For many years, Matthijs de Rave worked as Sales Director for well known, worldwide insurance companies and was also an author of children’s books. One day, he had an airplane epiphany and founded Expat Valley. I talk to him about being the first Ombudsman for International Children, and what it was like being an travelling dad.
In this Episode
- What is an Ombudsman for International Children, what Matthijs does and who are international children. (1:19)
- His personal experience of travelling a lot for work and being a dad. (5:59)
- The impact on his children. (6:51)
- His airplane epiphany. (8:11)
- The Trip Kit.(11:25)
- Phone calls home (20:41)
- What Matthijs would say to someone who is just starting to travel a lot for work. (21:55).
- The importance of hearing other people’s stories around business travel and being more open about talking about it. (26:16)
- Matthijs’ favourite resources for life and parenting. (35:22)
Resources mentioned in the episode
Contact Matthijs de Rave
Rhoda Bangerter (00:15):
Welcome to Holding the Fort Abroad, the podcast for expats with travelling partners. My name is Rhoda Bangerter, I am a certified coach and the author of the book Holding the Fort Abroad. In this podcast, I interview men and women who live abroad and have travelling partners so that we can all benefit from their wisdom and experience, I also invite relationship experts to apply their expertise to this topic. Today my guest is Matthijs de Rave. For many years, Matthijs worked as Sales Director for well known, worldwide insurance companies and was also an author of children’s books. I am delighted to be speaking with him today about his new venture as First Ombudsman for International Children.
Mathijs, Welcome to the show !
Matthijs de Rave (01:05):
Hi, Rhoda. Thanks for having me.
Rhoda Bangerter (01:07):
Thank you. I'm excited to hear your perspective. So what is an Ombudsman for international children? What do you do?
Matthijs de Rave (01:15):
<laugh> good question. Um,
Rhoda Bangerter (01:16):
That's where we start, right? I'm curious.
Matthijs de Rave (01:19):
There you go. Um, before I answer that question, I'll take a little step back. If you look at the data, that the UN provides on international migration, there's sort of like one data point, which says there's 40 million children who grow up outside of the country they were born in. We're talking about refugee kids, expat kids, children from military, embassies and so on. We actually believe that number to be much higher. Uh, if you also include the children that are staying at home whilst their parents are traveling across the world as a frequent business traveler or for work or anything else. So when I was thinking about it a number of years ago, and also based on the fact that I noticed that, um, from my work experience with international health carriers, there wasn't anyone really dedicated towards the wellbeing of children in the context of international migration.
Matthijs de Rave (02:14):
While I saw around me all sorts of challenges, getting used to new culture and a language, new friends, missing your family and so on. There wasn't really a representative out there caring for that group of children. And I know 40 million sounds like a big number, but at the same time, I thought: if you don't think big, where are we then going in terms of our visions”, sometimes it's good to have a bold vision, right? Um, so going back to sort of the representative and the 40 million, that's actually where the ombudsman came from, um, a representative for this group of children. Um, as I felt that it was, the current narrative about children in the context of international migration, I think there's a whole taboo there.
Matthijs de Rave (02:59):
Um, I think we should talk much more about it and I think we can do much more to help these children thrive basically. Their life is usually going in sort of overdrive when it comes to migration, they usually experience in one or two years, what a normal child would experience in perhaps, uh, a space of 20 years. So it was time to stand up and to do something more for these children and have their voices heard. And that's sort of, if that makes sense, the ombudsman for international children,
Rhoda Bangerter (03:30):
That's a good observation, actually, that these kids probably live like in a few years, they just have huge life experiences that they have to process huge change, but you focus on companies, right? Big organizations. Helping them.
Matthijs de Rave (03:46):
Yeah. So me and my co-founder our experience is primarily with the international corporate environment. We've worked a lot with global mobility teams, as they're called, so that's sort of where we started, but at the same time, we also felt like organizations can take much more responsibility when it comes to taking care of these children. I had a lot of conversations about the reasons why assignments fail prematurely and mainly the top reasons are usually stress and adjustment challenges with the family and more specifically children. So it makes complete sense for an organization to do more in that space. So, yes, we are focusing on international organizations, especially where we feel that we can explain why they also benefit when they extend their care to those children. Right. And at the same time, much further than that. So, uh, talking to other organizations, I think we identified over 30 groups of international children. We were like: “wow, this is such a huge space where we can make an impact”, but it's also good as a startup to focus in the beginning rather than to being at too many places at once and not making any impact for children.
Rhoda Bangerter (04:54):
My hunch also what I suspect is part of why families also struggle when they're settling abroad is that one of the partners is traveling, but there's no numbers for that. There's no statistics on how much people travel once they've moved abroad. I saw once a table and it was like, it was for American business travelers and it had, you know, the number of people who traveled. It was over a couple of companies and it had like two, three weeks, a year, six weeks, a year, or living in another country in expatriation, but there was no numbers to say how much that person traveled once they went in expatriation so that I would love to start seeing statistics in surveys of how much do people actually travel once they're on an assignment abroad. And this is something that, you know, a lot about because you traveled a lot. Right. And I also, this is why I'm really excited to get your perspective as someone who has traveled a lot as a husband and a dad.
Matthijs de Rave (05:59):
Absolutely. A lot of thoughts here I think for me as a father. I really was excited to be traveling more for work. I think that everyone does it, you get to see a lot of the world, you get to see and meet new people. Initially, my children were quite young when I started, um, which was sort of fine because they weren't really aware of the fact that I was gone for a number of days, but as they grew older, I started to notice like: “Hey, this is impacting them.” I saw a bit of anxiety issues in terms of: “Dad is not at home. What happens if someone breaks into our house?” My younger son was actually crying a lot when I left and actually usually needed a couple of days to really land back on his feet again. And, and I think one of the most embarrassing moments I had that was sort of in a year where I probably had more than 40 business trips in one year…
Rhoda Bangerter (06:49):
…Pretty much once a week…
Matthijs de Rave (06:51):
Yes. Correct. And, and this was even within Europe, so it wasn't even like intercontinental, but then still, even if you just travel to the next country, it has an impact. And I remember one of the most embarrassing moments. And I remember because at first I was laughing about it because my wife told me the story. My daughter was still young. She was like five. And so she went to school and there were a couple of parents who never saw me. And then I think it was around November, December time, so well into the school year. I finally found some time to bring her to school myself. And then a couple of parents went to my wife the week after, when I was traveling again. And they said to her: “oh, we didn't know L had a father.” <laugh> so
Rhoda Bangerter (07:31):
Matthijs de Rave (07:31):
Well, there you go. That was my initial, well, that wasn't my initial response because I was laughing about it at first. Like, oh, that's cool. You know, but later on, I was like: “this is completely wrong. This is not the type of father I wanna be.” And I'm laughing about it, but that's more because of the craziness of the situation. Right. But going back to your question and my experience, I think one of the pitfalls is that you sort of go into it well-intentioned also toward your family, but before you know it, you are in this sort of system where everybody does it, your colleagues do it. Some of the colleagues I work with, they even did the same thing, but then on an Intercontinental basis. So through different time zones and also with families at home. So it sort of becomes normal.
Rhoda Bangerter (08:11):
Yeah. It becomes normal. You feel you can't really say no to a trip. Right. It's just part of your work and yeah. Was your wife, did she think it was unusual? How did you guys live it?
Matthijs de Rave (08:24):
Well, I think we were both lucky in a way because my wife and I met each other when we were 15 and 16, she was 15. I was 16. So we're already together for more than 25 years. So I think in a way that helped because we completely understood each other mm-hmm <affirmative>, but also knew that we never sort of experienced this amount of travel. And I think initially it was really good because we understood each other very well. It also gave sort of the support system at home, but also for me, comfort when traveling that much. But at the same time, the strength of our relationship was also in a way, it also came back as a boomerang because we were sort of holding on a system that wasn't really working for both of us, because she had sort of, she really needed me in a number of situations and I was sort of helping her out as much as I could by working and by providing as a father and as a husband. So I think the strength of our relationship was also in a way, if you know what I mean, sort of negative, because it also actually kept in place the system because we were working really hard to sort of satisfy each other if that makes sense.
Rhoda Bangerter (09:26):
I see what you mean, but then you must have realized: “wait, there's something missing here.” I know you wrote a little while ago in LinkedIn, you posted that, um, you had a ha aha moment. Mm-hmm <affirmative> can you tell us about that?
Matthijs de Rave (09:38):
Yeah, I called it an airplane epiphany, and it really was, I can still vividly remember it that I was sitting in an airplane for, I'm not sure what, how many times it was that year. And I can actually remember, I was already always sending my wife text. We, we sort of had the rhythm and a ritual about, uh, saying goodbye and also a message to my kids before I left. I would leave literally in the air. And then I sort of looked around me and all of a sudden became so aware of my surroundings and sort of became a spectator of my own feelings. Yeah. Honestly, like there's something off here, like you just explained: “is this right? What I'm doing here? How would all of the other people around me, would they be dealing with it?”
Matthijs de Rave (10:21):
“am I the only one actually dealing with these sorts of challenges about is it good that I'm leaving my wife and my family behind this many times? Um, is there anything I could do differently or do I just need to stop doing this?” And all those sort of things came into my mind and especially in my heart, I honestly felt it. And as a children's book author I was always amazed by these huge international companies and seeing all of these opportunities to do better for children in this context of migration. And that's sort of where it came in. Like I should do something about this, right. I sort of seen the experience. I've lived the experience myself, what would happen if I would add imagination to that process and actually come up with a solution to help parents, but also organizations to help make an impact for these children and make it easier for them because we can't stop business travel. And that's also not what I'm preaching for but I think we can make it easier for everyone involved and, and create an environment, you know, in which children can thrive. That's honestly what I believe.
Rhoda Bangerter (11:25):
Yeah. And so you developed a book, right? You're developing a trip kit. I love the word, a trip kit, to keep parents and kids connected. Right. It works for moms and dads who are traveling.
Matthijs de Rave (11:37):
Absolutely. Yeah. So it's finalized, it's a book and it basically keeps families connected. everyone that stays at home and the frequent business traveler, even though they're not physically together. It's a book in which there's all sorts of actions. It's actually sort of a logbook in which they can record everything before, during, and after the trip. We also have a partnership with the printing company. So there's a little pocket printer in there as well. So you can put all sorts of photos in there. It almost becomes like a memory in which you record everything whilst you're apart. So I missed a couple of things, you know, parties, I missed a couple of practices for sports for my children. How cool would it be if there's a tool available where you can actually know: “Even though I'm going to travel, uh, and I'm being, you know, apart from my family, there's still a couple of actions that I need to do towards my family and vice versa.” And one of the things and the questions that I got a lot from my children were like, you know, really simple questions: “when will you be leaving, how long will you be gone? When will you return, who will be joining you? in which hotel will you be staying?” And I noticed that once I would tell that to them, they would be more relaxed. There would be still a little bit of anxiety, but at the same time, there would be a bit more mindful. And there would be a bit more peace of mind if that makes sense. All of those elements that I've experienced as a parent, traveling quite often, I've added all of those items into the book so that you can stay connected and also answer those really critical questions towards your children. Uh, so that they're a little bit more at ease
Rhoda Bangerter (13:16):
Mm-hmm <affirmative>. So there's space to put in which hotel you're staying at, there's there's space for you to put information in and then there's space for them to, what, what kind of activities are they like coloring or a space for photos, or games?
Matthijs de Rave (13:30):
Actually, all of the elements you've just mentioned, it's sort of an activity book. Um, but there's also elements. Like there's also an educational element in there so that children can actually learn more about the country that you're traveling to, so that they can also investigate themselves. “Okay, what is the national flag? Can I draw it in there? Um, what kind of food do people eat there?” So they also get to learn a lot of things. Um, and there's also what I find cool. We've also developed the first frequent flyer program for stay-at-home kids. So once parents start to travel, usually it's the parent that gets all of the perks of being out there many times and we've developed something that's a bit difficult to explain on the podcast, but it's really cool.
Matthijs de Rave (14:13):
Like once the parents travel, they also get a reward system, which is included in the activity book. So it actually allows for the parent and the child, once they come back after the business trip, uh, that's where the reward sits. And that's usually on quality time with the child, very low key, not like big promises, but we've sort of created a number of rewards in there for children to, you know, to spend some quality time with their traveling parent. And it's also in a game form. Um, so it's basically, we go from bronze to the highest, which is usually platinum in the travel world. Our highest level that a child can achieve is the unicorn level. And that's sort of how we do a lot of engagement before, during and after business travel.
Rhoda Bangerter (14:57):
Wow. So it's like: ”when are you leaving? When are you going on your next trip? <laugh> because I need platinum.”
Matthijs de Rave (15:03):
It is this sort of like, uh, you know, going back to what we just discussed there is also sort of, you could view it like that, but it's, yeah. I think the positive definitely far the negative.
Rhoda Bangerter (15:14):
So, so basically you are telling me, you believe there can be a connection between the person traveling, the parent traveling and the child.
Matthijs de Rave (15:22):
Yeah. And I honestly also think that the organization also has a responsibility there because, you know, ultimately it's the organization that sends out people to for travel. Um, and even though your family, I think, I think there's still this sort of traditional mindset, which makes complete sense, right? Uh, about parents are responsible for their children. So if you decide to take on this job, and if you decide then that you have to travel for this job, then it's your responsibility to take care of your children. But actually, you know, an organization can also be part of the conversation, can be part of the ecosystem in order to create a little bit more safe space for children. I think it would be awesome if I would get from the employer I work for, if they would have a tool like that, you know, that I know, “okay, my employer is actually taking care and is looking after the safety and the wellbeing of my stay at home kid.” I mean, how cool would that feel, right? If your employer - and it doesn't necessarily have to be a trip kit - but just something so, you know, “Hey, I can make this, I can put my feelings or what I think about this or my challenges on the table.” And I don't think this discussion is happening at the moment.
Rhoda Bangerter (16:28):
Yeah. Well maybe listeners who are with organizations can tell their organizations: “Hey, there's this super resource that can be procured or bought by the organization.” Right. Because it's mostly available to organizations that they can then provide it to their employees as a benefit really so that they can use it for their relationship with their child when they're gone. I think it's a brilliant idea. So obviously there was no trip kits when you were traveling, how did you stay connected with your kids? Did you, you said you texted them, did you know what was going on at home? Did your wife kind of tell you what was going on?
Matthijs de Rave (17:09):
So my wife and I probably called every day, probably more than that, because travel in itself for a parent can also be quite stressful and challenging. So what we've done and actually this part has also come back in the trip kit is we bought a journal for all three of our children and this journal would be something we would write in on a daily basis. Like, “what are you doing today?” Uh, first steps, but also things like, “you made a really funny joke” that sort of thing was also included in the journal and what we would do before I would leave. I would absolutely leave a message in all three of those journals for the kids. Like, “Hey, I'm leaving. This is when I come home. I will miss you.” It was quite general, but it sort of felt like, “Hey, I'll see you in three days and you'll be fine.”
Matthijs de Rave (17:56):
Also when I was gone, my wife would put everything in there in terms of the journaling. And that would also allow me when I came back sort of to look at the journal, oh, this happened, that happened even though you missed it personally, you could still read it. So I think that was sort of the main source of connection between my wife and myself towards our children. But at the same time, um, yeah, probably we call two or three times a day
Rhoda Bangerter (18:23):
<laugh> okay. Okay. So each child had a journal that they could write in or do pic picture in on, you could write in and your wife could write in to like recollect a story or something like that?
Matthijs de Rave (18:36):
No, actually it would be a journal that my wife and I only would write in. Oh, they could actually read it. So we would just record their milestones basically almost on a daily basis.
Rhoda Bangerter (18:49):
Yeah. Because one of the things that came up when I was talking to families and even in our own experience, was that it's it, this was the first advice we were given by a family actually by two separate families who gave us the same advice was to be careful for when the parent comes back in. We have two boys and the boys and I would have like our little in jokes and we would have like our little, you know, routine that had been set up or something that happened that we referred to and my husband would be like, what happened? So I think it's really important to kind of keep the traveling parent up to date. How you do that, you know, is depending on the availability of the parent and the family and maybe the age of the kids and stuff, but this idea of a journal is a great idea because then it keeps track as well. Did you find like it was helpful when you came back?
Matthijs de Rave (19:45):
Oh, absolutely. And in all fairness, my wife and I also had our challenges. Right. So at some points she also would develop her own rhythm with the children and when they go to bed and then I would come home with presents and then it was completely broken again. So that was quite an interesting context as well. But yeah, I think the journal to your point, it was a great idea and it still is a great idea and they sort of love it and we would also put pictures into it. I think a lot of what we've done then is also, you know, parts of it have also transferred to the Trip Kit actually as an idea, just to make it a bit easier for everyone.
Rhoda Bangerter (20:21):
Yeah. I think it's the idea of being emotionally present and physically absent because there are also parents who can be emotionally absent, but physically present, you know, it's, iit's possible and this makes it possible. Did you speak to your kids on the phone when you were gone?
Matthijs de Rave (20:39):
Yeah. Every day, I
Rhoda Bangerter (20:41):
Would they stay on the phone? What would you do? Like how old were they when you were traveling a lot and do you have any tips or tricks for parents to keep the kid on the screen?
Matthijs de Rave (20:54):
I usually never really had an issue with keeping them on the screen. I think, uh, in the beginning, when it was sort of still new with me being away from home a lot, they could stay very easily on the screen and we would have great conversations, but at some point it also moved a little bit more into like, okay, “every time that they are talking to you, it also is becoming a bit more difficult for them because they sort of want to make sure you're at home rather than on the other side of the world.” I think it sort of gradually went to a place where we also – I’m just going to be completely open about it – we told a bit of white lie: “daddy is like at home very late and he has to leave in the morning very early again. So you won't see him for a couple of days,” those sorts of things. So I think in the beginning, yes, we did a lot with FaceTime and that sort of things. And later on it, it gradually, we decided to a bit less because it actually triggered them missing me basically. So I think that was sort of the balance between the two.
Rhoda Bangerter (21:55):
That makes sense. What would you say to a dad that's about to stop traveling a lot or who's traveling a lot? What would you say to him?
Matthijs de Rave (22:04):
I think every context is different, right? So just bearing that in mind because it absolutely depends if you've got very young children or all the children who are much more aware of the fact that you are gone for a number of days. I think what I would do is primarily in a way my wife and I did this, but I think it would be good in very positive circumstances. So before you start to travel to make really good agreements between you and your partner, and actually write them down on a one pager, put your signature behind it or anything you just need to do. If you do a fingerprint and paint and put it on there almost like a pledge, towards each other. Because I think once you've done that from the outset, in positive circumstances, it's much more easier to keep oversight if it's becoming really challenging.
Matthijs de Rave (22:53):
So I think that would definitely be something I would do next time. Uh, even though my wife and I had agreements, but they became very volatile as we went along. So my responsibilities then changed. I got increased responsibilities. All of a sudden I had to travel to another country multiple times. And before I knew it, I was sort of swamped with everything. And my wife was saying, “you're traveling too much. Can't you do this virtually?” And I'm like, “no, no, no, I have to do this.” So, you know, you're already sort of sucked into it. I would absolutely say make good agreements between you and each other about where you don't want this to end and what is acceptable and what is sort of the position where you would both feel comfortable with. “if it becomes too much then we'll take a break from frequent business travel for two weeks or so,” could be an agreement, right? or something like that. Right. So that it sort of gives you the boundaries in which you're comfortable with and not comfortable with.
Rhoda Bangerter (23:49):
So not like big ones, like: “you stop traveling for six months” because that's not gonna be possible. But saying, “if you're traveling like every week for six or seven, eight weeks in a row, take a two week break and actually be home.” something like that. Yeah. Because I think it happens without you noticing and time passes and the years go by.
Matthijs de Rave (24:11):
I think it could be something as simple as “if one of us is feeling uncomfortable with it, then we should discuss this” as an example. Right. That's already a really tiny thing. But then we are going to sit down in this same week and talk an hour about how we can do it better, simple. It's a really tiny thing, but it will make a huge impact because once you're sucked in your mindset will be completely different. But if you then can take that piece of paper that you've both signed and sort of your promise towards each other, your pledge towards each other, you can actually say, “Hey, actually one of us is uncomfortable. We agreed that we would then do a meeting together or like a formal meeting about how we're gonna solve this.”
Rhoda Bangerter (24:58):
My husband and I actually take minutes when we have meetings because after a week I'm like, “wait, well, what did we say we were gonna do again?” <laugh> so I'm like, “let's take minutes. So I'm like, okay, so we've decided this and we're gonna do this and you are gonna do that and I'm gonna do this.” And because otherwise I can't keep track and he's much better at remembering stuff than I am.
Matthijs de Rave (25:23):
It doesn't have to be that specific.
Rhoda Bangerter (25:26):
Matthijs de Rave (25:26):
Something very simple. If you run into something, we take a step back. We're not going to argue. We'll take a step back and we observe it and we'll follow it by creativity to come up with a solution. That's already like a point of consciousness, which will help you in managing business travel better as a family. When it was my first time I dove right into it. You know, you want to perform, you want show, you are the best person for the role and that they've made the right decision. Um, hence also why I think organizations can play a role in it, also towards your family. I think it's sort of great to have that sort of piece of paper lying there, knowing that you could always have a sort of a fallback option
Rhoda Bangerter (26:13):
Or say like in six months we review like how things are going and if you need extra help or if something needs to change. That's great. I wanted to come back to why you think this topic isn't talked about a lot, because certainly I did not realize for 16 years my husband traveled, I didn't even realize. I mean, I knew he was traveling a lot. It didn't occur to me to think, “oh, that's kind of unusual” or, “I wonder if anybody else is traveling a lot.” I was just living it. Why do you think it needs to take an epiphany?
Matthijs de Rave (26:43):
I think it's a couple of things here. I think first of all, and that's also the pursuit of us as the ombudsman for international children, is to remove ignorance in the context of international migration. So I think ignorance comes in many forms. So it's not the most negative form where someone is saying, “oh, I actually know this is challenging, but I'm not gonna do anything about it.” Right. That's not what I mean. I think there's also lots of families and organizations out there who really want to make a difference, but simply don't always know how to make a difference or what is available to make a difference. So I think sort of ignorance as a whole on this topic is an issue. So that's also what we do about, you know, getting our stories on LinkedIn and other places is to really rewrite the narrative about what impact business travel has on children, right?
Matthijs de Rave (27:31):
Um, because people love stories. And once you start to tell a different story, and once it's sort of validated by people that work for larger organizations and they experience the same emotions and stress that the family also experiences at home, then all of a sudden you're changing the narrative and people are like: “okay, story is one, but actually this person is validating it. So there must be something going on there.” And I think that also ties very nicely into the second point. I think we need to be more open about this. It feels very much like something we cannot talk about like mental health. We've seen the world open up, you know, professional athletes, and so on, talking much more about this topic. And I believe that, you know, telling my own story to everyone was, in the beginning, quite difficult and quite confronting. But once you start doing it, you start to see all sorts of changes around you. And you're like, wow, it's actually quite normal to talk about this. So I think those two, you know, ignorance and actually just getting the conversation started about this, are I think the main reasons why at the moment we are not doing anything and we're not talking about this topic.
Rhoda Bangerter (28:39):
So you started talking about: “Hey I had an epiphany in a plane about how much travel I did.”
Matthijs de Rave (28:43):
For example, what actually started Expat Valley was for me, the main reason to make a difference and to be open about my experience and how I experienced international travel myself and how I saw other families struggling. I spoke a lot with parents and children in the last 12 years and saw the huge challenges that they had, but no one was really paying attention because it felt like: “oh, they're going to this new place and they're going to an international school”, or, you know, “your father travels all across the world. That's so cool.” So, but actually by me, just starting with an organization that is caring for their needs and for their voices and really representing them. I think for was for me sort of was the biggest step to show that I care about this and to show that I really want to change something here, uh, and to really want to make an impact.
Matthijs de Rave (29:31):
So that's not for everyone. I'm not saying everyone needs to quit their job and do more in this space. But I think just by acknowledging that this is a problem, and actually also feeling the comfort, just to talk about this with your employer saying: “Hey, this is actually quite challenging.” There was a survey back in 2000 from the World Bank group on business travel. And out of that survey came that the stress that is experienced by the frequent business traveler themselves is mirrored in the family. It's not low hanging fruit anymore. It's ground laying fruit. And sometimes if things lie on the ground, we tend not to see it. We look over it. I think everyone has its own rhythm and its own pace, but for me, it's such a logical thing to do, but in all fairness, it also took me a number of years to come to this point and to just be, you know, completely open and transparent about it. And just to tell your story.
Rhoda Bangerter (30:25):
Yes. And I mean, I've started with supporting the home based parent, but I want to hear more of the stories of the traveling parent and what it's like from your perspective. And I've spoken to my husband about it, asking him, you know, how it is, and I'm hoping maybe to get him on the podcast and hear what it was like for him. But I think this is important because like you say it validates and maybe the parent who's traveling is going: “it's all fine. It's all fine” or “I shouldn't be thinking about these things. Everybody else is doing it. I have to keep up with everybody else.” Whereas actually, if everybody's thinking the same thing and going: “wait, this amount of travel is crazy. Maybe there's a different way of doing this.* Maybe change will start happening. You're right.
Rhoda Bangerter (31:16):
Organizations also need to be hearing what traveling parents and what dads and moms and husbands and wives, what it's like for them. Right? Because from our perspective as the home based parent, we're like: “they've got it great, they're in a hotel,” wait, hang on, even before getting to the hotel, they get the whole flight by themselves with no young child sort of pulling on their sleeve to go to the bathroom. Then they get full night's sleep on the other side. Plus they're calling us from before going out to the restaurant and then they come back and then they're like: “oh wait, you haven't sorted that admin thing out?” I'm like: “no”. So it's also important for us to hear from your perspective and say, “Hey, you know what, I'm actually thinking about you guys, I'm worried about this, this and that. I wanna be present, I want my kid to have a father and I wanna know what's going on in their lives.” That's right, right?. Traveling parents don't just go off <laugh> there are many who actually miss their families. Right?
Matthijs de Rave (32:22):
Yeah. Going back to my airplane epiphany, I think that's actually it, I think a lot of people look on their phones and I think a lot of people, I got some responses on that post as well of like, okay, “this is very recognizable, I've done the same thing.” So it isn't just me, but I think what this needs is a systemic change. So this is new-new as I call it. So it's not something that will happen overnight. But I hope, you know, with my story and wwith the impact that we're making today and creating more awareness, I think it, it becomes much more of a logical thing, the right thing to do. I think that's even more like it because, this is common sense. Right. And I think what is happening at the moment is that we've so adjusted to the way of doing this, that it has become a habit.
Matthijs de Rave (33:06):
And one of the most difficult things to break through our habits, right? If you have sort of a habit, you know, good luck with changing it, that takes time and a lot of awareness and education. And I think that's what we're doing at the moment to really, on a systemic level, make that change so that people start to view this differently. And that also means employers start to look differently at frequent business travelers that it's not a benefit. It is a benefit in many ways, but that there's also a bigger picture with a lot of challenges also at home. And I think in a way, Corona, you know, the whole COVID thing, has helped because all of a sudden, you know, your children walk in the back of your screen while you're on a call with 10 other people. So that has become much more normal. So I think that's a good, you know, a good thing out of a bad thing, but at the same time, I do think this will need and require some time to convince everyone and not even convince, but just to show that everyone will benefit if we look after each other. Yeah.
Rhoda Bangerter (34:04):
It can be on two levels: the relationship between the traveling parent and the children at home, or their spouse at home, but also corporations, organizations realizing: “wait, we are asking some crazy stuff in terms of travel amount. And maybe there's a different way of doing this, where we can also be aware that of what we're asking:” Is that you don't ask your staff to run a marathon every week. So why are you asking them to run a travel marathon over all the continents and come back and then be fresh and go back to work on the same day? You know? So maybe there's some awareness there. So I'm so glad we had this conversation. Thank you so, so much for sharing your side of it and also what you are working on. Um, and I'll put your links in the show notes, where can people find you?
Matthijs de Rave (34:54):
Yeah, the easiest way is just on, so we post regular stories on LinkedIn. So if you go to Expat Valley, then you should be absolutely fine. And we also have a website expatvalley.com where you can find more information. And, you know, if people, by listening on this podcast, have any other ideas or, you know, want to share their feelings or anything that we can do for them, always feel free to reach out to me or my colleagues. Always very happy, happy to help.
Rhoda Bangerter (35:22):
One last question. I might put you on the spot, but I always ask the person I'm interviewing if they have a favorite resource, either parenting or life resource or something, do you have anything off the top of your head, like a book or something that you found really helpful, really inspiring in your life?
Matthijs de Rave (35:38):
Yeah, there's one thing. And I think I used a lot of elements of that while building an impact company. It's a documentary actually, and it's called The Biggest Little Farm, uh, and it's about a whole new way of farming. And you're probably surprised how I talking about farming, but what they're actually doing is they're building an ecosystem in a way, going back to where everyone benefits. So, you know, no pesticides and those sort of things. But if there's an issue they're looking for the most natural way to solve that issue again. And I think there's lots of lessons in there for building your own organization, if you want to make an impact. But also just generally in life, you know, at Expat Valley, we're building the world's happiest ecosystem for international children. That's sort of our vision that we foresee.
Matthijs de Rave (36:26):
And that documentary has helped me tremendously in sort of getting things sharper. You know, how you can look at the whole system and not just children, because parents are involved, organizations are involved and not only your sponsoring organizations, but you're also talking about various providers. You like your RMC company or your travel company, uh, experts, education. So there's this whole system of people and organizations that can make an impact for these children. And I think a lot of the way they are farming mirrored a lot towards using that for Expat Valley. So I would definitely watch that documentary there's I think it came out today Part Two or The Return. Uh, so I will probably watch this after we're done. I think you can watch it on Netflix or Disney or anything. Uh, they're both there.
Rhoda Bangerter (37:16):
So a person could look at it and go: “Hey, I'm in an ecosystem. Yeah. What's impacting my ecosystem. What's damaging it. How can I build it in a certain way for everything to work?” I think that's beautiful metaphor,
Matthijs de Rave (37:29):
Really. Yeah. And I think if I can say one other thing, there's this company called Patagonia, the outdoor clothing brand, although they are doing much more than just clothing, but they were one of the first companies that created an onsite childcare program back in the eighties for their employees. And the founder of Patagonia. Uh, Yvon Chouinard probably said one of the nicest things I've ever seen, but he said: the children that come out of our childcare center are Patagonia's best product.” And the way they did it was very much in also in an ecosystem thinking like: “Hey, we've got parents, we have us as an organization. We have the world that we wanna make an impact in. How can we make sure that everyone is the best version of themselves in order for them to thrive?” And one of their key insights was like, you know: if parents are struggling with their children at home, they can't be the best versions of themselves.
Matthijs de Rave (38:21):
So you literally see those children sitting in meetings, um, where it has become completely normal to include them as part of that ecosystem. And it works. It absolutely works, not only in terms of bottom line, like the financial business case, it works, but also in terms of retention, uh, loyalty towards your employer, making sure people are productive, but mostly it creates a sense of community. And I think that's sort of part of, of our ecosystem as Expat Valley. And also what comes back in The Biggest Little Farm is that, you know, if you really embrace that sense of community and everyone feels part of something and you're producing something together, but no one is losing, but everyone is winning actually. So going back to everyone benefits when we extend our care towards each other, I think that's sort of the ideal situation that you want to create. And that's what we pursue at Expat Valley, but you can apply those lessons to many places, also your personal life or any other ambitions you might have. Um, so I think those two; Patagonia as an organization, but primarily their onsite childcare program and then The Biggest Little Farm, have probably helped me most.
Rhoda Bangerter (39:30):
Brilliant. I think it's fabulous that children of traveling parents are included in international children because they might not be living abroad or traveling, but they have the other side of the coin. And I think that's beautiful.
Matthijs de Rave (39:44):
They're all international children. They're also impacted, I took stuff from all over the world to my children. So they know much more about certain countries probably than a child that doesn't have a traveling parent. So I think they're also impacted by it. But ultimately these are all the children that are impacted in migration and it could either be they're going along on the journey, but it could also be very much be impacted by the global mobile lifestyle of one of their parents. Um, and I think that's also a big part of it as sort of a final point for myself, by seeing them as one group, we tend to look at it in silo. So, oh, you have refugee children, you have got expat children, you've got embassy children and so on and stay at home children.
Matthijs de Rave (40:27):
We tend to look at them in separate groups, but there's also similarities and commonalities between those children. That's why we call them ‘international children’ because their sense of belonging and the place they call home in each and every situation is impacted by migration. So, we tend to look at what is the commonality between them and how can we help them as one group, going back to the 40 million of the beginning of our conversation rather than: “okay, oh, this needs a completely different approach”. Because that's not the case but unfortunately in terms of international children, there's not a government or a body that looks after them. And we’d very much like to be that, you know, that body or that organization that looks after them. So I think that's sort of where they sometimes fall between a rock and a hard place.
Rhoda Bangerter (41:14):
Yeah. Thank you so much. Thank you for telling your story. Thank you for everything that you do for international children.
Matthijs de Rave (41:19):
Thanks Rhoda for having me.
Rhoda Bangerter is a coach who has lived abroad with a travelling husband for over 16 years. She helps home based mums and dads live an intentional life and build family togetherness even when their partner is away a lot for work.