and thought their seemingly progressive tiredness was simply part of their aging. Transition is about moving through multiple unknowns. We bring along our old and familiar, and we slowly collect the new. Losing Skye and Agatha is extremely sad and disorienting for me.

As I scale along Whitney Johnson’s S-Curve of Learning, specifically for me, on how to settle and thrive in a new country, from the Explorer to the Collector phase, I become acutely aware of the snail-pace, almost loitering, at my launch point. There has been a tremendous amount of data to collect and process. As soon as I arrived in Oxford, I checked in with a number of local veterinarian practices. Most practices here have separate clinics for cats and dogs. I learned that cats and dogs have different needs that require different care. One that does consider both dogs and cats was not taking in new patients for another six months or so. I asked to be put on the waiting list.

When Agatha’s movements became erratic, I managed to book her to see a vet for cats nearby within 24 hours. The vet couldn’t find anything obvious and ordered some scanning and blood test to be done in a week’s time. Over the weekend, Agatha was doing poorly. She could barely walk. I found a 24-hour clinic within the practice network about 7 miles away. They administered tests and scanning that same day. Agatha was very sick and eventually passed away there.

A few days later, Skye started to stare out to the garden and not eating. I imagined she was missing Agatha. When Skye was still not eating the day after, I took her to the 24-hour clinic. Skye was also very sick and was prescribed palliative medication. We went back to the clinic a couple of times for follow-up checks. I learned how to get to the 24-hour clinic by bus instead of taxi. Skye had another month of relatively fun time. I even took her on the bus to see London.

During this settling-in period, I collected data on the animal clinics in my area and ways to get there without a car myself. I collected data on the level of warmth, caring and welcome of the community that is beyond transaction obligations. I received personalized, handwritten condolence cards from all the clinics I visited after Agatha and Skye passed away. Skye’s groomer also sent a card accompanied with a photo of Skye overlaid with Kipling’s Four Feet Trotting Behind. The data, both quantitative data of facts and qualitative data of experience, reaffirm my continuing with this S Curve. The bittersweetness reminds me of this art piece shared by Susan Cain. I am in awe with the beauty of Derakhshani’s garden party, which to me is a dance of datapoints collected.

Art: "Spring Garden Party," by Reza Derakhshani, 2019 via Susan Cain

Easing into collecting

We transition through countries, cultures, languages, roles and jobs as expats. We lose our childlike self along the way. We feel this weariness that nothing seems to work and long for serendipitous steps. We compare and contrast. We often look back, fleetingly maybe, that our last place, last project, is so much better, filled with ease and flow. We forget all those S-Curve journeys through the launch point, before the sweet spot, towards eventual mastery.

To be a world-class Collector, Johnson emphasizes the need to reacquaint with your childlike self: “When you approach new opportunities with a childlike mindset and collect data without reservation, you can evaluate whether growth, however slow, is leading to momentum.” As you collect, you may find that the data does not support your staying on this path. Johnson says that “Some S Curves are puddle jumpers: you hop on, you hop off. This is not failure. This is collecting.”

Shirzad Chamine identifies this childlike self to be “experiencing great curiosity and fascination in discovery…walking along a shoreline and turning over rocks to see what’s underneath…with curiosity, openness, wonder, and fascination…in the midst of a great crisis.” This somehow provides the backdrop for my why in launching this S Curve: to be in the energy of that Spring Garden Party.

What is your S Curve experience like?

Let me know how you scale your S-Curve of Learning. Johnson offers three tips for being a world-class Collector:

  • Audit your adult self; get reacquainted with your childlike self.

  • Pay attention and cultivate childlike wonder consistently.

  • Become a world-class Collector of feedback.

Subscribe to Just Be with Lina to receive my next monthly newsletter, to explore how being, rather than doing, can better support us through uncertainty, living on the periphery as expats and TCKs/CCKs. This is the second of a series modeling Whitney Johnson’s S-Curve of Learning and Growth. If you want to dive deeper, contact me to explore how coaching can support you.



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