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.

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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…

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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