Fulfilling a (Writer’s) Dream

I’m particularly excited to publish today’s blog post, because I get to share a project that is very important to me and that has been nearly a year in the making.

2014 Parfitt/Pascoe Writing Residency (PPWR)

Last February (2014), I was selected as one of four writing scholars to attend a fantastic conference on all things expat and Third Culture Kid (TCK). The conference, Families in Global Transition (FIGT), happens every year and is a great way to learn more about the global lifestyle and meet like-minded people.

The FIGT conference was held in March, and I wrote about it a few times – the welcoming atmosphere, the touching performance of a TCK’s story, and about becoming a writer. As writing scholars, we attended many sessions, keynote speeches and interviewed a variety of fascinating people. After the conference, our job was to write articles on everything we had seen and heard. Some of these articles were published on our blogs or in magazines, but most were stashed away in preparation for a bigger unveiling: a book.

It’s Here!

After months of writing, compiling articles, interviews, book reviews and editing (and more editing), our book finally went to press a few weeks ago. And less than two weeks ago, it became available to buy, both in print and on kindle.

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Please don’t be put off by the book if you haven’t attended the conference or don’t live a global lifestyle. Although the articles cover the conference, they are intended for a much wider audience than simply the FIGT attendees. If you are an expat, global nomad, TCK and/or if you work with them, this book is for you. If you are simply curious to learn more about living a global life, you will also find a lot to interest you.

A Dream Come True

I have always loved writing, but it has only been these past few years that I truly started to envision making a career out of writing. Having my articles published in magazines was already more than I had ever imagined. Now my name is on a book as a contributor and assistant editor. It’s incredibly exciting and surreal at the same time.

Jo Parfitt, who created this writing residency, had wanted to do this for a long time. She said that being able to combine her love for FIGT and her desire to help new writers was like a dream come true for her.

I’m grateful she fulfilled her dream, because in doing so she also made one of my dreams come true.

Moveable Roots

In the nearly four and a half years since I returned to the U.S. as an adult, I’ve learned a lot about what it means to be an accompanying spouse. Although I knew that’s what my situation would be when I chose to accompany my husband where his work would take him, I’ve only fully realized what it entails by living it these past few years.

When we were growing up, we didn’t have to deal with any logistics of the move, understanding health insurance, figuring out credit systems etc. As children, we had a regular routine, surrounded by many others like us at school. But as an adult, especially as an accompanying spouse, none of that applies anymore. Now we’re the ones with responsibilities and it’s up to us to figure it all out. There are no teachers or fellow students to help you out. This is very individual, independent learning – for better or for worse.

Since we’ve moved here, I’ve had to learn about living in the U.S. as an adult. Just because I have an American accent, people assume I’m from here and therefore I am aware of all the intricacies of daily life here. I only lived here as a young child, and although it is my passport country, it’s not where I’m from originally and it’s not where I’ve spent most of my life. This adds a further layer of complexity to this transition. This makes it a confusing mix of familiar and totally foreign. It makes us hidden immigrants and repats and neither all at the same time.

I’ve suddenly become acutely aware of what it must have been like for our parents – trying to make a home and figure everything out in a foreign place. And I also realize more than ever what a challenge that probably was for my mom, or any accompanying spouse. While the working spouse has a job to go, a routine, people they regularly interact with, the accompanying spouse often has none of those. I’ve learned just how difficult it can be to meet people when you work from home, don’t go to an office/school or have kids.

I had assumed that being an accompanying spouse in my passport country would make certain things easier – no need to get work permits or apply for visas, and no language barrier. And yet finding work has been extremely difficult, despite trying many times and in many different domains. I find myself competing with locals who have lived here, studied here and worked here most of their lives. I clearly have a foreign name, and have lived, studied and worked all over the world, but never in the U.S.

I also assumed I would find it relatively easy to adapt, to speak with people, to figure things out quickly… I had done it so many other times, in foreign places, while having to learn a new language; how hard could it be this time? Well, I didn’t realize how much the culture shock and loneliness would impact me. It was more acute than I expected, especially living in an area where there are very few foreigners and even less (if any) with TCK backgrounds/experiences like us. I have found it quite difficult to connect with people here. I have acquaintances and have no trouble carrying on a conversation, but I have forged few real relationships.

It has been a struggle and a steep learning curve. But thankfully it has also been a blessing in disguise. I suddenly found myself with a lot of free time, which allowed me to reignite my love for writing. I have started building something of my own, one brick at a time – first my blog, then some published articles, then my writer’s residency, published book reviews and soon a book with my name on it (as a writer and assistant editor). Those have led to other opportunities, little bits and pieces that slowly add to the puzzle. There is still a long way to go, but I’m proud of where I’ve gotten.

When we first arrived here, I never imagined that things would develop in this manner. I thought I would find a regular, part-time job and take a more ‘traditional’ path. Instead an unexpected path opened up and I’m continuously surprised by what it’s given me and by what I’ve learned about myself along the way. These last few years have allowed me to plant seeds for a career that I can carry with me wherever future plans may take us.

And what could be more fitting for a TCK, expat and accompanying spouse than a career with moveable roots?

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Wrapping up the Year (and the presents)

I realize that it’s been nearly 3 months since my last blog post… I’m usually not absent from my blog that long, but suddenly September arrived and these past few months have been a bit of a whirlwind. It’s amazing how quickly time flies. One moment it was the end of summer and suddenly it’s almost the end of the year. There have been new experiences, vacation plans that didn’t end so well, new projects, last minute trips and finally holiday preparations.

#TCKchat

Over the past few months, I have been a co-host for a twitter chat for Third Culture Kids (#TCKchat). These one-hour chats happen every 2 weeks (Wednesday at 10am/10pm US EST) and every session has a topic and a series of questions. We have participants of all ages, of all personal and professional backgrounds, located all over the world. However, you don’t have to be a TCK to take part in the conversation, so please feel free to join us anytime!

I joined twitter earlier this year for the ParfittPascoe Writing Residency. Although I never expected to use twitter much, TCKchat is a great way to connect and share experiences, lessons, stories and so much more. I hope to connect further with some of you in that forum!

You can find additional information including highlights of previous chats, upcoming topics, and short bios on the founders and co-hosts here: www.bateconsult.com/category/tck-chat.

Expat Resource Directory

A few months ago, I also started working with Global Living Magazine as Expat Resource Manager to help create an Expat Resource Directory. The aim of the directory is to be an ongoing list of expat/TCK resources, including services, organizations, projects, blogs and active expat twitter accounts/chats. There are resources covering a wide variety of topics, ranging from counseling/mental health, to consulting, education, relocation, TCKs, parenting, finance etc. We’re always looking for great new resources, so all suggestions are welcome (Dounia@globallivingmagazine.com).

This photo below is just a sample page of the directory to give you a sneak peek; the full directory can be viewed in the latest issue (Nov/Dec) of Global Living Magazine and will be updated in all future issues.

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Paris: City of Light and Love

After a brief vacation in Florida (that unfortunately ended with all of our personal belongings being stolen), there was a last minute whirlwind trip to Paris to see my family after 10+ long months of only seeing them on Skype… It was short (isn’t it always when you live far away from loved ones?), but very sweet. We visited parts of Paris that I remember so well and also made new memories in some quartiers that I didn’t know as much. Even if it had been over 2.5 years that I had been there, I still remembered the familiar streets, smells and sounds that make Paris one of my homes.

Here are some of my favorite photos from my quick November trip:

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Finally I want to wish you all a very merry Christmas (or happy holidays for whichever festivities you celebrate)! I hope you all have a wonderful end to 2014 and an even better start to 2015! I hope to catch you all more in the new year!

Merry Christmas! Joyeux Noel! Buon Natale! Feliz Navidad!

Longing

I long for something,

Without knowing what.

I long for somewhere,

without knowing where.

 

I long for change,

For that next adventure…

I’m restless and bored,

Ready to start somewhere new.

 

And yet I long to settle,

To put down roots.

To call some place home

And know it’s my own.

 

But where is that illusive home?

That place where I belong,

Where I am neither other

Nor outsider?

 

I am homesick,

But I don’t know for where…

For which country, which place,

Which home?

 

My heart aches,

Without knowing for what.

It longs for something

That I cannot define.

 

Such is the path

Of my third culture kid journey:

Sometimes confusing, often contradictory…

And forever longing.

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Book Review – Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging

Between WorldsBetween Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging by Marilyn R. Gardner

When I found out that Marilyn was going to publish a book, I knew it would be great and I was impatient to read it. I first read Marilyn’s writing on her blog, Communicating Across Boundaries, and I was immediately captured by her words. Her writing is always so honest, vulnerable, insightful and eloquent. Her book is no different.

Although I received Marilyn’s book a while ago (courtesy of the author herself – thank you!), I’ve taken a while to get through it and write this review. It wasn’t because the book is heavy reading or takes a while to get through, but rather because I didn’t want it to end. I wanted to savor what I was reading and have the time to reflect upon it.

Reading Between Worlds is like having a conversation with a TCK best friend. You may have lived in different countries and experienced different things but ultimately you understand each other to the deepest core. You can skip the small talk and trying to explain your background and just get right into the nitty-gritty things. The things that matter, that affected you, that shaped you. The way growing up between worlds is both blessing and curse, beautiful and heart-breaking…But that no matter how tough it can be you would do it all again.

Marilyn covers all that and so much more in this first (and hopefully not last!) book. She has divided her essays into seven topics that most, if not all, TCKs have dealt with: home, identity, belonging, airports, grief and loss, culture clash, and goodbyes. Through these topics we get a glimpse into Marilyn’s world growing up as a TCK and then struggling to adjust as an ATCK, especially upon returning to her passport country. But this isn’t a chronological book outlining each aspect of her life growing up, and I love that. It’s a collection of touching, heart-warming, humorous, gut wrenching essays about defining moments, memories or events. Her descriptions are so vivid and the details so precise that we can almost see, smell and hear everything. We can picture the Chai Shop, smell the curry, hear the raindrops on the tin roof and the call to prayer. We can also feel her sorrow, her intense joy and all the myriad of emotions that come with living between worlds.

On a very personal level, I connected deeply with many things Marilyn wrote. We are so very different in our TCK experiences – I have never lived in Pakistan, but lived in 7 different countries around the world; I grew up as a ‘corporate’ TCK, not an MK; we are of different generations…But none of that matters. I had already noticed how little it mattered when reading her blog posts as I often felt that she was writing my own thoughts and feelings. Reading Between Worlds was the same. She could have been expressing my own joys, fears and struggles. I felt understood and comforted. And I know I will be re-reading her book time and time again.

For those of you who haven’t read Between Worlds yet, please do. You won’t regret it. Everyone can find something to relate to, whether TCK or not. To tempt you and give you a taste of Marilyn’s beautiful writing, here are some of my favorite quotes. I could have included many, many more, but I hope that this selection will push you to read her wonderful book.


“Every good story has a conflict. Never being fully part of any world is ours. This is what makes our stories and memories rich and worth hearing. We live between worlds, sometimes comfortable in one, sometimes in the other, but only truly comfortable in the space between. This is our conflict and the heart of our story.” (p. 29) 

“My passport was my grown-up teddy bear. Its expiration was an identity theft of sorts, arousing a host of feelings for which I was unprepared. I was swept away in a tsunami of soul tears, tears that come from such a deep place that you do not think you can survive them. And in those soul tears, I made up my mind that no matter what, I would not let my passport expire again. […] It was a crucial part of the complexity of my journey of identity.” (p. 58)

“Third culture kid envy is one of the consequences of being designed for travel. It is what I feel when my feet are trapped on the ground for too long while I watch others travel.” (p. 73)

“Being able to travel is one of life’s greatest gifts. It simultaneously keeps one humble and fully alive. And for me the gift and magic begin at the airport. The airport is a place where I don’t have to try. It’s where I can be fully comfortable between worlds.” (p. 91)

“At airports, life seems full of endless possibilities. Whether I’m traveling to Rochester, New York or Karachi, I enter the terminal and get airport eyes, seeing the world through the lens of hope and opportunity.” (p. 105)

“As we tell our stories we realize that these transitions and moves are all part of a bigger narrative, a narrative that is strong and solid and gives meaning to our lives. As we learn to tell our stories we understand not only the complexity of our experience, but the complexity of the human experience, the human heart. So we learn to tell our stories – because your story, my story, and our stories matter.” (p. 162)

“Third culture kids, immigrants, refugees, foreigners. We find each other in unlikely spaces. In the shared experience of other, we find belonging and rest, whether in a short ride to an airport or a long-distance phone conversation. These moments of connection seem to come at the right time, sustaining us until the next encounter, preventing us from falling into an abyss of self-pity and isolation.” (p. 181)

“No matter where these goodbyes have taken place, whether it’s been on hot tarmacs, or dusty river banks; efficient European airports or train stations, the symptoms are the same. My stomach gets those characteristic ‘goodbye’ butterflies, my throat constricts, my body feels restless. Time passes too quickly; minutes count, hours horrify.” (p. 195 & 230)

“All the world feels caught in these goodbyes, goodbyes that bruise and hurt, yet remind us that our hearts are still soft and alive.” (p. 202)


And last, but certainly not least, a quote from Marilyn’s preface:

“This book is a product of that life, a life lived on both sides of the globe. It is a set of essays from a life lived between worlds. […] It is my hope that my words, stories, thoughts, and feelings resonate with those who, along with me, are living between worlds.”

I’m From…

I’m from the warm Mediterranean Sea,

And the smell of fresh pines in the mountain.

 

I’m from lavender fields and vineyards,

And the ochre colored house.

 

I’m from bahebak, je t’aime,

I love you, te quiero and ti amo.

 

I’m from islands and continents,

From north to south and east to west.

 

I’m from all these places that hold my heart,

And from a home that’s rooted in love.

 


This post is inspired by a beautiful poem written by 10th grader and TCK Adelaide, shared by Marilyn at Communicating Across Boundaries. “The Language Arts teacher wanted them to write a poem introducing themselves to her and to the class. It was a simple assignment. Five short stanzas. Two lines each. Begin each stanza with, “I’m from…” (Click to see the entire post and read Adelaide’s touching poem about growing up between worlds)

If you liked Adelaide’s poem and my poem, here’s another one for you, courtesy of Tayo Rockson, who was also inspired by Marilyn’s post!

Feeling inspired? Please feel free to share your own I’m From poem in the comments, or if you write one on your own blog, I would love to link to it here!

Living In Between

In between worlds,

In between cultures,

In between languages,

In between moves,

In between homes.

Living in between.

 

Never fully belonging,

Just used to blending…

Like a chameleon.

Never one of them,

Always the ‘other’.

Living in between.

 

We are many things abroad:

Immigrant, expat, foreigner.

And many things at home:

Hidden immigrant, repat, foreigner.

How do you reconcile

Living in between?

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Musical Memories

I’ve always been amazed by the power music has to affect my mood and by how evocative a single song can be. Music can uplift me and cheer me up, or move me to tears, but it always does good and reaches deeply into my soul. Music and certain songs can also be tied so closely to specific memories that just a few notes can conjure up such clear images and sometimes very strong emotions too. For TCKs, there’s the added factor that certain songs remind us of one of the countries we lived in – it’s one of the ways we remember when songs (or movies) came out, because we date them from where we were living at the time.

Although I love many musical styles, groups, singers and composers, in a variety of languages, there are certain songs/groups that hold stronger memories. It doesn’t mean they are my favorites or hold a particularly special place in my heart, it’s just that somehow they have a very clear memory or location/event attached to them. Regardless of whether they’re my favorite or not, they almost always make me smile when I hear them. And I will never cease to be amazed at the clarity of images and memories they trigger.

I have written about musical memories before – listening to Creedence Clearwater Revival or Kenny Rogers during our road trips in Mexico – but there are so many more songs and groups that transport me around the world with just a few notes.

What led me to write this today was hearing a song on the radio that will always be linked to one exact moment/event: Killing Me Softly by The Fugees. That song came out in 1996 and since it was a huge hit it played over and over on MTV. I know that because we were in a hotel at the end of summer vacation, which meant we had cable and a lot of free time. I was 11 years old and we had just moved from Mexico City to Manila (Philippines). Killing Me Softly will forever be linked to that hotel room, to room service in front of a movie on HBO, to playing barbies with my sister, to that mix of anticipation and trepidation of being in a new place… I can see the hotel room so clearly in my mind, as if I had been there recently, and not 18 years ago.

The Philippines is also inextricably linked to Third Eye Blind. Their first CD was such a hit and we loved it. Even though I haven’t listened to it in a long time, I’m pretty sure I could still sing along to all their lyrics. Third Eye Blind is synonymous with walks around our “villages” (enclosed residential compounds) with my best friend at the time, discman carried between us as we shared headphones and talked about our latest crushes and gossip. Third Eye Blind (and OK, Backstreet Boys too) was also the background music while thinking about said crushes and doing homework.

A few weeks ago I heard All My Life by K-Ci and JoJo, which had also come out when we were in the Philippines… I could sing along to nearly every word and I could picture my bedroom in the Philippines more clearly than I had in years. The power a few simple notes can yield is astounding.

Interestingly, it’s only been while writing this that I realize how many musical memories are linked to the Philippines… I think that’s because I had my own room for the first time, my own radio/CD player, and I was in middle school. I was just discovering my own tastes, my own freedoms and beginning to understand the comfort/power of music.

There are definitely songs that remind me of the other countries I’ve lived in though. Blue by Eiffel 65 will forever remind me of Sydney, of hanging out with friends at the beach and parties at each other’s houses. It’s forever linked to sunshine, laughter, teenage angst and carefree days. It conjures up images of our house in the Sydney suburbs, under clear blue skies.

Then there were the other hit pop songs of the time, when we were introduced to Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears, with Genie in a Bottle and Hit Me Baby One More Time. Eagle Eye Cherry’s song Save Tonight was very popular when we lived in Australia to… All these songs remind me of putting the radio on in the living room, with family and friends, chatting, laughing and even dancing around.

Certain Australian bands will always take me back there as well – Taxiride and Crowded House. And the Backstreet Boys Millennium CD will always be linked to Australia, to sleepovers with best friends and conversations about boys and gossip. We were teenage girls, what could you expect?

In more recent years I have songs that remind me of the summer we moved to the U.S. 4 years ago, or Smile by Uncle Kracker, which was our wedding song… That always brings a huge smile to my face (pun not intended) and fills me with happiness and warmth when I think of that beautiful, love-filled weekend in Provence.

I’m sure there are many more memories and songs I could bring up from the different countries I’ve lived in, but I’ll leave you with those for now. These memories all make me smile and remind me just how lucky I am to have led such a life and have such incredible experiences.

Music is a means of comfort, of communication, of escape and relaxation… but it is also a means of remembering.

What sounds or songs trigger special memories for you? 

Please feel free to share in the comments – I would love to hear your stories!

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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