Misunderstood by Tanya Crossman

Back on the blogosphere after a year of grad school, I’m pleased to publish a review of a Misunderstood by Tanya Crossman. The book was recently published by Summertime Publishing and can be purchased on Amazon. I’m pleased to offer my take on the book below:

Despite being a relatively new genre, authors of Third Culture Kid (TCK) literature must meet demanding standards. These authors perform a dual task: first, define a population with whom many readers may be unfamiliar; simultaneously, they draw broad enough boundaries around these definitions so self-identified TCK readers don’t feel boxed in and categorized.

Being a TCK myself, and having read literature that rigidly categorizes and labels TCKs, I approached Tanya Crossman’s Misunderstood with a mixture of excitement and apprehension. I was pleased to find that at the end of nearly 400 pages of interwoven vignettes, anecdotes, personal quotes, context information, and definitions, Tanya has presented a balanced perspective of what it means to live as a TCK. Tanya extends past the quantifiable measures of countries lived in and number of moves to the feelings and thoughts a TCK carries with him or her.

A Diverse Sampling

Tanya’s book lends value to TCK literature through its geographic diversity of narratives. Instead of rehashing foundational TCK concepts, Tanya broadens the conversation by including quotes and vignettes from individuals who traditionally fell outside the original definitions of a TCK geographically. In my own experience, much of the TCK discussion has focused on Western-based TCKs in other parts of the world. Tanya expands her pool of narratives to include TCKs who claim passports from China, Cambodia, New Zealand, Australia, and many more. This diversity adds to richness to our understanding of the collective TCK identity.

Pushing the Boundaries

Not only does Tanya broaden the geographic narrative, but she also focuses on new groups of TCKs. These groups may fit better within Ruth van Reken’s recently developed Cross-Cultural Kid (CCK) framework. Regardless of definition, Tanya’s addressing of these groups—such as children of educators or unaffiliated families—accurately parallels the way our understanding must shift along with global trends. This leaves room for change and adapting and allows us to apply old understandings in new ways.

Who’s It For?

At the beginning of her book, Tanya identifies the intended audience as TCKs, families of TCKs, or caregivers of TCKs. I am confident Tanya has included something in her book for everyone, whether or not they identify with one of those categories. Boundaries continue to blur in globalization, and elements of the TCK identity are becoming more and more relevant. Whether you are a TCK or may interact with a TCK in the future, Misunderstood provides an excellent framework to begin understanding.

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Temporary Relocation

Dear all,

As grad school begins, I have to confess that my time to blog is going to be much more limited. However, I wanted to let you know that I’ve committed to publishing a column in UYD Media on global and multi-cultural education. The first article went live today. Feel free to read/share/comment and stay tuned for more to come!

Lauren

Legacy

I’ve just returned to the world of Internet, television and mattresses thicker than two inches after two weeks in the Adirondacks. Every year, I do my best to spend anywhere between two days and the entire summer at an all-girls Christian summer camp in upstate New York. Since I’ve been there every summer since 2002, I affectionately call it “my camp.”

Describing it as a summer camp doesn’t quite do it justice. Those words usually generate mental images of a daycare or sports camp, so I want to begin to paint a picture of the rustic setting:

While at camp, we have no cell signal and limited Internet access. Girls live in cabins and platform tents without electricity (though the bathrooms have both hot water and electricity, as do the kitchen and dining hall). We live on 500 acres of wooded property and have girls from 2nd grade through high school under supervision of the summer staff. We have a lake where we swim, canoe, and kayak, a high ropes and low ropes course, stables with 6-8 horses, riflery and archery ranges, and many other things. Every summer we send out several groups of girls on hiking or canoe trips in the Adirondacks.

When people ask how I got connected with camp, I usually reply something to the effect of “it was hereditary.” Early on its beginnings fifty years ago, my grandparents became involved in building the camp and supporting its development. Both of my grandparents worked at the camp in different capacities throughout the next two decades or so—leading trips in the mountains, building things there, and my grandmother even directed for a short time. My mother grew up as a camper, completed the leadership program, and then worked on staff. So when we were in the states one summer, I also started attending as a camper, only to return every subsequent summer and later join staff myself.

Early in 2015, my grandfather—the same one who helped develop this camp—passed away unexpectedly. As he lay in ICU, I watched the Internet as people who knew him via camp poured out support and prayers for him. At his memorial service and the reception that followed, I met people connected to camp whose names I had only ever heard in stories. At the time, I found it moving, but I didn’t fully understand the extent to which my grandparents had been a part of a legacy until I was back at camp for these two weeks.

This summer, I was reminded of the extent to which camp is a place where people matter above all else. It’s a place where the love of Christ and servant leadership isn’t just spoken about, it’s acted upon, and that’s part of a greater legacy than any career could ever be.

During my second week this summer, I had the privilege of teaching a session of the leadership training program to older girls who are preparing to serve as counselors, and then on another day sat on the Craft Porch and listened to the lesson taught by the program supervisor. As I taught the class and later listened, I was struck by how intentionally the creators of camp structured our program. Everything that we do at camp connects to one of our four values, from family-style meals to holding Bible studies outside in cabin groups to daily devotions. That aspect of the program was never something that I’d truly appreciated as a camper, but as a staff member investing in campers, it’s become increasingly evident. Over the two weeks I was there, I saw girls grow comfortable to be themselves in ways that they aren’t able to amidst the pressures of today’s world. I watched as they pushed themselves to try new things that they wouldn’t if they were self-conscious. I listened as they shared what they had learned about God, and my jaw admittedly dropped as I heard them ask to do chores around cabins. In speaking with campers going through leadership training, they expressed amazement at how everything worked together to point toward Christ.

As I walked across the parking lot on my last day there, I listened to the different age groups singing about shining for Christ and bowing their heads in prayer. What my grandfather had been a part of building was something bigger than him, and more worthwhile. God had used his skills to create a place to disciple young girls for Christ, they effects of which expand far beyond the property boundaries of our camp. It’s something that you can’t measure in a spreadsheet or a budget chart, but it’s something that lasts much, much longer.

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Why TCK Researchers and American Ed Reformers Should Talk

In my previous post, I referenced a book that I’ve been asked to read in preparation for graduate school this fall. The book is called Rac(e)ing to Class: Confronting Poverty and Race in Schools and Classrooms by H. Richard Milner IV.

One aspect that I appreciated most about this book was the willingness to dive deep into a conversation about the causes of educational inequity and how different systems within the United States perpetuate that inequity. Rather than positing that all students, regardless of background or specific need, should be forced to succeed within a potentially problematic educational system, Milner encourages readers, educators, and policy-makers to look at the big picture of education and how different systems in the United States interact with each other. Moreover, Milner avoids pointing a finger at any one group and blaming them for destroying public education. Readers leave the book following Milner’s own asset-based thinking, and considering how all parties involved can contribute to education.

One of the challenges for educators and policy-makers alike that presented itself throughout the book was the diversity of needs and circumstances of students. A recent study published by the National Center for Education Statistics showed that, in 2012, enrollment in public schools across the United States consisted of 51% white students, 16% black students, 24% Hispanic students, 5% Asian/Pacific Island, 1% American Indian/Alaska Native, and 3% or two or more races.[1] I’m not writing this to argue that this is good or bad in anyway—I’m citing this statistics to indicate the level of diversity present within American public schools, and the fact that, according to the same study, this diversity is likely to increase. It’s also important to understand that the definition of race extends far beyond simply the physical definition, but also includes social constructs, legal constructs, and historical constructs.[2] Thus, the implications that race has for diversity and equity in education are huge.

This diversity necessarily leads to challenges in the classroom. Teachers enter classrooms full of students from very different backgrounds than their own. The curriculum cannot encompass all of the learning needs of students from such varied backgrounds. Despite attending school in the same country, each of these students have such unique stories that a single curriculum cannot possibly fulfill all learning needs, not to mention the impact of implicit curriculum that schools construct and teach students through school culture.[3] Milner quotes A. Ede in saying that “the diverse ethnic and cultural makeup of today’s classrooms makes it unlikely that one single curriculum will meet the needs and interests of all students.”[4] Education cannot and should not be a “one size fits all” profession.

So where does that leave us? With the increasing diversity and increasing needs of students, there’s a lot to improve in the education system. And as I ventured further into Milner’s book, I could stop thinking: TCK researchers and US education reformers should really be talking.

Why? Why should a group of researchers that focuses their study of children who live globally mobile lives be communicating with researchers who are focused on education reform in the United States?

In many ways, TCK research and education research focuses on the same things. Education is more than just a transmission of knowledge; rather, it’s a development of skills necessary for a child to succeed in life. Within the past decade, there’s also been an increased emphasis on areas such as social and emotional learning (SEL) as supplemental to any content curriculum. Additionally, schools transmit culture and cultural practices. As content continues to share the spotlight with SEL, child development, and implicit social constructions within the education context, education will still need to be concerned with children’s cultural and identity development.

Much of TCK research seems powered by the same energy: a desire to understand the child and identity development of TCKs in order to understand outcomes and equip TCKs to impact their world. Especially in the past few years, there’s been more emphasis among TCKs themselves to use their own understanding of their own identity to ignite change in the world (take Tayo Rockson’s UYDMag for one example). The emphasis that education reform needs to place on understand the needs of students within their unique cultural and identity development contexts is similar to that which TCK researchers must place on TCKs.

Though I have no data to support this, it would seem that many TCK researchers are TCKs themselves. This means that TCKs have developed a certain set of skills while navigating cross-cultural transitions. Among these skills are intercultural communication, linguistic ability, mediation, diplomacy and the ability to manage diversity…”[5] With the increased diversity among public skills, it would make sense that people who have developed skills in crossing cultures and contexts be working within these environments.

Finally, much in the same way that a TCK crosses cultures between the their parents’ home culture and their host culture, creating a third culture, teachers and educators must also cross cultures. I realize that most educators probably would not equate the concept of a classroom culture to a country or ethnic group’s culture and societal norms, but I think it’s worth drawing a connection. Teachers create a set of expectations within their classroom, bridging the diversity of their students’ home cultures and the school culture. Granted, the difference is typically not as pronounced as the difference between a passport country’s culture and a host country’s culture, but similarities could exist and might be worth exploring further (or if I’m imagining the similarity, maybe we should pick a different word to describe classroom environment besides classroom “culture”).

Not that I think that working with TCK researchers would be the silver bullet for education reform and solve all its problems. In many ways, American TCKs are ill-equipped to approach education reform issues in the United States because few of them have actually experienced the American public education systems, among other reasons. But the lessons learned and approaches that TCK researchers take to further their own research could help to frame a conversation and maybe solutions for education reformers in the United States.

[1] Racial/Ethnic Enrollment in Public Schools, National Center for Education Statistics, May 2015, http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_cge.asp.

[2] Milner, 8.

[3] Milner, 57.

[4] A. Ede, “Scripted Curriculum: Is it a Prescription for Success?” Childhood Education 83, no. 1 (2006): 31, quoted in Milner, 58.

[5] Norma McCaig, September, 1994, Growing up with a world view, Foreign Service Journal, quoted by Wendy Stultz, Global and Domestic Nomads or Third Culture Kid: Who Are They and What the University Needs to Know, http://www.colostate.edu/Depts/SAHE/JOURNAL2/2003/Stultz.htm.

Confessions of an Aspiring Grad Student

The same day that I concluded my full time job I received an email from the dean of my graduate school, sent out en masse to incoming students. Given that I’m currently unfamiliar with all of the names associated with the administration at my school, it took me a moment to figure out why this name had graced my mailbox with its presence.

I opened it and began to read. It began with a welcome to the school and to engaging in continuing education.

And as I read on, I have to confess: I inwardly groaned. Halfway through the email, we as readers were directed to a link where we could download recommended summer reading, entitled Rac(e)ing to Class: Confronting Poverty and Race in Schools and Classrooms by H. Richard Milner IV (2015). The purpose of the reading is to open a dialog around diversity, and explore the link between poverty and educational inequity.

Yes, despite the fact that my career path has led me to confront poverty through education, I still groaned that I was being asked to read, what in my mind, was simply another book about how if we can simply provide impoverished children with a quality education, then America will be better and all poverty will magically evaporate.

This was my fear: in my few short years in the education sector, it has seemed that education reformists have been preaching the same message. If we provide all students with a quality education, they say, they will get a good job and make enough money to provide for their families. Once this happens, poverty will be erased, and somehow we will also eliminate the racism that has been rooted in our country for hundreds of years.

I realize this is an oversimplification of what is being presented about a very complex issue, but many days, especially while I was classroom teaching, this is what it sounded like.

That message never sat well with me. Here’s why:

  • First, it revolves around money and financial security being the measure of success. And accomplishment. While I believe that no one should have to live in poverty, I think that focusing success solely on monetary gain is short-sighted and empty. There are many more things to life than accumulating material wealth.
  • Second, the message implies that we require students to learn and change within an educational system, without examining broader system that may itself be flawed. The United States, and even the world, is not what it was 150 years ago when the current educational system was modeled after industrialization.
  • Finally, the current educational system itself transmits certain cultural expectations that may or may not be in alignment with a student’s own culture. Not to say that any parts of the system is undeniably wrong, but there should at least be serious examination of the system itself before we expect students of different cultures to adhere to it.

So when I downloaded the book onto my Kindle that night and finally manipulated the text on the PDF to be of readable size, I did so with a certain amount of apprehension, expecting another overly simplified account of how education is the key to success in life for humanity.

To say I was pleasantly surprised would be an understatement.

Five pages in, I felt like someone had read my thoughts and responded to them on paper. It was a similar feeling to the one I felt when I walked into Salon CDE at the FIGT Conference in DC this past March—without knowing me, someone had understood my concerns and was responding to them.

“Those who are in schools are coerced into assimilating into contexts that do not allow them to build the types of attitudes, dispositions, skills, and knowledge necessary for them to analyze, critique, and contribute to their communicates when education is in place,” I read on page three of the book.*

I almost dropped my Kindle. In the opening pages of this book, this man had addressed the broader scope of education—that education is preparation for the world, not a degree on paper. Education is a transmitter of a culture that we can either force on our students or equip them to participate in themselves.

Too often, we try to fit all students into an archaic educational box. The fight is not to train students to succeed in a predetermined culture. The fight is to create an environment where each student is valued and can reach his or her potential. I’m thrilled that a book on poverty and education is capturing this belief.

Within ten minutes, my perspective on this book and my entire year had changed. I haven’t even finished the introduction, but Milner has already articulated the depth of topic he is addressing, the limitations of his book, and the complexity of the problem. I’m thrilled to be able to enter an intellectual community led by people who are eager to engage in the heart of education and how we can use it to better lives globally, and I plan to suspend judgment before I enter into any future conversation about race, poverty, and education.


*All quotes attributed to Richard H. Milner, Rac(e)ing to Class, Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press, 2015.

Guest Post: The Lingering Lesson of the Durian

Today I’m privileged to post some of the cross-cultural insights of fellow blogger and writer Lauren S. Power. I first met Lauren at FIGT ’15 as a fellow PPWR. Her perspectives after having lived in Japan and Singapore are unique, and she paints beautiful pictures of global living. 

“It is better to learn from the mistakes of others than it is to make mistakes yourself,” a wise old man once told me. I believe that. I even have proof that what he said is true.

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When I was about 5 years old, my parents were trying to impress upon me the importance of good dental health. My Dad told me that if I didn’t brush my teeth, they would turn black and fall out just like my grandfather’s. I saw horrible visions of Grandpa’s gap-filled grin and few mustard yellow stumps (the product of a questionable implant job in Mexico) taking the place of my pearly whites. I vowed that that fate would never be mine. I formed good habits and stuck to them. To this day, I have never had a cavity.

Apart from my textbook dental hygiene practice, I have made plenty of mistakes. Mistakes are unavoidable, especially when traveling or moving to new countries. However, I’m cautious person, and my risks are usually carefully calculated. I really do listen to advice. I like to do research and I care about the experiences of others. After all, the more information you have in making a decision, the better the decision. Some mistakes, you can’t undo.

That is why, when I moved to Singapore, I did not try durian.

The King of Fruits has quite a reputation. Its odor has been compared to rotten fish, smelly feet, and sewage. It is said that the smell travels over great distances and lingers for many hours after, which is why it is illegal to take durian into public buildings or on any public transportation in Singapore.

I have had ample opportunities to sample its odorous bouquet around the city, as most roadside fruit stands are laden with durians. I have also given durians a thorough visual inspection. They are big – about the size of an American football – and heavy. A single durian weighs on average 2.5 kg (about 5lbs), but there have been durians recorded as heavy as 14kg (about 30lbs). Deaths occur from falling durian in an around orchards in Southeast Asia. They are viciously spiky, necessitating the use of industrial-grade gloves for the durian handlers. If ever there were a fruit less inviting, I’m sure I can’t imagine it.IMG_3422

“Its taste can only be described as…indescribable, something you will either love or despise. …Your breath will smell as if you’d been French-kissing your dead grandmother,”[1] Anthony Bourdain, food and travel expert and lover of durian famously said.

Yet, people queue up at prestigious durian stalls, willing to pay up to $100 for a choice fruit. There had to be something to recommend it. Given the smell, the look, and the price, my internal calculus told me that it wasn’t worth the risk to try durian myself. More research was needed. I decided to do an unofficial poll of locals and foreigners to get more perspective.

“I used to hate durian when I was a child,” Dmitry told me. “I had to eat many before I found the right one.”

“Yes, sometimes you have to wait for that one durian that can open your mind,” Michelle agreed.

“The first time I tried durian, I thought I was going to vomit,” Kathleen said. “Now, I buy them all the time.”

“No, I’ve never tried durian. There’s no way I’d eat that! The smell…” said Courtney.

“Honestly, I don’t think I’ll ever buy it again,” Nick confessed. “I’m not sure it was the worst thing I’ve ever eaten, but it has to be close.”

“You have to try only good durian,” Jeremy said. “If you get a bad one, you can’t stand it lah! But the uncle may try to cheat you because he can see you are ang mo. So, you have to watch him to make sure he gives you the good one.”

How do you tell a good durian from a bad one? They all smelled rotten to me. I certainly didn’t want to be given a bad durian just because I was a foreigner. It seemed like too much trouble. Too many people had had awful experiences. Though my curiosity would continue to be piqued every time I passed a whiff of rotten onions mixed with old gym socks coming from a fruit stand along the street, I erred on the side of caution and kept walking.

Two and a half years after moving to Singapore, my guide appeared.

“You know, right now is durian season,” my friend, Michelle said. Michelle is from Malaysia and grew up eating durians, which makes her an authority on the subject, as far as I’m concerned. She informed me that there was a reputable durian stand just down the street. We decided to try it out.

As luck would have it, we arrived as the durian handlers were returning with a fresh batch of durians. A heavy, foul stench preceded them, but they were smiling. Michelle ordered a small Mau Shan, the highest grade of durian.

As we took our seats on the sticky red plastic stools, small gnats buzzed around the exposed light bulb above us. The uneven brick sidewalk was wet from the humidity. When the durian handler placed our opened fruit before us, I felt like my lungs had been coated with the underside of a compost heap. Obviously, I’d need to burn the clothes I had on – they’d never truly be clean again.

Michelle reached inside a pod to grasp a corpse-colored lump of flesh with her bejeweled blue nails. Creamy yellow custard dripped down her finger where she pierced the outer membrane. The smell was suffocating. I either needed to eat or leave… or pass out.

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Quickly, I plucked a small, mucous-like glob from the pod and popped it in my mouth. I did not vomit. And magically, the smell disappeared. It was as if a really strong cheese had the consistency of pudding. It was like mango mixed with garlic and blue cheese salad dressing. The texture and taste was unlike anything I’d ever had and nothing at all like a fruit. I actually finished my portion of the durian. Honestly, it is not my favorite dish, but I wouldn’t mind eating it again. I’m glad I tried it.

As you experiment with new cultures, locations, and foods, do be cautious. Be curious. Be excited. Do your research, ask questions, and listen. Learn from the experiences and mistakes of others, but don’t be afraid to make your own. If you take a risk, you may not get the thrill you seek, but you will likely gain a sense of accomplishment in the knowledge that you tried.

[1] “Anthony Bourdain tries out durian in Indonesia”. Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations. Season 2. Episode 12. 2006-06-19. Travel Channel. Video from YouTube. Retrieved on 2015-05-16

Lauren is a Texas native who has lived in the UK, Japan, and Singapore. As an independent writer and researcher, Lauren uses her involvement with Southeast Asian institutes and think tanks as inspiration for the social, economic, and political themes in her work. To view Lauren’s work, visit www.laurenspower.com

Shoes

Today my coworker walked into Panera (our “office”) with a large bag and handed it to me. “If I give it to you in public, then I might not cry,” she told me as I pulled out the pink and green tissue paper.

Underneath the tissue paper was the fuzziest, most beautiful flannel tie blanket (the kind that you don’t have to sew, just cut strips and tie together) that I had ever seen. She’d done a fabulous job picking out colors, and as I unfolded it, it finally hit me that I was coming to the end of something. I’ll be finishing my full time job next Friday, and then transitioning from full time employment to a full time student studying International Education Policy.

As I looked closer at the flannel my coworker had chosen for the blanket, I saw that one side was a print full of shoes. All kinds of shoes. I never thought of myself as a shoe person, but after reading the accompanying letter, I realized that I’ve slowly developed an obsession with cute shoes—I adore my coral flats and black and white patterned wedges. If I wear something colorful in an outfit, it’s either my scarf or my shoes. I guess that just happens when you’re female.

Over the past few years, the concept of shoes have taken on a greater meaning for me. Despite not being on my feet for my job (my job entails sitting behind a computer most of the time), I’ve walked in many different places—the dusty streets and beaches of Haiti, the sidewalks of Boston, the back roads of North Carolina for Thanksgiving, the carpeted hallways of the DC hotel for the FIGT conference, the ice-covered walkways in New Jersey, and the new turf of Minneapolis for my best friend’s wedding. Soon, I’ll be privileged to walk through the hallways of Harvard.

This year has also been a journey professionally and personally—I’ve been stretched in ways I could have never imagined, and learned lessons that I know God will use someday. My feet have carried me places I never could have imagined.

But it’s not just my shoes that are important. As I thought more about shoes and returning to a student community, I remembered an activity that Barry Loy, Dean of Students at my undergraduate college, did with the incoming RA staff every year. He called it “Walk a Mile in My Shoes,” and he always started the session with the song. Then we all went outside and lined up, and Barry would read a characteristic that may or may not apply to us—first family member to attend college, having a disability, member of a minority, etc.—and we would step forward if it applied. The idea was to get us to recognize the diversity and the importance of empathy…to walk a mile in their shoes.

When I taught in North Carolina, it was that concept of empathy that I wanted to impart on my students, more than anything. We don’t fully understand a person’s story until we walk a mile in their shoes. Amidst the diversity that comes with our increasingly globalized world, it’s that empathy that is going to bring us together as members of humanity when disagreements want to tear us a part.

So, when you put on shoes, remember that they are a reminder not just of your own journey, but also of the journey that others have walked.

I look forward to sharing more about my journey this next year as a grad student.