Saturday, September 24, 2016

Third Culture Kid spotlight: Teresa L.

I found some of my old research survey answers from 2004 when I began my TCK research journey that started as part of my Senior project dance production "Third Culture Kids" that was part presentation, half documentary film, half dance, and based on the books written about TCKs, expats, and these survey answers by TCKs around the world. I'm unearthing them because our complicated stories need to be heard. 

1. What is your name?

2. Where were you born?

3. What is your heritage?
My mother is born in Finland to Finnish parents, my father is born in Sweden to a Swedish mother and a Polish father.

4. Where have you lived & how long at each place?
I've lived in Sweden from birth to age 3, from age 3 to age 6 in Maryland, US, from age 6 to age 17 in Sweden, from age 17 to age 18 in Beijing, China, from age 18 to present in Illinois, US, for college and now for graduate education.

5. What is your definition of "home" and how is it different from those around you?
I have several definitions of home, really. Depending on what level of experience with identities that do not depend on some perceived essential quality I perceive in who I am talking to, I use different definitions.

One definition is somewhere that I have lived or live now as well as where my parents live now, considered as facts unattached to emotions or identification. This is the most shallow definition that I use with people who have never lived abroad, for example. This definition is designed to be consistent with how non-TCKs see the world.

Another definition is somewhere I have lived or live now as well as where my parents live now that I did not/do not dislike. This is a definition designed to let people understand me a little bit better if I make the judgement that they might have enough understanding to do so. It is a list only linked by very strong negative emotion to fact.

My most true emotional definition of "home" that I only use to myself is somewhere I feel comfortable and relaxed, somewhere I belong by identification. It is different from others around me that it is for me completely subjectively defined, whereas for most others I meet it is a function of a combination of birth and how long you've stayed somewhere, in other words, facts about your life. As I have found this difference impossible to overcome by explanation, I do not use this definition to other people.

6. Where do you consider "home" and why?
According to the most shallow definition, my homes are Ludvika, Sweden; Frostburg, MD; Beijing, China, Galesburg, IL, Chongqing, China, and Champaign-Urbana, IL.

According to the second definition, my homes are the same as above but without Ludvika, Sweden.

To me, home can be rather delocalized. If I feel comfortable and like I fit in, I feel like I'm in a home. Right now, I am home in Champaign-Urbana. If I go to visit my parents, I go home. I just go from one home to another. Home is not so much a singular place as a set of circumstances and conditions under which you can be happy. Those can be in place in many different places.

If a territory must be named, it would be Beijing, because it is clear to everyone that I live in the third culture there, and it is a major international city that can sustain the cosmopolitan way of life that makes me feel at home. Beijing is a city that is increasingly owned by internationally oriented people as described in "Whose City Is It? Globalization and the Formation of New Claims" (Saskia Sassen, in The Globalization Reader, ed. Lechner and Boli, originally in Globalization and its Discontents (The New Press, 1998), and so although I am clearly a foreigner, it is my place. Also, because I am a clear foreigner, it is clear to everyone that I cannot be expected to conform to and know all of the intricacies of Chinese culture. In Sweden, I was expected to fully conform to social norms that I did not know very well, and this resulted in very painful ostracation and acute cultural marginality. Knowing that this can never happen in China helps make me comfortable there. Beijing also 'took me in' at a time in my life when I was very mentally broken down from this cultural marginalization and let me be whatever mix of cultures I wanted. For these reasons, Sweden is not one of my homes.

7. Do you have interests in the following:
foreign languages Y
international relations Y
travelling Y
international politics Y
different cultures of the world.  Y
If so, do you think your background has helped you develop these interests?
Yes. All of the above seem to me like the sort of thing that one ought to have interest in for one's own good. It's just good, sound, practicality.

8. What are your thoughts on globalization? Current political situation?
I am an Affirmative Global, as described by James N. Rosenau in his book Distant Proximities: Dynamics Beyond Globalization (pp 121-137). I feel very connected to places that are far away physically and have a relative lack of interest for what is going on locally, unless it has wide impolications. I consider the global level of consideration to be the most important for everyone, even people who profess a lack of interest in it. I believe that globalization can bring prosperity to more people than ever before in history. That potential makes it an ethical obligation to try to harness the economical power of globalization in such a way that the world as a whole benefits as much as possible. This may mean in some cases moderating the forces of capitalism, but more often than not this will involve nation-building and construction of infrastructure along with letting market forces generate revenue. I also think that cultural globalization has potential to increase the capacity of people everywhere to empathise with others. This sort of identification could contribute significantly to peace and stability.

Not that I see any way to opt out of globalization in the first place. Economics gives the first push, and the rest follows from there. In lack of alternative economic systems to capitalism, there isn't much any country can do to stay out in the long run.

Recently, I have become aware of just how much the changes globalization have brought are resented and create unrest in people's minds even in Western countries. The sharpness of this backlash has taken me completely by surprise - in accordance with Rosenau's characterization, I do have to note, I should have had warning - and I am having a lot of trouble understanding it. It is also causing trouble for some parts of my identity. The following is from my journal:

The group of people I have trouble identifying with and who feel alien to me are people who hate others on a group basis, be it 'turks', "liberals", or foreigners. That sort of hate breeds so much..... I hesitate to say evil in principle since I don't believe in absolute good and evil, but in lack of a better word I'll say evil and trust you know what I mean. Bad things happen to good people when hate becomes common, no matter why there is hate. Even though I may not be the direct target of the hate, we are all in danger as a society when hate starts spreading, along the lines of both of our concern with recent dubious internments. That's why it makes me feel so queasy when people from one of my countries hate, because I've already blanket identified with them (because we share at least some general culture), and that means that I've blanket identified with people who scare me, and so I feel both like a part of me sickens me and like I've been betrayed!

I find the extent of this backlash troubling and am searching for a suggestion on how to handle it.

The current political situation in the United States is making it very difficult for me to feel American. It is also very difficult for me at times to understand what has happened and is happening after 9/11. It just seems so unreal to me that the US  would issue such objectionable foreign policy. And what is even more incomprehensible to me is how someone who started a war, unprovoked, based on false allegiations and insinuations in defiance of most of the rest of the world including the UN, could possibly make "moral values" part of their running platform and WIN. In my version of reality of Western countries, one of the things that politicians never, ever do is start a war. Never, ever, ever, ever. Even talk of such things is suspect. I could type for hours about the current US political situation, but it is very exhausting to think it all over. We seem to be living in 'interesting times.'

9. How are your thoughts on world affairs different from those around you?
I find that my concerns are very different from those around me in that I am concerned about the world as a whole, not just about the interests of one country or even continent. The intense focus on the US here really bothers me, because it's not good for the country and it's not good for the world. I seem to be looking for win-win situations where regular Americans are looking for America-win-at-any-cost situations. Some element of this thinking is present everywhere, but due to its size, I believe that it is very manifest in the US. Similar trends can be seen in China, a country of comparable size. I consider myself a global citizen, not only because my concept of home is deterritorialized but also because I think it's the only really ethical thing to do. If people are all created equal, then I must apply ethical thought to all people in the world, not just the ones in one particular country.

10. Do you plan on incorporating a large amount of travel with your career?
Yes. I do not think I would be happy only being in one place for the rest of my life. I am actually hoping to expatriate using some company, because it is often much easier to have a company take care of arrangements and I will already have a job when I get there.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Best Books for Third Culture Kids

I've attended Families in Global Transitions conferences in 2010, 2011, and 2012. One of my favorite activities at the conference besides meeting amazing people like Ruth Van Reken, Jo Parfitt, Tina Quick, Apple Gidley, Julia Lee Simons, Killian Kröll, Eva Lazslo-Herbert, Lois Bushong, Becky Grappo, Isabelle Min, Alice Wu, Cheilaugh Garvey, Margie Ulsh, Mary Wertsch, Craig Toedtman, John Liang, Noel Roberts, and more! I like to check out the bookstore. 

Here's my list of best books for Third Culture Kids:

1) Third Culture Kids, Growing up Among worlds by David C. Pollock & Ruth Van Reken

4) Unrooted Childhoods: Memoirs of Growing up Global by Faith Eidse and Nina Sichel 

5) The Mission of Detective Mike: Moving Abroad by Simone T. Costa Eriksson and Ana Serra

6) Home keeps Moving by Heidi Sand-Hart

7) Letters Never Sent by Ruth Van Reken

8) The Global Soul by Pico Iyer

9) Cross Cultural Connections by Duane Elmer

11) The Art of Coming Home by Craig Storti

This is just a short list (for now) of books that I found helpful. I still have quite a number of books that I have yet to read on my Kindle and storage. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Olympics are filled with TCKs

Stock image taken from Pixabay

The Rio Olympics is underway and so many elite and inspiring athletes from around the world are competing at their highest level to be the best in the world. Its been a rising trend that so many of these athletes are globally mobile and travel to get the best training in the world. So many athletes as a result become Third Culture Kids (TCKs) and Expats as a result.

Sports has a long history of soft-core diplomacy for countries. The exchange of good sportsmanship between athletes, the inspiration these elite athletes give to budding athletes, the athletic rivalry in competition, and the pride in representing a whole nation.

Wait... Patriotism among TCKs can be a tricky thing.

As a spectator, TCKs are torn between multiple countries. Who do we root for?

I recently asked my mother this question and she responded by saying "I don't have a country to root for"

To which I replied "I root for the winning athletes and the countries they represent"

She responded "So we should have multiple country flags and wave the winning flags"


Its trickier for athletes. Some are third culture kids early on in their childhood and had their training all over the world. Some move because they need to get the highest training they can get to make it to the top of their chosen sport. Some move because they would have a better chance at representing a country at the Olympics.

With global mobility becoming easier, an elite athlete would be able to get the best training she/he needs to make their dreams come true. There are so many critics to this tactic as it may be seen as un-patriotic. But what is patriotism these days for the global nomad? Global nomadic athletes train hard to push themselves to realise their dreams for competing with the best for an Olympic gold.

We should support the athletes and their hard work, sacrifices, and for having the determination that many of us lack to push through many long hours of sore muscles, injuries, etc.

Cheer on for the athletes that moves from Singapore to the USA, from China to Germany, from Greece to Austria, from USA to Georgia, from USA to Sweden, etc.

Celebrate the diversity of cultures mixing and healthy sports competition.

Stock photo taken from Pixabay

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The hardest thing about being a TCK

When your friends are scattered all over the world. Long distance friendships and relationships are hard. You're always missing a places and faces.

Life becomes complicated when you're always on the road traveling every couple months. The first question I get asked is "Where are you?" Its like the game of finding Waldo in the pictures. 

I have itchy feet. I feel stuck when I'm in one place for too long. Perhaps, I haven't been able to find that place where I can call home for a while. 

The thing is, I like the slow travel movement. Taking time to slowly take in the culture, sights, people (or lack thereof), scenery. I also like being in my own little space and being on my own whether typing up blog posts, researching articles, writing articles, dancing/choreographing, and cooking up all kinds of recipes. 

Social media is supposed to make it easier to connect people. An online world of connectivity. However, I find that people become a bit lazy to write each other. When I was a child, I had penpals in different countries and wrote letters to them every month. It was a joy to receive a letter in the mail and sometimes we even sent pictures and gifts. 

It took effort to buy a long distance phone card, write and send that letter, print pictures for sharing, etc. Now we have everything at our fingertips. As long as the internet connection is solid. I've been fascinated with how one can have a career online and work remotely from anywhere in the world. 

We as a society have become smaller yet more distant in human relationships. With all the distractions of the modern world and bombardment of online connectivity how does one maintain healthy connections with friends from around the world? 

Just something I've been thinking about lately as I'm working mostly online and connecting with my friends via social media.

P.s. I love getting letters and postcards so if you feel compelled to write to me send me an email! 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Digital Nomadism for this TCK

A vicious cycle for a TCK: Packing up, Unpacking, Moving, Transporting, Goodbyes and Hellos
My tiny hands are worn from carrying multiple bags
My arms are filled with big bruises
I beat myself up with my luggage
My heavy load. 
Head heavy, eyes tired. 
Thinking: "I hate this moving business"
Like a drunken haze, we have all said "Never again"
Do not believe it. 
The stares from other travellers at the train, bus, plane
I'm embarrassed and flushed. 
Sweat beads form and my clothes are starting to stick to me. 
Why, oh, why me!? 
Moving again. 
Saying good bye to beautiful places. 
See you soon to my dear friends, colleagues, and acquaintances.
Hello again to another location.

My unsightly bruises on both arms. June 2016.

I've been a digital nomad for the past few months and my body is weary but I am also a typical restless TCK who just can't seem to find home or stay put. A few things, I've learned from being a digital nomad and working from "home" is that 1) I like being able to be mobile. 2) I can live a peaceful existence and work efficiently on my own. 3) When I need to see people, I need to make an effort to see them. 

Working remotely from the Swiss Alps. May 2016.

I question myself every single day: how did I get here? The past several years has been such a challenging and trying time for me. A career change is difficult. Combined with a changing world and never being satisfied with where I am.

The world is changing and becoming incredibly volatile. I'm uneasy about it all because it is affecting me on a personal level. I have such an awful time when it comes to applying for visas and whatnot. Sigh. This is not a post for my rant. I am sure there are TCKs out there that can empathise with me on this. Feel free to drop me an email or a Facebook message if you'd like to commiserate.

Atomium, Brussels, Belgium. June 2015

Digital Nomadism. 
Its a thing and so many more companies should embrace this. If there is anything I've learned from my internship is that THIS is possible. I wish more companies would embrace this concept. For starters, I'm currently "funemployed" so decided to embrace this concept of digital nomadism and expand my network reach around the world through my social media channels. Its a dream of mine to be able to work anywhere and inspire others to embrace travel and adventure.
Can one truly work remotely and live a comfortable life? The answer is YES. Its been done and there are so many successful people doing it. I aspire to be able to do this so I'm not a prisoner of location and limited in my career and life aspirations. I just need to find the strength to shut everyone who tells me that its impossible, that I can't do it, that I'm too old, that I'm wasting my time, that I'm running out of time, and to settle down to a mediocre life that everyone else has that I don't want so I can be miserable. I don't want to be miserable.
There is really nothing tying me down and I'm not in the rat race so why not embrace a life that is colorful.
Another thing I learned in 2016 is that I cannot plan my life beyond a few months at a time because something is always going wrong and sh** hits the proverbial fan. Too many things have happened this year in the micro and macro scale that have affected and impacted me on such a personal level that all I can say is c'est la vie.

The life is short, death is inevitable, seize the day.
Malmö Slott, Malmö, Sweden. Feb. 2016

I am a Nomad
Wandering planet earth
Stopping for shelter, food, drink, company, and stories.
Neither here nor there.
Belonging everywhere and nowhere.
Learning languages
Studying cultures
Observing people
And making friends wherever I go.
Missing friends around the world.
I want to be there, there, and there.
I want to go somewhere far 
Finding little rocks I can settle down on for a while.
Settling my weary body, mind, and spirit. 
Blending in
Not blending in. 
Repeating my story. 
No, I don't want to give you my life story but you asked
"Where are you from?"

Are you actually interested?
Or is that a form of small talk and you don't really care.
Or you could also be a wanderer too.
Lets talk.
Lets be friends.
Keep in touch, k? 

Monday, March 28, 2016

Why I grieve for places I've lived in.

I left suddenly due to complications with visa (always my TCK conundrum) and it hasn't been easy dealing with it.

Tragedy struck Brussels.

For many days, I went through the gamut of emotions from feeling really lucky to sadness to anger to guilt.

Yes, Guilt. I feel guilty for having narrowly missed this kind of terrible acts of terror.

Then I started to feel helpless and isolated. As the city of Brussels is coming back together and breathing a new and beautiful community, I wanted to do something to help.

As I watch the security alerts and emails flow through from work. I wanted to do something. I needed to do something. The only thing that I can do is remain in contact with my coworkers in the office and continue working with the mantra "business as usual" and post images that give others inspiration.

I complained about my life in Brussels but it was all due to not adjusting to living there. I feel guilty for all of it. I started to adjust to life and had to leave when it became a new normal. We all go through periods of adjustment as a expat when moving to some place new.

Jakarta. There were explosions in January in the centre of the city near an area where there was the first McDonald's that opened in 1990 and I spent after school hanging out there with my childhood best friend eating happy meals then going to her house to play until I got picked up to go home for dinner. I was shocked at the explosion. Though I was so young when I lived there, the memories of that area really came flooding back. I grieved.

When hurricane Sandy hit New York in 2012, just a month after I left. I felt the same emotions of feeling helpless. I made a dance. I donated money to the red cross.

An ode to NYC danced by my lovely students. I grieved for leaving, I grieved for New York. I spent most of my adult life starting out in NYC and have so many stories and memories that I felt I needed to do something.

As a mobile Adult Third Culture Kid, I am very tired of hearing about acts of terror around the world, Mother Nature will do what she wants so I forgive her. But I hope to never have to 'mark myself safe' on Facebook ever again due to an attack.

Peace to the world.
Make love.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

How many times do I have to tell "my TCK story" before it gets tiring

I moved again in December. Every move comes with the period of adjustment and I feel like I'm still adjusting. Along with that, is meeting new people. People mean well when they ask about "where are you from" however, its a small talk conversation for non-TCKs but a confusing long winding conversation for a global TCK. I keep thinking about... asking the person what they think about the weather, favorite color, where to eat, etc. just to deflect the question.

It seems like some people glaze over when I tell them my story. I sometimes think I'm boring them and/or think I'm boasting or lying... I don't know. Even more complicated to the "where I'm from story" is also the number of different kinds of jobs I have done thus far.

So here's a bulletproof summary:

  • Singapore->Indonesia->Singapore->Los Angeles->New York City->Singapore->Switzerland->Belgium
  • Multicultural heritage and culture family background with family scattered around the world
  • Attended private International and American Schools for K-12
  • Pitzer/Pomona ->UCLA
  • Performed as a contemporary dancer for various dance choreographers and dance companies in LA then New York City
  • Formed a dance collective
  • Founded a dance company
  • Performed, Choreographed, Directed productions and did some touring to festivals all over the New York area, Toronto, Washington DC, Edinburgh, Singapore, LA, etc.
  • Taught dance all over the world at studios, community centres, public schools, private schools, etc.
  • Speaker at 3 Families in Global Transitions conferences in Houston, Washington DC (twice)
  • Recipient of a grant by a private foundation (3x) for my productions of Chameleon and Habitat
  • Worked in nonprofit management (grant writing, Public relations, digital marketing, design, photography/videography, booking agent), telemarketing, retail sales, make up artistry, events, fine dining service, front desk for a hotel gym, lifestyle blogging, TV/Film extra, weddings, street team marketing for a yoga studio, and of course teaching dance - just to name a few - sometimes juggling 3-5 jobs
  • Postgraduate in Hospitality Management from Les Roches
  • and now... I'm a full-time social media intern for Carlson Rezidor group
This reads slightly like a resume (Check out my LinkedIn profile: PS. I am looking for a job starting in July/August) . But this is the most concise I've ever told my story publicly. I confuse myself sometimes. My hobbies and passions are many. I've not had a dream goal that I haven't accomplished yet. You know, I have to step back at life and take it for what it is. Its not a walk in the park. I have never taken an easy way. I have the choice to take an easy route but that has many consequences that I am not willing to sacrifice my independence for. 

I have always fought my way through to make things happen. I stress myself out sometimes with the winding difficult paths I tend to take even though there are easier ones. 

I just want a full life of little regrets. The older I get the more weary of answering "Where are you from?" as small talk. Or perhaps I'm disillusioned to think that people just want to make small talk and when it isn't... they are overwhelmed and can't handle it. 

I fall down a lot in life and feel very sad. Then I push myself through. The life I want to lead in my head and heart is simple. But somehow I always find myself in sticky complicated situations so I just stand and fight through life. Grit my teeth and just do because c'est la vie.