Expat coach and author Florence Reisch-Gentinetta is a self-confessed “serial expat” and would like to invite you to embrace this magic life
Florence Reisch-Gentinetta has lived on five different continents in the last few decades of her life, and embraced every moment of her expat life. The author and ACC Advanced Coach and Clear Belief Coach laughingly calls herself a ‘serial expat’ and is passionate about helping men, women and children make smooth global transitions.
Just as she has appreciated the opportunity to learn about new cultures and speak diverse languages, the mother of two Third Culture Kids (TCKs) hopes to help others max out the expatriation journey. Her new book, Expat Wife, Happy Life! The Journey of a Serial Expat, available in paperback, e-book and audiobook formats, will help you decide if a nomadic life will meet your needs and values.
We spoke to Reisch-Gentinetta about her journey and how she has made the most of her expat life.
How did you come to live the expat life? Did you think, growing up in Switzerland, that this could be your life?
I have always enjoyed travelling and meeting new people. Secretly, I think I wanted to be an ambassador’s wife. So yes, deep down, I think I always dreamed of an expatriate life.
Even as a child, I moved with my parents around Europe a lot, between Switzerland, France and Belgium. My biggest challenge at the time was with changing schools and mastering the curricula.
When Alex – then my boyfriend, now my husband – had the opportunity to go to Africa, I didn’t hesitate to follow him. I was very much in love, I was leaving with a man I trusted, with whom I had common values; I envisioned my future with him. I also knew that I was free to return home if I didn’t like the experience; I had taken the necessary steps to get my job back if I decided to return to my old life. I’ve never looked back, and we have lived in Indonesia, Brazil, Mexico, the Philippines and the UAE.
What have been the major advantages and challenges of this way of life?
We will have lived several lives in one lifetime! Each time we move to a new country, it is like adopting a new nationality for a few years. We learn to blend into a new culture, we eat differently, we often have to learn a new language, we learn to find our way around a city we don’t know… Above all, we meet new friends who become our family in this new environment.
Personally, the freedom that I’ve found in the expatriate life has also allowed me to grow a lot, to realise crazy dreams (like writing a book!), to become the person I was meant to be without prejudice or judgement.
Of course, this life also presents major challenges: the transitions between each move have been difficult months for me; moments of loneliness, doubt, stress, guilt with regard to my children. Finding your balance, feeling that your family is finding its way, its routine and ensuring that everyone is happy requires a lot of effort and flexibility. The success of expatriate life also depends a lot on the state of mind in which one lives the experiences and the attitude one adopts. Staying positive is sometimes a challenge in itself, but I think it is the key to a successful expat life.
And then there is also the rupture with the country and the people you are leaving, which is often brutal for those who leave and also for those who stay. Personally, I have always done everything to keep in touch with my friends who are now an integral part of my life.
You are the mom of two Third Culture Kids. Do they enjoy this varied life they lead?
My son was born in Singapore and my daughter in Brazil. Both of them have only experienced expatriate life, so they cannot compare nomadic and sedentary life. They enjoy discovering new countries, they find their life stimulating. In their own way, each has kept in touch with their former local and expatriate friends. They both have a strong sense of family, they enjoy time together, and my son is particularly attached to the family roots. For holidays, he likes to go to Austria, his father’s family fief (estate); Austria is definitely his home.
My TCKs also like to share their new country with our visitors, friends and family, to show them how they live their daily life. They both agree that it was easier to move when they were younger. They now want to finish their studies in Dubai but are willing to continue travelling the world for their university studies.
You say your kids have given you learnings for life. Could you share some of these?
By observing the way my children have approached and reacted to change, I have learned resilience, flexibility and adaptability. Their authenticity has always allowed them to blend and integrate easily into their new environment. Their positive and jovial attitude makes their peers want to welcome them into their groups. My children love to come home; our home is their comfort zone, they feel safe and free to express all their emotions with trust. The family is a strong pillar and anchor in their daily life.
My TCKs have few material attachments; they could move with just one box. All their memories are in their heads, in their hearts. They like to celebrate important moments with their family and enjoy cultivating friendships. They often share their memories and always want to return to places that remind them of beautiful moments. Even though they are curious, sociable and independent, they also like to be quiet and to relax in their room.
Your book was released late last year. Tell us why you decided to write this book.
The global pandemic gave me time to write. In February 2021, when I realised that my children would not return to school for the next four months and my husband would not travel, I had to find something to keep me busy. At that point in my life, I felt disconnected from the expat world that I love so much. Coaching was not keeping me busy enough; I needed a more intense challenge. From the moment I decided to focus on my project, everything happened very fast.
The inspiration came from my friends, who had been encouraging me to share my experiences and advice for a long time; they knew that my expertise, my mindset and my positivity were worthy of being shared. I quickly contacted a book coach to make sure that I would follow through with my dream. She promised that if I followed her method I would write my book in 12 weeks. I trusted her; we started the adventure on March 3, I sent my manuscript in on June 5! The experience was intense and extraordinary.
Thanks to the first powerful questions my literary coach asked me, we immediately found the best angle for my book. I myself had several objectives in writing my book. While I wrote it for my children and my friends, my first objective was to reconnect, to exchange with the expatriate world.
Expat Wife, Happy Life! The Journey of a Serial Expat is therefore a positive book that aims to encourage and reassure any future or current expat who has the opportunity to embrace this extraordinary life.
At the end of each chapter, I invite my reader to reflect on the shared theme from their own perspective by asking them three powerful coaching questions. My experiences and advice are key to a better adaptation in a new country. I share all the emotions that one goes through as an expatriate – the richness of expatriation, its moments of joy, and its more difficult moments.
Did you find unexpected learnings and surprises when you went over your journey while writing this book?
You learn through whatever you do in life. You learn about yourself and you learn about the outside world... My biggest learning while writing this book was that anything is possible. Even if, at the beginning, I thought it was crazy to start this writing project, I felt like following my instinct, trusting myself and those who believe in me. I wanted to let myself be carried away by the adventure. Being a coach myself, from the very beginning, I was well aware that I couldn’t do it alone, so I started by daring to ask for help from a book coach, whose job is to help entrepreneurs write a quality book to gain visibility, credibility and impact. Without this help, my book would never have seen the light of day. This experience confirmed to me that asking for help is a strength, not a weakness.
This journey also allowed me to go back to the best years of my life, to relive all those meetings and friendships that have given me so much. I suddenly became aware of how much I knew about the world of expatriation. I didn’t need to do any research; the whole book was inside me. My fingers danced on the keyboard for 12 weeks. I enjoyed writing, writing and writing some more every morning. It was the first time I had written more than one essay and in English at that! My mother tongue is French. Anything is really possible...
This whole adventure would not have been possible without the encouragement, support, kindness, empathy and pride of my family and friends. Today I am surfing on a wave of happiness. Every day I receive messages of appreciation and gratitude. Readers tell me how much my book resonates with them, and how much they would have loved to have had it at the beginning of their expatriation. Others come back to it as a new situation, a new transition presents itself. Knowing that I have already helped several expats is my greatest reward.
We'd love to hear your top three tips for those who are contemplating an expat life…
Take the time to study the proposal to be sure that life abroad is the right choice. Does this life correspond to the vision and needs you have for your family and for yourself? What will be the conditions for each member of the family (job, school, housing, insurance, travel, etc)?
Go out there and visit. Feel the city, visit houses, schools, sports clubs, everything you know you need to be happy.
Read everything that is available on the internet – it will help you anticipate your move. I obviously encourage you to read my book, which is a positive, encouraging and thought-provoking guide for all future and current expats who want to embrace the expat life.
Find more about Florence Reisch-Gentinetta, her life coaching and her book at Coaching With The Flo.