Welcome!

reading.jpgWelcome!

My name is Tanya Crossman and I am the author of Misunderstood: The Impact of Growing Up Overseas in the 21st Century. On this blog I discuss different aspects of international life, with a focus on children and young people: how they feel about, and are shaped by, their global experiences.

Perhaps you have come here hoping to learn more about raising children internationally, or teaching such children. Perhaps you were raised overseas yourself. Perhaps you have read Misunderstood and want to know more. In each case, a good place to start is my post on Third Culture Kids, which lays a foundation for a lot of what is discussed here. You can also check out articles arranged by topic, or take a look at the most popular posts.

However you found your way to this blog, I’m glad you’re here. I would love to hear from you, hear your story, and your questions. We’re all learning, and we all have something helpful to contribute. Please add your voice to the conversation!

Tanya Crossman
Beijing, 2019

More videos for you!

I have continued to create videos which I’m sharing on youtube. All videos I’ve posted have accurate English subtitles available (not just the youtube auto-subtitles feature). I hope this helps my audience better sift through my fast Australian accent! Here’s a rundown of what I’ve posted so far. (Clicking on any of the images below will take you to that video on youtube.)

I started by explaining a little of the medical/neurological reasons behind my switch from blogging to vlogging – speaking instead of writing. I talk a little about how I got my concussion, and what the eight months since have been like.

My_PCS_experience_thumb

Next, I explain the concept of “Third Culture Kids” – what it means, why it matters, and how growing up overseas impacts a person. Watch the video to hear more!

What_is_a_TCK_thumb

Next up, I tackled two questions I hear a LOT, both online and in person – how did I end up doing this work, and am I a TCK myself? Neither have simple answers. In short, I fell into this field accidentally, and while I’m technically a TCK I feel more like an Australian who had a TCK experience as a teenager. To hear the stories behind those odd answers, check out the video!

My TCK experience, and how I started working with TCKs_thumb

Next up was the start of something I’m really excited about: my first video book review! I’m planning to gradually introduce my audience to more of the resources on my bookshelf, reading excerpts from them aloud, and talking a bit about why I love them. First up is my number one recommendation for empty-nest expat parents, a raw and authentic journey through supporting both young adult children and aging parents, while also planning for your own future. On top of the personal stories of two women navigating this journey together (from different parts of the globe) are helpful insights from experts in different fields.

monday morning emails_thumb

I finally agreed to talk a bit about my experience living in China through covid-19, after a month of restrictions, cancellations, and confusion. I felt awkward talking about the ways I’ve been impacted as for me it is really just inconveniences to deal with, and I have the privilege to leave should I want to. For others, there is so much genuine fear, worry for family and friends. Yet others are dealing with disease and death among their friends and family. But I’ve been asked to share my story many times, so with the knowledge of my privilege front-and-centre, here’s a peek at life under covid-19 restrictions in Beijing.

Beijing during covid-19_thumb

My latest video is another book review. This time it’s my number one recommendation for TCKs themselves to read – a great book full of fun stories and prompts for self-reflection and personal growth. Suitable for TCKs as young as 6th or 7th grade (if they’re open to self-examination) and very valuable for high school and college-aged TCKs.

arrivals departures and the adventures in between_thumb

And that’s it for now! There will be more coming soon, and I hope to return to short blog posts in the next few months. Thanks for your encouragement and support!

 

 

Coronavirus and video content for cross-cultural life

My previous blog post was a celebration of all the great work I was excited to be involved with this coming semester. Within days of publishing that post, however, the novel coronavirus that began in Wuhan, China, escalated. The Chinese government responded with a lot of measures intended to slow the spread – including limiting travel, and cancelling public gatherings. Here in Beijing, all parks and tourist attractions are closed (even the Great Wall), all performances cancelled, many businesses required to stay closed for an extra 1-2 weeks after the official holiday, and all schools closed indefinitely (currently not allowed to open until February 17th, although this will most likely be pushed later).

Which all means my next month of work is postponed. I was really discouraged at first and I saw the writing on the wall, before even the first school contacted me about it. But as reality set in, I took a day to be sad, to feel like I had nothing to do. Then I made a decision. I still can’t read and write to the level I’d like (due to on-going post-concussion syndrome) BUT I can still speak and present. So I decided to jump straight into a backburner project I hadn’t expected to have time for until much later.

I’ve started a youtube channel.

I’ll be sharing stories from my experiences and interviews; tips I offer to parents, educators, and TCKs; and some of my favourite resources for cross-cultural life. It will be a great way to start offering resources publicly again, since I haven’t been able to return to regular blogging. The first post is up already (an introduction to what I’ll be doing) and a new one is coming soon. I’d love to have you join me for the journey!

A busy semester begins!

It’s been a rough year for me. I was just starting to adjust to life with asthma when I gave myself a second grade concussion that triggered post-concussion syndrome. I still have some cognitive issues, mostly related to higher level reading and writing. I’ve stopped blogging and most of my research, focusing instead on my consulting business working with international schools. I took things a bit easy last semester, but I’m getting back into it now and I have a big semester ahead of me! Here’s a short list of what I’ll be doing over the next four months:

In China:

I have ongoing work with parents, educators and support staff at the International School of Beijing (ISB).

I have ongoing work with parents, educators and students at Keystone Academy in Beijing.

I will be speaking to the Pastoral Care strand of the Association of China and Mongolia International Schools (ACAMIS) Spring Leadership Conference in March.

I will be the guest speaker at BICF’s Spring Departure Hall event for those transitioning out of Beijing.

I will make a third annual visit to Chengdu International School (CDIS) in April.

_ISBseries1a

In Bangkok, Thailand:

I will be speaking at a small organisation retreat for families with TCKs who will be finishing high school and repatriating to attend university in the next few years.

I am the Logistics Director on the board of Families In Global Transition (FIGT) and will be coordinating logistics for the annual conference to be held March 13-15 at the International School of Bangkok. I will also be part of a morning forum discussing University Transitions for TCKs, and my book will be available for sale in the conference bookstore.

20191227 Tanya Crossman Logistics Director

(Read this article about my FIGT role here)

In Phnom Penh, Cambodia:

I will spend a morning speaking at the International School of Phnom Penh (ISPP).

I will be speaking to students, teachers, and parents at Hope International School.

I will be running a public seminar and public workshops on Saturday March 21st. Last year’s seminar overfilled the room with 60 people in attendance, so this year I’m also offering an afternoon of workshops with lots of discussion time built in. (More information to come!)

Meanwhile…

Also, while my own research has taken a back seat during my recovery, I’m delighted that great resources for/about TCKs continue to be produced! I’ve been asked to write the foreword for one great practical resource book that will be coming out this year, and I’ve confirmed a quote from me that will be published in a second book.

And while I can’t engage with much reading and writing, I’m working on audio/visual ways to connect with my audience and share my work. I’ll start small, hopefully in the next few months, but I have big long term plans!

Yes, it’s going to be a busy few months! But it’s also a delight to be doing this work. And while I miss reading books and writing blog posts, I’m proud of the way I’ve worked to learn and respect my new limits. It doesn’t come easy and I’m still learning, but it’s an important life skill that I’m sure will come in handy the rest of my life.

What about you? What are you working on at the moment?

Transition: when health imitates geography

As you’ve probably noticed, I’ve been very quiet here lately. Three and a half months ago I slipped at home (just a silly accident) and managed to hit the tile floor so hard I gave myself a nasty concussion. Recovery has been slow.

I’ve always had chronic health problems, but in the past year I’ve been pummelled with new and scary situations. All while still transitioning to a new life and new career path in a new-old country alongside my newlywed husband. I’ve navigated these critical health situations in my second language, struggling to breathe in one case and with a brain injury in the other. It hasn’t been easy, for me or for my husband. And that’s definitely an understatement.

Lately I’ve been thinking about parallels between my health journey this year and the emotional upheaval of moving to a new country. Applying the same strategies I offer for dealing with geographical and relational transition to my health situation has really helped me – long before I realised that’s what I was doing!

An important thing I share when speaking on transition is that it’s all about losing your automatics and adjusting to a new normal. When you start over in a new place, you are left without competencies you took for granted. It takes time to learn how to live well in your new situation. You need to be kind to yourself, and patient, as you develop new competencies. You need to leave space to grieve what was while persevering in developing a new life. You need to lean on the supports available to you, including professional help. It also helps to celebrate small victories! (See more of my transition advice here.)

The concussion stopped my world. Through all my lifelong issues with chronic pain, my mind has been my refuge. I also honed an ability to push through pain and discomfort, often to my own detriment. The concussion took those options away. Both my mental and physical stamina dropped away to almost nothing. I couldn’t think clearly for weeks. Even now I can’t focus the way I’m accustomed to, can’t hold more than one thing in my head at once – which means no multitasking, and processing a lot slower. I’m still a bit forgetful and sometimes stop mid-sentence, grasping for a word I can’t find.

Conversation is fairly easy, although I tire more quickly than I used to. Focused concentration is my biggest problem. I can only read and write in short bursts – the more concentration required, the shorter the burst becomes. Short single-idea thoughts shared on social media are usually fine, but reading a book is still beyond me. I started writing this post (in short bursts) six weeks ago but had to abandon it when the attempt left me with a two-day headache.

Pushing through has not been an option. At the start a five or ten minute walk gave me a headache that would last through the next day. The same would happen after two or three hours out of the house. I’ve slowly been building up my capacity. I can now manage (even enjoy!) a 12 hour day out of the house, but it leaves me flat the whole next day. I measure time at the computer in minutes. At first it was 10 minutes, then 12, and 20. Now I can manage up to 80 minutes, two or maybe three times in one day – as long as I don’t think too hard. Every week is a bit better than the week before.

My whole life has had to change, to adjust to my new limitations. I have had to learn to pay close attention to my body, to recognise and respect its limits – even if they don’t seem to make sense, and even when I’m frustrated with them. I’m in the same apartment, the same life, but I’m not the same. I can’t live the way I used to. My capacity has changed. My expectations have had to change.

And that brings us back to transition.

During this process I have needed to tell myself all the things I say in my tips for transition. That this situation is hard, and it’s okay that I struggle with it. That I need to be patient because things will change but they will change slowly. I’ve had to depend on my friends around the world to lift me up when I’m discouraged, share their stories of similar struggles, and remind me to be kind to myself. I’ve put myself in the hands of professionals. Progress is slow, but steady. Every week I’m a little closer to normal.

This concussion will resolve completely with time. (I’ve had an MRI and other tests, and there won’t be a long term problems.) But my other health issue this year is severe chronic asthma, and that will not resolve itself. Over time, with good management, it should become less severe, but the likelihood is that living with asthma is my new normal.

The reason I started pulling all these thoughts together is that I had a small victory in regards to adjusting to my new normal of living with asthma. I felt something wasn’t right with my body, and I did all the right things. I noticed the change and responded to it immediately. I adjusted meds, reached out for advice, and made an appointment to see a respiratory doctor the next day. I managed the appointment, subsequent tests, and follow-up on the results all in my second language without getting overwhelmed. I made my concerns clear, they were taken seriously, and I was involved in the decision of how to treat the diagnosed infection. All that would be worth celebrating any day of the week; post-concussion it was a huge achievement!

I felt very validated that I had made the right choices and done the best thing for my health, without anyone needing to push me. I realised all on my own that the strategy I’d lived by in the past (“wait and see””) is not the appropriate choice in my new situation. My body can’t fight off an infection in the same way it used to, and in the mean time the consequences could be dire – literally life-threatening. So I dealt with it head on, which means I am learning how to navigate my new normal. I am finding my way through the transition to life with asthma.

And as the transition parallel occurred to me, so did something else. I regularly talk about how it usually takes 12-18 months to adjust to a big life change. That the second year is when things start to fall into place, because there’s familiarity at having done certain things before. I realised it’s been less than one year since the asthma first occurred – and suddenly I felt really encouraged! Look how far I’ve come in learning to cope with this new normal! I reflected on all the small ways I’ve adjusted and learned to cope with my post-concussion symptoms. In both cases, there are struggles. Yes, it can be really frustrating. Yes, I miss who I used to be, what I used to be capable of. But also – I am learning and growing. There are ups and downs, but I’m working my way through this unexpected transition to a new way of living.

Click here to read more articles about cross-cultural life.

transitionsky

Cross Cultural Comics

As you may (or may not) know, I suffered a nasty concussion three months ago. I’m back to normal in a lot of respects, but my reading and writing capacity is still significantly limited. Still, I’ve found a way to share something of substance with you: I’ve created a list of seven webcomics with cross-cultural themes. I really enjoy them and I hope you do too!

Scandinavia and the world
A fun little comic constrasting different cultural attitudes – with a particular focus on Scandinavian countries compared to each other, and Scandinavian countries compared to other parts of the world.
See it on facebook
See it on instagram

scandinavia-and-the-world_the-big-question

Tiny eyes comics
This is a beautiful set of comics created by Siyu exploring differences – and connections – between Chinese culture and other cultures.
See it on facebook
See it on instagram

Third Culture Chinese
Winnie Gu is a Chinese TCK in the US. Her comics explore a lot of culture clashes and the confusions of belonging/not-belonging in more than one place, especially as a student. I share these a lot on the Misunderstood facebook page!
See it on facebook
See it on instagram

Itchy feet
A fun little comic about travel, living abroad, languages, and interactions surrounding it all.
See it on facebook
See it on instagram

Drawn to a story
The lovely Cath Brew (who I’ve met through FIGT) illustrates various expat life experiences. She also has a book out – “Living Elsewhere”.
See it on facebook
See it on instagram

Yes I’m hot in this
A fun comic about the life of Huda, a hijabi in the US. Not expat-related, but cross-cultural, and with a wonderful blend of humour, sweetness, and blunt reality! I really enjoy it.
See it on facebook
See it on instagram

Soundimals
James Chapman illustrates words as they are spoken in different languages. He also has a recent series illustrating expressions in different languages which I love!
See it on facebook
See it on instagram

 

That’s it! That’s my little list of fun cross cultural comics. I hope you have fun exploring them all a bit more! Do you have a favourite cross cultural comic I should add to my list? Leave a comment to let me know!

Click here to read more about cross-cultural life and growing up (or raising kids) overseas.

Cross-cultural education: advice for parents

In a previous post I wrote an overview of the cross-cultural education experience, and said there would be more posts to come. In the meantime, I wrote a post for China Source about the impact of school culture, and the cross-cultural experience this can be. I’ve received a lot of feedback from teachers, parents and educational consultants. It’s nice to hear that so many others also feel this is a significant and important topic, although it also reminds me how few families are well resourced in how to cope with the impact of school culture on their family.

This post covers some key advice I give to parents about coping with the stresses associated with cross-cultural education. It’s turned into a long post, but I still feel like I’m barely scratching the surface! At any rate, I hope you will find these suggestions thought-provoking, encouraging, and interesting.

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1) Your child is learning two cultures and languages at once

Your child may seem a bit behind in some ways: lacking language skills or cultural awareness, on either side – or both! But keep in mind, this is because they are learning more than one language, more than one cultural system. They’re actually ahead! The places they lack something are reminders of all they’ve gained, in a different language or cultural system.

Related to this, as they grow, keep in mind that they are neither completely one nor completely the other. Remember that it’s both-and: they have two (or more) languages and cultures that they draw upon to develop their sense of self.

“I feel like a different person when speaking Finnish than when speaking English. Maybe because my Finnish is not sophisticated enough to allow me to express myself to the same level as I can in English. I feel frustrated when I’m away with friends, say for a week, and don’t get any chances to speak Finnish. Even though I am limited by my Finnish, I feel constricted when I don’t get to be my ‘Finnish self’.”

Elisa, age 19, as quoted in Misunderstood, page 265

2) Always assume the best about your child

When you and your child clash, and especially when you feel your child is disrespecting you, or your culture, try to assume the best about your child. Assume that their intentions toward you are good. Assume they are trying their best. Assume that there is a misunderstanding between you, and not ill-intent. From this assumption, try to ask questions – perhaps just to yourself about the situation, or sometimes you may actually want to ask your child.

Ask why the child is acting this way (after starting by assuming the child is not trying to be difficult), and in particular, if they are acting from a set of values they have learned at school. Would their behaviour make sense in the classroom or schoolyard setting? Are they working from connection to and affection for more than one country, culture, or language?

Ask what might be confusing or frustrating your child – is there language or cultural understanding they are missing, and need help with? Are your own expectations as a parent not clear? Might these be confusing for a child living with different expectations during the school day? Ask what extra information, support, love, attention, or skills you might be able to provide to your child, to help them relax and grow as they walk through two cultures and languages at once.

Also, keep in mind the impact of grief on TCKs, and whether this might be part of the equation.

3) You may need space to deal with your own grief

Speaking of grief, give yourself space as a parent to experience and express grief associated with what a cross-cultural education means your child does NOT have – and does not share with you.

You may need space to feel the weight of what you’re dealing with. That you as a family are navigating two cultures and languages. That this journey means your child is having a very different childhood than you did – and therefore, is becoming a very different person. Over time, you may see these differences leading your child down a different path, and you may feel upset about them being less like you. And sometimes, those gaps in your experiences may make you feel sad – as you see the things you don’t share with your child. It is okay – even healthy – to leave yourself space to feel those feelings.

Letting yourself feel that sadness, finding a safe space to express it, will help you not put this on your child. If you do not recognise and face any grief you experience, it will twist its way into your parenting unconsciously. You will be more likely to place heavy expectations on your child to conform to your own cultural norms. You will be more likely to require them to be like you in order to feel accepted by you.

4) Cross-cultural education was YOUR choice – not your child’s

This is a difficult lesson for some, but it is very important. Your child did not choose to be in this situation, and to have this cross-cultural educational experience. This happened due to your choices as a parent. Even when children are involved in decisions around family relocations and schooling choices, the buck stops with the parent.

Whether you are at the start of this journey, or years down the track, it’s important to keep in mind that this is the only experience your child has. They have nothing to compare it to. They may not know what makes them different. They may not know what they don’t know. When those differences and lacks become apparent to you, remember: you are the one who chose this.

This also means it’s unfair to place heavy expectations on your child to be like you, and to share your sense of home. You may not even realise you’re doing it – especially if you haven’t made space to explore your own grief – but your child will, and it can place huge barriers in your relationship.

“My family would take me to Syria every summer, but I never truly immersed myself in the Syrian culture. I never made real friends, I couldn’t speak the language…I feel a continuous frustration with my parents for their feeling of entitlement to their children’s sense of home. They just didn’t get that there would be a permanent gap between their perspective of Syria and mine. And that separation would never be closed.”

Dialla, 18, as quoted in Misunderstood, page 262-263

This is a really emotional topic for a lot of parents. When I talk about these things in seminars, I almost always look out to see tears. Often there is relief, that they aren’t the only one, or that they have an explanation for something, or that their child is “normal”. Sometimes it’s sadness, at finally understanding some of the dynamics in their relationship with their child, and wishing they could have done things differently earlier. Sometimes it’s gratitude, at finally knowing what to do, or feeling validated that they had made some good parenting choices already.

 

If you are feeling emotional after reading this, please give yourself a little time and space to sit with those feelings, whether now or later. You might like to comment on this post, ask a question or share a story. You might want to send it to a friend so you can discuss it together. Perhaps sitting down with a journal, or writing your own blog post in response, is more your speed. Reflection is an important tool, and one worth making time for, especially if this has struck a chord with you.

Recommended reading: June 3rd, TCK perspective

Time for some more writing by TCKs – long posts and short, with TCKs reflecting on their experiences and telling their stories. I know it’s only been a month since the last TCK Perspective I shared, but I’ve found so many great pieces lately I didn’t want to wait!

Identity & Belonging – TCK Art Gallery
Noggy Bloggy
Aneurin has another fantastic online TCK art gallery, this one themed “Identity and Belonging”. This post features Tina Quick, author of the fantastic book A Global Nomad’s Guide to University Transition, choosing a few favourite pieces from the gallery to highlight.
“As an ATCK and the mother of three TCKs this piece impacted me because as the artist says, “The pieces we collect are often attached to a place that speaks loud to our identity.” What may seem insignificant to others has intense value to us. That is why I always tell parents never to throw away their TCK’s belongings without asking first. One day they will be ready to let go as that identity evolves.”

The freedom of being a third culture kid
Honi Soit
I love this piece! ATCK Georgia describes her relationship with her mixed cultural heritage and upbringing, and how embracing a TCK identity helped her make peace with all trhe pieces.
“…my cultural heritage tends to disorient most people that I meet. That invariably leads to false conceptions of my identity founded on comfortable and familiar stereotypes. TCKs are prevented from easily giving voice to their origin stories, and are severed from the roots of a precise nationality, a home. Wherever I go, I have often felt and been treated as an outsider. Comments on my accent have in the past sent me spiralling into a state of unease and insecurity with my identity. . .The decision to identify as a TCK actually occurred after moving to Australia. I realised that the non-judgemental, unassuming acceptance I had received within the expat community I grew up in was something truly unique. Elsewhere, it seems that people quickly categorise a new face as either ‘one of us’ or ‘one of them’, local or foreigner. . .To live authentically, for me, has meant accepting my roots as a TCK. While my younger self felt constantly torn between differing cultures, having the freedom to pick and choose from my own mixed bag of traditions has been the most rewarding experience.”

“Where Are You From?”
A Life Overseas
This piece is a missionary kid’s reflections on the question all TCKs struggle with. She wrestles with the difficulty – feeling judged and resentful, struggling to reconcile experiences, the memories of life in one place that she DOESN’T have. She concludes with the way she’s found peace in the midst of this – the Christian theology of citizenship in heaven. I did a research thesis on this citizenship in heaven and its impact on Christian TCKs, so it was nice to see my topic reflected here.
““Where are you from?” The dreaded question is asked all too often as soon as I open my mouth and my Australian-British-South African accent comes out. A question that seems simple yet holds the weight of my being, it is the question of my identity. It is not simply the answer to that question alone which can be a difficult and strange one to have when someone actually doesn’t care about my history — but rather the judgments that are made upon the story that ensues.”

4 Things Missionary Kids Won’t Tell You
ABWE
This is another piece by a teeange missionary kid, and it’s really important. I’ve heard these same sentiments from many, many young TCKs over the years. The first two points are applicable to lots of TCKs from different sectors, and the second two points are specific to mission/ministry families. All four points are really important reading for parents.
“We may talk differently because of where we grew up. We may not understand American sports. We may eat our burgers with forks and knives. But we are still kids who want to belong. Our fear of never fitting in may seem irrational, but continually pointing out our differences only feeds this fear. But, our parents, supporters, friends, and pastors have the power to make us feel welcome, by accepting us no matter how different we may seem.”

A TCK’s Reflection; Brene Brown’s Call to Courage
We All See this World a Little Differently
This post has some personal and really helpful reflections on vulnerability, grief, and relationship building. These are themes that are coming up a lot in my current research, and I appreciated the way Joel approached these often difficult topics. His authenticity is refreshing and his insights widely applicable.
“I absolutely loved my life growing up overseas, but there is an element of constant change that all TCKs have in their lives that I could have lived without. Either you (the TCK) or someone you know is always moving. I had very few friends that remained in my life from kindergarten through high school. The expectation in an ex-pat community is that people will only be around for a couple of years before moving onto another assignment from their business or mission board. Only a handful of people will be around long term. The grief and loss that is experienced when the element of belonging is removed is deep.”

‘I’m either too black or not black enough’: One teenager’s experience
BBC News
This powerful piece was written by a teenager studying at an international school in Europe. She unpacks her experience of being an African American in a school where her culture is largely unknown, where she sees appreciation and appropriation of its surface characteristics, but no knowledge of the history and lived experience behind those cultural markers.
“Technically, all people of African descent are minorities in America, the place where I’ve lived most of my life. Yet, this is the first time I’ve been aware of it. There are so few black students at my school that by next year, there’s a good chance that no one in secondary will have black skin. Should that not be scary? Is it weird for me that it is? It’s not that I’m scared to be the only black person at the school; that’s not really the issue. It’s that there’s part of black culture that has spread throughout the student population that reeks of ignorance. . .I am either too black or not black enough; yet no matter what, I am in the wrong. The stares weigh over me like a thick smog, the whispers cloud my hearing, and on this campus I am left an outcast. Isolated. Alone”

Thoughts on Remembering
Third Culture Thoughts
In this piece a TCK explores nostalgia – the pain of leaving and losing friends, and the place of memory. There’s a good balance here – recognising the need to reflect and feel, but not to let that hold you back.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to move countries or cities multiple times in my life, and while it’s an opportunity every time to reinvent yourself for the new environment you’ll be in, you also leave a lot behind. Even if you didn’t like that person you were or that place you lived in, it’s a part of how you became you today. Others may not think that’s important but I do. I suppose it’s a little existential of me. We only have the time we have here and now in our lives. Each of us is one in billions of other human beings, and we are on a rock floating in a stupendously large universe. Our lives are, in a cosmic sense, infinitesimally small, but they are our lives and that makes them important to us. It makes them worth remembering because no one else will.”

Who am I really? Ask the Third Country Kids
Shine
This interview with a Third Culture Kid includes some great gems relating to identity struggles and language usage:
“The hardest part of my life was having to go back to the country that I thought was my home and realizing that I was not from there. That I was not from Indonesia, I did not look Indonesian. That I was not from Kenya, I did not look Kenyan. But I was also not French. . .When I am really angry, I shout in French. It is the most delicious language to get angry in. When I talk to a baby or a puppy, I go to Dutch. Because my mum is Dutch, and I guess it’s my motherly side that comes out. When I want to theorize about complex things, I want to do that in English only because I studied in English. So, languages are part of my personality and they mix and match.”

Past the Point of Resilience
TCK Town
A TCK shares a powerful personal story about when change becomes too much – and what coping looks like.
“As a TCK I am used to moving constantly, I am used to change, and I am used to jumping into a culture and embracing all its quirky characteristics until I grow to love them. I took pride in my ability to say goodbye easily and move with an optimistic attitude about each place we went to. I was the first in my family to pack my suitcase and be ready to go, the first to explore and meet new friends and the first to try new food. I thrived off of change. I never thought that this change I loved so much would betray me. . .On top of my family falling apart and the suddenness of having to come back to a place I didn’t want to be, I was dealing with culture shock. Instead of being resilient and embracing the simultaneously familiar yet unfamiliar world around me, I rejected it. I didn’t want to be part of this way of life and I didn’t want to be from here. I missed everything about our life overseas.”

The Clouds
TCK Town
And finally, in what seems to have become an unintentional tradition in these TCK Perspective posts, a poem. (This one is also from TCK Town.) Here’s my favourite stanza:
“Between worlds, clutching neither time nor needs.
Clammy hands grasp old baggage. Last to stand.
Blonde curls, pockets full of sunflower seeds.
Turbulent past brings nostalgic disband.”

Our love affairs with places

I recently wrote about my experiences at FIGT 2019 in Bangkok (the annual Families in Global Transition conference).

At the conference I presented a “lightning” talk – something like a short TED talk, lasting six minutes. I was fortunate to be the first of eight talks – fortunate because then it was out of the way, leaving me able to really listen to the rest. There were so many great talks, with a range of subjects and styles. One was a highlight of the whole conference, and received a standing ovation!

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If you are a member of FIGT, I believe video of all eight talks will be available on the FIGT website soon (other resources are already there). If you aren’t a member, I really suggest looking into it. In addition to the great annual conference, there are lots of excellent resources and networking opportunities in the FIGT community year-round.

But back to my talk. I spoke about relationships with place: our complicated feelings about the places we connect with, and using the language of love to explain it. The rest of this post is a script that’s pretty close to what I actually said on the day, with some pretty pictures I chose to go along with my story.


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Two years ago at FIGT in the Netherlands, we were asked to stand and gather in answer to certain questions – like, “who travelled here from Australia?” It was a great community building exercise, finding people we had things in common with. And it was a lot of fun! Until someone asked the question: “who fell in love this year?”

Well, I had.

Two weeks earlier I had decided to move to Beijing at the end of that year, to be with my boyfriend. It was still new to me, but despite how vulnerable it made me feel, I decided to stand up. There were two of us up there, while the whole FIGT community clapped and cheered. And suddenly my long distance relationship felt a lot more real!

I had no idea at the time, but a year later I would be living in Beijing with my now husband.

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We had an engagement party in Australia, a wedding in the US, and a reception in China. And, as I’m sure you can imagine, our story is much more complicated than that!

Relationships are complicated. Our emotions and experiences and interactions are complex.

We have so much vocabulary to help us describe different kinds of relationships we experience – especially the range of romantic relationships.

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We talk of love at first sight, falling in love, falling out of love, unrequited love.

There are flings, whirlwind romances, friends with benefits, long-distance relationships, polyamorous relationships.

There are even toxic relationships, loveless marriages, and affairs.

There are commitments without weddings, and even weddings without much commitment.

There are first dates, anniversaries, and break ups.

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Today I would like to suggest that this rich vocabulary we use to describe relationships between people can be used to better express our multi-layered connections to places.

But first, let’s take a moment to feel some of those complex feelings we have about people.

Think of someone you love…

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What feelings arise when you think of them?
Does a smile come to your lips?
Do you feel warm, or happy, or thankful?

But then again, maybe you haven’t seen or even talked to them for a while.
Perhaps you fought recently.
Maybe you’re missing them today.

Now think of someone you were close to a long time ago, but haven’t talked to in years…

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What feelings arise when you think of them?
Does a smile come to your lips?

Is there sadness over losing touch with them?
Or perhaps nostalgia for a part of your life now in the past?

Finally, think of someone you love dearly, but live far away from…

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What feelings arise when you think of them? Does a smile come to your lips?

Is there pain at the geography that separates you?
Is there guilt over choices you’ve made that keep you apart?

Our relationships with people are complicated. So are our relationships with places.

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And the reality is that we DO have relationships with places – emotional and legal relationships. So, what if we allow ourselves to use the emotional vocabulary of love and human relationships to describe our complex feelings about places?

Perhaps we will find clarity and comfort.
Perhaps we will gain ways to articulate why we feel what we feel.

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Now, I’m certainly not the first person to draw this connection.

Amy Medina wrote that living in a country where she is not (and cannot be) a citizen is like falling in love “with something that I can’t keep.”

Mariam Ottimofiore wrote something similar in her “break up letter” to Dubai – that living there was like falling in love with someone not looking for commitment. As she put it: “Nothing serious, please.”

(Later I also came across a piece by Dana Saxon in which she described “falling out of love” with a place.)

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They both helped give words to something I have heard from so many TCKs over the years, and I subsequently wrote a blog post about “unrequited love of place” – about feeling a deep emotional connection to a country in which you have no legal rights.

No guarantee you can stay.
No right to return.

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Many expats and TCKs told me this was the first time they’d been given words to express how they felt. They passed my blog post on to friends and family, to help them understand an experience they’d never been able to explain before.

And THIS is what the language of love gives us – a way to articulate and SHARE the emotions we feel about places.

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“Unrequited love” describes one type of relationship to place, but there is an endless variety of ways to apply this concept.

For example, have you experienced “love at first sight” with a place? You arrive for the first time and something about that city, that country, speaks to your soul in a way you can’t intellectually explain. That was Bangkok for me, on one of my visits.

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Have you experienced the slow burn of falling in love with a place gradually over time, as its idiosyncrasies become familiar and comforting, and you become fond of its foibles?

Have you had a fling, or a holiday romance? A short and intense experience of a country that becomes a fond memory, but not a long term commitment.

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Have you had a long-distance relationship with a place? Somewhere very close to your heart, often in your thoughts, but not where you live right now?

Have you experienced managing that distance, through visits and finding ways of connecting from far away?

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Have you experienced the sting of rejection, when a place you love does not return your desire for commitment? A visa renewal not accepted. A citizenship application rejected.

Have you experienced the slow loss of love, as you change, and the place you loved changes? The relationship you have changes and you fall out of love.

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Perhaps living in a country you don’t love, don’t feel that emotional connection to, could be compared to a loveless marriage, an every day loneliness due to lack of love for a place you are committed to.

Have you experienced a casual relationship with a place – you visit and enjoy it, but there’s no commitment on either side. Friends with benefits, perhaps?

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The complicated love of holding multiple passports might compare to a polyamorous relationship – you can be committed to more than one place, just as you can be committed to more than one person, but that doesn’t mean everyone understands just how you make it work.

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We connect deeply with places in which we live. We bond with places we visit.
But, as facebook might say, it’s complicated.

The language of love is powerful, and commandeering this language to describe our relationships with places gives us a powerful tool – one I hope you will very much enjoy using!

Recommended reading: May 27th, 2019

Welcome to another week of Recommended Reading! Here’s a range of interesting posts related to international life from the past month.

Parenting Third Culture Kids: Who are TCKs and how can you help yours?
Beijing Kids
First up is a little plug! I was recently featured (twice!) in the Beijing Kids magazine. Now those articles are available online. Here’s a taste of an interview with me:
“Something that is extremely helpful for TCKs is creating a safe space where kids can express different aspects of culture and not have to self-censor. Having a space where they can just be whatever mix they are. When parents are able to do this at home they get to know their real kids, not an act their kids put on based on their parent’s cultural expectations. . .It’s refreshing for children to know that home is a place where they can go and relax; where they don’t have to worry about fitting in or making a mistake or pronouncing words correctly.”

Raising Third Culture Kids: Where Is Home?
Beijing Kids
And here’s the second article, which quotes me before interviewing sharing two interviews (an ATCK and a parent of TCKs). There are some really great stories and insights in them!
“It was sometimes hard for my children to fit into new schools and countries after a move, especially in non-international environments. This was always painful for me to watch, and I always told them to “take care of the newcomers” wherever they went as a way to empathize with and cope with these painful experiences. Another challenge for me was being okay with the fact that even though it is easy for them to fit in and live anywhere in the world, they remain foreigners in their (my) “home country” of France. I think this bothers me more than it does them.”
“It was always heartbreaking to leave countries where I had close friends. This isn’t always avoidable of course, but it helps if parents plan bigger chunks of time in places, staying long enough in one place so that their child can finish high school or middle school, and ensuring that the academic continuity stays the same between schools where possible. As a child, I was also attached to my toys and keepsakes; these were among the few constants in my life. I felt that my parents didn’t always respect that and left many things behind. This was traumatizing for me. Parents should try to be patient with and listen to their child telling them what’s important in their world, and then they can work together to see how memories and feelings can be honored better.”

A Little Advice to My Pre-Expat Self
Taking Route
Somehow I missed this post in April, but it’s too good to miss sharing with you now! It includes five pieces of advice the author, reflecting back, would give herself as a new expat. There is so much wisdom in these five points I’m not sure how to choose only a little to share – so instead, here’s her conclusion, and my strong advice to go read the whole thing!
“I can’t go back in time and give this advice to my pre-expat self, but I can learn these lessons well and continue to use them as I move forward in my expat journey. I hear expat life can be circular. Life overseas is periods of grief and loss, excitement to mundane, over and over and over. So as I look to the future, I am thankful for the lessons and the process as I move forward.”

Embracing Failure to Create Change
Dr Anisha Abraham
Anisha reflects on a powerful keynote address from Caleb Meakins at the recent FIGT 2019 conference in Bangkok. I had a great chat with Caleb after his keynote, and we talked about the importance of TCKs experiencing failure as they grow and develop. Anisha’s reflections are interesting, and at the end she links to an older post on letting teens fail which is also worth a read.
“Caleb takes the fear out of starting something new by asking us what we would do if we could try something and it was… impossible to fail? The answer to this question may be our life dream or passion. Caleb’s point is that if we would do it if we couldn’t fail, why not try it even if we may fail or it didn’t quite work out?. . .Caleb’s story makes a good case for why parents need to stop protecting kids from failure. Instead, we need to allow young people to take risks and try new pathways in the spirit of making the world a better place.”

I’ll be your friend if you let me.
A Life Overseas
I really, really appreciate this short post. It acknowledges a hard truth of expat life: when you say goodbye to so many people, it gets difficult to keep your heart tender toward newcomers. When you know investing in a deeper relationship means investing in a more painful goodbye, it’s easier to protect your deeper self behind a wall. This logic is something many TCKs grow up with. And in this one short post, Anisha illustrates the power of offering your friendship to another person. And in sharing her attitude of openness, she invites (challenges) all of us to do the same.
“The years roll by. We say painful goodbye after painful goodbye. The wall sometimes seems like an inviting place. I understand now the emotional safety others have sought behind it. But the wall is not for me. I’ll be your friend if you let me.”

5 lessons from 3 months abroad
Marloes Huijsmans (LinkedIn)
This is a short piece reflecting on what has helped one person in a period of international transition. And yet, these simple pieces of advice are gold!! A beautiful summary of a lot of the advice I follow for myself and offer others. I particularly love the description of learning to value the social part of social media – and shout outs to some great people in the expat connection field!
“There is a whole online community that is ready to guide you that I did not have any clue of. I have to admit…I am a very late adapter, thinking facebook was just to get likes to make you feel better and Instagram a way to show off. Boy, was I wrong! With special thanx to Emily Rogers (expat parenting abroad) Amel Derragui (tandem nomads) and Sundae Schneider-Bean (expats on purpose) who introduced me to the right persons, provided me with tips, very interesting podcasts and free guidebooks to start the business.”

My Trailing Spouse Resumé
Tales from a Small Planet
I love this fun and lighthearted take on the skills acquired through multiple international moves! I actually think it’s a great exercise for expats in general to think through – what are the skills (both serious and silly) that you’ve acquired over the years, and moves? As Kelly notes at the end, “Of course, I have another resumé that I’m preparing for employers. But I like this one better!”
“After 29 years experience as a expatriate spouse, 17 of them overseas, I bring a unique perspective to any crazy venture. With 10 international moves under my belt to date, my vocabulary of profanity is impressive, while my organizational skills have been refined to the level of obsession. I am particularly fond of making lists on napkins and sticking post-it notes to household items, pets, and children. Unfazed by incomprehensible languages, Euroglyphic appliances, and funky plumbing, I make a house into a home wherever I land.”

When the robots come, the robots will be racist
gal-dem
Finally, here’s something slightly off topic, but an important point worthy of consideration. The author discusses implicit bias and ways it is being translated to AI systems. She then considers ways these biases could impact people through the adoption of AI in various contexts.
“I’m not sure what the equivalent of unconscious bias training is for a computer system but it might look something like the ‘What-If’ tool Google released to identify the exact moment that bias kicks in during machine-based decision making. I can’t help but think identifying when biases occur misses the point. It feels ironic that we’re now faced with a need to build de-biasing technology into our machines when what we should be focussing on is eliminating the homogeneity that allowed for this to arise in the first place. Call me paranoid, but I also believe we should be developing tools that mitigate the potential for harm that inevitably goes hand-in-hand with the existence of technology that can be used as an automated profiling service. Talking about the lack of diversity in tech has seemingly become mainstream but not enough is being done to stop our machines from perpetuating cycles of disadvantage and discrimination in the meantime.”

The Impact of School Culture

I recently started writing more about cross-cultural education, and in particular, how this affect family dynamics. This week I have a post on China Source talking more about this.

“In School A, the child was trained that the way to succeed at school is to ask questions of the teacher during class. When this child moved to School B, acting in this way resulted in the child being labelled a rebellious troublemaker. While asking questions is a sign of independent thought prized in School A, in School B it is a sign of questioning the teacher’s authority — which will not be tolerated! This is bewildering and discouraging for the student. It is baffling and infuriating for the parents — if they even discover the root of the problem. What is considered normal and acceptable discipline is different in different cultures. The character qualities prized in students differs. Children learn to adapt, but these cultural misunderstandings and conflicts can leave a lasting impression.”

I also give a few general tips for parents who are dealing with the impact of cross-cultural schooling. Mostly this centres on values – knowing your values as a family, and the values of the school your child attends, and learning how to recognise potential value clashes, and deal with them using a values-based approach.

“Whatever the situation, try to focus on values: what values are the school/teacher operating out of? What values of your own are being infringed on? Keeping a values-focus will help you build understanding instead of grudges — a big temptation when your child’s welfare is involved!”

This is something I plan to write more about in the future, particularly the importance of understanding values.

You can read the full post, titled The Impact of School Culture, on China Source.

I’d love to hear about your own experiences with cross-cultural education. What lessons did you learn, and what tips would you offer? What questions do you have, or what support are you looking for?