ShowCase features poems, stories, or other pieces of prose—typically something either submitted to the site or discovered by Barbara Schaetti through her coaching and consultation services. We invite—indeed, we encourage!—you to submit your own poetry, prose, or short stories for posting on this ShowCase page.
How Do You Fill This Out?
When I was six. I was sure that I was an Australian. When I was ten, I thought I was a Japanese. When I was eighteen, I thought I was a USAmerican…. Until recently, I thought I had to tell everyone my life story to explain where I am from. But now I have learned not to equate the countries I am from with the countries my cultural identity is from.
I love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, riceballs, and Vegemite sandwiches. What’s wrong with that? I love singing “Waltzing Matilda,” “Brady Bunch,” and “Sukiyaki Song.” These are all part of me! We don’t have to come from somewhere. We can be, for instance, Australian, Japanese, and USAmerican at the same time. I don’t feel that I am from any of those countries, but my cultural identity does come from all of them.
—S. Michael Nagasaka
Japanese global nomad
Perspectives, Global Nomads International
Vol.4, No. 1, Spring/Summer 1996
The Chest of Drawers was written by Julie Nielsen, a Danish global nomad, while she was attending Southbank International School in London. It is a beautiful evocation of many of the more challenging facets of the global nomad experience, among them feeling powerless in the face of life-changing decisions being made by others and the enormous and multi-faceted sense of loss that can be engendered by an international move.
Julie’s poem also demonstrates the power of poetry as a mechanism for expressing what might otherwise stay bottled inside. Moreover, it suggests that expressing emotion in such a constructive way can itself be a transformative experience and a reclaiming of personal power.
The Chest of Drawers
You are beautiful,
that is what they say.
They admire all the carvings,
made by the craftsmen
who created me.
They worship the bumps and the bruises
made by my many years of standing,
and all the moves.
Once again the time has come.
I was wondering when it would;
it has been much longer
I see their legs move
towards the door,
listening to their shoes
lightly hitting the kitchen floor,
while they discuss
where it would be best
to slot me in.
Only once in a while
does the reality hit me,
but when it comes it is powerful.
It rushes on me, like a tidal wave,
washing away every grain of hope.
I realize how long it took
for the sun to darken the wallpaper
around my shadow, l
eaving a perfect silhouette,
and for the carpet fibres to mould
around my feet.
The beautiful paper
which lines my drawers,
and has put a smile on my face
when I was down,
will be thrown away and replaced.
Will I like the new?
What will take my place,
cover my silhouette,
and fill the holes I leave?
Danish global nomad, 16 years old
“For Those in Transit”
by Rubel Tesfahun
While waiting for the next bus
to Calcutta, Nairobi and Jakarta
Life happens for us.
Weary nomads that would seek
to share hearts over
Chapatis, Ugali and Dim-Sum.
It is a sort of dance
arms flailing, explaining..
laughter in the midst of
Kiswahili and Cantonese.
We have learned to travel light.
take only what you need for the road.
Toothpaste, toothbrush, torches…
2 am singing songs around the campfire.
And when that hour is come.
just one more look.
just one more sigh..
and we are gone,
back onto the road
where we are from.
This is our life in transit.
Rubel says: “I wrote it some time back, at a time when I was trying to reconcile who I was with where I was with how I felt. I was born in Ethiopia but my parents moved to Kenya when I was a year old. I grew up there and then to further my studies came to the US, where I have been for the last 6 years.?”
Rubel invites you to contact him by email email@example.com. As he says, it would be great to hear from any other wanderers out there.
Transition Dynamics is proud to present the work of its youngest contributor ever. At age 7, Nick Challis is already an experienced expatriate. A dual national with citizenship in both the UK and Canada, Nick and his brother and parents have lived in Norway, Scotland, the USA, and now Indonesia. The following poems were written by Nick during his first three months in Indonesia. (Be sure to note the pun in the title of the second poem!)
Don’t Address Me
by Nick Challis
Don’t address me Scottish, American or Canadian, because I am none of them.
I have no home country. I have no home.
I don’t belong to any country.
I belong to the world!!!!
Not losing ….
Ganging One More !!!
by Nick Challis
A country you leave is like leaving a family.
You might never see them again, but they will always be in your heart.
You shouldn’t address people ‘not-friend anymore’ just because they move. Because they’ll always keep you in their heart. You probably will do the same.
Your friends will probably say that you’ll find a friend wherever you go.
By Nick Challis, Sept. 2002
“Drop Me Anywhere…”
by Ken Chiancone
An adult global nomad/TCK of US American nationality who grew up in Japan, Italy, and England, Ken Chiancone has written a marvelous poem. “Drop Me Anywhere” beautifully represents the global nomad experience of belonging everywhere, of being limited by no singularity, of the integrated understanding that comes in part through age and in large measure through purposeful reflection.
Drop me anywhere on this planet
and I can find a friend
food, clothing and shelter
For deep within me
resides all the necessities for being human
But don’t try and label me
Don’t try and call me
American, Russian, English, Kuwaiti, Japanese…
For I may be a piece of all of those luscious pies
Rich, dripping with the all the flavored nuances
of cultures scattered on the winds
But don’t stick me with a flavor of all one kind
Third Culture Kid
As my seasons ripen with age
I see the many ripples of my pond
and happy with the richness of my life
I can walk on the water and see the reflections
of all the mes, mys and myselfs…
So, drop me anywhere…
in this rich water of the world
and I will float happily amongst the islands
and be at home, singing songs on the wind
all different tunes…
all different languages…
by Suzanne Carlson
What does it mean to be simultaneously from many corners of the world and from none, to belong nowhere and everywhere? Suzanne Carlson describes her experience.
Who were they?
They, globe trotters, sightseers, of all peoples
compressed into me,
I am of the world
My home is no home is everywhere.
I am not of this country,
Do not claim me.
I am not of that country,
Do not claim me.
I am of the sea,
I am of the air,
I am self.
To whom do I belong?
To what do I answer?
I am a part of everything,
I have all cultures,
Not at all.
In a time of definite cultural lines,
I am the defined blur.
US American global nomad
[written as a young adult]
“And Your Past In Three Seconds, Please”
by Suzanne Carlson
Where are you from?
I groan inside.
After all, does this person really want to know?
I think of how many times
I’ve tried to answer
And ended up
Like a snob.
I have been all over the world
To cities and slums
To palaces and soup kitchens.
Where have you been?
But that’s not what I mean.
That’s just how it seems
To a person who’s never lived
I can not explain it all in just three seconds
Even if you do say please.
—by Suzanne Carlson
US American global nomad
[written as a young adult]
“Where are you from?”—this question is the bane of every global nomad. As Suzanne illustrates, the immediate internal response is inevitably an attempt to discern what to say, how much to share, “does this person really want to know?” As others have suggested, the question serves a diagnostic function: if the respondent hesitates, it’s likely she or he has an interesting story to tell and may in fact be a global nomad.
As Suzanne illustrates here, the problem with the question is more than how to answer. The problem is also in the concern for how the answer will be understood. Global nomads learn at a very young age that talking with passport country peers about their international experience is frought with pitfalls. Not least amongst these is that either one won’t be believed or that one will be perceived as bragging, “looking, seeming, like a snob.”
As an expatriate once wrote,” You simply can’t describe the feel of hot wind on your skin in Sicily or the noise and commotion of traffic in Rome. It just can’t be reproduced in conversation. When I try to tell people, it probably sounds like I just want them to envy me. But it’s not that. I just want them to know how I felt, who I am.” 1
This concern with being seen as arrogant is paramount in the re-entry experience. It is one of the primary reasons adolescents will council each other prior to their departure for university not to speak of their international experiences. They want to fit in, not to stand out; they want to be accepted within the group, not ostracized as braggarts. The problem here, however, is that feeling constrained from talking about one’s international experiences can also constrain one from expressing the knowledge and skill gained through those experiences. The noise and commotion of traffic in Rome is more than simply sounds and sights: the memory symbolizes a deeper learning about cultural differences, about learning to live in a foreign land, about tolerating ambiguity and managing change. Riding a camel in the Sahara is more than a fun story: it symbolizes an understanding of the breadth of the human condition and all the skill the global nomad has developed to live and work effectively across cultures. Constraining the story constrains the skill, and that is to waste a valuable resource—valuable to the individual and, indeed, valuable to an ever-more interdependent global community.
I particularly like Suzanne’s last lines. Part of the concern about seeming like a snob is the reality that a complex answer takes time. Whereas people asking the question are typically looking for a one-word response, a global nomad can’t answer “in just three seconds, even if you do say please.”
1 anonymous author, as found in The Re-Entry Reader by Bruce LaBrack, Ph.D.
by Kara Moritz
Half moon on my ankle,
Never fade away.
I have porcelain figures
and Japanese dolls,
And mirrors to chase off evil spirits,
And incense and clay gods.
But parading the corridors,
In sweaters and pumps,
It might as well have been a dream.
Except for you,
hidden under nylon,
A taut white sliver of skin,
That bled long ago in Hong Kong.
US American, 15 years old
by Farhan Haq
In corridors which wind in me,
I sometimes sense but never see
The pulse so faint of shattered mind
The throbs for what I left behind
The echoes of my lurking fears
The distant dripping of my tears
The far off rumble of my laugh
The striking of my honor’s staff —
They sound inside me quietly
In corridors I never see.
17-year-old Pakistani/American global nomad,
Video Cassette Reading, The Fine Arts Magazine of The International School of Islamabad, 1984–1985
I was working with a group of international school secondary school students not long ago. I had asked them to work in small groups to identify what skills they through they had gained as a result of their internationally-mobile experiences. When reporting back, one young man, perhaps seventeen years old, said that what he had learned was not to feel feelings. All the other students laughed; they understood exactly what he was talking about.
This poem by Farhan Haq illustrates to me the same reality: “In corridors which wind in me, I sometimes sense but never see…” It’s inevitable that we all have corridors winding around inside ourselves. It is absolutely wrong, however, that they be only sensed, never seen.
The feelings associated with loss are not necessarily attractive in their expression. Indeed, feelings can be quite messy at times. Perhaps they also inspire guilt within the parents, those people seen by the child as instigating the disliked move. Certainly, an unhappy child expressing his or her unhappiness does nothing to ease the unhappiness that the parents, too, may be feeling. Learning not to feel feelings may in fact become a learned survival skills common to all the family members. If one is hurt repeatedly, one learns to self-protect. Not feeling feelings, not forming close friendships, not becoming attached to place or possessions may all be multi-mover survival skills.
As Farhan illustrates in his poem, closing off to “the throbs for what I left behind” also means closing off to “the far off rumble of my laugh.” One cannot create barricades against sadness and still feel happiness, barricade fear and still feel excitement. Global nomads need to be given practical support with their “dripping tears” and “lurking fears.” It may not be easy or comfortable, but it is critical.
“Different Kid from Different Places”
By Christoph Ferstad
“What does it mean to be multicultural? This question directed the first conversation that Christoph Ferstad and I had together. His insights then as now delight and inspire me. Christoph’s mother is Indian/US American, his father Norwegian. He and his brother carry Swedish citizenship, the country in which the family has built a summer home as their “home-base.” They are a multi-mover expatriate family because of his father’s work in international business. The Ferstad family currently lives in Brussels, Belgium, where Christoph attends the International School of Brussels. He may be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I hope you enjoy his essay as much as I.”
I was born in Oslo, Norway on October 20th, 1984. I moved to Denmark one year later. Then, a year later, I moved to Sweden. After five years there, I regretfully moved to Germany. Two years later, I moved to Wilmette, Illinois. After another two years, I moved to Singapore. Then, I moved to Brussels, Belgium after living in Singapore for two years.
Now, I am thirteen years old, and I live in Brussels. My mother is Indian, and my father is Norwegian. I am a Swedish citizen, and I have an American green card.
When people ask me where I am from, is it not logical for me to be confused?
I think it was two months ago. I was playing soccer with my friends at school during, lunch. Seventh versus Eighth. We, the Seventh graders, were winning. An Eight grader walked towards me when recess was about over.
“Hey! Good game. I’m Joe,” he said as he came nearer.
“And I’m Christoph,” I replied.
“So, where you from?” he asked indifferently.
“Well,” I started, “I’m from here and there. My Mom is Indian. and my Dad is Norwegian.”
Joe’s face paled visibly. “That’s weird.” he stopped, “well, I gotta go!” and he rushed away without looking back. My friend looked at me. I shrugged and turned to go.
People, including children, are afraid of what they don’t understand. Some people feel intimidated by me, how I’ve been and lived in so many places. I have learned to adapt to so many cultures. to eat different foods, play different sports. Some people think I am one of them, until I tell them where I am from. Where am I from? I think I know. I am from…
Earth. So many different cultures, religions, groups, cults, nationalities, races, people; I could keep on going. I belong to all of them. I am an International citizen theoretically, Swedish legally. I don’t really belong anywhere, yet I do belong, everywhere. It’s complicated. Much too complicated for me.
My first day at CTY. My first hall meeting. Another one of those stupid ice-breaking, or melting or whatever activities. Everyone says they live in America, and that the are American. One is distinctly Korean. Three others are Indian. Ore or two are Chinese. I say I’m from Chicago.
So when people ask me where I’m from, I usually reply with some place with which they can relate to.
Since I go to an International school. it is not very strange to be from so many different places. But when I travel back to Sweden, the US, or India, it really is quite strange.
It was another hot day in Singapore. The streets shined, and the sidewalks glistened. Birds chirped in the trees, and people bustled down below. The wet market stood before us like a disorderly fortress, although the doors were thrown open, like it was expecting us.
The wet market wasn’t all that wet. It was a huge open-air market that reeked of fish, fresh fruit, and vegetables. An old lady, her silver hair combed carefully, and her glistening teeth shaped in a smile beckoned us to come taste her fresh pineapple and watermelon.
“Hello lah,” she started, “you like watuhmellon n’ pineyapple? I have special price for you, lah,” she could see that we were foreigners, because the first thing she brought up was the price. Foreigners tend to pay anything for fresh fruit.
But my mom was ready, “I’ll take a watermelon, and a pineapple. That should be five dollars, right?
“Oh, no lah!” she sounded desperate. “That’ll have to be ten dollars. These,” she pointed at the fruit, “special fresh fruit, just for you!”
“Six dollars, take it or leave it.”
“Nine. Please? Lah?”
“No. Common Christoph, let’s go find someone else,” we turned to walk away, but the lady shouted to our backs, “comeback lah! Six dollars! Special price, just for you!”
After we bought the fruit, the woman wanted to know where we lived.
“Well, we live here right now,” my Mom replied.
“Oh, but you are not Singaporean, no?”
“No, we are actually American, Mom said, grinning, at me, since we both knew we were not. That’s just what we went by when we lived in Singapore. They wouldn’t understand if my Morn said we were Swedish or Norwegian.
“Ah! Americans! You are welcome here anytime!” she said in an awed voice.
People view me with a certain amount of respect, when they first meet me, but when they get to know me, we usually become good friends.
I was four years old when I first met him. We have been best friends ever since. Now I meet him only once a year, during summer vacation. His name, is Hampus. I don’t think he has ever been outside Sweden.
It was a year ago, I think. Sometime during July. I had gone with Hampus and his family to their cottage in Smaland (small land) in southern Sweden. The small cottage that had three rooms, including a kitchen, sat on a small lake that glistened in the setting sun. Dew sparkled in the fading light, as we arrived in my friend’s blue Volvo.
The next day proved promising. The sky was blue, with small white clouds dotting the horizon. The sun was shining brightly, and the clear water of the lake simmered and rippled gently. Hampus and I were going out to help the local farmer build hunting towers in the plains, for recreational hunting.
“Hey boys, come to help with this sticks” the farmer greeted us in his no nonsense way. The stick was 12 feet long, and it weighed a good two hundred pounds. After we had loaded the flatbed with all the huge logs, the farmer, whose name was lasse (1-ah-se) drove around with his tractor. We jumped onto the flatbed as he hooked it on the tractor, and we were on our way. We drove through the woods, and came to a big clearing. We spent the rest of the day setting up the towers, and after we drove back to the farmer’s gard (farm), we went inside for juice and newly baked buns.
“So, where do you live?” the farmer started, “I know you’re not from around here.”
“Umm, I live in Brussels,” I answered, unsure of what his reaction would be.
“Ah, a Belgian. I bet you eat lots of waffles and chocolate.”
“Actually, I’m Swedish. My dad is Norwegian.”
“I thought we won the war against those Norse dogs! And here they are invading our country! Outrageous!” he cursed.
“You sure did, Sir, and Sweden taught Norway a mighty good lesson, but that’s beside the point. I’m Swedish. And Sweden is my home.
“Well, I don’t approve, but what can we do about it? You’re welcome in my house anytime boy,” Swedish hospitality hasn’t changed in hundreds of years.
Many people have different reactions to who and what I am. Some are afraid. Some are intimidated. Some find it funny. Others can relate to it. I have learned how to blend in with most places I go to, whether it is Sweden, the US, Singapore, or Germany. I am a child of the world, and I belong everywhere.
“East, West, Home’s Best”
by Rachel Lax
The country I come from is England. I don’t have any very strong feelings for it though, because I think that home is where your family is…. Home to me is where my parents are and at the moment that’s Switzerland, but Switzerland could never be my “home-land” because everything here is so different and I know that we’ll be moving in a few years anyway.
English global nomad, 13 years old
The Swiss Group of International Schools Students’ Magazine, 1991
At the early age of 13, Rachel Lax already understands that for multi-mover global nomads, as perhaps for their internationally-mobile parents, “home” is a relatively loose concept.
Home for Rachel, as indeed for many global nomads, is less tied to place than it is to people. We may say we come from the countries on whose passports we travel, or that we come from the host countries in which we currently live, but in reality those places are only part of the picture. After all, we’re not often in any one place long enough to really put down roots. In fact, multi-mover global nomad don’t tend to have geographically-based roots but, rather, a more broad-spread rooting system based on relationships – often world-wide relationships.
Importantly, Rachel’s perspective is that of a multi-mover global nomad. As she says at the end of the poem, “…and I know that we’ll be moving in a few years anyway”. A global nomad living many years in one country will be much more geographically rooted, might indeed come to know, for example, Switzerland as her home-land.
For Rachel, home is where her family is. This is typical for multi-mover global nomads for whom nuclear families form the only real continuity. Our parents and our siblings and, if we’re lucky, our furniture and out pets, go with us from country to country. Continuity is certainly one reason so many practitioners working with expatriate families, and especially multi-movers, advise that families use their maximum household shipping allowances. It may be a different home in your next host country, but at least the people and the chairs and the dinner plates will be the same!
Sacred objects help provide continuity in the midst of a transition itself. These are the portable roots that remind you of loved-ones, of your history and community, wherever you are. Experienced multi-movers bring these with them on the airplane, make sure they are available throughout the hotel sojourn, install them immediately in a safe place in their new home.
Continuity in the early years is critical for developing a person’s strong psychological foundation. One of the best ways it can be promoted is by providing multi-mover global nomads with a “touch-stone”, a “home-base” somewhere on the planet to which they return regularly over the years. Here they can measure their growth, their developing interests, their confidence that some things do indeed stay the same. Perhaps for some it’s the grandparents’ home or the home of an aunt and uncle. Perhaps for others it’s a summer retreat in the family’s favored travel destination. It matters less where it is than that it in fact exists somewhere at all.
Family routines and rituals also promote continuity and the sense of home. Bed-times and meal-times, rules of behavior, family celebrations and religious holidays – consistency with these regardless of where in the world one may find oneself, gives the global nomad a way to “return” to the familiar in the midst of the unfamiliar.
This may, in fact, be a key skill which the most fortunate of global nomads learn to develop: we learn how to return to the familiar in the midst of the unfamiliar, how to have a sense of being “at home” wherever we are currently living or traveling.
While the concept of home predominates in Rachel’s short poem, another theme is interesting to note. Rachel says that she comes from England, and then continues: “I don’t have any very strong feelings for it though…” There, indeed, speaks a global nomad, for that is quite a standard experience. After all, it’s hard to have any very strong sense of allegiance to a place one has never really known. This can be quite disturbing to grandparents, however, or even to the global nomad’s more home-grown parents themselves.
Another not infrequent experience is that of global nomads taking on a reserve towards or even an active dislike for their “home” countries. This has been especially noted among global nomads who lived in host countries once colonized by their passport countries. Global nomads may, perhaps not surprisinly, take on the sense of outrage towards the colonizer – whether political or economic – that their host country peers express.
Of course, the opposite is also true. U.S. American global nomads, for example, may develop quite a sense of patriotic fervor based on the prevalence of that country’s cultural exports around the world. It’s easy to think one knows the U.S. when one can watch its television programs, hear its newscasts, keep up-to-date with its sports and music. Upon eventual re-entry to the U.S., however, U.S. American global nomads typically find themselves no less shocked by their differences from home-grown Americans than any other global nomad upon re-entry. Indeed, if unprepared for their re-entry, U.S. American global nomads may be all the more shocked by their differentness, having assumed such familiarity.
Many adult global nomads, whether multi-movers or not, would say that one of the great advantages of the global nomad experience is an expanded sense of allegiance. While we may have less sense of home in any single country, we typically have a heightened sense of home the world over. Our allegiance may be less to any single nation-state and more to the world community and to the planet on which we all live together.
Rachel Miller Schaetti, mother of Transition Dynamics principal Barbara Schaetti, was herself a multi-mover global nomad. She evokes in this ShowCase what so many global nomads know to be the Great Advantages of an internationally-mobile childhood.
Despite the drawbacks of family separation and the very real adjustment on the permanent return to the States, a child growing up abroad has great advantages. He learns, through no conscious act of learning, that thoughts can be transmitted in many languages, that skin color is unimportant, that non-Christians can be deeply and devotedly religious. He takes it for granted that some cities have skyscrapers and others have houseboats, that certain things are sacred or taboo to some people while to others they’re meaningless, that the ordinary word of one area is a swearword in another.
We have lived in Tulsa for 5 years, longer than I have ever lived consecutively in one place before. So I am having my first real chance to watch American children growing up in an American community. I am struck again and again by the fact that so much of the sociology, feeling for history, geography, questions on other religions, etc that our friends’ children try to understand through textbooks, my sisters and I acquired just by living.
—Rachel Miller Schaetti
US American global nomad; 33 years old
(final comments sent at end of questionnaire from Jack O. Claypoole, George Williams College)
I take particular delight in this piece of prose: it was written by my mother almost two years before my birth and when she was much younger than I am now. She did not know at the time of her writing that she and her husband, himself a Swiss global nomad, would themselves raise three global nomads in ten countries on five continents.
In this piece of prose, my mother only casually refers to “the drawbacks of family separation,” a very common dimension of the experience for global nomads of her generation. Both she and my father were separated from their parents for several years at a stretch. The frequent visits made possible by air travel were unheard of until my own generation, and the constant communication made possible today by electronic mail was still more in the distant future.
Similarly, my mother glosses over “the very real adjustment on the permanent return to the States” or, in my father’s case, to Switzerland. It’s interesting to realize that although I grew up hearing stories of my parent’s adolescent re-entry experiences, I never really took them as preparatory cautions towards my own!
I think it’s particularly apt that my mother barely acknowledges two of the significant difficulties common to the global nomad experience and instead focuses on the benefits. While the difficulties must be identified so that they can be redressed, it’s sometimes all too easy to focus there. The advantages to the global nomad experience are equally real and deserve equal attention.
In fact, it may be worth saying that of all the many hundreds of adult global nomads with whom I’ve spoken over the years, of many different nationalities and host countries and sponsoring organizations, only one global nomad has ever said she wished she had not grown up internationally. All but this one have said that if they had it to do over again, they would choose to live an internationally-mobile life. That’s not to say, I must stress, that they wouldn’t have some things done differently; certainly they would, many things. By far and away, however, each believed that the advantages gained compensate for the challenges. It is these advantages that my mother illustrates here: the global nomad birthright of intercultural sensitivity and a delight in the multiplicity of the human community.
“Home Again, Home Again:
One Global Nomad’s Journey of Return”
by Barbara F. Schaetti
21 August, 1993
It all felt so very familiar. I was going home again. I walked through the gate out onto the platform, opened the carriage door, climbed aboard, heard the distinctive slam of the door behind me. The announcement came as the train began to move—I’d swear it was the same voice—”This train stops at…”—I echoed him in my head as I had done so many times before—”…Wimbledon, Surbiton, Esher, Hersham, Walton-on-Thames, Weybridge, Byfleet, West Byfleet…”
It had been ten years since I had taken the “Guilford via Woking” commuter train from Waterloo station in London to Walton-on-Thames in Surrey. My family lived in Walton the first time when I was eight and nine years old, and then again from my ages of eighteen to twenty-two. Memory-feelings of taking the train flooded through me as I heard that train door slam: early childhood outings into London with my family to the Unicorn Theater where we would stand to sing “God Save the Queen” at the end of the performances; university vacation days exploring London on my own and late-night winter home-comings after family excursions to the theatre, the car warming up on the drive from the station only as we arrived at our front door; post-university commuting into London where I worked to save the world for one very formative year while living with my parents in the beauty and sanctuary of Surrey.
Now, ten years later and in London on business, I was actually “going back.” I’d been in London two years before but, while I had revisited my London haunts, an “industrial action” by British Rail workers had kept me from returning to Walton. I wanted to go now, to find all three of the houses in which we had lived over those years, to see again the town itself, to reclaim a little of my history and to say goodbye a little more to old attachments.
I still knew which way to walk as I left the station, travelling familiar roads to find my roots. I passed the shops where we did our marketing, there the building where my father had his office, here the spot where the old movie theatre used to be —I remember I went there to see Hitchcock’s “The Thirty-Nine Steps.”
I found our old houses, each in turn. The lawn of one still had its field of daisies—I learned to make daisy chains there, transitioning from francophone Africa to life as a British schoolgirl. I wandered the golf course bordering our second home, my feet unerringly turning into the woods to find the hidden path through the rhodedendron tunnels to the bottom of the garden—here was where my sisters and I would come to walk on winter and summer vacations home from university in the States. And I knocked on the door of the third house, the owner granting my request to go again into the garden—here my mother had pointed out to me the constellation Orion: no matter where we were in the world to one another, the night sky would keep us in connection. I had wept my goodbyes to England and to childhood in this garden the night of 22 May, 1982, to the tulip trees and the six tall sentinel pines, and I wept my home-coming now.
So much was the same, so very much had changed. In going back to Surrey, I went home in a way and to a place I had not expected. I found the part of me that holds strong attachments to those years and grieved some of the loss I still carried. I found a love and a nostalgia, but not a sense of home or of belonging. In seeking to go home to Walton, I found instead that I came home inside myself.
Note: This piece was originally published in “The Quarterly,” a publication of Global Nomads International.
“Home is a Memory”
by Edward Finn
Home is the doors of my old school,
a safe protection from the outside world.
Home is the cathedral ground,
wet with dew in the misty morning.
Home is where the computer examines its newest disk,
the supernintendo music flitting through the ears.
Home is where my puppy dog tries
to get her old friend to play.
Home is the view from my house in Golkoy,
the water clear as glass.
Home is where my trumpet echoes,
getting a little bit better every day.
Home is where my soccer shirt,
flutters like a forlorn flag.
But most important of all,
Home is but a memory,
changing while you’re gone.
Home is your imagination,
caught in images, in your mind or your photo album,
something you only remember if you
pull that album off a shelf
or you think a homesick thought.
Home is just a dream, gone if you go back.
US American global nomad
[written at the age of 13]
One of the things I like about this poem of Edward’s is that one can read it in a variety of different ways.
Given one reading, the poem illustrates two opposing dimensions of the global nomad’s experience of “home:” home as everywhere and home as nowhere.
In the first stanza, Edward defines home based on connections, possessions, relationships. He brings it alive for us with his descriptionÑhome manifests in the doors of his old school, as his puppy dog plays, where his soccer shirt “flutters like a forlorn flag,” in the familiar sight of the “cathedral ground, wet with dew in the misty morning.” As Edward describes it here, home is a little bit everywhere.
In the second stanza home is the place from whence he came, the place where he once lived. The problem is, however, that his home is in fact not there: home is nothing more than a picture in a photo album, “something you only remember if you pull that album off a shelf or you think a homesick thought.” Home now is nothing “but a memory,” is, in fact, nowhere.
Both of these descriptions of home are very real to the global nomad experience. Home as relationships and memories means home is everywhere; like a turtle, home travels with you wherever you go. Home as a particular place, however, may often mean home is nowhere. When one’s physical home changes regularly, home as a geographical location may come to have little meaning. It becomes critical, then, that parents and educators of multimover global nomads broaden their concept of home. Emphasizing a geographically-based definition of home reinforces a sense that home is nowhere. On the other hand, broadening that definition to match Edward’s first stanza enables a global nomad to reconceptualize home. It becomes more than just “your imagination, caught in images, in your mind;” it becomes the playing of one’s trumpet “getting a little bit better every day,” regardless of where in the world one finds oneself.
In the ideal, home becomes an internal experience of connection.
Edward’s poem also speaks powerfully of the experience of re-entry: the return to one’s country of origin after a sojourn abroad. His first stanza can be understood as all those experiences of home that Edward has missed during his family’s international assignment. It’s not uncommon for a global nomad, especially perhaps a first-time mover, to remember with great attachment that home now so ardently missed. If only s/he was back there, at home, all would again be right with the world. Then comes re-entry, however, that happy dayÑand then comes the realization that home is “but a memory, changing while you’re gone….Home is just a dream, gone if you go back.” At the age of only 13, Edward understands enough about expatriate re-entry to issue sage advice: let go of what was so that you can be with what is so that you can someday meet with what will be.
“Where are you from?” is one of the most challenging questions a person can pose a global nomad. “Where is home?” Does the person want to know where I was born, where my siblings were born, where I live now, the place I’ve lived the longest, the place I liked best, the place my parents call home…?
Many global nomads are raised to equate home with the country that issues them their passport: their “passport country.” This may be the country of their citizenship, perhaps the country of their birth, not necessarily a country of significant personal experience or of any heart-felt relationship. A Canadian global nomad, speaking of his childhood relationship with Canada, spoke about “riding on his parent’s mythology” 1. Home was “but a memory,” and a parent’s memory at that.
Parents and educators and others in the global nomad’s life can facilitate an experience of home as being a little bit everywhere. Global nomadsÑand indeed all expatriatesÑcan learn to take with them that which reminds them of connection, relationship, possession. This might be a physical possession, what some have called “sacred objects” 2. One of Edward’s sacred objects is his trumpet; he knows he’s at home when he hears its echoe, “getting a little bit better every day.” If Edward takes that sacred object with him on the airplane, has it with him in the hotel, moves it into his new house and puts it in a place of honor, Edward will have a piece of home with him at each stage of his international transition.
A sacred object might also manifest as a personal discipline. Practicing yoga every day, for example, regardless of where in the world one find’s oneself, turns that place into an expression of belonging and of home. It also brings continuity into a discontinuous lifeÑa critical consideration for multimover global nomads or, indeed, for anyone experiencing frequent change. Continuity can be provided by household goods; whatever else has changed, you’re sitting in the same armchair and eating with the same cutlery. Continuity can be provided by family ritual: my mother created a tradition within our family of a “jet lag supper” of soup, potatoes and cheese (my father being Swiss). Whether it was my father reintegrating into the family after a business trip away or one of us coming home from university, our jet lag supper reminded us across the years and across the many countries that we were now again home.
1 Timothy Dean, personal communication
2 I first heard this term used by Norma McCaig, founder of Global Nomads International.
by Suzanne Carlson
I have trunks in my apartment
Filled with minimal things
Symbolizing the everlasting move
Showing that I can get up and go
At any time
In any moment.
My life is in those trunks
And I pack my life
So neatly, So gently,
Hoping that nothing breaks.
They are also my battle scars
Healed by all those foreign stickers
Proving my trials by fire
Silent testimony of my experience.
I never peel off any of those stickers
From pride of the authenticating seal
And fear of losing that stamp
That mute evidence of my being.
US American global nomad (written as a young adult)
Poems and Prose
by the students of Haidee Dehner
who teaches grade 10 English
at the American International School in Dhaka
Haidee Dehner teaches grade 10 English at the American International School in Dhaka. For the last three years she has spent one semester of the school year working with students to produce a portfolio project in the form of a book. Most of the chapters of their books are drawn from a series of writings done over the course of the semester, usually in relationship to the literature they study. Ms. Dehner has selected the literature because it fits the archetypal journey laid out by Joseph Campbell in his book The Hero’s Journey. As global nomads, her students follow this very journey: departing, going through amazing adventures and returning home with new wisdom. She shares here some of the writing that appeared in the tenth grade books this past year, each prefaced by Ms. Dehner’s brief introductory commentary.
Aliya Rao created a book titled Uprooted. Her introduction below explains her theme, one most global nomads can relate to. Her name essay gives some insight into her travels. In a multi-cultural classroom name essays reveal layers of beliefs and rituals. Some students were given names to grow into, names that mean “perfection” or “God’s gift” when translated. Many students were given names by astrologers or Mullahs. Names can also come from ancestors and open up history that many are unaware of until they begin the paper by interviewing parents. The last piece that I’ve included from Aliya’s book is an excerpt from her boast, modeled on those of the warriors in the epic Beowulf. Aliya chose it for her book since it also shows her identity, an identity many global nomads can relate to.
I have been “uprooted” from my mother-culture, hence the name of my book. Having spent a significant part of my life in cultures other than my own, I have acquired these cultures while retaining parts of my own. I have been uprooted in the sense that I don’t have the opportunity to observe the traditions of my culture as closely as other people who still live in India. This doesn’t mean that they have more knowledge than I do of Indian culture, however, because I do retain interest in my native land.
The theme of my book, Uprooted, is my identity. The way I think, the way I talk, just who I am is largely Indian. But I have left my mother country and the experience of being a global nomad, a third culture kid, had also helped shape me into who I am today. My book shows how the union of these two identities is reflected in my personality and in my writing.
A Parade of Nick Names
“Aloo, I’ve gotta go now, but I’ll see you tomorrow, OK?” Navine said into the phone.
“OK, see ya,” I replied. During the 15 years that I’ve been alive, “Aloo” has been my most consistent nickname, derived from my name, “Aliya.” My parents started calling me this when I was a baby, and since I could not protest against this then, I was stuck with it, and still am. It’s not that I don’t like having a pet name, it’s just that one that means “potato” in Hindi is less than desirable. My name is can be mispronounced in an infinite number of ways and inspires tons of other names. Over the course of my life, I have had many names, some that I liked and some that I didn’t like. All of them have, however, had two characteristics in common: they have all been interesting and unique.
When I was younger one of my aunts went one step further with my nickname of “Aloo”; when I was sick she would call me “aloo bukhara,” which is the Hindi word from “sweet potato. “Bukhar” also means “fever” so it was relevant. Never mind the fact that I detested this name. Unfortunately for me, it caught on.
At the different stages in my life, I’ve had to endure people pronouncing my name incorrectly. For the three and a half years, when I lived in Geneva, Switzerland, I was known as “A-lee-ya” as opposed to “Aa-li-ya.” This bothered me in the beginning and I corrected people. After living there for six months, however, I realized that even when I corrected people they would still pronounce my name the way they wanted to, so I gave up.
During this three and a half year period, I was fortunate enough to encounter people who took great pleasure in twisting my name, always in an uncomplimentary way. Some of them were most ingenious in this art. Whenever I heard a “Hey, A-liar,” (followed by “A liar, get it? Ha ha ha”) or “Hey, Alien,” I could be certain to see one of my pleasant acquaintances looking at me with smug smirks lighting up their faces.
When I moved to Dhaka, two and a half years ago, I finally met people who could pronounce my name correctly, possibly because they’re more familiar with it. However, the friends I have here also like playing with name and coming up with new nicknames for me, since they know it annoys me. “Al” was a name given to me by one of my friends; it was one of the names I was strongly averse to since it’s also a guy’s name. Seeing that I was so strongly opposed to it, this name wasn’t used much, except when someone wants to get me riled up. Another name I acquired in Dhaka was “Oooliya.” I wasn’t, and am still not, against this name, since it’s not for the opposite sex, and it’s not insulting in any way.
I have also obtained a long list of pet names that have nothing to do with my real name. People just got into the habit of giving me names and gave me many just to irritate me. For example, my friends might come across a word such as “Putrid,” and kindhearted as they are, they will decide that it suits me and so I will be knows as “Putrid” for as long as they think it’s funny. By now, I have learned not to mind this much.
“Aliya,” is Arabic for “superior and mighty.” In the olden days it was used in Arabic countries to address the royalty. The meaning of my name and the fact that it was used for royalty is the main reason that my first name is a favorite of mine. However, even if it didn’t mean what it does, I’d still like it. I was an infant when it was bestowed upon me and I didn’t care what anyone called me. But now my name has become a part of me. It’s a part of my identity, it’s a part of who I am. I would be lost without my name.
I am Aliya, descendant of the warriors who came to India
From the western land of Afghanistan
And Rajput warriors who inhabited the central part of India.
I, Aliya, reached the top of the world during my first year as a teenager.
I survived the long and arduous trek of the Annapurna Range.
I exist today to tell the horrifying tale of this Massive Ordeal.
I rose at dawn, freezing in the cold mountain weather, walking
Each day for six and sometimes seven tortuous hours.
I am Aliya, the superior and might traveler of the world.
I have helped the less fortunate than myself.
Many mornings have I spent teaching the illiterate,
Mornings when others were drowning in sweet slumber.
I, helper of the poor, have also spent scorching and smoldering
Days, lifting burdensome baskets of sand and
Stacks of bricks with my bare hands, all for the good of humanity.
I am indeed a true philanthropist.
I am Aliya, descendant of Great Leaders, and
I will lead the world as my ancestors did before.
Katherine Guy is also a tenth grader and hails from Canada, a place she describes as a foreign land. Ironically, she just found out that she will return there next year and finish out her high school career in her no-longer-home city. The circle, then, is complete. Her book is titled Into the Unknown and is beautiful covered in silk from the Far East. The handmade paper pages tell a story of gradual empowerment.
I went to school—
My last day of school.
I cried my tears—
Tears of leaving my home.
I said my good-byes—
To the friends who’d kept me safe
I packed my bags—
With all of my memories
And then, as if all alone,
I set off towards the unknown.
The Foreign Land
“It’s so clean.” I said. We had just landed in Calgary Airport. It was summer vacation from school and my family had decided to go back to Canada. We hadn’t been back for a few years and I was full of anticipation as to how it would look and what it would be like. I looked out the window again, completely mesmerized by the freshly cutgrass and the pale gray cement with perfectly drawn yellow lines down the middle. It was completely different from what I had grown used to, wild grass, dirty oil stained runways and fading yellow lines. I was so excited to be back in Canada, a place I was supposed to call home, but half of me felt so disappointed in what Canada really was- a sterile hospital.
We stepped off the plane and walked towards the Arrivals section. Everything was organized and the signs were in English and French. Unlike Asia, we only waited five minutes for our luggage to come through. I started to wonder what was wrong with this place- why was everything done so quickly and why was everything so clean??? I followed my parents, looking around for the luggage porters and for the gates keeping people from barging into the airport, but I didn’t see them. I wondered why.
I was so relieved when finally we got to our rental car and drove away from the airport. It was so strange and empty. I was still so puzzled about the airport that I didn’t notice the big wide highway until we were about ten minutes into our ride. When I did I almost died. It was just like the South Super Highway in the Philippines, only it didn’t have a traffic jam. Now I knew Canada was definitely strange. I tried to keep my mind off this different scary place by listening to my parents.
My mum and dad were talking about our plans for the summer, which kept me interested and my mind off the highway. But when my mum started to say “Isn’t it wonderful to be back in Canada?” I felt my pulse get stronger and my mind started racing. What if this was a conspiracy? What if they weren’t my parents? Surely they must think that Canada was as strange and I did. I decided that I had heard wrongly and continued to listen to what my parents said. But it didn’t help, because my mum kept going on about how organized and clean it was- AND SHE SEEMED TO LIKE IT? I thought she must definitely be kooky in the head, at least my dad didn’t seem to be. Then my mum turned to me and said, “Oh Katherine, don’t you love how fresh the air is, and how the roads are easy to drive on with no traffic, bicycles and carts?” I was so shocked. I stared at her aghast and replied “It’s too clean and too quiet.”
My mum looked at me a minute then burst out laughing. I was still shocked that she would even like it here. How could anyone like a hospital??? I hated hospitals and any place like a hospital. My dad, sitting behind the steering wheel of the car, was laughing so hard that I was sure we would have an accident. I was scared. These people definitely weren’t my parents! “Calm, Katherine, Calm”, I repeated to myself until I had stopped panicking.
We pulled into the driveway of the house where we were staying. I was calm to the point of sedation. I gathered my stuff together and walked with my parents towards the house, “I’ll be perfectly fine,” I told myself. I everyone?? We rang the bell and I hoped and prayed so hard that the person who answered the door would feel like I did about Canada. But she didn’t. My parents recounted the whole incident and she, like my parents just laughed and told me I was cute. I was definitely going into a nut house.
Soon I began to realize why my parents had thought it was so funny. It was because I really didn’t feel Canadian – I was more Asian on the inside. I felt that noise was and had to be a part of everyday life. I felt that an open sewer on the street was perfectly ordinary. I even felt that to fall into the sewer, like I once had, was part of life. I also felt that I had to be able to see at least fifty people on the street for it to be normal. Anything less I began to wonder who had died. And every summer since, the story of how I thought Canada was too clean and quiet and too boring is recounted and still people laugh, but I don’t mind because its true! I may be blonde and green-eyed, but I do feel Asian and thrive on the crowds, noise, dirt and chaos around me. Canada is the foreign land!
Jean-Pierre Rousseau was viewed as an Arab terrorist when he returned to the United States and entered the unfamiliar territory of the American public schools. This year he found out that his family is being posted to Morocco where his French accent won’t be considered so abnormal. His book is titled One More Stamp in my Passport and I am sure he will have many more. He is a seasoned global nomad at sixteen and was very much at home in the Model U.N. gathering in Nairobi this year.
The “Egyptian Terrorist with a French Accent
Who am I? Am I American, French, Egyptian or Armenian? I got my answer on my three-year journey to America. I discovered that I was none of them, and that I was a citizen of Earth, I was countryless. Coming to America I expected to be around people like me: people who have traveled around the world, spoke several languages, and were in possession of several nationalities. I never expected to be labeled as a malaria-infested foreigner. Coming to America was not coming home; it was leaving the home I had for 12 years in the Middle East.
Homesick, I gazed out of the classroom windows towards the East looking past the gray landscape and thinking about the memories I had left behind in Tunisia. Suddenly awoken form my daydream, I was back in reality, my first day of school in a country which I visited, but never lived in. Our teacher asked us to rise and recite the “Pledge of Allegiance.” Even though I had no idea what she was talking about I rose, but I looked in shock as the students were all turning towards an American flag and reciting words of praise to it. To me it sounded as if they were worshipping it. I stood and started at the students. They seemed hypnotized, however they did notice that I was not reciting. Immediately thirty students plus a teacher turned toward me and gave me an icy glare. The flag no longer was the center of attention. For the rest of the recital I was being reduced to pond scum by their stares. It seemed understood that every one should know this pledge, and that I was leading a protest against the country with my silence. In no way did I mean to be insulting to their culture, but the fact is that I have never recited a pledge to any of my four countries of nationality.
Soon after the pledge incident I was asked to present myself. I got up and started walking towards the front of the room. The students had not gotten over the fact that I did not know how to recite the pledge. I felt like what Bill Clinton would feel on Rush Limbaugh’s talk show. After presenting myself as being an Armenian, Egyptian, French and American, hands shoot up in the air. “Are you related to Sheik Abdel Rahnman?”* Another asked, “Why did you come here, and what ulterior motives do you have?” I bet her parents worked in the INS. Still another asked, “Are you somehow related to Jack Kevorkian?” I did my best to answer their questions. I tried to make it clear that I was neither a terrorist nor an illegal immigrant, but by the questioning looks on their faces they were not convinced. I wanted to laugh and cry at the same time. I felt hurt that my nationalities were stereotyped in this way, but I also wanted to laugh at how casually the students were asking those questions. I felt like I was in a courtroom, the students the jury, and I was the convict awaiting the punishment. The students soon knew me as “the Egyptian terrorist who has a French accent and practices euthanasia, claiming to be an American.”
My nationalities were not the only thing that stunned the students. The students seemed to be appalled that I had a French accent. The teacher seemed especially taken aback. She thought I had a speech problem! She was so concerned that she got a school speech therapist to come and do some tests on me. After about half an hour of imitating different sounds, the therapist concluded that I had no problems with my speech. The teacher was not so convinced, and tried doing some tests herself.
After the day of hardship was finished, I ran to my barren, furniture-less room to pour out all of the news to my parents. I cried and begged to be sent back to Tunisia, where I was respected for who I was. My parents convinced me to give the school another chance. Although there was not much change in the students’ attitude, I became less bothered by it. I was too proud to change my way of speaking or to denounce my other nationalities and experiences.
What happened in America would have happened in any of my three countries. I do not feel any more at home in France, Egypt or Armenia. I was lucky enough to travel and live in many countries. I would never trade this in for a home somewhere in the world. I still do not have a home, but maybe sometime in the future I will find a place which I can call home.
*the Egyptian who is blamed for blowing up the World Trade Center
Navine Mendes is a Canadian citizen of diverse descent. She is torn between worlds on a daily basis. The language at home is English, but she considers herself a “Desi”. She wrote the following poem to describe the multitude of images she associates with home.
A Diverse Heritage
The overwhelming aroma of spices
The lingering taste of sweet rich maple
A cool swim in the Buriganga River,1
on a topical afternoon,
The victory celebration of the Raptors
on the streets downtown at dusk,
The sour yet tasty crunch of
a boroi2 between my teeth while
I impatiently wait for a rickshaw,
The gentle breeze on a late Saturday morning
holds my family together as
we enjoy crimson, sweet strawberries,
My Nana Mona’s faint chants of Orpontgithi3
while she sits on a pati
with a rosary intertwined in her
delicate but powerful fingers,
My Granny’s loud Irish laughter heard from miles
while she stands holding onto a pew of the new parish,
talking to her friends about
who fell asleep during mass,
Snuggled under a Nakshikantha4
my sister sleeps, oblivious to the buzz of mosquitoes
circling her head,
Caramel Correttos keep me warm
as I sit in the backyard of my townhouse
surrounded by fireflies
Their luminous tails provide just
enough light for me to see the
radiant faces of the ones I love,
My dads childhood stories of Ocharmat,5
My moms childhood stories of Armenia,
Places of diversity
Places where I’m from
2Tropical light green fruit
3Christian Bengali hymn
4Art done on cloth with thread
5Village in Bangladesh
by Abrar Agha
Journalism—American International School Dhaka
May 22, 2001
All third culture kids have to deal with change, and thus have to keep themselves flexible and open-minded. Moving every two to three years, tolerance becomes a virtue, and the only possible way to deal with the change, is to change yourself. The five people I interviewed for this article are typical cultural chameleons.
“The first few times I moved it was quite tough on me,” said senior Naseef Sami, a TCK veteran who has lived in seven countries. “I didn’t want to leave my friends, but once you get used to it, it becomes a lot easier. Personally, I’ve learnt a lot through my travels. Yeah, I do enjoy it, and you could say that it has helped me become more of a complete human being.” Naseef, as a result of his parents’ occupations as diplomats, has resided in countries ranging from China to Saudi Arabia, and even India.
Jung Gun Shim, grade 10, also finds it relatively simple to cope with change. He is a completely different type of global nomad than Naseef, and has been lucky to live in places where the cultural heritages share a commonality.
“For me, it isn’t too bad dealing with change. The students who go to the international schools in the sub-continent, are usually very similar. To deal with the changes, I also had the advantage of being involved in SAISA (South Asia International Schools Association) tournaments, through which I made many friends. To survive, you have to be willing to deal with change, and personally, I enjoy that.”
Their contrasting degrees of mobility distinguish Jung Gun and Naseef. Jung Gun has only lived in three different countries, as opposed to Naseef’s seven. While Naseef doesn’t consider any single place home, Jung Gun has no problem labeling his passport country, Korea, as home. A justification to this could very well be that Jung Gun, has yet to be exposed to an environment divergent to the one found in Korea. However, it must be said that both of Jung Gun’s second homes, Pakistan and Bangladesh, have an established coterie of Koreans, who are all very close-knit, and prefer to mingle with one another. Therefore, when Jung Gun returns to Korea, it is relatively easy for him to associate with the sounds, smells and feelings of the location.
To incorporate, yet another view into this article, I interviewed senior Sanaa Khan, who is a TCK veteran of five countries. ” I think that living in five different countries has shaped me into more of a complete human being. At times, it can be difficult to adapt with the changes, but you have to keep yourself open, and tolerant of the situation. Sometimes, when you become too reflective, you begin to sulk, and I think this can put you down. Sure, occasionally letting out the tears doesn’t hurt, but you can’t be too reflective, and you must invest in activities that keep you busy. I am happy to be traveling, however, eventually I want to settle down.” Like Naseef, Sanaa has lived in very different countries. For example after leaving the US, she had to immediately board a plane to Iran.
Sushil Dahiya, grade 11, has a very different story. When he moved back to India from England, Sushil, who had previously lived in three other countries, found it extremely difficult to cope with the change. “Apart from friends, I faced problems in studies. The courses were much harder in India than in England. I had to wake up during the nighttime to do my homework. At school in India, there is a lot of pressure on you to do well. I remember that if you did anything wrong they would resort to violence, and beat you with a ruler or something. Although, I’m Indian, it was hard to get used to the culture. Somehow, I think living in India has made me very tolerant.” Even though Sushil had this nightmare adjusting to the Indian culture, in the long run, he feels his travels have helped him. Whatever the destination, Sushil adjusts with ease, and through his experiences can easily be labeled as one of the most tolerant guys one will ever meet.
My interview with Sushil, only confused me further on the real nature of TCKs ; therefore, in order to seal my research, I interviewed senior, Kakuli Bhatt.
Kakuli, who is very happy to be a traveling third culture kid, had some very enlightening observations. “The way I deal with change is that I embrace it with open arms. You might have to be a little flexible, but as you travel, things get easier. Losing your friends isn’t really a problem, because you still keep in touch. The only thing is that you just don’t see them as often as you like. When I go to India, I don’t really fit in, but then again that’s been the case wherever I’ve gone. I don’t really consider any place in this world as home, it’s more of a combination of places. It’s been an enlightening experience, and I’m glad I was exposed to such a life-style. Being a TCK is probably one of the best things that has happened to me in my life.” As one can see, Kakuli really loves her traveling. Her travels have taken her from Brazil to Yemen, and presently, Bangladesh.
AIS/D (American International School Dhaka) is a breeding ground for TCKs, and it’s obvious that most students have an easy time adjusting to this environment. A TCK must possess the following traits to overcome the obstacles associated with being one: they are, tolerance and flexibility, and the willingness to deal with change. Certainly, in their own unique senses, Naseef, Jung Gun, Kakuli and Sanaa embody these virtues, both in terms of academics and social relationships. They are true global nomads, who add to the already diverse populace of our school. They are living in liminality and enjoying the experience.
Senior Graduation Speech
by Abhishek Chakivarty and Mark Mozena
Mark is an American and Abhishek is Indian by nationality. Both live in Bangladesh and gave this speech for the 2001 commencement ceremony for American Inernational School/Dhaka.
“What happened to you,” asks the local storekeeper in Delhi when I went to buy some gum after a few years abroad. “Why are you wearing such strange clothes? Are you trying to be a parachute?” I was wearing very loose pants, a garment that was not very common in Delhi at the time. Another amusing reaction to my appearance on returning came from an elderly ladyfriend of my grandmother when she thought I wasn’t listening. “That necklace, those rings, why do foreign boys try to dress like girls nowadays?” But perhaps the most scathing remark I have heard came from one of my old friends. I told him that I was unsure about my belief in God, an unthinkable sin to many Indians, especially from me, a Brahmin. He looked at me and said, “You’ve changed Abhishek. You’re not Indian anymore.” Those words were harsh, but to some extent they are true. Because of my life abroad, I have slowly lost my ability to be Indian. My country is now a strange land, like any of the others I have lived in.
Rice is an essential part of almost every meal in the subcontinent. After spending ten years in this region, rice has become an essential part of my meals, and my life. When I go back to Iowa, the land of meat and potatoes, my relatives have a very difficult time dealing with me. A very difficult time. My grandmother has to special order rice from the store since Rice-a-Roni simply will not do. Without real rice the South Asian inside me starves. I go into clinical depression, and my mother has to put me on a rice iv drip. I may be Iowan, but when it comes to rice, I’m as Deshi as it gets. On a side note, I will be attending Rice University. How ironic is that?
These experiences are two of many that help define us as Third Culture Kids, or TCKs. We have no home. Our travels around the world have alienated us from the concept of home. The only refuge for us is the third culture we have created. Our world is one of tolerance, adaptation, and knowledge. Saad Chowdhury, a member of our graduating class, has lived in five countries. His father is Bangladeshi, and his mother is British. He speaks with an American accent, and looks like an Arab.
On his first day of public school in America, someone asked him “So, where are you from?”
Saad answered, “Bangladesh.”
“Where’s that,” the person inquired.
“It’s right next to India.”
The guy shrugged. “Sorry man, I’m not familiar with Europe.”
—Abhishek Chakivarty and Mark Mozena
by James Gannon
13-year-old second-generation US American global nomad
Social Studies Project, 7th Grade
Seattle, WA, USA
What is the “Third Culture?” A 13-year-old second-generation, US American global nomad shares his assessment in our newest ShowCase.
Culture is all of the behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions and all other products of human work and thought that are socially conveyed. This paper is about an emerging culture, “Third Culture”. Not third world, but Third Culture. Because it is still an emerging culture, Third Culture may not have all the requirements of a regular culture totally fulfilled, but I hope to show enough of them to make Third Culture understandable.
I have been lucky in my life to have had the opportunity to grow up around the world. I have lived on four continents, and I have visited two others. I have been to twenty countries in all, worldwide. Since I was one month old, I have flown over 500,000 miles.
All this travel has given me a great opportunity to experience many different cultures, and has broadened my mind regarding all the fascinating wonders of the world. Mostly, it has made me aware that, as people, our differences tell us only where we are, and our similarities tell us why we are.
Let me try to explain what I mean by that. If you went to Africa, you could tell where you were because most everybody would have dark skin. And that is different, for most of us here at least. But, say you were standing next to someone in Africa who did not understand a word of English. Suddenly, you both see something funny at the same time. You then look at each other, and most probably you both would laugh. Third culture traits are based on these kinds of similarities in people’s behavior. These similarities tell us “why we are” because they are what make us all human. Because I have lived so many places, consistent similarities make me feel comfortable. This focus on similarities is a Third Culture trait.
Third Culture is a very complicated subject. First of all, Third Culture can be confused with multicultural and bicultural. Multicultural is when somebody has been influenced by more than two cultures, and that person uses parts of those cultures together. Bicultural is the same as multicultural, except the influence is from only two cultures. Both of these are very different from Third Culture. Third Culture is when a child, and it has to be a child, lives in several foreign cultures. As Third Culture Kids (TCKs) grow up, they adapt and blend with one culture after another to the point where they have seen so many differences, that differences don’t matter any more, and what becomes most important is the similarities. For example, the feeling of home for TCKs is no longer connected to a physical place, one different place after another. The feeling of home exists in all relationships that we have had with people who have been close to us. This focus on relationships as a very important value for Third Culture. I know who I am when I think of my friends around the world. My email address list includes friends from around the world, and I communicate with them very frequently. I do this because, even though I am thousands of miles away, they are still important friends. They remind me of who I am and why I am.
Third Culture traits are not always obvious. This is because Third Culture Kids are excellent adapters and that is one of their strongest skills. What I mean is that, wherever TCKs are, they can pick up the cultural traits, and the culture, very quickly. For example, in the Philippines, they do not use an actual word to say “yes”. Instead, they silently move their eyebrows up and down to signify the affirmative. In Pakistan, people move their head from side to side while talking to signify that there is always room for discussion about what they are saying. I use both these gestures sometimes.
Adapting to different styles of communication gives Third Culture Kids an ability to communicate with people of all cultures, at any time. Not just by speaking foreign languages, although many of them do, but by intuiting what someone is trying to communicate, regardless what language or even body language they are using.
The exact definition of Third Culture comes from research by Ruth Useem and Richard Downy, who came up with the term Third Culture Kids after studying the lives of kids who grew up in places other than their country of nationality. Third Culture Kids are kids who feel most like themselves in the space between cultures, which is created by persons who are relating societies, or parts of societies, to each other. This definition is about twenty years old.
Maybe what makes me so aware of being Third Culture is that my family has had a long history of traveling, probably even before we first came to the United States, which was about 300 years ago. I came across a funny coincidence. Even though my mother’s and father’s families are different on the surface, politically for example, 100 years ago both families were doing the same thing.
My great grandfather, on my mother’s side, started traveling when he was twelve, as a cabin boy on one of his father’s merchant ships which were in the Brazilian coffee business. He later went on explorations in Brazil to search for rubber. Then, as a young man, he joined the Rough Riders who went to Cuba to fight in the Cuban American War under President Theodore Roosevelt. After that, he became our country’s first official Ambassador to Guatemala and other Central American countries. It was not until he contracted malaria and had to settle down, that he married and had a family.
My great grandfather, on my father’s side, was also a sea merchant at about this same time, bringing finished goods from London to the United States, and taking cotton and other agricultural products back to England and Ireland. When the Civil War broke out, he became a gunrunner for the Confederacy. To do this, he had to cross the Atlantic in a very small boat, and had to dodge Union guns and cannons without any armaments of his own. Coincidentally, my mother’s family, the Lee family of Virginia, also fought for the South during the Civil War.
Both sides of my family have continued to travel. My paternal grandfather, emigrated to the U.S. from Ireland when he was only ten years old, and fought as an American soldier in WW II. After the war, he became a polymer chemist for a German-based international company in the U.S., and invented the formula for the reflective orange color that you see, for example, used in crossing guard vests. Still, his greatest skill and pleasure was communication with all kinds of people.
My maternal grandfather was also ten years old when he crossed the Atlantic in the other direction, to spend the rest of his youth in English boarding schools. He eventually became Ambassador for the United States to the Czech Republic. Today, my aunt, my mom’s sister, is the United States Special Representative, to the Organization of American States, for International Sustainable Development. Before this, she was a diplomat in Honduras, Trinidad and Tobago, the Philippines, Ireland and Iceland.
My dad is a Telecommunications Advisor, and has worked overseas in Pakistan, Guatemala, Eastern Europe, Indonesia, South America and Egypt. Right now he is in the Philippines.
Third Culture is my culture and will always be my culture. My nationality and passport will always be from the United States, and my personality will be influenced by all the countries I have, and will, live in. But my culture is Third Culture. When I grow up I have no idea what I am going to be. But if statistics hold up, the chances that I will be traveling are two out of three. Or, I may be that one out of three TCKs who finds a quiet place on the top of a cold mountain, or in a desolate desert, and never goes anywhere ever again.
by Fiona Lowery
A subtle touch of sad goodbyes
Is echoed from the walls.
The roar of revving engines blends
with flight computer calls.
Those who leave bear anxious smiles
For those who smile and stay
But after flight departures
All smiles have blown away,
Sandshoes and stiletto heels
Make for exit doors;
Grey uniformed attendants stay
To polish sterile floors.
The airport bears no sympathy
For those who do not fly.
But I’d rather be the one that stays
Than have to say goodbye.
Australian global nomad, 16 years old
Video Cassette Reading—The Fine Arts Magazine
of The International School of Islamabad, 1984–1985
“We who have traveled in distant lands, in times preceding hermetically-sealed airports, will remember deep within ourselves how “the roar of revving engines blends with flight computer calls.” We see ourselves again in “those who leave bear anxious smiles for those who smile and stay,” and we know very well that “after flight departures all smiles have blown away.” Fiona’s poem evokes the memory and reality of airport partings.
“Fiona’s poem also speaks to another reality: leavetaking is a reciprocal experience. For every person leaving, there is at least one person staying. Mobility impacts not only those who are leaving but also those staying behind. An airport may bear “no sympathy for those who do not fly,” but conscious leavetaking must. Conscious leavetaking must recognize both sides of the relationship and acknowledge that those who stay will experience change and loss inasmuch as those who leave. In this regard Fiona needs cautioning when she says she would ‘rather be the one that stays than have to say goodbye.’ Fiona, staying on, must also say goodbye—perhaps not to places and possessions but certainly to a world that is now made different by the absence of her friend Jo.”
“We and They”
by Rudyard Kipling
Father, Mother, and Me,
Sister and Auntie say
All the people like us are We,
And everyone else is They.
And They live over the sea
While we live over the way,
But—would you believe it?—They look upon We
As only a sort of They!
We eat pork and beef
With cow-horn-handled knives.
They who gobble Their rice off a leaf
Are horrified out of Their lives;
While they who live up a tree,
feast on grubs and clay,
(Isn’t is scandalous) look upon We
As a simply disgusting They!
We eat kitcheny food.
We have doors that latch.
They drink milk and blood
Under an open thatch.
We have doctors to fee.
They have wizards to pay.
And (impudent heathen!) They look upon We
As a quite impossible They!
All good people agree,
And all good people say,
All nice people, like us, are We
And everyone else is They:
But if you cross over the sea,
Instead of over the way,
You may end by (think of it!) looking on We
As only a sort of They!
British global nomad
Global nomads have as a birthright the opportunity to learn about other cultures, to see their “own”—their national culture—with fresh eyes, and to question ethnocentrism and assumptions of difference.
Kipling’s poem exemplifies the kind of tolerance for and, indeed, joy in difference that many global nomads develop. At first, and with family indoctrination, “all the people like us are we and everyone else is they.” Throughout the international sojourn, differences between the two cultures become abundantly clear. So too does it become clear that host nationals interpret the expatriate’s behavior as every bit as “disgusting” as the expatriate interprets theirs: “isn’t it scandalous!” Eventually, however, can come intercultural understanding and an ability to look “on we as only a sort of they.”
Interestingly, Kipling introduces that last phrase of intercultural tolerance with the words “you may end…” (italics added). With that preface he recognizes that not all global nomads do in fact develop great intercultural sensitivity. In perhaps the same way that not all Koreans like kimchee and that not all Americans are materialistic, not all global nomads do inculcate an ability to withhold judgment and celebrate difference. It is, however, a part of the global nomad birthright, and one that parents and educators in particular can do much to foster.
There is an important caveat to this global nomad birthright. While global nomads may be more generally tolerant and celebratory of difference, they may be more judgmental and less tolerant of their passport country and/or of one or more of their host countries.
Global nomads grow up exposed to an outsider’s perspective of their passport countries. A French global nomad raised in French Algeria told me of how she inevitably learned to criticize France, ostensibly her home country, because she saw at first hand the consequences to her Algerian friends of France’s colonial policies and practices. As many an adult global nomad will attest, this is a common experience for global nomads from former colonial powers, as well as for those from current economic and political superpowers.
The many difficulties involved with re-entry, the eventual repatriation to one’s passport country, may exacerbate a global nomad’s tendency to dislike and mistrust his or her passport country peers and government. As a US American global nomad once explained to me, it was very hard for her to take her American peers seriously when, upon learning that she had just returned from Africa, they asked her in which country Africa was situated. Similarly, having Iraqi friends made it difficult for her to tolerate unthinking calls for a renewed bombing of Iraq. It may be particularly challenging for global nomads and their families when such questions and comments come from extended family members. It may be challenging, too, for grandparents to see their grandchildren developing pluralistic perspectives; it’s not uncommon for expatriate parents to speak of being confronted by extended family members, accused of not raising appropriately patriotic and enculturated children.
All nation states provide a biased reporting of world events, speak of themselves as the best in the world, suggest that they and their allies are the only really good people and that everyone else is either faceless or an enemy. Global nomads, however, typically know better. They do not so easily accept “the other” as either faceless or as an enemy. They are likely to disbelieve any portrayal of dichotomous truth and look instead for the shades of gray.
All of this said, global nomads may grow up very much enamored of their passport countries, defend them at every chance, long for their return “home.” They may take on a deep-seeded dislike of their host country. Much here depends on individual experience as well as on the behaviors of parents and educators. A global nomad’s feelings towards the host country will certainly be influenced by the feelings expressed by trusted adults. Indeed, feelings of the passport culture will be similarly influenced.
Throughout his poem, Kipling speaks to the differences that exist between “we” who “live over the way” and “they” who “live over the sea.” His conclusion emphasizes the power of the expatriate experience: “if you cross over the sea, instead of over the way,” you may end by—think of it!—realizing that there are more shades of gray than singular truths. Indeed, let us hope so!
We welcome your comments, and we invite you to share your own experiences of international mobility. If you have a story, poem or piece of prose you would like to submit, please contact Transition Dynamics. Remember that any items submitted may be used by Transition Dynamics as anecdotal illustrations in our consulting services, presentations, and programs.
Please include the following:
- Your name and email address
- Whether you are a global nomad, a salaried parent/spouse, a non-salaried parent/spouse, an international educator (teacher, counselor, administrator), a researcher or practitioner focusing on the expatriate experience
- The general category of your sponsor affilitation (business, diplomatic, military, missionary, education, etc)
- Your nationality(ies)
- How many times you’ve moved, and to what countries
- If you’re a global nomad child or adolescent, please indicate your age