Graduation Gifts for Your TCK

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Every where I look I see graduations. Cambridge and Boston are alive with the activity and color of students who have finished their college or graduate school education. From the bright red gowns of Boston University to the maroon gowns of Harvard, you can’t escape this season. And neither can your third culture kid who may be far away from the landscape of Harvard and Cambridge.

You have watched this young one grow from doing the toddler waddle to confidently crossing the globe alone. And now they are graduating. They are leaving the tight expat or missionary community that has loved them well and they are moving on to college and another life. What do you get them? How do you express what you feel as you say goodbye? Besides writing them a note – which is the best idea possible – here are some tangible gifts for your TCK.

Journals 

Books

  • Finding Home – a set of essays in an e-book compiled by writer Rachel Pieh Jones. These are written by either third culture kids or their parents and address a number of areas that are pertinent to the TCK.
  • The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton, This is a delightful read that looks at the “pleasure of anticipation, allure of the exotic, and the value of noticing everything!”
  • Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging – this was my first book, and I really do believe it will resonate with many TCKs. If it doesn’t, I promise you your money back!
  • Worlds Apart: A Third Culture Kid’s Journey – my second book and personal story. I’ve included a quote at the end of this post from the book! “We left behind our entire lives the night of graduation. We said goodbye to all we knew.”
  • Misunderstood: The Impact of Growing up Overseas in the 21st Century by Tanya Crossman – Tanya’s book is an excellent read and must have on your TCKs book shelf. Through interviews with over 250 third culture kids she gathers themes and thoughts on belonging, transition, home, and more.
  • Third Culture Kids 3rd Edition: Growing up Among Worlds  by Ruth Van Reken et al. In this 3rd Edition emphasis is on the modern TCK and addressing the impact of technology, cultural complexity, diversity & inclusion and transitions.
  • The Global Nomad’s Guide to University Transition by Tina Quick. This is a guide book to help TCKs understand what takes place in re-entry and/or transition and gives them the tools and strategies they need to not only survive but to thrive in the adjustment. This is the first book written to and for students who have been living outside their “passport” countries but are either returning “home” or transitioning on to another host country for college/university. It addresses the common issues students face when they are making the double transition of not only adjusting to a new life stage but to a cultural change as well.
  • Stuff Every Graduate Should Know by Alyssa Favreau. This is not TCK specific, but looks like a great guide to have on hand for life beyond high school.

I am a Triangle Merchandise – The I am a Triangle community is an amazing community of folks from all over the world. It was founded by Naomi Hathaway who has become a dear friend. The I am a Triangle Swag Shop is great for gifts for the global nomad. Mugs, T-shirts, Bags, and Multilingual Hoodies are just a few of the great gifts available.

Phone Charging Passport Holder – I love this! From the command “Just Go!” to the practicality of having the phone charger, this is a great gift for the one who has traveled the world and may worry they will feel stuck.

Plane Ticket or Airline Gift Card – Sounds expensive right? It is and you probably can’t do it, but even for a domestic flight, that TCK will welcome the chance to get on a plane and fly to visit a friend.

Gift Card or Assortment of Gift Cards  –  Target, Forever 21, H & M, Primark, or Amazon. Personalize them by putting each one into a separate envelope using the labels – Dorm, Clothes, Miscellaneous Stuff, Books, Fun.

Visa or American Express Gift Card – I prefer American Express as there is no expiration date and they are amazing at reimbursing lost cards. The trick is to register them, so take that extra step and register the card for them. That way they won’t have to keep track of it.

Map of the World – With gift-ready packaging, this scratch-off map gives a concrete visual for the TCK to remember their previous journeys and look forward to more. Available here and here

Money, Money, Money – I had no idea how much I would need money. As cards were stuffed into my hand in the midst of tearful hugs I didn’t know how life-saving the gifts of cash would be. I still remember a few months later when strapped for cash I pulled out an envelope, and opened it with a grateful “God bless Auntie Connie for this money!”


Exerpt from Worlds Apart: A Third Culture Kid’s Journey

Graduation Night: 

The magnitude of what I was leaving was not completely lost to me that night. Even in the midst of the goodbyes, I felt my throat catch. But as I look back I am overwhelmed by it. We left behind our entire lives the night of graduation. We said goodbye to all we knew. For the rest of our lives we would struggle to answer the question, “Where are you from?” We would rage at those who attacked our adopted country, even as we raged at Pakistan herself. Some of us would be accused of crying “every time a cow died in Pakistan.” Others stoically moved forward, silent about the impact of being raised in another world.

As for me, I went back that night to the cottage where we had set up our home for the past few weeks of summer. Suitcases and bags sat on beds and chairs throughout the cottage. It was beginning to echo with the empty place we would leave behind, and it smelled musty and damp, the effects of monsoon season already begun. Crying had to wait, there was still packing to do. But how do you pack up a life? I stayed up to gather the remainder of my possessions, putting them into an old green suitcase, and finally fell asleep to the sounds of monsoon rain on the tin roof.

The next day I would leave Pakistan and never sleep in this house again, never walk up the hill to catch the school bus. The final chapter of life as a child in Pakistan had ended. I was the baby turtle, making its way slowly to the sea. No one could do it for me. In order to survive and thrive, I had to do it by myself.

Born to Belong

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“When you’ve spent your whole life as a cultural chameleon, you end up not knowing what color you were when you started, who you might have been had you been from someplace, what it feels like to belong fully to a people, a tribe, a neighborhood, a city.” from Rachel Hicks in “To My Adult TCK Self: I See You”

In The Weight of Glory, in a chapter based on a lecture called “The Inner Ring”, C.S. Lewis takes a profound look at belonging, specifically at our desire to belong.

“I believe that in all men’s lives at certain periods, and in many men’s lives at all periods between infancy and extreme old age, one of the most dominant elements is the desire to be inside the local Ring and the terror of being left outside.”(Lewis)

The Inner Ring is that elusive place of belonging that is just beyond our reach, just past our grasp. Because once we have reached that inner ring and we begin to settle and think we’ve finally found a place to belong, we realize there is a ring beyond that —and once we’ve gotten to that ring, there’s a ring beyond that still. It is a never-ending quest.

I write about this in Between Worlds, but just writing about something doesn’t take it away. This struggle to belong is human, hard, and never-ending.

We are born to belong. 

A number of years ago, my husband was dropping off my son at a birthday party. Another kid from the class was in the car as he and my son had worked on a class project that morning. When my husband made the plan to drive him home, it made sense that he would combine the trips. We assumed that the birthday party would just have a couple of kids at it. When they arrived at the house where the birthday party was being held, a huge crowd of boys descended on the car welcoming our son. In fact, it appeared the entire class had been invited except for the boy in our car. The boy was crushed. We unwittingly participated in a kid realizing he had been left out, realizing he was not invited to that particular inner ring. It was completely accidental, but it still happened.

If we’re honest we will admit that we all know what it feels like. The stomach-knotting knowledge that we weren’t invited, that we don’t belong. Our first memories of being left out can be as simple, yet painful, as not being invited to a birthday party or as complicated as becoming a part of a blended family, where suddenly we realize the family we thought we belonged to no longer exists. The desire to belong and the feelings that arise when we realize we don’t are part of the human dilemma.

In elementary school that inner ring and quest to belong is the group of girls that excludes us. They are a part of Something Special and we don’t belong. It’s that group in middle school that get together every Friday night and we’re not invited, that group in high school that bears the name and reputation ‘cool’ and no matter how hard we try, we do not know cool. Though we would like it to stop there, it often continues. It’s college, then young adulthood, then work and getting into that inner, secure, exclusive place. It’s church and those people who are in that inner circle, the circle that seems so godly and confident, the one that we wish we belonged to. And yet when we get close, there’s something beyond that circle, just out of our grasp.

We constantly look to that place of belonging, the inner ring that seems so secure, that tells us we have ‘arrived, yet it continually eludes us.

Third culture kids can find this particularly difficult as they straddle many worlds and places. Each place has its own inner ring, each group its own rules. We don’t belong to our passport countries; nor do we fully belong to those other countries where we leave pieces of our lives. Keeping parts of ourselves hidden becomes a necessity because explaining is too difficult.

And yet, it is such a gift. To be able to know what it is to be other in our world of massive displacement is nothing less than a gift. A strange gift perhaps, but a gift nonetheless. The only way to break this cycle of the inner ring is to embrace the gift of not belonging. This echoes Lewis’ response to the “Inner Ring” dilemma. “The quest of the Inner Ring will break your hearts unless you break it.” If we break this cycle, we may still find ourselves on the outside, but it will no longer be a burden, we will no longer wear ourselves out by trying so hard to make it inside. Instead we will find a place, sometimes in the most unlikely of circles.

I have slowly come to this place. I don’t even really know when I first realized that I was no longer striving to be part of the inner ring and I wish it had not taken so long. Somehow the quest to belong, that burden on my back since boarding school days of popular groups and cliques, has slowly but steadily been broken. In some mysterious and completely inexplicable way, I belong.

To be sure there are days when I find myself wandering back to the place of inner rings and the quest to belong. But as I begin to try to worm my way into those rings, something always stops me. I remember what it was to strive so hard that I lost my way. I remember that knowing what it is to not belong brings understanding and eyes to see the one at the edges, the one on the margins who sits in the shadows, aching to belong. A voice inside reminds me that my identity is in something so much bigger and greater than any inner ring. It’s in the knowledge that I am loved by God, created to reflect his glory until all inner rings have faded and time stretches into eternity. 

Belonging….doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are. – Brené Brown in Daring Greatly

Thinking of a graduation gift for TCKs? Worlds Apart: A Third Culture Kid’s Journey may be a good option! Worlds Apart v2

If You Had a Few Weeks to Live, Where Would You Go?

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If you had a few weeks to live, where would you go?

A few years ago, writer Roger Cohen asked this question in an opinion piece in the New York Times called “In Search of Home.” He talked about the “landscape of childhood” that place of “unfiltered experience, of things felt rather than thought through, of the world in its beauty absorbed before it is understood, of patterns and sounds that lodge themselves in some indelible place in the psyche and call out across the years.”*

There are places in our world that have to take us in, and then there are those places of our greatest connection and comfort. They are often two completely different places.

We are living in a time of unprecedented loneliness; a time where millions feel like outsiders but rarely express those feelings. Cohen says that if you dig in to the underlying cause of depression in many people, you will discover that “their distress at some level is linked to a sense of not fitting in, an anxiety about belonging: displacement anguish.” 

Writer James Wood calls this “contemporary homelessness” the issue of our time. The immigrant, the refugee, the expat, the third culture kid, the military kid, the military family, the diplomat, the person who moves coast to coast and back again in the same country – all of us live in places where home is hard to define, perhaps even harder to feel.

So, if you had a few weeks to live, where would you go? Merely asking the question can make one anxious. How can I pick one place? And yet, when James Wood asked Christopher Hitchens where he would go if he had a few weeks to live, Mr. Hitchens did not hestitate. He immediately said it would be his childhood home. This is one of the things that distinguishes those raised in one place to those raised in many: our responses, not only to the question of where is home, but to other, more abstract questions about place and connection to place.

My response reflects a life lived between. 

I would book a flight to my places – Egypt and Pakistan. I would take a Felucca ride on the Nile River on a late June afternoon, where breezes are slow in coming but the air is cool and laden with jasmine. I would sit on my friend Marty’s balcony and drink coffee or one of her famous mango smoothies. I would book a room at the Marriott Hotel overlooking the gardens. I would sit outside until late at night, sipping a fresh lime and soda, listening to the sounds of the city from the cocoon of a beautiful garden. Then I would pack my bags, trading the sound of palms swaying for the sound of pine trees in the mountains of Murree. I would visit the school in Pakistan that shaped me, and whisper words of gratitude.

I would move on to Sindh where dust-colored bouganvillea crawl up old brick houses. I would visit dear friends and eat curry until my nose runs. I would sit on the floor in a hot church service, ceiling fans whirring above me, and belt out Punjabi songs of worship. I would sing loud and not care if I got the words wrong. I would catch a flight to Karachi and go to Hawkes Bay for a day and bargain at Bohri Bazaar for brightly colored shalwar and chemise outfits that I don’t need. I would say my goodbyes to a country that profoundly shaped who I am and what I love.

I would arrive in the United States at Terminal E, exhausted but glowing with the joy of life.  I would go to Rockport where I would gather my kids and others I love together at Emerson Inn. We would watch the sun rise over the rocky coast, and then it would be over. I will have said my goodbyes.

I laugh as I write this. Christopher Hitchens response was short and pointed “No, I’d go to Dartmoor, without a doubt.” Dartmoor was the landscape of his childhood. But even when given a limited time period, I can’t pick just one place. I still choose to live between.At the deepest core, I am a nomad who can’t contain the worlds within, nor would I want to. The exercise shows me that I would not choose any other life or any other way, and my heart fills with gratitude. I am too fortunate.


I, like many of this era, am a nomad rich with diverse experiences, yet will never be able to collect all of my place and people-specific memories together in one place, in one time. Saudade: a song for the modern soul.- Karen Noiva


HOW ABOUT YOU? IF YOU HAD A FEW WEEKS LEFT TO LIVE, WHERE WOULD YOU GO?

*In Search of Home by Roger Cohen

Living Between Worlds

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ReadersThird Culture Kids 3rd Edition Growing up Among Worlds came out yesterday! I couldn’t be happier about this new edition and the emphasis on today’s TCK that includes information on technology, cultural complexity, and more information for educators and those that work with TCKs. In honor of this new release I am reposting a piece that I wrote three years ago for A Life Overseas. Enjoy and take a look at the new edition of what we term the TCK “Bible”.


For as long as I can remember I have lived between worlds.

My first memories of life are from a rooftop in the southern area of Pakistan. The high, flat roof surrounded by walls was a perfect place to keep cool when the hot months came in early May. We slept on rope beds covered in mosquito netting able to feel an almost cool breeze after sundown.

Mosques surrounded our house on all four sides, their minarets stately and tall against the desert sky. While on the inside prayer times and Bibles sustained us, on the outside we were minorities in a Muslim world where the call to prayer echoed out over the city five times a day and ordered the lives of all those around us.

When you grow up between worlds the research on identity formation does not apply in quite the same way. Instead, you move back and forth as one whose identity is being forged and shaped between two, often conflicting, cultures. “A British child taking toddling steps on foreign soil or speaking his or her first words in Chinese with an amah (nanny) has no idea of what it means to be human yet, let alone “British.” He or she simply responds to what is happening in the moment” (Pollock and Van Reken, 2001).

 There is now documented research that identifies some of the strengths and weaknesses that are part of growing up between worlds.

Here are some of the strengths that the third culture kid develops through living between worlds:

Cross-cultural skills

From their early years, third culture kids interact and enjoy ‘difference.’  They often take on various characteristics from the cultures where they have lived. They don’t see difference as good or bad – just different. This gives them a huge advantage in our global world. To be able to interact across cultural values and differences is a gift that is inherent to who they are.

Adaptability

Third culture kids show amazing ability to adapt across cultures. They are as comfortable in a crowded bazaar in a large city in Asia as they are in a pub in England. They blend with seeming ease into whatever setting they are thrown into – as long as it is outside their passport country!

Maturity

Often third culture kids are seen as more mature than their counterparts in their passport countries. They easily interact with adults two and three times their age and can see things from a more mature perspective.

Global view of the world

The worldview of the third culture kid is broad and wide. They often look around a room and think – “am I the only one who sees things this way?” People, governments, cultures, and countries all over the world have shaped them and it is impossible for them to have a one-dimensional worldview.

 Flexibility

The third culture kid has learned how to be flexible and adjust their behavior to fit the situation. This flexibility can be a tremendous gift, particularly in rapidly changing situations.

Bridge-builders

Third culture kids are natural bridge builders. They are often able to see both sides of a situation and help to negotiate a successful outcome or interaction. This is an invaluable skill set and they often look for jobs that will allow them to function in this role.

With every strength comes a weakness and the successful third culture kid learns to recognize their weaknesses.

Some of those include: 

Insecurity

There can be profound feelings of insecurity related to one’s passport culture. The sense of not belonging can come in unexpected places and spaces and result in precarious footing – like you’re on a cliff and one step in the wrong direction could send you hurtling into a place where you will get badly injured. Food, dress, cultural do’s and don’ts can all feel foreign, and with that cause a distrust of one’s ability to navigate

Unresolved grief and loss           

Dave Pollock articulated the profound grief and loss piece of a third culture upbringing in this statement: “Most TCKs go through more grief experiences by the time they are 20 than monocultural individuals do in a lifetime.”There is so much more to say about this, but just know that this grief is real, the losses are real, and with real grief and loss comes the need for real healing.

Arrogance

Arrogance is often insecurity by another name. When the third culture kid feels ‘other’ they resort to coping mechanisms. This can come off as profound arrogance and result in exactly the opposite of what they really want – cause further alienation and feelings of being ‘other’ when what is longed for is connection and understanding.This can turn into a vicious cycle for the TCK and needs to be addressed for what it is – a deep insecurity with who they are within the context of their passport culture.

Difficulty planting roots

When your roots are everywhere, they can feel like they are nowhere. When the third culture kid tries to transition from a global background to a life of less movement it can be unsettling. As much as they may say they want roots, the tug of the airport, the feel of the airplane, the sense of hopeful expectation that comes from travel has been a part of their lives for as long as they can remember. Releasing this and exchanging it for roots is a huge step, and not one that is made easily.

While this is in no way an exhaustive list, it is a good start to recognizing strengths and weaknesses. When we name something, we have more power over it. When I name insecurity, I can address it for what it is. When I admit to grief and loss, I can begin to heal.

So how can you help your third culture kid as they live between worlds? The one you love more than life itself, the one who you’ve heard crying into the night, even as you face your own losses? Much has been written on this and there are some excellent resources available. But here are a couple of thoughts that have recently come up in conversation with other third culture kids. 

Here is what helped me – perhaps it will help the kids you know who are living between worlds. 

Name the losses

Naming the losses, identifying those things they long and grieve for legitimizes their grief. They no longer have to keep these feelings bottled up, dismissing them as unimportant. Naming their losses helps them face and deal with those losses. Naming them begins the important process of healing. Naming the losses can feel disloyal for a third culture kid, particularly if they have a good relationship with their parents. They don’t want to appear ungrateful or hurt their mom and dad. Because of this, it is often best done with a neutral person, one who will not feel hurt by this process.

Express feelings of restlessness

The third culture kid needs to be able to express their restlessness without parents or other loved ones becoming defensive and telling them how lucky they are to be where they are, to have the background they have had. The TCK experience is best captured by the word “Saudade”a Portuguese word that has no English equivalent. It is an indolent wistfulness for what no longer exists.  “Killing the Saudade” (Another Portuguese phrase) happens when they can get together with like-minded friends and express their restlessness, talk about home or the last place they lived, eat familiar foods, and reconnect with those from their past. Killing the saudade really works. It is an effective tool to address the restlessness and move forward in the places where we are planted.

Journal life events

Some of the fears of the third culture kid is that they will forget; that these places that hold such a big part of their heart and soul will be relegated to distant memories, and soon be gone. Journaling these events, even if they happened long ago, helps to remind the TCK of the gift of a global upbringing. Journaling can help the TCK process thoughts and memories.

Tell their story

As parents, it is easy for us to want to tell the story – but our kids have a story as well, and it is vital that they learn to tell it, that they own their story. If we are the ones hijacking the story, they never learn to take hold of it as their own. Part of their story is connecting their multicultural past to a meaningful present. We can’t do it for them, but we can encourage them along the way, encourage them to develop their own voices, separate from those of parents and siblings, remind them of who they are through their story. When they learn to tell their stories, they are better able to hear the stories of others, to recognize that everyone has a story. 

It is these things that have led me to tell my own story, to write, to reflect, to describe – “my memory may be biased, or relayed in a way that my mom would say ‘that’s not quite the way it happened,’ but it is inalienably mine.”*

“In Exodus God repeatedly tells the people of Israel to remember their story, to remember their beginning, to remember who they are. Later, exiled in Babylon, unable to return home, they were to remember their stories – stories of wonder and deliverance, of the power of God and His provision. They were to remember their beginnings.” from Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging, July 1st, 2014 Doorlight Publications.


Books on Third Culture Kids:

  • Third Culture Kids 3rd Edition Growing Up Among Worlds “Growing up as a TCK has been a gift and has significantly shaped my life and work. As I interact with world leaders one day and with those living in refugee camps the next, I continually draw upon my experience of living among different cultures. I am delighted to see the lessons learned from the traditional TCK experience live on in this new edition of ‘Third Culture Kids’.”―Scott Gration, Maj Gen, USAF (Ret), President Obama’s Special Envoy to Sudan
  • Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging. The book is a set of essays on living between and is divided into 7 sections: Home, Identity, Belonging, Airports, Grief & Loss, Culture Clash, and Goodbyes set the stage for individual essays within each section.
  • Worlds Apart: A Third Culture Kid’s Journey. A personal journey on Pakistan, belonging, and faith that may resonate with others who have lived between.

My prayer is that somehow, by the grace of God, these books will resonate with others who are living a life between worlds,  so that others can remember their story and know it was worth it.

*From Kebabs in Jalalabad in Between Worlds – Essays on Culture and Belonging

 

Quotes on “Third Culture Kids”

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The study of the third culture kid perspective is not static. Every year, new information and quotes can be found. I’ve compiled this short list of TCK quotes for you today. There are many, many more – but these are some that I have gathered or written the past few years. Please add to this list in the comment section! 

“A British child taking toddling steps on foreign soil or speaking his or her firstwords in Chinese with an amah (nanny) has no idea of what it means to be human yet, let alone ‘British.’ He or she simply responds to what is happening in the moment” (Pollock and Van Reken, 2001)

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One of the quickest ways to damage the heart of a TCK is to outlaw negative emotions (grief, anger, disappointment, etc.). Tell them they shouldn’t feel something, or that they just need to suck it up, or that their feelings show a lack of gratefulness. Yup, that’ll do it. But, and this is the great part, allowing a TCK to experience the full range of emotions is one of the most caring things you can do. It’s also one of the healthiest things you can do. – Jonathan Trotter in 3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your TCK

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“A global soul is a person who had grown up in many cultures all at once – and so lived in the cracks between them.”– Pico Iyer

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The journeying reality of the adult third culture kid is connecting our multicultural past with something that feels meaningful; connecting our invisible skills to a visible occupation.- Marilyn Gardner

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Sometimes it’s 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 ways that everything got woven together for me to be where I am now.” – Olga Mecking

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“The answer to the question of how long it takes them to adjust to American life is: they never adjust. They adapt, they find niches, they take risks, they fail and pick themselves up again. They succeed in jobs they have created to fit their particular talents, they locate friends with whom they can share some of their interests, but they resist being encapsulated. Their camouflaged exteriors and understated ways of presenting themselves hide the rich inner lives, remarkable talents, and often strongly held contradictory opinions on the world at large and the world at hand.” – Dr. Ruth Useem

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“Seeing a world we loved disappear out a tiny airplane window as the plane lifts off and flies away. If we’re lucky, it circles once so we can take a last full look at a place we once called home.” – Jennie Legate

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“Our generation is in need of voices with storied backgrounds. TCKs who participate in a faith community are equipped to bring about a certain vitality and prophetic voice. They embody a different story to congregations with a single narrative. In this fast paced society of sound bytes and noise, we need the sharpened clarity brought by multiple cultural lenses, a valued asset TCKs possess. They live outside the box, upset the status quo, captivate larger dreams, and compel those around us to examine preconceived notions and to live with deeper integrity and passion.” – Cindy Brandt in Third Culture Kids in the World of Faith

so, here you are. Too foreign for home, too foreign for here. never enough for both. – ijeoma umebinyuo

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There are a group of us who bear no identifying marks. We don’t have the same accent, we don’t pronounce or even necessarily spell words the same way. We can’t tell one another at first glance. We don’t wear the “home team” t-shirt.But when we meet, and we know we’ve met, it’s like we’re from the same place. We greet each other, we carry on, we tell stories, we laugh wholeheartedly. It doesn’t matter the age difference, the nationality, the gender. We connect. – Robynn Bliss in TCK Reunions – An Invisible Bond

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“No generation before now has had so many of its members simultaneously living in, between, and among countless cultural worlds as is happening today.” – Lois Bushong

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“Any third culture kid who lives effectively in her passport country has a moment of truth when she realizes it’s okay to live here; it’s okay to adjust; it’s okay, even if she never feels fully at home, to feel a level of comfort in who she is in her passport country. To adapt doesn’t mean settling for second best. To adapt is to use the gifts she developed through her childhood in order to transcend cultures and to find her niche in both worlds.” – Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging

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“Our homes are not defined by geography or one particular location, but by memories, events, people and places that span the globe.” – Marilyn Gardner

What quotes about TCKs do you love? Please join the conversation in the comment section! 

Resource: Top Ten Tips for Counseling Third Culture Kids

Always Too Foreign

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On Mother’s Day, my youngest son enters the house. “Today is a good day to read Between Worlds” he says.

I look at him puzzled. “Why’s that?” The answer comes quickly: “Because I’m your son.”

For better or for worse, we who have lived between pass on the in between to our children. We who are “always too foreign” give birth or adopt children who will absorb this, and cry out in their own pain.

So I go looking for expressions of between, and I don’t have to look far. I find a brilliant Nigerian poet, and after two poems I know she is my favorite.  I offer them to you who live between. You – the foreigner. You – the one who absorbed your parents’ in between.

At the embassy,

they never warned us that some days, 

America will feel so lonely,

we will gather our mother tongue,

hastily swallowing words that reminds us of home to keep warm.

******

i have a special place in my heart for children who calmly translate for their parents. so proud of how they switch their tongue, carrying two languages in their mouth without ever feeling like their parents are a burden. bless your hearts.

*****

So, here you are

too foreign for home

too foreign for here.

never enough for both.

“Diaspora Blues” by Ijeoma Umebinyuo

Note: You can buy Ijeoma’s book of poetry here. 

Like a Dead Man

machine-Anne Lamott

One day last fall I was speaking to my priest about self-centeredness and pride. In the course of our conversation, he relayed to me this story: It seems a man came to a priest one day and asked him how he should deal with people who praise him as well as with those who criticize him. The priest looked at him and told him to go to see a man who lay dead in a room, waiting to be buried. “Go and ask him what you just asked me and see what he says,” said the priest.

The man was puzzled but this was his spiritual father, so he did what he asked. When he came back to the priest, the Father asked him what had happened. “Well, nothing,” said the man “he was dead.”

“Then that is how you are to react to both of those  things.” said the priest. “Like a dead man.” 

I love this story because I struggle with both of those things. How do I act when people criticize and how do I act when people praise. I am incredibly sensitive to words and opinion. Far too sensitive. It is one of the things that I have had to learn as a nurse – when a doctor, another colleague, or a patient yelled at me, angry with what I was or wasn’t doing, I wanted to fall apart. I wanted to hide myself away and be able to cry until there was nothing left of me. But that wasn’t going to work as a nurse. I had to face it and act like nothing happened.

So why am I blogging about this? Because this past week Between Worlds came out on Kindle. Not only did it come out, but for a limited time it is free. I am delighted and overwhelmed by the response. It has been shared over and over – and I am glad! I want it to be available to people overseas who can’t buy it from Amazon. But there is another thing happening here. I’m also aware that the more people read it, the more vulnerable I become to criticism. Everyone will not like it. Everyone will not think it was worth publishing. There will be those who verbalize this in any way possible.

Because that’s who we are as humans. We find our own opinions valuable and feel they will benefit others. 

And so I go back to the story of the man who asked a dead man how to respond to both praise and criticism — and I find that is what I want to do. Perhaps not totally dead – but comatose, with a mere nod and squeezing of the hand that I hear the words, but they will not affect the core of who I am. Because I know this – I don’t want either criticism or pride to prevent me from doing what I have grown to love. 

Anne Lamott, a well-loved author, wrote a book on writing called Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and LifeMy friend Robynn gave me a copy this summer and I have loved reading it, underlining and nodding through the entire book. Because it’s not just about writing, it’s about the human condition and our insecurity, our anxiety, our fear of failure. In her case these things manifest themselves in the response to her writing, in other people these things may raise their strong, ugly heads over other things.

As I think about reacting as a dead man to praise and criticism, I also realize that there are those, like Lamott, who have walked this road a lot longer and open themselves up to far more criticism than I ever will. And so I close with some of the quotes that are helping me as I navigate this world of writing.

“You are lucky to be one of those people who wishes to build sand castles with words, who is willing to create a place where your imagination can wander. We build this place with the sand of memories; these castles are our memories and inventiveness made tangible. So part of us believes that when the tide starts coming in, we won’t really have lost anything, because actually only a symbol of it was there in the sand. Another part of us thinks we’ll figure out a way to divert the ocean. This is what separates artists from ordinary people: the belief, deep in our hearts, that if we build our castles well enough, somehow the ocean won’t wash them away. I think this is a wonderful kind of person to be.”
Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

“If something inside of you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act—truth is always subversive.”

“What if you wake up some day, and you’re 65… and you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to have a big juicy creative life?”

and finally:

Don’t look at your feet to see if you are doing it right. Just dance.

How about you? Do you find yourself vulnerable to praise and criticism? If so how have you handled it? 

[All quotes from Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life]

Books and Book Launches

Last night was the official book launch of Between Worlds.

My family was a tremendous source of help and affirmation as we moved into this event. And I was excited – to have people over, to serve Sangria and Proseco, crackers & fancy cheese, to have a summer party – and maybe to sell a few books on the side.

But two hours before the event I suddenly went into a panic. Who did I think I was? Why would anyone want to come? How could I have ever thought that I could do this thing – this writing of a book? Worse – how could I possibly believe that it was worth reading?

It was like riding a bike, my hair flying in the wind, so free, so excited – and then suddenly, I tripped over a curb and I lay there sprawled on the ground, bruised knees and ego, tears forming as unconcerned onlookers hid their laughter from this unfortunate little girl.

It was a monster of self-loathing rearing its ugly head and suddenly I was this little kid again, a little girl trying to Be Somebody. A 6-year-old at boarding school afraid of the Big Kids. A freshman in high school afraid of America. A 36-year-old mom thinking she could never, ever live well in this country called the ‘United States.’

These monsters of thought attack at our most vulnerable points and we’re left trying to fight them off with inadequate weapons.

It was too late to cancel – and we had some mighty good food, so good in fact that I couldn’t bear to let it go to waste.

Who should come to the rescue but someone I’ve never met who has encouraged me deeply these past couple of years. Because as I lay on the couch with my aching feet propped on Turkish pillows I opened my email to a message from someone who reads and has written for Communicating Across Boundaries – Jenni Gate of Nomad Trails and Tales. 

And she said this:

Hi Marilyn,

Just wanted to let you know I posted a review for you today. Here’s the permalink: 

With her email came a moment of grace and clarity. Okay – Between Worlds will never be a best seller and who cares? What matters is the connections that have happened because of this book. The reconnecting with old friends, the making of new ones, the holding fast to truth about living between worlds and communicating that truth beyond my immediate world.

So with that I moved forward and it was a great time! A time of talking and laughing, a time of meeting with others who know this journey, a time of introducing people to each other and having them recognize commonalities.

This is the best of living between worlds – being able to connect at deep levels in places that all of us sometimes struggle to call home.

Thanks for journeying with me! Here are a few pictures to take a look at and enjoy of the event. And a fun, 7 second video with my friend Heather.

How about you? Where do monsters of self-loathing attack? Maybe not at a book launch, but surely, as humans we all experience this in some form or other. What do you do when they attack? Who comes to your rescue? 

Book launch from Marilyn Gardner on Vimeo.

We Have a Winner!

Readers – I’m behind on almost everything these days including the book give away! 523 people entered the GoodReads Giveaway and 75 people entered the Communicating Across Boundaries Giveaway.

The two people who will receive books from the GoodReads giveaway are Andrea Ozment from the state of Tennessee and Jennifer Helinek from Pennsylvania.

The winner of the Communicating Across Boundaries book contest is Judy Daudt! Congratulations Judy!

I don’t know Judy but I know from her comment that she works with TCKs at a small university and she is a regular reader of Communicating Across Boundaries! Thanks to all of you who entered the contest.

Stay tuned for another giveaway later in the summer. 

For now – if you buy Between Worlds between now and August 9 all proceeds will go toward Syrian Refugees affected by the now 3-year old conflict. Here is what a recent Amazon reviewer says:

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful

By K. Lloyd Warford on July 28, 2014

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase

“My own experience and the circumstances of my childhood as a military dependent were very different from those of Marilyn Gardner’s childhood but the emotional journey she shares in “Between Worlds” is remarkably similar to my own. When Marilyn describes sipping tea with friends in a Chai shop in Pakistan her words capture perfectly the bittersweet feelings such memories hold for third culture kids and others who have lived abroad. I have never been to Pakistan or known the taste of chai but her story ignites my own journey back almost 40 years to sunny afternoons at a Bratwurst stand in Bitburg, Germany. I laughed out loud reading about how she fought off her nomadic urge to move by rearranging the furniture. She captured the confusion and fear one feels when leaving a place you know and love to go to a place where you don’t know a living soul and have never lived before; a place you have been taught to call “home.” She describes perfectly the frustration third culture kids experience when they feel the need to edit their life story to keep new friends from thinking they are bragging or being snobbish. I could go on but suffice it to say this book moved me and helped me better understand my own nomadic childhood and the role it still plays in who I am today.”

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Screen Shot 2014-07-16 at 4.47.35 PMSo: Buy Between Worlds. Between Worlds, Essays on Culture and Belonging  a set of essays on living between worlds today. The book is divided into 7 sections and each section is illustrated by my talented daughter – Annie Gardner. Home, Identity, Belonging, Airports, Grief & Loss, Culture Clash, and Goodbyes set the stage for the individual essays within each section. Available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

If you live in the Boston area, I would love to have you come to a book launch on August 10. Contact me for more details at communicatingblog@gmail.com!

Lastly — the whole world has felt desperately sad lately and with that, it is difficult to know how to respond to the good in our lives, that which is not hard, that which needs to be celebrated. I am convinced that  joy and grief, tears and laughter can coexist without guilt but with thankfulness and clear recognition of grace. So this weekend my prayer is that insanity will be replaced by sanity, that grief will give way to joy, that laughter will be heard in your world.

A Quote and a GoodReads Giveaway

I talked about my favorite book the other day — the book Christy.  Several of you said you loved it as well. A reader, Christie, who has been living in Melbourne, Australia the last few years and has been going through the reentry process, said that she loved it so much she memorized the last 10 lines of the book. Today, because this week has held so much awful and evil on the worldwide stage, I’m leaving you my favorite quote from Christie.

“Evil is real – and powerful. It has to be fought, not explained away, not fled. And God is against evil all the way. So each of us has to decide where WE stand, how we’re going to live our lives. We can try to persuade ourselves that evil doesn’t exist; live for ourselves and wink at evil. We can say that it isn’t so bad after all, maybe even try to call it fun by clothing it in silks and velvets. We can compromise with it, keep quiet about it and say it’s none of our business. Or we can work on God’s side, listen for His orders on strategy against the evil, no matter how horrible it is, and know that He can transform it.”
― Catherine MarshallChristy

May you rest well this weekend.

ATTENTION:  Not only is there a giveaway on Communicating Across Boundaries – there is also a giveaway on GoodReads! Take a look and enter by clicking the link below.

FBetween Worlds Essays on culture and belonging by Marilyn Gardner

Between Worlds Essays on culture and belonging

by Marilyn Gardner

Giveaway ends July 27, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at GoodReads.

Enter to win

The Wonder of a Book

Boston is bathed in fog and rain. Sometimes it’s a light rain, other times it’s torrential and the humidity makes everything stick. Our bedroom door squeals in pain as it shuts and clothes and sheets are all damp. It reminds me a bit of monsoon rains growing up – except that the monsoon lasted for six to eight weeks.

And all I want to do is curl up with a book. Work feels so unnecessary in the summer. I have the second Harry Potter book by my bedside, the one where Dudley has turned into a fat teenager and Harry doesn’t make it to Platform 9 3/4. I promised my children that this year would be the year I read all of them. It’s an exciting goal.

Growing up my favorite book on ever earth was Christy by Catherine Marshall.

It was a thick, dog-eared paperback that sat on our bookshelf, just waiting for me to read it during my 3-month winter vacation from boarding school. On the cover a beautiful, smiling woman was on a hillside, her face to the sun – young and hopeful. Christy was the first book I read that could probably be considered ‘historical fiction.’ The story was based on the author, Catherine Marshall’s, mother, who left a wealthy southern family in Asheville, North Carolina to go to Appalachia and teach for a year in a one-room school house. Appalachia was an impoverished community with multiple problems miles away from Asheville in both distance and resources, The book chronicles her journey of learning to love a people and a place, understanding for the first time in her life what it meant to be privileged, how to respond to poverty, and most importantly – what it was to recognize and face evil.

Through the story of Christy I fell in love with the character, her students, and all of Appalachia. I lived out her story and every year I would re-read the book.

There was a lot of time to read during our winter vacations and daily you could see one or more of us in a spot in the house reading. Our imaginations could go from a Swiss mountain boarding school to a South African mansion; from a brownstone in Brooklyn to an imaginary land called Narnia; from the search for a treasure in a mountain by small people who loved parties to the ocean with some Bobbsey Twins. We traveled everywhere through Child Craft, Reader’s Digest Condensed Books, and anything else we could get our hands and eyes on.

There is magic in a book.

And yesterday my very own book arrived – oh yes it did! It arrived in a large box around six in the evening. I saw it outside and ran to get it. The rest of the family were in their separate spaces and so I had this moment alone opening the box. Nothing prepared me for the feeling. The cover is so beautiful — I held it like I would a baby. And then I opened it and there it was. Words I had written, descriptions I crafted, thoughts and beliefs I have. In the big scheme of things this is so little, in the small scheme of things it feels so big and unexpected, such an incredible gift. 

And so today I am announcing a book giveaway. In the next week if you leave a comment here on the blog, send an email to communicatingblog@gmail.com, leave a comment on the Communicating Across Boundaries Facebook page, OR put a link to the book on your own Facebook page and tell others about it, then you will be eligible to win a copy of Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging. In a week’s time I will put all the names of those who have contacted me through any of the listed methods, and put them into a computer program that will shuffle them and spit out a winner! I am excited to give away one or two copies of the book. I will send them your way, complete with a discussion guide that you can use on your own or in a small group setting.

Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging is not a suspense thriller that will make you curl up until two in the morning, flashlight under your covers, reading as though your life (definitely the life of the character) depended on it. But my hope is that it will be a book you read and nod and think – “yeah, I’ve felt that. I’ve been there.”

I thank all of you from deep within my heart that you have read and encouraged me enough to have the courage to write. 

Now – Let the games begin!

Remember – there are 4 ways to do this:

  • Comment on the blog 
  • Send an email to communicatingblog@gmail.com
  • Leave a comment on the CAB Facebook page! 
  • Put a link for Between Worlds on your Facebook page!  http://amzn.com/0983865388

Thank you so much for reading and encouraging through this process, for being a part of this journey! 

Between Worlds. Between Worlds, Essays on Culture and Belonging is a set of essays on living between. The book is divided into 7 sections and each section is illustrated by my talented daughter – Annie Gardner. Home, Identity, Belonging, Airports, Grief & Loss, Culture Clash, and Goodbyes set the stage for the individual essays within each section.

Share your favorite book and why in the comments! 

When You Realize You Can Love Two Places and Not be Disloyal

Statue and skyline of Boston

The view of Boston took my breath away. “This is such a pretty city!” I thought to myself. The sky was a perfect, clear, June-blue. The Boston Harbor was to the left of me and the ocean and buildings farther on were sparkling, sunlight reflected in remarkable ways off water and glass. The Zakim bridge with its tall obelisk in the center was directly in front of me as I drove into the city.

Boston is a small city and considered number 3 in the “Most walkable cities in the United States.” Millions of visitors come to Boston every year from all over the world. Despite the reputation for awful weather and sometimes rude and apathetic residents, Boston is beloved. When the 2013 Boston Marathon was bombed over a year ago, resulting in many injuries and three deaths, support poured in from all over the world. ‘Boston Strong’ t-shirts found their way to roadside kiosks in record time and the spirit of loyalty was strong in this city.

Hosting world-renowned educational institutions, sports teams, a rich history and with that, many historical sites to visit,Boston is an amazing city.

Only it has taken me awhile to realize it.

The view I described above was from the Tobin Bridge leading the traveler into Boston. I was returning from an out-of-town work trip and it was with a small breath of surprise that I realized that I love this city.

It’s taken a long time. When your heart is shaped by a place a world away, it’s hard to reshape it. The mold is broken and a new mold has to be created. But before your heart can be shaped in the new mold, it has to soften. And for a long time my heart was hard.

I couldn’t love this city. Because if I did it meant that I no longer loved the places I had come from, the places that shaped me since birth. Or I didn’t love them enough. My loyalty would be suspect. If I admitted that this city and the city of Cambridge were entering my blood stream, were becoming a significant part of my story, and with that a part of my identity, my identity would face a crisis. I had crafted my “I”m not from here!” identity and spoke it loud and clear in a crisp, non New England accent. I feared that if I changed the narrative, then the places that shaped me would fade too far in the background, a mere memory in photo albums.

What I forgot is that the human capacity to love, to loyalty is incredible. It is not being disloyal to love two places at once. It’s healthy to know you can use the amazing skill sets of adaptability and cultural competency to feel at ease in bargaining in a crowded bazaar full of color and spice and at ease hopping on a city subway and heading to a downtown store.

If someone handed me tickets tomorrow that put me on my way to Istanbul or Cairo with an invitation to make my home there, I would be over the moon. But I would also miss many things about where I currently live, and who I love within that space. And that is a good thing. For as my heart has softened it has also expanded and includes not only people, places, and memories from miles away, but also those from the next town over, from down the block of my street. I now have recent history to look to and memories from 2 years ago instead of 10. And this recent history is as valuable as the past.

It comes back to the gift of living between worlds, a gift made more precious as you realize the places you are privileged to live, invited to love. 

Between WorldsThese are some of the themes I explore in the newly released book Between Worlds. Between Worlds, Essays on Culture and Belonging is a set of essays on living between. The book is divided into 7 sections and each section is illustrated by my talented daughter – Annie Gardner. Home, Identity, Belonging, Airports, Grief & Loss, Culture Clash, and Goodbyes set the stage for the individual essays within each section. Those who read my blog will see some familiar themes and stories emerge, but they will be in book form, with new material, tweaked and edited to fit with the themes. And think about a book? It is so satisfying to have pages that you can underline and mark, highlight and turn down corners. Ah that feel of a book in your hand! Later this week I will be doing a book giveaway, for now order your copy and I will send you the accompanying discussion guide that offers questions you can answer either as an individual or within a group setting. 

The book happened because of you – because you read, commented, emailed, affirmed, and encouraged. So thank you for your part in the book that is now Between Worlds, Essays on Culture and Belonging!

So let me ask you this – how have you learned to love two places? Has it been a journey that has at times been marked by feelings of disloyalty or fear that if you learn to love the place you currently live you will lose a piece of your identity?

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Stacy brings us rhubarb muffins today! Being someone who loves rhubarb I was so glad to get this recipe. Head over to Stacy’s blog to see Fresh Rhubarb Muffins.

The book is available on Amazon for pre-order and I would love to have you order it and hear your thoughts about living between worlds! 

Release of Between Worlds – Essays on Culture and Belonging

Between Worlds is available NOW! Order your copy by going here!

I began writing three years ago – “I want to have a voice!” I said to my oldest daughter, 26 years old at the time. And on July 1st the “voice” will be transformed into a book titled Between Worlds – Essays on Culture and Belonging. 

And I am excited. Really excited. And I am scared and I feel like achild who thinks she’s mastered the art of tying her shoes only to realize that one loop doesn’t make a bow” (author unknown)

And yes – I will be honest: I want people to buy it! Of course I do – it would be crazy for me not to. Though my identity is wrapped up in something far greater and stronger than the temporary tissue paper of public opinion and selling books, I want people to read and be able to say “Yes! that’s me!” or “Yes! That was my experience!”

So just as you have joined me thus far in reading, commenting, and encouraging both me and each other, I hope you will join me on this new book launch. There will be a give away next week of two books so stay tuned for that! In the mean time here is what some others have said about this set of essays:

Between Worlds

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“To read this remarkable collection of essays is to journey with Marilyn Gardner between the worlds of East and West, home and not-feeling-like-home, touching with her the boundaries of culture, the inspirations of faith, and the comforts of loved ones. Her stories are compelling and unforgettable. And while her essays will instantly resonate with those, like Marilyn, who have lived between worlds, they speak volumes to those like me who have not. Every one of us has been at some point between two worlds, be they faith and loss of faith, joy and sorrow, birth and death. Between Worlds is a luminous guide for connecting – and healing – worlds.~Cathy Romeo, co-author, Ended Beginnings: Healing Childbearing Losses

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“Drawn from her honest, penetrating blog writings, Marilyn Gardner’s Between Worlds invites us into her memories with loving hospitality, connecting the various and vivid threads of her fascinating life without over-sentimentalization. She is a wise raconteur, knowing that memories are living, formative things. Her richly evocative descriptions of the places that have formed her engage every sense (and will likely leave one a bit thirsty for chai), and the book is delightfully adorned with her daughter’s pen drawings. Throughout her essays, Marilyn presses in on the questions with which every human soul wrestles, particularly our God-given desire to belong, and to live securely and coherently with oneself and others.

In a world that has grown ever more globally connected, her recollections engage us all to think through how “God uses place” — and, at times, acute feelings of displacement — to make us into the people we are. Adult third culture kids will find in Marilyn a compassionate, empathetic friend, and anyone who has lived “between worlds” will appreciate her gentle approach to the more disorienting facets of a globally nomadic lifestyle.”

Laura Merzig Fabrycky, The Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation, and Culture

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Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging available NOW! 

Read reviews of Between Worlds here: 

Purchase here:

Readers – thank you! It really belongs to you – and I would love for you to walk with me through this whole “book launch!