Being of Service – A Sense of Belonging

I had the pleasure to join some women last week 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.

GIVING BACK TO MY COMMUNITY
trulyBalance supports ESCA at the 2014 Dragon Boat Races

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 an 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?

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:

  1. If you are involved in a church, find an opportunity to volunteer. Our children need to see us helping in the various communities that we are attached to, in order for them to do the same one day. It also gives them a larger “family network” outside of school.
  2. Volunteer at the school. Choose at least one event to get involved in, so that our children see us working for people outside our family and see us at their school, helping out their friends…
  3. Volunteer at a local event. Start by attending local events and ease your way into volunteering. There are many events held in the Communes here in Switzerland. It is easier than we think to volunteer to serve at a local Fête, hand out brochures at a local concert, pass water to runners at a road race. It is a matter of contacting your Commune to see what events are coming up. Even with a small amount of french, they will find you a place and be happy to see you getting involved. How many times do we tell our children “go on, jump in, it is the only way you will learn”. Time for us to do what we preach. This is an area that I have been working up the courage to do this year!
  4. If your children play sports in a local club, get involved in the club dinners or events, again building a larger sense of community. When I am trying to get involved in such events, I have found people very friendly and forgiving with my ability in french.
  5. There are numerous english speaking societies here in the region that need volunteers as well. Find one that you can relate to. You can find these on the Glocals, AngloInfo, Know-It-All and WRS websites.
  6. Random acts of kindness. Help someone struggling to speak french in a local store, even if yours is not perfect. Stop to let someone in the traffic que, or trying to make a tricky turn onto the lake road, help people with heavy suitcases or strollers onto to trains, or help them put groceries in their car (I am amazed the number of people that watch mother`s and elderly people struggle).
  7. To help get your children involved, be sure to put used clothing items that are in good condition in the donation boxes at your local déchetterie. Have your children sort through the clothing at each season change and have them help you bring it to the déchetterie.
  8. When you are about to go on vacation and you clean out your fridge, fill a grocery bag of the good things and give it the person begging for money at the traffic lights, or that sell the papers outside the Migro or Coop. We all see people that are not in a good way, think about that person that you and your children see every week, and drop your food to them.
  9. Check in on friends (or neighbors) that are unwell, offer to cook them a meal, help with groceries. After living here for only a few years my neighbor came down with cancer. My children and I would bake cookies for her and pop in to say hello. My children could speak with her better than I and she loved the visit, and the cookies, each time we popped in. I still pop over now and again even though we no longer live next door.
  10. Participate in local fundraising events like Terres des Hommes

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.

Balance on my friends…..

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