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.”…

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.

Our TCK Family

“The shock from being back from all the internationality is astounding.”

That was my TCK husband’s comment upon our return to CT after the Families in Global Transition Conference. If he says that without even attending the conference but only taking part in the many conversations happening in the evening, it gives you an idea of the impact of FIGT.

Norman Viss, treasurer of the organization, called us one big TCK family. His statement resonated with all of us. It may seem odd to call a roomful of strangers family, but we understand it and we do feel like family. You can see it and hear it in the interactions: we dive right into conversations, no need for small talk; hugs are given to old friends and new friends and people who are just meeting for the first time.

We are family because we understand without having to explain. For all our differences, there is a common thread holding us together. We all know what it means to live between worlds, whether we’ve done it as kids, adults or both.

We had keynote speakers who inspired us, moved us and reminded us of the importance of this global family. We heard stories from speakers from around the world, from different backgrounds and experiences. We learned, we laughed and we cried. We left the conference feeling inspired, motivated, encouraged and loved.

That is why we flock to FIGT and that is why we need to tell others about the conference. Having this family means never being alone and always having someone who understands. It means having roots in a community, no matter where we are geographically.

As Elizabeth Liang reminded us all at the end of her powerful and poignant performance: we are the luckiest people on earth.

We are lucky indeed.

Lucky to have lived such a privileged life and lucky to have gained such experiences. We are lucky to belong to such a wonderful community and to have our TCK ‘siblings’ around the world.

They are our family and our tribe.

And I’m proud to be a part of them.

Just a few of the wonderful TCK and expat 'siblings' from around the world.

Just a few of the wonderful TCK and expat ‘siblings’ from around the world. Thank you to Jo and the fabulous writing team!

Up Around the Bend

We all have songs that remind us of a particular memory. Today I happened to be listening to some music that always brings back some very clear memories, even though they were quite some years ago and I was just a little girl.

Here’s a sample of what I’m listening to, in case you haven’t guessed from the title: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BnRsaHXHznQ

Whenever I hear Creedence Clearwater Revival (or The Gambler by Kenny Rogers) I always think of our road trips in Mexico. Sitting in the back of our dark red, almost rust-colored (enormous) suburban, driving along winding and treacherous mountain roads, exploring different parts of the country. Driving to Acapulco, Cuernavaca, Taxco, Oaxaca, Puerto Vallarta, among many others. We lived there 3.5 years and we really took advantage of our time there to see as much as we could.

We were still very young, so sometimes we were excited, other times cranky, but in hindsight I’m so happy that my parents took us to see all these incredible places. Sometimes it was just us, sometimes we had family – cousins, aunts, uncles – sometimes we had friends visiting and we took them around too. Some places we only visited once and yet they still managed to find such a strong place in my memory. Others we saw many times – like Teotihuacan, where you can climb the pyramids of the sun and the moon. We went there every time we had visitors and I eventually started getting tired of going. “Adult me” mentally kicks “little girl me” in the butt when I remember that! How could I get sick of seeing something so amazing and having the luck to live near such an incredible historic and archeological site? But when you’re 9-10 years old you don’t really think like that!

Thankfully I was always interested in history, so I did love going there and I enjoyed all the history we learned while living in Mexico. Some of it was based in concrete fact, and other parts were based on myth, but they are such beautiful and mystical myths that I’ll never forget them. There’s the fascinating myth explaining why Mexico City is built over a lake – which in modern times has caused many problems with buildings shifting and sinking. There’s the beautiful but heart-wrenchingly sad myth about the volcanoes Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl. Aztec history and myths are incredible and I was so lucky to learn about them in the land they come from.

These are just a few of the amazing opportunities we had growing up as Third Culture Kids, and despite any challenges that come with such a life, I don’t regret it. I hope I can give my children the same kind of experiences and exposure. The countries I have lived in and the cultures I have seen have taught me so much and left me with such rich memories. Having Creedence Clearwater Revival to help jog my memory is just another plus.

I truly wouldn’t have it any other way.

“If You Wish to be a Writer, Write…”*

Twenty-nine years. I don’t know exactly how many of those have been spent writing, but I know it’s many of them.

I started keeping my first diary in elementary school and although my writing notebook isn’t a diary it’s still a journal of sorts. I don’t remember when I wrote my first poem but I know for sure that I have been writing poetry since middle school. Many of the themes are still the same – love, nature, growing up a Third Culture Kid… Although the way I write about them has definitely evolved and matured since those first poems!

I’ve written for a long time and I hope to keep writing for much longer. It brings me a joy and a comfort that I don’t often find elsewhere… And writing has carried me through many ups, downs and transitions. This blog is proof of that as I started it after one of my biggest transitions, and it has been a constant source of inspiration and comfort. It has kept me busy and connected, at a time when I felt otherwise idle and lonely. It has opened the door to many wonderful people and many unexpected opportunities.

Writing continues to be such a source of joy and I hope it always will be. Thank you for following me on my journey. Thank you for your support, your company, your comfort and your inspiration.

Here’s to many more years of writing – about love, nature, being a Third Culture Kid and everything else in between.

“You can make anything by writing.”  C.S. Lewis

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(* Epictetus)

Families in Global Transition: Preparation

These past couple of weeks have been filled with reading, research, emails and a lot of writing. That may seem surprising since there hasn’t been much activity on my blog, but that’s because I’ve been busy preparing for the Families in Global Transition Conference.

It’s an annual conference on all things expat, third culture kid, global families… And this year I’m not only attending the conference, but I’m doing so with a writer’s residency, along with 3 other scholars. I was extremely fortunate to get selected as it is a fantastic opportunity and one I am very much looking forward to. In preparation for the conference and the writer’s residency, however, I find myself with a lot of ‘homework’ so I may not blog as often. But I will make sure to blog as much as I can, and I will still be reading and replying to comments, so please feel free to leave your thoughts anytime! I will also make sure to blog about the conference once it comes along…

This is my first time attending FIGT, but I have heard only wonderful things about it. If any of you are interested, make sure you check out their website for more information. This year, in addition to the usual sessions and talks, there will also be a writer’s forum open to everyone attending the conference (led by Jo Parfitt, our writing residency mentor!).

And last, but not least, if any of you happen to be attending the conference this year, please let me know so that we have a chance to meet in person while we’re there!

p.s. I am now on twitter, so feel free to connect with me there as well @DouniaB_TCK

Third Culture Kid Research: Helping us Connect, Learn and Understand

Third culture kids existed long before the term “third culture kid” was coined. It’s the people and their experiences that created the name; not the name that created the people. Much has changed since the first research and naming of third culture kids. The third culture kids of today have access to a much more connected and globalized world than ever before. Internet and social media allows them to stay connected to people and places in ways earlier generations of TCKs never could. This is bound to create a shift in experiences, behavior and research in this domain.

In addition to this connectivity and more globalized world, there is also the abundance of research on TCKs to consider. Now, more than ever, information on TCKs is readily available and accessible. Schools all over the world have brought in speakers to talk to the students. Teachers are made aware of this term and what it entails – many teachers at these international schools are adult third culture kids themselves. Parents are informed about the impact such a life may have on their children. There are books, articles, blogs, forums, conferences, specialists, TCK/global counselors… There are terms to describe this lifestyle, explanations for the emotions TCKs go through, and why someone with such a different background and having lived in such different countries can understand exactly what they’re going through. This may seem trivial, but it has made a big difference for many people. There are countless testimonies of adult third culture kids describing their struggle to fully comprehend their emotions growing up and how they only truly grasped the impact of their lifestyle when reading about TCKs as adults. They could finally understand how to cope with such emotions; they were reassured that those emotions were perfectly normal and that there were many others who went through the same process.

Being able to read stories similar to your own, finding that others have had common experiences to you and can understand you can be very comforting. It helps TCKs realize they truly do have a community that they belong too – even if it does not have geographical roots and its members are spread across the world. Understanding the impacts of such a lifestyle is crucial to have a fulfilling and positive experience. Having the necessary tools to navigate the journey makes the sailing much smoother, for parents and TCKs alike. One of the best ways to prepare, to cope and to understand is by connecting with others who are travelling (or have travelled) the same path. Thankfully there are many opportunities and channels through which to do so – and they truly make a difference. These past couple years, as I have delved into the world of TCK research I have learned a lot through books, blogs, comments, articles, conversations… It has been very fulfilling, enlightening and enriching. My humble hope is that one day I can also bring something to the table and help more people connect, learn and understand.

Winter Beauty

Since this year we have the winter that keeps on giving (I actually say that genuinely since I absolutely love winter!), I figured I would share some photos I’ve taken along the cold, snowy way. Make sure to click on the photos to see the slideshows!

During the snowfall it may be overcast, but the beauty is nonetheless apparent:

The day after the snow falls is often a spectacular day – crisp blue sky, golden sunshine and a breathtaking world of glistening diamonds:

And finally a little bit of sunset snow:

Here’s a little extra for a fun comparison:

Since we just got a fresh snowfall again yesterday and we also have some pretty impressive ice formations, there will probably be more snow and ice photos in the near future, so stay tuned…