Paris, Je T’aime

Je suis consciente que des attentats ont eu lieu dans d’autres pays (Liban, Iraq) avec de très nombreux morts et qu’il y a des victimes tous les jours en Syrie et ailleurs dans le monde. Le but du texte ci-dessous n’est pas de donner plus d’importance aux victimes de Paris, parce qu’aucun pays, aucune famille ne mérite de subir de telles atrocités. 

Ce texte est simplement un hommage à une ville que j’aime profondément. Je suis 100% libanaise d’origine et Paris sera mon foyer éternel. Mon cœur est doublement brisé et ma peine est débordante.

————————————————————-

Je pleure pour ma ville bien-aimée, mon cœur brisé déborde de tristesse. Paris – ville adoptée, adorée et chérie – tu souffres et je souffre loin de toi. Même si un océan nous sépare, mon cœur est avec toi et mes pensées traversent les distances et les vagues pour se poser à ton seuil.

Enfant du monde, mon âme est un mélange de cultures et mon cœur repose souvent dans plusieurs endroits, mais il ne quittera jamais Paris. Cette ville lumineuse a su bien s’emparer de mon cœur et c’est un amour éternel.

Il y a tellement de choses que je voudrais dire, mais je me retrouve sans mots face à ce tourbillon d’émotions qui remplit mon cœur et mes pensées.

Peut être suffit-il de dire ce qu’il y a de plus simple, de plus vrai et qui vient du plus profond de mon cœur:

Paris, je t’aime.

Tour Eiffel.JPG
Photo courtesy of Raya F.

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…

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.

“Autumn…”

“…The year’s last, loveliest smile.” William Cullen Bryant

I have always loved autumn. All four seasons have something beautiful to offer, but for some reason, autumn holds something special for me. Growing up I didn’t always live somewhere with four proper seasons, which meant that for many years I didn’t get to enjoy a true fall. I was lucky to spend my first years as a kid playing in leaves and watching the beautiful fall colors in Wisconsin…But I admit that I mostly remember jumping into the leaves! After we left the U.S. it was quite a while before I saw a proper autumn again. Mexico and Sydney barely had fall and the Philippines definitely didn’t have those temperate seasons since it’s tropical… I had to wait several years before seeing four well-defined seasons and my beloved autumn once again.

When we moved to France, I rejoiced at being able to see and feel each individual season. They all had their time, they were not fleeting or melting together; they were four distinct seasons. And finally, I found autumn again. The colors lit me up inside and the crisp fall air made me want to laugh out loud, for no particular reason other than feeling so alive and so invigorated. And autumn does that to me every year. The years when fall isn’t so prominent or passes by quicker, I feel the absence and I long for that season I love so much.

Then three years ago my husband and I moved to New England, and I suddenly experienced autumn like I never had before. This is now our fourth autumn here and every year I am amazed by the beauty this season has to offer in this part of the world. Although I love fall, I do love all of the other seasons too and so it was always difficult for me to choose just one favorite season… But here in New England, it’s easy. Autumn is by far my favorite season here. None of the other seasons inspire me and invigorate me the way fall does. There is something so exhilarating about the crisp autumn air and the clear blue sky. The flowers in the spring are lovely and bright, but it’s hard to compete with the rich jewel tones of autumn leaves.

There’s something about this season that makes me want to explore and try new things. I want to write more, take more photos, see new parks, go for long walks and just be outside. I want to feel the cool air turning my cheeks pink, heading back inside with windswept hair and hands full of colored leaves. Then I want to sit down with a mug of hot chocolate or tea and watch the glow of the sun on the fiery trees.

Whether I got to see fall every year or not doesn’t matter. I get to experience it now and I intend to take advantage of every minute.

 

DSC_0110 (2)

DSC_0118 (2)

DSC_0119 (2)

DSC_1133 (2)

DSC_1138 (2)

DSC_1145 (2)

DSC_1140 (2)
Click for a bigger version – this small one just doesn’t do justice to how beautiful this scenery is…

“I loved autumn, the one season of the year that God seemed to have put there just for the beauty of it.” Lee Maynard

Love, Laughter and Provence

For many people ‘home’ is a fixed notion – a house, a city, a state, a country… But for many others, including TCKs, home is a much more fluid, less tangible notion. Home is a place of comfort and solace, a safe haven. Home is the presence of loved ones, wherever in the world that may be. Home is those oft-read books with creased bindings that are lovingly unpacked from boxes time and time again. Home is the trinkets sitting on shelves – each one makes you smile and brings back fond memories. Home is not a geographically fixed location; throughout our lives we’ve called many places home, but really home moved with us every time. Home is where you love and laugh.

When we first arrived in France, I never thought I would grow to love it like I have. We had just left Sydney and I was very unhappy. I missed the rich blue sky of Australia, the ocean, and my friends. I felt I could never be as happy in another place, as TCKs often do, and I resented being in Paris. If someone had told me then that I would fall in love with Paris and with France as a whole, I would have dismissed that comment, saying it was impossible. I was so very wrong. France, especially Paris and Provence, has a hold on my heart that no other country has ever had. It is the country I lived in the longest, and it is home in so many ways, even if I’m not living there currently. I have loved and laughed more there than anywhere else in the world. Paris gave me the love of my life, and Provence sealed that love with our wedding.

I love Paris very much, and I’m so lucky to have spent many beautiful years there, but no place calms me and invigorates me quite like Provence.  From the first moment we visited, spending 3 weeks of summer exploring the gorgeous region, it had a hold on us. Perhaps it’s the rich green vineyards, heavy with their colored grapes, or the lavender fields filling the air with their sweet fragrance, or perhaps the proximity to the Mediterranean Sea, or the culture, the history, the food…There are so many reasons to entice you to stay, that it is hard to tear yourself away.

When we first went to Provence, I never imagined that I would choose to get married there. I believed I would marry wherever I was living, wherever was ‘home’ at that time. But knowing I could get married somewhere I could go back to, somewhere that meant so much to me, but also to my husband and my family, was so special. It means that I can return to the beautiful church where we got married, that I can sleep in the house where we celebrated, that I can see the same views I saw on our beautiful wedding day.

When my parents decided to get a house in Provence, I thought it was a nice idea, but I didn’t know then that it would also become a home. It wasn’t just walls and a garden, it was a true safe haven, a place of love and laughter; a place to call our own. After so many years of packing up and moving home with us, we finally had somewhere to go back to. For the first time in my life, a fixed location could begin to define home.

Home is indeed where you love and laugh, but it turns out that home is also a house is the heart of Provence.

How do you not fall in love with this?
How do you not fall in love with this?