Guest Blog: FOCUS

This week, we warmly welcome a blog contribution from, Eva Stock, Director of Sponsor Relations, FOCUS. Based in central London, FOCUS is a community of expats for expats and runs as a non-profit organisation, and has supported expatriates for over 30 years. Their multinational staff have first-hand experience of living abroad and tailor all information to the specific needs of each member.

The Importance of Community

Is being part of a community important in the life of an expat? The Random House Dictionary defines community as, ‘ a social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists’.

Being part of a community gives people a sense of belonging because they share commonalities with other members of the group. When you are established in your home country, you will have developed many ‘communities’: workplace, cultural, extracurricular, etc. When you uproot yourself and your family to make an international move, those groups are most often left behind. So when you arrive in your new destination, especially in a city as large as London, it is important to be proactive about finding and joining new communities.

Many people start by seeking out others from the same nationality. There will be a natural affinity with your fellow countrymen, as you will speak the same language and share the same cultural references. But some people want to take the opportunity to mix with other cultures and nationalities, after all that is why they opted to take an international assignment!

A great starting point is often the children’s school. The commonality? You all have children and take an interest in their well-being. Most international schools have established avenues in place to help newcomers settle in and feel part of the school community. These range from buddy systems for students and parents (pairing the newcomers with those who are already settled) to well developed and active Parents Associations.

Children are given a head start, as they have a ready-made community from the first day – their class. So I often suggest to parents to get involved with the school. Go to a Parents Association meeting and ask how you can contribute. Usually there are several options from being a class representative, to being treasurer. As a class rep, you will not only have contact with the parents and teachers from your child’s year, you will also have interaction from the reps of the other classes, broadening your net.

Many schools offer social or fundraising events aimed at parents, from Quiz Nights and Race Nights to themed discos. While it might not seem like your cup of tea, it again provides an opportunity to strengthen your involvement in the school’s community. These events are usually aimed at both parents, providing an opportunity to meet those who might not be so actively involved in daily school life. Of course, attending your children’s sporting events, concerts and performances provides another occasion, not only to support your children in their endeavours, but to meet other parents whose children share similar interests to your own.

It takes time, but you will, of course, establish your own communities here. Many people feel that the bonds they establish while abroad run much deeper than those they may have had at home, as their new community becomes their surrogate family.

Eva Stock
Director of Sponsor Relations
FOCUS
A community for expats by expats
http://www.focus-info.org/