Six Letters of Identity

I never would have thought that six letters could be the cause of such confusion and complications.

Six letters.

D-O-U-N-I-A

Six letters that make no sense in most of the world and whose pronunciation apparently has endless possibilities. Six letters that formed my identity in more ways than one since my parents bestowed them upon me.


Growing up as a Third Culture Kid (TCK), identity becomes a complex issue. It’s tough to define your identity when you’ve grown up in different countries and have assimilated many cultures. I usually present myself as Lebanese-American, but that statement is only partly true. I am 100% Lebanese by blood and heritage (but have never lived there), American by passport and I grew up all over the world, in six countries spread over four continents.

The only constants in my life and identity were my family and my name. A name that I loved but at times grew weary of, having to spell it and explain it all the time. Enduring mispronunciations, mockery and confusion, no matter where we were in the world. Sometimes I longed for a simpler, more common name, ruing my parents for giving me such a difficult name. I resented it even more because my older sister had a far easier name to spell and pronounce.

Although we generally attended international schools, it was still a name that stood out and that most people had never heard before. Even within the more tolerant and worldly community at those schools I heard jokes about my name, my background and certain physical traits from my cultural heritage. Interestingly enough, it was when attending a non-international school that I started to develop a stronger sense of self and didn’t feel the need to shy away from my background. I had always loved my name and where I was from, but I began to accept my name and my identity with a newfound confidence.

As I grew older, the way I viewed my name changed. I would still get frustrated at having to teach people how to pronounce it and it was never fun being the new kid with such a unique name… But the older I got, the more I embraced my name. I was always the only Dounia. People might have had trouble saying it or spelling it, but they usually remembered my name and me. My name, like my heritage, became a source of pride as I became old enough to piece together the different parts of my identity.

I’ve heard my name pronounced so many different ways and I’ve heard it with the lilt of many accents. I’ve been given countless nicknames – some that I love and others not so much. But my name is mine and I love it.


29 years later and I would never change those six letters. I am grateful that my parents gave me a name that stands out and that is part of my cultural heritage. And unknowingly, they also prepared me well for my TCK identity: in Arabic, Dounia means world. My name, my heritage, my background, my TCK experience, all wrapped up in six little letters.

D-O-U-N-I-A

Six letters that say it all.


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Early Summer Sights

It may have taken a while to get here after a long winter and short spring, but thankfully summer is just beginning… I’m looking forward to many more sunny days, walks in the evening, beautiful sunsets and hopefully some much-longed for beach time. For now, I leave you with a few shots of some early summer sights!

Happy summer to all (or happy winter, for those in the Southern hemisphere!)

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Living History – Normandy Landings

Seventy years ago, on the 6th of June 1944, the Allied Invasion of Normandy began.

Of all the countries I’ve lived in, none matches France in terms of seeing/living history. History in France is part of your every day life, whether you realize it or not. Roman ruins and aqueducts border rivers; Romanesque, medieval, gothic churches and architecture is side by side with modern and contemporary structures. Buildings and streets have plaques explaining which historical figure lived there or which battle it commemorates. Bunkers and war shelters remain from world wars, as do pockmarked lands that never recovered from bombings. Studying the world wars in France meant seeing parts of history with our own eyes, not just learning about them in class and reading about them in our books.

In 10th grade we visited the fields of the Somme – where thousands of soldiers were killed in the bloody trench warfare of World War I. The fields where red poppies bloom every year, said to be colored by the blood of the fallen. There were no grandiose cemeteries or monuments here – simply fields of white stones set in the lush green grass and a few wildflowers. Unfortunately I have no photos of our visit to the Somme, but the image remains clear in my mind, as if I saw it yesterday. I recall the reconverted bomb shelters – now a museum with artifacts and documents, to give an idea of what it was like in those underground tunnels. But mostly I recall seeing those green fields with stark white crosses, under a blue sky with the sun passing behind the drifting, fluffy white clouds, as we drove by in our bus. I sometimes wonder why I remember it so clearly, but something about the natural beauty and simplicity of those fields touched me.

Later that same school year, while we were studying WWII, we spent a few days in Normandy. After that visit I returned twice more to Normandy and every time I was awed by the living history I could view with my own eyes. I remember that our first stop was Arromanches – the beach where the Allies built Mulberry harbor, the floating harbor used to land the troops and equipment in Normandy. There are still parts of the harbor standing today. Seventy years later, and we can see still parts floating a distance away from the beach. And to help you visualize it better, there is a museum near the beach that has a full replica model of the harbor… Although nothing beats seeing the actual remains. Yes, it is technically simply debris floating in the ocean, but imagine the circumstances in which it got there. Remember all the history and stories behind it. If you’re still not awed after that, I don’t know what to do with you.

While we were in Normandy, we also visited a small town called Saint-Mère-Eglise, where parachutists landed and many lost their lives. One parachutist got caught on a church steeple, stuck there until the Germans cut him down and took him prisoner. He later escaped and rejoined his regiment, but the town has kept a mannequin parachutist hanging off the steeple since. It is a tribute to the fallen and the town’s way of commemorating the event. A medieval church, with a WWII parachutist hanging on it – history clashes, mingles and reconstructs itself in France. It never ceases to amaze me.

I continued to be amazed and awestruck as we visited the wide, flat expanse of Omaha beach, imagining all those soldiers seeking cover where there is none. I was moved and overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of crosses and tombstones at the American cemetery. It is a beautiful and peaceful place, with pines lining a path overlooking the ocean and Omaha beach. There are walls of commemorations, maps showing the invasion and numbers of how many were lost. It is lush and green, with stark white stones, but there are no wildflowers here. It is a tidy, man-kept beauty, less wild and simple than the Somme. It is not more or less beautiful, simply different.

And finally we visited Pointe du Hoc. I think I was most touched and moved by this place during our Normandy visit. Pointe du Hoc is a cliff top, overlooking the ocean. There are no easy climbs or soft slopes to the top – just sheer edges and rugged cliffs. At the top of the cliffs there is barbed wire – a lot of barbed wire. The cliff top is riddled with craters created by shelling. Deep, large craters now covered in grass, but forever part of the landscape. There are bunkers and bomb shelters that you can enter, being careful about the barbed wire that is still present in many areas. The wind from the ocean blows hard and adds to the sad beauty of the landscape. It is a place I like best when there are few people and little man-made noise. There is something infinitely sad yet peaceful about that ravaged landscape, with the sound of the waves crashing against the cliffs below and the wind lifting my hair around my face. It is truly a place of living history, although so many died on both sides to protect it, capture it and liberate it.

There is obviously so much more to Normandy than the D-Day landings, but the occasion called for these particular memories. On this 70th anniversary of the Normandy landings I felt compelled to share some of my memories and experiences there. There is something so incredible about visiting historical places and touching a piece of history. My visit to Normandy was the first time I really understood that and it was a powerful lesson.


You know there is a saying

That sunshine follows rain,

And sure enough you’ll realize

That joy will follow pain.

Let courage be your password,

Make fortitude your guide;

And then instead of grousing,

Just remember those who died.

This is the final stanza of an anonymous poem that was found written on the wall of a solitary confinement cell at Dulag Luft, where most captured Allied airmen (in WWII) were sent for interrogation before being assigned to a permanent POW camp.

2014 Families in Global Transition Overview

I had the privilege to attend the the FIGT conference as a Parfitt/Pascoe writing scholar, which allowed me to meet many wonderful people, do a lot of writing and learn a lot about this global community.

Another great thing to come out of the conference was the chance to write an overview of my experiences for Global Living Magazine, as I mentioned in an earlier post.

Well, that article is now available to view on their website, so I wanted to share the link and the layout of the article. I hope you’ll enjoy reading it, and if you’re interested in any further information, please don’t hesitate to ask!

READ THE ARTICLE HERE: The 2014 Families in Global Transition Conference

As seen in Global Living Magazine www.globallivingmagazine.com

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Published Book Review and Thank You

It’s been a great week for me as a writer – first my article was published yesterday in Global Living Magazine and today my book review on Expat Arrivals was published!

The book review is about Valerie Besanceney‘s wonderful book B at Home: Emma Moves Again, which is a must-read for Third Culture Kids, their parents and teachers. It is especially directed at younger TCKs, but I think even adults would greatly benefit from it. I know that I saw myself in the story and I could really feel Emma’s emotions. It is a fantastic book that I would highly recommend to anyone working with TCKs.


This is again going to be a short post to share my publishings, but I did want to thank everyone who has ever taken the time to read my blog. The comments I’ve gotten here have always encouraged and motivated me. Without this blog I don’t think I would have been ready to tackle the writing residency I am currently doing and I probably wouldn’t have been prepared to publish articles either.

This blog was my first real opportunity to pursue my passion and I’m grateful to everyone who has taken the time to read and comment. You’ve helped make my dream of being a writer come true, because you made me feel that what I wrote mattered. That has always been humbling and inspiring.

So, a very heartfelt thank you and I hope you’ll stick around for more!

Published Article – Families in Global Transition Conference

I know it has been quite a while since my last post, but I’ve been kept very busy with articles to write following the Families in Global Transition conference I attended in Washington D.C. several weeks ago. As we are preparing a book on the conference, there has been a lot of writing to do and a looming deadline!

In addition to the many individual topics I am covering for the book, I also managed to write an overview of my experiences that has just been published in the May/June Issue of Global Living Magazine!

If you’re an expat or Third Culture Kid, or even if you’re simply curious about the conference and other global happenings, please check out the magazine!

Hopefully I’ll be ready to put up a new blog post soon – stay tuned…

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Pascoe/Parfitt Resident Writers Introduced at FIGT2014

Today I am sharing a blog post by Linda Janssen, author of The Emotionally Resilient Expat: Engage, Adapt and Thrive Across Cultures, and blogger at http://www.adventuresinexpatland.com. After the Families in Global Transition conference, Linda decided to interview the four ParfittPascoe writing scholars: Cristina Bertarelli, Justine Ickes, Sue Mannering and me!

“One of the highlights of the 2014 FIGT Conference – and believe me, there were many – was the introduction of the first ever group of Pascoe/Parfitt Resident Writers. This illustrious group is named after Robin Pascoe and Jo Parfitt, two luminaries in the field of writing and publishing books which speak directly to the experience of living and raising families across cultures in a globally mobile world.

As an expat author and writer myself, I’ve devoured every single book by Pascoe (including a couple no longer in print) as well as at least a half dozen by the prolific Parfitt, my writing mentor and publisher, learning about everything from culture shock and raising global nomads to finding the humor in sometimes difficult cross-cultural situations and creating a location-independent career. Individually and together they have contributed greatly toward the genre that is now expat literature, from which so many can glean so much.

Knowing these two talents, it is only fitting that the benefits to the writing residents are not limited to a splashy title, new entry on their resumé and attending the FIGT conference sessions at a reduced rate. As conceived by Parfitt, founder of the expatriate press Summertime Publishing, the residency offers much more. The four recipients – Cristina Bertarelli, Dounia Bertuccelli, Justine Ickes and Sue Mannering – received in-depth training on writing articles and getting them placed for publication in an online course developed and led by Parfitt prior to the conference. Once there, they hit the ground running – or note-taking as it were – working nonstop. The residents split up and ensured press coverage of all joint conference and concurrent speaker sessions, which they will write about for the inaugural FIGT Conference Yearbook, due out later this year. The Yearbook ensures anyone interested in the 2014 Conference can immerse themselves in the panels, presentations and discussions of the cutting edge issues addressed.“… READ MORE

If you’re interesting in learning about the writer’s residency or about us scholars, please head over to the FIGT blog to read more!

I am a Writer

Lately I’ve been having trouble getting my thoughts onto paper. I thought I would be overflowing with inspiration after the Families in Global Transition conference (FIGT) and I would be able to write endlessly. Instead, I find myself struggling to express everything I felt. I am overflowing with inspiration, emotions and thoughts, but I am unable to translate them into written words.

I’ve wanted to post an entry about being a writing scholar and what that brought me, yet every time I write something it feels forced. Then I realized I was too focused on just the time at FIGT, without looking at the bigger picture. My journey as a writer didn’t start there, so why was I starting there? So I thought about how I felt at the conference and traced backwards from there…

Learning to Call Myself a Writer

Something I loved very much at FIGT was being surrounded by people who didn’t make me feel uncomfortable or out of place. My background wasn’t an issue, my experiences didn’t make me odd, people even knew how to pronounce my name and what it meant! But it wasn’t just my personal story that felt accepted – my professional story was as well. No one judged me or looked down on me for not having a 9-5 corporate job. So many others at the conference were freelancers in their own domain, or had started their own companies; but even those who do work in corporate environments weren’t judgmental when they knew I was a freelance writer. They showed interest or curiosity, wondering what I wrote about and what led me to writing. Everyone I spoke with at the conference was following their passion, and they also understood the need for a portable career. They understood me.

Outside of the conference, in the “real world”, I often find it hard to be accepted for what I am. I felt like being a freelance writer and trying to pursue my passion wasn’t good enough, so I rarely told people that’s what I do. I usually said I was looking for work and that I sometimes did some writing in the meantime.

But that’s not entirely true.

I have been looking for work – both writing/non-writing related; that part is true. But I don’t ‘sometimes write in the meantime’ – I write all the time. And that’s what I want to be doing. I want writing to be my job and my career.

Over the past few months I had started accepting this realization and was trying to push myself to say, “I’m a freelance writer”, when asked what I do. It’s not easy to make myself believe that. Even though I had published a couple of articles in a magazine, I still couldn’t fully convince myself.

Being a Writing Scholar

Then at the beginning of this year, I saw the ParfittPascoe Writing Residency for FIGT:

If you long to turn your writing hobby into a portable career and want to be published in blogs, magazines on and offline, websites and maybe even books, this might be for you.

If you have already proven your desire of turning your dream into a reality with maybe a blog, a few articles published in newsletters and online (not necessarily for money), then you are definitely the kind of person we want.”

It felt like an opportunity tailor-made for me. I wanted to apply but I was scared. Scared that it was too big a commitment and that I wasn’t good enough to do it. There was so much to do, both before and after the conference. There were lessons and articles to prepare beforehand and after it was a whole other story. There would be articles, blog posts and book reviews to publish; interviews to prepare and write-up; and the articles/chapters for the FIGT book. If I applied and was rejected, I would be devastated. If I applied and got accepted, I would be elated…and terrified. I was scared of failure and of success. But I couldn’t NOT apply. It was exactly the chance I was looking for.

While waiting to know if I had been selected, I remember checking my email on my phone before heading off to sleep. And I never do that. I don’t even have my email set up on my phone. But I knew that the decision was probably made and I had to know. There was no way I could wait until the next morning to check. When I read the email telling me I was one of the four scholars, I was thrilled beyond belief. I couldn’t stop smiling. I even woke up my sleeping husband to let him know. The news was too good to keep to myself!

I was so excited about being a writing scholar; it felt like a dream come true. Nervous as I was, I knew I was capable of doing it. I had been waiting for this opportunity and I was going to make it count. It was my chance to prove that I am a writer and that I can make a career out of my passion.

From the very beginning of the conference I realized that I was in the right place – both as a Third Culture Kid and as a writer. The fact that everyone around me was part of a global community fulfilled the TCK side of me, and everyone’s endless encouragement fed the writer in me. But among all the inspiring words, a few stood out – probably because they spoke directly to me and attacked my doubts about being a writer. At the writer’s forum on the first day of FIGT, Shirley Agudo* told us that whatever you want to be, claim it”. Linda Janssen** echoed that thought, reminding us to own what we do and what we are. Sometimes the biggest step is saying those words: “I’m a writer”. Then we must learn to claim them and believe them.

Well, I am a writer. I don’t know if I fully claim it and believe it every day, but I know I’m on the right track.

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*Author, photographer and assistant editor of Global Living Magazine; ** Blogger and author of The Emotionally Resilient Expat: Engage, Adapt and Thrive Across Cultures

Book Review – The Stress-Free Guide to Studying in the States: A Step-by-Step Plan for International Students

SUM002 Covers Visual.inddThe Stress-Free Guide to Studying in the States: A Step-by-Step Plan for International Students

Toni Summers Hargis | Summertime Publishing

$14.00

298 pages

If you’re an international student (or an expat returning home) planning on going to university in the U.S., then this is THE book for you. Toni Summers Hargis’ book is the comprehensive guide to studying in the U.S. compiling all of the information in one place. Hargis doesn’t simply cover the practical and logistical aspects (admissions requirements, SAT/ACT, financial aid, visa procedures…), but also provides advice about college life, living in the U.S. and culture shock.

What makes Hargis’ book so unique is that she thinks about the tiny, seemingly mundane details that can make a big difference. Her chapter on American language and customs can be a lifesaver to someone new to American English and life in the U.S. It covers pronunciation, spelling, euphemisms, texting abbreviations and a multitude of other useful information for living in the States.

Her book is straightforward and easy to follow, with excellent tips, warnings and further reading provided throughout every chapter. It’s ideal for anyone unfamiliar with U.S. colleges or those simply looking for a helpful guide. Applying to colleges can be very stressful and Hargis knows how to make it easier. If you’re thinking of attending college in the U.S., do yourself a favor and read this book. You won’t regret it.

Review by Dounia Bertuccelli

Alien Citizen: Laughter, Tears and Finding the Right Words

The Families in Global Transition conference held many surprises for me. I was surprised at how kind and generous everyone was. I was also surprised how we all truly connected to each other and how we all wanted to share our stories. As much as I hoped to find that sense of community, family and home, I didn’t expect it to be so present and strong.

What truly caught me off guard, however, was the intensity of my emotions at the conference. And nothing embodied that more clearly than Elizabeth Liang’s show – Alien Citizen, An Earth Odyssey. Her honest performance left us all spellbound from beginning to end. In a way, it was my story, our stories that she was playing up there. We all struggled at times to find the right words; we all felt a connection to people weaving in and out of our lives; we all remember feeling lost, alone and afraid. But we also remember the beautiful moments too – so we laughed with understanding as we recalled our own stories. And we also cried with very deep understanding as we felt those same emotions well up inside of us.

At least I know I did.

And I did not expect that.

I had heard wonderful things about Lisa’s show and I was really looking forward to seeing it, but I didn’t think it would impact me the way it did. I didn’t know it would reach deep into the core of my being and strike such a chord in my heart.

Lisa’s performance hit even closer to home for me because I’ve lived in Central America: I spent three and a half years of my childhood in Mexico. I not only understood the Spanish, but also the cultural aspects…As well as the orange Fanta – although that was my sister’s favorite, not mine. I also understood the Arabic since I’m of Lebanese origin. And I definitely understood Connecticut, because that’s where I’m living now and it’s been a tough adjustment.

I’m sure many others connected with different parts of her stories, recognizing their own experiences in her words. We all know that moving from country to country is not an easy thing to do. Saying goodbye, leaving a home and starting somewhere new is not a fairytale adventure. I didn’t realize just how honest Lisa had made her show – I had expected the laughter, but not the tears. And truth be told, they were as welcome as the laughter. Sometimes we’re so focused on only thinking of the positive that we forget to grieve. But Lisa reminded us that we have to give ourselves permission to feel our pain in order to really see our experiences and appreciate them.

Sometimes it’s hard to find the words to express those feelings. Lisa found solace in acting and I know I found solace in writing. Somehow we found the words, in our own way. Now I just need to find the right words to do justice to her performance.

But maybe our silence and glistening eyes at the end of her show said it all.