Phew… it’s taken me way too long to finish up my blogs on the FIGT conference (March, 2016). A combination of illness, school holidays and a bereavement in the family has kept me from my blog. But I’m back… and to prove I can finish what I’ve begun (see #1 here, and #2 here), I really want to just share some thoughts from the last few days of the conference. It was such an amazing experience, with such knowledge shared, that I need to record it somehow. And who knows, it might persuade some of you lovely readers to attend next year! 😉
The Friday morning of the conference kicked off with a Writers Forum, a Digital Living Forum, and an impromptu Researcher Forum – we researchers really wanted more time together to discuss ongoing work, ideas for the future, and to pool experience and knowledge so we huddled up in a corridor to continue the conversation!
This was such a testament to the buzz that is birthed in a creative space such as FIGT… It was so encouraging to hear of so many different projects going on, and an opportunity to learn from different research tools, approaches and experiences.
Ruth van Reken
Ruth van Reken‘s Keynote followed this and she inspired and encouraged us in equal measure. We were encouraged to ‘enlarge our tents’, a reference I believe to Isaiah 54:2. This verse encourages those who feel as ‘barren women’ that their children will be more numerous than they can imagine… so numerous that they will need to ‘enlarge the place of their tents’.
Ruth spoke of expatriates and Third Culture Kids needing to harness their knowledge and experience of mobility and transition to bring into the ‘tent’ those whose experiences of mobility are still marginalised – international adoptees, refugees, the hearing children of deaf parents, bi-cultural families and domestic TCKs, to name but a few. Our own marginality, the ‘barrenness’ and isolation we have experienced can and should be used to embrace the ‘barrenness’ of others, enlarging our tent so that the community of the globally mobile may be strengthened.
Ruth encouraged us not to wait for the ‘experts’ in our fields, but to START doing something to benefit our community, no matter how poor our offering might seem;
“When you don’t know how to do everything, do the one thing that you can…”
Place as TCK Resource
The next set of sessions, included my own presentation; “the Evolving TCK Profile: Research Findings on Identity and Belonging, with Practical Applications to Today’s World”. I shared this slot with the wonderful Janneke Muyselaar, of the DrieCulturen blog, and gifted Katia Mace, PhD candidate and TCK researcher.
My own presentation focused on the oft-underutilized role of Place in TCK identity development. Interviews I conducted for my doctorate highlighted again and again the significance Place plays in our stories, the way we organised our memories, how we experience landscapes, food, language etc. Contrary to the oft-repeated adage, that relationships were more ‘home’ to TCKs than Place, my research, and subsequent work with clients, suggests that Place is key to Settledness of Self.
Indeed, one of the theories I developed throughout my work was that TCKs presented a kind of Elite Vagrancy… whereby they frequently sought constant movement throughout adulthood, not through the lack of resources as in traditional vagrancy, but because of an internally felt compulsion. This finding problematises the assumption often made that TCKs travel because of ‘choice’. Interviewees would often talk to me about choosing to move frequently, but their stories would often been full of statements such as, ‘I couldn’t stay’ or ‘I need to travel’ that suggests compulsion over full agency.
Beyond its presenting challenges, Place may be used as a resource, however, for Settledness of Self. Nurturing a grounded sense of connectedness to Place in childhood can increase the coherence of one’s sense of self in adulthood. Identity props that can be anchored in Place all serve as to add coherence to our complex, jigsaw-type lives. These props might be language, food (recipes that can be replicated elsewhere), a lived sense of the geography of our host countries, engagement in local organisations (political or hobbies?) where we can engage with the local population as peers.
Where our stories seem disconnected, or we have identity props missing, we can appear to our passport peers as incoherent at best, insincere at worse. And both scenarios damage our sense of Self. Where these identity props have not been nurtured in childhood, they can nevertheless be nurtured in adulthood and serve as precious resources that connect our Selves to the Places that make up our stories.
When we are settled in our Selves, we are able to move from feelings of Disconnectedness and Isolation and instead harness the experiences of frequent mobility and transition to increase Connectedness with the world around us. We can find experiences of transition everywhere, and employ Empathy to apply our experiences that have been gained globally to the local people and places around us. In this way our marginality becomes our strength, and our gift.