Full Heart at #FIGT17NL 


I’m sitting in bed in a modern hotel room in  The Hague – that famous city known for tribunals and the Peace Palace. 

There is much I could write about this city from the small amount of time I’ve been here, but it is nothing compared to what I could write about the people and new friendships budding at Families in Global Transition. 

From sun up until way beyond sundown  my heart has been full – of laughter, of reconnecting, of amazing conversations and new connections. But most of all, full of the best sort of belonging. 

When you move a lot, you pack up your life along with your material goods. And when you pack up a life, you also pack your heart. After awhile you stop looking for belonging. It’s not because you are cynical – it’s because you recognize that belonging shifts a bit with each move and there are places and people where you will always feel more of a sense of belonging than others. So when you find yourself in a room full of kindred spirits, you catch your breath. “Is this quite real?” “If I close my eyes, will I find it’s my imagination?” 

My favorite moment of the day came in mid afternoon, when in a crowded room I ended up with a Pakistani adult third culture kid living in Dubai, and a Dutch adult third culture kid raised in Pakistan. In the middle of a crowded room two people I had never met were immediate friends through country and experience.  It was more than amazing – it was pure joy. 

In a television show called “Friday Night Lights” a high school football coach works to make his football team the best they can be. Before every game, this group of teenagers, who come from many different family situations, gather for one purpose: to play their absolute best, to play with their hearts. The captain of the team leads them in what becomes a resounding cry in the show. Clear Eyes, Full Hearts. Can’t Lose. 

And that is how I feel tonight. 

Clear Eyes, Full Hearts. Can’t Lose.

Note: check out Mariam’s blog: And Then We Moved To… – it’s great! 

Get a Life

“Oh, for God’s sake…get a life, will you?”–William Shatner

 

Connor left nearly a month ago to return to the University of British Columbia. As he and Lowell pulled away from the house I felt the bottle of grief shaken within me lose its scarcely screwed on lid. Before I knew it I was drenched, inside and out, with sadness. I came into the house, sat in my chair, gently held my coffee cup and cried.

In my sad spot I remembered that this is our Adelaide’s last year of high school too and a fresh wave of grief dragged me under. It felt like my heart would break.

I wondered at the strangeness of parenting. We wrap our lives and our hearts around these miniature people. We tend, nurture, guide, direct. We attend concerts and games, plays and competitions. We give up our rights to complete thoughts, finished sentences, sleeping in on Saturdays, uninterrupted conversations, Sunday afternoon naps, free time, long showers, the late show. We trade it all in for diapers, runny noses, giggles, knock knock jokes, princesses, pirate ships, play dough, lego towers, swing pushing, nail painting, homework helping, eye rolling, door slamming, curfew pushing kids! And if we get a minute we’d admit that it was a fair trade. For the most part we’ve loved it—!

In that sad moment in my chair I wanted those days back again. I wanted another turn at it all. I wanted to hold fiercely on to the childhood of my children. They said it would go fast and for the longest time I thought they were mocking me…but now I realized with horror at how right they had been. It was over with my kids before it had really begun in me.

As I sat sipping my coffee, which now oddly tasted like nostalgia and sorrow, I thought to myself, “Robynn, You need to get a life”! I suppose it was a mild rebuke from my more sensible self to my emoting sobbing self. Even as I thought it another thought quickly jumped up in defense of me. Wait a minute…I do have a life!

I do. I have purpose. I’m a spiritual director in training. My brain is being stretched and stimulated by the program I’m enrolled in. I have a broad worldview. I’ve had the humbling privilege of travel and crossing cultures in varying places around the globe. I’m a part of an Environmental Missions effort. I’m passionate about climate change and its effects on the world. I care deeply about the oppressed and long for justice. I have deep friendships with interesting people who expand my world in significant ways. My thoughts are often outside of my inside domestic duties. I read books, I engage in conversation, I watch the occasional documentary, I listen to intellectually stimulating podcasts.

Honestly I think that’s one of the best gifts I’ve given my children. They’ve seen my heart for others. They know I have a wide circle. They’ve heard me rant about racial injustice, about welcoming the immigrant, about caring for the poor. They’ve seen my eyes fill with tears with concern for friends that are hurting. They know I have dreams and goals and longings outside of our home.

I attended an international boarding school in the Himalayan foothills of Pakistan. Multiple times a year we’d have to say goodbye to our parents. It was devastatingly difficult. But I’m convinced it was made marginally easier because we knew my parents had purpose. We knew they loved each other well. Their marriage was solid. We knew they’d be ok without us.

Kids need to know that their parents are going to be all right when they’re not around. It’s too much pressure for a child to believe that his mother’s or his father’s emotional well-being is connected to him. He needs to know they have a life without him.

There are ways we interpret our obsession with our kids that sound noble and self-sacrificing. But I wonder if we scraped those notions back down to the frame if we’d find something more self-serving than we originally thought? Does it give us a sense of importance? Are we tethering our identity solely to our role as caregiver?

I’m not saying that being a parent is not an important vital job. By all means it is! But the goal is to work yourself out of a job. We want to raise adults that are independent, that no longer need us for their daily cares. We want to train up people that know what it means to contribute in valuable ways to the world around them. They will not know about that unless we show them. It will be important to your health and the health of your progeny that you have some other meaningful thing to give yourself to.

I suppose there’s no real easy way to say this….but moms and dads –you have got to get a life! I don’t care what age your kids are now, begin, even today to imagine a little life outside of your children. Start researching ideas of what you might want to do. Pray it through. Take up a hobby that energizes you. Are there distance education classes you could enroll in even now? Are there places you could meaningfully volunteer? Are there courses offered in your community that might spark your imagination? Do you have dormant dreams that you used to think about? What would it look like to fan some of those back into flame? The little people won’t be little for long. Start now and get a life!

 

 

Finding My Niche Overseas by Elizabeth Trotter

Elizabeth Trotter is an Anne of Green Gable’s sort of kindred spirit. Like most of those who guest blog, we’ve never met but we have connected in many areas these last few months and she has often unknowingly encouraged me. Today she writes about something I’ve wanted to feature for a long time on Communicating Across Boundaries – being a military kid, that group that even in the third culture kid world sets you apart. You can read more Elizabeth at the end of the post and make sure you check out her blog. She and her husband are great writers!

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finding your niche map

“Home is Where the Army Sends You.” For the first twelve years of my life, home was, indeed, where the Army sent us. There were good times, full of life and love and happiness. But there were bad times too, full of the ache of transition, the despair of loneliness, and a sense of awkwardness that seemed to follow me everywhere I went.

I was born in an Army hospital in Fort Knox, Kentucky, in the shadow of the United States gold reserve. It was the early 1980’s. Communism hadn’t yet fallen, the Berlin Wall still towered overhead, and the place the Army sent us next was called West Germany.

For four years we dabbled in German culture, language, food, and even traditional dress, all while living within the security of an American post. We traveled through Europe and collected Belgian carpets, German tea sets and Christmas Pyramids, Russian lacquer boxes and Matryoshka dolls – items that would decorate our many future homes and bring the West Germany of my childhood with us, wherever we went.

When we returned to the States, my Dad taught university students in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. It was a civilian community in South Dakota with minimal military personnel, and I enjoyed an idyllic small-town existence for nearly five years.

After that we crossed cultural lines back into a military community, this time, Fort Riley, Kansas. No military housing was available at the time of our move, so we lived in the nearby town at first. I arrived mid-year, and as the new kid, I didn’t fit in very well. It was the fourth grade, and friends were hard to come by.

It was here, however, that I first learned how to teach myself. Springtime standardized testing was imminent. Since I hadn’t been in class for the first half of the school year, I was sent alone to the library to learn the science I needed for our upcoming tests. I didn’t know it then, but learning how to teach myself during a lonely fourth grade year was a skill I would use for many years to come.  It set me on a path of loving learning on my own.

By the time we all entered fifth grade together, I was friends with most of the girls. I was even friends with the girl who had teased me most mercilessly. Unfortunately these newfound friendships lasted only a couple months, because housing had opened up on post, and we had to move.

So I switched schools mid-year. It was a difficult transition, again. I was the new girl, again, and that meant being taunted pretty heavily. Again. But thankfully, by the time we all headed over to the middle school for sixth grade, the teasing had lessened, and I had friends. And oh, how I loved that middle school! I loved my teachers, and I loved the subjects we studied. I thought I had found a place to belong.

It was a glorious year, but it was only a year. At the end of that year, my family left military life to settle in a suburb of Kansas City, MO. And all over again, I was the new girl. This was the third socially difficult move in 2 ½ years, and coming directly out of military culture, I found that I did not fit in anywhere in the suburbs.

I didn’t feel like the house my family lived in was my home, and the town didn’t feel like mine, either. Everyone else had been friends since kindergarten, and I didn’t make many friends at school. Instead, I made school my best friend. I excelled in all subjects. (Um, except P.E.) I loved learning, and I loved my teachers. I may have been socially unhappy, but hey, at least I was academically happy. My love of learning continued throughout junior high, high school, and college, forming my identity as a dedicated student and academic.

In college I found true, lifelong friends, and it was precisely because I was an academic that I found them. I attended an engineering school with people just like me, fellow lovers of math and science. I found my dearest friends at a campus ministry, among others who had also devoted their lives to God.

Through all the moves, one thing remained constant: my grandparents’ home in a little town in Iowa, surrounded by cornfields, and possessing the most marvelous night skies I have ever seen. Through all the shifting relationships, through all the changing addresses, through all the loneliness and the friendlessness, we returned there again and again, for Christmas holidays and summer vacations.

I had friends there — plenty of cousins to play with. On so many levels, it was Home. Even after graduating high school and college, I would still point to Belle Plaine, IA, as my hometown.  It wasn’t really my hometown; it was my parents’ hometown. But I had adopted it as my own and felt like I belonged there.

I still love the small town life of my parents’ hometown, and I am so blessed to be able to experience it anew overseas. I live in the capital city of Cambodia, along with some two million other souls, but there is an expatriate community of only a few thousand. Small enough to feel like everybody knows everybody. Small enough to be known. Small enough to feel cared for, loved, and supported by the international community.

Home is wherever the people I love are, and my experiences have taught me that I can have multiple homes. So my home is still back in a small town in Iowa. It’s also in Kansas City, where my parents have lived for 21 years, where I got married, and where I gave birth to all my babies. And home is in Cambodia, with my husband and four children, and the many kindred spirits I’ve met here.

Home is no longer where the Army sends me; home is where the Lord sends me. For now, He has sent me here, to live and work in the Kingdom of Cambodia. I never expected to live overseas, but now that I’m here, I feel I was made to live life like this. I never dream of going back “home” to America. My history has shaped me into a person easily suited to long-term living overseas. My home is here, living among other global workers. It’s where I belong.

About Elizabeth Trotter

Elizabeth loves life in Southeast Asia, something she never imagined was possible. Before moving to Asia with her husband and four children in 2012, Elizabeth worked in youth ministry for ten years. She loves math, science, all things Jane Austen, and eating hummus by the spoonful. Find her on the web at http://www.trotters41.com and on Facebook at trotters41.

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Finding My Niche in My Family History by Olga Mecking

Today we resume the Finding Your Niche series with a post from Olga Mecking. What I love about her essay is how this global upbringing is embedded in her DNA. Read on and you’ll see what I mean! Her story spans generations and nations. You can read more about Olga at the end of the piece. 

finding your niche map

I like the idea of seeing places as possessions, of something that you can collect and show off to everyone. I felt the same way when Poland wasn’t a part of the EU yet, and I revelled in seeing the number of stamps in my passport, steadily growing.

Now, as an EU citizen, I don’t get stamps anymore, but I collect other things. Someone once described me as a language collector because I love learning languages, just for the sheer pleasure it brings me. Another thing I collect, is memories and family stories.

When I tell my story, I don’t even know how to begin. I usually can’t tell it without mentioning multiple countries, languages and cultures, which confuses my listener to no end. But today I will start with my grandparents.

Both sets of them were diplomats. No, let’s go even earlier than that, to the place of their births. Or should I say, places, in plural? It should definitely be “places”. My paternal grandmother was born in Kiev, Ukraine. She married a Polish man- my grandfather and after a while, my father was born.

My maternal grandfather was Polish, and actually Jewish but he was born in Lviv, a city that used to be Polish, is now Ukrainian, and when my grandfather was born, belonged to the Austrian Empire. That’s European history for you.

As diplomats, both sets of grandparents travelled a lot, but for the time frame that’s of interest to us, they settled in two different but neighbouring countries: my mother’s parents in the Netherlands, where she went to an International school and learned to speak perfect English on top of her native Polish and my father’s parents in France, where he attended a French school and fell in love with the French way of life. My mom and my father led separate lives until they both came back to Poland, my mom with her family, my father alone. They met at school. They started working at the university. They got married. And years later, they had me.

When I was 3, they got the chance to go to Germany for two years. They were both working at the University so I went to a German kindergarten where it took me a mere 6 months to speak perfect German. My parents spoke Polish to me at home, and German when we were outside.

And then we came back home. We spoke German every Sunday, and I think this is the first time it was clear to me that I somehow had an obligation to keep this language alive. I didn’t like this idea but I agreed and spoke German, only to continue learning it at school and later studying it at University.

Speaking of University, I had the chance to learn Dutch there. And I very clearly remember saying: “I’ll never ever need Dutch so why should I learn it?” I can laugh about it now, obviously, because where did I end up? In the Netherlands, of course.

But before that, I went to Germany for a study exchange. I met a German man, whom I later married. He found a job in the Netherlands and moved there. Our first daughter was born in Germany but we moved to join my husband in Holland when she was 6 weeks old.

And so I found myself in a country that to me was at the same time new and old. New because I have never lived there before. Old, because my mother had lived there as a child and still remembered some Dutch, reminding me of that heritage.

My other two children, my little girl and my son were born in the Netherlands and are now 1 and 3 years old. All of them feel very comfortable here and speak fluent Dutch but they have a heritage of languages and stories – so I hope to retain their multilingualism and their multiculturalism (as they also speak Polish and German and my eldest has begun to learn English).

Sometimes it is very confusing, not knowing where you belong, or not belonging anywhere but feeling that you should. Other times I feel history’s breath on my back and I wonder about the intricate ways that everything got woven together to being me where I am now.

But my family story is a huge part of what I am now, a Third Culture Kid, among other things. I have a niche within that family history. I’ve realized that I feel at my most comfortable with people with similar experiences: having lived abroad, speaking multiple languages, passionate about raising global citizens. This is my niche, the place where I thrive most. This is my home.

Olga Mecking is a Polish woman living in the Netherlands with her German husband. She’s a translator, trainer in intercultural communication and blogger. She blogs at The European Mama about raising multilingual children, expat life, and culture. She can be found on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

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Finding My Niche in Public Health – What I Do in My Day Job

I don’t often talk about what I do – like my paycheck job, the job that pays for food, rent, and children’s college tuition. But today, because it is my biggest and busiest day of the year, I want to talk about what I do. Because I have found my niche — as a nurse in public health working with patient navigators and community health workers.

I have always loved that I am a nurse. I have always worn the title RN or Registered Nurse with deep pride. First because I couldn’t believe I actually made it through school;second because I love the profession. It challenges my weaknesses and gives voice to my strengths.

But though I have always loved being a nurse, I’ve not always been a good nurse. There was the fear factor that I would do something wrong in my early days, there was an insecurity in my skill set, a sense that I still didn’t really know where I fit as a nurse.

While living overseas in Pakistan and Egypt I worked sporadically – private duty cases, teaching childbirth education, and accompanying women during labor and childbirth.

When we moved to the United States I began working as a visiting nurse, going into homes and caring for patients who had just been released from the hospital. I was restless. I knew that clinical nursing was only half the picture of what I wanted to be doing.

It was during that time I made a job change and discovered public health. Public health allowed me to use my clinical skills as well as my creativity in developing programs and presentations to use in communities. I learned more about the big picture of health and why it matters. It allowed me to focus on underserved communities, communities that don’t have as many resources like immigrant and refugee communities, like poor minority communities. I began to understand more about working with people who have the greatest need and where, with the least amount of money, you can make the biggest impact. I ended up specifically working in preventative health screening – breast, cervical, colorectal, and prostate screening. Connecting patients to doctors and clinics so that instead of waiting until a cancer lump grew and the cancer spread, the patient would be screened early; so that instead of coping with chemotherapy and drastic life changes, they would have a minor procedure.

I found my niche in a space where I began educating community health workers and patient navigators, helping them see their natural abilities as valuable and adding clinical knowledge and other skills so they could work in their own communities and effect change. These men and women were bilingual and multicultural, but often without opportunities for higher education they struggled to find a place where those skills mattered.  They are from all over the world and had made their way by various paths to the United States. They hail from Spain and Brazil, Portugal and Dominican Republic; Puerto Rico and China; Bangladesh and Somalia; the Sudan and Haiti. And they are finding their own niche in a country that is far different from the countries and places where most of them grew up.

So today we hold a conference that allows these patient navigators and community health workers to come together and learn, to come together and present what they are doing, to come together and be celebrated, to realize that they are a valuable part of our health care system.

But back to the niche – an amazing thing has happened through this process. I realize that the skills of communicating and negotiating across cultures are used regularly in this job. Those skills I felt would lie dormant and not be used again now allow me to build relationships and connections, encourage and voice understanding of the experiences of both patients and community health workers. Because all of us are outsiders that have gone through the process of adjusting to an unfamiliar world, working to carve out a niche where we can use who we are to make a small difference in the lives of some of the most vulnerable in our communities. 

If you are interested in hearing from some of the people I work with about the amazing work they do take a look at this video that we are showing today at the conference. It’s about 8 minutes long and includes both animation and stories from the community health workers. It was created by my son, Micah.

 

Living In Between the Niches by Katha von Dessien

A joy of blogging is the number of people who come into my world. Katha is one of those people. We emailed a bit after a comment she left on Communicating Across Boundaries and today she writes a beautiful piece on living between the niches for the“Finding Your Niche” Series. You can read more about Katha at the end of the piece.

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finding your niche map

To me, the word niche implies that you have found a place you belong, a place where you can fulfill your purpose, where you’re content with life, people, surroundings, yourself.

I am not sure if I have found my niche yet.

It might be that TCKs have trouble belonging, since they travel a lot and seem to belong everywhere and nowhere. It might be that as a student (which I am) you feel a bit in between.

Between living with your parents and making a home for yourself.
Between taking in a lot of research, literature, marveling at the immensity of wisdom out there and the nagging fear how you can turn this into a future job.
Between doing what you love and doing what you have to do to pay the monthly bills. Between enjoying singleness to the fullest and the growing desire to have a family of your own.
Between reminiscing the bitter-sweet memories of my late childhood in beautiful Uganda and the feeling of being ‘grounded’ in Germany at the moment.
Between giving in to nostalgia and struggling to move on into the future.

This in-between stage I find myself in might be my niche. At least for the moment. It might be a time of waiting, but not of wasting. I have been given this time, and I am challenged to use it. Everyday.

When I re-entered Germany after two years in Uganda at the age of 14, it took me a long time to get used to my passport culture again. I felt lost and overwhelmed by all the changes that had taken place in the course of two short years.

But I found a place to belong with other TCKs at annual camps, where it was okay to be a TCK. To feel lost once in a while. To struggle through the challenges together. And to use the advantages the TCK lifestyle has to offer. A bunch of teenagers with a past in countries like Peru, Afghanistan or Zambia quickly grew into a family.

I am still part of this family today. I am done with the re-entry process, but I have something to give to those who come after, who feel lost just like I once did. And it is such a joy to watch TCKs coming for the first time – shy, lost, homesick, angry or depressed – experience healing, a sense of home and belonging, and eventually turn into confident, joyful, young leaders, who are a blessing to me and the communities they settle into.

In the last three years this family has grown. Beyond the boarders of Germany, into a European network. I am part of a committee that wants to connect TCKs across Europe, but also to share resources with TCK caregivers – about TCK camps, re-entry and pre-field orientation, challenges and advantages of a TCK lifestyle and a lot more. It is such an encouragement to connect with others and see how God is at work in other countries.

I fill my current niche with passing on some of the blessings I have received when I felt lost on my TCK journey. I am definitely not done yet, and (since we all know TCKs are like that J) I will probably have to move on very soon when I am done with my studies. The future ahead of me is exciting and scary at the same time.

Will I find another niche to fill?

I don’t know what the next steps on my journey will look like.

I love the things I am doing right now, but I also know there’s a world out there with so many countries, people and opportunities waiting to be discovered.

In moments like these, when I find myself wondering if I have invested my time in the right things and people, if I will ever find a place where I feel fully at home – in such moments it helps to remind myself of the One who created me, and who promised to carve out niches for me as I walk with him on this journey.

Katha - finding your nicheAbout the author: Katha von Dessien is a TCK, who spent some of her teenage years in Uganda and South Africa. She is now based in Germany finishing her teaching degree. More stories and thoughts she shares on her personal blog: http://thisiskatha.blogspot.de/

 

Finding My Niche – An Oxymoron by Cindy Brandt

finding your niche map
Cindy Brandt has written for Communicating Across Boundaries before and today I’m happy to welcome her again with a contribution to the Finding Your Niche series.

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TCKs and “finding your niche” seems to be an oxymoron.

 After all, we are TCKs, Third Culture Kids, as in, they couldn’t fit us in any category so they created an extra option just to throw us all in there.

 We are the miscellaneous crowd. We are the ones who can thoroughly enjoy the company of whoever it is we keep during the day, but when the sun sets, we look in the mirror and see a different color skin, or go home to speak a different language; we don’t ever fully belong anywhere. No matter which group of people we are with, there always seems to be a slice of insider information we can’t access. We scramble to uncover that knowledge, but feels a bit like flailing awkwardly at the fringes of each particular culture.

 I am reminded of my favorite children’s book, Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees. It’s a story of a giraffe named Gerald,

“whose neck was long and slim. His knees were awfully crooked and his legs were rather thin.” 

Each year at the Africa Jungle Dance, he freezes at the thought of dancing in front of his peers with his gangly limbs. Like Gerald, TCKs know intimately the feeling of crippling self-consciousness, and the fear of being found out we are not really one of them.

Of course, there are ways that TCKs are just like other people. We go through normal developmental phases in which we discover our own likes and dislikes; our skills and assets. We have different passions and desire to live into them. It’s just challenging to simultaneously walk this journey of self discovery while skittering on the outskirts of cultural worlds. It’s too difficult to hear the true calling inside of us over the noise of banging cymbals keeping us away from the mainstream.

In order to find our niche, we must cut through the noise and stop being led by fears of exclusion. TCKs are rich with benefits. We make the best spouses, friends, neighbors, and employees by bringing our dynamic stories and a myriad of experiences. We are strong from having endured difficult life transitions, yet sensitive from having been conditioned by a diversity of worldview. We are flexible from years of shifting from one culture to another, yet firm in our convictions having learned to hold on to core values while physically moving to and from. We are not either/or, we are both/and. We may not belong one hundred percent; but we can be one hundred percent present when we show up.

When we dart from one place to another, distracted by finding a place to belong, we miss investing the whole of ourselves in any one single space. In order to find our niche, we must bravely claim the life we’re in and start acting like we have already arrived. We don’t apologize for being different, instead, we bring our divergent ideas to sharpen the existing ones. We don’t dismiss monoculturals around us, instead we listen and learn from them, insistent upon building meaningful relationships. We vehemently find common ground until the fears and lies and insecurities of being excluded melt away by shared passion.

Gerald the giraffe was booed off the dance floor competition because he listened to the voices telling him there is no way he can dance. He retreated into a quiet clearing, lamenting his situation beneath the gleaming moon, when a small cricket coaxed him to cut through the noises of the jungle and listen to the music only he can hear. Slowly, he began moving his body to the rhythm of that music and by the end of the story, every animal stood in awe of his beautiful movements.

We don’t have to flail awkwardly on cultural perimeters. We need not continuously seek approval for being the unique persons we are. We can walk confidently onto the dance floor, clothed in the many colors of our background, take a deep breath, and just begin to dance.

It’s like what Gerald learns by the end of the story:

“We all can dance, if we find music that we love.”

You can find Cindy at ttp://cindywords.com

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