Here’s to a New Year

In many ways 2015 was a good year, but it was also a hard year. A year filled with challenges, both professional and personal.

It was also a year of introspection, where I learned a lot about myself, found some answers, but also realized there were more questions than I had expected. Questions about identity, home, putting down roots (and where) or continuing the transient, nomadic life…

These are not unique to me – I know many TCKs (and non-TCKs) struggle with these questions. I just didn’t expect them to hit me so hard and to find myself searching for clarity in my own contradictory thoughts and feelings.

When I was finally able to define those questions, however, it was such a comfort. I had felt their shadows lingering in the back of my mind for a while, but had been unable to understand what weighed on my heart. I may not have the answers yet, but at least I now know what I’m searching for – and that makes all the difference.

These realizations, along with other challenges sorted by year’s end, allowed me to close off 2015 at peace and more than ready for 2016. I am excited for this new year and all the new adventures it will undoubtedly hold.

As for my blog: I unfortunately and unintentionally moved away from writing in 2015. I had much to say, but couldn’t find the words to express it. I am very grateful for all of you who still stuck around and took the time to read and comment when I did write. Your presence and comments are always a source of joy, motivation and comfort.

One of my hopes and resolutions for 2016 is to do more of what I love – and writing is very high on that list. Hopefully this is just the first of many more posts to come this year. So, here’s to more writing, more laughing, more loving, more travel and great adventures in 2016.

On that note, I wish you all a very happy new year and I hope 2016 is an amazing year!

A Global Education – Part 2

Read Part 1 here – Introduction and Attending a Local School Down Under…

International/American Schools Around the World

By contrast to the relatively homogenous community of the Australian school, the international/American schools had more diversity in nationality. They were used to a regular ebb and flow of students from around the world. But even they each had their own unique community and ambiance.

In Mexico, there was a strong influence and presence of the Mexican culture and of Spanish. In elementary/lower school, when we were in more advanced Spanish levels, we did half of our day in English and the other half in Spanish. I remember doing math, history, reading and other subjects in both languages. We learned global history but we also studied Mexican history – contemporary and ancient. We sang the Mexican national anthem and celebrated Mexican festivities and traditions. Even the school was mostly Americans and Mexicans. There were other nationalities, but far less than in other international/American schools I attended.

In the Philippines there were a lot of Americans and Filipinos, as well as quite a few other nationalities, from Asia, Europe, the Middle East, Latin America. However, in sharp contrast to the immersion in Mexico, there was little teaching of the local culture in the Philippines. Although the members of faculty were culturally diverse (including locals), there was no particular emphasis on teaching/transmitting the local culture to the students.

In France, the high school community was highly multicultural, with students and faculty from around the world. It was not unusual to hear 3-4 languages being spoken in the hallways, often in the same conversation. Like in Mexico and the Philippines, there was a great deal of respect for other cultures and traditions, but again the cultural immersion was handled differently. Although there were obligatory French classes, most of the immersion efforts came from individual teachers, who strived to teach their students about local culture, traditions and history.

It’s More Than Just Academics

My age in each location, as well as my cultural background, obviously colored each experience differently. I was aware of culture, race and ethnicity early on because of my name and background, so it was never something I could ignore. As I grew older, I paid closer attention to how culture (local and international) was dealt with and how that impacted interactions – both inside and outside school walls.

Over time I learned it really came down to individuals and how they chose to immerse themselves or not in their host country. There were many who chose to step outside of their expat bubble and really learn the language and explore the city/country as locals. But there were also others who remained closed off, never learning the language, only attending expat events or typically expat restaurants, ordering everything through embassy stores etc.

Thankfully my parents always wanted us to learn languages, to understand different cultures and to think outside the expat bubble. They didn’t want us to be spoilt, arrogant or out of touch with the world we were living in. A lot of the cultural education and immersion in our host countries was thanks to them. They made sure we visited different parts of the countries we lived in, tasted local foods, learned about local traditions and saw beyond the typical expat experience.

I will be forever grateful that my parents opened our minds to all the different cultures we lived in. They taught us to look beyond (but not disregard) color, race, privilege, language and any other ‘barriers’. Their way of teaching us about the world made us into curious, well-rounded and accepting individuals. I realize now that is the greatest education I could have ever received.

A Global Education – Part 1

A TCKchat from a couple of months ago made me realize what a unique and privileged education I’ve had. Not only have I gone to schools around the world (and that is an education in itself), but I have also gone to different types of schools. I’ve attended international/American schools in Mexico, the Philippines and France; local schools in the U.S. and Australia, and went on to study in French and British universities.

What’s interesting is that each school and experience was unique. Even among the international/American schools, each one was different – in size, community, diversity, interaction with the locals and local culture etc. For the local schools, both of my experiences were vastly different, due to age, location and where I had lived before I attended them.

This isn’t just about the schools, however, it’s also about what I learned through them and the countries they were located in. It’s not simply about the academics, but also what I learned about the world, about cultures, and about interactions with different people.

Attending a Local School Down Under

The local school in the U.S. was the first school I ever went to (after kindergarten), so I hadn’t experienced my TCKness or a TCK environment yet. I was technically already a TCK, since I was living outside my parent’s culture and I was born in Cyprus, but for me I was just another kid going to school. I have a few memories from that school but I left when I was eight years old.

By the time I attended my second local school, in Australia, I was 13 years old, living in my 5th country, and had several years of TCK experience under my belt. Suddenly I was thrust into a totally unfamiliar school system, with nearly no other foreigners, expats or TCKs. To make matters worse, we arrived for the last 2-3 weeks of the school year, which made things especially awkward. Starting at the end of the year makes you stand out and feel even more alone. When you arrive at the beginning of the year, everyone is still adjusting to classes. They may all know each other, but it’s still a brand new year. You have more of a chance of finding your feet, or trying to blend in. To add to the already tumultuous situation, it was the first time we had to wear a school uniform. Needless to say, it was not a smooth transition and the first few weeks were not fun.

Despite the initial upheaval, however, I ended up loving it there. I made wonderful friends, I was involved in sports, did well at school, and I was happy. I tried new things, like rowing (which I loved), and went on camping trips with the school, seeing breathtaking parts of Australia. I made incredible memories and long-lasting friendships. One of my closest friends to this day is someone I met in Sydney, and I haven’t seen her since I left – almost 15 years ago. We only spent two years there, but I was devastated when we left. That was definitely something I didn’t expect, considering I had not been surrounded by other TCKs like me. But I think that when you’re young, you’re less judgmental. We were kids, we got along, we had sunshine, beach and teenage dreams. What else could someone ask for at that age?

I’m happy I had that time in Australia and a chance to see a different system, even if it wasn’t always easy. It ensured I didn’t just have one experience and grow up entirely in a TCK/expat bubble. It gave me an even wider scope with which to view the world. From a cultural and academic standpoint, it taught me a lot.

Part 2 coming soon: my experiences with International/American schools and culture; and how education is about more than just academics…

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!

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.”

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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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!