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.

Advertisements

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…

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!

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.